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Lessons Learned at Universal Orlando on Christmas Day

by on December 28, 2016 1 Comment

When most people think of visiting a theme park in Orlando on Christmas Day, Magic Kingdom is top of mind. However, Universal Orlando presents a great alternative on this festive day. This year marks my second time visiting Universal Orlando on Christmas Day, and although I visited by myself, I had a great time. Here’s how I accomplished having an enjoyable visit and what I learned on this, one of the busiest days of the year in Orlando’s theme parks. Last week in this Touring Plans blog post about Visiting Universal Orlando during the busiest weeks of the year I shared some tips that definitely came in handy.

I had Christmas Day to myself and had set the day aside to visit Universal Orlando. Now, it should be noted that the manner in which I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida this day is a bit different than how the average guests would do. I was on my own. It didn’t matter to me if I rode anything. My purpose was to be in the atmosphere I love and be able to report on the crowd levels, wait times, and the overall experience of being inside Universal Orlando on Christmas Day.

The arrival experience at Universal Orlando on Christmas Day

Arriving at any theme park sets the tone for the whole day. When visiting during a busy day like Christmas it is important to not let the long lines and crowds that you will surely encounter dampen your mood. I arrived around 11:00 AM. The parking toll was not backed up as I expected, but still very busy; I headed toward the left hand lanes which are typically shorter.

 

The security checkpoint at Universal Orlando can get very congested first thing in the morning and on busy days. Such was the case around 11:00 AM on Christmas Day morning. The real backup and congestion came not from waiting to go through the x-ray machines, but rather after passing through and waiting for your belongings to be handed off to you after they go through the machines. Family members wait in clusters making it difficult to exit this area.

 

The third and final hurdle came when trying to get into Islands of Adventure. Lines everywhere! Lines for the ticket windows. Lines for purchasing Express Pass in order to avoid other lines. Lines at Guests Services. And of course lines to get through the turnstiles themselves. I’m just going to say it: Universal Orlando’s ticket taking system is so slow. Word on the street is an upgrade to this system is coming soon; I sure hope so!

Extra tip: There is a “Side entrance” at Universal Studios Florida that can save you time and frustration when the regular entrance is congested. It is the pathway in between Hard Rock Cafe and the regular park entrance, it leads up to the Blue Man Group Theater. As you walk along the Blue Man Group pathway this side entrance to the park will be to the right of the Blue Man Theater.

 

 

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How To Survive New Year’s Eve at Epcot (and Magic Kingdom)

by on December 27, 2016 5 Comments

Epcot’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are unlike any other show at Walt Disney World.

So you’re thinking about doing New Year’s Eve at Disney? Most people would think that’s ridiculous given the massive crowds, but after a few years of experience under my belt doing this very thing, I’m here to tell you, it can be a really fun day in Walt Disney World. Below, I’ll outline a few of my hard-learned secrets to a successful Epcot New Year’s Eve along with a few crowd-sourced tips from my colleagues here at TouringPlans for handling Magic Kingdom, as well.

Julia and Dani have already given some great tips on staying sane during phase closures and planning for crowds at Universal, and many of these rules also apply here, too. Though Epcot does not normally phase-close on New Year’s Eve, the same tips work for surviving the busiest days in any theme park. Dani’s tips about setting up Touring Plans ahead of time are also super helpful for making the most of your theme park visits during the last few weeks of the year.

Why Not Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve?

Despite the crowds, New Year’s Eve is a fun day, unlike any other you’ve spent in a park. One of the toughest parts of the day, though, can be actually getting in to a park. As Julia explained, phased closures are very common for this time of year, particularly at Magic Kingdom. This means that, depending on your ticket type and whether you have an existing dining reservation, you may not be able to enter or even hop on transportation to your chosen park.

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Boxing Day Special – Everything Free at Disney World

by on December 26, 2016 3 Comments

Here’s some holiday leftovers for you today – a favorite topic from earlier this year, Free Disney stuff you can get during your vacation. 

Free and Disney are not words that you typically think of as belonging in the same sentence, but there are indeed a number of items and experiences, both large and small, that can be had for free during your Disney World vacation. Here’s a comprehensive list of everything we could find that you can get free at Walt Disney World (although park admission is required for some). Happy savings!

