Archive for June, 2010

WDW Today Episode 734 – Listener Questions

by on June 15, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 734 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

TouringPlans Epcot Meet!

by on June 15, 2010

We are continuing the summer meet-up series with an incredibly special one! Here are some details:

Friday June 18th, 2010 at 8:00pm

Epcot, Japan Pavillion at the Yakitori House

Meet Henry, Len and Fred at this nighttime meet!  Stories, snacks and Illuminations! We have the majority of the team at Disney all at once so we hope you’ll join us! Will you be there?

Remember, join and subscribe to our Plancast for up to date details on our summer meets!

WDW Today Episode 733 – Rating The Epcot Resorts (For Specific Groups)

by on June 13, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 733 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

The Great Car Rental Debate

by on June 11, 2010

It seems that every time I make a trip to Walt Disney World I ask myself the same question: should I rent a car this time?  I used to think renting a car was a waste of money with the free transportation from Orlando International Airport to a Disney resort via Disney’s Magical Express and the complimentary buses, boats, and monorail on property.  I thought why shell out an extra bit of money?  Surely the extra cost outweighed the benefits.  And then I took a trip that changed my opinion forever.

I was shown the light when I took a friend with my friend, Julie, on which we slept at all three All Star resorts.  We decided that since we would be moving frequently a car was the way to go.  I couldn’t believe how much faster it was to take our own car to the parks.  We just hopped in whenever we wanted and headed back to the resort whenever we wanted without any waiting around.  We didn’t have to face the long bus queues at park closing and it was great.  It was easy to get to other resorts for dinner without having to make any transfers.  And best of all, we didn’t have to be back at the resort three hours before our flights to catch the Magical Express.  We could simply head out to MCO directly from the parks.  It was I was let in on Disney’s best kept secret (and I’m not talking about DVC).  It comes down to this: time is money at Walt Disney World.  Every moment that you are waiting in line for the bus is time you could be strolling down Main Street or grabbing a fast pass for Soarin’.  The convenience of having your own wheels is pretty awesome once you’ve experienced it.

I was all set to rent a car for my next trip in August.  If there’s one thing for sure about August in Florida it’s HOT.  So I thought having a car would make taking mid-afternoon breaks quicker and easier.  The plan was to get to the parks for for rope drop, bang out as man attractions as we could, and then head back to the resort for a swim and/or a nap.  Then, after our break I would take the bus back to the parks for the evening.  If there is one thing you have learned from reading my blog posts for the last year or so it’s that I like to have a good time when I’m at WDW.  And being the responsible mouseketeer that I am I’d leave the car at the resort in favor of a nice CM driving me back to Pop Century after a few drinks around World Showcase.

This all sounded so great until I tried to actually book a car.  My first stop when renting a car is  This site is great for anyone looking to save money on their Disney World vacation, and car rentals are included.  The site lists each car company and any available discount codes at any given time.  Simply apply the codes on a car rental company’s website to see the savings.  I have found that Dollar often has the best rates so I always start with them.  Imagine my shock when the cheapest option was $392 (with the discount applied) before taxes and fees.  I am used to paying about $20 a day, but this was closer to $78 a day before all of the added fees.  After my disappointment in Dollar, I spent hours trying to get the best deal with any company I could.  Unfortunately, they were all about the same price.  I realize that August is busy and therefore the prices go up, but this price made me rethink my whole strategy.

I haven’t given up all hope yet!  Many of the discount codes available on mousesavers currently expire in June.  I’m hoping for some new ones to crop up which will apply to my dates in August.  Also keep in mind that a few friends and I will be splitting the cost for the car so that softens the blow.  Oh decisions, decision…

Help!  I could really use some opinions about what to do in this situation.  Do you think its worth it to bite the bullet and rent the car?  When does the cost of the car outweigh its benefits?  Let me know what you think.

Next week I’ll give some packing and planning advice for the upcoming hot summer months…

A Wonderful World of Color

by on June 11, 2010

A Wonderful World of Color was written by our fabulous guest blogger Kelsey Lubetich.

