Archive for October, 2011

Survival of the Wettest

by on October 26, 2011

A few weeks ago I got back from another spectacularly fun trip to Walt Disney World.  Everyone had such a blast and we got so much accomplished.  Every fear that I outlined in my last blog post was proven irrelevant.  Now, that’s not to say we didn’t have some bumps in the road.  The biggest bump in the road that we encountered turned out to be more like a puddle.  A big puddle.  Maybe like a monsoon that didn’t stop for 2 days straight.  I’d never encountered that problem and certainly didn’t expect to on this trip because the forecast predicted “scattered thunderstorms.”  What we experienced was definitely not scattered.  A more accurate depiction would have been, “constant downpour of rain”.  Had I known that I think we would have come more prepared.  I’ve decided to take it upon myself to give you all some tips on how to deal with nasty Florida rain storms if and when you should encounter one.

First and foremost my friends… come prepared!  This was our biggest downfall.  We ended up spending $7.50 each for cheap pieces of plastic with Mickey Mouse on it.  I had issues with having to hold the hood down to cover my face since the hood really isn’t big enough.  The Disney ponchos don’t exactly keep your arms dry unless you tuck your arms inside.  I really think that next time there is even a slight chance of more than a sprinkle of rain on my vacation I’m going to pack my own rain gear.  I saw a full rain coat and rain pant outfit the other day at Target and that would have been amazing to have at Disney World on those days of constant rain.  I don’t even care how stupid I would look in photos!  I’d be totally dry!  While you may think that bringing an umbrella is a super smart idea, it’s sort of a pain to tote around unless you have a good place for it when you go inside.  For those of you super cool people that are lucky enough to drive to Disney World, think about packing rain boots in the car if your outlook is rainy.  Walking in flip flops is difficult because your feet slide around and walking in tennis shoes is uncomfortable when they are drenched.  I sure wish I was smart enough to bring a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.  Don’t be dumb like me.  Bring a hat or a visor (yeah, a dorky visor).  You ladies will thank me later when your eyeliner isn’t smudged.

For those of you that like to tote around a lot of stuff in the parks, please keep in mind that when it’s a monsoon outside you really can’t avoid getting some things wet.  Keep your electronics in bags.  Think about doing something that I never do… renting a locker.  One of our days at Animal Kingdom the weather was so nasty that I found myself annoyed carrying around my big camera bag.  Then the next day at Magic Kingdom I left the camera bag in the hotel room and regretted it when the rain stopped mid way through the day.  The solution would have been to rent a locker!  Lesson learned.

Please be aware that Disney will close some attractions due to heavy rain and lightning.  Safety always comes first, of course!  The amount of attractions opened far surpasses those that will close for bad weather so keep your chin up!  Take advantage of seeing indoor shows and attractions that are a bit longer.  Keep in mind that roller coasters sort of hurt during spitting rain .  If you can just keep your head down the whole time, then have at it, but know you’re going to be like my group shouting, “Ow!  Ow!  OW!”  Instead of voluntarily putting yourself through the pain of Expedition Everest, go see Finding Nemo: The Musical.  Instead of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, go venture through all of Fantasyland since the attractions are close together.  As long as you’re not a walking lightning rod in Epcot, take a stroll around the World Showcase.  Take the time to really SEE what each pavilion has to offer.  Many of them have films that most people just skip past but I actually really enjoy them and all their cheesy glory.  Bring earplugs to Norway’s film though.  Again, you’ll thank me later.

The best thing about visiting parks during rainy days is that so many people don’t want to visit parks in the pouring rain.  When I was at Disney World last it was Labor Day weekend.  Two of those days had crowd levels of 8 and 9.  Luckily, those were the two rain days that we had!  Everything at Animal Kingdom was a walk on when we were expecting to encounter annoyingly long lines.  If you hate crowds and long lines as much as I do then look at rain storms as a blessing.

If you’re wanting to avoid the parks in bad weather then you’re left with a few options on Disney property.  Downtown Disney is smart because of all of the shopping that you can get done.  The downside to Downtown Disney is that everyone will probably have the same idea and you’ll find more crowds than you’re expecting.  Disney Quest would be a really great idea if you can beat the crowd there.  It can keep your family busy and dry for hours.  Restaurants tend to get many more walk-ups since folks are just looking for a way out of the rain sometimes.  It’s a good idea to have your Advanced Dining Reservations taken care of ahead of time anyway.  As Scar says, “Be prepared!”

My last super cool idea is to do one of my favorite things in any sort of weather… Resort Hop!  Take the monorail to the resorts that surround the Seven Seas Lagoon and explore what each place has to offer.  Stop for a drink and some sushi at the Kona Island Sushi Bar at the Polynesian Resort.  After that, take a photographic tour of the Grand Floridian Resort.  That place is so beautiful and if you’re never been inside you’re truly missing out.  I love to walk around the stores and pretend like I can actually afford the things they sell.  Once you’ve had enough of that, head on over to the Contemporary Resort and have another drink at The Wave‘s truly hip bar while waiting for a table at the restaurant.

Don’t let crummy weather get your group down!  Hiding away in your hotel room isn’t what you paid for.  For those of you that have experienced less than great weather at Walt Disney World, what did YOU do to stay dry and have a fun time?

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2011

by on October 25, 2011

Will you be in Walt Disney World for your Halloween holiday?  Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) is Disney’s answer to the American trick-or-treat tradition that takes place every fall.  For the span of a month and a half (September 13 – November 1) Disney closes the Magic Kingdom relatively early on select days and transforms it in the evening for a Halloween celebration.  This party requires the attendees to purchase an entirely separate ticket specifically for the event.  Regular park tickets and Annual Passes cannot be used for admittance.  Guests are welcome to masquerade in their costumes of choice, collect candy, and participate in special happenings around the park for the last five hours of the day (7pm to 12am).

The tradition is to allow MNSSHP ticket holders entrance into the Magic Kingdom at 4pm in the late afternoon, even though regular park guests are still actively running around.  Upon presenting a ticket or purchasing one on the designated night, MNSSHP guests are given a wristband that distinguishes them from the average park guest.  When the party officially starts, guests without a wristband are no longer allowed to enter attractions, and as the night progresses they are prohibited from even entering the various lands and asked to exit entirely.

MNSSHP begins at 7pm.  At that time, Cast Members set up candy distribution spots throughout the entire park.  These locations are designated on the MNSSHP park maps, and this year these spots are placed in every land except for Main Street, U.S.A.  The largest number of candy-collecting opportunities is in Tomorrowland, yet the highest concentration of them for this year can be found at Br’er Rabbit’s Laughin’ Place Candy Patch (a walk through the Splash Mountain queue that hits three candy barrels in a single line).  The candy that is passed out is essentially the same mixture at every location, so it isn’t necessary to visit every spot for the purpose of variety; however, the more stations you visit, the more candy you accumulate.  Feel free to revisit stations throughout the night, as well, to gather a particularly large stash of sweets.  For those who have special dietary concerns, lines for raisins form alongside the lines for candy.

Much like during regular park hours, guests have the opportunity to meet with Disney characters throughout the park in specified locations until 11:30pm.  The primary difference during MNSSHP is that the characters are either dressed in Halloween garb or their personalities are villainous in nature.  It may be appropriate to prepare younger children for intimidating meetings with cruel step-mothers and harsh sorcerers.

Character Dance Parties take place during the evening with Rockettower Plaza Stage being a primary location to interact and dance with characters like Stitch.  The other location is The Diamond Horseshoe, where a Western themed dance party brings out Woody’s Round Up Gang to “shake their groove thing.”  Also, a Halloween stage show titled Villain’s Dance Mix & Mingle happens almost hourly in front of the castle with the villains roaming throughout the audience after each show (7:45pm, 8:50pm, 10:05pm, and 11:15pm).

Happy HalloWishes is the fireworks show that is sandwiched in between two appearances of the Halloween-themed Mickey’s “Boo To You” Halloween Parade (8:15pm and 10:30pm for the parade and 9:30pm for the fireworks).  These events are the cornerstones of the entire evening.





Happy HalloWishes can be viewed from any location in the Magic Kingdom, but the best views to be had are from Main Street, U.S.A., facing the castle.  The castle turns a whole spectrum of blues, green, oranges, and purples as fireworks are synchronized to a medley of spooky and villainous tunes.

The “Boo To You” parade is an eclectic mixture of fluffy elements such as floats that emulate Halloween on a farm with clucking chickens, pumpkins, cowboys, and Country Bears, as well as more ghoulish traits such as grave digging dancers and skeletons.  The Disney characters are featured in Halloween attire, and there are special appearances from not-so-often seen villains like the Headless Horseman, Pain & Panic, and personalities from the Haunted Mansion.

The expense of the event varies, depending on the date you choose to attend, as well as whether you purchase your tickets prior to that particular evening.  With the exception of the Friday nights in October and Halloween weekend parties, guests have the option of purchasing tickets at an Advanced Sales Price or at a Same Day Sales Price.  The Friday nights in October and Halloween weekend parties only sell at the Same Day Sales Price.  The exception to these prices are the evenings of October 28 and 31, when tickets are sold at Premium Pricing.  Disney Vacation Club members trump them all, though, with a tax-included discount ticket price on select nights (call DVC Member Services with your DVC Member number for pricing).  Keep in mind two caveats for the DVC discount: the tickets have to be purchased in advance by phone using your DVC Member ID number, and a government issued photo ID along with your ticket order number must be presented at a Will Call window to receive the tickets.

Most of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions remain open for MNSSHP.  A number of counter service restaurants and snack kiosks continue to host hungry guests as well.  No table service restaurants are open once the party officially begins, but considering that guests are only given five hours in the park, most would not want to spend a full hour or two of that time seated in a restaurant and missing the very events that they paid a premium price to experience.

Disney’s Photopass photographers will be stationed throughout the park, especially in locations where the Halloweeen style of the castle can be used as a backdrop.  Another spot of particular interest is the stroller parking area in Fantasyland that formerly was the location of the Skyway to Tomorrowland.  Cinderella’s Coach is parked there amongst pumpkins for a unique photo opportunity.

What are the specific dates and times of MNSSHP in 2011?

For 2011, the time frame is 7pm-12am on each of the following evenings:

September 13, 16, 20, 23, 27, 30

October 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30, 31

November 1

What is the price of the event?

