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IllumiNations Cruise: A View Worth Every Penny

by on August 26, 2014

Epcot lights up the sky.  Photo by Disney

Epcot lights up the sky. Photo by Disney

If you are one of the unfortunate ones to never have experienced IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth before, you have really been missing out. IllumiNations is the story of our Earth’s history, its present, and the hope for its future, showcasing people, flora, and fauna. This fireworks, laser, and video show will be the culmination of your extraordinary day at Epcot. After visiting Future World and then stuffing yourself with wonderful delectables throughout the many countries around World Showcase, find a seat or standing area around the Lagoon and be prepared to experience pyrotechnic greatness.

The only downside to IllumiNations is that I sometimes find it a waste of good Disney time to be camping out around the World Showcase hours before the nightly showing to get a prime viewing location. If this has ever crossed your mind or if you are just looking for that over the top experience, perhaps to celebrate a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, then you should try an IllumiNations Cruise.

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Disney World Crowd Report – August 17 to 23, 2014

by on August 25, 2014

Our prediction that summer crowds would dwindle starting last week seems to be well timed. We saw some low crowd levels at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom last week that we haven’t seen since May. Lots of ‘4’s, ‘5’s and ‘6’s elsewhere with only a few minor surprises. Guests using our crowd calendar to plan late August trips will be very happy with the moderate crowds we observed.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Disney World Crowd Report:

 

Walt Disney World Resort Crowd Levels – Daily Breakdown

Sunday, August 17, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
6
5

We considered Sunday to be the de facto end of the summer break for Disney World guests and the moderate crowds seem to agree. Only Animal Kingdom, which hosted Extra Magic Hour morning hit a level ‘6’ but the average posted time at Expedition Everest was only 25 minutes.

Epcot
4
5
Hollywood Studios
6
5
Animal Kingdom
6
6

Monday, August 18, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
6
7

Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios edged a little higher on Monday but crowds were mysterious at the Studios. We saw Toy Story Mania hit an average of 91 minutes (a ’10’ on our scale) while Tower of Terror only averaged 41 minutes ( a ‘1’ on our scale). Animal Kingdom was a stark contrast with the lowest crowd level by far, as predicted.

Epcot
4
5
Hollywood Studios
5
8
Animal Kingdom
3
3

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
4
7

On Tuesday, it was Magic Kingdom that stood out with most attractions showing average wait times higher than expected. Splash Mountain averaged 49 minutes (predicted 34), Jungle Cruise 36 (predicted 23) while Big Thunder Mountain Railroad averaged 33 minutes, only one minute lower than the 34 minutes we predicted.

Epcot
7
6
Hollywood Studios
5
5
Animal Kingdom
3
4

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
4
5

Crowds at Magic Kingdom and The Studios settled nicely on Wednesday while Epcot’s wait times went up. Again, average waits at Spaceship Earth are up significantly with an average posted wait of 24 minutes, a ’10’ on our scale while Test Track was way down, averaging a mere 54 minutes, a ‘1’ for that attraction.

Epcot
3
6
Hollywood Studios
5
5
Animal Kingdom
6
8

Thursday, August 21, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
6
5

No park hit a level above ‘5’ on Thursday, a sure sign that summer crowds are dwindling. Magic Kingdom hosted Extra Magic Hour morning but only Splash Mountain averaged a posted time above 50 minutes. Our predictions for Buzz Lightyear, Peter Pan, Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion were all within a couple minutes of what we observed.

Epcot
4
5
Hollywood Studios
4
5
Animal Kingdom
3
4

Friday, August 22, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
4
4

Animal Kingdom’s level ‘2’ on Friday was the lowest level we’ve seen at any park all summer. We almost didn’t believe our prediction of a level ‘2’ but the predictions were right, including a 19 minute average at Expedition Everest and a 16 minute average at Kilimanjaro Safaris. Crowds seemed mostly focussed at Epcot and The Studios where we saw ‘6’s, both two levels higher than expected.

