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SATURDAY SIX: Six of Disney’s (Not So) Secret Plans for the Next 5 Years

by on August 16, 2014 22 Comments

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six of Disney’s (Not So) Secret Plans for the Next 5 Years. This past week The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast went over a lot of exciting possibilities for Walt Disney World’s near future.  The show was the talk of the theme park world, and while it was loaded with a metric ton of information, scintillating rumors, and insider scoops, we’re going to count down the six biggest takeaways of this audio starting with…

# 6 – The Sorcerer’s Hat ain’t going anywhere…

SATURDAY_SIX_DHSHAT

Haters gonna hate. (photo by Matt Cleary and Brandon Glover)

 

The era of nightmares doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Jim Hill says that despite the fact that many guests see the giant Sorcerer’s hat sitting in the middle of the park as the biggest eyesore since Cinderella Castle was turned into a giant pink birthday cake, it serves an important purpose to the park. More to the point, the stage below the ugly hat plays a vital roll in allowing DHS to hold various live shows and draw the crowds away from popular attractions such as Tower of Terror and Toy Story Midway Mania.

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Observations from Disney’s Animal Kingdom: August 15, 2014

by on August 15, 2014

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Observations from Disney's Animal Kingdom

Take a day — or at least 2/3s of one — to walk around Animal Kingdom with Touring Plans (photos by Seth Kubersky).

This week it was time for me to make some observations from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and is there any place in Walt Disney World more welcoming on a muggy, humid day? Wait, don’t answer that… As an infrequent visitor to Animal Kingdom, it was my objective to visit as many of park’s major and mid-tier attractions as possible, in order to test Derek Burgan’s controversial theory that DAK is indeed more than a “half-day park.”

 

While the typical Touring Plans approach is to arrive before rope drop, I decided to give Animal Kingdom a fighting chance by pulling onto Disney property a half hour after the park’s 9 a.m. opening time. The first sight that greeted me past the toll booths was a large section of the overflow parking lot where grass was being replaced with asphalt.

New Ultimate Day VIP Tour Introduced for Epcot Food and Wine Festival

by on August 15, 2014 2 Comments

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Epcot Food and Wine Festival

©Disney

Disney has been introducing a lot of these special and select VIP tours frequently lately and it looks like they aren’t stopping any time soon. You see, for those who would like the ultimate day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, Disney announced that there is now a tour for that. “The Ultimate Day VIP Tour for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival” will allow you to do it all, thanks to your VIP tour guides.

The tour begins at a special VIP Lounge located at the Festival Center called the Wonder’s Retreat.  Here guests will start their day with a flute of champagne and small bites.  From there, they will get to experience popular attractions at Epcot, including Test Track, Soarin’, Spaceship Earth and The Seas with Nemo & Friends. After a brief break, guests will head back to the Wonder’s Retreat for a beverage tasting and a six-course tapas-style lunch.

Following lunch, guests will get private behind the scenes tour of the greenhouses at Living With The Land.  Guests will then head to World Showcase, where Disney Chefs will give them an introduction to the Marketplace Booths, as well as a three-course tasting.

Guests will also receive VIP seating for that evening’s Eat to the Beat concert, as well as a special reserved location for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.

This tour will take place on Thursdays and Sundays, lasts for six hours, and costs $399 per person, plus tax for those ages 21 and over. (Theme park admission is required and not included in the price.) To schedule this tour, call (407) WDW-TOUR.

In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of August 15, 2014

by on August 15, 2014 11 Comments

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In Case You Missed It!

In Case You Missed It!

This week, my own world (as well as many others) was rocked by the news of Robin Williams passing. I grew up with Robin, entertaining me, making me laugh. Robin was such a huge part in my Disney experience. Matter of fact, Aladdin was the first movie I remember seeing with my whole family together. (My family didn’t go to movies often growing up, especially not all together.)

