Unofficial Guide News

Hogwarts Express REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 2, 2014

Hogwarts Express review

All aboard the Hogwarts Express at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Hogwarts Express review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

Hogwarts Express

4 1/2 STARS

 

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 4 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
  • TEENS 4 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 4 1/2 stars
  • OVER 30 4 1/2 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

 

What it is Transportation attraction with special effects.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening.
Special comments Expect lengthy waits in line. A park-to-park pass is required to ride.
Authors’ rating A moving experience; Not to be missed; 4 1/2 stars
Duration of ride 4 minutes.
Probable wait­ing time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate.

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Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 1, 2014

 

gringotts review

A panoramic view of the majestic Gringotts bank lobby. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

5 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 2 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
  • TEENS 5 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
  • OVER 30 5 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.

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Updates to Epcot’s Ride Ratings for the 2015 Unofficial Guide

by on May 21, 2014

Illuminations_BrickerThe Unofficial Guide team got together last month to update our authors’ rating for all of the rides, shows, and attractions in Walt Disney World. I’ve already reported on the criteria for our 5-star rating system and changes to Hollywood Studios’ attractions. Now it’s time for Epcot.

Here’s a list of the Epcot attractions whose authors’ ratings have changed in the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a short explanation for the change:

Epcot Character Spot *** Has Mickey, Minnie and Pluto all in one spot, which is good. But not as themed as, say, Princess Fairytale Hall or other meet-and-greets, and a bit more chaotic than most. That doesn’t bother our readers, though, who give it 4.2 stars on average.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth **** 1/2 It was surprising to see that we hadn’t ever rated IllumiNations, Epcot’s nighttime spectacular. The Studios’ Fantasmic! is Bob’s favorite evening show, and others prefer the Magic Kingdom’s Wishes. But IllumiNations is my favorite. It’s got big visual images, an iconic floating globe that’s both a spherical television and fire-throwing grill. Plus the soundtrack, Gavin Greenaway’s Reflections of Earth, is the best audio accompaniment to any Disney show. (It’s also part of the soundtrack that U.S. Customs and Border Protection plays while you’re waiting in line to enter the country.) Finally, it harkens back to a time when Disney creative didn’t just drag out its animated characters – or the words magic, dream, wishes, and celebrate- to entertain its theme park guests.

Off Kilter *** 1/2 Another surprise in that we’ve not previously rated this Celtic rock band, this group of kilt-clad musicians has been entertaining Epcot audiences since 1997. We’re all big fans of live music, and Off Kilter combines guitar, keyboard, and bagpipes into cover tunes of rock classics, traditional Celtic music, and original songs. Every set is loud, fast, and innovative – the way music should be. Check out Off Kilter’s website here.

That’s it for Epcot’s changes. What attractions would you change? Let us know in the comments below.

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Updates to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Ride Ratings

by on April 9, 2014

A mother from Ellicott City, Maryland, sent us this question last week:

Do you provide a description of how you come up with your star ratings for rides?  I’m not talking about the age-related ones, but the authors’ rating.  This question came up when we were reading about Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

As it happened, last week was also when the Unofficial Guide staff got together to review the ratings for every attraction in Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

The authors’ rating is the consensus opinion of the Unofficial Guides’ authors. And while everyone’s got personal favorites and criteria, all of us agree that the basic rating system functions something like this:

***** Attractions rated five stars  are iconic attractions by which all others are judged. These are generally combinations of great storytelling, attention to detail, and technical achievement, all done on a grand scale. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal is a good example, as is Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

**** Four-star attractions are generally either done on a smaller scale attraction, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic, or it’s a headliner attraction that has aged technology or content (e.g., Living with the Land).

*** Three-star attractions are usually budget-friendly rides that Disney uses to increase the capacity of a particular area. Magic Carpets of Aladdin was the example we discussed most often here.

** Two-star attractions are usually older, lightly-themed carnival rides, such as Mad Tea Party, or in the case of Stitch’s Great Escape, a rare attraction with so little merit that it can’t be recommended.

* One-star attractions are either simple diversions that Disney promotes as an attraction, like Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, or the ride has material weaknesses in story, theme, ride experience, and maintenance, and should be avoided.

There are no zero-star attractions in Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. Also, an attraction can earn (or lose) half a star if it’s slightly better (or worse) than similar attractions.

Here’s a list of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions whose authors’ ratings have changed in the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a short explanation for the change:

Citizens of Hollywood *** 1/2  One of the best sets of roving street performers in any Disney park, you’ll find this comedy troupe on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, dragging unsuspecting tourists into the antics. Previous rating: none

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Disneyland’s Tomorrowland: A Whale of a Tale

by on October 17, 2013

UGDisneylandHistory

The Disneyland Story

From the publisher of The Unofficial Guide books comes The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey, the story of how Walt Disney’s greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Here is a brief excerpt:

Walt was desperately trying to fill space in Tomorrowland, and an employee suggested that he bring some of the sets and props from the popular 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea down to the park. Ken Anderson was pulled away from his work in Fantasyland in the last two weeks before the park opening to work on the show. He said, “I was up all night with two other studio artists just before opening day painting the giant squid. Walt was supposed to be at a party his wife, Lillian, was giving for some VIPs at the park, but he was too nervous about everything being ready on time to stay there. He went around from ride to ride and exhibit to exhibit, checking work, helping out. He even came into where we were painting the squid, put on a mask, and did a little painting himself.” John Hench also joined in.