Ladies and Gentlemen, drum roll please… After years of hype and anticipation, today marks the start of World of Color, the new nighttime water spectacular that takes place in Paradise Bay at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim.  The 27-minute show debuts tonight after nearly five years of planning including two spent in construction.  I’ve had the privilege of watching the show take shape the past two years as Paradise Bay was drained, the huge show platform constructed, the bay refilled, and then the endless tinkering and testing of fountains that seemed to go on forever.  I, along with many others, had my doubts about this show all along.  World of Color is part of the extensive California Adventure revitalization that includes a redesigned entrance to the park and a new land.  I have been complaining of World of Color’s impending doom for a while, but now I have to say that I was wrong.

I was lucky enough to be given a companion ticket to last Sunday’s Cast Member Dress Rehearsal and let me tell you, this show is worth the wait.  Granted, I was still right about some things, you will get wet if you are anywhere near the fountains and the whole thing is a crowd control nightmare, but the show is awe-inspiring and will make you want to come back for another look.

Disney built a new viewing area, Paradise Park, for World of Color but sadly it doesn’t hold the mystical 9,000 people they were hoping for- the actual number seems to have been downsized to 6,000.  Paradise Park is lovely during the day; the sidewalks are separated by planters bursting with rose bushes while benches and umbrellas offer a nice place to relax when children want to cool off in the interactive water fountain.  Paradise Park presents the best view of World of Color as the show was designed to be viewed from, and only from, the Park.  I won’t even be bothering to see the show from Paradise Pier or any of the other spots that will be crammed with people; it would be like seeing a play from behind the curtain.  That said, here are a few ways that you can get a spot in Paradise Park:

  1. Get a World of Color FASTPASS ticket.  FASTPASSes will be distributed from Grizzly River Run’s terminals beginning at park opening until they’re gone, which is bound to be quickly.  The FASTPASS will list your colored viewing location and corresponds to a specific section of Paradise Park, where you will have a reserved space to stand.  The tickets supposedly give out random sections but I can’t tell you which section offers the best view at the moment.
  2. Purchase a “World of Color” Picnic Meal.  These boxed meals can be purchased online or in the park and give you dinner along with a spot to see World of Color.  There are four different adult meal options and three choices for kids.  Purchasing online guarantees a spot for the first show at 9 pm while purchasing in the park gives you a spot at the second 10:15 pm show.
  3. Book a Prix Fixe “World of Color” Dinner.  California Adventure’s two sit down restaurants, Wine Country Trattoria and Ariel’s Grotto, will be offering pricier options of a nice dinner and a World of Color spot to boot.

I’ve summarized the information that can be found in complete form on the Disney Parks Blog here.  It is interesting to note that the FASTPASS and Picnic Meal options mention “reserved viewing” for the show while the Prix Fixe comes with “Preferred Viewing.”  Do you get a better view for spending bigger bucks?  We’ll have to see where the paying customers get to view the show compared to the FASTPASS masses.  My bet is that the Prix Fixe will get the best view, and even though I don’t know where the viewing area is, I’ve already booked a dinner reservation for my family later this month.

Last Sunday at my showing, my FASTPASS was for the Blue viewing location, which ended up being the left side of Paradise Park if you’re facing the water.  We scored a spot on the wooden boardwalk that makes up the first tier closest to the water and walked all the way to the edge of our section near the middle of the Park.  My spot ended up being nearly smack dab in the middle of Paradise Park and I was the third person from the water’s edge; I don’t think we could have gotten a better spot in our section.  Our wait to get to our spot didn’t go as smoothly; crowd control was being ironed out with these Dress Rehearsals and not even the CMs on duty knew where we were supposed to go.  I’m crossing my fingers that crowd control goes more smoothly tonight during the debut.  I don’t think it will ever go perfectly- the potential for disgruntled guests who don’t get a spot in Paradise Park is high- but I hope it goes well.  We also heard tell of the Orange section, which guaranteed a viewing spot from the bridge leading to Paradise Pier.  Clearly it was never meant to be an official section and was created to deal with the capacity problems of Paradise Park.  I would be complaining if I were stuck in this section, because it offers side views of the show that I feel will be mediocre at best.

