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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Be Our Guest Restaurant

by on February 15, 2014

DSC_1118This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Love Be Our Guest Restaurant. With the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train inching towards completion later this year, today we’re going to look at what can be considered the “E-Ticket” of New Fantasyland, Be Our Guest Restaurant. While the Magic Kingdom is the gold standard of the theme park world for meet and greets, dark rides, parades, night time spectaculars and even themed bathrooms,  one area that we all agree needs some improvement is the quality dining. Be Our Guest not only starts to fill that void, but you could make a strong case that it is the best themed restaurant inside any theme park. The Beast’s castle “weenie” can be seen from far away and the closer you get the more impressive everything becomes.

Today we’re going to look at six reasons we love Be Our Guest and why it’s our favorite restaurant experience in WDW. We should add that this article represents the dinner experience, as the lunch experience can be quite different. Some would argue you can get much better value with the lunch menu, but we’ll save that debate for another day.

Please remember to click on any picture to see the full size version.

# 6 – The Beast

Our host for the evening is Beast himself, and throughout the night he does a walkthrough of the three dining rooms (always to a round of applause), and is afterward available for pictures at his study when you’re done with your meal. The design work on this character is impressive and watching him walk through the restaurant is fun. The photo-op at the end of the meal is a nice cherry on top of the sundae and like many of the recent Disney meet n’ greets, the setting for the picture is gorgeous.

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The View from Every Disney Hotel Room: Yacht and Beach Club Resorts

by on January 10, 2014

Late last year we launched Hotel Room Views, a new part of TouringPlans.com that shows the view you’ll see at every hotel room in Walt Disney World (more than 30,000 photos). Today we’ve added Disney’s Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts.

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). Yacht and Beach have a wide variety of bed and view options.Yacht Club Map View
  • Walking Distance to Lobby Useful for cutting down on walking time
  • Walking Distance to Transportation Allows you to find rooms near bus stops 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.

Choose 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.

Click on one of the highlighted buildings and you’ll see a map of all of the rooms in that building. Rooms which match your filter options will be highlighted in red:

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The Most Highly-Coveted, Heavily Sought-After Disney Awards: TouringPlans’ 2013 Planies!

by on January 5, 2014

Last year’s “Planies” were riddled with controversy, with approximately .01% of readers agreeing with the awards. It was like that year that the Academy awarded How Green Was My Valley Best Picture, snubbing King of the Zombies (and some other film) in the process. Still, a Disney executive excitedly collected these Planies, even if doing so under great protest and scrutiny from fans. Yessir, Mr. Eisner is now proudly displaying them all on the mantel of his Colorado home!

This year, venerable dude Guy will be joining in to assist in the selection of the Planies. Guy has an extensive knowledge of dining, the Omnibus, and Captain EO, which are basically the key credentials necessary here at TouringPlans for selecting any awards.

Although anyone who disagrees with the picks here is obviously wrong, it’s worth noting that these aren’t “official” picks of the TouringPlans staff. So if anyone on the staff or any of you readers want to disagree (and be wrong) as to the winner of any of these awards, feel free to share your winners in the comments.

Now, with the winners! (Insert drumroll.)

Best New AttractionMystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland

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When Radiator Springs Racers won this award last year, I said that there was no competition. That’s true again this year, as Mystic Manor sets the new standard for Disney attractions. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe this attraction (that bears little resemblance to the Haunted Mansion attractions to which it’s often erroneously compared). Its exterior is beautiful, the queue sets the tone for what’s to come, the pre-show introduces the attraction’s memorable characters (Planie Tip: including an adorable monkey in anything is sure to score you big points), and then the main ride itself blows guests away with a combination of ride technology, an engaging story, details, and wonderful music. Videos and photos don’t even begin to do this incredible sensory experience justice.

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Observations from Epcot: December 2

by on December 6, 2013

Date: December 2, 2013

Weather: High 73, low 61. 64 degrees at around 7 p.m.

Crowd Level: 3

Epcot’s holiday season is fully geared up this week and I decided to take a few hours last night to check out the park’s evening offerings at Holidays Around the World in World Showcase.

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Though World Showcase has a whole lot of holiday, Future World is right in the mix with Fab 5 and Bambi-themed Christmas topiaries at the entrance and in the central walkway, a holiday soundtrack for the Fountain of Nations, and a gingerbread village at the Land Pavilion. Because I arrived in the early evening and wanted to get to the Candlelight Processional quickly, I bypassed the Land Pavilion. But I’ll be back. I did take a few minutes to snap some topiary pictures.

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While I arrived at the park at about 4:30, a little hiccup with my Annual Pass put me through the gates at about 5:15. Candlelight Processional Shows are nightly at 5, 6:45, and 8:15 p.m., so I knew I’d missed the first one. I did a little shop wandering and finally saw the gift cards with special edition pins that the Parks Blog has been promoting for weeks but that have actually just been put out. The cards are $75 each and there are four pins to “collect”. Here are the Minnie and Mickey. These were available at the Pin Spot just in front of the Fountain of Nations.