Epcot
4
6
Hollywood Studios
4
6
Animal Kingdom
2
2

Saturday, August 23, 2014

WHAT WE
THOUGHT
WHAT WE
SAW
ANALYSIS
Magic Kingdom
4
3

Saturday’s ‘3’ at Magic Kingdom was the lowest we’ve seen at that park all summer as well. Only Peter Pan’s Flight (40 minutes) and Space Mountain (43 minutes) reached average posted times in the 40s while most other attractions averaged posted waits in the 20s.

Epcot
4
6
Hollywood Studios
5
3
Animal Kingdom
4
4
What to Expect This Week
Aug 24 to 30, 2014
How Crowded is Disney World

How Crowded is Disney World?

Now that summer crowds have left, fall crowds have begun and we enter the single best time of the year to avoid crowds at Disney World. The heat will remain but we’ll see average wait times at some attractions reach their lowest point of the past 365 days. Labor Day weekend will bring a small bump in attendance but not enough to push crowds above average for the year.

To see Walt Disney World Crowd predictions for the days of your vacation, check the Crowd Calendar.

To get details about our predictions of future crowds or details about crowds in the past check out the Crowd Calendar and select “Jump to Date” on the left margin.

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Fear and Trembling: A Chicken’s Review of Big Thunder Mountain

by on August 23, 2014

“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man . . . .. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”

I am not that man.

big.thunder.4

Big Thunder, Big

As I moved resignedly toward the tumblin’ town of Tumbleweed, that sad fact was once again made painfully apparent. My time and place does not involve thrills. Although I’ve never been especially frightened by regular thunder, I have more than my fair share of reservations regarding Big Thunder, and not just of the FastPass+ persuasion. Coffee and creamed-colored crags cast troubled shadows at my feet as we inched closer; it was very clear to me I was in the wrong place. My wife, unfortunately, was not persuaded.

I’ve heard the claim before. Upon our return from a quick Christmastime visit to the Magic Kingdom with my immediate family, my wife and my brother both suggested that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad might actually be an attraction I would enjoy, as it lacked the typical large drops that so twist my stomach in knots—as well as not’s, as in “I’m not going on another of these rides, I’m not going to eat again, I’m not feeling especially manly . . .”, and so on. At this point, my faith in other people’s assessment of whether  or not I will enjoy/survive unscathed any thrill ride has been shaken, not to mention roughed-up and made queasy and more than a little cranky.

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Hidden Details of Animal Kingdom

by on August 23, 2014

There are many reasons why the Disney Parks stand apart from other theme parks around the world, but one of the biggest has to be Disney’s incredible attention to detail. You can see the extra mile in the form of details just about everywhere on Disney property, from attractions to parade costumes to resorts to transportation to even the bathrooms! Personally, I love the details. They are not only appealing to the eye and fun to find, but almost always meaningful to the history of an attraction or to the story the Imagineers are trying to tell. For today’s post, let’s take a look at the hidden details of Animal Kingdom!

Expedition Everest Height Measurement

Expedition Everest Height Measurement

Over at Asia’s Expedition Everest, be sure to notice the special height measurement for young riders. Only at Disney would the measurement be a giant, wooden Yeti foot! I’ve always thought that Expedition Everest has one of the most clever, detailed themed queues, and this fun detail just proves it!

Inside of the Dinosaur attraction, look up to see red, white, and yellow pipes running through the queue. Chemical combinations are printed on those pipes, which isn’t anything special, unless you realize the combinations are actually the chemical names for ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard! Weird, right?

Animal Kingdom Harambe Sign - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Village

Animal Kingdom’s Africa is meant to look and feel as if you have just walked into a real African village called Harambe. Disney Imagineers really went to new heights with the details here, as Harambe appears lived-in and authentic with thatched roofs, posters for the village’s Harambe Wildlife Preserve, handpainted signs on the sides of local businesses, and so much more. This particular sign welcoming you into Harambe features ads of the village’s establishments, and the lights above it are even rusted to show age.

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The Disney Dazzle: Meeting Mickey Mouse

by on August 22, 2014

©Disney

Ta-Dah!

My very favorite thing about visiting Disney World is the memories you take home with you. Amongst the celebrations and excitement at the parks, something even more amazing can happen. A magical moment occurs that makes the whole trip so much more meaningful – a personal story you will never forget. I call this the ‘Disney Dazzle.’

My husband and I make trips to Orlando 2-3 times a year as my husband’s aunt and uncle live there. Rewind back to February 2014, and we were on our very first trip with our newborn, Annie. Whenever we visit Disney World, my husband’s uncle, Keith, always has a surprise in store for us. This trip was no exception. Earlier in the day, Uncle Keith had mysteriously left our group for several minutes. He returned, said nothing about his disappearance and we continued about our day. That night, he told us he had a surprise but that we would have to wait a little longer. I walked up and down Main Street, U.S.A. with ants in my pants wondering what his secret could be. After what seemed like FOREVER (although in reality, it was no more than 20 minutes), he led us into the Town Square Theater. I really had NO idea what we were doing there, only remembering the little television playing cartoons and the Camera Center full of camera supplies and pins. While looking around, I saw the sign ‘Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater’ and it hit me. Uncle Keith had gotten us a FastPass+ reservation to meet Mickey Mouse! Now, guests have had the opportunity to meet Mickey in the Town Square Theater since 2011, but it wasn’t until October of 2013 that a special magician Mickey would grace us with his presence. (I won’t give away all the surprises because every encounter with ‘the boss’ is unique!) As a Disney buff, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea one could meet Mickey in such an exciting and intimate setting. I was in for a real treat!

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The Disney College Program

by on August 20, 2014

For over 30 years, Disney has had a college internship program (currently called the Disney College Program). Active college students who have taken at least one semester of college courses are eligible to apply for the 5 to 7 month internship (international students with no restrictions for working in the U.S. can also apply). I spoke with two College Program alumni (Courtney and Ethan) about their experiences in the program at Disney World three years ago.

First, a little history. In 1981, Disney began an internship program. At its inception, there were 200 positions available at Magic Kingdom for these interns. Of course, the program grew along with the resort, and today there are internships available at both Disneyland and Disney World, across all theme parks and resorts. About 8,000 students participate each year.

The College Program is a paid internship. In addition to providing affordable housing and free transportation (Disney World only), participants receive a full-time working position as part of the internship. They receive an hourly wage dependent upon their role.

College1

Some of Courtney’s costumes while working at different Quick Service locations. Do you recognize any of them?

There are 19 different roles in which to be placed. Some of the positions available include custodial, merchandise, food & beverage, PhotoPass photography, character performer and attraction operator. Courtney and Ethan were placed in quick service food & beverage based on their previous experience working in restaurants. They held positions at Studio Catering Company in Hollywood Studios, where they rotated between positions (food prep, drink servers, cashiers, etc.) They were also deployed to other counter service restaurants and food carts as needed, and they were able to pick up extra shifts if they wanted as well.

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Menu Monday: The Best Recurring Items at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

by on August 18, 2014

The Hawai'i kiosk at Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

Copyright – Disney

Walt Disney World’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival is a wonderful thing. Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer frolicked through a land made entirely of chocolate? That’s essentially the Food and Wine Festival in a nutshell, only with less cruelty-to-confectionaries and more damage to your wallet. All around the World Showcase you’ll find new kiosks set up celebrating food and drink from across the globe, with dozens of shareable sized dishes of everything you could ever hope to try available for purchase. While each year they offer a wide variety of new menu items, there are always some that are so popular they keep coming back. Here are some of the best items that will be back this year you should be reserving valuable tummy space for… and make sure to check out the official Food and Wine Festival 2014 menus for all the rest! (Food item prices range from $3.00 to $8.00 USD per.)