While we were waiting for the show to start, a voice notified us that due to the nature of this performance, those nearest the water might get wet.  As I pointed out all along, large fountains and wind aren’t a happy combination and we did indeed get wet.  For the majority of the show I was showered with a constant mist that was easy enough to squint against.  At one point, however, we really thought it was raining.  It was a cloudy night so it actually could have been raining, but it turns out those “raindrops” falling on my head were just an extra treat from the fountains.  My face was momentarily dried off whenever there were fire effects in the show- those things are hot- but I was quickly misted again.  At the end of the show my hair and shoulders were damp and took a while to dry.  I wouldn’t go so far as to wear a poncho during the show, which apparently they are now selling beforehand, but I’m going to make sure to have a light jacket whenever I see World of Color.

At this point I’m sure you’re sick of hearing me talk about FASTPASSes and crowd control and want me to answer the question you’ve been dying to know- how was the show?!  Because I don’t want to spoil the Disney magic, I’m not going to give away too many details.  I want you to experience World of Color for yourself when you venture into my favorite parks over here so very far away on the West Coast.  I will tell you this: once the show started, I couldn’t stop watching.  There were so many things to look at: the 4 Fantasmic-esq water screens, hundreds of fountains, lights and colors, lasers, fog, fire, projections, and more lit up Paradise Bay in a World of Color.  The films highlighted in the show are weighted towards the animated features of the 90s along with the Pixar films of today, but a few classics are thrown in the mix too.  The only live-action film used was Pirates, which I thought was out of place next to all the animated films.  I also thought that they might have left out the more traditional princesses, but they were all there during the montage of the second to last song.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked World of Color, but I do have a few complaints.  The first and largest complaint: World of Color lacks a connecting thread between its individual songs.  It does not deal with Wishes or the dark power that invades Mickey’s dreams and the show suffers because of it.  The pieces are all wonderful on their own, but they need to be woven together to create a Wonderful World of Color.  Second: the show may be a tad bit too long.  Now I know that Disneyland’s version of Fantasmic! is 22 minutes long while DHS’s is nearly as long as World of Color at 26 minutes, but World of Color is a standing room only show and my feet we sore by the end of it, not to mention from the hours of waiting beforehand.  And with no connecting thread besides “color”, those 27 minutes seemed more like a hodgepodge of color than a world of it.

If you’re disappointed by that last paragraph know this, I’m sure I will see World of Color many more times in the future even though I have small complaints about it.  I am amazed by the show as it is- I know I missed things during my first viewing because there was so much to see.  I just wish that for all Disney did with this show, they could have done just a little bit more to truly light up Paradise Bay with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

Now, what do you think?  Are you dying to take a trip out to the Disneyland Resort to see World of Color firsthand?  Will this change your view of Disney California Adventure?

WDW Today Episode 732 – Summer Touring

by on June 10, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 732 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

BETAMOUSE #19-Disney Dining System Changes

by on June 10, 2010

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

TouringPlans Hollywood Studios Meet!

by on June 10, 2010

We continue to take the in park meetup scene by storm and we have planned yet another June Disney World meet!

Date: Sunday June 13th, 2010

Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Writer’s Shop

Time: 3:00pm

Details: We’ve heard there is some great snack opportunities at the Writer’s Shop and we want you TouringPlans folks to experience them too! Meet our blogger Todd and be treated to a snack. He prefer’s the Carrot Cake Cookie! But we’ll have to see which delicious treat gets voted the winner!

Will you be there?

Remember, join Plancast and subscribe to ours for up to date information on all the TouringPlans fun this summer!

