Archive for July, 2010

WDW Today Episode 748 – Aloha Aulani

by on July 19, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 748 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:

What’s New at the 2010 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

by on July 16, 2010

Howdy all! We just finished taping a WDW Today episode about the 2010 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, but I thought it’d be fun to highlight the new additions for this year and remind you of a few key dates to help in your planning.


When: October 1-November 14, 2010
Where: All around Epcot
How Much?: Variable. You can drop a month’s pay at the festival or you can have fun for free.

International Marketplace Booth

  • Free: Many events held in the Festival Center are free, including Authentic Taste Seminars and Authors Without Borders. You’ll also find several seminars set up throughout the World Showcase that are free. Find out more here.
  • Low-Cost: Several culinary and beverage demonstrations are in the $8-$13 range. Tastes from the International Marketplace booths will run from $2-$8.
  • Expensive: Dozens of special events from celebrity chef-studded signature dinners to chocolate seminars with renowned chocolatiers to the uber-popular Party for the Senses are again available this year. Costs range from $40-$450 and up.

Booking Details: Booking for the special (expensive) events opens on July 20th at 7am. Just call 407-WDW-FEST for details or to book. If you’d like tickets to the lower-cost seminars and demonstrations, booking opens August 26th for Tables in Wonderland and DVC members and Annual Passholders. Booking opens August 28th for the General Public. Again, 407-WDW-FEST is the number to call.

New Events and Attractions to Anticipate

In addition to some old favorites like the French Regional Lunches and Sweet Sundays, Disney is introducing several new events on the 2010 Food and Wine Festival docket:

Graphic for 2010 Festival

Delicious Discoveries First Bites
This is basically a festival sneak peek. Disney is promising glimpses of celebrity chefs, tastes of new Food and Wine Festival dishes, and other exciting secrets to be revealed before the festival officially opens. The event will be held September 30th from 6:30-9pm and sounds pretty exciting, but the $195 price tag — not including tax — might make folks a little skittish.

Don’t forget, the Food and Wine Festival usually has a “soft opening” the day before the grand opening, so you might get a chance to try some of the World Showcase booth menus prior to the big day anyway.

3D: Disney Dessert Discoveries
This is being touted as a private Illuminations Dessert Party…and then some. Taking place on most Fridays (with one Thursday tucked in there on October 21st), the $45 ticket price will get you plenty of desserts, wines, and cordials along with reserved seating for Illuminations, Reflections of Earth — Epcot’s fireworks show.

Belgium, South Korea, and Charcuterie and Cheese Booths Come to the Festival
Every year Disney introduces a few new booths to its International Marketplace — a set-up of over 25 mini-kiosks offering small portions of food and drinks from different regions and countries around the world. These booths are set up around the World Showcase, and items can be purchased a la carte for around $2-$8.

This year, we get to try waffles from the Belgium booth, barbecue from the South Korea booth, and fondue from the Charcuterie and Cheese booth. Of course, there’s plenty more to sample. Check out all of the menus here.

Passport Stamp Example

Marketplace Discovery Passports
Another fun addition to the International Marketplace this year are the Marketplace Discovery Passports. These are free pamphlets that you (and your kids!) can use to keep track of which marketplace booths you’ve visited and which you’d still like to enjoy. At each booth, just ask a cast member to stamp your passport!

New Eat to the Beat! Concerts
Disney’s Eat to the Beat! Concert series is a free (with Epcot admission) group of concerts that take place three times per night throughout the festival. Every few days the band changes, but you’re bound to find a few of your favorites on stage. This year, new acts include Sugar Ray, Air Supply, Howard Jones, 38 Special, Roger Hodgson, Hanson, and Rick Springfield. To see the full line-up and dates for each band, go to our Eat to the Beat! page.

Low-Cost Wine Tasting Seminar

Taste Shake and Indulge: Grand Marnier Tastings
For those who love this orange-flavored liqueur, you now have the chance to immerse yourself in it. (OK, not literally — there won’t be any bathtubs of Grand Marnier sitting around Epcot.) On Saturdays from 2:30-4pm, $45 will buy you not only a tasting of a full range of liqueurs, but also a short class on shaking and muddling Grand Marnier cocktails as well as some sweet treats from Bistro de Paris where the event is held.

Grape Getaway
For those who just can’t get enough of the Food and Wine Festival, Disney is introducing a full vacation package this year — the Grape Getaway. While we don’t know pricing or booking date, yet, we do know that the package will include 4 days and 3 nights of exclusive Food and Wine Festival fun. The package is limited to 100 people and will run from October 24th-October 27th, 2010.

Those are just a few of the new events and attractions scheduled for this year’s festival, and you can believe me when I say you can have a great time no matter what your budget. As always, check out the Disney World Website for more information, and don’t forget to come see us over at the Disney Food Blog!

Foto Face-off Friday – Studios Icon Throwdown

by on July 16, 2010

Congratulations on making it to the conclusion of another work week! As you count down the hours until your weekend begins, here is a visual treat! In this somewhat different edition of Foto Face-off Friday, the weekly blog that features photographs from our TouringPlans Flickr Group that are an extension of the Disney Debates we’ve been holding on our Twitter Account, @TouringPlans, we will attempt to resolve one of Walt Disney World’s “biggest controversies,” which is the best current or potential Studios Icon: the Big Sorcerer’s Hat, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Tower of Terror, or the Earful Tower. Since pictures speak louder than words we’ve decided to seek definitive resolution photographically for this especially hotly contested Disney Debate!

Unlike last week’s Face-off, this week’s “throwdown” was hotly contested from the beginning. Our followers on Twitter spoke sharply on the issue, almost always unequivocally preferring one icon over all others. Here’s what a some had to say:

@tperlmutter I’d have to go with ToT because its the only one that’s not obscured from within the park & stands out outside the park

@mainstgazette The Hollywood that was and never will be is totally summed up in Grauman’s Theatre. #disneydebate

@Fizzy27I like the little mickey that spins around on top of the crossroads thing but I guess he is too small for an icon.

@kennypirate graumans. Get rid of the giant pin shop and restore the beauty and openess of the area

@757hokie757 DHS needs to build the Monsters Inc “Doors” dark ride and THAT can be the new park icon!

@cmdisbrow totally Grauman’s Theatre. The icon of that park since opening in 1989.

@scarlettashley1 Earful Tower. To me that says DHS. The sorc hat just reminds me of the entrance to DTD from DL hotel (if it’s still there).

@scottinwdw since when is ToT up for DHS icon status? anyway, I think it should be the Earful Tower and the BAH should be demolished

@KippWade I don’t know what it should be. I know that it should NOT be the water tower – too much like WB Studios

@mattj4226 Mr. Iger, TEAR DOWN that HAT! #disneydebate

@h2mc Chinese Theatre. It’s the castle!

@dotkirk Theatre. Earful Tower is nice but small. Hat is obnoxious. Theatre is large and majestic.

Based on the Twitter responses, I was fairly confident that the throw-down would be equally divisive among our Flickrites. Surprisingly, the group started out heavily favoring the Sorcerer’s Hat. After reading such animosity towards the Hat on a number of Disney fan forums, I was shocked, to say the least. However, entries started to even out early in the week.

Along with their photo entries, we asked for an explanation as to why each poster preferred their respective choice. Their reasons may pertain to photography, general enjoyment of the choice, or both. Their personal thoughts are provided below their photo-entry. To view more of their photography click on their respective submission, which will direct you to their Flickr photostream. It was such a good week in the Flickr group with great photos and thoughtful explanations that I just felt I couldn’t limit it to the best ten. Plus, this is a throwdown, rather than a face-off, so technically, I should be able to include up to twenty entries (that’s my justification and I’m stickin’ to it. Plus, does anyone really mind seeing more excellent photos?!

We’ll start with the Big Sorcerer Hat entries:

WDW studios hat
My choice is based on the other icons of WDW. It’s big. You see it the moment you enter the park. People relate to this when they want other people to know what park they are talking about. It’s also usually in the middle of the park (except for SSE, but it’s in the middle of future world!). With these informations, the Chinese Theater would have been the Icon, but now, it really has to be the Sorcerer’s Hat.

Hollywood Studios
When Walt Disney was building Disneyland he made Sleeping Beauty Castle be the “weenie”. He placed it at the end of Main Street so that all the guests would be drawn or “weaned” towards the center of the park. That’s why you never see the main icon at the entrances or off the the sides, and if you follow the formula that every park icon is the giant subject smack dab in the middle of each park, that leads us to the Sorcer Hat as the winner.

CenterLine 717:
Disney's Hollywood Studios
I would have to say that the Sorcerer’s hat would qualify as the main icon to the park. I think it is what most people would identify with Hollywood Studios and it is the icon you see as you enter the park. I’m not saying that I don’t think that the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or the Earful Tower wouldn’t make good icons. It’s just that the Sorcerer’s Hat has the size, location and the draw. As Corsey21 said above, it follows the formula of what the park icon should be.

The hat is the only icon that gives you a thumbs up… AND the only one you can “wear” (via creative photography).

Isabelle Boivin:
Sorcerer's hat
Obviously, Disney decided that it is the hat… and it is beautiful, but it’s hard to find why you would link a “studios” parks with the Mickey’s sorcerer hat! The chinese theater would have been perfect for the “everything hollywood” theme. It would have needed just a little “sparkle” at night… but there came the hat ! So…every one now refers to the hat.

Photogineer (Doug):
BAH in the Rain
I would have to vote for the BAH. I know there is controversy on this but it just has a better feel to me with a Disney subject. The BAH also is so much easier to explain to people on where to meet that the theater. I love the theater but is just does not have that “Disney” feel to it. It was a tough decision but when I went back and looked at the shots we had on previous trips we always stood in front of the BAH as a iconic picture of the Studios. I had to take this shot in the rain so it is only with my P&S with a cover but it just shows that I am at Disney icon that the theater does not. As far as the TOT I would have to say not really on icon. It just does not have the location that the BAH and theater does. Being off to the side really hurts the argument of on icon.

Henry Work:
DHS Rope Drop
OK, I know this is probably the worst photo taken on WDW property since the 1980s, but hey: I used the iPhoto “enhance” feature, so at least you know I mean business. I say the Sorcerer’s Hat for one simple reason: it’s the only thing I ever notice. I’m pretty much a “heads down and tour” kind of guy, and the only time I sadly get to slow down and soak in the landmarks is when they physically restrain me with a rope. Or, another way to put it: the twenty minutes or so before Rope Drop. The Hat wins for me. It’s what you see before the Toy Story Mania! Stampede, and so it’s what’s most firmly placed in my head.

Tower of Terror
Scott Smith (SRisonS)
Take 2: The Director's Cut (by Scott Smith (SRisonS))
Alright… I’M DOING IT!!!!! I’m going with the Tower of Terror …. Heck, even “The Director” knows who the main star is. 😉 Although it’s location doesn’t make for the greatest icon, I think the ToT still represents the park well. It really fits with the movie studio/working set/golden age of Hollywood theme; which is one of the aspects I really enjoy about Hollywood Studios. The Chinese Theatre is too much a mock of the real Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; so I don’t it’s original enough. And I feel the hat is a little too Disney (as in too cheesy, cartoonish looking…. might as well put the Mickey hand and wand back on Spaceship Earth). But that’s my case, and I’m sort of sticking to it. 🙂

wonderful world of hilary:
"Hollywood, 1939"
I’ve got to go with Tower of Terror. While I truly don’t believe it was ever supposed to be considered the park icon it has at least among the masses become the most recognizable structure in the park. The Sorcerer’s hat becomes a great way to give directions, the Chinese Theatre sadly goes unnoticed by many who don’t even know it is there and the water tower is only ever spotted when guests climb on board the backlot express. Yet the Tower of Terror is one of the first places guests literally run to and continually talk about throughout there trip.

EarFul Tower
Studio Sunset
My wife and I agree that The Studios should be working studios again. The EARful Tower is the icon for a working studio, not as commercial as the hat, and not trying to be something else like the ToT or Chinese theater. The tower is distinctive and classy.

Crossroads of the World
Matt Pasant:
Crossroads - The Golden Age of Hollywood Awaits
I love the Crossroads of the World. Mickey Mouse spinning atop the globe seen towering above the park from afar. It sets a distinct tone for the park.

Finally, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Roger Tiller:
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
From the very beginning this was THE Studios icon for me. I don’t hate the hat, I think it looks great at night. But if you ask me what one icon represents the Studios best it’s the theater.

Cory Disbrow:
Hollywood Studios - My Icon
I’m somewhat surprised that not so many people have voted for the Chinese Theatre. It was the icon of the park in its original design, and when the park opened in 1989. The Chinese Theatre is a classic Hollywood icon, and with its architecture a perfect example of “A Hollywood that never was – and always will be.”

When I think of Hollywood (the real one), I see three icons: the HOLLYWOOD sign on the hill, the Capitol Records tower, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Chinese Theater (by ddindy)
At Disney’s Hollywood studios, there are no hills to put a HOLLYWOOD sign on (although there is a billboard for the original Hollywoodland housing development) and nobody really wants a multistory office building in a theme park. (An abandoned hotel is acceptable, though.) That leaves Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It’s hard to tell now if it would work as a weenie, since the view is blocked by the hat. But to me, at least, the theater is the most iconic feature of the park that’s all about Hollywood and movies. The Earful Tower? I’m sure it was intended to be the park’s icon, and certainly was in the beginning, but to be honest, once I’m inside the park now, I don’t even see it. Let’s keep the hat, though. I recommend moving it to the south end of Streets of America – give the Backlot Tour trams something to drive around when they make that U-turn at the end of the tour. During the Holidays it can hold up the Peace On Earth globe for the Osborne Lights. And moving the hat is the first step in restoring that huge hidden Mickey in front of the Chinese Theater.

The Great Movie Ride
As per a Disney book I once read a park’s icon is referred is what should draw you into the park- keeping you perpetually motivated to not stop too soon. By that definition I’d say the Sorcerer’s Hat wins… but with that said, it’d be a lot easier to see the real icon of Hollywood if it were removed. The Chinese Theatre IS Hollywood- the classic handprints out front- the search lights emitting from its roof- you have to admit, even if you’re for the hat… THAT says Hollywood. The hat is ambiguous. For Disney it may represent the pinnacle of film (Fantasia) but the average person may not even be able to put the hat to movie especially with today’s kids… (and that’s coming from a kid) P.S. – also take into account how AWFUL the box office numbers for the new “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” movie turns out.