To honor his memory today, I share videos of both “Back To Neverland” which was shown at Disney-MGM Studios and Timekeeper, which could be found in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.

I would just like to put out there a simple thanks to him for being the bright, shining star that he was, but unfortunately couldn’t always see himself.  I believe The Academy put it best on their social media: “Genie, you are free.”

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

 

To honor Robin Williams, the cast of “Aladdin” on Broadway, led by James Iglehart, who portrays the Genie in the show, invited the audience to participate in a sing-along of “Friend Like Me.” Here is that touching video.

Have you ever played The Great Piggy Bank Adventure found in Innoventions at Epcot and wished you could have your very own cute piggy bank?  Well, now you can finally purchase your own! He’s so adorable! Read the rest of this entry »

American Idol Experience to Close at the End of August

by on August 15, 2014 13 Comments

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American Idol Experience

©Disney

A few months ago, we learned that after five years, the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be closing. The original indication was the attraction would have its final performances in January. That is not the case. It has been announced that the last shows will take place on Saturday, August 30, 2014.

The attraction, which is based on the real life hit Fox television show, has guests performing in front of a live audience. The audience then, much like on the show, votes on which performer was the best in their eyes. During the final performance of the evening, the winners from every prior show that day come back and perform in the finale. The finale winner receives a Golden Ticket, allowing special front-of-the-line access at any American Idol audition (if their age fell within the television show’s age restriction.)

Guests who have previously received a Dream Ticket will still have the ability to use those, as long as the American Idol TV show is still being produced and auditions are taking place.

The American Idol Experience debuted in 2009, and many of the performers on the American Idol TV show have actually previously auditioned and performed first on The American Idol Experience stage.

Disney has not announced its plans for the theater.

For those of you who will be down in Walt Disney World and who love this attraction, make sure you make a visit before the end of the month.

Review of Loews Loves Pets at Universal Orlando Resort

by on August 15, 2014 2 Comments

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Loews loves pets goody bag

The goods. Photo – Laurel Stewart

Fact: I travel. A lot.

Fact: I like my pets more than I like most people.

Fact: Until my pets get opposable thumbs and learn to Face Time me while I travel, I will miss them terribly when I’m on the road.

With this mind, I decided on my last trip to Orlando that it was time to bring the dog along. Lucky for me, Loews Hotels, the company that runs the four onsite resorts at Universal, is pet friendly – a program called Loews Loves Pets. And, as this trip was especially to visit Universal and Diagon Alley, it seemed a natural fit to take advantage of this policy.

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Google Glass as Your Disney World Vacation Companion

by on August 15, 2014 15 Comments

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We’ve seen a plethora of enhancements in technology at the Walt Disney World parks over the last few years. From physical media like MagicBands to apps like My Disney Experience, Disney has been implementing new technologies to make every guest’s experiences more seamless and enjoyable.

Of course, there’s technology that we can bring ourselves to make our trips better. Smart phones have become indispensable tools for a smooth and well organized vacation. With apps like Touring Plans’ mobile Lines app, not to mention the ability to Google nearly anything you could need to know about the parks, our smart phones give us access to whatever information we may need during our trips.

Beyond the necessary information like FastPass+ times and restaurant locations, there’s a lot somebody might wonder while wandering through the parks. When did Mission: Space open? What used to be where Stitch’s Great Escape now stands? When did Kilimanjaro Safaris remove the poacher story from the attraction?

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Universal Orlando Offers Celebration of Harry Potter in 2015

by on August 14, 2014 1 Comment

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Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express ©Universal

Universal Orlando announced a three day Harry Potter themed event today, the Celebration of Harry Potter, for January 30 to February 1, 2015. The fan event will offer appearances from actors of the Harry Potter films and an expo in addition to exclusive access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley for ticket holders.

Guests may choose from a package that includes:

  • Three nights in a Universal or Universal partner hotel
  • Three day park-to-park admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • An evening dessert party in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley
  • Reserved seating for actor appearances and discussions
  • Early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (one hour)
  • Breakfast at Three Broomsticks
  • A welcome pack and commemorative merchandise

Annual Passholders may opt for a package that does not include park admission (but does include the hotel stay). The minimum stay for either package is three nights.

Guests who don’t wish to book the full packages may choose admission only, which will include actor appearances and the expo.

The event package for two adults starts at $555 for the partner hotel ($357 AP), $657 for Cabana Bay ($465 AP), and $855 for Royal Pacific Resort ($657 AP). Packages must be booked by phone at 1-888-343-8991 starting Thursday, August 21 at noon Eastern time.

The Universal Crowd Calendar has not yet been updated for this event. This year’s celebration of Harry Potter in late January had low overall park crowd levels, but many fans in the Wizarding World areas.

American Film Institute Showcase at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Close

by on August 14, 2014 8 Comments

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Disney's Hollywood StudiosThe shop and exhibit located at the end of the Studios Backlot Tour, known as the American Film Institute Showcase and Shop, will be closing on August 17.

The walk-through exhibit features many iconic movie props and unique costumes from past and present day movies. The current showcase is called “The Best in Film: AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies,” and features items based off of AFI’s “Greatest” lists.

The shop that is connected to the exhibit features collectible merchandise (including items that had previously been found at Sid Cahuenga’s, which closed last year to make way for a MyMagic+ Service Center). Merchandise for sale includes things like autographs, movie props, and more. The merchandise and collectibles will not be relocated and will no longer be available at the park.

The Studios Backlot Tour will continue to operate as normal at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; however, guests will no longer exit through this exhibit area.

Disney has not officially announced anything specific that will be taking over the space, but the company claims to be working on finalizing a new concept for the next experience to take residence in the venue.

Disney Cruise Line Alaska Dog Sled Excursions: Compare/Contrast

by on August 14, 2014 13 Comments

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t_logo_fbTouring Plans blogger Kristi Fredericks and I were both on a recent Disney Cruise Line sailing to Alaska. During the Juneau port stop, we both chose dog-sled related excursions for our families. Kristi took the “Dog Sled Summer Camp” excursion with her husband and two sons, ages 8 and 11. I took the “Dog Sled on the Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter” excursion with my husband and my 17 year old daughter. Here are the particulars to help you decide which type of experience might be right for you.

DOG SLED ON THE MENDENHALL GLACIER BY HELICOPTER

  • Price: $579.00 for all guests ages two and up. Guests under age two are free.
  • Any price add ons?: Guests whose weight (including clothing and gear) is greater than 250 pounds will encounter a fuel surcharge. There is an opportunity to purchase a professional photo at the end of your dog sled ride. Expect to pay about $20, cash only.
  • Time requirement: The total excursion time is about 2.5 to 3 hours.
  • Physical issues: There is a steep step up/down to get into the helicopter. The helicopter seating is tight. Guests with motion sickness or fear of heights issues may be bothered by sensations in the helicopter. Once on the glacier, you will be walking on level snow (“glacier boots”, which are fitted over your regular shoes, are required and provided free of charge). The dog sled ride is in an open vehicle, with no safety restraints, over mostly level snow. The vehicle shifts substantially during movement. Guests who wish to “mush” (drive/steer the sled) must stand on the back of the sled.
  • Age limits: None.
  • Other restrictions: Guests are not allowed to bring iPads or similar tablet-style devices on board the helicopter. Cell phones and cameras are allowed. No backpacks, purses, or camera bags are allowed on the helicopter. There is a storage locker at the heliport, free of charge.
  • Other important details?: Helicopter flight is strongly impacted by the weather. You excursion may be cancelled without much warning if adverse conditions arise. If you have sensitive eyes, I strongly suggest bringing sunglasses. I took mine off for a few photos and was nearly blinded by the bright sun reflected off the snow.

Erin’s experience with Dog Sled on the Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter: Read the rest of this entry »