Archive for July, 2011

Celebrating Your Birthday At Disney!

by on July 29, 2011

Yesterday was Sarah’s birthday and, like most men, in preparing for this momentous occasion, I found myself struggling for ideas. Of course, there some fool-proof options, like a check from our joint bank account or a CD of John Tesh’s greatest hits, but instead of opting for these sure-fire successes, I began pondering what we might do to celebrate were we at a Disney theme park. I thought I’d share my list of the top options for Birthdays at Disney with you all.

The “Birthday Button” – Most of you probably don’t need to read a blog to tell you this, but the “Birthday Buttons” that you can obtain in a multitude of places on property (your hotel’s front desk, City Hall, guest relations, etc.) can get you a bit of extra attention on your birthday. The thing I want to stress here is not to get the birthday button if you: A) don’t like extra attention, as Cast Members will approach you to say Happy Birthday and perhaps more, or B) if you’re only doing it because you expect extra attention. Don’t get a birthday button because you’re hopeful that it might get you some freebie. While it very well might, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if it doesn’t.

Drinking or Snacking Around the World – We actually drank around the World Showcase for Sarah’s 21st birthday, and again on our honeymoon, and both times it was a rousing success. Snacking around the World Showcase is a great alternative, or a great supplement to the drinking. The key to drinking around the World Showcase is proper planning and moderation. You don’t want to be that idiot stumbling around and screaming obscenities at pigeons, so make sure you appropriately pace yourself, split drinks as necessary, and eat plenty of food and drink plenty of water on your voyage around ‘World. While we don’t have any Epcot Touring Plans for the best strategies to tackle the World Showcase food & beverage kiosks (yet!), I’ve assembled some tips for drinking around the World Showcase.

Another reason why planning is important is because it enables you, if you’d like, to create something tangible to present to the person who is celebrating their birthday. For example, prior to Sarah celebrating her 21st birthday, without indicating that we’d be “drinking around the world” (I don’t think she even knew such a deviant thing existed at Disney!) we looked at the drink menus at the World Showcase pavilions and I casually inquired as to what looked most appealing at each pavilion. I made a mental note of which drinks she thought she might prefer, then created the map pictured here to give to her for her birthday as a tangible representation of what we’d be doing. You could do the same, or create t-shirts, hats, or even fanny packs celebrating your birthday trip around the world!

An Evening Involving Dinner at a Signature Restaurant – Okay, this basically amounts to “dinner at a nice restaurant,” which is about as insightful of a tip for celebrating a birthday as offering the astute wisdom of carrying an umbrella when it’s raining. However, the “dinner” portion of the evening isn’t the most integral aspect. Of course, it’s important, but what really makes it special is making an event out of it. If you dine at one of the monorail resorts, book at 8:30 pm ADR so you can catch Wishes from your restaurant (and make sure to request a window seat!). If you’re dining at Flying Fish or Yachtsman Steakhouse, round out the evening with a stroll on the BoardWalk (maybe even making a rare stop in the ESPN Club if that’s what the birthday-person wants!). There are a lot of options, so get creative. Taking someone out to dinner is a nice birthday gift, but if you go that extra mile and plan a little more, it will really show.

Here's Wishing A Glorious Conclusion To 2010

Private Event or Illuminations CruiseAdmittedly, we haven’t partaken in either of these options, but they are high on our list right now. While the private events can be pricey and might be better suited for a wedding party, some, like the Tower of Terror dinner would make for a fun birthday event. I think the better option here for a birthday is the Illuminations Cruise. I mean, what better way to celebrate your birthday than by watching things explode?! Some people may think of these cruises as more romantic and less “birthday-like,” but I disagree. We honor the birth of America with a weekend full of fireworks, why not honor the person celebrating a birthday with an evening of fireworks?! My motto: if it’s good enough for America, it’s good enough for you.

Pick the Plan – To balance out the expensive end of the spectrum, here’s one that won’t add any expense to your day. Let the person celebrating their birthday picking the Touring Plan or the schedule in general for the day. This one may be difficult to accomplish if you have a herd of small children, but for couples it wouldn’t be too difficult. Given the many compromises involved in touring the parks, this can be a wonderful gesture and a great birthday gift. (Just don’t do it with me or you might get stuck riding the TTA all day and sitting through multiple showings of Carousel of Progress and Country Bear Jamboree!)

Figment Art

Fun for the Kids – There are a lot of special offerings for children, including the Pirate Cruise at the Grand Floridian and the Wonderland Tea Party, among other things. These can be great options for birthday gifts for the kids (and they double as time for the parents to escape the kids and relax!) If these somewhat pricey (for what they are) options don’t sound appealing, try a visit to the Pirates League or the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. For an even cheaper option, try a pixie dust sprinkled hair cut on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. (You know, if you kid really likes getting their hair cut!)

Let Your Husband Have 10 Minutes Alone in The Art of Disney With the Credit Card – Sarah, I really hope you’re reading this…

How have you celebrated a birthday at Disney? Have you tried any of these ideas? What do you think is the best way to celebrate at Disney? Let us know in the comments!

Disney Water Parks 101

by on July 27, 2011

I had been to the water parks once or twice, but only within the last year or two.  I was always one of those people who didn’t want to take time away from one of the four main parks to visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.  I had enjoyed my previous times at the water parks, but I really fell in love with them on my last trip! After spending a few days exploring, I discovered the theming is classic Disney, they are a great alternative to the traditional park experience (especially when the temperatures are maxed out), and most of all they are a blast! With this in mind I’ve decided to dedicate my next several blog posts to Disney’s watery playgrounds!  I thought I’d start things off with topics which apply to both of the water parks and some things I thought you should know to prepare for a day slip slidin’ away.

One of the big issues that held me back from visiting Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard beach was that I was too cheap to spend the extra money on a ticket.  That all changed this year when I opted to upgrade my annual pass to a premium annual pass.  While my new pass costs costs more, I already made up the difference with my two days spent swimming. A single day ticket to one of the water parks will set you back $52.19 for adults and $43.67 for kids under 10.  Guests may also add the Water Park Fun & More option to your Magic Your Way Pass.  This option allows one admission per day of your pass to a variety of activities outside the four main parks.  It seems to me many guests would not use all of these admissions, and would most likely be better off buying one day’s admission to a water park.  However, I realize your situation may be different and you’ll have to make that decision for your family.

A Great View of Typoon Lagoon

Preparation for a day in the water parks starts before you even head out the door!  I recommend checking park hours for Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach online, just like the four main theme parks.  Also like the other parks, they have Extra Magic Hours for guests staying on Disney property.  This way you’ll know when to arrive for rope drop.  It should be mentioned that the water parks can be shut down for inclement weather.  If you are willing to wait out the storm you have a good chance at having the place to yourself once the squall has passed!  You should also not expect to get a refund for your ticket due to bad weather.  The park map clearly states admission is nonrefundable.

Guests may use Disney transportation from their resort to the water parks as they would any of the other parks.

Blizzard Beach!

Be aware that your bus to Blizzard Beach will probably also stop at Animal Kingdom.  It will be quicker (and probably more comfortable in your wet bathing suit) to go back and forth in your own car.  There is ample parking for guests and both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

When you have a plan, it’s time to get your stuff together.  It may seem obvious that you’d wear a swim suit to a water park, but there is more to it than that.  Ladies, be sure your tops are as secure as they can be.  The slides (especially the big ones) can leave you searching for pieces of your suit if you aren’t careful.  There are also signs at the entrances to many of the slides prohibiting articles of clothing with metal or anything that could damage the slides.  Many people opt to wear water shoes  or flip flops around the water parks, but I’ve gone barefoot every time and managed just fine.  It should also be noted that you will be asked to remove shoes for certain attractions.  I also opted to keep my sunglasses with me throughout the day, but I had to hold on to them while enjoying many of the slides.

Reapply that sunscreen!

What should you bring with you to the water parks?  First and foremost, don’t forget that unless someone in your party would rather just lay in a lounge chair all day and keep and eye on your groups belongings, chances are you will leave some things unattended for a while.  I would opt to keep any valuables in a safe place like your room, your car, or a locker while you tour the water parks.  Chances are no one will snag your stuff near your chair, but always better to be cautious.  With that being said, one of the first items on your list should be sunscreen.   With running around in your bathing suit in the Florida sun you’ll want to protect your skin and reapply every few hours especially when getting wet.  You may want to bring your own beach towels, but they are also available to rent for $2.  Basically, bring whatever you feel you’d need to make you comfortable for that day, but try to keep it to a minimum.

You also may consider bringing some snacks or lunch.  Guests are permitted to carry in one cooler per group.  However, glass bottles and alcohol are prohibited.  There are plenty of food options if you get hungry and don’t supply your own munchies.  You’ll want to be sure to have a means to pay for them available either in your locker or stashed in your poolside items.  I’ll cover food choices more in depth in a later post, but I’ll say this now: leave room for donuts.

Once you have your ticket secured and you’re ready to slide, you should arrive at the main gate about 30-45 minutes before park opening.  Cast members will generally allow guests to enter the turnstiles a few minutes before official opening, but hold them at certain points to prevent access to the slides and attractions.  This is a great time to rent a locker or towel if you should need them.  Lockers cost #13 for a small and $15 for a large one (might as well spend the extra two bucks for the big one).  There are also changing rooms and other services near the lockers.  Parents may opt to nab life vests for their kids which are available free of charge before getting started for the day.

When you are admitted into the main area of the park I suggest nabbing a chair in the shade.  If you are intent on working on your tan, by all means grab one in the sun, but I like the relief of the shade.  This will be your groups home base for the rest of the day so be sure to mark your territory with towels, cover ups, or whatever else you might have on hand.  There are many seating areas scattered around both parks and if you are there early enough you should have your pick of them.  Reserved seating areas are available at an extra cost, but I’ll discuss them in a future post.

Touring Plan in hand and ready to go!

As for tips for your actual touring, of course we recommend a Touring Plan. We offer plans for adults and kids for both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.  I tackled Touring Plans for both parks, and I’ll write more about them in an upcoming post.  While these plans recommend arriving at park opening, I’ve also heard the water parks are like a ghost town in their last couple hours of operation.  I don’t have a lot of experience with this notion, but when we left Blizzard Beach at about 6:15 pm, it was still fairly crowded.  However, it had busy all day long so this could have been a fluke.  I promise to visit the water parks later in the day to research this idea in the future.

It can be easy to feel turned around in Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon since

Typhoon Lagoon wait times

they are so different from a traditional theme park.  I felt a bit out of it a few times simply because I know Epcot or Magic Kingdom like the back of my hand, but I don’t have as much experience at the water parks.  There are maps nestled in among the slides and directional signs to help guide guests to their destinations.  Best of all, each point of entry along the lazy rivers has information posted as to which attractions are nearby.  There are also wait times posted in various locations to help you plan your next step.

Blizzard Beach directional signs

Have I convinced you to try a Disney water park yet?  I hope so!  They really are a lot of fun and can be a nice change of pace from the usual park touring.  Have you got any other tips for our water park going readers?  If you do I’d love to see them in the comments!

In my next post I’ll take a more in depth look at Typhoon Lagoon so stay tuned!

A special thanks goes out to Neil Citro for being my official photographer during my water parks research!


The Polynesian Resort vs. Real Polynesian Resorts – How Does It Measure Up?

by on July 26, 2011

My absolute favorite resort at Walt Disney World is the Polynesian.  Sure, you say, everyone likes the Deluxes.  But the only Deluxe I’ve ever stayed at and ever wanted to stay at is the Polynesian.  A few years ago when Disney ran the buy four nights, get three free promotion, I had just gotten a new job, and was able to swing seven nights at the Poly.  It was a dream come true for me, because I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii.

Rooms at the Poly...


A few weeks ago, I was able to fulfill that dream and go to Hawaii for real.  It was a 10 day odyssey across multiple islands, and it was the trip of a lifetime.  For the purposes of research, of course, I kept careful track of where we stayed, and how the Polynesian measures up to a REAL resort in Hawaii.  How well did Disney recreate the island vibe?  After all, they pride themselves on allowing you to leave the real world and enter a fantasy.  How did they do with the Polynesian?



...vs a room in Maui

Rooms – The true measure of any hotel is how the rooms fare.  InHawaii, I stayed in four hotels on four different islands, and the rooms were very different.  The consistent things in each one were very comfortable beds, spacious rooms and balconies with a view.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  The Polynesian measures up nicely to each of the rooms I stayed in on my trip.  The beds are extremely soft and comfy, most rooms have balconies or patios, and the rooms are among the most spacious on property.   The difference is theming.  The Polynesian rooms are themed down to the tips of the lamp switches, whereas Hawaiian hotels don’t feel the need for that, since you know, they’re actually in Hawaii.

Macadamia nut pancakes - can't get them like this in WDW


Dining – This is a big difference.  Don’t get me wrong, the food at the Polynesian is my favorite on property.  Kona Café, ‘Ohana and Captain Cook’s are all great.  They just aren’t Hawaiian food.  ‘Ohana is more like a Brazilian steakhouse and Captain Cook’s and Kona have some Hawaiian themed dishes, but mostly serve American versions of Hawaiian food.  There are various versions of Hawaiian food across the islands, but copious amounts of rice, macaroni salad, grilled meats and fish are almost always involved.  There’s also copious use of pineapple, tropical fruit juices and macadamia nuts.  I loved Hawaiian cuisine and the Polynesian is a pale imitation of it.

Atmosphere – The landscaping, views and theme at the Polynesian are right in line with what I saw in Hawaii.  The lush plants and flowers around the resort are exactly what I saw at the Hawaiian resorts.  If you look out the window of a Poly room towards the beach, the views and vistas are very similar to those in Hawaii itself, with the exception of a large castle.  The number of tikis, torches and longhouse style buildings is actually more robust inFlorida than in Hawaii, and it really helps transport you to the islands.

This view from Kauai could easily be the same at the Poly.

Price – Okay, take out the costs of actually going to Hawaii, which is not insignificant.  A rack rate room at the Polynesian will cost anywhere from $385-630 for a garden view room.  It all depends on a complex algorithm of when you are there and what Disney can afford to charge without scaring you off.  How does this compare with a real Hawaiian resort?  Well, the resorts I stayed at, with the same amenities as the Polynesian, ran anywhere from $125-250 per night.  I didn’t stay at the 4 star resorts, which cost around $250-350 a night, but I did go check them out.  Think of it this way – if you fly toHawaii and stay in  3 star hotel, you may even come out cheaper than a week at the Polynesian.  

A true Hawaiian beach is a point in Hawaii's favor



So, in the final tally, how does the Polynesian fare when compared to real Polynesia?  I have to say, going into it, I figured Disney was a pale imitation of the real thing.  But after visiting the islands, the Polynesian does an amazing job of transforming a little plot of land inFlorida into a real island experience.  The scenery and atmosphere set the stage, but the rooms are definitely on par, as are the rest of the resort.  While the price may be high and the food not authentic, they are close enough that it does not distract from the theme and the “feeling” you get when staying there.  If you’re unable to get to Hawaii, the Polynesian isn’t a bad substitute.  Have some Tonga Toast for me!


Crowd Calendar Updated

by on July 25, 2011

The Walt Disney World park hours and park schedules for every month between August 2011 and February 2012 have received updates in the past 7 days. We have sorted through all the changes and updated the crowd calendar accordingly. Park hours are an important part of predicting what the crowds will be like on any given day, so several estimates on the crowd calendar have changed.

Before changing your park itinerary check out this blog post for advice on what to do if the calendar estimates have changed for your dates.

Leaving Disney: Planning for the Inevitable Trip Home

by on July 25, 2011

Do something fun before you leave!


You knew this day would come—somewhere deep down you knew you’d have to face it eventually. But time marches on—and it’s time to leave Disney World and go home. But the tears! The sad eyes! The clutching the bedpost desperately in an effort not to leave!

Your kids try to comfort you, but you are distraught.

Buck up, mom and dad–it’s hard on them too, remember.

Going home is never pleasant–but with our tips, it can be easier and less traumatic—for all of you.

And not to rub salt in the wound, but that inevitable transition can be easier if you do some planning ahead of time—so yes, that means thinking about leaving pretty much when you get there. Following, some tips to ease the trip.

Buy some goodies for the trip back and for when you get home.

In our family, we always save one present for New Year’s Day. It helps with the post-Christmas letdown, and gives everyone something to look forward to. Apply the same principle to returning home from Disney World. There is always one souvenir that kids desperately want but never buy–maybe they forget about it, maybe they can’t make up their mind and choose something else. If it’s not prohibitively expensive, buy it. There are always tears when we get on the plane because my daughter laments the One Hat That Got Away. Nothing will make kids happier than when you hand them a Disney bag as you are at cruising altitude over North Dakota, and say casually, “Oh, here. I thought you might like this.” Have Disney cookies or other sweets put aside for dessert on the plane or in the car.

A few days after you get home, try the same thing, perhaps when they are moping around saying moodily, “I’d rather be on Splash Mountain. I don’t want to clean out my clothing drawer.” The home gift could be something that they can use and/or share—a new scrapbook; an item of clothing. You can even tuck something in their luggage for them to find when they unpack. And having said that…

…Buy it When You See it. Then put it away. While some merchandise can be found at various locations in the parks and resorts, some can’t. If you are at a store in the Animal Kingdom and your son has fallen in love with a stuffed gorilla, get it when he isn’t looking and tuck it away. We always buy some things when we are there to save for future birthday and holidays gifts: Think about earrings with your daughter’s birthstone; sports logo clothing for the beginning of baseball season for your son. Buy something directly related to an activity you did at the Parks: one year we did the animation drawing class at Hollywood Studios, and I bought a book in the gift shop that showed us how to draw some of the characters. I pulled it out one rainy day, and we had our own drawing session—huge hit. A Disney cookbook is a great souvenir to take home, as are Disney cook and housewares. One year we bought Disney decorated sugar cubes–we enjoyed them for many months and thought about our trip each time we used one.

Buy a souvenir that reminds you of an activity you especially enjoyed

Do something special the night before you leave or that morning, time permitting. It’s nice to have something to anticipate so the last day or the night before doesn’t just become about going home. Book ahead so you have a reservation at a favorite restaurant for the last night; a return trip to a favorite attraction; even a visit to somewhere you haven’t been before (We played miniature golf one year and it was the perfect way to take our minds off the return trip.)

Plan “Disney day(s)” for a few weeks after you’re home. One of the hardest things for kids is feeling like they are leaving something behind that they can’t get back; extend the visit for them.

Try to get a recipe for a dish you enjoyed and to plan an activity based around something you all liked—see above for ideas as well. Research ways you can help animals in your own area for Animal Kingdom fans, for example. Make plans to show a Disney movie, look at photos from your trip, eat a Disney meal, and revel in the whole experience.

Give kids a “Disney to do” list at the resort. Aside from packing and getting ready to go, right before you leave is the time to give them some fun chores so they don’t have time to dwell on the trip. Have them buy gifts for friends and family back home;  give them Disney postcards to mail out; suggest they write a thank you note to someone at the resort who’s been especially helpful. If you’re on the Dining Plan, save some snack credits and get gifts.

You can also have kids do something in preparation for your next trip there. This one is your call, of course.  But if you already know you’ll be returning, there’s no better time than when you’re still there to jot down possible rooms you might like to stay in, and other details you can only get when you’re there.

 …And at home. Have them put photos in an album; complete any Disney projects they started. If they have or are starting a Disney collection, ask them to clear out a space and start setting things up, complete with labels.

Make a treasure hunt to be done in stages.  Have them do part of it at the resort, and design part to be done on the trip, and then the rest back home. Find other activities that can be divided up similarly; for example, have kids start writing a story about their trip, or a series of journal entries when you are still down there. When they get home, give them something small to help complete the project: Disney stickers, for example.

These tips won’t erase the fact that you’re going home, of course, but they will make things easier. Now if your kids can just get you to let go of that bedpost…

Do you have tips for making the return journey less traumatic? Let us know what they are!

Character Meals: Vol. 1 – Cinderella’s Royal Table

by on July 25, 2011

It can be argued that the number one reason to travel to a Disney park is to meet the characters that you love (of course anything can be argued, even if it’s flat wrong…but I digress).  One of the best methods of getting some alone time with Mickey and the gang is a character meal.  In the upcoming months I plan on writing a series of reviews covering most of the character meals available at Walt Disney World.  Following my upcoming trip I will have eaten at 2/3 of the available character meals in calendar year 2011 (what can I say, my daughter loves characters and I love meals).

My goal with this series is to give you a good overall impression of each of these dining experiences (and a healthy dose of snarky comments, of course).  Today I am starting at the top, with the most sought after (and therefore, most expensive) character meal:  Cinderella’s Royal Table.


I’m starting with this because, in my opinion, this is much of the reason to splurge for this meal.  If you are unaware, this meal is held in the second floor dining room in Cinderella’s Castle, which is a huge advantage because who doesn’t love to eat in a castle (unless you’re in the dungeon).  At one point a few years ago, Cinderella’s Royal Table was next to impossible to book.  You had to call at exactly 7 a.m. exactly 90 days prior to your visit and I believe you had to employ some sort of voodoo doctor in order to get a reservation.  Nowadays the characters have been added to all mealtimes (previously it was only breakfast) and the price  has increased (try not to be too shocked), which has effectively calmed down the demand ever so slightly.

There are actually two stages you will encounter upon walking into the restaurant.

The Cinderella greeting area...and all the people waiting

The first is a greeting room in which you’ll find Cinderella herself (and this is the only time you see her).  The good news is that the greeting room is wonderfully decorated with shields and exposed beams to look very much like a castle’s great room.  The bad news is that it’s hard to envision yourself in a storybook castle because of all the other people crammed in there waiting to meet and get a picture with Cinderella.

Stage two is acceptance…oh, I mean the dining room (acceptance comes after you see your credit card bill).  The dining room is one level above the greeting room and to get there you go up a wonderful spiral staircase which opens into a vaulted, regal dining area.  The restaurant itself is fairly small with windows overlooking Fantasyland, and the overall impression definitely gives you the feeling of eating in a castle (well, at least a fake castle).


The meal that I attended was graced by Belle, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel (Little Mermaid), and Snow White.  As I mentioned, Cinderella only takes pictures in the beginning, she does not come to the dining room (I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s better than you).  As always, the ladies were kind, gracious, and extremely pleasant.  Even though my daughter generally just stares blankly at “face” characters, they all did their best to involve her.

One other advantage to the small size and round-ish shape of the dining room is that the princesses seem to pass by very often.  Even times they don’t stop to chat they seem to always be walking by and waving or saying hi.  Of course, if you’re actually trying to eat and yet constantly taking pictures, you can end up with a fair amount of bacon grease on your camera…what, just me?

I do have a one character complaint, but the complaint is with costuming.  Belle is wearing her “peasant” blue dress with a white apron during the meal while all the other ladies are wearing their fancy gowns.  Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what’s the deal with that?


We ate breakfast in the castle, which is still the most popular meal judging by the quickness at which reservations disappear.  Throughout Walt Disney World breakfast is the safest, and therefore least interesting, meal.  I would estimate that 102% (+/- 3% margin of error) of restaurants serve the same breakfast.

I will say that the breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table is slightly more interesting than most because it is not a buffet and the presentation attempts to be a little fancy (with mixed results).  The downside is that there are only a few different choices.   In addition to the standard bacon, eggs, and sausage plate, you also have the options of either French toast or granola.  Like most breakfasts in the parks nothing we ate was fantastic, but it was not offensive either (I’m really selling it, right?  Sorry, I’m kind of a food snob).

Odds, Ends, and Details

Okay, let’s finally get the dirty business out of the way; the price.  According to, Cinderella’s Royal Table will set you back the following for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (adult/child):  $44.80/$29.86, $48.54/$31.11, and $54.76/$33.60. Yes, that’s per person, although the prices do include photos with Cinderella, so you’ve got that going for you.

One other thing that I should mention is that little ones get a special gift, which is either a wand or a sword (yes, they arm your children…watch your eyes).  Periodically the lights will sparkle and the enchanted (recorded) voice of the Fairy Godmother will ask the kids to wave their wand/sword and do something (make a wish maybe…sorry, I took this time to shove food in my face, so I don’t remember what the shtick was).

I hope she's summoning enough money to pay for this meal

Final Thoughts

One major advantage to eating in the castle (especially early in the morning) is that it takes a minimum amount of time away from park touring.  Being right in the middle of the park allows you to walk right out of the castle and right into Fantasyland which cuts way down on transportation time.  When you like to tour as efficiently (i.e. neurotically) as I do that can help a lot.

As a total experience, I thought eating in Cinderella’s Castle was a very good one, although not a cheap one.  Whether or not it is worth the money probably depends a lot on how much you can spend and how much you or your children like the princesses.  If you need a meal…if no one else can help…and if you can find it…maybe you can eat at…Cinderella’s Royal Table (yeah, it’s a A-Team joke…did anyone get that?).

As always, I welcome your comments, concerns, scorn, and personal insults.  Thanks for reading!

Best Day of the Week to Visit Universal Orlando Resort

by on July 24, 2011

We at have long been fans of the Universal Orlando Resort. The entertainment value of the attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is on par with that of Walt Disney World, although some feel that the Universal parks lack the attention to detail that gives Mickey’s Kingdom that Disney Magic. Still, many of our readers venture off Disney property to experience the Universal attractions, especially since the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When they do, they look to us for advice about when to go and how to beat the crowds.

Which days of the week are best for Universal Studios?

1. Sunday

According to Visit Orlando (Formerly the Orlando Visitors and Convention Bureau) Saturday is the most popular day of arrival for an Orlando vacation, which makes Sunday the first day in the parks for most visitors. The biggest draw for the first day is Orlando’s flagship theme park, Magic Kingdom. This is corroborated by the fact that Magic Kingdom has long been the park to host Evening Extra Magic Hours on Sundays. What this all means for Universal visitors is that Sunday is, by far, the best day to visit. Wait times are lowest on Sunday by a margin of 10-15%.

2. Monday

For the same reason that Sunday is a good choice for visiting Universal, Monday is your next best choice. Wait times will generally be lower on Mondays when compared to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

3. Saturday

Surprisingly, Saturdays are a relatively good choice for visiting Universal as well. Wait times on Saturdays are 5% lower than average. So a general rule of thumb for crowds at Universal Orlando is that weekends are a good time to visit.

Which days of the week are most crowded at Universal?

1. Thursday

With four parks to visit at the Walt Disney World Resort and with the most popular arrival day being Saturday I suppose it makes sense that the fifth day of the average trip, Thursday, is the most popular day to visit Universal. Wait times are significantly higher (15%) on average on Thursday. If you can avoid going on a Thursday, we certainly recommend doing so and picking another day.

2. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday

There is no discernible difference between the wait times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. In general, wait times on these days will be about average.  If you cannot go to Universal on a Sunday, Monday or Saturday any of these three days will do.

These recommendations are based on wait times collected at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure since 2006. The recommendations are identical for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These recommendations are generalized over all days of data collected although the crowds may vary during any given day. Featured on CBS Money Watch!

by on July 22, 2011

We are extremely proud to be featured on CBS Money Watch as part of an interview with Unofficial Guide author Bob Sehlinger on how to survive Walt Disney World!  Check out the article here. What do you think? What are your tips to survive?

A Great Last Minute Trip!

by on July 22, 2011

You may remember from my post last week I booked a last minute trip to WDW.  Well, I’m back this week to tell you all about how great my weekend was!  The trip started off a little rocky with sitting on the runway at Orlando International Airport for an hour and a half after landing due to a fierce thunderstorm in the area.  Once we were allowed off the plane, the airport terminal was a zoo and we were faced with some not-so-friendly cast members at the Disney’s Magical Express desk.  Once we were on the bus and on our way to Pop Century we took a breath and said “it can only get better from here right?”  And we really were right!

We arrived at Pop Century about three hours later than we originally intended, but we were there and that was all that mattered.  We settled into our rooms quickly, grabbed some dinner at Everything Pop! then headed to the Magic Kingdom to meet friends.  After a few attractions, it was time to take in the Magic, Memories, and You show and Wishes!  fireworks.  We opted to do Wishes! first, then watch the second showing of Magic, Memories, and You.  This plan worked like a dream since a lot of the crowd left the park after the fireworks were over.  After a few more attractions, it was time to head back to the resort to rest up for weekend of water park action.

Photo by Neil Citro

Saturday started off bright and early with arriving to Blizzard Beach at about 8:45 (we were running late) to be on hand for park opening.  After getting ourselves situated, we were off to the races to tackle our Touring Plan.  Crowds were high, but we had an awesome time testing out all of the slides and attractions this park has to offer.  We were true Touring Plans commandos and followed our plan with only slight adjustments.  For example, while some of us were brave enough to conquer Summit Plummet (the biggest thrill in the park), the rest of us opted to ride Teamboat Springs family raft ride a few times.  We had an awesome day trying all of the attractions and laughing together in the queues.

We stayed at Blizzard Beach much later than we thought we would so we just had a quick break back at our resort before heading out to Epcot.  We decided we were going to drink and snack in World Showcase instead of having a proper dinner (hey, we’re on vacation we can do that).  We managed to hit some of our favorites before the storm clouds rolled in and we ducked into the Liberty Inn at the American Adventure to ride out the rain and just in time to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  After our super busy, but excellent, day we decided just to head back to Pop Century to grab a few drinks by the pool and hang out.

Sunday was another bright and early day where a handful of us once again put on our swim suits to hit a water

Photo provided by Neil Citro

park.  Typhoon Lagoon was the name of the game that day and we were ready to ride the wave of fun!  We arrived about half an hour before park opening and grabbed lockers and such before hitting the attractions.  Once again, we followed a Touring Plan which we finished up around noon.  Our favorite experiences here included Crushin’ Gusher and Shark Reef.  Since we finished up so early we had plenty of time to lounge around in the lazy river and some of our friends even napped under an umbrella.  After a good swim in the Surf Pool we were ready to head back to our resort.

We wrapped things up at Typhoon Lagoon at about two o’clock and went back to our resort for showers and naps.  When we were starting to wake up, we heard about a special ceremony at the Magic Kingdom that got us moving much faster.  You see, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Addition was filming that day’s flag retreat ceremony and adding their own special flair to the event.  The presentation included the Voices of Liberty, a processional of representatives from each branch of the armed forces, a video message from Michelle Obama, and a Blue Angels flyover!  I was so glad I was able to be a part of this moving moment dedicated to a special American veteran.  Not only, was it a way to thank a vet, but it was an example of Disney magic that reminded me why I keep coming back to WDW.

Flyover Photo by Betsy Bates

Ceremony Photo by Betsy Bates









After the flag retreat my friends and I hopped on the ferry to the Polynesian Resort since we had an advanced dining reservation for ‘Ohana.  We hung out for a while at the Tamu Tamu Lounge before being seated.  I hadn’t been to ‘Ohana for dinner in quite a while so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.  I’m happy to report we had a great (and very filling) meal.  Keep and eye out for a full review in the coming months.  It was back to the Magic Kingdom for a while after dinner before calling it a night since I had a very early wake up call to head back to New Jersey.

The way home went smoothly and before I knew it my quick, last minute trip was over.  I’m so glad I decided to go on this adventure.  I had a wonderful time with friends, fell in love with the Disney water parks, and got the get away I needed.  I’m sure there are more short notice trips in my future since it worked out so well.  It was great to have a basic plan, but nothing concrete.  For example, we thought we’d be finished at Blizzard Beach by about 2 o’clock, but we were having such a great time we stayed until 6!  We missed a dining reservation, but no one seemed to mind.  We didn’t do many attractions in the four main parks, but we still had a great time tackling the water parks and spending time together.  The short trip was totally worth it!  If you can swing it (I know it is tough with kids and responsibilities) I can full heartily recommend a quick jaunt to WDW for a taste of magic and lasting memories with friends and family!

Have you made last minute trips or taken a quick weekend trip?  Let me know about your experiences in the comments!

Since I spent so much time in the water parks this week I’ve decided to do a series all about Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon!  I’m going to dedicate my posts to these water playgrounds for the next few weeks.  If there is anything you’d like me to cover just let me know!

Disney Park Touring Attire

by on July 22, 2011

You get two hours into an Ultimate Touring Plan–nay, you get three hours into the “Dumbo or Die” Touring Plan–and your feet start bleeding. Your shirt is fully sweated-through. Your face is already beginning to feel as if it’s baking.

Here at TouringPlans we make much ado about situating yourself for the best touring experience possible. However, as the great poet Robert Burns once said, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” Roughly translated to modern English, that means, “The best laid Touring Plans of Men in the House of the Mouse, often go awry.” Even with the best Touring Plan in hand, all it takes is one flaw in your overall park-going strategy for the day to take a turn for the worse. One of the most common ways I’ve had this occur to me is by wearing improper attire when touring. To avoid common touring attire pitfalls, here are my suggestions for men and women, based on the practices of my wife, Sarah, and me.

Men – As someone with about 26 years experience dressing as a male (besides a regrettable period towards the beginning where I crawled around half-naked in an incognizant stupor), I would consider myself an expert on wearing men’s clothing.

I typically wear a polo and flat front khaki shorts when touring, but I’m admittedly a bit of a unique example, as I have a camera strap with heavy lenses (I’m not talking about your standard kit lens!) rubbing against my neck all day, and without a collar acting as a layer between my skin and the camera strap, my neck would become pretty raw. Not to say I don’t like polos anyway, as I do, but if you’re more of a casual person, you can’t go wrong with a good breathable shirt.

As for footwear, I have become a big fan of Saucony shoes in the last year. They’re a smaller brand, and they spend money on actual making awesome products rather than advertising the heck out of subpar products (cough*Nike*cough). The principal benefit for Disney is that most Saucony shoes have “Hydrator” technology that wicks water away from your feet. These shoes are especially great for wet rides aboard Splash Mountain, Grizzly River Run, and Kali River Rapids. To complement my ‘kicks’, I always wear a good pair of moisture-wicking socks. Moisture-wicking shoes don’t do nearly as much good if your socks are retaining all of the water.

Women – Admittedly, I don’t have the same type of first-hand experience dressing as a female, but as someone who has been dragged to shopping malls all of his life by his mother and wife, I feel I have a pretty good handle on this, as well. If you’ve ever read one of our Disney trip reports, it’s no secret that my wife likes to wear large floppy hats and sundresses. (The volume of inquiries I’ve received about her attire is actually why I’m writing this.)

My Wife (!) Playing with Her Imagination!

Although I can’t offer direct confirmation, she assures me that the hats are excellent because they block your face from harmful and aging sunlight, and the dresses keep you cool in the especially warm summer months. She also has indicated that it’s important to be careful getting in and out of low-sitting ride vehicles like Space Mountain in these dresses. This is a family blog, so I’ll let you connect the dots.

With regard to footwear, Sarah is a big fan of Merrell sandals and Mickey Crocs because they’re both comfortable. Ahh, Crocs. Right up there with Refillable Mugs in terms of the Great Disney Debates. Personally, I think Crocs look hideous. How these things (I won’t even call them footwear) have defied conventional wisdom to become a footwear mainstay is beyond me. I will concede this, however, they are extremely comfortable. If you don’t care how you look, Crocs are a great option. Your feet will dry quickly after water rides, you likely won’t have a problem with blisters, and your feet will stay cool.

Now that I’ve shared some of our favored attire for optimum touring, I’ll share some mistakes we’ve made.

Touring Attire Mistakes

First, and easily the biggest mistake is wearing traditional thong style sandals. This may work for you Southern or West Coast types who can wear sandals year-round and develop calluses, but for us Midwesterners, thong sandals combined with aggressive park touring is a recipe for disaster. This is one mistake we repeated over the course of several trips, becoming good friends with the nurses in the First Aid buildings by the second days of a couple of trips. If you’re not used to constantly wearing sandals, don’t wear them on a Disney trip!

Grand Floridian Portraiture

The second mistake is always assuming it will be warm in Walt Disney World. This one has gotten me twice, but I think I’ve finally learned my lesson. When we went down for WDW Today Reunion last year, despite reading weather forecasts that it would be as low as 50 degrees, I brought mostly polos and shorts, two pairs of jeans, and no coat. By the second day of the trip, I had purchased a zip-up sweatshirt, and ended up wearing it each subsequent day of the trip. The next time we travel to Walt Disney World for Christmas, I’m packing as if we’re heading to the arctic. Lesson learned: it does get cold in Florida.

Third, wearing non-touring attire in a touring setting. I’m a strong believer in appropriate situational dressing (aka “SUITING UP!”), and as such, I’m one of the few people who typically wears a jacket and/or slacks to Walt Disney World’s Signature Restaurants. When we first went to California Grill, I thought it would be okay to wear my suit around to the other monorail resorts after dinner. Even though we weren’t heading to the parks, this was a terrible idea. Lesson learned for our subsequent trips to Victoria & Albert’s and Club 33: get a locker for your clothes or change in your hotel room. Don’t wear the clothes around any longer than necessary.

Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors for this blog post: Robert Burns, Saucony, Merrell sandals, and Crocs. Make sure to get those checks in the mail, guys!

What are your best tips for proper touring attire? Have you made any ‘mistakes’ in the past that you want to share to help the rest of us out? Share your thoughts on touring attire in the comments!