Finally, my entry and commentary:
The Sorcerer v. The Apprentice
If ever there were symbolism underlying the relationship between structures, it’s between the Big Sorcerer’s Hat and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The relationship of these park icons mirrors the story featuring the hat, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, quite closely. For those unfamiliar, in the now famous story, Mickey Mouse plays wizard Yen Sid’s lazy assistant who, out of the sight of his master, attempts to perform spells to dispense with his chores. To do so, Mickey dons the sorcerer’s hat and brings a broom to “life” through a spell to fetch water from a well and pouring it into a stone basin. While the broom is performing his work, he falls asleep to later awaken to find that the basin is overflowing while the broom is still filling it up. Mickey exacerbates the situation by grabbing an axe and chopping the broom to pieces, with each piece coming to life, forming hundreds of new brooms, and causing an even greater flood. Eventually, the master, Yen Sid, returns and calmly diffuses the situation.

Similarly, Grauman’s Theatre is the master and the Sorcerer’s Hat its apprentice. For years, Grauman’s Theatre had carefully represented the park and acted as its “weenie.” One day while its guard was down (likely for refurbishment), the Hat had the idea that it could help perform the task of the venerable Theatre and in doing so brand the park as “Disney” (for it felt this would alleviate undue confusion between Disney’s studio-oriented theme park and one a few miles down the road). It lazily summoned all of the spells it knew, and placed itself right in front of the Theatre. However, thematic and architectural disjointedness ensued, for the Hat had acted haphazardly, without consideration of how preempting the role of the Theatre may have its negative affects. To combat this, the Hat brought in a Pin Trading Store to occupy space below it, for everyone loved Pin Trading! This only exacerbated the problem, as the issues continued to build. Luckily, the Theatre returned to claim its rightful place and calmly diffused the situation by moving the Hat to the back of the park, where it acted as an identification that the park is a Disney product, and thus allowed the Theatre to be the fitting park weenie and Studios Icon (okay, this last portion of the story is still being written).

Okay, so perhaps I am overplaying my hand a bit with this allegory, but given the origins of the Hat, I think it’s fairly apt. I think my choice for Studios Icon is patently obvious:  Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.  It screams “Hollywood”, is attention grabbing, beautiful architecturally, and includes the Studios’ signature ride.  To me, it’s the Studios’ SpaceShip Earth.  The Hat is a mass of painted steel with a pin shop below it.  Granted, it represents Disney well and does look pretty at night, but it just doesn’t pass muster.

Besides the Hat, Tower of Terror and the Earful Tower are the only other currently existing logical choices. In my opinion, Tower of Terror can be dismissed out of hand; the only reason it might be construed as Icon is because of its height. However, icon goes to representation of the park, not visibility (we’re not looking for “weenies”). I think it would be a stretch to say that, given the state of the Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Twilight Zone, it’s in any way representative of the general old-time Hollywood theme of the park.

Earful Tower is the only remaining choice. I actually think Earful makes a pretty compelling argument. Back in the pre-Hat days, Earful was often represented to the public in a capacity that, to me at least, said “icon”. It was featured on pins, various merchandise with the other icons, and promotional materials. Unsubstantiated claims indicate that this was due to licensing issues with Grauman’s (which is also the explanation proffered for the Hat being located directly in front of it); however, I have no idea if there is any veracity to those rumors. Presently, the Earful Tower is seldom seen by guests except for brief glimpses on the Tower of Terror, or if they make the mistake to board the heavily butchered Backlot Tour. Substantively, I think the Earful Tower would make a great choice, but I think it would require relocation or restoration of the Backlot Tour as one of the Studios’ premier attractions. Even then, I would give the edge to the Theatre by virtue of its location and due to it being a replica of one of the most venerable Hollywood symbols. However, as stated above in the allegory, this would require moving the Sorcerer’s Hat to the back or front of the park. Even then, I am sure the confusion and debate over the Studios Icon would rage on!

Next week’s Disney Debate subject of the Foto Face-off Friday returns to the normal “versus” format. Thrill junkies and trekkers alike love the Walt Disney World Mountain Range. This challenge features two especially thrilling summits, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Expedition Everest. Post a shot showing your favorite and explaining why it should be the “chosen one”! Please, help us settle the debate on Twitter by voicing your thoughts to @TouringPlans and entering your submissions in the TouringPlans Flickr Group discussion entitled “TouringPlans’ Foto Face-off Friday Blog – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad v. Expedition Everest!” You could have your comments and picture chosen to be featured in next week’s blog, so get to Tweetin’ and Postin’!

WDW Today Episode 747 – 2010 Food & Wine Preview

by on July 15, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 747 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 #23 – The New

by on July 15, 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.

