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The Basics: Planning A Trip to Universal Orlando for Disney Veterans

by on March 18, 2016

gringotts dragonThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Even the most ardent Disney fans have become aware that there exists ANOTHER theme park complex in Central Florida that people visit from time to time, and some of you have probably even considered popping over there for a bit to see what it’s all about. Gatorland aside, however, let me tell you about Universal Orlando, which is yet another top notch theme park experience that you should consider. This article will hopefully provide you with some guidance as a first timer to help you get the most out of the experience.

Let me get this out there at the outset: I realize that there exists this whole “Disney vs. Universal” rivalry that exists in the fan community. I’m not really trying to steer anyone towards one park or the other, I’m just trying to provide enough objective information to help Disney fans that are considering going to Universal make an informed decision and plan for the best trip possible. Because I am writing this for those that are familiar with Disney, however, some comparison of the two is a useful way to go about it, as it provides some context. I’m sure some of the more passionate folks on either end of the issue will take some of these thoughts as a shot across the bow. Just know that I’m a fan of both places, I have annual passes at both places, and I’m honestly doing my best to be as fair as possible. Please keep that in mind before you fire off your scathing email or comment! So, without further ado, let’s jump in!

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Disney Haiku Challenge

by on March 11, 2016

"Disney Haiku"

“Disney Haiku” (yes, that’s really what it says)

I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve always found haiku to be a fun little creative outlet. My law school roommate and I would often sit in the back of our Estates & Trusts lectures and compose absurd haiku as a way to pass the time. This might explain why neither of us do estates and trusts as a part of our practice, by the way, but that’s a discussion for another day.  

Anyway, as a reminder for those of you that have not encountered it since elementary school, haiku is a form of short Japanese poetry that follows a particular format: a traditional haiku is 17 syllables in three phrases that follow a 5-7-5 pattern.*  In other words, the first phrase is 5 syllables, the second is 7, and the final phrase is 5 syllables.  To the extent that it requires you to wedge your thoughts into a small number of words and still convey something worth reading, you can almost think of it as an ancient version of Twitter (minus the abbreviations, emoticons and vitriol).  Alas, I digress.

Haiku have traditionally been used to convey very Zen-like observations regarding the serenity of the natural world.  Accordingly, the juxtaposition of this simple, beautiful form of poetry and its traditional use, and different subject matter — like the decidedly un-serene and not-particularly-natural Disney Parks — can lead to some wonderfully absurd results.  Soooo, here’s a challenge for all of you — come up with some Disney park haiku and share them in the comments below.

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, March 10, 2016: Springtime in Epcot

by on March 10, 2016

 

A topiary representation of me in spring.

A topiary representation of me in spring.

If you have seasonal allergies, you may have a love-hate relationship with spring. When I lived up north, I was thrilled to feel the warmer temperatures and know that snow shoveling season was ending. Of course that meant cars covered with yellow pollen, itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing, but it is a small price to pay for warmth again.

In Florida, where seasonal differences are more subtle, sometimes it is nice to have a reminder of the awesomeness that is spring. For me, the biggest reminder of spring is Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. As soon as it opens, that’s where you’ll find me.

Opening weekend for Flower and Garden also was opening weekend for Epcot’s Easter Egg hunt. We had a blast doing it last year, so we knew we wanted to do it this year as well. It seems the word has gotten out about this fun event, as it took about 10 minutes in line to get our map.

2016-03-05 11.58.23

The map also comes with stickers that look like the giant eggs hidden around World Showcase. Simply walk to a country, find the hidden egg, put the correct sticker on the map, and take the completed map back to the redemption center for a souvenir character egg.

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Disney Hacks #3: FastPass+ Hacks & Advanced Tips

by on March 8, 2016

disney hacksOK, so you know what FastPass+ is, you know how to use it, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how to get the most out of it? Now you’re looking to crank it up to 11 and take this ninja level, right?  

First of all, full disclosure, the glory days of being able to hoard multiple FastPasses and then use them at the end of the day in a headliner free-for-all are unfortunately behind us, and there’s nothing in here that reaches that level of awesomeness. Moreover, everything here falls squarely within Disney’s rules and practices. With that said, information is power, and knowing what it will and will not let you do can help you make the most of it, and hopefully do some things you hadn’t considered. 

Split Your Party to Get Hard-to-Get FastPass+ Reservations

Sometimes, you’ll try to make a FastPass+ reservation for an attraction for your group and there’s simply nothing available (this is probably most frequent when trying to make reservations on relatively short notice for in-demand attractions). Before you relegate yourself to waiting in the regular line like a plebeian, you might try splitting your group into smaller groups to see if that changes the availability.

©Disney

©Disney

For example, let’s say that you have a party of 4, and you want to experience the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but the FastPass+ system is telling you that there’s no availability. It could be that they don’t have an hour of time for a party of four, but they might for two groups of two, or even four single reservations. Accordingly, try breaking your party down into smaller groups and see if that changes the availability. Moreover, those time blocks for the smaller groups might overlap, such that you could still experience the attraction together (e.g., if one window starts at 1 pm and the other starts at 1:30, there is a 50 minute window, including the grace periods, where both groups could ride at the same time).

