Archive for July, 2011

The Great Refillable Mugs Debate

by on July 14, 2011 is reporting news that have many Disney fans a buzz. It appears that Disney World is researching ways to end the loophole of using a past refillable mug on a new Disney World vacation. Here’s the details:

  • Starting July 18th RFID technology will be tested at the All Star Sports Resort that enable your resort purchased refillable mug to only activate the drink dispensing machines for a period of time.
  • After this time, mugs will only activate water and ice on the machines.
  • There will be a five minute period before you can fill up your mug again.
  • Single use cups are also getting RFID chips and will work for a very limited period of time to stop refills as well (an hour).

The Disney Food Blog actually has a video of the new system in action. Check it out.

Whew! This is some crazy news. What do you readers think?

Carmageddon! Does it Affect Your Disneyland Vacation?

by on July 14, 2011

Holy carmageddon! What is it? It is the three day shutdown of one of the largest freeways through Los Angeles, the 405. From Friday July 15th at midnight until 5am July 18th (yes just a couple of days away!) the 405 freeway will be shut down between the 101 and 10 freeways. Officials are also deterring the use of 405’s street alternative, Sepulveda Boulevard, as an alternate route and use of 101 which will carry the worst burden of the traffic closures.

SoCal residents and those traveling to Disneyland from the Los Angeles: beware! This has the opportunity to be a harsh start to your magical vacation! Officials are recommending you stay in this weekend.

If you live in the area, let us know any routes or tips and tricks you may have by leaving a comment here!

Lines Featured as Must Have Disney Mobile App

by on July 14, 2011

Few in the Disney community have the honor to meet as many influential people in the online communities as Mr. Lou Mongello. We’re completely honored that in his interview with Robert Scoble, one of the most influential personalities in the tech field, Lou chose to mention Lines as one of the must have mobile apps to use while in Disney. Check it out here. Lou, you’re awesome!

Disclosure: is a sponsor of the WDW Newscast.

Who’s Afraid of Walt Disney World?

by on July 14, 2011

Let’s face it, we’re all a bit squeamish about something. Some people are afraid of heights, or snakes, or spiders, or in my case, tropical fish (really, you can stop laughing now). As an adult, a trip to Walt Disney World can provide a gentle means for you to push the boundaries of your discomfort in a safe, friendly environment. For example, an adult with a fear of heights might try Soarin’, an attraction which gives riders the illusion of being much higher in the air than they actually are. For me, each time I dine at Epcot’s Coral Reef, I chip away at my fish phobia.

Those with a fear of heights should avoid Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney.

A grown-up will likely be aware of the intensity of his fears, and be able to assess the situation, articulate his concerns, and regulate his environment. I’m petrified of spiders. I’ve heard there are spiders in It’s Tough to Be a Bug. This makes me uneasy. I’ll sit this one out, you can visit it without me. However, a child might not possess any of these skills. It’s up to the parent or adult caregiver to make sure that a wonderful day in the parks doesn’t become the stuff of nightmares.

I’m going to briefly bore you with two family anecdotes to tell you what I mean, and then I’ll talk about some strategies to deal with fearful children at the Disney parks.

  • At the time of my only childhood visit to Walt Disney World, I was ten years old and my sister was five. The crowd was headed toward Space Mountain, so my family headed toward Space Mountain, not really knowing what it was. My sister, who was afraid of the dark, emerged from the ride a shattered mess of tears. She subsequently screamed at the start of any ride for the duration of our trip, even ones as innocuous as it’s a small world.
  • With a fear of fire, you may want to skip the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.

  • When my daughter Louisa was six, we took her on the Maelstrom at the Norway pavilion at Epcot. While I had been on this ride before, it had been several years since I had done so. I remembered it as a fairly gentle attraction, with a troll that might be scary for a second, but no big deal. I told Louisa it was going to be fine and made her go on the ride, despite her protests and look of unease. Lou was visibly shaken after her troll encounter, non-communicative and fighting tears, but the rest of our trip continued uneventfully. A few months later, my girls needed new shoes. I told them we were going shopping at Nordstroms. Louisa, who is was a little fashionista and normally enjoyed shopping, was apoplectic. “No mommy, no Nordstroms, no Nordstroms.” After much calming and cajoling, we were able to uncover that she thought Nordstroms was like the similar-sounding Maelstrom and that trolls might pop out at her from behind the Ugg display.


