Archive for February, 2012

Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 3: Square Footage

by on February 29, 2012

When your neighbor/sister/boss/dog-walker tells you that a particular Disney resort is the “best,” take that information with a grain of salt. What’s best for you might be entirely different from what’s best for them, based on your unique vacation needs. In this Number Crunching series, I’ve been taking a look at ways to quantify the resort decision process, taking some of the guesswork out of which resort is best based on various criteria. In previous weeks, I’ve looked at resort choice based on number of beds and on transportation. Today I’m discussing square footage, the amount of space you get for your dollar at the Disney resorts.

A single, park-touring commando might not care how much space is in his hotel room. He’ll be conquering the mountains from sun-up to sundown. All he needs is a bed and a bathroom, which he’ll barely see in the light of day. However, many other guests will choose maximizing the amount of space they’ll have in their hotel room as their key value or decision factor.

Guests who want to maximize space might include:

  • overseas guests making Walt Disney World their “home” for an extended stay
  • parents of small children who will be spending long hours in the room while junior is napping
  • larger-sized guests who take up physically more space
  • guests with substantial amounts of luggage
  • guests who will be using a crib in the room
  • guests who have equipment such as wheelchairs, high chairs, strollers, car seats, or other bulky items

If you’re a 300 pound linebacker with a basketball star wife and two toddlers with a crib and two strollers, technically you can book yourselves into a room at the Pop Century. But when you’re that linebacker, camped out during a nap time of a 10-day stay, you’re going to feel A LOT more cramped in your value resort room than would a gymnast-sized single mom with a petite eight-year-old at the parks for just a weekend.

What's unique about the studios here? They've got the highest price per square foot of a regular room on Disney property.

Let’s call our fictional linebacker family the Wilsons. They hate feeling cramped, thus their highest priority in choosing a resort is maximizing their room’s square footage. Our mission is to help them get the most amount of space for their money. And yes, in some circumstances it might make financial sense for a family such as the Wilsons to get two connecting rooms instead of one. For the sake of simplification, we’re going not to consider this option (connecting rooms are not guaranteed). If you find yourself in a similar situation, this is an avenue you may want to pursue on your own. Similarly, there are obviously off-site accommodation options that guests such as the Wilsons might consider; having the Disney numbers in hand will give them a starting point and a basis for comparison.

Defining Terms

I created a spreadsheet that includes each of the Disney resorts with their most typical room configurations. I added the average square footage available for each room type, as published in the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. (You can also find a wonderful visual representation of comparative room size in the TouringPlans post “What Your Get for Your Money – Resorts“.) Suites and club-level rooms are not included because a) these rooms tend to be more expensive, and the Wilsons are budget conscious and b) accurate square footage information is not readily available for all of the many hundreds of unique room types on property. Sorry folks, I had to simplify a bit to keep my brain from exploding.

I added data for maximum room occupancy. This does not include the additional child under the age of three allowed in most rooms. Obviously, if you have fewer people in your party than the room maximum, then you’ll each have a bit more living space.

Then I added room price. The price given is the 2012 rack rate published on the Walt Disney World website for weekdays during value season. Yes, it’s more expensive at other times of the year. Yes, smart shoppers can often find discounts. Regardless of these factors, the relative room ranking should remain consistent.

For those wishing to play along at home, here’s a downloadable version of the basic spreadsheet so that you can create your own data sorts. Fun, eh?

Walt Disney World Resort Room Square Footage Spreadsheet

Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage

Our first look is a ranking of rooms available at WDW, strictly by size. With an initial glance, there aren’t many surprises here. Rooms range from a serviceable 260 square feet at the value resorts to a gargantuan 2,491 square feet at a BoardWalk Grand Villa. Here are the rooms shown by size:

Room sort by size, page one. Click to enlarge.

Room sort by size, page two. Click to enlarge.