September Advanced Sales Price: $53.95 + tax for 10 & up / $47.95 + tax for 3-9

September Same Day Sales Price: $59.95 + tax for 10 & up / $53.95 + tax for 3-9

October and November Advanced Sales Price: $56.95 + tax for 10 & up / $51.95 + tax for 3-9

October and November Same Day Sales Price: $62.95 + tax for 10 & up / $57.95 + tax for 3-9

October Premium Sales Price (October 7, 13, 21, 30): $62.95 + tax for 10 & up / $57.95 + tax for 3-9

October Premium Sales Price (October 28, 31): $67.95 + tax for 10 & up / $62.95 + tax for 3-9

*The Advanced Sales Price is not available for October 7,13, 21, 28, 30 or 31

*Tickets for October 7, 13, 21, 28, 30 and 31 are only available at the Premium Sales Price

*The Disney Vacation Club Discount Price is not available if tickets are purchased on the same day.

Are there any costume restrictions or policies?

There are a few rules that Disney asks its guests to adhere to concerning costuming.  First, for safety reasons Disney does not permit costumes that obstruct vision or drag on the ground.  Eyes must be visible at all times.  Costumes may not contain sharp or pointed objects that could strike another guest.  Because the event is child-friendly, guests are asked to not wear offensive or violent disguises.  And, finally, guests that are dressed as Disney Characters are not permitted to pose for pictures or sign autographs for other guests to accommodate Disney licensing issues.

Is MNSSHP merchandise available?

MNSSHP merchandise is available.  It is sold in a number of shops throughout the park such as the kiosk near the exit of the Haunted Mansion and the gift shop in which Mickey’s PhilharMagic empties.  More options for Disney Halloween items can be found in the Emporium on Main Street, U.S.A., the Merchant of Venus store in Tomorrowland, and the Pirates Bazaar in Adventureland.

Do I need to bring my own container for collecting candy?

It isn’t necessary to bring a bag or container for collecting candy.  Disney does provide guests with nice plastic bags for this purpose if they arrive empty-handed.

Which attractions and food services are expected to be open?

While Disney reserves the right to change their plans at a moment’s notice, their pattern of the past years has been such:

Open Attractions

Pirates of the Caribbean; The Magic Carpets of Aladdin; Splash Mountain; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; Haunted Mansion; Peter Pan’s Flight; Prince Charming Regal Carrousel; Dumbo the Flying Elephant; Mickey’s PhilharMagic; Snow White’s Scary Adventures; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; Mad Tea Party; Space Mountain; Tomorrowland Speedway; Astro Orbiter; Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin; Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover; Stitch’s Great Escape; Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor

Open Food Spots

Casey’s Corner; Aloha Isle; Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe; Golden Oak Outpost; Westard Ho; Fronteirland Turkey Leg; Sleepy Hollow; Liberty Square Pizza Cart; Storybook Treats; Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe; The Lunching Pad at Rockettower Plaza

Is the event worth the extra expense?

If your visit only includes a day or two at Disney, then the extra ticket is worthwhile in order to extend your hours in the park.  If you are really set on seeing the Magic Kingdom in full force for Halloween, then the expense is also worthwhile since it can’t be experienced this way at any other time.  However, if your vacation extends for more than a few days and the Halloween aspect of the Magic Kingdom doesn’t intrigue you, then bypass the cost of the extra ticket.  In fact, it would probably be best to bypass the park entirely on the designated MNSSHP days due to the crowds.  Instead, choose a separate day for your visit to the Magic Kingdom, especially if it is not scheduled for Extra Magic Hours.  Since most people will have been there the previous day and late into the night, it is likely those same people will sleep in late and visit a different park the following day, making your day in the Magic Kingdom less crowded, more efficient, and more pleasant while still enjoying some of Disney’s fall decor.


Food & Wine Festival – Culinary Demonstration Review

by on October 24, 2011

One of the hidden gems of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is the Festival Welcome Center, located in the old Wonders of Life pavilion. It’s a fabulous place to rest, see the exclusive Festival merchandise, grab a glass of wine, and–most importantly–take in one of the seminars and demonstrations that occur daily throughout the event.

The exterior of the Festival Welcome Center

On my first trip to Food & Wine last year, I took part in two of these seminars: one on tasting Scotch and another on wines from the Fess Parker vineyards.  This year, however, my beautiful bride and I decided to try something different by attending a culinary demonstration.  This was a whole new level of awesomeness.

To buy tickets for the demonstration, we visited the information desk right inside the entrance to the Festival Welcome Center.  Tickets for the 5:00pm demonstration were still available for $11.00 each.  If you’re interested in getting tickets in advance, you can do so online at Disney’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival page.  There you can book mixology seminars focused on cocktails, as well as wine/beverage seminars where you get to sample various wines and liquors.

The culinary demonstrations, however, are the cream of the crop.  For the price of admission, you get a seat in a special show kitchen that is set up in the back of the Festival Welcome Center. There a chef will enter and prepare a dish in front of you, and you are served a smaller version of that dish along with a wine pairing.  Believe me, this is not to be missed.

The hostess and winemaster

On the day we attended, the chef was Peng Looi of the August Moon Chinese Bistro in Louisville, Kentucky.  He was preparing an arugula salad topped with lamb and paired with a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling.  Now, my wife is not a big fan of lamb or arugula, so she entered this demonstration very skeptical.  However, since we had the time, she agreed to do it.  After we left, she was thanking me profusely.

We entered the line to get into the show kitchen about 15 minutes before the scheduled 5:00pm start time.  After a brief wait, we were allowed to pick a seat and settle in for the event.  On the table was a recipe for the dish we were about to enjoy, as well as cups and a pitcher of water for cleansing our palates.

Shortly after arriving, our hostess came on stage and introduced the winemaster from Chateau Ste. Michelle, who proceeded to talk about the Riesling that would be paired with this dish.  Both the winemaster and the hostess were very engaging and knowledgeable, and they obviously enjoyed each other’s company.  That, along with the sample of wine they provided, made watching them very fun.

Chef Looi talking to the audience

Then it was time for Chef Looi to take the stage.  He was not a celebrity chef, talking and making jokes the entire time; instead, Chef Looi was interested in preparing the dish.  It became almost comical to watch the chef working diligently to prepare the meal as though he were in his restaurant kitchen, while the hostess kept slowing him down to ask questions or show ingredients to the crowd.   The dish included a spicy pineapple chutney, a roasted loin of lamb, and the baby arugala salad with dressing.  Each step along the way, Chef Looi showed the ingredients to the audience quickly and then continued along with his work.

In the end, though, it was very easy to see how the dish was made, and unlike many other dishes you may see on television, it was not that complicated.  Sure, lamb and aragula sounds fancy, but it turned out to be fairly easy.  The toughest part of making this at home would be getting the ingredients just right.  When the small version of the dish was brought out to our table, we dug in eagerly.

This was simply a divine eating experience.  The spicy pineapple chutney that the chef had prepared with the lamb complimented the arugala quite well. Along with the Eroica Riesling, it was probably the best thing I ate at the Food & Wine Festival.  My only regret was that I had not gone to Chef Looi’s restaurant and ordered it in the full size portion.

The final dish paired with the Eroica Riesling

Once the chef was done and we had finished eating, he brought out the chefs who had actually prepared the dishes we ate and allowed them to take a bow.  We left extremely happy, satisfied that we had enjoyed a fine dish and fine wine for very little money.  If you are in Epcot for the Food & Wine Festival, you must take the time to venture into the Festival Welcome Center to check out one of these demonstrations.  It was the best thing we did all weekend at Epcot, and that’s saying something. Friend Feed – October 23, 2011

by on October 24, 2011

Can you believe it’s almost Halloween?  Only a week to go, and things are hectic – costumes to make or buy, candy to be consumed, spooky movies to watch.  Things are just as busy around the Disney community with the podcasts and websites that we sponsor here at  So without further ado, let’s look at what’s going on in this week’s Friend Feed.

Ichabod Crane & the Headless Horseman are perfect for Halloween

If you are looking for a way to get in the Halloween spirit Disney style, then take a listen to this week’s episodes of Disney Film Project and WEDway Radio.  First, on Disney Film Project, the crew takes a look at all of the Disney Halloween films through the years, and lets you know which ones stand out and which you should avoid.  Meanwhile, WEDway Radio goes in depth on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr.  Toad, the famous film that features the Headless Horseman.  It’s a true Halloween treat that I used to watch every year on Halloween night.

Our own Henry Work, lead developer at, joined the WDW Today crew this week to help discuss tips for getting ready for a Walt Disney World trip.  Everyone looks forward to the trip, itself, but I also enjoy getting ready.  Anticipation is great, so take a listen to the show and hear what Henry and the rest of the panel advise when you’re on your countdown to the World.

Speaking of Henry, he and the Betamouse crew returned this week with an episode about food!  That’s right, AJ of the Disney Food Blog joined the gang to discuss the technology behind counter service restaurants.  The proliferation of touch screens and fresh to order foods has transformed the way counter service works at Walt Disney World.  This is a great episode for a peek into what it takes to get that $10 hamburger in Pecos Bill’s.

Progress is being made in Walt Disney World, as the Fantasyland expansion nears some degree of completion.  Tarps were removed from some elements this week, and the opening dates for Dumbo and the Storybook Circus were bandied about on this week’s WDW Newscast.  Watch Lou Mongello’s show to learn about that, plus rumors about Test Track and Festival of the Lion King.

Off Kilter is one of my favorite live performers at WDW

Live music and performances are part of the amazing atmosphere at the Disney parks, especially at Walt Disney World.  I happen to enjoy the bands and performers around Epcot’s World Showcase, but there are so many more.  On the Be Our Guest Podcast, the crew discussed their favorites.  Plus, get an update on the BOGP Cruise 2.0, an event you won’t want to miss.

Live performers were a big part of the opening of Walt Disney World over 40 years ago, and the AllEars Newsletter touches on that in this week’s email.  The Newsletter not only keeps you up to date on the goings on at the World, it also has great pieces that delve into the history of the resort and all the things that make Walt Disney World so great.

I'd love to hear this discussion...

While most people are focused on the present at Walt Disney World, with Halloween and the Food & Wine Festival going on, MousePlanet today has coverage of the future.  James Cameron dropped by Animal Kingdom this past week, and the director of Avatar explored the possibilities for the new Avatar themed area with Imagineer Joe Rohde.  Read all about it in this week’s MousePlanet Walt Disney World Update.

The Disneyland Hotel is one of those places I’ve never been but have always been dying to visit.  I had dinner there once, but that’s about it.  Mousetalgia did not help that urge this week, as the group examined the secrets of the hotel with historian Donald Ballard.   This place has a fascinating history, which they reveal in this episode.

Yes, Halloween is soon to be upon us, but the holiday season is just around the corner.  Disneyland Live this week brought news of some changes to World of Color, where a special holiday themed addition is being planned.  Plus, check out new details on the changes to Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., which will really change up the way things look at the end of the street near the Hub.

Dateline Disneyland has more details on holiday preparations at the original Disney park.  It’s one of the busiest times of the year at Disneyland, as the Halloween decorations get phased out and the holiday decor goes up.  Not to mention all the construction and craziness that continues with the refurbs and new building at Disney California Adventure.

That’s what’s going on with the shows and sites we’re sponsoring. What else is happening?

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Mobile Program Goes Live

by on October 23, 2011

Disney has put up signs around the entrance of the Magic Kingdom park advertising a new mobile text-alert program called “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Mobile Program.” The program automatically sends text messages about the Halloween party to a guest’s mobile phone. The instructions on the signs state:

STAY CONNECTED! Text TREAT to DPARK (37275) to receive the latest information, tips and real-time updates while you are here!

The program promises fewer than 18 messages a night when you sign up, and there doesn’t seem to be a requirement to actually be in the park. What information it actually sends is a mystery at present, but this blog post will be updated this evening if/when Disney texts us.

UPDATE: First text received at exactly 7pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Welcome to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2011! Have a spooktacular time! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 7:15pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Trick or treat? Goofy’s Candy Co. serves up goodies for your ghouls at 10 locations. Visit them all! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 7:30pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Grab a spot by 8 pm to see the Headless Horseman ride by before the “Boo-to-You” Parade starting at 8:15pm! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 7:45pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: The “Boo-to-You” Parade starts in Frontierland & ends on Main Street. See your Guidemap for route details. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 8:01pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Take off on an interstellar road trip. Space Mountain only a 5 minute wait! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 8:20pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Missed the first parade? Never fear! Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade returns at 10:30pm. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 8:40pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: The next Villains Dance starts at 8:50 PM at Cinderella Castle. Stay afterwards to mingle with your faves. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 9:00pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Tick-tock! Tick-tock! Character Meet and Greets end at 11:30pm, so watch the clock! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 9:20pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Happy HalloWishes lights up the sky at 9:30 PM with a Halloween fireworks  spectacular! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 9:40pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Br’er Rabbit’s Laughin’ Place Candy Patch is a bunch of treat spots in one! Find it now it Fontierland! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 10:00pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Just dance! Rock out with Stitch, Pluto, Goofy and more Rockettower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 10:15pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Reminder: Missed the first parade? Never fear! Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade returns at 10:30pm.Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 10:30pm EDT:

DisneyNSS:Ten tractor trailer trucks transported treats from California to Florida for Mickey’s Parties. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 10:45pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Wet is the new dry! Take the plunge on Splash Mountain. Now only a 10 minute wait! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

DisneyNSS: Space Mountain is not operating until further notice. Stay tuned for updates. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 11:05pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Update: Space Mountain is now operating. Enjoy! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

Text received at 11:40pm EDT:

DisneyNSS: Tonight’s sweet treats include 40 different candy varieties. Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

DisneyNSS: Thank you for joining us for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2011! We hope you enjoyed your night! Txt STOP to quit or call 888-635-0110.

That appears to be the end of it. Updates on attraction wait times and down times are useful, but the parade and fireworks reminders are a bit redundant if you have read the event schedule. There were a grand total of 18 texts sent during the party itself, not to mention the initial enrollment confirmation message. That can add up in cost if you’re paying for individual text messages on your cellular plan. This service is not necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s interesting and a little bit helpful, nonetheless. Share your thoughts in the comments.


Epcot Extends Park Hours to 10pm for Food & Wine Festival on Fridays and Saturdays

by on October 21, 2011

On Saturdays for the remainder of the 2011 International Food & Wine Festival, Epcot is remaining open until 10pm–both Future World and World Showcase. Additionally, starting on October 28, 2011, the park will remain open until 10pm on Fridays through the end of the Festival on November 13, 2011. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is scheduled for 10pm on those nights.

Typically Epcot operates 9am to 9pm, with the holiday season having 9:30pm closings due to scheduling of Candlelight Processional performances.

Epcot has an extremely high park capacity–higher than that of each of the other Walt Disney World parks, and also greater than the combined capacities of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. Additionally, its attractions have high operational capacities; for example, Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Magic Kingdom is lucky to move 600 guests an hour, whereas the average Epcot ride handles 1700-2000 guests per hour.

Combined, those factors allow Epcot to absorb crowds well, and that is why the Crowd Calendar typically recommends Epcot on the busiest days of the year. With the added crowds of this season and the Food & Wine Festival, Disney expanded Epcot’s operational hours. This has not actively been done outside of a holiday date (e.g., Independence Day, New Year’s Eve) since the 1990’s.

Finally, recall that our Crowd Calendar is based on attraction wait times. Since the Food & Wine Festival attracts many guests who do not ride attractions, you may find the parks crowded (especially on Fridays and Saturdays in World Showcase), even if attraction waits are in line with our predictions.

Blatant sell alert! If you want to read more about Epcot and how it operates, you can always buy my book, The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia. Available at fine retailers nationwide (globally, too!) in paperback and eBook format, including Kindle, NOOK, and iBooks.

