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First Annual TouringPlans Blog Secret Santa Party – Part One

by on December 21, 2016 5 Comments

The confetti is still everywhere and no one has had the heart to take the lampshade off James’ head, but, sadly, our TouringPlans Blog Annual Christmas party has come to an end. In the time-honored tradition of office parties from Scranton to Springfield, we of course had to include the Secret Santa gifts. We drew names and picked out the best of the best for our co-workers. What did the Holiday Armadillo bring Julia? Did Angela finally air her grievances about Tammy? And what about the love that dare not blog its name between Seth and Derek? Read on to find out what we’ve given our co-workers this year.

 

Seth's magic camera

While those there said they say him crying, Optimus Prime swears it was just an oil leak.

To Seth from Derek:

When I received Seth Kubersky’s name in Secret Santa, a smile grew across my face a mile wide and I knew exactly what I was going to get him. A literary legend, Seth has written many books on the theme park world, including The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. A wordsmith of the highest order, Seth has been known to bring grown men to tears waxing poetic on normally banal subjects such as Green Eggs and Ham in Seuss Landing.

However, as much as it pains me to admit it, there is one small shame in his game: pictures. But, thanks to this Secret Santa project – along with my brilliance and extreme humbleness – I could fix that one flaw.
I knew that this wouldn’t be easy. The camera I would need to get would be beyond the mere means of a simple theme park blogger. I had to recruit some help. So I went to all the Universal characters that Seth has photographed over the years and pitched them my idea. I was going to get Seth a new camera.

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Walt Disney World Annual Passholders Get Special Entrances This Holiday Season

by on December 20, 2016 10 Comments

©Rikki Niblett

To celebrate their Annual Passholders this holiday season, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders will be able to enjoy easy access to the parks with special Passholder lines found at the main entrance of all four Walt Disney World theme parks –  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

This entrance will be found at the main entrance of each of the four theme parks, just after the security stations. Guests looking to utilize this perk will see signs up that will indicate which lanes should be used by Passholders. This should hopefully allow for an expedited experience at the tap-styles and entering the park.

According to WESH, this perk will begin on December 21 and will currently last through the month of January.

 

 

 

TouringPlansTV – Part 2 Review: Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels + Video

by on December 20, 2016

Time for my Part 2 Review!

To check out the dining options, recreation and amenities at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, click below. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars Guided Tours Now Available to Book

by on December 20, 2016 2 Comments

Star Wars Guided Tours Available

©Disney

A few weeks ago, during the special Rogue One event at Epcot where Disney lit up Spaceship Earth like the Death Star, it was announced that a few new Star Wars-related activities would be introduced for the Walt Disney World Resort. One of those events was the all new Star Wars Guided Tour. For those who were looking to book this seven hour, all-access tour that allows you to be able to enjoy the full Force of Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can now do so!

During the tour, Guests will be able to have VIP access to all things Star Wars at the theme park, courtesy of a Star Wars knowledgeable tour guide. Experiences will include: Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Universal Orlando during the busiest weeks of the year

by on December 20, 2016 1 Comment

There’s no place like home for the holidays, but it’s difficult to beat Orlando during this festive time of the year. Perhaps you’ve decided to visit Orlando during the final two weeks of the year. Being in the theme parks at Christmas time is magical, but takes some planning.  You’ll need to be prepared. In this post I’ll share some planning tips for visiting Universal Orlando during these last two weeks of the year, which are some of the busiest days in Orlando’s theme parks.

The Basics

With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays it is easy to forget the basics of theme park survival. So here’s a little refresher.

  • Dress comfortably, especially with regard to your footwear
  • Plan for changes in the weather, this means pack a mix of both warm and cold weather clothing, because here in Florida we experience both warm and cold weather in Winter, often from one day to the next
  • Stay hydrated with water (as opposed to soda, adult beverages, etc)
  • Use sunscreen, after all we are actually closer to the sun during Winter
  • Take breaks and rest throughout the day

The great news is Universal Orlando’s longest operating hours of the year are taking place right now through New Year’s Eve.

Coming up with a plan

Plans are what we’re all about here at Touring Plans, and this time of the year is one of the most important to have a good solid plan. The most effective way to do so is creating a custom touring plan through our site. All you have to do when creating your customized Touring Plan is to select which parks you’re visiting, your arrival time to the park, and plug in the rides and shows you want to make sure you experience. Then the service will calculate the best touring plan including exactly which order to visit the attractions and when in order to maximize your time (and sanity). This plan is based on a huge collection of data that will ensure you spend the least amount of time as possible in the standby wait lines.

Creating a custom Touring Plan on TouringPlans.com

If you’d prefer to create a plan yourself, make sure you’ve really determined what rides and shows you absolutely must do. Without the advantage of the Touring Plans data you’ll need to review the park maps and strategize your plan based on the location of the attractions you want to experience. You may want to also consider visiting some of the lesser known attractions at Universal, which typically will have somewhat reasonable wait times on busy days.

Read the rest of this entry »

January in Walt Disney World: A Primer

by on December 20, 2016 5 Comments

TouringPlans logoAre you planning or considering a trip to Walt Disney World in January?  It’s not on a lot of traveler’s radar because people are often wrapping up other holiday vacations and kids are just getting back to school.  If you can swing it, however, the reality is that January can be one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World! Gone is the oppressive heat of the summer, depending upon when you go, you can encounter some of the lightest crowds of the year, and the experience delivers the magic you can expect any other time of the year.  So, should you go?  Read on to find out about the pros and cons of a January trip! 

Mild (if unpredictable) Weather

 

One of the most frequent questions I get about January travel to Walt Disney World is about the weather — what to expect, what to pack, etc. The good news is that the weather tends to be pretty mild this time of year, and it’s honestly one of the best reasons to plan a trip in January. Historically, the average highs during this time of year are around 70° F, with lows around 50° F. Also of note: the 3 o’clock rain showers that are common during the summer months are not really part of the January experience — it can rain, but January is one of the drier months, and it’s not like you expect it to rain, like you do during other times of the year. 

 

Accuweather's January Forecast 2017

Accuweather’s current guesses for part of January 2017 in Orlando

 

The bad news, however, is that there can be wild variation in the weather during the month of January.  You might experience weather that is uncomfortably hot, or uncomfortably cold, and you might even experience both on back to back days.  I can remember on one of my first January trips heading to what was then Downtown Disney wearing shorts, but by midday, it was cold enough that people were running around in hats and gloves.  Part of that, of course, is the comically panicked reaction that Floridians have to temperatures that start with a “5,” but it was still a significant temperature swing in just a couple of hours, and it left me pretty uncomfortable. Lesson learned.    Read the rest of this entry »

Gifts for a Theme Park Vacationer

by on December 19, 2016 1 Comment

Christmas Minnie Ears

If you’re searching for a last-minute holiday gift or a little something special to add to your own holiday wish list, TouringPlans is here to help! I compiled a list of what I think are some of the best gifts for those planning to visit the parks soon. And while holidays present the perfect gifting opportunity, most of these will work year-round for other celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries too.

Accessories for a Minion fan

Wearable Gifts – For a truly impressive gift, put your knowledge of their favorite character, attraction, or movie to good use. From custom t-shirts and mouse ears to lanyards and pins, there is an endless supply of fun things they can wear to the parks. Even better, there is an endless supply of online or local stores that sell these too, so finding something perfect while staying on budget shouldn’t be too hard.

Disney themed day-bags

Gear – There are certain items that almost every theme park vacationer likes to pack: poncho, day bag for the park, refillable water bottle, portable phone charger, hand sanitizer, and so on. Other items, like a toiletries bag, suitcase, or travel friendly snacks, are great ideas for travelers in general. Depending on the budget, you could pick just one item or put them together into a gift basket that will please any theme park vacationer.

Photo Package – Both Disney and Universal offer photo packages to capture those special vacation memories. Plenty of vacationers on tight budgets question whether the package is worth it, but receiving it as a gift can alleviate those worries. The price is discounted when purchased in advance, and they receive photo memories to cherish for years to come. It’s a definite win-win. Read the rest of this entry »

Kids and Crowds: Keeping Everyone Happy on Phased Closure Days

by on December 19, 2016 5 Comments

© Sarah GraffamIn these uncertain times, there is one certainty that ranks up their with death and taxes, and that is that the week between Christmas and New Year’s will be packed at Walt Disney World. During this time of year, there are often times where Phased Closures, making it a risky proposition to leave the parks for an afternoon break. Any parent of a young child knows how essential those afternoon breaks are, but what happens if you don’t feel you can leave the park? Here’s some suggestions to try and survive for a long day in the parks.

Pack Your Patience (And Plenty of Supplies)

I’m the kind of person who prefers to go to the theme parks carrying the bare minimum of items. Even when I had an infant in tow, at most we would bring in one small backpack and an umbrella stroller. This is the one time of year when packing extra is something I wholeheartedly embrace. My personal preference is to have a comfortable backpack, and then include the four essential park categories: Food, clothing, shelter, and play.

  • Food: It is a good idea to carry some snacks with you, and possibly pack a lunch or dinner, as lines will be long for places to buy food. Make sure to include favorite snacks that are easy for your child to eat with minimal mess. Goldfish crackers, applesauce squeeze pouches, and a disposable container of your child’s favorite cereal are a welcome sight when your child gets a case of the “hangrys”.
  • Clothing: Florida weather in December can be odd. Some mornings, it can be cool and foggy. During the middle of the day, it can be very warm. At night, it can be outright chilly. You’ll want to be prepared for all of those possibilities. In addition, if you have a young child, carrying a spare set of clothes is a wise choice. If the weather is warm, you might also pack a swimsuit (in a Ziploc bag for storage when it is wet) to make use of the splash pads and water play areas in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
  • Shelter: Unless you’ve shelled out the money for a Tomorrowland private cabana, “shelter” is a loosely defined idea. First and foremost, make sure to bring a beach towel. Whether using it as a blanket, a rug to sit on, or even a beach towel to dry off, Douglas Adams was absolutely correct with the essentialness of a towel. If you have a young child, you may also want to bring an inflatable rectangular pool float. It doesn’t take up much space, but inflate it, put the towel on it, and you have a portable bed for naptime if you can find an out-of-the-way area. Even in winter, sitting in the sun can wear you down over time. Consider packing an umbrella to provide shade if the sun gets to be too much.
  • Play: Sometimes kids just need time to play. Consider bringing some toys that are old standbys along with some new and inexpensive toys to ensure that you don’t have to make an emergency run for an overpriced toy. Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars, a small canister of Play Doh, a checkout-lane My Little Pony doll–stocking stuffer toys aren’t just the domain of Santa Claus. Don’t forget nighttime fun–glow sticks and other light-up toys can be popular choices and are much cheaper to buy outside the parks. And, when all else fails, sometimes screen time on an smart phone or tablet can be a good way to help your child have some down time. Make sure to bring extra batteries. As a family, we go with the Fuel Rod system because we like the ability to swap them throughout the day and always have a charged battery.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Snacks At Universal Orlando You Gotta Try

by on December 17, 2016 7 Comments

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Snacks at Universal Orlando That You Gotta Try! A couple weeks ago we flew across the country to check out some of the great Disneyland snacks, and today we’re back home in Florida to look at even more delectable delights. We’re going to head over to the Universal Orlando Resort, home of some of the most outrageous and most extreme food options we’ve ever seen in the theme park world. However, instead of looking at crazy desserts that should come with an insulin pump, we are going to set our sights on some of the most original, creative, or just plain fun treats  in either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. So sit back, prepare to channel your inner Homer Simpson, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – Lard Lad D’oh-nuts

The fine folks in Springfield USA are no strangers to delivering great donuts to us theme park fans. The area opened with the debut of the classic Lard Lad giant pink donut, which immediately became a huge hit. In 2016, Lard Lad introduced more donuts to the menu, but in true Simpsons fashion, they didn’t go with the same ol’ same ol. Instead we got the donuts we dreamed of. Donuts topped with crushed Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, bacon and more! This at least gives us in Orlando a small taste of the type of donut options available in Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lard Lad. Unlike Orlando, USH’s Lard Lad does not serve ice cream because their Springfield has Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlor, so instead they opened with a larger variety of donuts.

Lard Lard Oreo d’oh-nut. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Lard Lad Fruity Pebbles donuts. (photo by Brandon Glover)

A selection of some of the D’oh-nuts available, and take a look at that GIANT apple fritter in the back! Universal a clear supporter of #MAGA. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 5 – Character Themed Candy Bars

Several years ago, Disney started releasing some very fun candy boxes featuring many of their iconic characters from both movies and the theme parks. However, the actual candy had very little to do with the characters outside of silly puns. For example, there was the Haunted Mansion’s Madam Leota on the box of I See Chocolate In Your Future (dark chocolate hot fudge truffle.) Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat was on the box of I’m Just Mad About Chocolate (milk chocolate mint meltaways) while Monster Inc’s Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae had the Eye Know What Women Want! Chocolate! (milk chocolate peanut butter.)

Universal has many generic candy options themed to their brands as well (including my favorite, the Jaws themed gummy fish candy,) but there are also ten candy bars which are completely tied into the characters they feature. The candy bar with Despicable Me’s Minions uses banana in its recipe, while the one with Agnes is cotton candy flavored (in the film, the kids came home from Super Silly Land with Cotton Candy.) The E.T.  bar is a chocolate peanut butter bar with Reeses Pieces, while Spongebob Squarepants has a white chocolate pineapple bar with pineapple bits. The synergy between these bars and the characters they feature is a great touch, and something we can hopefully see more of from both Universal and Disney in the future.

Universal candy bars. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of December 16, 2016

by on December 16, 2016

Have you seen it already? You know what I mean…Rogue One, of course! Did it live up to the excitement? Is it worthy of the Star Wars name? If you haven’t seen it yet, are you planning on watching the film this weekend?

This week, we’ll take a look at what Guests will be able to experience at A Celebration of Harry Potter, catch a Muppets presentation that hasn’t been seen in 20 years, and more. Let’s read on!

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

 

Next time you visit Disneyland, you may see a different set up, as far as security goes.

Meet the official voices of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure…who oh, by the way…just so happen to be married to each other! Read the rest of this entry »