PDF version of Sort By Square Footage

Generally, the progression of size moves predictably from value to moderate to deluxe. What this sort allows you to do easily is see the size ranking of the deluxe resorts. There’s considerable variation between the Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges, at 344 square feet, and the substantially larger 440 square feet at the Grand Floridian. That nearly 100 sq. ft. difference is the size of typical home office or child’s bedroom. You can park an ECV and a double stroller and a crib in that space and still have more usable living area than you would at the AKL.

Of particular note in the straight size sort, you’ll see that both the Fort Wilderness Cabins and the value resort family suites have more room than the Grand Floridian, by a factor of almost 20%. If maximizing space is your primary value criterion, then it makes sense to look more closely at those options.

Sort Room By Price Per Square Foot

It’s great to know which rooms are the largest, but that won’t matter much if you can’t afford the room. As a next step, we’ll look at rooms ranked by price per square foot.

Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page one. Click to enlarge.

Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page two. Click to enlarge.

PDF version of Resorts Sorted By Price Per Square Foot

When looking at resorts ranked by price per square foot, the utility of the All Star Music Family Suites becomes immediately clear. The price per square foot is in line with the other value resorts. For just pennies per square foot more, you get an additional bathroom and a kitchenette. Score! The price per square foot is also much lower at the family suites than at the somewhat similar Fort Wilderness cabins.

Of additional note is the stellar price per foot ranking of the one and two bedroom villas at Old Key West. These rooms beat out the price per square foot at the new Art of Animation resort, as well as all the other DVC villas. If you’re looking for space and villa amenities, Old Key West gives you plenty of bang for the buck.

Generally, the highest price per square foot will be found in the DVC villa studio rooms, with the Bay Lake Tower studios coming in dead last at $1.22 per square foot. If you just want space and a microwave, try the family suites. If you want deluxe amenities, a standard room at a deluxe resort is a considerably more cost effective use of space. If you’re paying cash rather than using DVC points, think long and hard before booking a villa studio.

Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage Per Person

Another way to look at rooms is by square feet available to each person. Again, if you have fewer people in the room, you’ll have more space. This look considers space available at maximum room occupancy.

PDF version of WDW Resorts Sorted By Square Feet Per Person

Square footage per person sort, page one. Click to enlarge.

Square footage per person, page two. Click to enlarge.

The big finding here is that you’ll get the least square footage per person not at a value resort, but in the five-person trundle bed rooms at Port Orleans Riverside. Packing five people into a moderate will feel slightly more crowded than having four at a value. Similarly, having five people in a deluxe room at the Yacht or Beach Club will feel equivalent to having four in a moderate at Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, or Port Orleans French Quarter.

For six-person rooms, the family suites have a wee bit more space than the Fort Wilderness Cabins, and as noted above, the suites have a better price per square foot.

Something Else to Consider

I have not mentioned outdoor space as a factor in room size. In practice, having some dedicated outdoor space can make your indoor space much more habitable. Nearly all of the deluxe resorts have patios or balconies to which the adults might retire while the children are falling asleep. The Fort Wilderness Cabins and the Saratoga Springs Treehouses, while large on their own, become positively palatial when you consider the associated outdoor picnic and lounge areas. Even rooms at the moderate and value resorts can feel larger if you request a ground floor room and bring a chair outside your door for a little evening reading and people watching.

However, as nice as it is to have the great outdoors at your feet, I caution you against placing too much emphasis on this. Having a balcony might be wonderful. It might also be perpetually wet, or buggy, or below 50 degrees, or well over 100 degrees, depending on when you visit. Check historic weather trends before factoring outdoor space into your personal equation.

Making Your Decision

Given their analysis, our hypothetical Wilson family decided to book a family suite at the All Star Music Resort. As a family of four, they could stay at a regular value resort room, but given their large spacial needs, they decided that they’d be much more comfortable with a suite. The Wilsons decided that the low cost per square foot and the high square footage per person (because they’re do not fill the room to its maximum occupancy) made the family suites a good value for their vacation.