10 Amazing Shows Only at Disneyland

by on October 21, 2011

In one of my previous blogs I said the shows were one reason every Walt Disney World fan should try Disneyland.  Disney World has some great ones, of course – Festival of the Lion King, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, and the list goes on.  But Disneyland is not going to disappoint you.  It truly has some amazing shows.

1.  Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular.  Aladdin is hands down my favorite show at any Disney park, including even the awesome shows on the Disney Cruise Line.  It’s so good in fact that it will soon be seen on the new Disney Cruise ship, the Disney Fantasy.  I can watch it over and over and not get tired of it.  The Genie is the star of the show, and I have yet to be disappointed in one of his performances.  He changes his jokes to keep up with today’s news headlines, and it always feels current.  But he’s not all there is.  The puppetry, the music, the sets: all of it!  The Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure where the show is performed is also as nice as any performing arts theater could be.  Overall, just wow!

2.  Remember Dreams Come True and Magical.  There are several fireworks shows at Disneyland, and I think they blow Walt Disney World’s away.  Pun intended.  Remember is a 17-minute-long extravaganza which, among other things, pays homage to your favorite rides.   Additionally, during Magical both Tinker Bell and Dumbo fly over Sleeping Beauty Castle.  Even if the castle at Disneyland is not quite as majestic as Cinderella Castle in Florida, the fireworks in SoCal are just spectacular.

3.  Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough.  This doesn’t fit in the ride category, so I put it in the show category for my list purposes.  This walkthrough tells the story of Sleeping Beauty in 3-dimensional displays.  You actually get to walk through various parts of the castle (and I don’t just mean through the tunnel!).  How cool is it to use the castle for something other than a store or restaurant?  Now it doesn’t quite reach the level of the huge animatronic dragon that you’ll find in the dragon’s lair under Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris, but it’s a start!  Well okay, now the Sleeping Beauty walkthrough at Disneyland sounds lame in comparison to the dragon.  But trust me, it’s cool.

4. World of Color.  World of Color is a fountain show involving music, projections, and special effects.  One of my fellow travel agents said World of Color is worth the price of admission, maybe even the cost of her plane ticket to California, in and of itself.  It is truly a showstopper, so to speak.  Look around after a performance and see how many misty eyes you see.  If that’s not the mark of a great show, I don’t know what it is.  World of Color is one of the anchors around which Disney California Adventure is being revitalized—and if this is any indication, they are definitely headed in the right direction.  To help find the best viewing locations, check out Katie’s recent blog.

5.  Tomorrowland Terrace Stage.  Tomorrowland Terrace in Disneyland brings out some great shows!  Sometimes it’s the site for local bands, sometimes it’s the site of the Jedi Training Academy, but there’s something happening several times a day.  A few years ago, we showed up at Disneyland to find out that Aly and AJ from the Disney Channel were giving a concert.  Talk about excited tweeners!  They were people we’d heard of, and even the kids could get excited about.  Being in Los Angeles, Disneyland has easy access to a wealth of talent that could show up at Disneyland anytime.

6.  ElecTRONica.  ElecTRONica is a light show/dance party that Disney throws at various times on the streets of Disney California Adventure.  It’s definitely not for everyone.  This show was only meant to stay around a little while as a promotion for TRON: Legacy, but its popularity kept it there.  Some will find it a little loud, and it’s not always a “Disney”-like atmosphere with DJ’s and glowing drinks, but it is something to check out at least once.

7.  Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.  Also not a show per se, but not a ride, so I’ll put it in the show category.  The attention to detail on this island is amazing.  There are hidden treasures all over.  If you go through too fast, you’ll miss them!  There are caves to climb through, rope bridges, and of course hidden and not so hidden treasures!

8.  Billy Hill and the Hillbillies.  Billy and the Hillbillies will crack you up at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland.  Seriously.  They will crack you up.  The first time we went, we just wanted somewhere to cool off for lunch.  We got our food and settled in.  When the show started we were in stitches.  The band’s leader, Billy, has such an expressive face he could have been Jim Carrey in another life.  They are very talented musicians and play a selection of well-known bluegrass and country music (with the occasional Beatles or Elvis tune thrown in for good measure)—whatever your musical leanings, they will entertain you both with their music and their quick wit.

9. The Miner 49’ers.  The Miner 49’ers are an excellent bluegrass band with shows right next to Grizzly River Run.  If you get a chance to see them, do it!  At one point they make instruments out of washboards and add some comedy along the way.  They pull audience members into the show for the fun, so it’s entertainment for all ages.

10. Fantasmic!  Yes, Fantasmic! is at both parks.  As I said on my previous blog, it’s a little easier to see the show at Walt Disney World.  But Disneyland’s version?  Far superior.  They take the same island your kids were running around on earlier in the day and transform it into the platform for the show.  The story line is essentially the same, but the Peter Pan sequence at Disneyland is much stronger than the Pocahontas sequence at Walt Disney World.  Disneyland’s Fantasmic! also has a new, amazing high tech Dragon that steals the show.  And that’s hard to do!

Disneyland’s entertainment options can’t even be compared to those of ordinary theme parks.  They are, as my family likes to say, on a whole ‘nother level.  Don’t miss them!  If you’re rushing from ride to ride you will miss out on one of the things Disney does best.

Do you have a favorite show at Disneyland?  Tell us about it!

Trip Planning 101: Disney Dining

by on October 21, 2011

Magic Kingdom's Liberty Tree Tavern is popular with families, particularly for dinner. Planning ahead will help you secure your place at the table

Eating at Disney World is always a huge topic of discussion. Some people love it; others just see meals as the fuel that gets the commando tank moving through the parks. Whichever camp you fall into, you’ll still have to eat. And, unless you want to eat only Dole Whip and soft pretzels for the duration of your visit (and if you do, don’t let us interfere), you’ll have to do some planning. Here are some tips to get you started:

When You First Start Thinking About Your Trip
Along with all the other things to think about when you first consider booking a trip, you should think about dining. Is this going to be a food-centered trip where you plan to experience all the restaurants you’ve been meaning to try? Is it a quick trip where you plan to get in as many attractions as possible? Is it in summer when the heat might make you less hungry than usual?

Once you get an idea of the importance that restaurant meals are going to have in your trip, think about the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). Available only to those staying in Disney Resort Hotels, the DDP in its various flavors is covered ad nauseum here and all over the web. Learn about it, because you’ll need to know when you book your trip if you want it or not. Also, be sure that you can secure Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) at your preferred locations before booking the Dining Plan.

Regardless of whether or not you choose to book the Dining Plan, get an idea of where you plan to eat for both budgeting and planning purposes. Use our Disney dining links to help plan where and what you’d like to try on your vacation.

180 Days Before You Arrive or As Soon As You’ve Booked Your Trip
This is when you spring into action and start making those Advance Dining Reservations. If you’re less than 180 days away from your arrival date, don’t worry. We have a chart in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that lists the typical number of days out you need to make a reservation at the table service restaurants. You won’t go hungry if you make ADRs 90 days out or even a week out for MOST times of the year. Naturally, peak seasons and holidays will be busiest (see the Crowd Calendar for relative crowd levels for the next 365 days), but Disney promotions can pack restaurants even when the parks are not crowded. Never count on getting a walk-up table (although feel free to try if you don’t mind being rejected). Starting October 26, 2011, be prepared to give a credit card guarantee for Signature and Character Dining experiences at the time you make an ADR. Also note that dinner shows (like Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue) require prepayment in full.

A note about allergies: Disney dining reservation agents will ask at the time of booking if anyone in the party has allergies or special needs and note it on your record. To be on the safe side, confirm when you’re at the restaurant. Disney chefs are well known for going out of their way to prepare meals that are both safe and tasty for everyone you’re traveling with.

Before You Go
Verify confirmation numbers for any ADRs you’ve made and keep them with your travel documents. Pay special attention to any ADRs for which you’ve prepaid or had to make a credit card guarantee. Remember you must cancel these in advance (generally 24 hours for restaurants and 48 hours for dinner shows) to avoid cancellation fees.

How To Budget for Dining
Restaurant prices and menus can be found on our site, but here are examples of what you might spend for two grown-ups and three children aged 5, 8, and 12:

Breakfast on the go:
5 bagels at $2.59 each: $12.95
2 coffees at $2.09 each: $4.18
3 small fruit juices at $1.69 each: $5.07
Total: $22.20 plus tax ($23.64)

Lunch at various fast food places:
3 piece chicken strips with fries at $7.69 each: $23.07
1 nachos with cheese: $7.95
1 taco salad: $7.69
5 lemonades at $2.19: $10.95
Total: $49.66 plus tax ($52.89)

Dinner at Chef Mickey’s (character buffet):
$34 for adults; $17 for kids 9 and under.
Total: $136 plus tax and gratuity (about $170)

Even if you don’t dine lavishly, it is not hard to spend $200 per day on food if you dine exclusively on Disney property. Know ahead of time where and what you plan to eat to avoid shock when you get your bill. Read our article on vacation budgeting for an in-depth look at how to break down the numbers.

We list current prices for table and counter service restaurants on our web site and in our books. Additionally, we survey local grocery prices every year for the book to help you plan.

Kids’ Meals
Pretty much wherever you eat at Disney World, a kid’s meal will be available. (This is Disney World.) Many offer standard fare, like hamburgers or macaroni and cheese, but some give more adventurous choices. They often come with a drink, side dish, and dessert, but often the entrée can be ordered separately—ask. When you eat at a buffet, you’ll find a mini-buffet for kids with standard offerings like chicken nuggets and fries. But at places like Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, for instance, a kid’s meal at lunch ($7.59) includes an appetizer (such as cheese toast or creamy tomato soup), an entrée (meaty macaroni and cheese, tandoori chicken breast, or a cheeseburger), and dessert (vanilla ice cream, eggless chocolate cake, or coconut rice pudding). At places like Liberty Tree Tavern, there’s one set menu—again, when you book, ask what the options for kids are, especially if you have a picky eater.

At many table service and counter service restaurants, adult portions are so large that you can easily split a meal among two kids.

Once You’re There – Dining and Touring
People ask us all the time how to fit dining plans into their Touring Plans. Questions tend to fall into two categories:

  • What do I do if my ADR is no longer in the “best park” according to the Crowd Calendar?
  • When do I take a meal break in my daily schedule?

When crowd predictions change, you can either try to rebook your ADR or simply stick with your original choice and remember to follow a Touring Plan. We say it over and over and over—when it comes to minimizing your time in line, a good Touring Plan is way more important than the crowd level.

Our Touring Plans allow time for meal breaks, but here are some tips:

  • To take advantage of low wait times, spend your time touring rather than eating during the first 1-2 hours a park is open.
  • If you are booking a character breakfast in one of the parks, try to get a reservation for an hour before the park opens. You’ll get the character autographs and greetings checked off your list and finish eating in time to start touring when the park opens.
  • Make a late-ish dinner reservation (if your kids are up to it) so you can eat at a relaxed pace after you’re done with touring for the day; you won’t have to worry about rushing off to your next stop.
  • Arrive before the park opens; try to keep to the Touring Plan as much as you can, and try to keep breaks to a minimum. Around midday, when the parks become crowded, break for lunch.
  • If you plan to be in the parks for fireworks, parades, or other late evening events, eat an early dinner so you’re finished in time for the evening events.
  • If your main goal is to see the parks and you don’t have a lot of time, avoid table service restaurants. A table service meal will easily take 60-90 minutes plus travel time.

Other Dining Options
Dining offsite can definitely save you money, particularly if you’re already planning to rent a car. Buying groceries or having them delivered is also good for rooms that have a kitchen, kitchenette, or even just a refrigerator or cooler. We outline off-site dining and list local grocery stores and delivery services in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

What else should I do?
Do us and your fellow readers a solid by completing the reader survey after your trip. Your comments and ratings help make our books and web content useful for everyone.

How do you plan your dining? DO you plan your dining? Would rather take a Casey’s chili dog to the eye than hear any more about the Disney Dining Plan again?

Magic Kingdom to Test FASTPASS Parade Viewing Area

by on October 20, 2011

Beginning the week of October 23, 2011, Magic Kingdom will test offering FASTPASS tickets for a restricted-access viewing area for the afternoon Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade. The test will run for approximately one month.

Due to the limited size of the test’s viewing area (reportedly in the Castle Forecourt), few details are being shared regarding how guests will obtain these parade FASTPASS tickets. Word on the street is that there will be a “random selection” of guests.

If further details are revealed, we’ll be sure to share them!

Resort Exploring: Vol. 3 – Pop Century

by on October 20, 2011

As you may recall from my posts about the Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Resorts, I enjoy wandering the grounds of Disney resort properties regardless of whether I am staying there.  This series of posts is meant as a tribute to theme appreciation (or nosiness…whatever).  It is speaking to those who take the time to simply explore, enjoy, and savor the immersive environments that Disney has created at its resorts (or are also nosy).

This entry is all about Pop Century Resort, which I recently stayed in for my first experience with a Disney Value Resort (I’m more of a moderate kind of guy).  Disney’s Value Resorts in general are very popular, and Pop Century specifically is frequently busy.  Their cost effectiveness speaks loudly to most people who are already spending a large amount on their vacation.  That exact reason is how I found myself at Pop Century and, since I can never sit still, I also found myself doing several loops around the property at all hours of the day.

Okay, I didn’t love everything about the resort but I don’t want this to seem super-negative, so I’m going to go through all the praise before I get to the parts I didn’t like.  As with all Disney resorts, the grounds are meticulously kept.  Some of the walkways are surprisingly lush and that helps give them a more private feeling.

The layout of Pop Century, with its multiple building groups, also lends itself to many areas that are less busy than the main food court and pool area.  The pool areas themselves (there are three of them) are very cool, even if they can be crowded.  They are all themed and generally flanked by giant statues of Disney icons (although I understand if swimming while being stared at by a 30-foot tall Roger Rabbit makes you uncomfortable).

Another great area of Pop Century is the walkway that abuts Hourglass Lake.  The lake and its bridge were originally meant as the separation between the two Pop Century resorts, but will now serve to separate the Pop Century Resort from the Art of Animation Resort.  Walking near water is always a nice thing, even if the only view is of the construction of a new resort.

Then there’s the theme (and this is where I’m going to get all curmudgeonny on you); it’s kind of just a bunch of giant stuff.  Okay, that’s exactly what it is…it’s a bunch of giant stuff.  I understand why they did it, and I understand that kids like that kind of in-your-face stuff, but I don’t.  It’s fun the first time you see it (hey look, a giant big wheel… I had one of those), but it is not the type of theme that you can find hidden details in by looking closer.  What you see is what you get.

The overall theme of Pop Century reminds me of a goofy chain restaurant.  Since there’s no real identity, they just put a bunch of crazy stuff on the wall and call it decorating.  That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy it or get some fantastic pictures of all the crazy stuff.  I’m very happy with some of the pictures I got at Pop Century (and they’re all over this post) and there are some fun photo opportunities with Goofy, Mickey, Baloo, and Potato Head statues available.

To me, an ideal resort is someplace removed from the parks, where I can unwind a little bit and immerse myself in someplace that is not constantly spitting marketing promotions at me.  I don’t find Pop Century to be that place.

I call this one “Mickey’s Army.”

Would I stay there again? Yes, but because of the price, not the theme.

Would I go out of my way to visit the resort? No.

Do I enjoy asking and answering my own questions? Clearly.

Do you agree with my assessment of Pop Century Resort?  (You’re supposed to answer that one below)