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Savory Snack Credits at Animal Kingdom

by on March 3, 2016

2016-02-15-11.55.021-700x525A little more than a year ago, I reviewed ideas for savory snack credit “meals” available throughout Walt Disney World. For many people on the dining plan, snack credits become money that ends up being hastily spent or not spent at all. Although some snacks should be used one per person (for instance, Mickey bars), boxes of popcorn or pretzels are often shared, leaving many people with leftover snack credits. Some people use these snack credits to bring home cookies or candy, and I’ve even seen one woman use 20 snack credits to buy out all the oranges at Art of Animation to bring home “Florida” oranges for her housesitter. Thankfully, there are some lesser-known options that can be used as a light meal with just a dining plan snack credit. Many new and exciting options have come to Animal Kingdom. Here are some of the best.

 

Chicken Fried Rice at Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafesyak-and-yeti-fried-rice-700x465

This one appeared in my previous article, but I wanted to mention it again because I think it is the single best savory snack credit meal at Walt Disney World. For one snack credit, you get a container of chicken fried rice that is very suitable for a lunch. Although the quality is the same with any takeout Chinese restaurant, the value for this one stands out time and time again. There’s also a pork eggroll on the menu that is also a snack credit option.

 

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Movies to See Before Your Disney World Vacation

by on February 28, 2016

image

Ready for a Disney Movie Marathon?

When counting down a trip to Walt Disney World, there are a number of things that need to be done from deciding how many suitcases to take, to setting a souvenir budget, to breaking in that new pair of walking shoes. But for me, there’s one more thing that I always have to do when counting down those last few anticipation-filled days, and that’s refreshing my memory and getting in the Disney spirit with a few movies! Kicking back with some popcorn to revisit a classic Disney flick, or even checking out a film for the first time, will only add to your overall Disney World experience. So go pop some popcorn and get ready for a movie marathon with my list of movies to see before your Disney World Vacation!

But first, let me explain how I came up with this list. Naturally, I included a number of Disney animated classics, even though it was really really hard to narrow down my favorites; but just so you know, I based my selections on what films I felt were represented the most at Walt Disney World or a huge part of Disney World history. Secondly, my list is not just Disney animated films, but also live-action Disney films and non-Disney films which are either represented in the parks or, again, played a big role in Disney history or as Imagineering inspiration! But as always, if you feel that I missed an important movie, or would simply like to add to the list, please do so in the comments.

Okay, are you ready for the list? Here we go…

Photo - Disney

Photo – Disney

Cinderella

Disney’s first princess film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella is one of the most beloved and important films Walt Disney ever made. The film’s release in 1950 was so successful that it revitalized the Disney Company after World War II and kick-started the decade in which we would get the first Disney Park: Disneyland. Why you should revisit Cinderella before your Disney World retreat is because the Magic Kingdom’s castle is called Cinderella Castle! Inside the castle, a sparkly mosaic tells Cinderella’s story and there’s even a themed restaurant, Cinderella’s Royal Table, where guests meet Cinderella herself and dine in a medieval, fairy tale setting. Characters from Cinderella are also known to meet guests around Cinderella Castle and throughout Fantasyland; and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa offers a special character meal at 1900 Park Fare where Cinderella, Prince Charming, and her dysfunctional family meet with guests as they dine. All in all, Cinderella is an important film at Walt Disney World and is definitely worth a watch before you pass through the park turnstiles.

African Queen by IMDB

Photo – imdb.com

The African Queen

Why is this film my first pick? Well, believe it or not this 1951 classic, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, inspired the Disney Park staple, The Jungle Cruise. Walt Disney saw this film himself and wanted to recreate the experience in his upcoming Disneyland Park. Although, he planned for guests aboard his boats to see live wildlife on the shores, just as the characters in The African Queen did! Of course, live animals wasn’t exactly doable at the time, nor would they be willing to appear and entertain when a boat passed by every few minutes; and so, the plan for live animals was scrapped in favor of one of Walt’s newest innovations: audio-animatronics. Walt’s vision for an attraction where guests could be entertained by live African wildlife was finally realized in 1998 when Kilimanjaro Safaris opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. In this way, The African Queen technically inspired two attractions at Walt Disney World! This is why I encourage anyone going to Walt Disney World to check out The African Queen. While I’ve always loved the Jungle Cruise, seeing the film which inspired it gave me a whole new appreciation for this classic attraction. Tip: Look for The African Queen poster on Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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An Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Primer

by on February 23, 2016

The groundhog has spoken, and spring is on the way. Time to think of birds singing and flowers blooming. (And maybe restocking allergy supplies…)

It also is time to start planning for the Epcot International Flower and Garden festival. Now in its 23rd year, this annual event has brought a splash of color and new life to the Epcot resort. This year, the festival will run from March 2 through May 30, 2016. Whether this is your first visit or you’re an old pro, here’s some hints to help make the most of your visit.

