Archive for October, 2009

WDW Today Episode 637 – Picnic In The Park

by on October 30, 2009

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Episode 637 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Take a Swing at ESPN Club

by on October 29, 2009

Do you have a sports nut in your traveling crew?  Or maybe you are on princess overload.  Then the ESPN Club should be on your Disney to-do list.  Located at the Boardwalk, this restaurant serves up a fun atmosphere with tons of sports memorabilia and tasty bar food.  The claim to fame here are the TVs everywhere so guests don’t have to miss a minute of the game.  Yes, there are even televisions in the bathrooms; the lady’s room stalls each have their own screen.  The screens broadcast various games and events so there’s bound to be something to peak any guest’s interests.  Even if you aren’t the biggest sports fan, you’ll probably enjoy the menu offerings.

The day my friends and I dined here, it was a quiet afternoon so we sat right away.  Though the menu is packed sandwiches, nachos, and other typical game day fare, we all knew we wanted a burger.  The guys in our group got their own, but since we had another ADR for later that day, us girls decided to share one.  Its a good thing we did; they were huge!  Most of the items offered have kitschy sports names like Sideline Fries, Tailgate Pulled Pork, and a cocktail named the ESPY.  Its not the most amazing meal you’ll have at WDW, but it certainly hits the spot.

In addition to being a great place to watch the big game, its also a nice place to take a break from the parks.  ESPN Club is just a short walk from the International Gateway entrance to Epcot.  Guests can also hop on a friendship boat from Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios to get to the Boardwalk.  Strolling along the Boardwalk before or after your meal can also be a relaxing respite from attraction queues and crowds.

This location does not take advanced dining reservations and its a little off the beaten path, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a table on a typical day.  However, if there’s a big game playing it will be hopping.  If you don’t want to wait for a table or you just want to grab a drink the bar area is pretty vast.

So put on your favorite team’s gear and head over the ESPN Club for a fun night of food, beer, and sports fun.

Next week I’ll be back to bathrooms with my thoughts on Epcot’s facilities…

Wheels Down At MCO: Three Tips For Faster Magic

by on October 29, 2009

So you’ve just landed at MCO, and you’re eager to walk through those turnstiles at your favorite park. Here are a few obvious but fun tips in the spirit of the latest WDW Today episode.

1. Deplane Quicker

This one is pretty simple: a) don’t check a bag and b) sit towards the front of the plane. Personally, I’ve sworn off checked-bags for expediency’s sake (I hope to get away with this for at least a few more years). And now that most airlines give you a financial incentive to do this, it’s doubly rewarding. Only caveat when when bringing a roller bag on board is: try to board as soon as possible. Those overhead spaces fill up!

2. Speedier Rentals

First, it goes without saying that you should be using Mary Waring’s MouseSavers when you’re booking a rental car (I’ve personally saved hundreds of dollars this year alone using their codes). Mary also provides good tips for getting the car quicker–namely a) using an onsite agency and b) registering online with the rental agency (most of which are free). You have to trust them with your Driver’s License & Credit Card, but being able to use their kiosks and preferred queues in the airport can save easily 15-20 minutes. I used Alamo for my last trip in August and found a healthy line at the desk but was able to storm through the kiosk rental within 2 minutes and was off to the garage.

3. Use Disney’s Online Check-in

Disney recently introduced an Online Check-in system for its resort hotels. Basically, you can “check-in” online 10-days out, and upon arrival at the hotel, you use a different queue that typically has an expedited process. Further, if your room isn’t ready yet, you can have them text your cell phone with your room number once available (this worked fine for me). I’ve heard that some people have actually found longer waits at the hotel with this online check-in process–it worked brilliantly for me at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Eager to hear how’s it worked for other people (could be a hotel-specific thing).

OK–that’s it! Three tips to make it to the Parks faster! In August, my dad and I made it to Epcot in an hour and twenty minutes after our flight landed; we were holding fastpasses for Soarin’ and eating at Sunshine Seasons (a fave) after 90 minutes!

What are your tips for making it to WDW faster? Anyone have any good Magical Express tips or Online Check-in stories?

