Walt Disney World (FL)

Paddlefish Swims to Success After Renovation

by on February 15, 2017

Paddlefish Review

If you’ve been to Disney Springs in recent months, you’ve probably noticed the large-scale renovations going on with the classic Empress Lilly stationary steamship, formerly home to Fulton’s Crab House. The seafood eatery closed this past April to make way for an updated restaurant. This month, though, we finally get to enjoy this new restaurant in a familiar home, now called Paddlefish. With an updated menu and all-new décor inside and out, I was pretty excited to give Paddlefish a try and see how it compares in the now highly competitive Disney Springs dining arena.

The exterior of the newly-revamped PaddlefishReservations are now open for booking for meals starting February 20th; in the meantime, the restaurant is working on a solely walk-up only basis. I was able to snag a table right away midweek for an early dinner, ready to sample from the extensive dinner menu. Be warned: lunch and dinner are not the same menus here (as is common at many Disney Springs restaurants like neighboring Boathouse, Homecoming, and Frontera Cocina), and they even have a special Sunday brunch menu, so check out TouringPlans’ menu pages to see which meal fits your budget and appetite the best. Disney Dining Plan is accepted here, as well as Tables in Wonderland, Annual Passholder, and DVC Member discounts.

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Planet Hollywood Misses the Bus to Flavortown

by on February 14, 2017

Planet Hollywood Observatory Review

There aren’t a lot of restaurants that scare me. Even with a newly revamped menu, though, Planet Hollywood Observatory kind of scared me. I had been to the old restaurant a few times prior to the recent transition, and never had a remarkable meal, on par with reader surveys that rank Planet Hollywood as the least-liked restaurant in Walt Disney World. I knew, though, that for a recent lunch visit, I’d have to approach the new Planet Hollywood with an open mind, with hopes that things had improved.

First Impressions

The view from Planet Hollywood Observatory's outdoor deck is beautiful.
First impressions of the new interior: it’s a bit boring now, far less tacky and kitschy than before. Much of the Hollywood memorabilia has been relegated to the stairwells and corners, with lots of brick and projections now taking center stage on the walls. It’s also very, very loud now, especially once the restaurant is jam-packed with guests. To take advantage of the nice day outside, and steer away from the noise, my party requested an outdoor deck table, overlooking Disney Springs. We were still treated to a mid-meal blast of “Afternoon Delight” from the neighboring speakers (an experience, I assure you), but it was much tamer, noise-wise, outside.

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How Pandora Will Impact Crowds At Animal Kingdom – A Crowd Calendar Update

by on February 13, 2017

Pandora: The World of Avatar opens officially at Animal Kingdom on May 27, 2017 and crowds will flock to the park to take in the new attractions. Expect to wait 200 minutes or more to experience the new attractions during the first week of operation. We also expect wait times at other Animal Kingdom attractions to increase 15% when the new Pandora attractions open, and we expect that increase to last throughout most of the summer.

The last major addition to a Disney Park was New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. The expansion ended with the opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on May 28, 2014, two days after Memorial Day. Wait times at Magic Kingdom rose dramatically after the headliner opened, not just at nearby Fantasyland attractions but across the park. Animal Kingdom doesn’t draw the same crowds that Magic Kingdom does, and Pandora likely won’t have the same draw that New Fantasyland did, but it is reasonable to expect a significant bump in attendance. The new Pandora attractions will see extreme wait times throughout the summer, but we expect rides like Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris to see wait times go up, as well.

As a result, we are updating the Crowd Calendar to reflect the announcement of Pandora’s official opening date. In addition, we are making a few minor updates to other dates and parks in line with our most recent analysis.

Other New Developments That May Affect Crowds

  • Disney announced an increase to Walt Disney World ticket prices, with costs going up as much as 10% for certain multi-day tickets. A price increase can lead to a small dip in attendance, either through shorter or fewer trips. What we don’t yet know is how much this price increase will affect crowds, given the opening of Pandora and other developments.
  • We expect Disney’s Hollywood Studios to drop its evening Extra Magic Hours program. We also expect the Animal Kingdom to add evening Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Kingdom not to replace its evening parade (at least with anything new or notable) for the next few months. The net effect of those changes should be to push evening crowds to the Animal Kingdom. We’ve never seen this situation before, though, and we don’t know how much the price increase in park hopper tickets will discourage people from visiting a second park per day.

Is Pandora Animal Kingdom’s New Fantasyland?

It may take our models up to 30 days to recognize the impact of these changes. We’ll adjust each park’s crowd predictions based on that and post something to the blog explaining the changes as we get them.

What’s Behind These Crowd Calendar Updates

Here is a brief description of what you will see on the latest crowd calendar. As always, the crowd levels are subject to change as they are based on the information available to us at the time we make the predictions. We always encourage you use a touring plan as the best defense against any size crowd – they work, so use ’em!

February

The rest of February will see some minor changes that reflect dips in wait times we have seen in late January and early February, mostly at Hollywood Studios. The calendar is currently not predicting a large boost in wait times at Animal Kingdom when Rivers of Light begins regular performances but that may have to be revised once we see what happens after February 17. Unless you are visiting specifically to see the show, try to avoid that park, especially in the evening.

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Piano at Disney World: Live Shows and Fabulous Props

by on February 13, 2017

 

Piano Entertainment at Walt Disney World

Disney World guests can choose from an array of extravagant entertainment from full-scale stage shows like Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to nightly theme park spectaculars like Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular. The wow factor of these shows in undeniable, but Disney World also features numerous fantastic smaller-scale acts inside and outside of the theme parks. Among these, it is surprising how many of my favorites feature some extremely talented pianists.

Disney World Hotel Bar Tour

The incomparable Yehaa Bob (photo by Brian McNichols)

This article takes a look at some of these fantastic piano acts and how you can make them part of your Disney World visit. Plus, just for fun, we point to several Disney World attractions and other venues where you can spot fabulous piano props and theming.

Live Piano Entertainment to Include in Your Disney World Plan

Yehaa Bob Jackson at River Roost Lounge. With a great big personality and a rollicking good time of a show, Yehaa Bob entertains resort guests and long-time fans at River Roost Lounge located at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside. During his show combining music and comedy, Yehaa Bob is a master at getting his audience singing along, dancing, and cheering each other on. Each guest becomes part of the fun as Yehaa Bob visits tables and poses for photo ops. It’s no surprise that Yehaa Bob, who has been entertaining Disney World guests since 1997, was a Legacy Award recipient in 2013, one of Disney’s most prestigious awards for Cast Members, Crew Members, and Imagineers.

Where and when: Shows take place every Wednesday through Saturday night at Port Orleans – Riverside’s River Roost Lounge at 8:30 PM and 10:30 PM. The show is family-friendly, there is no cover charge, and you can just enjoy the show or grab a table and order drinks or food.

What else to do: Before or after the show, consider taking a walk along the Sassagoula River that goes from Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside to its Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter.

Casey’s Corner Pianist. It’s easy to rush by Magic Kingdom’s Casey’s Corner at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. on your way to the next attraction, but slowing down for at least a few minutes when the Casey’s Corner pianist is performing will pay off big time. I guarantee that you will be massively impressed by the talents of the pianist playing lively Disney and ragtime tunes. The music will also greatly increase your immersion in the Main Street, U.S.A. atmosphere. Get even more involved by making a request.

Where and when: 20-minute sets usually start around noon and run until 6-7 PM outside of Casey’s Corner hot dog stop. You can check a specific date here or obtain the Magic Kingdom Times Guide at the front of the park.

What else to do: Grab a hot dog at Casey’s Corner or an ice cream across the street at the Plaza Ice Parlor to enjoy while you watch the show.

Enjoy live music played by the Casey’s Corner Pianist. Photo courtesy of Disney

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Walt Disney World Ticket Pricing Breakdown

by on February 12, 2017

Walt Disney World Ticket Pricing

©Disney

Yesterday, I shared with you that Walt Disney World tickets will be increasing beginning today. In addition, to that, there were a few other changes that occurred as well that include:

  • Pricing that includes a range of options
  • All new tickets will have an expiration date that the ticket must be used by. (Previously, only one day tickets expired.) This means that unused tickets must be used by a certain date or they will expire. (Example, right now, tickets purchased today must be used by December 31, 2018.) Anyone who holds an expired ticket will be able to exchange it for a credit that can be used towards purchasing a new ticket of equal or greater value. Unused tickets that have been purchased prior to Sunday, February 12 will remain valid and not carry expiration dates.
  • Guests can receive a $20 discount on any 3-Day to 10-Day Magic Your Way Ticket purchased in advance through Disney.
  • The Water Park Fun & More and Park Hopper Ticket will now be called Park Hopper Plus. Water Park Fun & More will be discontinued by itself.   The Park Hopper Plus will include the ability to visit more than two parks in a day, as well as a certain number of visits to your choice of Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, Fantasia Gardens Mini-Golf Course, Winter Summerland Mini-Golf Course, or ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Last year, Disney introduced seasonal pricing at Walt Disney World. That will continue this year for one day tickets. With the seasonal pricing, each month is divided to include value, regular, and peak days. You would pay Value Season pricing if you visited in September, but if you visit in December during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, you will pay Peak Pricing. Those who purchase multi-day tickets or are purchasing an annual pass do not currently see seasonal pricing.

