Archive for July, 2009

Reminder: Meetup Tomorrow At Magic Kingdom

by on July 31, 2009

Meet webmaster, Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World co-author, and WDW Today podcast member Len Testa tomorrow at the Magic Kingdom! Len will be at the lower seating level of the Tomorrowland Noodle Station between the hours of 1-2pm. This is the first of our four parks, four meetups series!

If you can’t make it tomorrow, there are more meetups coming up and listed on our official (but delightfully unofficial) Facebook page:

So if you’re a local or on vacation at WDW tomorrow, stop by and say hi to Len! And if you want to follow Len on his trip, he’s posting frequently on both @LenTesta and @TouringPlans over on Twitter–so go check ’em out!

WDW Today Episode 598 – MagicMeets 101

by on July 31, 2009

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Episode 598 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 597 – Listener Questions

by on July 29, 2009

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Episode 597 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Tomorrowland – Part 2

by on July 27, 2009

If you like what you see please visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures for more about the parks history, design, and touring tips.

Last week I compared the site plan for Tomorrowland to Main Street USA. This week I am going to focus on a couple of related items. First, I will talk about the level of motion that is unique to Tomorrowland. Then I will shift gears and talk about where this level of motion came from – Tomorrowland 1.0.

One of the signature hallmarks of Tomorrowland is all of the vehicles moving about. Moving vehicles dominate the land at all levels. On the ground plain, constantly queuing up are the cars of the Speedway. Up one level are the TTA trains. The TTA trains continue throughout the land and become a thread that ties many of the Tomorrowland structures together. Flying high overhead are the Astro Orbiter rockets.

When the Carrousel of Progress is open and spinning even the buildings add to the movement. And not long ago, you had the gondolas of the Skyway passing overhead. And we can’t forget Push, the talking trashcan. There is no other spot in the Magic Kingdom with such diversity of vehicles on display.

This movement is due to the original Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland 1.0 lived until 1994. In the relatively brief history of the Magic Kingdom, only Tomorrowland has received a significant makeover. Adventureland and Frontierland have been expanded as attractions have been added. Toontown Fair is a temporary idea made permanent. But only one land has had a sequel – Tomorrowland.

What you see today is the Imagineers solution to a longtime vexing problem. How do you create the world of tomorrow when tomorrow happens so fast? What happens when the design and construction process takes so long that by the time the project is done it isn’t relevant anymore?

Don’t believe me that this is a real problem? Need an example of what happens when you lose this battle? Been to DisneyQuest lately?

One of the hallmarks of Disney design is that each land feels like a “place”. And by place I will use the definition drafted by architect Charles Moore. He once stated that “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment”.

Disneyland’s first Tomorrowland (1955) was set in 1986, the return year for Haley’s Comet. It was updated in 1967 to no specific date but the place was the “world on the move”. The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland 1.0 was the next generation of that concept. But 20 years later the “world on the move” was looking dated.

So the solution in 1994 was to rethink the entire question.

Instead of projecting a place set into the future, why not just create a fantasy place influenced by visions of the future. The Imaginers decided to borrow elements from Disneyland Paris’s Discoveryland and create “a future that never was”. This created a place that is less about anticipating the future than creating a more timeless setting. To this end, the Imaginers borrowed heavily from predictions of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Buck Rodgers to create a “Spaceport”; a place where visitors from throughout the universe come and go. In some respects Tomorrowland is the first “postmodern” land and that idea would be amplified at Disney’s California Adventure.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was a bright shiny optimistic vision of the future. It was a world of motion. Gleaming white spires greeted you and the future looked so bright that you had to wear shades (that white paint). Today, Tomorrowland has become sci-fi Fantasyland. The emphasis is on the familiar instead of the challenge of what could be. Even the most forward-looking attraction – the Carousel of Progress – is presented like it is a museum.

Tomorrowland is clearly organized, a very entertaining space to sit and take a break, and brings back a nostalgic moment for those old enough to remember when…

WDW Today Episode 596 – All The World’s A Stage

by on July 27, 2009

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Episode 596 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 595 – The World According To Scopa

by on July 24, 2009

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Episode 595 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Teens n’ Tots Touring: Part 2

by on July 22, 2009

So much for me keeping to a bi-weekly schedule, huh? How hard could it be to sit down and write about a place that I adore? Suffice to say, folks, I’m sorry about my absence from cyberspace. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll finally continue my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring.