So Disney peeps, if you were in their situation, would you make the same choice? How important is the space factor in your resort decision making? Are you secretly wondering how much it would cost to feed the children of a linebacker and a basketball star? Let us know in the comments below.

The Last Laugh: Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion

by on February 29, 2012

The next time you exit The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, pause a moment just after the turnstiles and listen for one of my favorite little gags. It seems that the Haunted Mansion is the one who gets the last laugh.

The design of The Haunted Mansion is a reflection of two very prominent Imagineers. Claude Coats and Marc Davis worked together brilliantly under Walt’s direction to create one of the great theme park attractions of all time – The Pirates of the Caribbean. Now certainly there were dozens and dozens of other talented people connected with these projects. But it is the distinctly different visions from these two men that make The Haunted Mansion what it is. Davis is the creative genius that used his animation talents to invent the art of the memorable three-dimensional site gag. Coats was the master of atmosphere. He painted backgrounds for animated films and created the environment where Marc Davis’s pirates plundered and pillaged.

When it came time to build The Haunted Mansion, Davis and Coats did not have somebody playing Walt’s role as a strong central force. Instead, they created a marvelous mash up of two different visions. The first half of the ride is all Coats. It is as if you stepped into a horror movie. The second half is all Davis. The little vignettes provide maximum humor with minimal action.

Now I do not know who is responsible for this little gem but next time you exit the attraction, listen for one of my favorite gags. Just beyond the turnstile at the top of the speedramp is a small speaker that was silent for many, many years. After Disneyland completed on of the refurbishments that come along with the Nightmare Before Christmas overlays, somebody found this speaker and reconnected it to the sound source. What they found was this very ominous deep laughter. The joke is not only will a ghost follow you home but the house is going to get the last laugh. Love it.

For more from Sam, buy his book Walt and the Promise of Progress City.

The Best Attraction at Walt Disney World is…

by on February 28, 2012

Want to start a fight between Disney fans (or between Matt and Len on WDW Today)? Say that X is the best attraction at Walt Disney World where X is absolutely any attraction. There are a few inherent problems with that question; a major one being that there a lot of great attractions. Another problem is that everyone’s definition of a great attraction is different. What I’m going to do is settle this argument once and for all with scientific, indisputable data…or not.

The Criteria

For the purposes of this post, I will be dealing with ride-on attractions only; no shows or movies. I’m going to start by laying out my four keys to success with any attraction:

Good repeatability: Are you seeing more and more when you re-ride the attraction or is your focus on the same area of the same show scenes every time?

Originality: Was it groundbreaking? Is it still?

Appeals to all: Is there a height requirement? Does it look or sound scary? This one is only applicable, uh…where applicable. That is to say if you are an adult who is not scared of rides you will not care about this one.

Theme: The difference between Disney and everyone else is their ability to craft, and follow through on, a theme. Does the attraction teleport you to another time, place, or dimension? Is that theme adequately carried all the way through to the end of the ride?

As you can see, the G.O.A.T. system is very well reasoned…and has a snazzy acronym.

The Breakdown

There is no way I am going through every attraction (although it does sound like fun). Instead I have selected 7 that are, in some way, special. For the most part these attractions are on “must ride” lists on most trips and are often cited as favorites.

You will notice that Kilimanjaro Safari and Toy Story Midway Mania are not on the list even though they are great attractions. Both are fun rides, but both are too unique to compare to a true ride through attractions. I have also not included Stitch’s Great Escape because I just don’t like being that mean.

Here we go! Please note that I am not taking mechanical or maintenance issues into account, instead I am assuming that all of these attractions are in peak working order.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Pirates is extremely re-rideable (what do you mean that isn’t a word…dumb spell check). There are a whole bunch of figures, details, animals, and set work that can catch your eye on any given ride. The theme is also impeccable, from the moment you step into the queue you feel like you’re on a pirate’s quest.