Here is the full breakdown of ticket pricing for Walt Disney World:

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Disney Ticket Price Increase Happening Tomorrow

by on February 11, 2017

Ticket Price Increase

©Disney

It’s that time again. Time when Disney annually increases their ticket prices. So this is your official warning. Rumors are indicating that tickets will be increasing in price for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World tomorrow, Sunday, February 12.

Here are the changes that we are expecting to see for Walt Disney World:

    • Pricing that includes a range of options
    • All new tickets will have an expiration date that the ticket must be used by. (Previously, only one day tickets expired.) Anyone with an expired ticket will be able to exchange it for a credit to purchase a new ticket of equal or greater value. Tickets that have been purchased prior to Sunday, February 12 will remain valid and not carry expiration dates.
    • Guests can receive a $20 discount on any 3-Day to 10-Day Magic Your Way Ticket purchased in advance through Disney.
    • The Water Park Fun & More and Park Hopper Ticket will now be called Park Hopper Plus. Water Park Fun & More will be discontinued by itself.   The Park Hopper Plus will include the ability to visit more than two parks in a day, as well as a certain number of visits to your choice of Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, Fantasia Gardens Mini-Golf Course, Winter Summerland Mini-Golf Course, or ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Disney has recently been increasing ticket pricing in February for the past few years. Last year, Disney introduced seasonal pricing at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. With the seasonal pricing, each month is divided to include value, regular, and peak days. So, for example, if you plan to visit in September, you would pay value pricing. If say, however, that you want to visit around the hectic holiday week of Christmas and New Year’s, you pay peak pricing. Keep in mind that seasonal pricing only impacted 1 day tickets. Those who purchase multi-day tickets or are purchasing an annual pass do not currently see seasonal pricing.

I’ll make sure to have the full pricing details for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland for you as soon as they are released.

If you’ll be traveling to Walt Disney World this year, consider purchasing your tickets now and remember that our Price Comparison Tool can help you find the least expensive tickets for your needs.

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Jostens Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports to be Renamed

by on February 8, 2017

ESPN Wide World of Sports

©Rikki Niblett

The ESPN Wide World of Sports has been going through a lot of changes over the past few years.  Well, there’s another change that’s occurring and that’s that beginning on February 11, the Jostens Center will be renamed as the J Center. This change is due to the Jostens sponsorship ending.

The J Center is a multi-purpose arena for the ESPN Wide World of Sports. It houses basketball and volleyball courts, plus more. The J Center is home to multiple national championships held throughout the year, as well as host to the health and fitness expos during runDisney weekends.

Overall, the entire ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is seeing an expansion with seating for over 8000 guests, a performance and warm-up space, and a new multi-use sports and entertainment venue with the ability to host 6 regulation basketball courts, 6 regulation volleyball courts or concert configurations.

Stay tuned to further changes that may be occurring at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

 

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The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Disney’s New Seven Hour STAR WARS Guided Tour

by on February 4, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Disney’s new Star Wars Guided Tour! One of the most underrated attractions at Walt Disney World are the guided tours available across property. Behind the Seeds at EPCOT is a true gem, Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom is a must-do for hardcore Disney fans, and the Sanaa Cultural Tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge is a fascinating look at all the details in one of Disney’s best restaurants. In late 2016, Disney announced that a new seven hour tour based around Star Wars would be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at a price of $121.12 per person, not including cost of admission to the park.

Star Wars Guided Tour check-in. (photo by Meg Stump)

Star Wars Guided Tour credentials, where guests are separated into different planets. All theme park bloggers hail from “Mustafar.” (photo by Meg Stump)

To put seven hours into perspective, if you were to watch A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi consecutively it would take less than six and a half hours (although watching the prequels back to back would probably seem like 100 hours). The price is also one of the highest of any tour that WDW offers, would there be value to be found? Thanks to an in-depth investigation by SATURDAY SIX editor in chief Megan Stump, we’re happy to report back the answer is a resounding YESToday we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite parts of the new guided tour, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – March Behind the First Order

One common theme you see among many of our favorite shows that go to Walt Disney World – including Full House, Step By Step, and last year’s Blackish – is that characters from the show end up joining Disney parades or other shows in the parks. I think this because there is a subconscious, or maybe even conscious, feeling by many people that they want to be part of the show. Guests who take part in the Star Wars Guided Tour get to live out their theme park fantasy by being a part of Captain Phasma’s march of the First Order. Guests meet up up with Captain Phasma and the gang as soon as they come onstage and you travel directly behind the stormtroopers as they make their way down Hollywood Blvd.