Tips From A Neurotic Traveler

by on July 15, 2010

So, this might surprise you to find out, but I’m just a tad bit neurotic.  I’m not full on OCD, but I do have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies that just come out of my fears, anxieties, and life experiences.  And travelling is one of those things that sets off my triggers.  It doesn’t matter where I’m going or how far away it is, but rather it’s about what I’ve convinced myself could go wrong.

Now I’m not talking about the big things, those never bother me.  Cars, boats, trains, planes… there’s not really a mode of travel that I don’t enjoy.  And I’m not talking about the destination either, I love being places, especially Walt Disney World.  What it boils down to is all the little things.

I can’t begin tell you how much I used to despise suitcases.  Until more recently, I never had one I really liked – they always had problems and failed me at the worst possible times.  So for a very long time I simply refused to use them.  Instead my wife, Cheryl, and I used some nice L.L. Bean duffel bags.  I had to carry them, but to me it was better than the alternative.

In recent years, we listed out my problems with suitcases, and it turns out there are three things that really get me when it comes to suitcases: tiny wheels that drag and break, cheap zippers, and handles that can’t support the suitcase’s packed weight.  Every problem I’d ever had with a suitcase breaks down to one of these three things.  So after some research using that Google-fu that my wife do do so well, we came up with some nice luggage that meets my requirements: big wheels, strong handles, and durable zippers.

There are four bags we use regularly as a result.  Two are the typical weekender type suitcases that are small enough on the outside to fit into the overhead bin on an airplane, and yet still hold 4-6 days of clothing in addition to toiletries or whatever else you might like to have along with you.  The third, a garment bag, is a must have.  These work well for business trips and vacations like a cruise where you might need slightly more dressy clothes.  And the final bag is my personal favorite, part duffel, part suitcase – holds a lot, yet very easy to use.

But that’s not where my issues with travel end.  Lets talk about packing, and your friend the resealable baggie.  For me, when I pack everything that is not clothes gets sorted into these.  Liquids get separated from things like toothbrushes and combs.  I have a fear of something breaking, spilling, cutting, or poking and ruining clothes.  A simple bit of plastic goes a long way toward alleviating that.  Pack your clothes, pack the baggies, and all is well.  And a single quart size baggie meets TSA requirements for carrying liquids.

Now I love flying, love being on a plane, up in the sky.  I find it very relaxing.  I just pop in my headphones, pull out a game, and I’m golden.  But what I really hate are airports.  They’re just a huge amount of work for travellers to have to contend with for very little gain.  You’re never too sure how long it will take to get through security.  Fortunately the United States Government has recently release the My TSA app for the iPhone which can provide you the current TSA wait times for airports.  This app is a huge boon, and can also help when packing because you can use it to look up items you can and can’t take through security as well.

However, even with that, your time through security really depends on you, your planning, and your understanding of how the process works.  Before you even get in the security line, you should consider having a resealable plastic baggie or two for your personal belongings.  Keep your ID and boarding pass out – everything else goes into the baggies, and stow the baggies in your carry on, it’s safer and more secure than dumping them in a tray.  Make sure your quart bag with liquids is easily accessible or out as it needs to be scanned separately.  Try to already have your shoes and belts removed before you get to the front of the line.  Do these simple things and your security experience will be both smooth and quick.

Then of course there’s your carry on, you know that place where those baggies went (okay… I like baggies, I know).  If you’re checking luggage, then you’ll want to make sure your essentials are with your carry on – your basic toiletries, medications, etc.  If you’re at all concerned about your luggage being lost, include a change of underwear and socks.  Basically anything you can’t do without.  I’ll also suggest that, even if you’re relying on a smartphone or other device, that inside your carry on you always have a printed hardcopy of your complete travel itinerary – because paper doesn’t require charging.

My own personal carry on is a simple backpack, and it’s generally the exact same one that I bring into the parks when I’m at Disney World.  This is my preferred type of bag, they’re simple and durable.  As long as the zipper works well and the shoulder straps are well secured, this bag will serve you well.  Currently I’m using a backpack from MEI and Mouse Fan Travel.  It holds up well as both a park bag and a travel bag, plus it handles extreme weather conditions like those found at the 2010 Disney World Half Marathon.

Inside I’ll always have a few key items like a camera & batteries, a portable charger for my iPhone, some tea bags, tissues, band-aids, chapstick, etc.  I also still carry around the seat cushion that came with my Cheer Squad pack, both to provide some structure to the backpack, as well as to sit on when needed.  And of course, baggies.  I don’t just use these to sort the contents of the backpack, I also throw in a few empties.  If you’re caught in the rain or riding Splash Mountain, you can just stick your electronics inside them and they’ll be protected.  And you’ll be much happier for that when you get soaked and your iPhone doesn’t, that is unless you also brought along a poncho.

What about you? Do you have any tips for travel to help alleviate anxiety?  Do you have an affinity for resealable baggies?  What are your worst fears about travelling?  Thanks for coming out and reading the blog, as always I appreciate you stopping by.