Pirates is also a reasonably original attraction, with so many animated figures performing a variety of movements. I am knocking a few (imaginary) points off for originality because it is no longer a one-of-a-kind; there are other attractions that do the same at least as well. Plus, it’s a dark boat ride, not a unique ride vehicle by any means.

Overall Grade: B+

Splash Mountain – There is definitely a lot to look at on Splash Mountain, although the non-character detail work is not nearly as extravagant as Pirates. Splash is just as well themed as Pirates though, with the rockwork, mood changing music, and use of both indoor and outdoor scenes.

Although there are some very unique traits to Splash Mountain, specifically the Laughing Place (that I won’t mention rarely works…whoops), it is at heart a flume ride with a lot of limited-motion figures. It can also be intimidating and has a height restriction that cuts into its mass appeal.

Overall Grade: B

The Haunted Mansion – Using my G.O.A.T criteria, the only negative I can find on this attraction is the possibility of it scaring small children. It has a kazillion (I may be exaggerating, but it’s at least a bazillion) little details to look at on repeated rides, a completely immersive theme, and I have still yet to see anything quite like it.

Overall Grade: A

Space Mountain – Here comes one I might hear about in the comments. I don’t find Space Mountain to be fun to ride repeatedly (although I know some do, probably sadists), mostly because it is the same every time. Darkness…occasional stars…ride over. The extent of its originality is that a giant cover was placed over a Coney Island carnival ride (although it had never been done before). It also gets docked points for its height restriction and scariness.

The theme is…okay. I actually love the theme of Space Mountain, but only in the queue area. Once you “board” the theme is just darkness. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be space, but turning off the lights and putting star stickers on the ceiling does not a theme make.

Overall Grade: D+

Soarin’ – Another possibly controversial opinion here. I think Soarin’ is a fantastic ride, but how does it stand up against the others? It is still fun on a re-ride, but I find it lacking in details. Sure, there are a few extra things that you can pick up in the film, but not much. Originality is where it gets a chunk of points from me being a unique and inventive ride system.

Like many on this list, its mass appeal is hurt by a height restriction so that takes back some of those (arbitrary, fairly meaningless) points that its originality earned. And then there’s the theme, which is what bothers me the most about Soarin’. As far as I can tell, its theme is concrete, then airplane (as the preshow suggests)…no, wait, now it’s a hang glider. Either way, the vehicle you are in is apparently capable of teleportation because you jump to random California scenes without any transition for the entire ride.

Overall Grade: C+

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Great attraction, enough said. Okay, not quite enough, but I’ll be brief. Good details, but only great in the queue area. Very original; even though the drop section was in existence elsewhere the system was completely re-designed. Appeal is dinged by the height restriction and general scariness. Theme is perfect, the end.

Overall Grade: B+

Expedition Everest – Everest is the only roller coaster I’ve ever been on that I can see the story; climbing the mountain and running afoul of the Yeti. That said, I don’t think it’s the best attraction. Roller coasters move too fast to see details (although there are bunches in the queue), and it is not original in its design. All their originality eggs were dumped into a giant Yeti-shaped basket that no longer works. Why they spent so much time, money, and marketing on a half second scene is a question for another time.

The appeal is narrowed since it has a definite scare factor and a height restriction. As mentioned, the theme is great, but it’s not enough to bring it above mid-level (compared to the others here).

Overall Grade: C

That’s all I’ve got. Agree/ disagree/ridicule in the comments, but if you dare suggest that I rigged this to put my two personal favorite attractions at the top…I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question.

Thanks for reading!

Balancing Act – Two Different Kids at Walt Disney World

by on February 27, 2012

The Hobbit

Let me introduce you to my two children, and you might understand some of the issues we have when traveling to Walt Disney World.  Our firstborn, a 10-year-old boy who keeps to himself, likes to read, and is into Star Wars, Marvel super heroes and action, we call The Hobbit.  Mainly we call him that because he, like hobbits, eats about 12 meals a day and also likes to stay in his room.  His sister, a 5-year-old-girl, is a princess in every sense of the word.  We call her Her Majesty, because she is outgoing, always needs to be dressed to the nines, loves the Disney princesses, calm rides, and girly stuff.  You can see that balancing the needs of these two on a Disney vacation might be difficult.

So how do we do it?  Well, lately, we just leave them at home.  Just kidding…mostly.  But in all seriousness, figuring out a way to keep both kids happy is serious business.  The Hobbit loves the mountains, especially Expedition Everest and Splash Mountain, while Her Majesty is a big fan of Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Dumbo.  It makes for an interesting challenge.  Here are some strategies for how to deal with it:

Be honest and realistic– It’s the dream of every parent to take your kids to Disney and make their every dream come true.  But the dream is just that, a dream.  No matter what your kids tell you before you leave, they will never be able to ride everything they want during your trip.  They’ll see something they want to ride that you’ve never heard of before, or something you just can’t fit into the time before that urgent dining reservation they begged you for a month ago.  So be honest with both kids and let them know that they won’t get to every single thing they decide is important on the trip.

Her Majesty

Prioritize – I’ve shared this tip before, but it’s probably the most helpful one I can share.  Make the kids give you a list of attractions they absolutely must ride.  Depending on how long the trip is, we usually give them 2-3 attractions per day that they can put on their list.  And we make them write it down, so there’s no quibbling about what they actually said.  We make it a priority to hit those attractions, and Mom and Dad get to make a list of their own.  That way, everyone in the family is seen as important, and the kids learn the skill of prioritizing.

Split your focus – Both of the first two tips are good ways to prepare, but when you get to the parks, you may have to shift tactics.  One of the things that has always been a help to us is splitting up time.  For example, on our trip last summer, each child had a day to pick their favorite activities, and we also scheduled some surprises for them.  So the Hobbit got to get made up like a pirate at the Pirate’s League, rode Big Thunder, Everest, Splash Mountain and more.  Her Majesty began the day with Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, had dinner with the Princesses at Restaurant Akershus, saw Voyage of the Little Mermaid and generally had as much girliness as her little heart desired.  At the end of the trip, both of them were happy because the focus was on them for at least part of the bigger experience.

Keep the kids moving to keep them happy

Find the complex middle ground – Let’s face it, no matter how much you prepare, you won’t be able to always satisfy everything the kids want to do.  In that case, it’s a good idea to find compromise areas.  I’ll give an example.  The Hobbit was dead set on one of our trips last year to ride the Maelstrom.  Her Majesty is “scared” of the Maelstrom.  I was the only one there to make this decision.  I was able to use a Viking cookie from Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe to convince Her Majesty to ride, in exchange for a promise from the Hobbit that we would then go ride Journey Into Imagination for her.  Neither of them were in love with the idea, but it worked out and we were able to enjoy the afternoon.

Keep moving – This is probably the most important one of all.  The more time you spend waiting in line or sitting around, the more the kids’ minds wander to all the things they wish they were doing instead.  Every time I take my kids, I use a Touring Plan.  This is not because I blog for this site, I was doing this long before that ever happened.  By using the Touring Plans, Lines, and the Crowd Calendar, I’m able to keep the wait times to a minimum and keep the kids riding attractions, which makes them less focused on what they are not doing and more focused on having fun.  Even if it’s Carousel of Progress or your second or third time around the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, keep them moving, and things work out pretty well.

Those are the ways that I plan things to keep both of my kids happy.  What are some of your tips?

Free Tour Series: Culinary Tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge

by on February 27, 2012

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

For the second installment of our Free Tour Series, I want to share with you my experiences on the Culinary Tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour, the Lodge’s Culinary Tour is a true hidden gem.  While this free tour is short on time and trivia, it involves food samples from both of the resort’s table service restaurants, Boma and Jiko. You heard me – free food! (Now, do I have your attention?)