As these stories illustrate, a little bit of planning could have gone a long way toward preventing meltdown. Here are some classic mistakes that my family made:

  • Not pre-evaluating the child’s fears.
  • Not investigating the contents of the attraction prior to boarding.
  • Not giving the child the skills/tools to cope with new experiences.
  • Starting the trip with the most challenging attraction.
  • Not being honest with the child about the ride’s potential trouble spots.
  • Not listening to the child’s needs.
  • Not being realistic about what your child can handle.
  • Not following up after a frightful experience.

If there's a fear of loud noises, the fireworks could be trouble.


The first step in undertaking any new experience with a child is to honestly assess his or her strengths and weaknesses for clues about how the upcoming event might impact them. For example, if he’s afraid of the dark at home, this is a good indication that he might be fearful in dark attractions. If she’s shy about meeting strangers, this might tell you that interacting with Cinderella could be troublesome. Or if loud noises are a challenge at home, then this could mean that fireworks may prove difficult. Also bear in mind that the heat and constant activity at Walt Disney World may mean overtired kids (and adults) with lower-than-normal coping skills.

With any new attraction, you owe it to yourself and your child to do your research to make sure you’re not subjecting them to something intensely fear-provoking. Luckily there is plenty of information out there to help. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids lists potential fright levels at the top of every attraction description. There are countless guest videos on YouTube where you can see the ride features in advance. Cast members at the attraction can provide detailed information. If you child has a particularly fragile constitution, it may be worth asking pointed questions of the staff at even the most innocuous of attractions. I’ve witnessed child guest meltdowns at even the gentle Peter Pan (big crocodile) and Tiki Room (simulated thunderstorm).

You can prepare your child for theme park challenges in ways both physical and mental. Something as easy as earplugs to muffle loud booms or advance warning to close your eyes before the troll appears can go a long way toward easing discomfort with an attraction. For a larger issue such as fear of meeting characters or fear of roller coasters in general, a longer term plan of desensitization may be in order. Take baby steps toward your goal. Practice in similar situations at home. For example, for a fear of characters, first try having your child talk to “friendly strangers” such as a clerk in a local store. Then seek out local costumed characters, perhaps the high school mascot or the entertainment at a birthday party.

For roller coaster novices, it often works best to start with the tamer versions of the genre. Begin with the familiar Test Track or the out-in-the-open Big Thunder Mountain before attempting Space Mountain in the dark or the backwards Expedition Everest. Even in the child-friendly Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom, a particularly high-strung youngster might need to work up from the totally tame Small World to merely tame Winnie the Pooh (bolder colors and quicker turns).

Test track is milder thrill ride. Good for testing roller coaster tolerance.

If you are expecting a ride to pose an issue, don’t try to pull a fast one on your child. Lying about whether a ride will be scary/dark/loud may get your child on that particular ride, but it will also undermine your trustworthiness as a source of information, perhaps making the transition to other rides more troublesome.

Being honest with a child may sometimes result in that child declaring that he or she is not ready for that ride. Try to take the child’s needs seriously, perhaps bypassing the attraction until the next trip . There are countless things to do at Walt Disney World. Is it really worth enduring the tears and screams of your frightened child just for a trip on Space Mountain? Perhaps a spin on the teacups or a dip in your resort’s pool would be a better source of happy memories. Similarly, as the parent it is your job to realistically evaluate what your child can handle, even if he can’t express his needs himself. If the mild darkness of Pirates of the Caribbean was problematic, then the Haunted Mansion might not be on your to-do list for this trip.

If despite your best efforts, your child does become frightened on a ride, don’t forget to follow up later. This may mean using your experience to inform future attraction choices, giving your child some extra hugs and attention at bedtime, admitting your mistake, or asking the child for additional feedback about the experience.

With all the incredible experiences available at any Disney park, there’s no need to have fear become a factor in your vacation.

So what have you learned about child (or adult) fright issues in the parks? Are there any attractions that seem tame to most but threw your child out of whack? Do you have any good coping strategies? Let us know in the comments.

Planning A Last Minute Trip to WDW

by on July 13, 2011

Most people who take a Walt Disney World vacation plan for months, sometimes even years.  I’m usually one of the people who has made my dining reservations close to my 180 day window, but this time around I booked a trip to WDW only about 10 days out!  What was I thinking?!  I was thinking I needed a quick get away to one of my favorite places with a few great friends to recharge the old batteries.  So I wanted to take this week’s post to discuss how to go about planning a last minute, quick weekend trip to  the world’s most popular vacation destination.

My first order of business was to try to book flights for this weekend extravaganza.  If air fare was too expensive, I wouldn’t be able to justify the trip.  I hopped online to try to find decently priced flights from Newark to Orlando and reserved my seats without hesitation.  I was in luck!  I was able to find and affordable ticket to fly down after work on Friday and come home first thing Monday morning to go straight to the office (the things we do for Disney).

