Blue skies and white clouds over Cinderella Castle on a recent afternoon in the Magic Kingdom (photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
If you follow my Best Week Ever column, you know that I’ve had the dubious fortune of getting exceedingly damp during my last few visits to Walt Disney World. You may have even begun to believe that I carry my own storm clouds around with me, like a cursed Douglas Adams character. So, I thought it was time to sweep away the clouds with six sunny day observations from the Magic Kingdom, where I (miracle of miracles) recently spent an entire afternoon with barely a drop of rain.
Same-Day FastPasses Aren’t Extinct
On my most recent Magic Kingdom visit, I was breaking in my brand-new blue MagicBand, which I received free via mail as a renewing Annual Passholder. (After a few more years I should have the whole color collection). And what better use for a new MagicBand than FastPass+ attraction reservations?
Of course, you may assume that by showing up on a busy summer afternoon and not checking for FastPass availability until I was riding the tram to the TTC, I’d be out of luck. But much to my delight, I was able to secure some decent ride times, after a bit of fiddling with the MyDisneyExperience system.
Pro Tip: The MDE mobile website is much more user-friendly than Disney’s smartphone app when searching for alternate time slots.
Chill out with Olaf and friends during the 2015 Frozen Summer Fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (photos and video by Seth Kubersky)
Frozen first hit movie theaters in the fall of 2013, but legions of fans (and Disney’s entertainment department) don’t seem ready to “Let It Go” anytime soon, as we enter a second annual season of Frozen Summer Fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We were on hand for the the first day of festivities, which will celebrate the CGI snow princess and pals every day through September 7.
Frozen Royal Welcome Parade
The first Frozen Summer Fun attraction I attended was the new Frozen Royal Welcome, which runs twice a day (currently 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.). It isn’t quite a full fledged parade on the scale of Paint the Night, but boasts far better production values than the typical Hollywood Studios motorcade we’re used to seeing at special events.
How does Paint the Night stack up? Find out in this review from the upcoming Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2016 (Photos by Seth Kubersky).
It’s been nearly a month since Disneyland debuted its new Diamond Celebration nighttime entertainment, and by now several members of the Touring Plans team — including Seth Kubersky and Guy Selga — have had a chance to experience the new productions from multiple angles. Over the coming days, we’ll be sharing a preview of the new 60th Anniversary updates that we’re including in the upcoming Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2016. To start off, here is our newly released Paint The Night parade review:
Disneyland’s newest nightly parade, Paint The Night (Author’s rating 5 stars) is patterned after the processional that debuted at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2014, and was duplicated (with a few new additions) as part Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary entertainment additions. Inspired in part by the original Main Street Electrical Parade, these brand-new floats are covered in 1.5 million LEDs. Each float represents a classic Disney or Pixar film, as scenes from from Monsters Inc., Cars, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and (wait for it…) Frozen are brought to life by a cast of over 75 performers, who bounce down the route to the upbeat soundtrack of Wreck-It Ralph’s “When Can I See You Again?” by pop artist Owl City (your kids will know who that is). Keep an ear out for musical nods to “Baroque Hoedown,” the old Electrical Parade’s synth-tastic theme song.
These super-bright displays go far beyond earlier nighttime pageants, and include character puppets with digitally animated faces, a tractor trailer full of floating 3-D designs, and a kinetic Sorcerer’s Apprentice sculpture whose twisting motion defies description.
In our opinion, Paint the Night is one of Disney’s best nighttime parades ever, and is not to be missed.
Paint The Night Viewing Tips
On nights with two scheduled Paint the Night parades, the first performance will start at ‘it’s a small world,’ travel past the west side of the Matterhorn, go clockwise around the Tomorrowland side of Central Plaza, head down Main Street, and then circle Town Square counter-clockwise. The second performance will begin at Town Square and run the route in the opposite direction. Most guests watch from the Central Plaza or from Main Street. The viewing area in front of ‘it’s a small world’ will fill up last so we recommend checking there if you need a spot. Keep in mind this is a new parade for the 60th Anniversary Celebration and has already proven very popular with guests. On busy days you may need to devote over 1 hour of time to make sure you secure a good spot for the parade.
The parade route will fill up will fill up a couple of hours early for the first showing, so we recommend grabbing a spot for the fireworks, and then immediately taking a spot for the second performance of Paint the Night. Any spot along the parade route will offer the same experience so you shouldn’t worry if you can’t see the parade on Main Street. And since all the floats and many of the puppets are exceedingly tall, you shouldn’t have to be seated right up front to have an excellent view.
Once the parade has started, count on gridlock all along the route, especially on Main Street. And since all the floats and many of the puppets are exceedingly tall, you shouldn’t have to be seated right up front to have an excellent view. Due to aggressive crowd control restrictions on the sidewalks, you’re best off entering or exiting the park via the backstage breezeways (if open) or Emporium shops.
If you can’t make it to see Paint The Night in person, enjoy this video of the complete show shot by Guy Selga:
What do you think of Paint The Night? Share your own review in the comments below!
Tickets to attend the tapings, which will be held at 10:30pm, 12:30am, and 2:30am on Sunday night/Monday morning and Monday night/Tuesday morning, are almost completely sold out at this point, but you may still be able to join the wait list.
Universal Orlando test of a Mardi Gras Guide app could hint at the future of theme park events, for good or ill… (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
Easter has been over two weeks, but Universal Orlando‘s annual Mardi Gras celebration only came to an end on Saturday night. Universal Studios Florida’s final parade and concert played on April 18th to a packed park under overcast skies, unlike the previous week’s rain-soaked washout. But in addition to flying beads and Trey Songz’s bass beats, Universal tossed out another surprise to its fans, testing a new Mardi Gras Guide app for smartphones on the party’s last night.
When the iOS Mard Gras Guide app opens for the first time, you’ll be asked to approve access to various services. Interestingly, there is no request to access the camera, which will become an issue later…
Get a VIP view with FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing areas at the Magic Kingdom (photos by Seth Kubersky)
Welcome to the future of fireworks and parades at Walt Disney World! In recent weeks, as the final rollout of FastPass+ has concluded in the Disney World parks, I’ve been sharing my experiences using the system as an Annual Passholder at Epcot, as well as at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since my last post, FastPass+ has been fully implemented for all Disney World guests, including day-guests not staying on Disney property, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to experience one of the most controversial aspects of the new system. Without further ado, here are my FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing tips, based on my personal observations at the Magic Kingdom.
Festival of Fantasy FastPass+ Parade Viewing
When the features of FastPass+ were first announced, the private reserved viewing areas for parades and other spectaculars were the aspect I was most skeptical (even cynical) about. Personally, such performances are usually very low on my priority list during a park visit for several reasons. Most of the parades had grown quite stale to me from years of over-exposure, I have an aversion to spending valuable touring time staking out a spot of asphalt just to get a good view, and I can’t abide being crammed like sardines in the crowd that accompanies the procession. So I would normally use that time to take advantage of marginally shorter queues at my favorite attractions. If I did want to see a parade, I’d typically walk up a minute or so before it started, and make do with a partial view blocked by the sea of shoulder-sitting small-fries in front of me. With a limit (soon to be lifted) of only 3 FastPass+ reservations per day, I couldn’t see myself “wasting” one on something like a parade when Space and Splash are beckoning.
This is currently the closest you can get to Anna and Elsa from Frozen without a mult-hour wait for their meet & greet.
Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration starts on Feb 8, 2014.
Today we tackle one of my favorite theme park topics: the annual Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. Universal Studios Mardi Gras holds a special place in my heart because, back in the late 1990s when I worked in Universal Studios Florida’s entertainment department, I was a talent supervisor for the parade, and got to walk with it nightly. (I’ll never get “Iko Iko” or “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” out of my skull.) So I’m thrilled to share Touring Plans’ complete guide to Universal’s bead laden bacchanalia, bringing you all the info you need to laissez les bons temps rouler!
[UPDATED 3/12/14: Scroll down for late-breaking news on the Mardi Gras extension and rescheduled Robin Thicke concert!]
Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of “Fat Tuesday” (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before “Ash Wednesday” on the Catholic calendar, and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People would bid “farewell to flesh” with a “carnivale” where they would indulge in the meat and drink they were about to forswear. Mardi Gras is the New Orleans, Louisiana, variation on this tradition — which is echoed in other cities from Venice, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons — namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts. About 20 years ago, Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family friendly event,” and amazingly it is — minus the bare breasts, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic; much as Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Blaine Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1947, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after each parade, much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Reasons To Check Out Universal’s Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. The Universal Orlando Resort knows how to throw a party and Mardi Gras is their wildest celebration of the year. Universal’s Mardi Gras brings in big name musical acts, authentic New Orleans food, and a party atmosphere like no other and on top of it all the price is included in the price of regular admission. If you need more reasons than that to attend, here are an additional six.
Please remember to click on any picture to see the full size version.
Daughtry (photo courtesy of Chad Evetts)
# 6 – The Concerts
The music acts that Universal books for the Mardi Gras Grand Celebration are second-to-none in the theme park concert world. While the Epcot Flower Power series of concerts will be featuring acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Village People and Chubby Checker – people you may have literally heard a thousand times before – this year’s Mardi Gras concert lineup includes a mix of classic and contemporary artists. Daughtry, Barenaked Ladies, Weezer and The Roots are just a few of the musical acts that will be headlining this year’s event. There’s also country stars like Gavin Degraw, classic rock groups like Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynryd, and even a Christian rock band with Skillet. Whether it’s Nelly, Collective Soul, or Huey Lewis and the News, you can pretty much count on Universal delivering an act you want to see perform.
Opening night at Universal Studios Florida Mardi Gras 2014 (photos & video by Seth Kubersky)
Fat Tuesday may not arrive until March 4, according the the Catholic calendar, but Mardi Gras is already in full effect at Universal Studios Florida. Opening night on February 8 of Universal’s Mardi Gras 2014 celebration included a concert by American Idol star Daughtry, and the premiere of new Jules Verne-themed floats in the 2014 Mardi Gras Parade. Even intermittent rain didn’t diminish the considerable crowds who came out for Mardi Gras 2014‘s damp debut, though slick streets did ground the stiltwalkers.
Derek Burgan will be back in the coming weeks with a couple Mardi Gras-themed “Saturday Six” columns, but until then I wanted to bring you a virtual taste of the festivities.