FOOD and DRINK

  • Baked goods or candy samples. The Main Street Confectionery often has cast member walking around with a tray full of samples for guest to try. I’ve tasted Krispie treats, cookies, bits of cake, and even cotton candy. Plus, there is almost always a tray of fudge samples sitting on top of the main display case. You won’t be able to fill up here like you might at your local Costco, but if you’re looking for just a bit of sweet to satisfy your palate after your meal, the Confectionery is the place for you.
Sample treats at the Magic Kingdom Confectionary

Sample treats at the Magic Kingdom Confectionary

  • Soda. Stop by Club Cool at Epcot and drink your fill of eight flavors of Coke products from around the world. These range from the bubblegum sweet Peruvian Inca Kola to the, in my opinion, totally yummy, Beverly from Italy. The Club Cool drink stations are supplied with tasting-size cups, but you’re welcome to stay and taste as much as you want for as long as you want.
  • Water. The water bottles sold throughout the parks cost $2.50 (or more) each. If you want to hydrate for free, simply walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water. They’ll hand it over at no charge. Add a lid and a straw to your cup, and you’ve got almost the same level of portability as a bottle.
  • Ice. When answering questions for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I have often seen questions from international guests asking if ice is available at the Disney hotels and how much it costs. They can rest assured that there are free ice machines at all the Walt Disney World resorts.
  • Meals for infants and toddlers. Children under the age of three will not be charged for food at Disney’s buffet and family-style table service restaurants when dining with their families.
  • Dining. Disney often uses free dining plan offers as lure to entice guests to visit during historically low-crowd times. If this year follows the typical pattern, it will be fairly easy to travel to Walt Disney World and receive free dining from mid-August through early October. However, there is a definite caveat emptor with this. Depending on your eating habits and where you stay, free dining might end up costing you. Tom Bricker’s wrote an excellent analysis of whether free dining really makes sense. The numbers are a bit dated now, but the principal still applies.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Disney Gifts Santa Can Bring Back to the North Pole (AKA The Best of the Disney Outlet Stores in 2016)

by on December 24, 2016 6 Comments

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is an annual tradition. Six Disney Gifts Santa Can Bring Back to the North Pole (AKA The Best of the Disney Outlet Stores in 2016). Some readers of this weekly column may not know that we also have The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! where every single month for over three years we have braved the insanity of the Orlando Premium Outlet parking lots to cover the two Disney outlet stores (more info on them – including addresses –  are at the end of the article.)  In fact, we even had a very special Three Year Anniversary edition with some congratulatory notes from some very impressive names in the theme park community.

Now, while some Christmas dreams do come true, such as Ralphie Parker getting his official Red Ryder BB gun and Your Humble Author getting a Han Solo blaster back in the day, other Christmas gifts deserve to go straight to the Island of Misfit Toys. Today we will take a look at some of those very items, starting with…

# 6 – Glow With The Show Ears

Let it glow.

Our first item this week was the first ever Made With Magic piece of merchandise to hit the Outlets. These were the Mickey Ears that lit up with different colors to Glow With the Show during some of the nighttime spectaculars at the parks. I have no actual financial numbers to support my theory, but having been the parks many, many times and only seeing a handful of guests wearing these, I’m going to assume Disney took a complete bath on this idea. It’s an item that cost over $25, are heavier than a normal pair of Mickey Ears, and the person wearing it can’t even see it glow. They were reduced to $9.99. This pair of Ears is particularly garish in design.

# 5 – Hats that are “Big In Japan”

This next item I had been waiting for ever since they showed up at the regular Disney stores over two years ago. These hats where you look like you are wearing the carcass of a dead Disney character on your head and are next level bananas. Apparently these bonkers hats are huge over at the Tokyo parks, but to be fair they also line up for hours just for popcorn. Popcorn!  To be even more fair, if I were out there I’d be in line with them. Originally $21.95, these were reduced to $5.99.

Goofy hat.

Donald hat, as seen in the Art of Animation gift shop.

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In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of December 23, 2016

by on December 23, 2016

“Over the river and through the woods!” The holidays are upon us! I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus and overall a Happy Holidays.

This week, we learn who the cast is for DuckTales, see just how big Rogue One was for the Disney Company, and more! Let’s go!

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

 

One of the most influential people of the Disney Company is Roy Disney. This week is the 45th anniversary of his passing. While many thank Walt for all of his contributions around his death, I wanted to highlight the large role that Roy played in the company, especially in the realization of Walt Disney World.

Disneyland’s oldest employee is celebrating 60 years of providing magic to Guests. How can this story not make you just smile? Read the rest of this entry »

First Annual TouringPlans Blog Secret Santa Party – Part Three

by on December 23, 2016

Finally! The TouringPlans Office Holiday Party has come to and end, and so has our Secret Santa series! We’ve swept up most of the confetti (though we’re cursing whoever brought the glitter). Angela has put down the video camera. And we’re giving the last of our gifts. If you’re just now joining us, pour yourself some eggnog and read Parts One and Two

Angela, Emilio will see you now!

To Angela from Dani:

She’s our hostess with the mostest. Move over Stacy Aswad, Angela’s here! If I could give Angela a special Christmas wish, I would conjure up a team of Disney’s best media specialists to escort Angela around all of Walt Disney World for a day full of filming at exclusive spots with the best film crew money can buy. In fact, once Stacy, host of “Must DO Disney” on WDW Resort television, gets word of the special celebrity host treatment Angela is getting, she’ll insist on being Angela’s co-host. Of course Angela will kick off her glamourous day of filming with anything her heart desires from the Main Street Bakery & Starbucks.