Glow Fest?

by on July 14, 2010

If you’re unable to score a coveted FASTPASS to World of Color at Disney California Adventure, never fear, you could dance on over to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot for Glow Fest instead.  Or you could skip Glow Fest and be just as happy.

To placate those waiting for later World of Color showings, Disney has cooked up Glow Fest, “a new summer street party that features live music, performers, and interactive fun!”  (Disney’s words, not mine.)  Located in Sunshine Plaza from 6-8:30 pm, the party then moves into the Backlot until park closing.  The Sunshine Plaza portion currently features dancers attired in strange neon clothing and then a second act of Bollywood dancers. The Backlot section involves all the performers dancing on stages along the street to weird remixes of songs that didn’t need to be remixed in the first place.

Glow Fest would be less obnoxious if the set-up wasn’t present during the day, but unfortunately most of it is out all day long.  The first view you get when you enter California Adventure is of the tacky rainbow Glow Fest stage in Sunshine Plaza.  In the Backlot, giant speaker and lighting towers line the street, all covered with trippy neon patterns.  The bars in the middle of the street thankfully don’t come out until nighttime, but once they do, the Backlot turns into a free flowing alcoholic party,or as free flowing as alcohol can get with an average price of $10 a drink.

The nighttime street party was created not by Disney, but by an outside vendor, and I sincerely hope that this is the reason for Glow Fest’s tackiness.  Everything from the entertainment to the food comes from the outside.  The current extra food option is a food truck in Sunshine Plaza that serves Greek food, whipping up such delicacies as gyros and Greek yogurt.  And when I think of California, Greek food now shares my thoughts with Bollywood dancers.

What really bothers me about Glow Fest is that it seems like a college party or a rave, except there are kids, teenagers, children in strollers, and old people along with the partiers.  That spectrum of people would be alright together if there weren’t any alcohol, but the fact that some people are having a little too much fun is weird when kids are present.  Maybe I see Glow Fest in such a negative way because I am not of legal drinking age- maybe the whole thing is tolerable when you’re a little tipsy.  Thankfully I won’t have the chance to figure that out, as Glow Fest is scheduled to run only through August 22nd.

In the end, Glow Fest is confusing.  Why is it here?  Isn’t the idea of Glow Fest what California Adventure is moving away from?  I like the juxtaposition of bars in the middle of the street on top of the new track for the Red Car Trolley.  Glow Fest is just about as far as you can get from the future plans for the Backlot and Sunshine Plaza.  It seems like these lands of California Adventure are getting the nightclub party vibe out of their systems before they turn into a classy representation of Los Angeles in the 1920s.  I still don’t know how I feel about California Adventure’s complete makeover, but at least something like Glow Fest won’t have a place to happen again in the future.

What do you think of Glow Fest?  Do you enjoy the party atmosphere or are you, like me, put off by its weird vibe?

My Favorite Counter Service Restaurants

by on July 14, 2010

For those who are not as familiar with Walt Disney World lingo a counter service restaurant is one which serves quick meals without any sort of wait staff.  Think fast food, but generally a little bit better than your average McDonald’s.  Guests can make great use of these eateries if they are in a rush or on a budget.  Most of us couldn’t handle three table service meals a day between the amount of food, the cost, and the chunk of time they would eat up.  So I’d say it’s a fair assessment to say that just about every WDW guest will try out a counter service restaurant at some point during their stay.

My friends and I eat at counter service restaurants all of the time.  My first trip back to WDW after a long hiatus was all counter service since I was a college kid.  I also didn’t do much planning (and had very little idea what I was doing) for that trip so just winged it.  But now that I am a full fledged Disney geek and I continue to frequent quick places to grab a meal.  So I thought it might be helpful to point out some of my favorites to our readers.   There are a ton of counter service restaurants throughout Disney property, but some are definitely better than others. So what are some of my favorites?

Magic Kingdom

My favorite of the quick and convenient eateries was hard to pick.  After some pondering I settled on Peco’s Bills in Frontierland.  This restaurant is famous for their burgers so that usually what I go for although I’ve also been known to opt for the taco salad.  The best part about Peco’s Bills is the fixin’s bar.  Like a salad bar, toppings for your burger, fries, or whatever else will stand still are laid out for guests to grab.  There are hot selections like sauteed mushrooms and hot cheese as well as cold ones like lettuce and tomato.  The location is convenient centered between some of my favorites like Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Liberty Square attractions.

Honorable mention goes to Cosmic Rays for the rotisserie chicken that actually comes with a vegetable (gasp!).  However, the set up in this Tomorrowland location is a pain.  There are three bays each offering different types of food.  There is one for rotisserie chicken, ribs, and chicken sandwiches, one for burgers and hot dogs, and another for various sandwiches.  If someone in your party wants ribs and another wants a hot dog you have to go to two different windows.  I can’t imagine doing this as a family with kids.


In Epcot I had to select a favorite from both World Showcase and Future World since it was just too hard to pick just one for the entire park.

World Showcase offers many quick service restaurants throughout its eleven pavilions.  Several of the countries have tasty and quick food for guests so it’s hard to say which is my favorite.  Boulangerie Patisserie is climbing up my list of favorites in the World Showcase.  This restaurant is tucked away inside the France Pavilion and could easily be overlooked by the guest on the run.  While most of the menu is full of sweet treats, they do offer some savory selections.  The sandwiches are quite tasty and cheap as far as Disney fare goes.  Cheese plates along with French baguettes are also available for something light so you can save room for pastry.  And there is plenty of pastry to pick from along with chocolate mousse and many other yummy delights.  The biggest negative aspect of this restaurant is that there is not a lot of seating available.

In Future World the hands down winner has to be Sunshine Seasons located on the lower level of the Land Pavilion near Soarin’ and Livin’ with the Land.  This is probably one of the easiest places to get a well balanced meal at a counter service restaurant in WDW.  Hot food is available at the Asian section as well as the grill offering options like grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken (which guests can actually see on the spit), and Mongolian ginger beef.  There is also a selection of soups and salads for healthy options.  And after you’ve had your salad head over to the dessert counter for some great choices.

Some of my friends and I like to hit Sunshine Seasons for breakfast too.  If we’ve gotten up for the opening of Epcot we’ll book it over to the Land and get fast passes for Soarin’ and then have some breakfast here.  The hot breakfast offerings are similar to those found at counter service eateries in the resorts, but it makes for a nice change of pace.  There is plenty of seating where you can hang out and enjoy a meal while you wait for your Soarin’ fast pass return time to roll around.

Animal Kingdom

Choosing my favorite quick eatery in the Animal Kingdom was easy.  Almost every time I visit I visit AK I head for the Flame Tree Barbecue.  Some of the menu’s highlights are ribs, rotisserie chicken, and a fresh fruit plate.  I usually go for the ribs since I don’t indulge in them very often elsewhere and they are really, really tasty.  Meals come with baked beans and corn bread.  Many times when we eat here we’ll split and order of the onion rings too.  While the meals here aren’t cheap they accept the Tables in Wonderland card (a discount card available to Florida residents and annual pass holders).  Seating for the restaurant is spread out over several levels with shaded shelters many of which have a view of Expedition Everest and the Discovery River (I’m a sucker for a water view).

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Picking my favorite at DHS was probably the toughest; the counter service selections at this park are not that exciting.  However, I’ve been told that the newly revamped menu at Studio Catering Company is pretty good so maybe readers should give that a go.  I’m going to steer away from the traditional counter service restaurant in the Studios and dub my favorite as the Starring Rolls Cafe.  Located at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard this eatery has some awesome sweet treats.  Take, for example, the butter finger cupcake which could probably feed three people.  My friend, Julie, and I split it once and still couldn’t finish it.  In addition to the dessert menu, there are sandwiches, bagels, and specialty coffees.  Starring Rolls does not offer any indoor seating so if you are seeking air conditioning on a hot day you may want to grab a bagel and keep on going, heading for a nice cool attraction.

Down Town Disney

At Downtown Disney I have two favorite places I like to hit after a few hours of shopping.  Earl of Sandwich is the first stop on the tour for lunch or dinner.  This eatery’s name is pretty descriptive of the kind of food offered here.  Most of the sandwiches are served hot and are really, really yummy.  During the holiday season last year they had a special sandwich made of the traditional left overs from Thanksgiving that I just loved.  I’m really hoping they bring it back during my December trip this year.  There are also several salad options for guests’ enjoyment.  There are always tempting desserts, but I’ve always managed to skip them in favorite of my other favorite location in Downtown Disney.

Ghirardelli’s is in the center of the Market Place action and has awesome ice cream.  Yup, that’s the same Ghirardelli who produces those scrumptious chocolates!  There are many sundae varieties on the menu including my favorite the Gold Rush with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and melted peanut butter.  Most of the selections are themed to Ghirardelli’s original San Francisco location.  A lot of these are huge so be prepared!  A great tip about this location is that they offer free water with small cups to help wash down your ice cream.  Also, after you order your frosty delight you can find a seat and a cast member will bring you your dessert.  Just be sure to put the provided number on your table so the wait staff can find your party.


Captain Cooke’s at the Polynesian is pretty great as far as resort counter service restaurants go.  Here, guests can find famous items from other WDW locations conveniently available.  During the breakfast hours tonga toast, the fan favorite dish from upstairs at the Kona Cafe, is available during breakfast hours for a slightly cheaper price tag.  Later in the day, flat breads are available paired with a beer or soft drink make for a great lunch break from the Magic Kingdom.  Dole Whip from Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom is also offered here in a self service machine.  While you can’t get a dole float, but it’s a great way to get your pineapple fix if you don’t feel like heading into the parks that day.  There is both indoor and outdoor seating and food can easily be brought down to the beaches along the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Since I stay at Pop Century most often I have to give them a nod here as well.  Everything Pop is huge and handles the large crowds well.  I usually head here first thing in the morning for breakfast.  There are several options from cereal, to omelets, and special Pop waffles.  They also have nightly specials at dinner time every day of the week that always sound tasty even though I’m always in the parks at that time of day.  The ease of filling your resort mug and moving on is convenient here too.