But where to stay?  I’m trying to keep this trip as cheap as possible so I’m heading back to my home away from home, Pop Century.  I had my travel agent also check into rates at the Swan/Dolphin for its convenient location within walking distance of Epcot, but decided to opt for the more affordable Pop.  I figure that with such a quick trip, I’ll barely be at my resort other than to sleep.  Why pay so much more for something I won’t have time to enjoy?  I will save my first Swan/Dolphin experience for when I can really enjoy it.   I also had to have arrangements made for me to use Disney’s Magical Express between the airport and Pop Century.  I wanted to rent a car for the trip since time will be scarce.  I thought I’d maximize my time on property by providing my own transportation.  Alas, the price of the car ridiculously expensive for the amount of time I would use it so I opted to use Disney transportation this time.

Photo by Ashley Simmons

So now that I have all of these things booked what will I do on my two full days on property?  Of course, I have consulted with our crowd calendar to find that my days in the park will be typical busy summer days.  How’s a girl to combat the crowds and the heat?  I’ll be heading to the water parks each day to do research, enjoy the slides, and squeeze in some relaxation.  My plan is to hit these water playgrounds well before opening each day, claim a shaded lounge chair, enjoy the slides before crowds get heavy, and then relax for the rest of the afternoon.   Since I’ll be doing research while I’m there be sure to check back here in the coming weeks to read more about Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.

After I’ve had my fill of the water parks, I intend to head back to Pop Century for a break before heading back into my park of choice for the evening.  My friends and I have a short wish list to accomplish in the during our night time touring.  I missed out on seeing Illuminations: Reflections of Earth on my last trip so that is at the top of my to do list for the weekend.  We’ll also be taking advantage of the evening extra magic hours at the Magic Kingdom to try to get lots of attractions done.  Since it is summer, the park hours are long so we should be able to enjoy a decent amount of time in Epcot and Magic Kingdom along after a day in the water parks.

As for dining during the trip I’ve made only one Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR).  Not only am I looking to keep my budget in check, but I’m trying to embrace the no plan, plan.  We were able to book a dinner reservation at the Captain’s Grill for Saturday night without a problem.  I decided to try that since its Yacht Club location makes it a bit off the beaten path so I thought it would be easy to snag an ADR.  I also wanted to try somewhere I’ve never been before so I’m really looking forward to trying somewhere new.  Otherwise, we’ll just enjoy our favorite counter service eateries for the weekend.

While, I have a lot of plans in place for the weekend, I’m hoping to try to relax as well.  Other than trying to see the fireworks each night I don’t know what we’ll be up to in the parks during the evening hours.  There are a lot of activities (like grabbing a drink at La Cava del Tequila) on our wish lists, but we are realize many of them won’t happen this time.  I’m looking forward to winging it for a change.  My last several trips have been really hectic and jam packed with commitments.  While I loved each of those experiences, I’m aiming to take it easy a bit this time around. I think jumping at the chance to go to WDW at the last minute will allow me to fly by the seat of my pants and I’m really excited to give that a try!

How about you?  Have you taken a last minute trip to WDW?  If you have some advice for me or other readers please let me know in the comments!


Unique Shopping at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

by on July 11, 2011

For those that love shopping and the culture of Africa, the Animal Kingdom Lodge provides enough unique items within its walls to make a trip worthwhile.  The two large and separate sections of Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village and Jambo House, each have a gift shop of their own to amuse its guests.


Meaning “jewel” in Swahili, Johari Treasures attempts to express the idea that it contains items of value within its walls.  This is only true to a small degree.  For the most part, Johari plays the role of convenience store for the the guests of Kidani Village.

In spite of the overwhelming stock of Frosted Flakes and cartons of milk, there are a couple things in Johari that attract shoppers with specific taste.  The first would be the selection of African wines.  Ranging in price from $14.00 – $24.00, there are approximately 18 South African wines from which to choose.  Whether the purchase is made to enhance a guest’s stay while at the lodge or to bring home as a memento, this type of keepsake isn’t one that can be picked up just anywhere on Disney property.

In addition, there are a few items in Johari that are exclusive to this small store.  This is the sole location where any merchandise branded with the Kidani Village name can be found.  Hats, mugs, toothpick holders and t-shirts with animal prints and the familiar Kidani Village font are available and affordable at prices from $7.00 – $28.00.

