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The Basics: Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know

by on February 8, 2016 40 Comments

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Over the coming weeks we at the TouringPlans Blog will be going Back to Basics. We often write our posts from the perspective of people who have visited theme parks many, many times and we sometimes forget that there are those who need more basic advice. This entry is our first “Basics” post with several more to follow on topics such as characters, FastPass+, dining, hotels, and how to use our Touring Plans and Crowd Calendar. If there’s anything specific you would like us to cover let us know in the comments. Enjoy!



Sooooo, you’re planning your first trip to Walt Disney World, and you go onto the internet and ask the masses for advice.  I see exchanges like this all the time:

You: Hi everyone!  I’m planning my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, and I’m not really sure where to begin.  What do I need to know?

Within seconds, responses start to pour in:

Helpful person number 1: Doug is the best Jungle Cruise skipper!  He’s worth waiting for, so try to get on his boat!

Helpful person number 2: If you go to the phone booth in Tomorrowland and pick up the phone, you’ll hear some funny chatter!  It’s a MUST do!

Helpful person number 3:  I’ve never done it myself, but I heard from a bus driver that there’s a secret passageway on the pathway between Space Mountain and Storybook Circus that you can use to get to Animal Kingdom!  Just whisper “Marcelline” into the third shrub on the east side of the path, and a Cast Member will appear and escort you to a high-speed underground rail that connects directly with Expedition Everest!  It will save you so much time AND you get to ride Everest without a wait!

…and so on and so forth — good info to have, and well-intentioned, but not really critical from a planning standpoint for someone that has never even set foot on Disney property.  Before you know it, the signal to noise ratio is unbearable, and you’re getting bombarded with so many niche tips and tricks that the information that is legitimately important for a first timer to have gets lost in the shuffle.     

The biggest problem a first-timer encounters is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and knowing where to direct your focus is half the battle.  With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together my “most important concepts” for a first time visitor that provides the bare minimum amount of information you need to successfully plan a trip, and then you can add on to that as you like.  There is probably nowhere on planet earth that rewards a little advance planning like Walt Disney World, so I’d encourage anyone reading this to move beyond this guide, but this will at least provide the concepts that you need to be aware of to plan your first trip that you can use as touchstones if you start to feel a bit lost.  Here goes with the most important things for a first time visitor to know:

  • While you Don’t have to plan every moment, certain planning is wise
  • Understand what FastPass+ is and use it liberally
  • Walt Disney World is probably larger than you think
  • Relax

There you have it, have fun on your trip!

Looking at what I’ve written with the benefit of a few seconds hindsight, it occurs to me that there might be a need for a little more detail.  I promise I’ll keep it light, though, and will limit it to stuff that will really move the needle for you.  Sooooo, without further ado, let’s jump in! Read the rest of this entry »

Guests Can Now Meet Kylo Ren at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

by on February 7, 2016 1 Comment

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

Are you anxious to meet the newest villain in the Star Wars universe? Well, now you can at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Kylo Ren, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now appearing and greeting Guests at the Star Wars Launch Bay.

Guests will be able to meet Kylo Ren on the bridge of his First Order Star Destroyer in the Dark Side section of the Launch Bay. This means that Darth Vader will no longer be meeting Guests here, but he can still be seen in Jedi Training:

In the Launch Bay area, Guests will also be able to meet Chewbacca, come across Stormtroopers or even Jawas. Guests visiting this area can also experience a film showcasing some of the people behind the film, see concept art, tour galleries of memorabilia, see Star Wars artifacts, play video games and more.

The Star Wars Launch Bay is likely going to be a fluid experience going forward, with new artifacts, art work and more debuting as the upcoming Star Wars movies get ready to be released. Stay tuned for more information about this great area where you are able to get in touch with The Force. (Or the Dark Side…)

Club Disney at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Now Seasonal

by on February 7, 2016

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

The brand new flex space called Sunset Showcase over near Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith recently debuted Club Disney back in early December. Club Disney was essentially a dance party space where Guests could interact and boogie down with their favorite Disney characters throughout the day. Guests were also able to digitally “color” giant screens that resembled coloring book pages, grab a snack, or just relax.