This time, I’m talking about single-parent families. I confess one of the reasons that I haven’t posted until now is that I was figuring out what I could say. I wasn’t sure if I could make a Disney World itinerary easier for single parents with both preschoolers and adolescents. For several weeks I was banging my head against a wall. For example, I was terrified at the prospect of guiding you readers through the multi-age horror that is Tomorrowland. (I imagined a single-mother being pulled on one arm by a teen bound for Space Mountain and on the other arm, a toddler determined to drive at the Tomorrowland Speedway.) But in a moment of Buddha-like enlightenment, I realized my mistake: I was trying to treat single-parent families like two-parent families.


Unfortunately, single parents just don’t have the same luxuries when it comes to a Disney World vacation, such as another pair of arms or a more daring partner to do the rougher rides with teens. Still, that doesn’t mean that a single mom or dad can’t take their kids to Disney. Like all things are when you’re a single parent, it just takes a bit more planning and a little sacrifice.


Of course, if you think that your teenager is ready, you can let him or her tour on their own with emergency cash and a cell phone. But if that isn’t the case for you, this article will be focused on families that want the teens to stay with them. I am going to take you on a park-by-park explanation of how to accomplish this task, including: all-age rides, easy dining, and tips on preventing meltdowns. So let’s start at the beginning, the Magic Kingdom.



I. Magic Kingdom

For all kinds of families, the Magic Kingdom has some major perks: there are thrill(ish) and tame rides, princesses and pirates galore, and plenty of transportation to-and-from the park. Now the downside is that “MK” can be tricky to navigate. This is because the streets go around in a circle until you reach the end of Frontierland. But interestingly, the themes of the “lands” can help put you in the right direction.


For instance, Frontierland, which is based on the Old West, is on the west side of the park. Liberty Square, which is themed on America before the westward expansion, comes before Frontierland. East of the American lands is Fantasyland, the theme of which is a European faire. Next to fantasy is the sci-fi-themed area, Tomorrowland. (In-between is a cartoon land, Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Make of that what you will.) The only land that I couldn’t fit into this device is Adventureland; it’s south of Frontierland and west of Main Street USA. Speaking of Main Street USA, it is simple enough to find: it’s where you enter and exit.


Below is a list of Magic Kingdom attractions that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten a little kid — or big grown-ups, for that matter.


·         Jungle Cruise (there is a scene in the dark with fake snakes)

·         Pirates of the Caribbean (there are scenes in the dark, fake fire, and lots of skeletons)

·         Haunted Mansion (there are ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, and dead bodies)

·         Peter Pan’s Flight

·         Mickey’s PhilharMagic (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)

·         The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (don’t laugh; teens like the optical effects)

·         Mad Tea Party (make sure wild teens ride in a different teacup than tiny tots)

·         Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

·         Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor (teens can text in jokes for the CGI characters to perform)


II. Epcot

Epcot presents a peculiar challenge for single parents. It’s the favorite park of many young adults, but not very popular with most little guys. What the little kids do like about Epcot is not what most teens do. Specifically, Epcot has awesome thrill rides, such as Test Track and Mission: Space. Both of these (as well as the other headliner, Soarin’) have height requirements.


If you can, it helps to give your teens some independence in Epcot. (After all, aside from its enormous size, there’s not much in Epcot that makes it hard to handle.) There are two alternatives to this: 1) skip Epcot, or 2) stick to World Showcase and Future World West. If single-parents want their families to stay together, they’re going to experience World Showcase in a different –- but no less enjoyable — way.


As opposed to focusing on the limited attractions, single-parent families should tour World Showcase as it was meant to be done. Slowly sample the offerings of each pavilion. You can shake the maracas in Mexico, play with marionettes in China, and eat puff pastry in France. In fact, I would recommend this form of touring to anybody! If your toddler get bored with World Showcase, find each pavilion’s KidCot Fun Stop; they are craft centers in each pavilion that kids love.


The only problem with this plan is the problem with Epcot: its size. Epcot is nicknamed “Every Person Comes Out Tired” and this is especially true for a young child. Be sure to pack painkillers in your First Aid kit. Even if your toddler denies having foot pain, regularly check their feet for blisters. If anyone — including you — is worn out, find a bench in the shade, buy a cool drink, and just relax. If your tot is antsy, drag your group to the Germany Pavilion; there is an elaborate, outdoor train-set there that toddlers could watch for hours. Everyone else can sit nearby.


Below is a list of attractions at Epcot that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten participants.


·         Spaceship Earth

·         Innoventions (teens and tots will like different areas)

·         Universe of Energy (tots will not know who Bill Nye the Science Guy is and there are dinosaur animatronics)

·         Maelstrom (this almost didn’t make the list; there’s a 20-foot plunge, dark, and monsters)


III. Hollywood Studios

To be honest, I’ve been dreading this section most of all because Hollywood Studios is the dream of any adrenaline-loving pubescent. It also has some shows that are hits with toddlers. But sadly, there isn’t any overlap. Since the thrill rides have height requirements, even if a small child wanted to ride them, he or she couldn’t. Plus, even an enthusiastic teen will tire of the gushy, singsong entertainment provided for the little dudes. What’s the solution?


The normal approach of only experiencing attractions that both groups like would make for a short day at the Disney Studios — though this is becoming less true every year. You can always skip Hollywood Studios, but if you don’t want to do that, my advice would be to maximize the power of the FastPass.


For example, get two FastPasses for Tower of Terror. Proceed to a showing of Playhouse Disney ~ Live on Stage or Voyage of the Little Mermaid, depending on your tike’s preference. You can grab a snack or watch some street theatre afterwards. By this point, your FastPasses should be valid. Have your teen go first and wait for them to finish at the Child Swap station. If you want to ride too, hand your toddler off to your teen and go ride.



For attractions such as Star Tours and Fantasmic, it helps to have a brave toddler. In the case of shows, if your tot gets scared, you can just leave and wait for your teen. If your younger kid gets frightened on a ride, teach them to close their eyes and cover their ears. But never force your child to ride something; it can ruin the vacation for them. Feel free, however, to force your teen to do certain things. Many so-called “kiddie” attractions have wide appeal, even if they look juvenile — i.e. Voyage of the Little Mermaid.


Below is a list of Hollywood Studios attractions that most teens and tots enjoy. I’ve made notes when attractions may frighten small children.


·         Beauty and Beast ~ Live on Stage

·         MuppetVision 3-D (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)

·         Toy Story Mania

·         Voyage of the Little Mermaid (once teens are in the theatre, they usually enjoy the show)


IV. Animal Kingdom

I have a feeling that you will like the Animal Kingdom. Aside from three or four attractions, its offerings delight the whole family. In fact, my only counsel to you for the Animal Kingdom is to be careful about your meal schedule. In my opinion, this park does not have sufficient dining options (to demonstrate, of the six counter-service locations, one of them only offers tea, espresso, and cookies). The rule-of-thumb for Animal Kingdom eateries is to ‘zig’ when everyone else ‘zags;’ either have lunch very early or late. You do not want to be stuck outside in a food line at the busiest time — roughly 11:30pm to 2pm.


One other thing that I should mention before you let your teens loose in the Animal Kingdom: remember that it can be difficult to navigate due to the tall trees that block streets from view. Remind them that if they get lost, they should return to Discovery Island at the center of the park — the street signs are very well marked on the Island. Also, a teeny-tiny note: remind your teens that if they ride Kali River Rapids that they should not keep their cell phones in their pants. Their bodies and their phones will get soaked.


Below is a list of attractions that most teens and tots like at the Animal Kingdom.


·         Festival of the Lion King (there’s one scene with fire and it can get loud)

·         Kilimanjaro Safaris

·         Pagani Forest Trail

·         Flights of Wonder

·         Kali River Rapids (there’s a 38in. height requirement; you will definitely get soaked)

·         Maharajah Jungle Trek

·         Finding Nemo: The Musical (make sure your kids have seen the film or it won’t make sense)


V. Water Parks

Being at a water park with a toddler can be daunting. Safety has got to be top priority if you splurge on the water parks. Yet, this alone doesn’t create much of a touring problem. The issue that single parents will face is that the slides that teenagers love the most have height requirements.


The best solution is to go to Typhoon Lagoon instead of Blizzard Beach. Blizzard Beach is almost all slides that your tot can’t go on while Typhoon Lagoon has several non-slide attractions, including a wave pool, a scuba diving simulation, and a ‘river’ for floating (although in fairness, I should say that Blizzard Beach has a great raft slide that everybody can ride). My parents will tell you that the tot-area at Typhoon Lagoon is superior in design to the one at Blizzard Beach. In addition, there are more places to eat at Typhoon Lagoon.


VI. “Character Hunting”

‘Character hunting’ is when a Cast Member, costumed as a Disney animated character, signs autographs for and takes photos with guests. Toddlers — if they can get over the enormous size of the characters — love it! Teenagers usually do not. How do you character hunt with your toddler and satisfy your teen?


First of all, don’t get in line every time you see a character. Keep to your tot’s favorites. If everybody is too irritable to keep touring and you spot Donald Duck, rest assured that most characters can be found again at other parks. Then when you do character hunt, make your teenager the photographer. It gives us teens something to do and makes us feel like we’re being good big siblings.



I hope that this post was worth the wait. If you have questions about this Disney topic or any other, please ask them in the Comments. I’ll do the best that I can to answer them. Have a magical day!

Crowd Calendar Affected by Disney’s Recent Changes

by on July 22, 2009

The increase in last minute vacation bookings has forced Disney to continue its recent practice of adjusting park hours and schedules on the fly. Park hours have been increased for certain days in July and August and Extra Magic Hour schedules for July through October have been affected as well. Since park hours and Extra Magic Hour schedules are key components of the Crowd Calendar estimates, the Crowd Calendar has been affected greatly. You may find that recommended parks and crowd index levels have changed for the dates of your trip.

With free dining causing lengthly queues for booking Advance Dining Reservations it is a wonder how Disney expects its guests to plan in advance while schedules are being changed.

Regardless, we remind you that your best use of planning time is to prioritize based on those factors that are most important to your travelling group.

  • Advance Dining Reservations are difficult to come by. Schedule your week based on the ADRs that you are able to aquire. Spending time planning out which park you should visit on a given day may mean that you are missing out on dining availability.
  • Consider using park hopper tickets to visit the recommended park on a given day then hop to the park with your ADR.
  • Using a Touring Plan is still the best and most efficient way to beat any crowd. Hence the name of the site.

The Crowd Calendar as always, is subject to change. Check regularly, especially right before your trip, to see if any changes have been made.

WDW Today Episode 594 – Listener Questions

by on July 22, 2009

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Episode 594 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Guten Tag from Biergarten

by on July 20, 2009

Maybe it’s because of my great-great grandfather owned a beer garden stateside, but Biergarten is climbing up my list of favorite places to have dinner around the World Showcase. While I usually avoid buffets at Disney World, this one is great. There is a wide variety of foods to choose from and the atmosphere can’t be beat. Where else on WDW property do guests be serenaded by an Oompah band while swinging around their stein of beer?

Upon walking into the restaurant, guests can’t help but marvel at the décor. The area is set up to resemble an actual outdoor Biergarten in a Bavarian village at the height of Oktoberfest. Long tables are set up as they would be during the famous Autumn celebration. If you have a small party chances are you will be sitting with another group. To me this is part of the fun of eating at Biergarten! On one of my trips here my friend and I wound up hanging out with the family we dined with for the rest of the evening. Don’t be shy you never know who you’ll meet.

In addition to the festive surroundings, the entertainment is a ton of fun. The oompah band starts swinging approximately every 45 minutes so you should be able to catch at least one of their sets. They play traditional Bavarian music and encourage audience participation. There is even a dance floor set up in front of the stage. Guests of all ages seem to get a kick out of doing a little polka. At Christmas time these talented musicians do a special holiday presentation which I’m partial to.

Before we get to the food we must discuss the beer. When my friend Tom and I last visited he was determined to get himself the liter of beer. It’s a good thing there’s so much food to sop it all up! Our server (who exclaimed “Helmstetter is a German name, you know!”) convinced us to try a selection not readily available elsewhere. We were glad we did! We both got the Franziskaner Weisse and both really liked it. There are several beers and wines to sample on the menu. If you can’t make up your mind you can get a flight of either beer or wine to sample them all! Keep in mind only soft drinks are included in the price of the buffet.

You may be wary of trying German food since it is very sausage heavy. If Wursts aren’t your thing there are plenty of other options on the menu. I’m a bad German girl and I stay away from the sausages, but I still love this place. I could eat spaetzle, schnitzel, and red cabbage all day. If you are a fan of the pretzel bread found at Le Cellier, Biergarten offers its own version. And if all else fails there’s the kids section with the usual mac and cheese, etc. The dessert offerings are also quite tasty; I especially like the berry compote.

For those on a tighter budget, the restaurant also offers lunch with a few less offerings and a bit of a discount.

Here's Tom enjoying his liter of beer!

Here's Tom enjoying his liter of beer!

Next week I’ll discuss the resort I stay at most…