A small selection of African craft items can be found here as well.  And while these items can also be found at the Jambo House location, they are still unique to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Of particular note is a limited collection of stoneware pottery that is carved by hand in Kenya.  Depending on the piece, the cost is between $10.00 – $17.00 and serves as a great Disney souvenir that is authentically African.















































Zawadi, meaning “gift,”  is the gift shop for the Jambo House section of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It is much more substantial than Johari with a greater selection of inventory. Again much of what is found in the store is common for Disney gift shops, but a few things here are certainly unique to this location.

As with Johari, Zawadi Marketplace sells merchandise that is proudly branded with the resort’s name.  The selection is wider, offering items like throws, sweatshirts and hoodies in addition to the standard t-shirts and mugs.  But whereas the items in Kidani Village are specific in name to that half of the resort, the inventory here is not.  Rather, all of the branded products come under the all-encompassing umbrella of Animal Kingdom Lodge as opposed to the more specifically pin-pointed Jambo House.

For coffee lovers, bags of 100% Arabica coffee are readily available.  Being a coffee known to contain less caffeine than other commercially produced coffees, the Arabica coffee bean also originates from Africa.  And while it is uncertain whether the beans that make up the coffee in Zawadi are direct from Africa, it is definite that this coffee is produced and ground exclusively for the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Individuals who appreciate art will also discover some great finds.  Prints of the lodge itself,  drawn by Larry Dotson, can be purchased here.  As with all of the artwork done by Mr. Dotson of the various resorts throughout Disney property, the prints vary in size and price.  A small, matted and unframed print will cost around $20.00 whereas a large, framed print will run about $115.00.

For those looking for art more specifically focused on African themes as opposed to the resort itself, beautiful renderings of African animals, patterns and objects can also be found in Zawadi.  The prints are done by an African artist known as “Bushman” and is sold exclusively at Zawadi Marketplace after it is created in the artist’s studio in Downtown Orlando.  Most of the drawings cost between $100 – $600 and come in various types of frames and sizes as well.

Clearly there are some uncommon shopping opportunities to be had at this extremity of Disney’s property.  What unique items have you been able to dig up at this sophisticated resort?


Touring with a Toddler (Magic Kingdom plan – part 2)

by on July 11, 2011

So, back for more are you? This is part two of my epic Touring with a Toddler post that is on par lengthwise with James Joyce’s Ulysses (too highbrow? How about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?). If you missed part one, you can find it here. Alternatively, you can read this one first, and then go backwards to the first part like Memento, the choice is yours.

So, when we last met, you were at your resort resting up for day 2 of your Magic Kingdom Two-Day Touring Plan for Parents with Small Children. Good morning! Now get your lazy backside out of bed and make your way back to the Magic Kingdom as early as you can, just like yesterday…and on we go:

I think this was our 6th time on the Carrousel

[Once again, I am paraphrasing and shortening many of the steps, refer to the original plan to be imparted with the full knowledge of the elders]

Step 1: Arrive at the Magic Kingdom.

Step 2: Tomorrowland Speedway – Personally, I would skip this ride under any circumstances. The height requirement to ride is 32”, which may disqualify some toddlers anyway, but to drive you need to be 54”. So if the kid can’t drive, what is the point of waiting in line to squeeze into those tiny cars? My advice is to keep pointing out interesting things on the other side of the path and hope they never notice this attraction. If your child really loves little stinky (literally) cars, ride it early and avoid it later.

Step 3: Astro Orbiter – Being kind of high off the ground may intimidate some youngsters, so plan accordingly. Spinning a bit faster than Dumbo may intimidate the stomachs of some adults, so plan accordingly.

Step 4: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – I don’t love this ride as much as most do (wow, I sound like a grouch today. Hold on while I go chase some kids off of my lawn), but I understand its appeal. A toddler will most likely not be able to shoot the laser and will almost certainly not be able to aim it. What they can do is sit next to you, look at the insanely bright colors (seriously, the colors and black lights look like that weird guy’s room in your dorm…you know the guy I mean), and play with the lever that spins the car. Please note that having a 2 year old directing your car will impact your score negatively and may result in increased time staring at the wall.

Step 5: Town Square Theater Mickey Mouse Meet and Greet – This is very child-specific. I am lucky that my daughter loves the characters, but many children range from “apprehension” to “aaaaaaahhhhh” when they see them. If your child likes them some Mickey, this is the easiest non-character meal audience.

Step 6: Pirates of the Caribbean – If your little one did fine with Peter Pan’s Flight yesterday, go ahead and try Pirates. There are definitely some spooky parts, but they probably won’t get it anyway. There are also an above average amount of animal animatronics (alliteration!) in this ride that are fun to point out.

Step 7: Jungle Cruise – Definitely yes. Animals, boats, splashing, bad jokes, back side of water!

Step 8: The Magic Carpets of Aladdin – Another definite winner for a toddler. A Dumbo-style ride with a fraction of Dumbo’s wait.

Step 9: Lunch

Step 10: Break time

Step 11: Swiss Family Treehouse – I don’t know about this one because I’ve never done it with my little girl. She would never understand what all the equipment is, so it would just be stair climbing. I would personally do the Jungle Cruise or even the Magic Carpets again, but there is a very good chance that you are not me.

Step 12: The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New New Management?) – This is tricky because I still don’t know what it will be like when it comes back (in mid-August maybe?). There is a possibility that the angry Tiki god and storm effects (that would scare small ones) will be gone. It is definite that the angry parrot that liked to yell in a grating voice (that would scare all Disney fans) will be gone. Watch this space.

Step 13: Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Need a break? A snack? A nap? Great place for all three, although I don’t recommend snacking in your sleep; that sounds dangerous.

Well that’s the whole plan. Over the two days, you will probably end up skipping some or many of the steps, so you will have some extra time. With that extra time you could call me and we’ll chat for a bit. What do you mean you don’t want to? Fine, then we’ll come up with something else. As I see it, you have four options: 1) Ride some attractions that were not listed above, 2) re ride attractions, 3) relax and enjoy some of the details of the Magic Kingdom, or 4) make numbered lists with options of things you can do.

To help you decide, here are my opinions about those first two points. Number three is great, but if the little one isn’t asleep it’ll be pretty hard to take your time. Number four is a joke, although not a very good one.

Attractions not on the plan:

Even the fog is trying to hide these two attractions

Stitch’s Great Escape – the minimum height is 40”, so most toddlers will not be able to experience this attraction. If they are over 40” and really, really love Stitch I suggest buying them a plush doll and skipping this anyway. It’s unnecessarily scary and gross and will almost certainly upset a child under 3 (or over 3…or anyone).

Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor – The little ones will not get the mediocre jokes (and I know something about mediocre jokes), so it’s not worth it unless they really love the secondary and tertiary characters from Monster’s Inc.

Space Mountain – With a minimum height of 44” it would take a very large toddler to be able to ride. Even if they can (and if they can, I can be a basketball manager too…have your people call my people), they probably shouldn’t since it is dark and fast. Adults can switch off if they would like to ride.

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress – There is not a small child in the world that would understand this attraction. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t enjoy a quick nap while you get “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” stuck in your head for the foreseeable future.

– The Great Goofini –Okay, so this doesn’t technically exist if you want to get all specific about it. It used to be called Goofy’s Barnstormer and was in the area formerly known as Mickey’s Toontown. The reason I list it is because, at some point, it will be re-themed as The Great Goofini when the construction is done in the former Toontown area. Barnstormer had a 35” height minimum, but was fun and a good introductory coaster for those tall enough.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures – Okay, here’s the thing about fear; sometimes you aren’t afraid of things because you don’t know you’re supposed to be. Snow White has some very dark sections and quite a bit of the Evil Witch, but many 1 and 2 year olds won’t really understand that she’s bad and will just like to look at Snow White and the Dwarves. If your child was fine on Peter Pan and Pirates, I say try it.

The Haunted Mansion – See Snow White above. If they don’t know that ghosts are supposed to be scary, they will probably not be scared.

[Note: The author is not responsible if your toddler freaks out on either Snow White or Haunted Mansion, although he is completely responsible if they love either or both]

That house looks haunted!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Another 40” height minimum. If your child is big enough and you think they can handle it, go ahead and give it a shot. It’s rougher than a kiddie coaster, but it’s no Rock n Roller Coaster either. They will probably either love it or hate it. Wow, that was unhelpful.

Attractions that you can experience multiple times (until they drive you crazy): These are the ones that you can be pretty safe with experiencing multiple times without an excessive wait (except on very busy days). I am, in no way, suggesting that the adults will want to ride these many times, but part of being a parent is getting driven insane by repetition.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover , Mad Tea Party, Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Mickey’s Philharmagic, it’s a small world, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Swiss Family Treehouse.

Some of the attractions that are not on that list such as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, and The Jungle Cruise are Fastpass attractions so can still be ridden anytime with a little planning. The problem for most parents of toddlers is the other rides, specifically Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

The Great Dumbo Conundrum

The great Dumbo conundrum is this; it has a low capacity and high visibility. Dumbo will be moving into the former Toontown eventually and it will be doubling capacity, but until then it is right in the middle of one of the busiest walkways in the Magic Kingdom. If you can manage to walk by this ride without your little one asking about it then you have a fantastic child (or are an accomplished Jedi…that is not the ride you’re looking for).