Animal Kingdom Lodge and Animal Kingdom Villas have what I consider to be the best Activity Calendar of all Disney’s resorts. The Culinary Tour is just one of the many free activities available to guests, but is by far the most delicious.

The Culinary Tour is a 30-minute tour of the Boma and Jiko restaurants with a few food samples thrown in. You do not need to be a resort guest to enjoy this tour, all guests are welcome. I have done this tour twice as a non-resort guest. Most recently, I did the tour solo just to make sure it was still up to snuff. And by “up to snuff”, I mean I wanted to make sure they were still handing out free food. (Priorities.)

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Buffet at Boma

My tour group consisted of five other adults, several of whom had not yet dined at either restaurant. One of Boma’s Cultural Representatives greeted us at the restaurant podium right at 4pm.  Cultural Representatives are Cast Members who’ve come from Africa to work at Walt Disney World for a year.   The play a variety of roles at the resort, including working in the restaurants, serving as Savanna Guides or leading the many available resort activities.

Our Boma Cultural Representative was a young woman from South Africa.  She took us on a short tour of the dining area, explaining the story behind the decor. Boma is Swahili for “enclosure,” which is represented by the wooden walls used to section out the seating area and set the tone for the restaurant. Even though I had taken the tour before, I learned new things by taking it with a different Cultural Representative.

Zebra Dome at Boma

Zebra Dome at Boma

During the tour, the Boma staff are getting ready for the buffet to open at 4:30pm. Our Cultural Representative led us through the buffet line explaining the African influences of the various dishes. For anyone who is hesitant to try out Boma because it’s “too exotic,” I highly recommend taking this tour just to see first hand what they have to offer. Even the wilder sounding dishes turn out to be made of common ingredients in American cuisine. For example, the previously labeled “Zanzibar Katoga Soup” has been changed to “Zanzibar Crab Soup” since I took the tour in May 2011. Same soup, clearer label. (I’m sure those suffering from shellfish allergies are thankful.)

Speaking of the Zanzibar Whatever Soup, one of my Boma favorites, I got to try some on the tour! For our first sample, we choose one of the four soups that had been set out for dinner. The soup options depend on what is ready at the time of the tour, but we had the choice of the Zanzibar Crab, Chicken Corn Porridge, Lentil and Sausage, or Butternut Squash (which is sweet like pumpkin pie filling). The first time I took this tour, we ended up staying for an impromptu dinner at Boma just because of the soup samples. I channel the voice of Len Testa when I say “fabulous!

Jiko Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jiko Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

To wrap up the Boma portion, we each received one of the famous Zebra Domes from the dessert station. If you’re not familiar, Zebra Domes consist of an Amarula cream filling sitting on a thin chocolate cake base.  It is coated in white chocolate ganache, the bottom covered in tiny chocolate squares, and the top striped with dark chocolate.  Amarula, an African fruit liqueur, gives it a vauge alcoholic coffee taste.  I’m not a fan of anything with liqueur, but they certainly have a cult following.

Next, we met a Jiko Cultural Representative from Zimbabwe. She gave us a quick tour of the bar and main dining area, pointing out a Hidden Mickeys as well as the tributes to African culture. The Jiko portion of the tour was considerably shorter because we did not spend anytime discussing the food options since guests can read a menu, unlike for the buffet-style Boma.

Jiko, The Cooking Place, gets it’s name from the open view cooking area in the middle of the restaurant. Here, the six of us split two orders of the Tastes of Africa appetizer. This consisted of a trio of breads (papadum, whole wheat lavosh & flaxseed naan) and four hummus-style spreads of varying spiciness. While we ate, the Cultural Representative answered guests’ questions about the restaurant and her experiences working so far from home. I never felt rushed, but we were all done by the time they started seating dinner guests at 4:30pm.

Jiko Hidden Mickey

Jiko is home to one of the largest Hidden Mickeys on property.

All in all, I definitely recommend the Culinary Tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It is a great opportunity to add a low key activity your day.  If you are staying elsewhere and looking to resort hop, I’d recommend paring the tour with an early meal at Jiko or Boma.  If you don’t mind eating early, you could probably get away without having an Advanced Dining Reservation and waiting to pick your restaurant based on the tour. Both will normally have space available right when they open at 4:30pm. You can also check out The Mara, the resort’s quick service option which has a few unique flatbreads and African inspired dishes in addition to standard quick service fare.

While you’re over at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, make sure to also check out the variety of African animals on the savannas outside the lobby.  Savanna guides are out there most of the time to answer guests’ questions about the wildlife.   Plus, if you linger long enough, they offer night vision animal viewing each evening at after dark past the pool on the far end of the resort.

Taste of Africa

Taste of Africa Appetizer at Jiko

However, I would not recommend going out of your way for this tour – particularly if you are relying on Disney transportation.  As fun as I thought it was, it is not worth dragging your kids out of the park and taking a bus over to taste soup.  Your kids may very well enjoy the tour, but the only children I’ve seen on it had to be taken away after 10 minutes because they were bored. Like most tours, the Culinary Tour is best for folks who have been to Disney a lot and are looking for a new experience. For those guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or Animal Kingdom Villas, it is a good way to make the most of your visit.

The Culinary Tour is currently offered at 4 p.m. daily. No reservations are accepted, and all you need to do to attend is show up at the Boma podium in Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The tour is open to all ages and lasts 30 minutes.   As resort activities can change monthly, check the Resort Activites Calendar or call (407) 938-3000 to confirm the tour schedule.

Have you tried the Animal Kingdom Lodge Culinary Tour?  Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!

Buena Vista Drive Construction at Hollywood Studios and Victory Way

by on February 27, 2012

A major roadway at the Walt Disney World Resort will be undergoing expansion from now until June. Buena Vista Drive between the Disney’s Hollywood Studios entrance and Victory Way is being reconfigured and getting turning lanes added. The paperwork for this project was filed back in October 2011, but Disney was only recently granted final permission for the project. Visible construction on the site began last week. Per the paperwork, the construction project will entail:

RCID is proposing to construct the following improvements to Buena Vista Drive (BVD) and Victory Way (VW); an additional east bound right turn lane and 4 foot paved shoulder between Epcot Resorts Blvd and VW; an additional west bound turn lane and extension of the existing west bound turn lane (creating duel left turn lanes) on BVD at the VW intersection; a south bound acceleration lane and merge lane with a 4 foot paved shoulder on VW; a 1,500 foot linear retention pond located on the south side of BVD; and the extension of the three 84″ culverts under BVD at the L-402 canal. Storm water management for the additional pavement on both roadways will be provided in the 1,500 foot linear retention pond located on the south side of BVD. Water quality volumes in this pond will be provided for both the three existing east bound travel lanes and the new 16′ pavement section on BVD, the free flow right turn lane at the intersection of BVD and VW, the additional west bound left turn lane and turn lane extension on BVD at VW and a portion of the additional 16′ pavement section on VW. A control structure will be added at the west end of Pond 1 and will discharge to Canal L-402 via a 24″ RCP culvert.

The latest approvals for the project say the work is anticipated to be complete by June 30, 2012. Until then traffic flow across this portion of Buena Vista Drive will likely experience a few delays, as well as lane shifts, and possible overnight detours. In particular the Pop Century and Art of Animation Resorts will be impacted somewhat as Victory Way is the main road to their entrances. Most other resort guests will encounter the construction if traveling to or from Downtown Disney. Allow some extra travel time for any important reservations, particularly during peak, late night, or early morning hours. When completed the project should ease congestion in that area and allow streamlined access to Pop Century and Art of Animation.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Cancels 9:30 Shows Feb 27-28

by on February 26, 2012

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Dinner Show at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has canceled the 9:30 p.m. showings on February 27 and 28, 2012. Guests with tickets who have not been contacted by Disney should reach out to Guest Services at their Disney resort hotels or call 407-939-3463 (407-WDW-DINE) for more information.

