Walt Disney World (FL)

SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s BoardWalk Resort

by on June 27, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. While we have done articles on several of our favorite Walt Disney World resorts, including Animal Kingdom Lodge, Art of Animation, and Port Orleans French Quarter, it was the BoardWalk Inn & Villas which was the hardest to cut down to just our six favorite things. The overall depth of theming and amount of details throughout the resort is second to none. 

BoardWalk_LOGO

Disney’s BoardWalk.

The BoardWalk was the second of Disney Vacation Club properties to be built (following Old Key West) and its “story” revolves around  the great East Coast boardwalk areas of the 1920s and 30s. In the early part of the 20th century places like Coney Island in New York and Atlantic City in New Jersey were the Walt Disney World of their day. Attractions, restaurants, hotels… they were the place to be. Disney Imagineers and architect Robert A.M. Stern pulled from this incredible era of history of America to create Disney’s BoardWalk and left tons of wonderful details for guests to appreciate. The details are just one of the many reasons we think this resort is the bee’s knees, so let’s begin counting down our top six reasons starting with…

# 6 – The Lobby

There are some lobbies at Walt Disney World which will have you picking your jaw off the floor (most notably the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge) but what the BoardWalk lacks in expansiveness it makes up for in fantastic show elements, such as the gorgeous Hippocampus Electrolier hanging above. A hippocampus is a creature from Greek mythology that is part horse, part fish, while electrolier is a name for a ceiling fixture holding electric lamps (a name which never took hold and is just referred to as a chandelier today.) Weighing in at 3,000 pounds and intricately detailed, this may very well be the most impressive chandelier on Disney property, and imagine what that is saying.

BoardWalk_chandilier

The BoardWalk’s stunning hippocampus electrolier. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Selfie Sticks Now Banned Across Walt Disney World Property

by on June 26, 2015

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©Seth Kubersky

Due to safety concerns, selfie sticks (the extendable poles where you can attach a phone or a camera to the end) are now banned property-wide across the Walt Disney World Resort. This means you cannot use them at the theme parks, the water parks or DisneyQuest Interactive Theme Park. This new rule will go into effect on June 30.

Guests who attempt to bring selfie sticks into the park will be stopped at bag check and they will be escorted to Guest Relations where the device will be tagged and the Guest will be given a claim ticket to retrieve it upon exit. For those who get caught using a selfie stick in a park, a Cast Member will escort the guest to a regional Guest Relations area where the device will be tagged and a claim ticket will be given to the guest. Again, the Guest will be able to claim their selfie stick as they exit.

All guests must relinquish their selfie sticks, they cannot simply put them away if a Cast Member approaches them about it.

Recently, Disney banned selfie sticks on attractions, however, it seems that more drastic measures needed to be taken regarding these devices.

What are your thoughts on the ban? Do you think it’s a good idea or were you a fan of the selfie stick?

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales Tour Review

by on June 25, 2015

Earlier this year, Disney discontinued two of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Animal Kingdom (Backstage Safari and Wild by Design) and replaced them with a new tour called Backstage Tales. The new tour a mashup of the two, weighted heavily with Backstage Safari experiences. If you’ve previously been on Backstage Safari, consider yourself covered.

Bird food

Bird food

A key difference between the old tours and the new is a change of the participation age limit. Backstage Safari (which, not surprisingly, took place backstage) had an age requirement of 16. Wild By Design (which was an on-stage experience) had an age 14 requirement. The new Backstage Tales allows guests as young as 12 years old to participate. I took the tour with my 15 year old twin daughters.

Disney used standard-sounding boilerplate language when they described why the tour was changed — something along the lines of “due to guest feedback and demand.” While I’m sometimes suspicious of the real motivation behind comments like that, I can assure you that when answering questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, we did indeed get many questions from guests requesting behind-the-scenes educational experiences for their younger children. The reduced age requirement is terrific news for budding veterinarians and zoologists who want an early look at the inner workings of animal care at the park.

The tour consists of seven parts:

  • Introductions and Getting to Know You
  • Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)
  • Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats
  • Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist
  • Visit to the animal nutrition center
  • Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room
  • Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

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Introductions and Getting to Know You

This tour starts early, 7:30am. While younger teens will enjoy getting to see the backstage areas, they will almost certainly NOT like the early hour. Theoretically, you should be able to get an “early character meal” bus from your resort to the Animal Kingdom, but I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to take this tour, plan to get to the park with your own car or via a taxi or Uber. Also note that the food cart outside the park gates may not be open when you arrive. You should grab breakfast at your hotel prior to leaving for the tour.

Guest check-in takes place just outside the park gates, toward the left as you face the park. There’s a bit of housekeeping when you arrive. Adults must sign waivers for themselves and any children in their care. Also, IDs are checked for adults. All guests are issued name tags and audio headsets that make it easier to hear the guide’s narration.

Your guide will introduce him or her self, giving a brief synopsis of where they’re from and their history with Disney. They will then ask the guests to introduce themselves, giving their name where they’re from, and some other bit of information. On various tours, I’ve been asked to tell my favorite Disney character, my favorite ride, my favorite animal, or what I’m looking forward to about the tour.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.08.07 AM

Once the business is out of the way, guests pass the park gate touchpoints using their admission media. (I was going to say swipe their tickets at the turnstile, but that’s so 2013.)

Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)

The first stop on the tour is at the Pangani Forest Trail aviary. Along the way, the guide will share stories about the history of the Animal Kingdom park. Some of these are the same as what I encountered when I took the Wild By Design tour in 2014. Photography is allowed on the AK park paths and in the aviary, which is a public space.

At the aviary, we were greeted by a bird care specialist. He discussed the nesting and feeding habits of many of the species housed at the Animal Kingdom. A highlight for several guests was an opportunity to feed the birds by tossing mealworms to them. Guests who chose to do this were offered gloves, if they wanted to use them. The mealworms made our group extremely popular with the birds, making this a terrific opportunity to get photos. The feeding also made it easier to see that all the birds at the aviary are banded with identification tags. We learned from the keepers that every bird is located and counted every day.

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Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats

After the aviary, we slipped behind the scenes and boarded a van to take us to the rhino and elephant barns. Before getting in the van, we were asked to put away our cameras. Most folks just slipped them into their bag or pocket. I was wearing a large DSLR and just put the lens cap on, which seemed to satisfy the guide that I wasn’t covertly snapping pictures.

At the rhino and elephant barns, we were met by a large mammal specialist who described some of the training the animals receive to facilitate their medical care. We were also welcome to ask as many questions as we wanted about life on the “savannah,” work at the Animal Kingdom, animal breeding, or anything else we could think of. The barns are spartan and much more zoo-like than the wooded areas that guests see inside the park. Backstage it’s mostly iron and concrete. The animals are given some “toys” and distractions, but the barns are primarily a business area. While at the barns, we did see elephants backstage getting cared for, but all the rhinos were out for viewing in public areas. This will vary daily depending on the needs of the animals and the facility.

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Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room

When you visit the public areas of Conservation Station (the building in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at the end of the Wildlife Express train ride), you may see animal care specialists performing procedures on creatures from behind a glass wall. On the Backstage Tales tour, you get to go into one of those rooms and see the medical equipment up close. We learned about the different types of tools used to examine different size species and got an overview of the areas of expertise of the cast members that work at the Animal Kingdom.

During our visit, we happened to see part of an examination of a sedated fennec fox. This is one of my daughter’s favorite animals, so she was in awe. You may or may not see a live animal procedure during your tour, depending on the needs of the facility.

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Visit to the animal nutrition center

After another brief van ride, we stopped at the stop animal nutrition center. This is almost like the kitchen for a large restaurant. There are delivery bays for fruits and vegetables — from the exact same vendors that provide human food for the parks. The produce must meet the same exacting specifications as the food for the guests. We also got to see storage areas for hay and specially prepared pellet-style nutritional supplements for some specials. Additionally, there were freezers for the meat fed to carnivores.

The main room of the nutrition center features several work stations where staff have “recipe books” with precise measurements of food to be delivered to each animal each day. These were “plated” into individual storage containers for transportation to the feeding stations throughout the park.

A particularly interesting area was a shelf full of enhancement items to make the food more interesting for the animals. This included things like jam, peanut butter, and ground spices, which are periodically added to some animal foods to keep them interesting.

Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist

Near the nutrition center, we visited a classroom area in the backstage education building. We were given an opportunity to use the restroom. Then we were provided with snacks (rice krispie treats) and given souvenir metal Animal Kingdom water bottles, which we could fill from a bottled water cooler.

While we snacked, we were visited by a conservation specialist. Our specialist spoke primarily about Disney’s efforts to support the wild sea turtles near the Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach, Florida. We learned about turtle reproduction and migration patterns. This talk didn’t have much to do with the Animal Kingdom park itself, but it was a good opportunity to learn about Disney’s dedication to conservation issues, and to get out of the heat for a few minutes.

Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

Our final stop was the backstage habitat of the Animal Kingdom’s komodo dragons. We watched a dragon trained to be step onto a scale to be weighed. When the dragon performed the desired behavior, he was rewarded with a “fuzzy,” a frozen baby mouse. The behaviors of the dragons, and all the animals, is completely voluntary. They are rewarded for compliant behavior, but they are never punished for non-compliance.

At the dragon habitat, as at every stop, we were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted about animal care and behavior, Animal Kingdom operations, or staff training. The Backstage Tales tour is particularly nice because it’s one of the few behind-the-scenes opportunities for guests under the age of 16. If you have a child interested in a possible career in animal care, this is a unique chance to see what their future might be like. In my opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of time and personal attention you get from the professional staff.

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The Details

  • The price is $90.00 per person, plus tax. All ages pay the same price. Disney Vacation Club, Annual Pass Holder, or Disney Visa Holder discounts may be available. Inquire at time of booking.
  • Theme park admission is required and not included in the price of the tour.
  • There is a 48 hour cancellation policy. You will be charged the full price of the tour if you no-show or cancel less than 48 hours before your tour.
  • The tour takes place from 7:30am to about 11:15am daily. The tour may not be conducted during holidays and during special events.
  • The tour takes place substantially outdoors, rain or shine. Come prepared for the weather.
  • Open to guests ages 12 and up. Guests ages 16 and up will need to provide photo ID. Children under age 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Reservations must be made in advance, over the phone. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  • Photography is not allowed during backstage portions of the tour. You make take photos during the on-stage portions of the tour.
  • Meet outside the gates to the park 15 minutes prior to start time.
  • Guests are given audio headsets to better hear the guide while walking through the park.

Have you been on the Backstage Tales tour? Is this something you’re considering for you or your kids? Are there any questions you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever June 25, 2015: Rainy Day at Animal Kingdom

by on June 25, 2015

best Week Ever Animal Kingdom

Rain or shine, it’s another Best Week Ever at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (photos by Seth Kubersky)

The humidity percentage and heat index have both been hovering around one hundred in Orlando, so where better to spend an “Africa hot” Best Week Ever than in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Kidding aside, Animal Kingdom holds a special place in my heart, since it’s the first Disney park I ever got to attend before its official opening date, and it remains to this day the most beautifully landscaped of Mickey’s American parks.

Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom is probably also my least-often-visited WDW park, partly because there are only three rides there that I consider must-dos. While I love the Broadway-style shows at DAK, and the animal walkthroughs are truly world-class, it’s inevitable that thrill attractions are what I first focus on when picking a park to attend, and that’s one area in which Animal Kingdom lacks — at least until Avatar-land comes online in 2017.

Happily, there are a number of improvements coming to Animal Kingdom before then, so I headed out on an overcast Friday afternoon to explore the newest one.

My day started out on an awkward foot, as only one tram was servicing the parking lot when I arrived. By the time it finally arrived and transported me to the entry plaza, I practically had to sprint past the front ticket booths…

 

…Through the touchpoints…

 

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Independence Day Will Be a Blast at Walt Disney World

by on June 23, 2015

©Disney

©Disney

If you will be visiting Walt Disney World during the Fourth of July weekend, you will have a lot of fun activities in store! It will be a magical two day celebration to honor America’s Birthday! (It will not be a salute to all nations, but mostly America. This will be a full blown salute to America!)

For those who are looking to celebrate the holiday with blowing stuff up, you will be covered with fireworks on both Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4.

  • The Magic Kingdom will show “Disney’s Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” at 10:00 p.m.
  • At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Coolest Summer Ever Dance Party will segue into the “Rockin’ Fourth of July Celebration” fireworks show.  It will be a rock n’ roll tribute across America. The DJ will start at 5:45 p.m. and the fireworks will start at 10:15 p.m.
  • Epcot will have a special Fourth of July tag at the end of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which will take place at 9:00 p.m. In addition, you won’t want to miss the special Fourth of July concert from Voices of Liberty at the America Gardens Theatre at 12:30 p.m., 1:45 p.m., and 3:00 p.m.  They will then move inside the American Adventure Pavilion for shows at 4:15 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.  Oh and don’t miss Don’t Look Back, a Boston tribute band who will be performing at the America Gardens Theatre at 5:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:45 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. Guests will also be able to meet patriotic characters throughout the day.

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Disney World Crowd Calendar Report – June 14 to 20, 2015

by on June 23, 2015

Lower than expected wait times at Epcot and to a lesser extent, Animal Kingdom, kept crowd levels lower than the Disney World Crowd Calendar predicted for the latter half of last week. After several weeks of unpredictable crowd levels at Disney Hollywood Studios last week seemed to be more in line with what the Disney World Crowd Calendar expected at that park. Meanwhile at Magic Kingdom the Disney World Crowd Calendar correctly predicted the crowd level within one index level every day last week.

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

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Current Walt Disney World Disney Discounts

by on June 22, 2015

TouringPlans logoHere are your current discounts as of June 22. There have been no Walt Disney World discounts added since May (fine print follows).

Florida Resident – now through July 2 and July 6 to August 13. Selected resorts only.

Annual Passholder – now through August 10. Selected resorts only.

Free Dining – for arrivals August 28 to October 2, October 25 to 31, November 8 to 19, December 15 to 21 – minimum 3 night stay required for this package. Selected resorts only.

Room Only Discounts – now through October 3. Selected resorts only.

Magic Together/Magic for the Whole Family/Summer and Late Summer Preschool – packages based on families of 3 or 4 staying at All Star Resorts. Ask your travel agent for details. Now to September 10.

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2016 Disney Dining Plan Prices

by on June 22, 2015

Disney Dining PlanFirst, Rikki let us know the changes coming to the very popular Disney Dining Plans for 2016. Now that 2016 package terms have been released, it looks like we have prices too. There are small increases coming in pricing for guests in 2016.

Note: Disney doesn’t actually announce pricing. This was figured using a January 1, 2016, booking at Pop Century and a calculator.

2016 Disney Dining Plan Pricing

  • Quick Service $42.77/night, child 3-9 $17.54 – was $41.99 and $16.03
  • Regular plan $61.82,  child $20.98 – was $60.64 and $19.23
  • Deluxe Plan $111.73, child $32.56 – was $109.53 and $29.86

All prices include tax.

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Changes to 2016 Walt Disney World Magic Your Way Packages

by on June 22, 2015

magicyourwayDisney has shared details with travel agents for 2016 Magic Your Way packages. Magic Your Way is any package that includes a room at a Disney-owned and operated resort, the Swan or Dolphin, a Good Neighbor hotel, or a Disney Springs area hotel; and park admission. Packages can be booked through your travel agent or the Walt Disney Travel Company. This also includes all dining plans, which have their own extras. Thank you to Sue Pisaturo at Small World Vacations for the heads up.

Let’s start with the good news: The vouchers for mini-golf have been increased from 2 per room to 4 per room, and are good for play before 4PM at Fantasia Gardens and Winter-Summerland. If you’re an Annual Passholder, remember you get a discount on admission already and it’s good all day and night. Also, under the category of things that make you scratch your head, MYW packages now include 4 vouchers for one day admission at ESPN Wide World of Sports. There’s really not much to do there if you’re not participating in a sporting event. If you have made the trip out, let me know in the comments. Every time I go out there to see what’s up, there’s nothing going on. If your tickets include the Water Park Fun and More option, you already have the option for ESPN WWoS admission, so there’s no real benefit for you unless you’re using all your entitlements for water parks, Oak Trail golf, or DisneyQuest (while it lasts, see below) already and somehow still have time to visit Wide World of Sports too.

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Conquering the Magic Kingdom Mountains in an Hour

by on June 22, 2015

Photo courtesy of WDWnews.com

Photo courtesy of WDWnews.com

While it’s true that the Magic Kingdom is home to a number of classic family attractions, such as “it’s a small world” and the Jungle Cruise, the park is also home to a number of thrill rides promising speed, drops, and screams!

It seems, however, that at the Magic Kingdom there is a rule that the park’s thrill rides must be delivered in the form of mountains. Attractions such as Splash Mountain and Space Mountain are some of the park’s most popular and both are known to flood their queues with guests and evaporate those FastPass+ reservations. This causes guests like myself to plan and strategize on how to get that adrenaline fix without wasting valuable park time in line.

Usually I trust FastPass+ or a Magic Kingdom Touring Plan to get me on these mountain-shaped attractions without suffering long waits, but during my last trip I had a crazy thought — Can you conquer the Magic Kingdom Mountains in an hour? Feeling confident, as well as caffeinated, I decided to find out.

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