So what to do? I am very lucky that I can explain things like this to my daughter. When we ride Dumbo in the morning, I can tell her that we will not be able to ride later. I am also lucky that she seems to like other rides better anyway. If your child is a Dumbo lover, try explaining it to them, you may be surprised. If that doesn’t work try limiting choices by saying “we can’t go on Dumbo, so would you like to go on Winnie the Pooh or the Carrousel?” If neither works, look over towards the Friar’s Nook and say “who wants ice cream?”

I’ve always found that following the plan above gets my little girl on all the rides she wants with plenty of time left over to ride them again (and again). Hopefully this is as helpful for you as it was fun for me to write. I really appreciate you making it all the way through (unless you skipped ahead, then shame on you…cheater).


AMC Dine-In Theatres

by on July 10, 2011

As much as baseball, the idea of going to dinner and a movie is an American pastime.  After all you have to eat right?  Now, nobody likes to go to the movies hungry, and if you don’t eat dinner first you’re going to arrive hungry. While the allure of nachos with technicolor orange synthetic cheese goop is strong, and it may fill you up, it’s hardly anything, let alone a meal.  Most folks want to have something more substantial to fill their belly – especially so they don’t splurge on too much sugar and chocolate.  Again… these things do not constitute a meal.

The other problem is time management.  If you’re going to dinner beforehand you need to make sure you’re eating earlier enough to leave plenty of time between your restaurant and the start time of your movie.  Giving yourself plenty of time to find parking at both locations, get tickets, get concessions (if you’re still hungry), get seats, settle in and relax.  For many this process is a point of stress – if you’re like me and a lover of movies things like missing the trailers (a.k.a. previews) is sacrilege.  Being late is not an option.

The folks at AMC Theatres realize these problems and have a solution.  With a tagline of “Movies. Menus. More.” they call it AMC Dine-In Theatres.  Their idea is pretty simple, put the entire dinner and a movie experience in one location.  So, after remodeling part of the AMC Theatre at Downtown Disney, they present to you what they call “Fork & Screen”.  This is what they refer to as their “Casual Dining Experience”.  Recently, while going to see the movie Cars 2, my wife, Cheryl, and I decided to try this out.  I’m not going to discuss the movie here, but, if you want to know what we think about it you can find out in an upcoming episode of the Disney Film Project Podcast.

For us the experience really started at home, and if you’re going to go, I highly recommend this.  What we did first was research the experience a little, and we found that the best plan was to reserve your seats in the theater – yup that’s pick your seats just like on an airplane – before you even get there.  The ticket price for the Fork & Screen is $13 per person – that’s just to get in the door.  The easiest way to do this is to use AMC’s own website and then select the time for the movie you want to go see.  You’ll get charged an extra $1 per ticket, but you’ll have reserved seats, and you can use the check-in kiosk when you arrive to get your tickets.  We were glad we did this as the theatre was already more than half full.  Doing so we got a free iTunes download code for the short Tokyo Mater.

There are some additional amenities for if you arrive early enough or stay after your movie.  Each Dine-In has a full service bar inside called MacGuffins – named after the key element in a movie that drives the plot along (think of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark).  There is also an outdoor seating area as well as well as an indoor lounge area in the lobby.  At all three locations you can choose to eat or drink.

But the real experience starts with the theatre dining experience.  Once you’ve gotten your tickets, you can, if you like proceed right to your theater.  There is no concession counter.  At the entrance to our theater we were greeted by a hostess who asked to see our tickets and then led us to our seats.  As the center part of the theater was already full when we ordered our tickets our seats were off to the right hand side of the theater (when looking at the screen) against the wall.  Normally this wasn’t idea, but to me it was like having the coveted booth at the side of the restaurant.  The seats are big and comfortable, and felt more like recliners then your standard movie theater seats.  The reclining might take some getting used to, but there is a footrest bar for control under your table.  Yes, a table.  After checking out their website I was expecting something a bit different, so this was a big surprise.  On it were menus, utensils and condiments.

Official Menu Link (menu matches the one at Downtown Disney)

Just like a regular restaurant our waiter showed up and asked for our drink order.  I stuck with a soda – which have free refills – though I did notice the couple in front of us ordered a bottle of wine.  He explained to us that it’s easiest to take as much of the order up front as possible so that they can then time it being brought out to you in order to minimize interruption.

There wasn’t really anything on the menu for Cheryl so she stuck with Popcorn and a bottle of water.  On the plus side the Popcorn itself is also unlimited refills.  However, I’m inclined to avoid asking for butter at this theater in the future.  We asked for light butter, but what they brought had clearly been dunked in the vat of butter-stuff.  It wasn’t terrible, just messy.

For me, there were a lot of options, but I went with trying the Smoked Salmon BLT, but without the bacon.  This dish is described as having “hot smoky salmon”, but in the end it’s really just pan seared lox – the stuff people tend to put on a bagel.  It wasn’t terrible, it was just underwhelming, and not something I’d order again or recommend that anyone else order.

For an appetizer I ordered the Sweet Onion Loops, which are just onion rings.  They were really quite good.  Super crispy and yet soft on the inside as all good onion rings should be, and not overdone.   They came with BBQ sauce, but were also great with some ketchup.

Now, for dessert what I had ordered was the Citrus Berry Stack.  Mostly because I tend to order things like dessert based more on the interesting nature of their name.  However in looking back at their menu descriptions and the picture of the dessert I did have, I’m pretty sure that what I got was the Angel Food Cake. I really didn’t notice at the time, and honestly the dessert they brought me was really good.

Here’s the interesting and fun part of the experience.  Normally in a restaurant you need to make eye contact or hand wave to grab the attention of your waiter.  However, at the Dine-In you’re in a very dim theater – because you’re eating they don’t completely turn down the lights.  In order to facilitate you getting service when you want it, there is a call button available to you.  We used this 3 times, twice for soda refills, and once for a popcorn refill.  We skipped the butter the second time around.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience.  While I didn’t like my main course too much, the appetizer and dessert more than made up for it.  But this can be a very expensive outing, and you need to be prepared for that.  Here’s how we made out overall:

$3.79 – Soda
$10.99 – Smoked Salmon BLT
$6.99 – Sweet Onion Loops
$6.49 – Citrus Berry Stack (from receipt – see above)
$4.19 – 1 Ltr Bottled Water
$6.99 – Popcorn
$39.44 – Subtotal Dinner
$2.77 – Tax Dinner
$7.00 – Tip
$49.21 – Total Dinner
$28.00 – 2 Tickets + Service Charge
$77.21 – Total

And this only includes one meal and no candy.  This experience could easily get quite costly for a family of four.  This is not to say you shouldn’t try it if its something you’re really interested in doing.  Rather you need to be prepared for the hit on your wallet.  Oh yeah, and avoid the Salmon.

What about you?  Are you interested in going to the Dine-In?  Do you like movies?  Love them?  Like food?  Love food?  Is dinner during your movie just not for you?  And finally, a wafer thin mint.

Rumor: Disney World Cuts Monorails as Evening Extra Magic Hours Transportation

by on July 9, 2011

WDWMagic is reporting that Disney World will soon be cutting out the monorail system as transportation for guests during evening extra magic hours. According to the report, Monorails will now stop running an hour after regular park closing starting on July 11th, 2011 for the Epcot loop and August 1st, 2011 for the Magic Kingdom loop resulting in guests not being able to use monorails for resort transportation during evening extra magic hours. Bus and boat transportation will be available.

So, readers, what are your thoughts of this new Disney rumor? Does it change your desire to pay for a monorail resort or to tour during evening extra magic hours?

Super Stardom Meets Super Touring

by on July 9, 2011

Hello, my fellow Disney nerds!  I’m Stacey and I could not be more thrilled to be joining the AMAZING blogging team!  It’s been a dream of mine to have an outlet to talk about the biggest passion in my life, Walt Disney World.  Maybe some of you have read my own Disney blog, Confessions of a Disney Nerd, but if not let me catch you up to speed.  My favorite park is by far Epcot and I believe that a dole whip is perfectly acceptable for each and every meal of the day.  When I’m not working or talking about anything Disney, you can find me daydreaming that I’m drinking around the world.  Anyone want to join me?  Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook just in case I’m stumbling around outside Rose & Crown and need assistance.

One of the newest and most creative attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, American Idol Experience, puts YOU in the spotlight.  You can’t just walk up on the stage and start performing though.  There is a somewhat time consuming audition process that needs to weave into your day.  Given that you make it through the audition and onto the big stage, you’ll have to fit a performance or two into your day.  Many people think that it would be a total time suck so they don’t bother auditioning and end up missing out on a really amazing attraction experience.

Looking at the Unofficial Guide One-Day Adult Touring Plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can see that you’re advised to arrive early to the park.  I think that this is no different for a visiting party that has an individual that desires to audition for American Idol Experience.  When you’re bored and waiting to get through the turnstile, American Idol Experience often has a casting director and camera crew out in the crowd trying to wrangle people into auditioning for the show right there on the spot.  If your goal is to save as much time as possible and maximize your day (like any good Touring Plans reader), then I suggest you take full advantage of this audition time before the park even opens.  You honestly get the full effect though, if you audition in person right at the attraction.

Let’s pretend that you want to participate in American Idol Experience fully… from the audition to the performance.  You can audition up until around noon or 1:00 p.m. most days as long as they don’t fill up on performers in the morning.  Go ahead and follow the touring plan until 10:00 or 10:30 a.m.  Be careful not to scream your head off on any attraction!  You don’t want to wear your voice out!

Wander on over to American Idol Experience and head into the audition building to start the process.  Now, it’s time for you to show them what you’ve got!  Make sure to give them per-son-ality!  If you’re nervous just try and shake it off.  Remember, you’re just doing it to have fun!  You should know your own voice and come prepared with a song that you want to sing.  It doesn’t have to be on the official American Idol Experience song list just make sure it’s something that you like.  If you don’t like your song then you’re not going to have fun with it and that’s what the judges really want to see on top of having a good voice.  Don’t just sing the song… perform the song!

If you make it onto the next round then you’ll need to pick a song from the official American Idol Experience song list.  Take your time in the Red Room and get your butterflies out.  Hopefully you remembered to bring water with you to keep your vocal chords from drying out.  Don’t worry about singing out in the Red Room either.  If you want to see if “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson suits your voice then by all means… practice like no one is listening.  You’ll be a better judge of your own voice if you really sing it like you would with a mic in your hand.  If you’re really smart though, you would have already come prepared with a song from the list that you want to sing.

Hooray for you if you made it past the producer and onto the show!  You’re given a card with a time to come back and go through a small rehearsal, vocal coaching, and hair and makeup.  Yeah, even you manly men out there need a little sprucing up to stand out under the bright stage lights.

Since you should have some time to kill before you have to be back, consult with your traveling companions about what everyone wants to do.  You’ve probably eaten up only a half hour of your day so I say you just jump right back into your touring plan and proceed as usual.  Eat lunch as usual but try and avoid table service restaurants.  Save that for after your performance.  If you need to reschedule an Advanced Dining Reservation, dash over to Guest Relations and have them reschedule for you.  Keep an eye on the clock when you’re thinking of seeing a show.  It takes up a lot of time and it might not be worth it.  This might be the perfect opportunity to hit up some character meet and greets.  Yes, I suggested visiting characters while on a touring plan but this is an exception!  Characters will see your American Idol Experience “Vote For Me” lanyard and play it up with you.  I once had Pocahontas ask me to sing to her!

Once you take on the stage and the cheering audience, your journey could either stop right there or you could move onto the finale show to take your shot at winning the coveted Golden Ticket.  No, not like Willy Wonka.  A different golden ticket. The “golden ticket” is like a FASTPASS for an actual American Idol television show audition.  No waiting in line for you because they already know you’re good enough and deserve to get a shot to audition.  If you happen to be this lucky winner then you’re going to need to come back later that evening for the finale show.  Thankfully you’ll have some down time and this is your opportunity to grab your gang and get back into your touring plan.  Just pick up from where you left off.  Use traditional touring plans etiquette and skip any attraction your group isn’t interested in.  Realistically, you’re going to have to sacrifice a show and maybe a few attractions because you just won’t be able to fit it all in.  Now is the time to get some grub because I’m sure you’ll be hungry after all your hard work.  If a table service meal is planned before the finale, just make sure to keep an eye on the clock.

When it’s time for the finale performance, show up at your specified time and get ready to sing your heart out! Backstage during a finale show can be more cut throat than a preliminary show because tension is high and you’re competing against the best of the best for the day.  Just relax and have a great time.  That’s what the attraction is all about!

Most likely you’ll end up missing out on a first showing of Fantasmic! by the time your American Idol Experience show gets over with.  My advice is to think ahead and pick a day to participate in American Idol Experience that has two showings of Fantasmic! so you can make the second show along with your group if you happen to make it all the way to the finale.

I’ve personally participated in American Idol Experience twice before and had such a fantastic time.  The whole attraction process is as real as you can get to an actual American Idol show experience.  You audition, have to think about song selection in the “Red Room,” perform on a replica of the real American Idol stage in front of a full audience, feel the pressure under the hot stage lights as the judges critique your performance, and wait anxiously as the audience votes for their favorite performer.  There absolutely is nothing like it.

You can most definitely enjoy a full day of attractions while still reaching for the stars!  Don’t be afraid to jump into stardom at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!  So, what do you think?  Are you giving more thought to American Idol Experience now?