Well, now it appears that Club Disney at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has turned into just another seasonal offering for the park. There is no word on when the dance party offering will be available for Guests to visit going forward.

The Sunset Showcase is also currently holding a special event called Club Villain, where guests can enjoy a dinner party and mix and mingle with their favorite bad guys. Club Villain is going to continue in this space on select dates until March.

It is unclear what the Sunset Showcase space will be used for going forward after Club Villain has finished, but I’m sure we’ll be hearing more information soon.

SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter

by on February 6, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter. Universal has several great events during the year, including Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights, but one that doesn’t get as much attention celebrates a character who completely changed the fortunes of the Universal Orlando Resort: Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Jam packed into this annual three day event are Q&As with celebrities, wand dueling classes for kids, and a whole bunch of cool stuff inside the Harry Potter Expo. Today we are going to look at our favorite parts of the event, so sit back, take a shot of firewhisky, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – The Sorting Hat Experience

With the Harry Potter books, author JK Rowling created a world that feels as real as our own. It is rich with depth and includes many concepts that readers can instantly identify with. The first Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – finds Harry going to Hogwarts, a magical school for gifted wizards and witches. Each student at Hogwarts is then sorted into one of four houses. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. The way the students are chosen for the houses is through the Sorting Hat. The first Harry Potter film brought this hat to life in an unforgettable scene, and Universal does its best to recreate that moment at A Celebration of Harry Potter.

Guests are brought up to the Sorting Hat and asked several questions from the robed Team Member (including where they were from, what they did for a living, if there’s a house they feel they might fit well in, etc). The Sorting Hat then announces which house it has sorted them in. It sounds crazy, but it’s fun and it’s popular. In fact the Sorting Hat experience gets some of the longest lines of the entire celebration, and why shouldn’t it? Getting sorted is something many Potter fans dream of, and although filling out a questionnaire on Pottermore is one way to get sorted, getting sorted by the Sorting Hat feels real.


SATURDAY SIX’s own Megan Stump moments before being sorted into Gryffindor. (photo courtesy of the Universal Orlando Resort)


“Hmm, difficult. VERY difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh yes. And a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you? ” – The Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (photo by Hunter Underwood – @elvenage)

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Pictures & Video: Lunar New Year Celebration at Disney California Adventure

by on February 5, 2016

Disney California Adventure’s annual Happy Lunar New Year celebration has kicked off once again. The event features Disney characters in special Lunar New Year outfits, special food, exclusive merchandise, arts and crafts, and local community groups and performers in several different shows. Lets take a look at how Disney is celebrating the year of the monkey:

Happy Lunar New Year Procession Featuring Mulan and Mushu is the main event of the celebration. Dozens of performers, including drummers, acrobats, and more are a part of this 10 minute show that takes place outside of Paradise Gardens.
DSC00084The character meet and greet spot is located next door to Paradise Garden Grill. Here you can meet Mushu, Mickey & Minnie (in Lunar New Year outfits), or Chip & Dale (also in Lunar New Year gear). The characters rotate every 30 minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate Black History Month at Epcot

by on February 5, 2016

The Kinsey Collection


Guests at Walt Disney World will be able to celebrate Black History Month at the America Adventure Pavilion in Epcot throughout the month of February. Guests will find new historical artifacts, learn history about the influence of African-American culture, and take part in book signings.

First, Guests will have the opportunity to meet three acclaimed African-American authors on select Saturdays. Book signings will be open to all guests. Authors include:

Terry McMillan, author of “Who Asked You?” 
Saturday, February 6 – 1-2 p.m. and 3-4 p.m.

Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Terry McMillan is known for her powerful novels and short stories about African American women. Many will remember her novel, “Waiting to Exhale,” which was adapted into a film starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett back in 1995. Other novels by McMillan include “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Disappearing Acts,” and “A Day Late and a Dollar Short.” McMillan recently published her eighth novel, “Who Asked You?,” a story about the challenges and strength of a family. Read the rest of this entry »

In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of February 5, 2016

by on February 5, 2016 2 Comments

ICYMIWho is ready for some football? Who is ready for commercials? Who’s ready for delicious food? I am ready for two out of the three. What are you must excited for?