After a full day of filming the best video segments throughout the Most Magical Place on Earth, it’s time for Angela and her darling family to receive some much deserved pampering. First stop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique so her two daughters can become the princesses they truly are. Second, it’s glamour time at Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian. Wait, is that Emilio Estevez circa 1992 as her personal masseuse? You bet it is! Nothing but the star treatment for TouringPlansTV’s brightest star! Read the rest of this entry »

Walt Disney World Holiday News and Updates

by on December 22, 2016

Walt Disney World Christmas

©Rikki Niblett

The busy holiday season is coming up this weekend at Walt Disney World and because of that, here are a few things you should keep in mind if you are planning on visiting the theme parks to celebrate.

First, at the Magic Kingdom, Guests will be able to experience many of the events that typically occur during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Here is the schedule of events:

December 23-28

  • Voiceplay (musical group) – 3:10 p.m., 4:10 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

December 23-29

  • Holiday Wishes – 9:00 p.m.
  • Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration (Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage) – 7:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 10:15 p.m. and 11:15 p.m.
  • Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party – 1:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Read the rest of this entry »

First Annual TouringPlans Blog Secret Santa Party – Part Two

by on December 22, 2016 2 Comments

Welcome back to the TouringPlans Blog Office Holiday party! We’ve gotten James to relinquish the lampshade but now Daisy has challenged Dani to a Feat of Strength! Gather round the Festivus Pole, readers, and see what gifts Santa brought the virtual office this year. If you missed Part One, read it here.

 

Alex and Taylor are ready for dinner at Club 33!

To Alex from Daisy:

I was a little worried when I pulled Alex‘s name out of the hat. A smart, worldly soon to be 15 year old? Add in her karate skills and I’m pretty sure she might be an undercover super hero. So I started small and decided on one thing that had to be included: Taylor Swift!

Since you can’t give a person as a gift (free will and all) we’ll have to settle on a Taylor Swift concert, but where? Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise, or somewhere else in the Disney Universe? I tried to think of all the special places I’ve heard about or been lucky enough to visit. Only the best is good enough for Alex’s virtual Christmas! I finally decided on Club 33 at Disneyland for a private dinner with Taylor and a little after dinner music.

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The Best of the Best Week Ever 2016

by on December 22, 2016 2 Comments

It seems 2016 is an unforgettable year. Events and memories that happened this year are unlike previous years. Yet each week, we the Best Week Ever team found ways to make the most of it. Each week we aim to share with you the moments that make being in the theme parks so enjoyable and wonderful. Perhaps this year, more than ever, it became increasingly important to make our visits the best week ever. We are grateful for the time we spent in the parks this year and we want to share with you our favorite moments of Best Week Ever 2016. You’ll hear from all three of us as we each select three of our favorite Best Week Ever posts from this year.

Dani’s favorite Best Week Ever posts

This year I focused on growth and dealing with fear. Theme parks offer us entertainment and escapism, but they can also offer teaching moments. My desire to deal with and overcome fear started as a spark at the end of 2015, but grew into a warm, bright flame in 2016. By pushing myself to go on rides and try experiences I’d otherwise avoid, I’ve learned that fear never actually goes away. Instead we can accept it, acknowledge it, and ultimately realize most things are never as bad as we imagine them to be. And by opening myself up to new experiences I gained a new level of appreciation for my hometown, Orlando, and all that the theme parks offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas in Washington, D.C.

by on December 21, 2016 2 Comments

Your guest author Phil and some bloke he met at the airport. I won’t tell you which is which.

The below is a guest post from Phil Cronin. The new year will bring about a new aspect of TouringPlans.com: coverage of Washington, D.C., our first non-theme park destination. Come back for that, but for now enjoy Christmas in D.C.

Like most people, when I think of Christmas, I think of Washington, D.C. Wait…what? Don’t be shocked–there are many free ways to get the holiday spirit in Our Nation’s Capital.

National Christmas Tree

Since 1923, the National Christmas Tree has been on the Ellipse on the south side of the White House.  The tree is lit from 4:30 PM until 10 PM each night until New Year’s Day.

Next to the National Tree is the Pathway of Peace, which has 56 smaller trees representing DC, states, and territories of the United States.  Each is decorated with handmade ornaments by a group from that district/state/territory.

Going around the National Tree are toy trains.  Folks toss coins into the trains and the money is donated to local charities.  Bring some change for the kiddies.

From December 7th to the 22nd, there are nightly 30-minute musical performances.  

The Pathway of Peace is open from 10 AM daily.  This is a chance to see the trees and trains without crowds.  All activities are free.  Since everything is on the south side of the White House, the Smithsonian Metro stop is the closest. Read the rest of this entry »