Thanks to Liquid Lucidity for the image

WDW Today Episode 636 – Listener Questions

by on October 28, 2009

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Episode 636 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Disney Officially Unveils Mobile Magic; First Disney Parks Mobile App

by on October 27, 2009

As we rumored late last week, today Disney officially announced Mobile Magic, with screenshots of the Verizon-only app. The Disney Parks Blog has not indicated when it will be available, though we believe it will come sometime in November and be priced at $9.99 for a six-month period.

In this announcement they also show off more specific features, including FASTPASS return times, specific character meet and greet times, and Dining integration. One big note they mention is that the full-version app is only available while inside the park, even for current subscribers. That means, you can’t be in Epcot (or in, say, Buffalo) and checking wait times for the Magic Kingdom (presumably by verifying via GPS). Instead, they say:

“When you’re out of the park or on the soon-to-be-launched mobile Web site, you’ll see scaled-down wait time descriptions (now – moderate – high demand) FASTPASS availability (yes – limited availability – not available) and the list of character appearances will be limited.”

So what do you guys think? Are you a Verizon customer and anxious to get access to this?

Reminder: Disney Dining Reservation System Goes Back To 180 Days Today

by on October 27, 2009

Beginning October 27, Disney will accept dining reservations 180 days in advance for most Walt Disney World restaurants.   Park hours have been released to match these dates.


by on October 26, 2009

Not long ago, SamLand was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.  For the fully illustrated version of this article go to Samland’s Disney Adventures.

As you know, first impressions matter. For themed environmental design, a proper introduction can create a level of comfort that allows the visitor to let go and enter the story. This idea came from Disney animated films. The reason that the backgrounds have such a high level of detail is to create a sense that the setting is real and anything that happens in the foreground is believable. Walt Disney called this the Plausible Impossible. This formula has been applied to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom arrival experience.

The Imagineers want you to leave the land of theme parks and enter a mythical tropical forest. They want you to slow down and let the environment grow on you. Create a park where the shortest path is neither the straightest line nor the best way to get from here to there.

The Imagineers’ trick is the use of contrast. They take you from a barren plain into a lush tropical forest. You go from a lifeless environment to a place filled with life. The Imagineers are trying to slow you down so you can absorb your surroundings and feel a part of the natural environment. Does it work?

Built into this park are two deep-seated design patterns. The first is the well-known fact that this park is designed to reward the visitor who takes their time. The second pattern is how the Imagineers use contrast at the entrance to hammer home the main theme of conservation.

What do I mean about contrast? As you pull up to the park notice that this parking lot is one hard, giant, treeless, hot place. Not a very inviting first impression. This is by design. You are getting your first lesion in the park’s guiding principles that illustrate the Circle of Life concept. You experience first hand what could easily be described as a lifeless place – the parking stalls. Off in the distance, beyond the edge of the parking lot is a lush forest. The Imagineers will exploit this use contrast to enhance the story and message.

As you disembark from the parking lot tram or walk over from the bus stop you will notice that unlike the other parks, you cannot see any buildings sticking up above the trees. I understand that some may argue that Expedition Everest and the thin tall cell tower that is camouflaged like a tree might be exceptions. Over time the cell tower will be somewhat hidden within the parks tree canopy. In fact, the park’s design guidelines and building code took into account the natural changes to the landscape from the start.

The design objective was to have the tree canopy rise entirely over the roofs of the buildings. The buildings would become secondary to nature. One result is that over time the iconic Tree of Life would be better integrated and apart of the landscape as it remains the same size while everything grows around it. Since the park opened in 1998, the plant material has really matured and the desired effect is taking place.

As you walk toward the front gate take some time to look down at the ground because the materials on the ground add to the story. The parking lot paving materials appear to be washed out and already cracking especially at the edges. It is as if the parking lot wants to return to nature. As you move toward the front gate you notice how the hard asphalt turn to friendlier materials. If you look closely you will see how the colors of the pavement consist of long, wavy red and green patterns. From a bird’s eye view this puzzle would reveal that you are seeing a giant mural of the Tree of Life.

In all things concerning life, there must be a balance. This is a central message throughout Animal Kingdom. And balance is best achieved when the edges are blurred and the environment is a gradient. In the field of ecology, naturalist use transects to describe the characteristics of an ecosystem and describe the changes in ecosystems over a gradient. When the Transect is severely disrupted, significant environmental impacts can be felt. Virtually every attraction deals with a disruption in the natural transect when you really think about it.

The ticket booth and gateway architecture is based on the American Arts and Crafts tradition as a demonstration on how man-made structures can seem compatible with the natural environment. Within this design tradition, the blending of indoor and outdoor space is blurred, natural materials are featured, and the machine age is shunned for hand-made.

This is not the first time Disney has used this architectural style for inspiration. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is also based on this style. The difference is the Anaheim resort takes the style and blows up the scale beyond any real building in that style. The gateway and ticket booths in Florida are at an appropriate scale and blend into the environment.

Once upon a time, Animal Kingdom was supposed to have three realms – animals of the past, animals of the present, and animals that only lived within our imaginations. This concept was reinforced throughout the entrance. Along with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs is the image of a dragon. The dragon would represent Beastly Kingdom, a land of unicorns and other mystical beasts. The dragon makes another appearance above the far left ticket booth.

Once past the gateway you enter a land unique to this theme park. It is called the Oasis. Functionally, the Oasis serves the same purpose as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth; to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down and they described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. As people run toward the safari or Everest, this is a feat that is rarely achieved on the way in but with some success on the way out.

The pathways meander and cross under a land bridge (reminiscent of the tunnels under the train at the Magic Kingdom?) acting like a curtain until the big reveal – your first view of the Tree of Life. The wide walkway is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there. From the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.

Like the other Disney park entries, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate the real world from the fantasy world. At the end is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.

Animal Kingdom is unique. By using contrast, not only is the environmental design experience different so is the way to tour the park successfully. At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way is to let the journey become the thing. The arrival experience supports that change and hopes you accept the challenge.

WDW Today Episode 635 – Tip For Today

by on October 26, 2009

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Episode 635 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Our own Fred Hazelton appears on this episode! UPDATE:: Henry chimes in with his Tips for Today on the blog.

Ultimate Disneyland Touring Plan: The Strategy Session Podcast

by on October 24, 2009

Listen to Unofficial Guide Researchers Henry, Kelsey, and Kate as we break down our attempt at the Ultimate Disneyland Touring Plan on Kelsey’s podcast, The Disney B (we literally recorded this an hour ago). You can download the episode directly here, or can subscribe via iTunes. Read more on our attempt here.

If you’re at the computer tomorrow, you can follow our attempt live at, as well as on Twitter! We’re hoping to do all 51 attractions open in Disneyland (down from 58 earlier due to closures & what we define as “attractions”). Lastly, a special thanks to everyone who showed at our Disneyland meetup tonight! Great (though crowded) night to be in the parks.

UPDATE: we did it! Listen to the de-brief podcast here (note: some annoying cell-phone static).

Disney-Verizon In-Park Mobile Phone App Coming In November

by on October 23, 2009

We hear something like this was just posted to the Disney Castmember portal.  It could be completely wrong, so caveat emptor:

Disney Parks-Verizon Mobile Magic coming in November

Wireless subscribers that puts a personal tour guide right in the
palms of their hands.

Disney Parks-Verizon Mobile Magic utilizes GPS technology to provide
valuable information to Guests such as attraction wait times,
character locations and theme park maps.

The mobile application is available for download and purchase
beginning in November for $9.99 per six months of service. To purchase
the application, Guests can text MAGIC to 2777 from their Verizon

Mobile Web sites, or, also will
allow  Guests with a browsing-enabled phone to access limited Disney
park information such as park hours, entertainment schedules and
dining information.

If Guests experience functionality issues with their phone or the
application, they should use the “Click-to-Call” function on their
mobile phone or call Verizon Customer Care by dialing 661 from any
Verizon phone or 1-800-922-0204 from any other phone.