Archive for February, 2011

One if by Land

by on February 16, 2011

In a little over a week I’ll be heading back to Walt Disney World for a few days of fun on land before I start my journey on my very first cruise!  I wanted to tell our readers all about my exciting plans for the trip.  However, there will be so much going on with my few days at WDW and then five days at sea I decided to divide and conquer.  This week I’ll discuss the land portion of my adventure and next week I’ll talk about my preparations for my time aboard the Dream.  So without further ado, let’s get to the first segment of my journey.

My friend, Doug, and I will be spending our first night using his DVC points at the Boardwalk Villas.  I love the Boardwalk so I’m thrilled to spend an evening here.  The next day we’ll transfer over to the Beach Club for a couple nights before heading for the Dream.  The Beach Club is one of the resorts remaining on my list of places to stay so it will be great to experience it.  There are several amenities at this resort to be excited about.  I’m really hoping it will be warm enough to visit the famous pool shared by the Yacht and Beach Clubs, Stormalong Bay.  However, the main attraction at this resort is its proximity to Epcot’s International Gateway entrance.  Since Epcot is my favorite park I love being able to take a short walk between my room and the park.

When you say you are going to Disney World people always want to know where you are going to stay.  After that detail is discussed, the next question is where are you going to eat?  On this trip I’m excited to dine at the California Grill with a small group of friends to celebrate a few birthdays among us.  I’ll also be grabbing a pint and some dinner at the Rose and Crown one night.  I’m sure my friends and I will enjoy breakfast at the Cape May Cafe as well.  Characters dressed in their beach finery will join us for our buffet breakfast.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed my last character dining experience, so I look forward to giving the Cape May Cafe a try.

One of the highlights of the land portion of my trip is sure to be the Wild Africa Trek.  A group of my friends and I will be heading to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at 8:30 Saturday morning to take part in this new backstage tour.  I’ve heard great things from the folks who have already participated so I can’t wait to see it for myself!  From what I hear I’ll get an opportunity to get a closer look at many of the animals on the safari along with several action packed adventures.  I’ll be sure to write all about my experience when I head home!

Something I’m especially excited about is our meet!  Come join us as we chat with readers and enjoy the Hall of Presidents.  Several touringplans team members will be on hand to chat with readers before heading inside to take in the show.  I have fond affection for this attraction so I’m really looking forward to sharing it with readers!  If you will be in the Magic Kingdom on February 25th come on by to meet some of your fellow Disney fans!

There are miscellaneous items about this trip as well.  For starters, I’ll be celebrating my birthday!  This will be my first time wandering around the parks with a birthday button.  While it won’t actually be my birthday during my trip, it’s close enough and I intend to do it up.  Also, I’ll be switching up my usual laid back approach to the parks in favor of rope drop and a touring plan for the first part of my day at the Magic Kingdom (MK) on Friday.  We’ll have my friend along who has yet to experience many of the attractions MK  so we thought a touring plan would be the best way to do it.  We are especially leaning this way since it will be during the busy President’s Day week so crowds will be heavy.  I’m sure our day of touring will be a great success, and I’ll be sure to report back on our venture.

On Sunday morning I’ll get up early to enjoy the Cape May Cafe character breakfast with some land lubbing friends before my cruise roommates and I take off for the Dream.  So I’ll leave it there for now and pick back up next week to discuss my first cruise!  Stay tuned!

I can’t wait to see so many friends and meet some new ones on this upcoming trip!  Will you be in town at the same time?  Let me know about your plans, and hopefully we’ll see each other at the touringplans meet!

WDW Today Episode 839 – Listener Questions

by on February 15, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 839 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:

Tuesday, Feb 15: Operational Problems at the Magic Kingdom

by on February 15, 2011

Our Lines users in the Magic Kingdom are reporting major issues with virtually every attraction in the park.  Rumor is that it’s related to the air compressors which power many aspects of most rides.  There’s no ETA for a fix on this, and FASTPASSes are going fast at every attraction.  If you’ve not yet headed out for the parks, avoid the Magic Kingdom.

Fly AND Drive? It can be done.

by on February 14, 2011

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my decision making process when I decide whether to fly or drive to Walt Disney World.  Nine times out of ten, I pick driving, because it saves me money.  Also, I love the fun of a road trip.  But what if I could have the best of both worlds?

No, I’m not talking about bringing my Hannah Montana CD collection with me.  If you pay attention to rental car rates and track flights carefully, you can find a great opportunity to fly and drive on the same trip.  I’m talking about what the car companies call “snowbird” rentals, and if you use them wisely, you can save a lot of money and time.

To illustrate this, let’s take the case study of a trip I’m planning for my kids’ Spring Break.  If we chose to fly, the cheapest roundtrip flight is $191 per person.  For a family of four, that’s nearly $800 for a roundtrip to Disney.  By comparison, driving would cost approximately $150 including gas, food and hotel for one night.  The difference of course is time. 

Avoiding this look is a major concern.

A flight down, including travel time to and from the airport in Atlanta and Orlando, will take about five hours total.  A drive is going to take a total of about nine hours, not including the time it will take to spend the night, have breakfast and keep driving.  Flying is more relaxing and less time consuming.

The “snowbird” rental is the solution I am exploring.  What this offers is a one way drive out of Florida, if you rent the car from an airport location and return it to an airport location in another state.  In my case, I would pick the car up at MCO in Orlando, and return it at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.  

The attractiveness of this is that the rentals cost only a fraction of what a normal rental would cost.  For example, Hertz has the cheapest one that I’ve found, at $5 a day.  To rent the car starting Wednesday night when we fly down and return it Sunday afternoon costs only $42!  Pair that with one way flights for all of us, and the total comes up to $342, which saves us a ton of money. 

The less time spent traveling, the more time spent riding!

It’s a win-win situation – we get to get out of town on time on Wednesday, and be in the magic that very night.  We get a rental car, one of the big “hidden” expenses of flying, for not a whole lot of money.   We save time, and we save almost an entire day’s worth of driving.  It’s a fantastic deal for spring trips. 

If you’re interested in exploring options for a snowbird rental, check out Hertz’s Special Offers page.  Others I have seen that are offering the same deal at higher prices include AvisNational and Alamo.  All of these offer the one way deals for about $19.95 a day, which is still cheap, just not quite as cheap as Hertz.  Dates vary, but most are from late April through early June.  Check each site for blackout dates, etc.

Does this sort of deal sound like it would help you out?  Would you take a one way flight to save a little money?

WDW News Recap: So Long Toontown

by on February 13, 2011

This is a guest post by Aaron Johnston of Disney Report – The latest Disney news from the World, Land, and Studios. Each week, we recap our best WDW headlines here in a tidy package for you to enjoy. Follow D-Report on Twitter.

The big news from this past week comes from the Northeast corner of the Magic Kingdom where Toontoon Fair has (finally) closed to make way for the presumable upgrade, Storybook Circusland. While I (like a lot of folks) are happy to see Toontown go, I can’t help but think the Circusland overlay is a missed opportunity to bring a highly themed environment and major attraction to this always underwhelming portion of the park.

Magic Kingdom: Circusland posters unveiled at Toontown Fair farewell party…

…final Mickey’s Toontown Fair pic blow-out

…a look back to Toontown precursor, Mickey’s Birthdayland

With the closing of Toontown, much of the Magic Kingdom has been forced to scatter the meet-n-greet leftovers to the far corners of the park. Throw in the standard off-season refurbs and you have a slightly hectic park at the moment.

Rest of Magic Kingdom in transition period…

It has been hard to get a handle on Haunted Mansion queue configuration based on current pics. It is still unknown if a trip through the upcoming interactive portion of the queue will be optional. With wait times typically manageable for this attraction, I am still have having a hard time understanding the need for this addition.

Haunted Mansion interactive queue still a mystery….

More news continues to leak from inside the construction walls of Star Tours 2. Some rumblings include WDW getting more screen-based overlays than the true queue revamping Disneyland is receiving. It is all conjecture at the moment, however, as we will all see how it all plays out soon enough.

Hollywood Studios: Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald confirms Vader in Stars Tours 2…

Animal Kingdom: On-the-cheap distraction turns into long-lasting guest favorite…

ImagineeringDis: Behind-the-scenes of Frontierland shooting gallery…

Early in the off season, it appeared very few of the minor construction projects that have popped up around Epcot in previous years would kick off again. There have been a few pleasant surprises, however, with the Spaceship Earth receiving repainted legs and the removal of Innoventions plaza whirly-gig structures.

Epcot: Latest look at minor Future World construction projects…

Since the initial announcement, we have been hard pressed to see movement on the upcoming Animation Inn resort. It is great to see construction finally starting to pick up on a site tagged by some as the slums of WDW.

MouseSteps checks in on Animation Inn progress…

Jack Spence explores the one-of-a-kind, famed Polynesian resort…

Disney Dream is still receiving a lot of press (some bad, mostly good) this week finally the ships’ s maiden voyages

DCL: LA Times wraps up Disney Dream review. Some misfires, strong finish…

…attention turning toward Disney Cruise Line Fantasy

D23 releases full details on WDW Destination D event…

And in news that never seems to go away…

Disney, Segway suit takes yet another convoluted twist…

Till next week…

Walt Disney World Park Recommendation Tweaks

by on February 13, 2011

Today we are making a few changes to our Park Recommendations algorithm for the Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar. When we choose the “best parks” and “parks to avoid,” we try to balance low wait times with optimal touring conditions — which can be a tricky balance (read more about touring conditions).

What does this mean for my WDW dates?

Few recommendations have changed, but if they have, the new park recommendations should result in lower waits and equally optimal touring conditions. Our park recommendations are now better than ever.

The changes are subtle but they represent a shifting of the balance in favor of low wait times. We won’t be so quick to punish parks hosting Extra Magic Hour mornings and days at the Magic Kingdom with an evening Party. We have the most thorough database of Walt Disney World wait times anywhere, let’s use them! We did some research on the subject before implementing these tweaks, here’s what we learned.

  • For most families, experiencing the lowest wait times possible is the number one priority, even if park hours are shortened.
  • Sacrificing a little in optimal touring conditions can mean big gains in lower wait times. Anyone who has been to the Magic Kingdom on the morning of a Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party can attest to that.
  • By implementing these tweaks, in the long run the average crowd level for each “best park” recommendation is a little lower, and the average crowd level for each “park to avoid” recommendation is a little higher (which keeps the statisticians happy).

Wait! Tell me more!

If you are interested and have a few minutes, you may want to know what specifically is changing:

The OLD Formula:

  1. Avoid a park if it has Extra Magic Hour morning.
  2. Avoid a park if it is hosting a special event.
  3. Avoid the Magic Kingdom on Holidays
  4. If the crowd level is lower than the 7-day average then recommend the park.
  5. Some special cases:
    • On a given day, if there is no recommended park then recommend the park with the lowest crowd level.
    • On a given day, if there is no park to avoid then avoid the park with the highest crowd level.
    • If there is a 7-day stretch where a park is not recommended then recommend it on the day with the lowest crowd level during that 7-day stretch (aka the 7-Day Rule)

The NEW Formula:

  1. A park cannot be a BEST park if it has Extra Magic Hour morning.
  2. A park cannot be a BEST park if it is hosting a special event (Magic Kingdom Parties excluded).
  3. Whichever park has the lowest per-park crowd level on a given day is the BEST park.
  4. Whichever park has the highest per-park crowd level on a given day is the park to AVOID.
  5. If there is a 7-day stretch where a park is not recommended then recommend it on the day with the lowest crowd level during that 7-day stretch (aka the 7-Day Rule).

WDW Today Episode 838 – New Magic Kingdom Touring Plan

by on February 13, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 838 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:

Best Parade Locations at Walt Disney World

by on February 11, 2011

If you’ve ever watched Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade in Frontierland, you likely know that location is paramount to enjoyment of a parade (same goes for fireworks–more on that in a future post). Although Christmas in the woods is beautiful at Wilderness Lodge, the same probably cannot be said for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade in Frontierland.

A Million Streams of Musical Light (Explored)

Those of us who watch parades often spend a lot of time waiting for the parade. We camp out early to get good spots, foregoing precious time we’d otherwise spend boosting our self esteem by trouncing our significant others in Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin. We are concerned with having an unobstructed view. Yet, it seems so often we’re unconcerned with having a thematically appropriate view.

To be fair, I’m sure some people are concerned with this. After all, Main Street does fill up first. (Although that could be because it’s closest to the exit.)

Below you’ll find my take on the best viewing locations for each parade.

Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade – Inside of Space Mountain. Seriously. This parade is an abomination. If you’ve seen the daytime parade in the Magic Kingdom in the last decade, you’ve seen this parade. If you absolutely must watch it, do so from the hub or near the Casey’s or the Ice Cream Parlor so you can get photos with the Castle in the background.

Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! – Even this curmudgeon finds this parade reasonably enjoyable. It’s high energy, fun, and interactive. I’m not here to give reviews, but I find myself wondering why its “big brother” afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom isn’t as good? View this parade from the same locations as Celebrate a Dream Come True.

Cinderella Electrical Partners Parade

Walt Disney World - Main Street Electrial Parade - Elliot!

Main Street Electrical Parade – I like to view this from the inner ring of the hub (near Partners), which allows me to get photos with the Castle in the background. This location also allows me, if I’m using a telephoto lens, to photograph the parade as it comes and goes without ever moving (if I stand right by Partners rather than going for a “front row” spot).

Headless Dude w/ Pumpkin in Hand Riding Galloping Horse

Mickey’s Boo To You Parade – This parade can have a nice eerie atmosphere in Frontierland (I’m scared just thinking about the potential for Blood on the Saddle!), but it’s best viewed from the sides of Main Street, near the Hall of Champions, or the Art of Disney, as the lighting on the Main Street buildings really adds to the atmosphere. Plus, you’ll get plenty of light from Main Street for photos of the Headless Horseman as he passes.

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade – Without a doubt, the best location for this is the end of Main Street, or with your back against the Christmas tree. I like the end of the street better, so you can get some photos with the Icicle Castle in them, turn, and get some photos with the tree in them. If you watch this parade anywhere in the park where it’s not snowing, you’re missing 75% of the experience. The atmosphere is that crucial to this parade.

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! – I will wait to pass judgment on this one until I see it (hopefully I don’t miss it when I blink!), but when I do watch this, it will be across from the American Idol Experience. This allows me to get photos with the Big … Hat and the tip of Grauman’s theatre in the background.

Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade – This is a tough one, but I would opt against the popular Discovery Island locations and instead go for the edge of Africa, facing the Tree of Life. You can get a really cool juxtaposition of shots if you position yourself properly. You can get some shots with the lush vegetation of the Tree of Life in the background, and others with the barren and worn facades of the African buildings.

Jambo! (Sorry, that’s the only Swahili I know–unless Nah-ta-zu counts.)

Main Street Bokeh Parade

What tips do you have? Any favorite locations you think I’ve overlooked? Share them in the comments!

WDW Today Episode 837 – Mmmm… brainsss!

by on February 11, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 837 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:

2011 Princess Half Marathon Weekend

by on February 10, 2011

Friday, February 25 through Sunday, February 27, 2011 is Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend. There are events and races being held over the course of the three days, culminating in the women’s focused Princess Half Marathon on Sunday morning. Those choosing to visit Disney World during this weekend who are not planning on running will want to be aware of the events so that they can be prepared.

Beauty and the Beast Royal Family 5K
The Royal Family 5K is being held on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 7:00am in Epcot. While this event is before park opening, bear in mind that many families may choose to visit Epcot that day, since they will already be parked there and in the area. Guests that have early breakfast reservations in Epcot, or the Epcot area resorts may notice heavier crowds than usual. Make sure to allow plenty of time for travel in and around the Epcot resort area that morning.

Check out the Crowd Calendar for that day and consider visiting Animal Kingdom, which is a best park, or, if staying on property, take advantage of Morning Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios.

Princess Half Marathon
The Princess Half Marathon begins at 5:45am on Sunday morning and takes place along a 13.1 mile course through Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and the surrounding roadways. Expect some congestion in the morning, especially in Epcot at the finish line and in the parking lot. Several roads around the Walt Disney World Resort will be closed for the race. They begin closures as early as 11:00pm the evening before. Guests travelling around property, like those leaving Magic Kingdom (the park is scheduled to close at 11:00pm at the time of this writing) should be prepared for delays and detours.

Roads used for the course will remain closed until the race is completed on Sunday morning. When travelling Sunday morning, once again, be prepared for significant delays and allow plenty of time, especially for Advanced Dining Reservations or airline departures.

Half Marathon Spectators
Those with friends or family running the race who would like to cheer them on can do so from several locations. A great chart for viewing locations can be found here. Also, there are several other resources like Runner Tracking and a Spectator Tool (that allows spectators to calculate where the runner the are watching will be at which locations). Anyone who wants to view their runners from Epcot should plan on arriving by 4:00am on Sunday morning. The main Epcot entrance from World Drive will be closed from 5:00am to 7:00am. Guests will be directed to the Ticket and Transportation Center parking lot where they will take the monorail to Epcot.

Half Marathon Participants
Runners intending to participate in the half-marathon can find some great information on the ESPN Wide World of Sports website, the WDWToday Podcast, or by reading posts by Caroline Baggerly about last year’s Princess Half Marathon, and her other races.

Are you going to be at Disney World during the races? What is your strategy for dealing with traffic and crowds?