WDW Today Episode 731 – Listener Questions

by on June 8, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 730 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Dining With Special Needs

by on June 8, 2010

Food is perhaps one of the greatest parts of visiting Walt Disney World.  Just think about all the effort we put into making our dining reservations when that 180 day window kicks in.  Much of our vacation planning goes into not just where we’ll eat, but also toward what we’ll eat.  There are foods we want to try, foods we want to avoid, and some foods we just want to get a good long look at – food voyeurism is common at WDW, it can help with future vacation planning.

But what happens when your dining choices are gated by more than just desire?  Perhaps there are lifestyle choices and/or physical needs that must be accounted for when making your vacation dining plans.  No one wants such things to get in the way of their own or their family’s vacation.  The very good news is that in their usual and very magical manner Disney is there for you.  They don’t want these things to get in the way of your trip either, because they know that food is one of the greatest parts of visiting their World.  In fact, Disney goes to great lengths to make sure their dining castmembers are well trained in assisting with these needs.

How do I know this? Because there are several dining issues that my wife, Cheryl, and I deal with every time we go to Disney World.  But before I get into those I want to start at the beginning… making your reservation.  As you know, I’m a local, and as a result I eat at Disney World a lot, so I have a lot of experience with the online reservation system.  And while that system has undergone some recent changes, the process for handing special dining needs has not changed all that much.  After choosing your restaurant, date, and time you will see the following underneath your personal info:

Check that box and the area below will expand to look like this:

I’ve checked off the choices that have become a part of my regular dining experience at Walt Disney World.  Cheryl, has reactions to both dairy and gluten so we check off the “Milk” and “Wheat(Gluten)” check-boxes as they are are a must for us. In addition to this Cheryl has some other food issues that are not listed, so we also regularly check off “Other“.  And finally we check off “Shellfish“, but this is not an allergy.  Cheryl and I are Kosher in our home, and as a result we try to remain mostly “Kosher Style” when we eat out.  She is far more strict than I am out, but there are two things she and I will avoid eating: shellfish and pork products.  The “Shellfish” and “Other” check-boxes cover these choices as well.  Cheryl is also allergic to red fish like tuna and salmon, but white fish like tilapia is okay so we do not generally click off “Fish“. Like I said, we’ve got a lot going on in this department.

It’s important to note that if you require a Kosher meal that Disney requests that you call in to the WDW Dining Hotline at (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463.  I personally don’t recommend these meals.  They are pre-packaged frozen meals that are brought in from an outside food source.  They are not all that good, and I really feel they do not do a good job of representing Jewish cuisine.  I do however realize that for some people there is no other option at an on property restaurant.  There are however several off property locations that are much better options, including my personal favorite.

Once your needed checks are all in place, you complete your reservation.  Once you get the email confirmation, with a few exceptions, you have fulfilled your special needs for that reservation.  That is until you arrive for your meal.  On checking in to the meal, make sure they are aware of your special needs.  It should show up on your reservation already, and on the printed wait ticket they drop into their wait queue.  This ticket should also be stamped with a red stamp that reads “ALLERGIES“.  When you get to table, your server should take the time to identify which members of your party have the stamp is for, and they will notify you that they will be bringing a Chef to your table to take care of your needs.

The Chef will come out with a pad to take some notes.  They will verify your needs, and work with you to create a meal to both your needs and your likings.  Then, if you’re at a buffet the Chef will also take you through the buffet to identify which foods you can eat and which you should avoid.  Typically the Chef will also be the one who delivers your meal as he is required by Disney to assure that your food does not become contaminated by anything from the time it is plated to the time it arrives at your table.

At a buffet you will not be limited to the choices presented either.  If there’s something you want, and the Chef has the ingredients needed to provide that item, it will be made for you.  For example, I was with a friend who’s son has severe allergies.  We were at 1900 Park Faire, and the Chef determined that he should avoid the buffet entirely.  Instead he was served a huge steak with an equally huge portion of broccoli.