Passport

2016-02-20 10.50.44

Be sure to pick up a festival passport from the festival center or from select gift shop or food booth locations. In addition to having menus of the food booths, locations of topiaries, and a list of concert performers, the passport also contains information about the festival and makes a lovely (and free) souvenir. At each location in the passport, you can stop by and get a special stamp.

Garden Rocks Concerts

In the evenings from Friday through Sunday, Epcot comes alive with the sounds of some famous musicians in the Garden Rocks concert series. The concerts are offered three times a night at The American Adventure pavilion’s American Gardens Theater.

This year will include some newcomers to the festival with performances by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Brian Howe (Bad Company), Georgia Satellites, and Darlene Love. Also returning are favorites like Starship, Herman’s Hermits, Village People, and Gin Blossoms, among others. You’ll want to arrive early if you want a good seat in the American Gardens Theater, but you can also enjoy hearing the music from the outdoor areas around The American Adventure pavilion.

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Julia Mascardo’s Best Week Ever, February 11, 2016: Happy Lunar New Year!

by on February 11, 2016

Happy Lunar New Year! We celebrated Disney-style with red envelopes filled with Disney dollars.

Happy Lunar New Year! We celebrated Disney-style with red envelopes filled with Disney dollars.

Ed – Those of you who read Seth’s final Best Week Ever already know, but we have some new Best Week Ever Authors. Welcome Julia!

Greetings! You may already know me as Derek’s Unpaid Outlet Intern or as one of the voices from the TouringPlans Twitter account, but now the powers that be have given me the privilege of stepping into the lofty role of co-blogger for the Best Week Ever series, joining the ranks of the illustrious Seth and Daisy. Somehow I think an e-mail got misdirected into my inbox with the offer, but if you’re reading this, it looks like my blog slipped into publication somehow. (I won’t tell if you won’t!)

A bit of background about me: I grew up in Florida and have spent most of my adult life finding ways to leave for a little while and come back to settle down. I live with my husband, daughter, and two cats (Pixie Dust and Figment) in the backyard for the Magic Kingdom.

But enough about me — time for the best week ever.

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My Review of the Shop Disney Parks App

by on February 1, 2016

by Disney

by Disney

I’m about to let you in on my latest and most favorite Disney secret? Are you ready? Okay, it’s the Shop Disney Parks App, which allows iPhone, iPad, and Android users to search and browse pretty much everything available at the Walt Disney World Resort and to purchase such items through the app in the parks and at home. Yes, you can now buy items from Walt Disney World at home! Seriously, this is revolutionary fellow Disney shopaholics and it has completely changed my Disney shopping experience. I’ve used the app myself multiple times in recent months and I’m here to give you my review of the Shop Disney Parks App.

Now with Disney Store locations and the DisneyStore.com, you may be asking why is the Shop Disney Parks App even necessary? Well, the Disney Store locations and the website only carry certain merchandise and in actuality barely scratch the surface of all that’s available at the parks and resorts. But the Shop Disney Parks App allows users to purchase products from the different Disney World Resorts, Epcot’s World Showcase pavilions, and even select Disneyland 60th Anniversary items. The only catch is that some products, particularly food items and those that are exclusive to special events or labeled as limited editions, can only be purchased in-store.

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Where a selected souvenir can be found at the Magic Kingdom

The app is the perfect shopping tool for when shopping are at the Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts. Users who have found an item they like on the app can simply select the Find on Map icon to see where at Walt Disney World the item is being sold. The app also shows the stock levels of the stores in which it is available too. This is a huge help for those of us who have spent valuable vacation time in the past hopping from store to store to find that one souvenir they just can’t leave without. The app also features a scanner so that when users find an item they like in a store, they can simply scan the item’s barcode to know where else it can be found on Disney World Property. Lastly, for further convenience, app users can send their purchases to their Disney World Resort or to the front of the park to skip the lines at the registers and having to lug shopping bags around for the rest of the day. They can also directly send their purchases to their home address, perfect for users who may not have enough space in their luggage for the flight home.

Now let’s move on to my personal experience with the Shop Disney Parks app…

I first downloaded the Shop Disney Parks app on my iPhone last November for the sake of Christmas shopping, as most of the members of my family love Disney World and park merch just like I do. I ordered through the app several times during the holiday season, and have even made a purchase or two since then. Here’s what I liked, and also what I didn’t…

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Disneyland Crowd Calendar Report – January 17 to 23, 2016

by on January 25, 2016

How Crowded Was Disneyland Last Week?

How Crowded Was Disneyland Last Week?

Wait times at Disneyland last week followed the pattern predicted by the Disneyland Crowd Calendar. The resort wide crowd level was off by more than one index level twice, on Monday and Wednesday. January is off-season for Disneyland Resort and that means a big dip in attendance during the week and busy parks on the weekends.

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

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