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Magic Kingdom AtMousePhere: The Music of Liberty Square

by on August 16, 2014

Music has the ability to take us back through time. So much music has been preserved
from the past 500+ years that whole concerts can be LScentered around one time period. I just got back from a music conference which had an entire Vespers service that could
have taken place in 1724!

Music can also remind us of a feeling. For example, when I hear “The Victors,” I am automatically transported to my Dad’s seats in Michigan Stadium, cheering the team on the field.

Liberty Square has two kinds of music surrounding it. On one side, the music reflects the time. Various pieces played in the area are taken straight from the late-1700s and played on period instruments. (One of many hidden details in the Liberty Square!)

Other pieces in Liberty Square reflect the spirit. The colonial and Revolutionary time periods were full of patriotic and independent thought. There was an energy needed to create a United States out of thirteen small colonies, all of whom had very unique beginnings. Thusly, there is music that was composed later in America’s history, but still reflect that spirit of America.

Let’s break both of them down:

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Hitting the Trail: Taking on the Disney World Walking Paths

by on August 13, 2014

I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone want to take a walking path when it seems like all you do at Walt Disney World is walk? Well, just hear me out, I do have a few good reasons! You see, walking paths allow you two big luxuries that are hard to come by at Disney World: no lines or crowds and the ability to make your own time.

Hollywood Studios Walking Path

Hollywood Studios Walking Path to the BoardWalk

Nobody likes fighting the long lines for buses, boats, and monorails, especially at closing time. It’s not unusual to have to wait for several of your own resort buses to fill up before you can board yourself following Magic Kingdom’s Wishes, which is hard to bear when your feet hurt and the kids are crying, right? Although, there can be lines or standing room only on buses, boats, and Monorail during the day too. However, the walking paths are never crowded, offering you and yours a reprieve from the shuffling lines and seas of strollers. Also, many are in open, beautiful settings that are well-lit, paved, and serve as great decompression zones from all the hustle and bustle.

But the lack of chaos isn’t the only reason to take on a walking path. Guests who have visited Disney World before know that getting from one place to another can be time consuming! Disney even recommends those with dining reservations to allow at least an hour for transportation time. Why? Well, for example, if you were to have a reservation at one of Epcot’s World Showcase restaurants, a lot of time can be wasted in waiting for transportation, actual travel time, going through security and the turnstiles, and then actually walking across the park to your restaurant. Whew! That can really take awhile and there are a lot of variables to contend with! That’s why, when I can, I prefer to take a walking path so that I can make my own time without checking my watch in nervous frustration for the umpteenth time at a resort bus stop.

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Observations from Downtown Disney Part 1 (Parking Garage, West Side shopping, Food Truck Park)

by on August 11, 2014

It has been a while since I have done a photo tour of Downtown Disney, and it was time to head back into what might be the construction capital of the world. There are major projects going on in every single section of Downtown Disney, making a day trip there a potentially stressful challenge. However, it seems as though the area has finally turned a corner, and we are starting to see developments that make Downtown Disney a place worth checking out rather than avoiding because of the construction hassle. Looking at my previous Downtown Disney article from April shows some rather significant changes, so here is what is going on now….

DIS1

Status of parking garage on West Side of Downtown Disney near Cirque du Soleil

 

The parking garage is looking massive, and the map of the area says it should be completed “Early 2015.” Busch Gardens should have done that for its long delayed Falcon’s Fury ride that is “Opening Sometime in 2014.” As ugly as Downtown Disney is right now because of the overall construction, far and away the biggest problem is parking. It was bad enough before huge sections of parking spaces were completely shut down to make way for a much-needed parking garage, and now it can be maddening. For the Guardians of the Galaxy showings this past weekend, the AMC movie theater at Downtown Disney was advising guests to arrive an hour early to give themselves time to find a parking space, with many guests being directed to the overflow areas across the street at Team Disney and Casting.

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