I hope this helped steer you in the direction of some of the better counter service restaurants throughout Walt Disney World.  This post is particularly timely since the free dining promotion will start next month so many people will be looking for ways to spend their counter service allowance.  For a full guide to all of these eateries check out your copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

So what are your favorites?  Which ones have a I missed?  Let me know where you like to eat for a quick meal!

Next week I’ll share my plans for my upcoming WDW trip…

WDW Today Episode 746 – Listener Questions

by on July 13, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 746 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:

Splash Mountain vs. Splash Mountain

by on July 13, 2010

Most of the Samland posts have been about various design elements at the parks. Welcome to something completely different. My home park is Disneyland. But I go to WDW a couple of times a year (based on the Crowd Calendar). I realize that there are a lot of cross-continent park goers out there and it is time to answer the question that must be asked. For rides that exist on both coasts, which version is better? Let me know what you think. Thanks for playing.

DISNEYLAND: Disneyland is home to the original Splash Mountain. Opened in 1989, it was one of the most expensive attractions ever developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. The initial inspiration was the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, which opened in 1969 (with John Wayne being the first rider no less).

Tony Baxter, Bruce Gordon, and other Imagineers were challenged to create an exciting thrill ride using the now familiar amusement park log transportation technology. They decided to use the theme from a movie (Song of the South) that has barely seen the light of day in the United States since it was released in 1946. There is one place where you can still see some of that historic film. It is on the very first episode of Disneyland, broadcast on October 27, 1954. Walt showed a segment from Song of the South that parallels the attraction’s story. Look for the Walt Disney Treasures Disneyland U.S.A. DVD box set.

One of my favorite things about Disneyland’s version is very personal. It gives me an opportunity to revisit some of my old friends who were kicked out of a Tomorrowland attraction called America Sings. Marc Davis designed this brilliant production. It was a review of American music performed by dozens of animals. America Sings was starting to struggle with attendance and was soon to be closed.

Tony and Bruce were working on Splash Mountain and needed a bunch of Audio-animatronics figures for their new attraction. They figured out a way to save a bunch of money. They decided to recycle the America Sings characters. The link was Marc Davis. He was an animator on Song of the South and the man behind America Sings. They noticed that the characters in the attraction resembled the ones from the movie.

So the Imagineers matched the characters from the film to characters from the attraction. All of the characters that didn’t fit were put into the paddle wheeler at the grand finale. Of course, the needed to add a few Brer Bears, Brer Rabbits, a Bluebird, and a mean old Brer Fox. All of the America Sings characters (with the exception of Sam the Eagle) have found a happy home within Chickapin Hill.

The ride logs were modified a few years ago. Originally it was a bench that allowed a couple to snuggle together much like you can on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. But the lawyers got involved and, after much testing, they added backs to the seats. They also built in a little bench so that a parent can sit side by side with their child. For visitors with no patience, I recommend the single rider line. Just go to a cast member at the Fastpass entrance, ask nicely, and they will hand you a slip of paper. You will be instructed to enter through the exit. Once at the loading dock, you will be guided over a little bridge and will fill in an empty seat. The wait is rarely more than 10 minutes on the busiest of days and is usually a walk on. If you want to get wet sit in the front. However, there are no really safe seats. During the summer they flip on jets at the bottom of the drop that are sure to splash you. After the first lift hill there is a splash from another falling log that can really douse you with nowhere to hide. I highly recommend riding at night. It is a better experience.

By the way, that snoring you hear just before the first drop. That is Rufus and he has been sleeping there since the area was called Bear Country. Man, what hibernation!

WDW: The attraction was such a hit that the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World had to have one. The WDW version opened in 1992 and the lines have never stopped.

The Imagineers learned a lot of lessons and they applied this knowledge to the WDW version. The logs seat 8 side-by-side increasing its capacity. The story makes more sense and is easier to understand. The queue includes Brer Frog providing a bit of the back-story while you wait. The narrative is more linear. You get new special effects such as Brer Rabbit hopping away.

All of the characters have been duplicated in Florida but I find the ride experience to be richer and more rewarding. Its placement in Frontierland is rather odd and disrupts a carefully thought out plan (go here to see why).

So, where did the name of the attraction come from? I bet many of you have guessed it is due to the climatic splash at the end of the ride, right? Well, not exactly. Welcome to that famous Disney synergy. The attraction was originally called “Zip-a-Dee River Run”. But the movie Splash was about to be released and Michael Eisner asked the Imagineers to add the mermaid played by Daryl Hannah into the ride.

The Imagineers thankfully ignored him but they liked the name.

WINNER: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom