Archive for April, 2011

CRAZY RUMOR: Jedi Training Academy With Lightsaber-wielding Yoda?

by on April 16, 2011 is not usually in the rumor/news game, but our Bothan spies picked up a killer one yesterday that we had to share. Go check our Star Tours 2 coverage for the Jedi Training Academy 2.0 rumor.

If you’re interested in staying up-to-date in the latest and greatest Star Tours 2 News, including today’s Star Tours Sneak Peek Event in Miami, make sure to Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook. And if the force is REALLY with you… help spread the word! We’re really excited for the new attractions on both coasts, and want as many people as possible join in the fun.

Scheduled Downtime Over When You Can Read This

by on April 16, 2011

If you can read this, huzzah! Welcome to Shrunken Ned (reference), the jungle’s only self-service witch doctor web server. No visible changes should be seen, but let us know if you notice any issues. Thanks!

WDW Today Episode 864 – A Day at Downtown Disney

by on April 15, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 861 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 Legendary Magic Kingdom Touring Plan

by on April 15, 2011

After suggesting at our last meeting that every Touring Plan begin with Country Bear Jamboree or the Universe of Energy (even if you’re planning on spending your day at Animal Kingdom or the Studios!), I think Len has officially banned me from the Touring Plan Creation Task Force. (We don’t really have a task force that does this, per se, but it certainly sounds cool!) Luckily for me (and you!), and much to the chagrin of those concerned with protecting the legitimacy of real Touring Plans, I have this weekly soapbox. I thus present to you the Legendary Magic Kingdom Touring Plan. It’s like an Ultimate Touring Plan, except better!

Big Al
I don’t have kids, so this Touring Plan won’t be starting with Dumbo. Frankly, elephants frighten me, and I question the sanity of anyone who would venture a ride on an elephant that thinks it can fly with its ears. Instead, make a b-line at rope drop to Country Bear Jamboree. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Country Bear Jamboree won’t have a line all day, why waste time hitting it first?!” Well, this Touring Plan isn’t concerned with saving time, it’s concerned with awesome attractions. Who cares if you have to wait in line 4 extra hours because you visited attractions in a haphazard order?

I am at a loss when I hear Country Bears panned. I try not to be too quick to dismiss differing views, but I can’t help but think that some people just don’t, “get it.” It’s edgy and witty, and best of all, features bears playing catchy tunes. The highlight is unquestionably the drunken country drawl of Big Al, with his rendition of “Blood on the Saddle.” This attraction, a Magic Kingdom opening day original, has easily attained “Legendary” status.

Now that you’re fully excited for your day in the Magic Kingdom, head on over to the Frontierland Mountains. Here, hit Splash Mountain first, followed by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Both of these Magic Kingdom Mountains are Legendary, with their details, theming, and story. Big Thunder’s story is a bit on the subtle side, which makes the pay-off all the better when you put the pieces together. Make sure to hit the mountains in the order listed above. To paraphrase Stacey from the “Top 7,” One I like to call the wash cycle, the other the dry cycle. Doing these attractions early is helpful if you didn’t have time to shower before leaving your room!

Walt Disney World - On Stranger Tides
Next, we head to the Hall of Presidents. Another under-appreciated classic, which had a recent refurbishment giving it new life. This will make you proud to be an American, even if you’re from Canada! After that, hit another “edutaining” attraction, the Haunted Mansion. Be sure to walk quickly when you leave the Mansion so you lose the ghost tailing you. Adventureland is the next stop, where you’ll experience Pirates of the Caribbean. Everyone loves pirates. Everyone loves Johnny Depp. This attraction features Johnny Depp as a pirate. It’s a no-brainer Legendary-pick. Unless you like disinterested college kids phoning it in, skip the Jungle Cruise. You may get lucky and have a wonderful skipper, but the likelihood is that you’ll have one who doesn’t care.

Navigate the sea of strollers in Fantasyland to it’s a small world. It may not be the most technically impressive attraction, but the message is great, it’s filled with detail, and its history is second to none. An easy “Legendary” pick. The only other Legendary pick here is Mickey’s PhilharMagic. A veritable mix of classics for anyone who grew up in the 1990s, PhilharMagic is the perfect attraction featuring the new animated classics. Check out Peter Pan’s Flight if the line isn’t too long, but unless your nostalgia pines for it, it’s not worth a 90 minute wait. Snow White’s Scary Adventures should have gone the way of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride long ago; after each ride, I have to look around to make sure I haven’t been teleported to a county fair. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is worth experiencing if the wait is short, but it’s hardly Legendary.

Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland:  The Neon Jungle

Last, head to my favorite land in the Magic Kingdom, Tomorrowland, which is exponentially better at night. As you enter through the “Gateway to the Future” your ears will be enveloped with the best Background Music in WDW; marvel at the ocular delight of the neon lights throughout the futuristic land. Before you hit any attractions here, pour some Nescafe outside of Stitch’s Great Escape in honor of our fallen homie, Alien Encounter. You won’t want to drink all of the stuff, anyway. It’s disgusting.

Every other attraction in Tomorrowland is Legendary. Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor is misplaced in Tomorrowland, but it’s humorous and brings a uniquely interactive experience that doesn’t feel interactive just for the sake of being interactive. Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin is great for the competitive crowd. I actually prefer it to Toy Story Mania, but even if you don’t, the plus side is it won’t have a 2 hour line! Astro Orbitor is a more enjoyable spinner than Dumbo due to its elevation, and at night, it offers a great view.

This brings us to the Tomorrowland big three: Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, and Carousel of Progress. Some may tell you that the order in which you experience these three doesn’t matter. That’s nonsense! Experience the TTA first, then Space Mountain, then Carousel of Progress. The TTA provides a relaxing ride around Tomorrowland energizes you for a flight through space. Plus, with its views into Space Mountain, it foreshadows your impending space exploration. With suspense built, head  to Space Mountain, which offers an awesome show from start to finish. Pay attention to the post-show for a nod to an extinct Epcot attraction. Once you’ve returned to earth, debrief yourself with the quintessential American family aboard the Carousel of Progress. I’ve already explained why the Carousel of Progress is one of the most Legendary attractions in Walt Disney World.
Another Mundane Shot of the Most Amazing Sight on Earth
The day is not over. Obviously, you’ll be enjoying Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes! Follow them with a relaxing stare at Cinderella Castle. If you’re so inclined, wait around for a bit after Wishes! concludes for the Kiss Goodnight. This park closing ritual is one of the most moving moments of the day for me. To this day, I still get goosebumps every time I experience it. Finally, drag yourself through the turnstiles and pat yourself on the back. You’ve just completed the Legendary Magic Kingdom Touring Plan!

What attractions would you place on the “Legendary” Magic Kingdom Touring Plan? What did I miss? What did I experience that is an absolute “Must-Avoid”? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Disneyland Day-Trip Planning… the 5 minute version!

by on April 14, 2011

A friend of mine told me that he’s going to be down in L.A. this weekend, and decided to tack on 1-day trip to Disneyland on Sunday (to which I replied, “GREAT MOVE!”). I wanted to give him my standard 5-hour research peptalk complete with pivot tables and Betamouse episodes he should catch up on, but I quickly realized I had only 5-minutes to impart any knowledge I could. It’s going to be his first trip since 2002, and he’s bringing his two teenage kids. Of course, I pushed a Disneyland account on him, and then sped through the following tips:

Check The Crowd Calendar

If you want to know how crowded it’s going to be, use the Disneyland Crowd Calendar. We quickly saw that he was going on a 10 out of 10 (aka CRAZY CROWDED) day in Disneyland. He couldn’t change his day of travel, but at least he would be mentally prepared for the crushing hordes.

Looking At The Wait Times

We next quickly found our way to the Disneyland wait time forecasts for that day, which is a great way to manage expectations. He was bummed to see that Splash Mountain and Star Tours were going to be closed, but it helped give him perspective on how the crowd level ’10’ would “feel” like in the park (for more on this, see this blog post).

Figuring Out What’s New

One of his first questions was… “what’s new there?” I pointed him to a hard-to-find-but-still-froody page on the site which lists Disneyland Attraction Opening Dates (you can find this page by going to any attraction page and clicking on the Opening Date field in the right-column). Disneyland has built some really nifty attractions since 2002, and I told him about Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Saving Hours in Line

I next gave him a quick run-down on how a Disneyland Touring Plan can save him up to 4 hours in line, especially on really busy days. Thankfully, being a fellow engineer who appreciates geeky things, he didn’t express any “touring plans resistance.” Since he has two teenage kids, I recommended checking out both the Disneyland Author’s Select One-Day Plan and the Disneyland One-Day Touring Plan for Adults and seeing which made more sense for them.

