Archive for September, 2010

WDW Today Episode 780 – The Bucket List

by on September 30, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 780 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 #33 – Disney’s Queueless Queues

by on September 30, 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.

My October Trip

by on September 29, 2010

It’s that time again… I’m going to Disney World!  I’ve really enjoyed sharing my trips with the readers since I started posting on the Touring Plans blog.  With this quick trip to Orlando during the first weekend of October I will continue the trend.  I’ve never been to WDW in October before so it’s just another element of my trip to be excited about.  There is so much on my schedule to squeeze into a four day trip!  There will be so much going during these four days so let’s get to it.

This time around I’ll be sharing a room with my friends Kim and Caroline who you all know and love from the Touring Plans blog.  We decided to stay at the Yacht Club so that we’ll be within walking distance of the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. We were already thinking we wanted to stay in the Epcot resort area, but it may have also helped that I received a 40% off pincode to put toward our stay making the sting of a deluxe resort a little more bearable.  Not only are we staying at a deluxe resort, but we sprung for the concierge level.  It will be my first time staying at club level and I really can’t wait to see what magic they make.  I’ll also get to make use of Stormalong Bay, the pool shared by the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, for the very first time.  I’m clearly excited about our lodging choice and I hope it lives up to expectations!  I will write all about my experience at the Yacht Club in a future post.

Like I said, one of the main reasons we selected the Yacht Club was because of its proximity to Epcot so we could spend a lot of time enjoying the International Food and Wine Festival.  This year marks the 15th anniversary of the foodie event and I can’t wait to experience it.  I enjoyed the festival a couple of years ago, but haven’t had the chance since.  It will be a blast to wander around World Showcase sampling the specialties of over 25 countries.  I’ll be sure to tweet and take lots of pictures to share with readers while touring during the festival.  The festival runs from October 1st until November 14th for those readers who are thinking about checking it out.  While I like to eat (who doesn’t?) , I don’t consider myself a foodie so I’ll be passing on the special events being held for an extra charge.

One of the other things I’m really looking forward to on this trip is attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  I have been one other time, but it poured (we’re talking monsoon here) and so I didn’t get to see all of the special features of the party.  So I’m excited to see the full “Boo to You” parade and the Hallowishes fireworks.  While I am not the biggest fan of shows and parades, the “Boo to You Parade” is awesome!  I won’t be all decked out for the occasion since it will still be hot, but I’ll have my cat ears and I’ll admire all of the folks who really get into the spirit of things.  A lot of my friends will be attending the party as well so its sure to be a great night.

So besides the Food and Wine festival where will I be eating this time around?  Well since we are staying on the concierge level at the Yacht Club we haven’t made any plans for breakfast.  However, my friends and I have a lunch Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) at the Plaza Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.  I’ve never eaten there before so I’m looking forward to a new experience.  I’ve heard the Plaza described as a hidden gem with its sandwiches and ice cream, so we’ll see how it goes.  As for dinner time I’ll be heading Sanaa on my first night with several friends.  I ate there on its opening night and loved it, but I haven’t been back since.   The Touring Plans team and I will also try out the new… in the Mexico Pavilion.  My trip may seem light on ADRs, but between the concierge lounge and the Food and Wine Festival I’m pretty sure I’ll be well fed.

Another big component of our trip will be the running events for the Inaugural Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend.  My lovely roommate, Caroline, along with a few other friends of mine will be running the half marathon Saturday night.  I will be there to cheer them on and then celebrate their achievement at the party held at Epcot after the race.  Several of my friends are also running the 5k on Saturday morning so I will be up in the early hours to cheer for them too.  A couple of the non runners and I have plans to make signs and encourage our running buddies.  I’ll be so proud of all of them when the cross the finish line!

There are many events going on this weekend within the Disney community.  It is actually quite overwhelming!  On the day of my arrival I’m going to try to make it over to the Saratoga Springs to visit with the folks for the Be Our Guest Podcast in their Treehouse Villa for their meet.  Next up, I may try to pop into Lou Mongello’s WDW Radio‘s Food and Wine Walkabout.  Lou is also having a meet at the Boardwalk Bakery on Saturday morning and since I’m staying at the Yacht Club it would be an easy stroll from my room to the meet.  Then, on Sunday AJ from the Disney Food Blog will be hosting Foodie Fest at the Beach Club.  I’ll be sure to stop by this event, but others may want to get their early so they have time to complete the scavenger hunt.  Clearly the meet I’m most excited about is the one the Touring Plans blog team will be hosting on Sunday, October 3rd at 2:30!  We’ll be meeting with readers and fans at La Catina de San Angel to treat everyone to some yummy food and hang out at the newly renovated restaurant.  Len, JL, Todd, Caroline, and I will all be on hand to greet folks and enjoy some laughs.  We hope to see as many of you as possible!

It’s going to be one busy weekend but its sure to be a blast!  I can’t wait to see all my friends and meet some new ones!  To all of the folks who are heading to WDW this weekend, safe travels and I’ll see ya real soon!

As always, you can follow my WDW adventures via twitter: @khelmstetter!

Next week I’ll be back to tell you all about my trip so stay tuned!

WDW Today Episode 779 – Listener Questions

by on September 29, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 779 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:

Wine & Dine Meet & Eat

by on September 28, 2010

Are your family and friends tired of hearing you talk on and on about Disney?  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get together with people you haven’t met that have a love for Disney World like you do?  Well, the team would like to invite you to do just that.  On Sunday, October 3 at 2:30pm you are cordially invited to the “ Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend Meet.” 

                Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone or you’re traveling solo.  We will become fast friends.  People who love Disney World are some of the nicest people you’ll ever know.   Come and encounter people that would love nothing more than to discuss Disney minutia.

                At the “meet”, not only will you gather with fellow Disneyphiles, but you can also meet Len Testa the co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and most of the team.   I can almost guarantee that Matt Hochberg of WDWToday and fame will be there too.  Who knows what other surprises there may be?

                Don’t be shy.  Please join us for food and fun Sunday, October 3 at 2:30pm.  The food is on us and the fun will be had by everyone.  See you Sunday. 

When: October 3rd at 2:30pm

Where: La Cantina de la San Angel.

Why: Because the food is on us!

Crowd Calendar Update – Hours Posted For April 2011

by on September 27, 2010

Disney recently posted official park hours for April 2011. At the same time, there were several changes to park schedules and park hours in October, November, December, January, February and March.

Park schedules and park hours tell us a lot about what the crowds will look like. When park hours change it is a sign that crowds may be different than originally expected. We have incorporated all the changes to the park hours and park schedules so make sure to check the dates of your vacation – the crowd calendar may have changed.

What does this mean?

Since most of the changes are in the direction of extended hours and additional shows and parades we can assume that advance bookings are up. Dining promotions and general health of the economy may be making vacations to Walt Disney World more popular than originally expected in the upcoming months.

Conversely, it may be that the original park hours and schedules were too pessimistic.

Regardless, it does mean that our estimates for the crowd calendar have been affected. Make sure to double-check your travel dates.

Here is a synopsis of the changes we noticed:


  • Fantasmic! shows added and hours extended at the Studios (7th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 18th, 21st, 24th and 28th)
  • Nighttime parades added and hours extended at the Magic Kingdom (9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th)


  • Hours reduced at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1st, 2nd and 3rd)
  • Special Private Event closes the Magic Kingdom at 6:30 on November 9th


  • Hours extended at the Magic Kingdom on December 6th
  • Hours extended at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (8th, 15th, 21st and 22nd)


  • Only minor changes that don’t affect the crowd calendar


  • Hours extended at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (20th, 25th, 28th)
  • Dates changes for ESPN The Weekend (Formerly 25th – 28th)


  • Hours extended at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (3rd, 4th, 6th and 26th)
  • Dates changes for ESPN The Weekend (4th – 6th)

ESPN The Weekend 2011 – Possible Dates

by on September 27, 2010

Part of the challenge in producing the Crowd Calendar 365 days in advance is that there are many special events for which we do not know official dates. In these cases we look at when those events took place in the past and try to guess when they are most likely to take place in the future.

These events are noted on the crowd calendar with an asterisk (*).

One such event is ESPN The Weekend event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The event usually takes place at the end of February each year but Disney’s Wide World of Sports Website is showing a 5K run as part of the festivities on March 5th, 2011. We take this as evidence that ESPN The Weekend will take place March 4-6, 2011.

WDW Today Episode 778 – The Great Movie Refurb

by on September 27, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 778 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:

Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend Meet!

by on September 24, 2010

Ah autumn. It probably hasn’t arrived temperature wise to Orlando, but rumor has it, the beautiful fall decor and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are in full swing.

One of the most exciting events this fall is Disney World is actually happening next weekend! The inaugural Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend is upon us. There are so many people in the Disney Online Community that here at TouringPlans we just had to take part in the action!

Please join us for our TouringPlans Wine & Dine Meet!

When? October 3rd at 2:30pm and La Cantina de la San Angel.

Why? Because the food is on us!

Please count yourself in on Plancast! And stay tuned for additional meets in the month of October!

Foto Fridays: Disney Point & Shoot Photography 101(A)

by on September 24, 2010

Welcome to a new blog series I will be writing on select Fridays as part of “Foto Fridays,” entitled Disney Point & Shoot Photography 101. This series will be inspired by questions I frequently receive via email and otherwise, so if you have a question or technique you’d really like to learn, by all means, ask it.

My goal for these posts is to form a catalog of information for casual point and shoot camera owners who would like to improve the pictures that they bring back from Walt Disney World without having to spend hours upon hours learning advanced techniques. To that end, I will only be posting example images that I myself have taken with a $100 point and shoot camera to illustrate the results you can realistically expect to achieve with these methods. Some of these shots may very well be sub-par, as most are from my pre-photography days, so you likely will be able to achieve better photos than the ones posted here. Regardless of camera, the old adage certainly rings true that good photography is much more about the 12 inches behind the camera rather than the camera itself, so learning these techniques certainly could prove invaluable.

This week’s lesson is going to focus on the most basic of all photography principles: composition. Quite simply, good photos require interesting composition.

When composing shots of people, and this is frequently a difficult one to remember at the Disney Parks given the great backdrops, make sure you get shots with your group as the focal point. While shots of Cinderella Castle dwarfing your family are cool to show the scale of the Castle, you also want to make sure that your family gets the limelight in at least one shot. In such a shot, it’s not even necessary to get a lot of background in the frame. Just suggesting your location might be sufficient, especially if you want your viewer’s eye to be drawn to your family.

Although I like this shot, we’re definitely not the subject. If your goal is some family shots to share on social media sites or scrapbooking, you don’t want only shots like this.

This is much more to my liking. All of the details of the SpaceShip Earth Christmas display aren’t visible, but we’re clearly in the shot, and SpaceShip Earth itself is a fairly dominant background.

For static or landscape shots, look for symmetry, repetition, and interesting lines in your subjects to help direct the eye where you want it to go within the image. The use of “leading lines” can really help to organize a shot and differentiate a garden variety snapshot from a photograph (this is a distinction that photographers have made; a snapshot is an image taken without much thought or planning to, essentially, memorialize a scene, whereas a photo is more thought out and deliberate). Similarly, framing your subject with objects in the scene can direct the viewer’s attention to the subject, when it otherwise might wander around the frame.

The water lines of Saratoga Springs direct the viewer’s eye to the closest point of the resort buildings.

Here the wreckage of an old boat at Typhoon Lagoon cuts out dead space in the space and the bustle of the park all around and focuses the viewer on the Miss Tilly.

This might seem frustrating at first, and you have difficulty “getting it.” I certainly did. One technique that helped me when I first got into photography was turning on the grid lines on my camera’s LCD display. These grids divide the screen into 9 sections, a la the “Rule of Thirds.” While I think this so-called rule is highly overrated, the areas where these lines intersect can be helpful when first starting. Put your subject at one of the intersections or have a dominant line in the image run from one intersection to another and you’re at a good starting point. You may not always end up with the most compelling photo this way, but it’s a good way to develop your eye, and you’ll learn your personal preferences from there.

Where Donald’s feet meet his body will be near the lower right intersecting lines, and his eyes will be near the upper right intersecting lines.

The Contemporary will be near the upper left intersection and the duck will be near the lower right intersection, creating good balance (as demonstrated here, you don’t have to place your subject at the intersections with utmost precision).

Go off center. From people in your shots, to architecture, to the horizon, try framing your subject so that it’s not in the dead center of the image. I think this is probably the single most important point to take away from the LCD grid explanation above, and one that most of us don’t follow when we first start out. There is a (seemingly) natural temptation to put dominant aspects of images right in the middle of the frame. However, the brain, eye, or whatever it is in your body that processes a photograph and determines what appeals to it, doesn’t have this same preference. I can’t really offer an explanation as to why, but that’s just the way it is. This doesn’t mean you can never center a subject; sometimes doing so is your best option, just don’t always do it.

Juxtaposing my beautiful wife off-center and against these flowers in Germany makes for more interesting composition.

Going off-center here and using a slightly canted angle gives the viewer a sense of the “wild ride” that is Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster.

Don’t always try to cram as much into a single shot as you can. Many times, keeping it simple is the better way to go. A good example of this, and one I made all the time, is always attempting to get shots of the entire floats when taking pictures of parades. When showing people your pictures, one hundred parade shots of complete floats isn’t going to be especially interesting, even to the most hardcore Disney fan. So when you have a really interesting subject, even if there is some “stuff” in the adjacent area that looks kind of cool, don’t be too afraid to use that isolate the main subject. I guess a corollary to this, albeit mostly unrelated to composition, is that variety is the spice of life. Take wide shots, zoom in close, mix up what you do to keep it interesting.

Donald’s entire float in the Jammin’ Jungle Parade. Nice for illustrative purposes.

Donald on his float in the parade. He is the “star” of the float, so why not just zoom in close on him?

I caution you now as it’s really easy, especially for a beginner, to take this advice the opposite direction and attempt to “force” interesting or unique composition. Tilting one’s camera to the side and zooming in to the point that there is no discernible subject, merely for the sake of being unique or creative are not unique or creative at all. A lot of people do these things. If you can’t explain why you’ve introduced a tilt to your shot or what the “purpose” of the abstract is, you might want to re-think it. Sometimes straight-forward is best.

Here is an example of a different perspective that doesn’t look too forced. I think it makes for a unique take on this statue of (what many think is) Young Walt.

Hopefully these tips have helped. This post is written more abstractly than I would like, but the rules of composition are fairly open-ended (and necessary to learn as a pre-requisite to good photography) so such is the nature of the beast. Here’s a Disney-specific composition tip that is not open ended: unless you’re doing an abstract shot, make sure not to cut off any of the top spire of the Castle.  Not really a rule per se, but it’s a compositional ‘mistake’ I commonly see.

As far as compositional information, this is just the tip of the Castle (okay, that sounds admittedly dorky, but I thought using “Castle” rather than “iceberg” would be a good segue). Something to, hopefully, pique your curiosity. If you’re interested in learning more about composition, there is a wealth of online articles, as well as books. One site,, posts multiple articles per week written by Walt Disney World photography enthusiasts. A recent book I picked up that I’ve found great for learning more about composition is The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman. Both of the preceding sources are written at a slightly higher level than that at which this blog will focus, but if you’re interested in taking things to the next level, be sure to check out both. Another thing is to become active in online photo sharing sites such as Flickr. The TouringPlans group is a great place to share your pictures and find like-minded photographers who can provide constructive criticism and feedback. Lastly, and most importantly, is to get out there and take pictures.

Have any questions, topic requests, or tips of your own? Share in the comments! In the next session of Disney Point & Shoot Photography 101, I will walk through some easy steps to great point & shoot nights shots!