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Just inside World Showcase, I picked up my Holiday Passport. There may come a day when I don’t get a thrill out of picking these up and getting them stamped, but today is not that day. I only got one stamp this time around, but it’s pretty cute.

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The passport has all kinds of great information including showtimes, merchandise offerings and locations, and food and beverage selections for each country. You can also find a shorter offerings summary in the guide brochure available all around the park and here.

Epcot Holidays Around The World Map 2013 5.38.01 PM

I was working my way around the Showcase toward the America Pavilion because I figured I had time to kill. I went left when I reached entrance to World Showcase and walked past Mexico, the Outpost, and Norway. As I neared Germany, I noticed a line. A really, really long line. The end of the line was somewhere mid-Italy while as far as I could tell, the beginning was at the America Gardens Theatre. A kind guest near the end of the line confirmed it was the standby line for the 6:45 p.m. showing of Candlelight Processional.

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Candlelight Processional has three showtimes each night at 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 8:15 p.m. I knew that if the standby line was so massive at 5:40 p.m. when the first show hadn’t even ended, it was unlikely that I’d be getting a seat in second show, and possibly in the third. I found out that the likelihood of my seeing the show from the benches was even less when I walked to the America Pavilion and found that guests who had guaranteed seats because they’d purchased a dining package were lined up on the other side of the pavilion in an equally lengthy queue. While those purchasing dining packages do have the right to seats before those in standby, they must line up and wait as well. This differs from shows like Fantasmic where dining packages score you seats at specific shows in specific areas.

Because the narrator was Neil Patrick Harris (likely the reason for the massive crowds for the show – some narrators are much more popular than others), I really wanted to catch at least part of the show. I worked through my problem by going to the Christmas marketplace in the America Pavilion and obtaining a Cocoa Candy Cane (hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps) and a gingerbread man.

Epcot Treats American Pavilion

Here comes a treat tangent. This is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s rich, it’s creamy, it’s pepperminty, and it packs a little extra warmth on the tail end that makes everyone’s holiday merrier and brighter. This is, hands down, the best $6.50 (or in my case $13.00) you’ll spend in the parks this season. It’s that good. Mr. Gingerbread was nothing to scoff at either with his surprisingly soft ginger goodness, though I did find myself wondering how many Cocoa Candy Canes his decorator had before picking up the icing bag.

Back to the problem at hand. On the suggestion of a good friend, we huddled into the space behind the theatre ropes at about 6 p.m. to watch the show from there. No, we wouldn’t be sitting down, but according to Twitter the standby line had taken over Norway at that point, so we weren’t going to be sitting anyway. I was a little miffed at first because the view wasn’t so great, but as the show progressed, I thought it was actually a really neat place to watch from because the choir filed in all around us, making for a pretty awesome experience. I took lots of pictures but the show’s lighting and my lack of a bigger lens means they didn’t turn out so hot.

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Our view with my friend the inconveniently-placed tree.

The show was wonderful and I would recommend either getting to the venue very early for the first show or getting a dining package around 3 p.m. and lining up around 4 p.m. if the narrator you want to see is wildly popular (Whoopi Goldberg, Trace Adkins, etc.). In any event, maybe swing by the lineup areas just to check before having dinner or getting a Cocoa Candy Cane.

After the show, I moseyed around to the France Pavilion to try the Chocolate Yule Log from the bakery. France has added some festive peppermint and snowflake decorations this year that are kitschy but nonetheless fun.

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The Chocolate Christmas Log is offered in France’s bakery, Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie (pictured above). Because yule logs are pretty standard (cake plus some kind of cream rolled up and thusly named “log”) I was expecting a pretty tasty snack break in France. I was sadly disappointed when I was handed a box with what I like to term the “Christmas Brick”.

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I’m not really a foodie given my mostly pedestrian palate, but I know this: yule logs should have neither mirengue poofy things, nor chocolate fins. They should be moist and sweet and, in this log’s case, chocolatey. The Yule Brick was none of these things. Pretty? Yes. Tasty? No. My friend ate one fork full, tossed the fork and declared, “I’m out.”  I suggest skipping the Chocolate Christmas Log in France and subbing in another tasty treat.

Fear not – the night did not end on such a sad note. My Chocolate Christmas Log disappointment was lifted as I walked back to Future World via the main pathway and its fun snowflake topiaries. Nothing can be bad when twinkle lights abound.

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I will be back soon to try the other treats and get a glimpse of the Future World gingerbread village. Until then, keep it magical.

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runDisney’s On The Road To Disney Parks – Atlanta Edition

by on December 1, 2013

On The Road To Disney Parks - Atlanta A few weeks ago, Disney announced via the Disney Parks Blog that its was going to start a new runDisney program called On The Road To Disney Parks and that their first stop would be my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia! I immediately signed up my husband (he is the runner in our family…me…I tend to only run if someone’s chasing me.)

However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should sign up, too. I only had to run 2 miles, and I knew it would be an experience I would not forget. (I have actually previously done two other runDisney races: the Disney Halloween 5k in 2011 and the Castaway Cay 5k this past July.) So, I signed myself up and a few hours later, saw both mine and my husband’s name listed. Which meant I had to get out there and do a little bit of training.

In the couple of weeks leading up to the event, I went out most days to “practice” running and enhance my skills. By the time the event came around, I was more or less ready.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six Reasons We Loved The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

by on November 16, 2013

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The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Top Six Reasons We Loved The Osborne Family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The Osborne Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are always among the highlights of our theme park year. Sure, we have a great time at the Food and Wine Festival, Star Wars Weekends and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights – just to name a few of Orlando’s best events – but walking through the lights at DHS every year never fails to take our breath away.

Returning favorites and new surprises made this year’s edition shine bright once again, and today we’re going to look at the top six reasons we can’t get enough.

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The View From Every Disney Hotel Room: Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs and Art of Animation

by on November 10, 2013

At the beginning of October we launched Hotel Room Views, showing the view you’ll get at every Disney World hotel room. (Read the original blog post here.)

Over the past week we’ve added Disney’s Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, and Art of Animation resorts.

Coronado was a challenge because of the suites in the Casitas buildings.  In some of the Casitas buildings, room numbers aren’t consistent from floor to floor, nor are the floors’ room layouts consistent. It took a while to get the maps correct across all the buildings.

For a quick start at these resorts, click on any map, then any building, then any room to see the view from that specific room. You can navigate up, down, left and right one room from there.

If you’re looking for specific room types such as those with king beds, water views, use the filter options to the left of the map.

Here’s the roll-out schedule for the remaining resorts – we’re about 10 days behind because of the last-minute room issues – hoping to catch up by the end of the month:

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TouringPlans Site Maintenance Thursday 12 AM-6 AM

by on November 6, 2013

We’re doing maintenance on the site very early on the morning of Thursday, November 7, from 12 midnight to 6 AM Eastern Standard Time. The maintenance starts an hour after Disneyland closes, so this shouldn’t affect anyone in the parks.

Touring plan optimizations won’t be available during this time. The rest of the site may have slower response times, too.

We’ll post an update once the maintenance is done.

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Morning Menace: Halloween Horror Nights 23 Unmasking the Horror Review (La Llorona, The Walking Dead, and The Cabin in the Woods)

by on October 25, 2013

As a big fan of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights event, I knew after going in 2012 that I wanted to take a lights on tour of the houses as part of the Unmasking the Horror VIP tours. This year Universal broke up their tours into two sessions. The Morning Menace tour started at 10:30AM while the Afternoon Abominations tour started at 2:00PM. Each tour cost $59.99 per person-per tour, or $99.99 if you did both tours. Myself, Brandon Glover from the Universal NOW! podcast, and friend of the show Zeus Navarro signed up for both sessions.

To start the day we were directed to check in “promptly” at 10:00AM at the VIP check in lobby located next to the guest services windows at the front of Universal Studios Florida (USF). We were checking out the Royal Pacific Resort that morning and ended up running a little late, arriving at about 10:20. There was an interesting directory outside the main door with some great tributes to the history of Universal including Lew Wasserman (who has a statue in the New York section of the park and was a key figure in getting USF built) and “Leonidas Chaney,” who we know better as Lon Chaney and one of the most iconic horror movie actors of all time.

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Sign outside VIP check in at Universal Studios Florida

(Remember you can click on any picture to see the full size version of it.)

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The Unofficial Guide is Hiring – Web Designer/Developer Job Available

by on October 24, 2013

For questions about this job opening, please email Travis Bryant, Director of Digital Products at Keen Communications.

Keen Communications, publisher of the Unofficial Guides, is hiring a full-time Web Designer/Developer. Details below. They’ve got offices in Birmingham and Cincinnati, and they’re open to telecommuting.  Details below.

JOB DESCRIPTION

We are searching for an outstanding web designer/developer to be responsible for creating innovative, reusable web­-based tools and sites for our book publishing company. The web designer/developer will work closely with our Digital Products Team and Project Managers. The web designer/developer will regularly be called on to develop specific web solutions and make recommendations on the use of mobile technologies. Programming, graphic design and database administration are all elements of this position.

This position involves leading custom web development efforts throughout the entire project lifecycle.  The web designer/developer will build custom web sites based on their own design input, content requirements, site layout/user interfaces, database design/programming, and PHP development.

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