Knowing the Attractions and How FASTPASS Works

Realizing that my time was quickly running out, I showed him the Disneyland Attractions page and explained that he could sort the attraction ratings by age group to see what attractions his teens might enjoy (or not enjoy), in case he wanted to modify the Touring Plan. I also gave him an introductory lesson in Disneyland FASTPASS 101 (it doesn’t cost money!).


Armed with crowd forecasts, Touring Plans, and attraction information, I finally gave him the straight dope: he needs to get there early. If he can get there and line up before the park opens, he’ll be enjoying a leisurely 10 a.m. Dole Whip with 10 attractions under his belt and a full wallet of FASTPASSes as the spring break crowds flood the park. I didn’t explain what a Dole Whip was or why he’d want one, but he seemed intrigued!

If you have 5 minutes to prepare someone for a day trip to Disneyland or Disney World, what would you tell them?

Turnstiles, Magician Mickey, Haunted Mansion 2.0

by on April 14, 2011

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

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

Is Breakfast Better at Your Disney Resort or in a Theme Park?

by on April 14, 2011

[A note from Len: We’re trying a set of new dining reviews this week.  Below is an article on the merits of breakfast at your Disney resort or in a theme park.  We’d love to hear your comments on the article, including its style, length and content, as well as any breakfast tips you’ve learned over the years.  Post these suggestions and comments below.  Thanks!]

Breakfast in a theme park, or at a resort? Disney characters, or no characters? We tried two – both buffets with very different approaches to the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast at Tusker House

If you want Disney characters and a twist on your ordinary breakfast, this is the place. Donald’s Safari Breakfast gives you a good head start at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (book your breakfast for 8 a.m. to beat the crowds);  photos with Disney characters, and plenty of choices for picky eaters. But you can also try something new, like mealie pap or yam casserole.

Atmosphere:  Somewhat austere, with concrete floors and wooden chairs that make it a little cold (design is supposed to look like a South African schoolhouse). Buffet is spread out and easy to navigate with several stations in an open-air, market-style room with high ceilings. You can see (and smell) roasting chickens for lunch and dinner. Chefs keep a close watch on the buffet, replenishing often.

Why kids love it: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Goofy. Lots of sweets, including donuts, on the buffet.  Mickey Mouse waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon on a kid-height buffet. Nothing too challenging.

Why grown-ups love it:  The breakfast buffet has about 80 items. While picky eaters can fill up on cereal, bacon and eggs, more adventurous eaters can try bobotie (spiced meat and egg pie), fruit chutneys, yam casserole. Also delicious carved ham. Dietary restrictions are easy to accommodate – just ask for a chef and the kitchen is well prepared to handle any allergy, even if you just prefer soy milk for your cereal. Ask.   And it beats waiting in line in the park for photos with Mickey Mouse.

What we recommend:  Chocolate mango bread, mealie cornbread, scrambled eggs with chutney, roasted potatoes with chili spice, plantains.  And plenty of hot coffee.

To sum it up: A good location close to Kilimanjaro Safaris. You can book breakfast an hour before park opening, so you can dine and dash to Kilimanjaro Safaris (or have someone grab FastPass while you’re eating breakfast).  $23, 10 and older; $13, ages 3 to 9.  Not our favorite Disney buffet, but the location, characters and interesting  tastes make it worthy if you’re starting your day at DAK.


Breakfast at The Wave

If you want to avoid Disney characters and rowdy kids, opt instead for a delicious breakfast at The Wave…of American Flavors at the Contemporary .  There’s  a menu if you want to sit still and be waited on, but we prefer the buffet, a new addition that you can’t even see it unless you peek around a wall at the back.

Atmosphere:  Quiet.  Really quiet. Conversation-for-two quiet.  A great place for a business meeting (you’ll see plenty of Disney execs here). Service is efficient and friendly, and there’s often someone from the kitchen tending the spotless buffet.   Wood tables, nice linens, always a full cup of coffee.

Why kids love it: So the kids may not love this as much as grown-ups – but there’s plenty on the buffet for little ones. Fresh fruit (we love the peeled slices of oranges and fresh strawberries), cold cereals, hot oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, bagels with cream cheese, jams and jellies. And they bake all the iced Danish right there.   No characters, but solid fuel for the day.

Why grown-ups love it:  Most everything on the menu is on the buffet except for specialty drinks. Go on calorie overload with eggs Benedict, biscuits and sausage gravy, pancakes, grits with bacon and cheddar cheese, bread pudding … or be healthful with multigrain waffles, turkey sausage, oatmeal, fresh Florida fruit, cottage cheese, boiled eggs, smoked salmon, housemade granola.  That’s the best part about a buffet: you can have a little taste of everything.

What we recommend:  We love the yin and yang of pairing gooey bread pudding with stringent yogurt, fruit and granola, or creamy grits with a boiled egg. The bread pudding is divine, ditto for the sausage gravy. And we can make a meal of the smoked salmon with capers, red onion and tomatoes.  The buffet mix-and-match is almost endless.

To sum it up:  If you don’t see something you want, just ask – the kitchen is happy to accommodate. We love this breakfast. Quiet, well-run dining room, delicious and filling food, it’s a great way to start the day. $18.50, $11 ages 3 to 9.

Scheduled Downtime, 3am-5am ET, Saturday, April 16, 2011

by on April 14, 2011

Hey folks — we want to give you a heads up that, The Blog, and Lines will be getting some much needed refurbishment early Saturday morning, April 16, 2011, between 3am-5am Eastern (just late enough so Disneyland Lines users can enjoy the app through park closing!). We’ve outgrown our old, trusty server, and have some shiny new hardware on its way. We’re sorry for the necessity of the downtime, but this should allow us keep the server gremlins at bay as we continue to grow. We’ll be updating the progress as soon as the migration begins. Thanks!

Want to Save Time in Line? Use a Touring Plan!

by on April 13, 2011

My last trip was during the busy Presidents Day week which I’ve always avoided in previous years since the crowds are heavy and the Disney resorts charge a premium.  Usually, my friends and I wouldn’t let the crowds phase us since we generally take a pretty relaxed approach to the Disney parks.  There have been many days when we’ll just hang out in World Showcase and not do a single ride.  But this time around we had a long to do list, especially at the Magic Kingdom.  Since we wanted to try to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time during a busy vacation week we decided the only way to accomplish this feat was to use a touring plan.

What is a touring plan you ask?  Many of you who are reading this are well aware that our site is named for these helpful tools our staff has developed and tested over many years.  But, for folks who are less familiar with let me explain.  Since guests’ opinion of a park is very often based on how much they wait in lines for attractions, we at and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World have set out to help families minimize their time spent in line.  Touring plans were created to outline the most efficient way for folks to experience their favorite rides and attractions throughout Walt Disney World’s four theme parks.  It has been proven that our plans can save guests up to four hours of waiting in queues!

There are a variety of plans available for different age groups, family dynamics, and interests which you can find here.  Keep in mind, you can also access our plans via our mobile app: Lines so you don’t have to worry about carrying around a printed copy.  Since our group was a bit unique in that we were a group of about 15 adults who are all Disney geeks there didn’t seem to be a plan that fit us perfectly.  I wound up combining the plan for families with small children and the one day adult plan.  The plan for kids focuses on rides and attractions most suitable for little ones and starts out in Fantasyland where princesses and fairy tales abound.  However, this plan does not include many of the thrill rides such as Space Mountain which were definitely on our list.  Therefore, I took the advice from both plans to make our own perfect morning in the Magic Kingdom.


Printed touring plans also provide a map of the park!

So now that everyone has brought up to speed on the basics of touring plans, let me tell you about our very successful day in Magic Kingdom as an example of how useful they can be.  I thought sharing the events of my day in the park during a busy period would be especially appropriate at this time of year since spring break is in full swing.  Hopefully, this will help those of you who will be heading to WDW for your spring break.  So without further ado, here’s a brief run through of which attractions we hit with lots of fun pictures to help you visualize our adventures.

The first thing to know about touring plans is it is recommended to arrive at the park at least 30 minutes before opening.  On this day the park opened at 8 a.m. so we planned to be there at about 7:30.  We got a bit of a late start and arrived congregated in front of the Main Street Train Station just as the opening show was running. Here’s a photo of the show as well as my friends with coffee in hand ready to get things started just before 8 a.m.

Photo by Steve Bassett

Photo by Steve Bassett











Despite this minor set back, we got inside and booked it to our first stop on the tour: Dumbo the Flying Elephant.  Dumbo is the first attraction on the list on kids’ plans, but it is not included on those for adults.  Since we are all big kids at heart we rode first thing before the line got long. We had so many people we almost had the entire attraction to ourselves!  Here’s a few pictures of us before and during our ride!








Space Mountain was next on our agenda since it is the first attraction on the adult plan.  We were able to basically walk on even though we took a detour to Dumbo.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was next on the adult plan, but we decided to skip it in favor of going back to Fantasyland.  We hit the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh next where we took a few minutes to play in the new inter active queue although there was hardly anyone ahead of us in line.  Here we are being silly with the waiting area and aboard the ride vehicles:

Photo by Doug Uhlig








Peter Pan’s Flight almost always has a massive line, but since we did it early in the morning we only had to wait a few minutes!  I got to ride it with someone who had never been on before and point out some of the fun visuals inside.  Here we are preparing to ride this fan favorite attraction:

Snow White’s Scary Adventures was next on our list.  We made sure to do this one since it won’t be open too much longer and many of us hadn’t been on it in a while.  We walked right on and were quickly onto our next ride.

Next up was Prince Charming Regal Carrousel.  While this ride was not on either of our used plans it was close by and had no wait at all.  We had so much climbing aboard our horses and acting like kids.  Our deviation from the plan was well worth the photo ops on this ride!  Here we are on horseback!

Photo by Steve Bassett









it’s a small world was next up.  Again, there was no wait at all and our group all piled into one boat.  Here’s a picture of all of us!

We hit Haunted Mansion with a minimal wait next.  We tried our best not to disturb the other guests with our reciting every line in the stretching room before making out next move.

A few people who were not keen on thrill rides and were hungry since we started so early decided to grab a snack while the

Photo by Doug Uhlig

rest of us headed to Frontierland to grab fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and to ride Splash Mountain.

After finding our laughing place (after waiting about two minutes) on Splash Mountain, we all agreed it was time for lunch.  At this point it was just before 11 a.m. and we had knocked many of our desired attractions!  We leisurely strolled over to Pecos Bill’s hoping it would be open by the time we arrived.   Lunch was quick and easy since we were there before the lunch rush (just another bonus of starting early and following a touringplan!)

We opted to head to the Pirates of the Caribbean after finishing our lunch.  There was just a short queue and we had a swashbuckling good time on this classic.

While we waited to ride Pirates we decided we were pretty satisfied with what we had accomplished so far and would tone down our pace a bit.  We devised a plan to head back to Frontierland where those of us who had fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road would use them and then all of us would board the Walt Disney World Railroad at the Frontierland station where we road it to the Main Street Station.

Photo by Neil Citro









We all wanted to hit a few shops on Main Street, USA and since we felt satisfied with our day so far we actually took some time to browse (something I rarely do).  A friend and promised me a pair of birthday mouse ears so buying them was on the top of our list for this area.  We also got the chance to take in the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It Street Party.  Yes, I know the choreography. No, I’m not ashamed.

Photo by Megan Annunziata

Photo by Steve Bassett










Shortly after the party we headed to Tomorrowland to hit the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, the Carousel of Progress, and Buzz Lightyear.  We also had time for a snack at the Lunching Pad.  After a little down time and some cream cheese pretzels, it was time to head over to the Hall of Presidents for the meet!

We ended our day in the park with the Hall of Presidents since some of us had dinner reservations at the California Grill that night.  But, as you can see we were able to tackle a ton of attractions, have lunch, and even do a bit of shopping all before 3:30 pm all while crowds were at very high levels.  While I may have modified existing plans a little bit to fit our needs, my group was guided by the provided sequence with great success.  This just goes to show touring plans are not the gospel, but are meant to be flexible.  If you don’t want to ride something go ahead and skip it on the plan.  Your kids just love Peter Pan?  Go ahead and ride it again.  We do our best to save you time in line, but we also want you to have a blast!  Just be aware that we recommend only making substitutions for similar attractions close by when you decide to monkey around with a plan.  For example, do not take in a show rather than riding it’s a small world because they are completely different time commitments.  Speaking of commitments, you also don’t have to dedicate an entire day to a touring plan; our group started to wing it and do some less popular attractions after we got the big ones out of the way and we left by 4:30.

I hope this post encourages some of you who might be reluctant to try a touring plan to give it a shot!  I usually take a more laid back approach to touring, myself, but sometimes I think its fun to set out with a goal of riding as many attractions as I can.  How about the rest of you?  Tell me about some of the successful and fun days you’ve had in the parks using touring plans!

Next week I’ll discuss my recent dinner at the Rose and Crown in Epcot’s World Showcase!

WDW Today Episode 863 – Listener Questions

by on April 12, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 863 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: