When I arrived at noon, Epcot appeared quite a bit busier than you might hope a weekday in early November would be. Welcome to Jersey Week! Thanks to teachers’ conferences in New Jersey, wait times were jacked up throughout the park, with Spaceship Earth posting a 35 minute standby queue as I entered.
If you follow my articles, you know that over Labor Day Weekend I partook in a grand experiment in an unplanned day at Walt Disney World. Having now experienced that firsthand (and taking some time to mull it over) I’m ready to report back with this uber-planner’s perspective on completely making things up as I went along. What did I learn? Adventure is out there, but I’d prefer to plan for it.
For a quick review of my experiment, here are the rules that were applied to my unplanned day:
Votes were submitted via Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of my All It Takes is Faith and Trust article regarding which park my husband and I would visit on Saturday, September 5th – we did not tally the votes until we were ready to walk out the door and go to the winning park.
We had to make our FastPass+ selections after we arrived at the park using one of the in-park kiosks (this was a rule change based upon a suggestion from a commenter on the original article – I was not allowed to use the MyDisneyExperience app on my phone).
We could not make a meal reservation for that day until after we arrived in the designated park, and we had to make that reservation by calling the reservation line (another rule change based on comments).
I would provide regular updates on Twitter and solicit feedback from people following along from home – they could make suggestions regarding what we would do once we were in the winning park and I would try to accommodate those requests.
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!
I’ve written tens of thousands of sentences in the nearly 5 years I’ve been working for The Unofficial Guide and Touring Plans, but this one is the most exciting: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, our first stand-alone guidebook dedicated to the home of Harry Potter, is on its way!
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is on its way! (Not to scale; book not shown actual size).
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is available now for pre-order, and is listed on Amazon.com with an August 11 release date. If you know The Unofficial Guides and Touring Plans from our Disney coverage, you may be wondering, “Why create a guide for Universal Orlando?” Well, as the author (along with co-authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa) of the new book, I’m glad you asked!
The short answer is that we listen to our readers, and we watch where people are spending their vacation time and dollars. Ever since the opening of the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, and especially since the debut of Diagon Alley in 2014, interest in and attendance at Universal Orlando has exploded. Every day, more and more Central Florida visitors are choosing Universal as their primary destination, or at making it a significant sideline.
Authors of the Unofficial Guide series, including TouringPlans’ own Seth Kubersky, Laurel Stewart, and Len Testa will be at the West Osceola Library in Celebration, Florida, March 9 for a Q&A with aspiring writers. Bob Sehlinger (UG to WDW, Disneyland, WDW for Kids, and Las Vegas) and Liliane Opsomer (UG to WDW with Kids) will attend as well. Seth and Laurel will also be at a meet and greet at the library March 11. Both events are at 7PM. The library is at 305 Campus St., Celebration, FL 34747.
Some of my favorite new parts of the Color Companion are the theme park infographics. These two-page color spreads are like cheat sheets for visiting the parks. Tip #1 includes the park’s typical Extra Magic Hours schedule, plus the pros and cons of Morning and Evening Extra Magic Hours. Tip #2 shows which attractions benefit most from FastPass+ in each park. Tip #3 explains why it’s important to arrive early.
Tip #4 shows which attractions get crowded fastest, and which attractions to visit during the busy, middle part of the day. And Tip #5 shows you which attractions are likely to still have FastPass+ reservations on the day you’re visiting the park. This is the first time we’ve presented this information in print, and it’s super useful when trying to figure out where to use your 3 advance FastPass+ reservations. Big thanks to graphic artist Cassandra Poertner for coming up with these (that’s Cassandra and her daughter in the flying boat).
Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
APPEAL BY AGE
PRESCHOOL 2 stars
GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
TEENS 5 stars
YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
OVER 30 5 stars
SENIORS 4 stars
What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements. Scope and scale Super-headliner. When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing. Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement. Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes. Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes. Loading speed Moderate-Fast.
Watch these videos and see World of Color in a whole new way. (images by Seth Kubersky)
Just as Walt famously said that the Disney empire “all started with a mouse,” the magic of Touring Plans all started with a book — namely, the Unofficial Guide. As co-author (with Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa) of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, I’m proud to announce that preliminary work is complete on the 2015 edition of our Anaheim guidebook, which will make its way to store shelves in plenty of time for the resort’s upcoming 60th anniversary. Naturally, we’ll continue to refine the text right up until the time it is sent to the printers later this year, and we’ll be bringing you details on the changes made to the tome as its publication approaches in the fall. But for now, I wanted to share a tiny taste of a couple of the changes coming to the Unofficial Guide, via a few fun Disney California Adventure videos — featuring the Mariachi Divas and World of Color — that I recorded during my most recent visit to the Happiest Place on Earth.
The Mariachi Divas are one of my favorite under-the-radar entertainment diversions found at Disney California Adventure, but until now they’ve be unjustly under-represented in the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. We’ve rectified that with an an expanded entry on this fabulously festive singing group.
A mother from Ellicott City, Maryland, sent us this question last week:
Do you provide a description of how you come up with your star ratings for rides? I’m not talking about the age-related ones, but the authors’ rating. This question came up when we were reading about Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
As it happened, last week was also when the Unofficial Guide staff got together to review the ratings for every attraction in Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.
The authors’ rating is the consensus opinion of the Unofficial Guides’ authors. And while everyone’s got personal favorites and criteria, all of us agree that the basic rating system functions something like this:
***** Attractions rated five stars are iconic attractions by which all others are judged. These are generally combinations of great storytelling, attention to detail, and technical achievement, all done on a grand scale. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal is a good example, as is Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.
**** Four-star attractions are generally either done on a smaller scale attraction, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic, or it’s a headliner attraction that has aged technology or content (e.g., Living with the Land).
*** Three-star attractions are usually budget-friendly rides that Disney uses to increase the capacity of a particular area. Magic Carpets of Aladdin was the example we discussed most often here.
** Two-star attractions are usually older, lightly-themed carnival rides, such as Mad Tea Party, or in the case of Stitch’s Great Escape, a rare attraction with so little merit that it can’t be recommended.
* One-star attractions are either simple diversions that Disney promotes as an attraction, like Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, or the ride has material weaknesses in story, theme, ride experience, and maintenance, and should be avoided.
There are no zero-star attractions in Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. Also, an attraction can earn (or lose) half a star if it’s slightly better (or worse) than similar attractions.
Citizens of Hollywood *** 1/2 One of the best sets of roving street performers in any Disney park, you’ll find this comedy troupe on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, dragging unsuspecting tourists into the antics. Previous rating: none
Disneyland Resort didn't experience the same explosive growth in the past year that it enjoyed in 2012, but that certainly doesn't mean Walt's original Magic Kingdom has stood still — and neither has the Unoffical Guide! From the newly-constructed Fantasy Faire to the latest food options around Anaheim, we've made over 200 updates and improvements to this 375-page volume.
Below is a quick look at many of the important changes included in the new book.
A brand-new “Importance of Being Goofy” satirical essay.
Updated Critical Comparison of attractions found at both Disneyland Park and WDW's Magic Kingdom.
Updated list of attractions found only at Disneyland Park.