You can even use the special needs requests to meet caloric intake requirements if you are dieting.  As much as we’d all like to believe that nothing in a place as wonderful as Walt Disney World could ever have any calories (I tell myself this with every bite of a Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich), if you are dieting, do not let this keep you away from any restaurants.  Just check off “Other” when you make the reservation, and give the Chef a calorie count to meet.

Very often, Cheryl finds it easiest to ask for a vegetarian or even a vegan option.  We have learned that many restaurants at Walt Disney World have tofu and/or quinoa available as an alternate protein – though some restaurants will have neither.  Most restaurants will also have available tapioca dinner rolls as well as dairy free margarines to cover gluten and dairy allergies.  And many will have dairy and gluten free options for dessert.

This, of course, leads us to the topics of cakes.  Lets say you’re having a birthday, anniversary, or other celebration and you’d like to get a cake, but you have special dietary needs.  Well outside of a calorie requirement, Disney is extremely accommodating in this area.  For starters, the special 6 inch made to order celebration cakes can be made gluten and dairy free at most restaurants.  You can also order more elaborate desserts and cakes from the various bakeries in and around Walt Disney World.  Simply call the cake hotline at 407-827-2253 and tell them your needs.  Cheryl and I have been ordering cakes at WDW this way for years now.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of talking about sit down restaurants, but what about counter service?  Also very accommodating.  When you reach the cashier tell them you have special food needs, and ask them to see “the book“.  You may not know this, but at WDW some sit down restaurants and all counter service restaurants have a version of “the book”.  But just what is this book?  It contains a list of all the ingredients, calories, and other information about all of the menu items at that location.  If you tell them you have allergies (they should ask) the cashier must also get for you either a manager or a chef to handle your needs.  If you have gluten issues, many of the sandwiches can have their bread swapped out for the same tapioca rolls mentioned earlier.  Veggie burgers are available at many counter service locations, as are Kosher meals – keep in mind neither are gluten free typically.

Counter service locations at resorts are also an excellent choice for breakfast when working with special food needs.  Most locations will have some form of pre-packaged gluten and dairy free waffles available.  And home fries can be specially made providing you work this out in advance with a chef at the location.  The home fries are typically dusted with flour to prevent them from sticking to each other – so this will be especially important for those with gluten issues.

Many shops and counter service locations also have gluten and dairy free desserts.  This includes cookies, brownies, jelly beans, and ice cream, but not all items can be found at all locations.  If you do not see these items, ask a castmember for help tracking them down.  There is also fruit available at many locations as well.

If I had to pick some sit down restaurants where we’ve gotten the best service in terms of Cheryl’s needs I’d have to go with Turf ClubThe WaveSanaaArtist Point, and Tusker House.  I would not recommend either The Plaza, or Cape May as neither restaurant seemed adequately prepared to handle her needs.  Until recently Turf Club was Cheryl’s #1 choice, but that was definitely replaced by Sanaa.  We also had a particularly good experience for our anniversary dinner at Artist Point because one of the original chefs from Sanaa now works there.

For counter service some stand outs in the past have been Everything PopSunshine SeasonsRoaring ForkCaptain Cook’s, and all of the ones at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I’m thinking that Matt Hochberg just placed another tic mark in his DHS “Pro” column).  With the Asian Salad at the ABC Commissary probably being the best of breed (gluten free if you ask for no noodles).  There are far too many counter service meals in all the parks that would need to be avoided for one special need or the other, but for Cheryl’s needs we avoid locations like Pinocchio Village Haus, Yakitori House, and Lotus Blossom Cafe.

If you’d like to talk with someone at Disney World about your special needs it is recommended that you either use the WDW dining hotline (407) 939-3463 or send an email to – it is recommended you do this after making your dining reservation and at least 48 hours prior to your arrival.

What about you?  What are your experiences with Special Needs Dining at Walt Disney World?  Do you have any additional questions? I look forward to hearing from you and discussing this further.  Thanks for reading!

The post is part of the Fifth Disney Blog Carnival; click on the link for more great Disney articles.