This week, we have information about Fulton’s Crab House seeing some changes, a walk down memory lane with Pixar, a tribute to Alan Rickman at Universal, and more. Come along with me!

In Case You Missed It – Disney and Universal Orlando News and Rumors


The Walt Disney Company is officially the most powerful brand, according to one study. Do you agree?

Ethan Allen is partnering with Disney to make furniture! Would you purchase this for your home?

Looks like Fulton’s Crab House is in for a very lengthy overall at Disney Springs. What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s necessary to revamp the restaurant or was it fine the way it was to you? Read the rest of this entry »

Testing Budget Hotels Near Walt Disney World

by on February 5, 2016 34 Comments

We’re often asked to recommend an inexpensive hotel room for one night near Walt Disney World. If your family is staying at at Disney resort for most of your visit, for example, and you need a place to crash on your arrival night before their vacation begins, you may not want to spent hundreds of dollars on a Disney hotel for just a few hours of sleep. Or if you’ve just finished your Disney vacation and need a bed for the night before your early-morning flight, you could save a lot of money by moving to a budget hotel.

Finding cheap, clean, safe hotel rooms is part of the basic research we do for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. There’s even a section titled “Top 30 Hotel Deals” that takes price, amenities, and location into account. It’s one of my favorite research projects, and I’ve stayed at more than 100 Disney-area hotels over the years. Only once did I wake up covered in bugs.

My “Holy Grail” of hotels is one that’s $50 or less per night (with tax), clean, safe, and where everything in the room works. From what I’ve seen over the past week, though, that room might not exist. Here’s a summary of the 6 hotels I checked over the past 5 nights, along with their pros and cons.

Laurel says: I’ll be adding my own asides in this article. You should read them in your head in the voice of your significant other. For perspective, I was perfectly happy with a room I stayed in in New York City once where the sink was IN the shower. 

Hotel #1: Motel 6 at 5909 American Way, just off International Drive

Pros: Very clean. Great layout. Best night’s sleep I had the entire trip. $49.49 with taxes. Feels safe.

Cons: Sink and toilet didn’t drain properly. Wi-fi didn’t work. Low water pressure in shower.

I’ve wanted to stay at this Motel 6 for a long time (“Dream big, Len”, I know). It was one of the first to introduce a new room design across Motel 6’s properties, with triangular bathrooms, hardwood floors, and vertical storage cubbies. Plus it’s really close to Universal Orlando.  I was ready to like this hotel.

Then I saw this sign at the check-in desk:hotels-motel6-1

Read the rest of this entry »

Take Part in The Lion Guard Adventure at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on February 5, 2016



Have you heard of the Disney Junior show, The Lion Guard? Well beginning this Sunday, February 7, Guests who visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be able to become an honorary member of the Lion Guard with The Lion Guard Adventure.

The Lion Guard Adventure is a self-guided experience that encourages Guests to protect the environment and care for animals. Guests can do this by finding small statues of some of the characters from the TV show.

To take part in the fun, Guests may pick up a Lion Guard Adventure map at one of the following locations:

  • Oasis: The Outpost
  • Discovery Island: Island Mercantile
  • Africa: Zuri’s Sweets Shop, Mombasa Marketplace, and the Festival of the Lion King merchandise cart
  • Asia: Maharajah merchandise cart
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Guests will be able to find the following statues throughout the park: Kion (lion), Fuli (cheetah), Beshte (hippo), Ono (egret), Bunga (honey badger). Once you have found all the statues, you will need to return your map to Rafiki’s Planet Watch where you will take a special pledge to become an honorary member of The Lion Guard and receive a special button.

This opportunity will take place through early April.

Disney World Crowd Calendar Report – January 24 to 30

by on February 5, 2016 9 Comments

How Crowded Was Disney World Last Week?

How Crowded Was Disney World Last Week?

Last week, crowds were in line with what the Disney World Crowd Calendar predicted. Cold rain washed out most of Wednesday and Thursday last week but otherwise, crowds were within a point or two of what we expected. Epcot continues to have crowd levels lower than historical levels while Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom seem slightly busier than usual.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week:

Read the rest of this entry »