Captain Phasma leads the First Order. (photo by Meg Stump)

Guests doing the Star Wars Guided Tour follow directly behind the First Order. (photo by Meg Stump)

Where else can you be this close to the action other than the Star Wars Guided Tour? (photo by Meg Stump)

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Dani’s Best Week Ever February 2, 2017: Recapping the first month of 2017

by on February 2, 2017

Can you believe it? The first month of 2017 has come and gone! If your first month was anything like mine then it flew by! 2017 looks to be a big year for theme parks with lots of new stuff opening like Volcano Bay water theme park opening May 25, hopefully Rivers of Light and Pandora: the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Race Through New Year with Jimmy Fallon and Fast and the Furious Ride both at Universal Studios Florida and a new water slide, Miss Adventure Falls at Typhoon Lagoon.

I started off 2017 with a good blend of time in the theme parks and time enjoying local experiences like seeing manatees at Blue Spring State Park, Orlando Science Center, Wekiva Island, and Cocoa Beach Pier. But of course you’re reading Touring Plans because you wanna know about the theme parks. Let’s recap what made the first month of January 2017 some of my best weeks ever.

Epcot Festival of the Arts

Three weeks ago Epcot Festival of the Arts began and I, like so many fellow Disney fans, visited on the opening weekend. It seems Epcot is now the theme park of festivals. 189 days out of the year there is some sort of festival at Epcot, be it Food and Wine, Flower and Garden, or the Arts. In fact, Festival of the Arts ends on February 20, then eight days later the Flower and Garden festival begins!

I arrived at Epcot around 11:30 AM and ready to take in as much of the festival as possible. We kicked off our day with a visit to the Odyssey Festival Showplace. This is a great place to start because you can enjoy a Food Studio, two stunning art galleries, and sign up for one of the seminars.

Naturally the Food Studios are a major draw of the festival. You can learn about some of the culinary masterpieces, and the items to consider skipping, here. I didn’t try any sweets on my visit, but since there are three more weekends of the festival maybe I’ll swing by to try a few before catching IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

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Groundhog Day: Attractions Worth Repeating … Forever

by on February 2, 2017

When we talk about “Groundhog Day” experiences at Walt Disney World, we’re not necessarily talking about a large rodent emerging from his burrow. We know that Mickey Mouse remains safely in the Magic Kingdom’s Town Square Theater. And despite his comedic talent, he has little weather forecasting ability.

©Columbia Pictures

No, we’re talking about the 1993 movie where Bill Murray plays arrogant weatherman Phil Connors, who is reluctantly covering the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa. After a blizzard traps him in town for the night, Murray’s character wakes up to the same song and chatter on the radio and the same events unfolding through the town. Soon, he finds that he’s trapped in an endless time loop. He’s stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over, while everyone surrounding him is unaware of his predicament.

Much like Phil Connors, if you’re a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, you might find yourself in your own Groundhog Day. Riding the same attractions over and over. Taking the same route through the parks. Ordering the same lunch. I had my own Groundhog Day moment when my boat got stuck in the final scene of It’s A Small World. Endlessly cheery, well-intentioned but ultimately annoying, it’s kind of the Ned Ryerson of Disney attractions.

Luckily, Walt Disney World has a number of attractions that will break you out of that time loop. So on this Groundhog Day, let’s take a tour of the park attractions that offer a different experience each time you visit.

A unique experience, now doubled

Our first attraction, Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris remains a must-do every visit, for the simple fact that the experience changes every time. These aren’t animatronics you’re seeing, they’re real animals, doing real animal things. Occasionally they’ll even block the path of your ride vehicle.

Sometimes the wildlife is this close. But don’t worry, dangerous animals are separated by barriers.

Imagineers rig these rocks with cooling devices to keep the lions on view.

It’s Disney’s largest attraction by a wide margin, with the tour winding through the 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve. You can view up to 34 species of African wildlife in the various habitats. I say “up to” because you can’t always see all the animals. They have minds of their own, so they could be hidden away on one tour and in full display the next. Part of the appeal of Kilimanjaro Safaris is that you never know what you’re going to get.

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