Habit Heroes Closes Following Negative Feedback

by on February 25, 2012

Habit Heroes at Epcot’s Innoventions has closed until further notice. Late this week the mini-attraction came under intense scrutiny for the way it portrays obesity, overweight people (in particular, children), and the concept of “fat-shaming.”  In particular health care professionals in Canada began to speak out after seeing the attraction, causing the uproar to spread across the Internet quickly. Per the Calgary Herald:

“It’s so dumbfounding it’s unreal,” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. “I just can’t believe somebody out there thought it was a good idea to pick up where the school bullies left off and shame kids on their vacation.”

“Rebecca Scritchfield, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, said she was “disgusted” by the exhibit’s implication that weight is indicative of health, writing: “I would love to know what sickos thought this up.”

If you’re interested in what exactly the now-defunct attraction entailed – as Disney claims it is going to be reworked – you can read my write-up/synopsis from the opening weekend over at my personal blog, (it also ran on, so it might look familiar.) Fair warning: in addition to misgivings about the treatment of childhood obesity, I did not have a high opinion of the attraction.

Disney’s Princess Half Marathon – Tips To The Finish Line

by on February 25, 2012

In the wee hours of Sunday morning the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon will commence. Apparently earlier this winter I thought running this event was a good idea, so I registered. This will be my 4th Disney Half Marathon (I’ve only run Disney events, so this is only the 4th half marathon I have ever run). I am more nervous for this one than I was this first one. While I am in no way an expert, I have gleaned a few tips from my runner friends:

  • It’s freezing before the race starts. We have to be there in the middle of the night and stand around for what feels like hours and hours. So to avoid complete misery come dressed in layers that you can strip off as you run. The clothing is picked up and donated to local charities. You can feel good about your stripping. Go through your closet and find the clothes you never wear or go to Goodwill. We may not match, but at least we’ll be warm.
  • I learned of chaffing from my friend Len Testa. Len has given me lots of advice about running. This is what he taught me: get Vaseline and rub it on your feet and in between your toes and anywhere else on your body that might chafe.
  • Drink at every water station.
  • Use the restroom in Tomorrowland. There is a real restroom – no a port-a-potty.
  • My friend Mike Scopa taught me this one: around mile 8 you will be offered a “Cliff Shot” or something like that. Eat it. It’s disgusting to me – but it helps give your body the fuel it needs to get to the end.
  • When you think you have run out of gas and you’re losing faith – look at that person in the wheelchair up ahead of you or look over at that elderly person. Find motivation from the people around you. You never know – you may be someone’s motivation.
  • Do NOT meet up with your family at the Finish Line. It’s crazy crowded. Set up a meeting place that is nowhere near the finish.

Every time I run I ask myself what have I gotten myself into. I look forward to this journey’s completion and the huge sense of accomplishment I feel. I surprise myself every time. I hope I get to see you on the course. I am wearing a pink running skirt, and I will be at the back of the pack competing to not be the last one to cross the finish line. Please say, “Hi,” as you whiz past me.

What tips do you have to share?

Do you make a strenuous effort to write essays? Do you hold over preparing your assignment waiting the last moment, and then break the ice to deal it successfully?

Blizzard Beach Closed Due to Cold Weather February 25

by on February 24, 2012

Disney has announced that its Blizzard Beach water park will be closed Saturday, February 25, 2012, due to cold weather. Temperatures are expected to be in the 60’s after an overnight cold front rolls through.  Since Typhoon Lagoon is closed for seasonal refurbishment, this means there will be no operational water parks available. Resort pools should remain accessible.

As a reminder: the “Water Park Fun & More” ticket entitlements are also valid for a round of golf at Disney’s Oak Trail golf course or for admission to DisneyQuest as an alternative to the water parks.