The walk-through display opened on August 5, 1955. Guests entered the exhibit through a 40-foot mural of the Nautilus and the giant squid. Originally, costumed guides would have provided a tour but that idea was scrapped in favor of a prerecorded narration track voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft (possibly best-known for Tony the Tiger’s, “They’re grrrreat!” for Frosted Flakes). As the guests entered the exhibit, the movie’s theme song, “Whale of a Tale” played in the background while they peered through portholes to see a model of the Nautilus in its final resting place. The guest’s point of view was from the stern window of a sunken ship with treasure chests spilled out in the sand in the foreground and the upper deck of the submarine in the distance.

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Disneyland’s Fantasyland: Drama, Humor and Beauty

by on October 13, 2013

The Disneyland Story - The Unofficial Guide to the Building of Disneyland

Sam’s new book is available for pre-order.

From the publisher of The Unofficial Guide books comes The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey, the story of how Walt Disney’s greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Here is a brief excerpt:

More than virtually any other attraction in the park, it was Fantasyland’s dark rides that set Disneyland apart from other parks. Before Disneyland, the typical dark ride would be something like the Tunnel of Love, where boats followed each other through a canal. Coats felt “the big improvement we made over what had been done before was the way we left people with a little two-minute experience within a certain story that they had known from our animated films. Now they got to see it in a more dimensional way, and these were interesting ways of doing it.” Walt wanted each ride to represent a different emotional experience. He wanted drama, humor, and beauty.

The process started with the source material, the animated films. The Imagineers used the original 4-by-8-inch storyboards and concept sketches. Claude Coats credits Ken Anderson with finding a way to make it work. Anderson drafted storyboards that highlighted key elements of the story but focused more on creating the right mood. Then Ken Anderson and Claude Coats designed the interior sets. Fortunately, both Anderson and Coats worked on the films and knew the material well. Once they finished, Bill Martin would make modifications to fit the shows inside the buildings.

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Sneak Peek: The View at Every Disney World Hotel Room

by on October 3, 2013

Resort View – Main Page

One of the first decisions you’ll have when booking a Disney World hotel room is which view to select. If you’re staying at the Yacht Club, for example, do any Garden View rooms have a view of the Stormalong Bay lazy river? If you’re on the monorail loop, does a Magic Kingdom View really improve your chances of seeing the Wishes fireworks? Is Savannah View at the Animal Kingdom Lodge worth the money?

To help you decide, we’ve spent the past year taking pictures of what you’ll see from the window of every Disney World hotel room – more than 30,000 individual photos. Today we’re giving you a preview of the first resort: Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort.

The first page shows you a map of the entire resort. On the left side is a set of filter options you can use to find exactly the room you want:

  • Room Type Includes Disney’s description of the view, and the bed type in the room (if we know it). All-Star Sports has Standard and Preferred views, most with double beds. Moderates will show queen beds, and so on.
  • Walking Distance to Lobby Useful for cutting down on walking time
  • Walking Distance to Transportation Allows you to find rooms near bus stops, monorails and boats
  • Floors If you prefer ground or upper-floor rooms, you can specify that here
  • Sound Level Helps find the quiet rooms at the resort
  • Accessibility Identifies ADA-accessible rooms by feature, including roll-in showers and more
  • Our Picks Shows only the rooms which the Unofficial Guide has determined to be the best at the resort.
  • Prices You can also filter by price by entering the date you’re checking in.

Set any of these options and click “Show Matching Rooms.” The map will highlight in red all of the buildings which have rooms matching your options.

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What’s New In the 2014 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

by on August 2, 2013

UGonAmazonThe 2014 edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has started shipping! (Get the Unofficial Guide in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.)

With the Magic Kingdom’s new Fantasyland almost done, changes to Disney’s FASTPASS ride reservation system, and Universal’s construction of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley well underway, the 2014 edition is one of the largest updates we’ve made in many years. To put these changes in perspective, we submitted about 300 typed pages of updates for an 850-page book.

Below is a quick look at many of the important changes included in the new Guide. In addition to these new articles, the front half of the book was edited and reorganized to ensure important topics are covered completely in a single section, instead of over several chapters. You’ll find the information you need faster than ever, and all in one place.

We’ll be rolling out these changes to the website over the next couple of weeks. Happy reading!

Part 1 – Planning Before You Leave Home

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What’s New in the 2013 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

by on August 23, 2012

The first printing of the 2013 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is available on Amazon and other fine bookstores. (Kindle edition here.)

I’m surprised that the print edition is out this early, since we were making changes to the text as late as July 20 (to cover the new 2-hour Evening Extra Magic Hours). That’s amazing considering the book is 848 pages. Between Bob, me and the other contributors, we submitted close to 200 pages of updates and new content for this printing. And that excludes corrections for things such as typos, prices, hours, and phone number changes. Speaking of corrections, we’d like to thank the dozens of proofreaders and fact-checkers who helped update this edition – you folks are teh best. (Ha!) Thanks also to everyone else who sent in updates. Finally, while we’ve made every effort toward accuracy, there are bound to be some things we’ll need to correct. Drop us an email if you notice anything, please.

Below is a quick summary of the major changes for the most popular chapters of the book. I’m sure I’ve missed some sections, so drop us a line if you have questions.

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Disney Dish with Jim Hill Podcast Released Today

by on March 14, 2012

The wait is over! The latest episode that brings together the best partnership in theme parks since Mickey Bars and churros – Jim Hill and Len Testa – is back today with a new episode on Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Get it while it’s hot on iTunes or RSS.

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