Archive for March, 2012

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties 2012 Schedule

by on March 29, 2012

On our Crowd Calendar we try to indicate dates when we think the Magic Kingdom will host Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties before the official schedule is announced, as a way to help our readers begin their initial planning. However, as with everything on the crowd calendar, this is subject to change.

Recently, the release of initial park hours (provided to Travel Agents) showed the set of dates in October when the Magic Kingdom is scheduled to close at 7:00pm. This gives us a way to double-check our guesses for dates of the Halloween Parties. Based on the current schedule, there are two fewer parties scheduled this year than in 2011, BUT that may very well change.

If you had planned to attend a Not-So-Scary Party and it no longer appears on our calendar, withhold your panic. It may re-appear when Disney revisits the schedule as the fall approaches and ticket sales start to roll in.

Unofficial Guide Disney Dish with Jim Hill Podcast Released

by on March 29, 2012

Another episode of the Unofficial Guide Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast has been released. Join Jim and me as we walk through Downtown Disney and talk retail spaces, dining habits, and more. Here’s the link in iTunes; here’s the MP3 directly.

If you have time after listening, we’d appreciate it if you could rate the show on iTunes and provide feedback on which destinations you’d like us to visit next. Thanks very much.

What’s the Right Age for a Visit to Disney World?

by on March 28, 2012

You can’t bring your baby to Walt Disney World! You get the cutest photos when you bring your baby to Walt Disney World! It’s too hard to travel with a toddler! My preschooler won’t remember the trip! Kindergarten is the best time for a Disney visit! Don’t go until your child’s tall enough for ALL the rides! Middle schoolers are too jaded for Disney! Teens have nothing to do in the parks! There’s no reason to go to Walt Disney World if you don’t have kids!

Any frequent Disney visitor has heard (and maybe participated in) vehement arguments about why a certain age is the best or worst time to visit Walt Disney World. As a person who’s been to Disney as a child, a young adult single, a young adult married, and as a parent of infants on up to teenagers, I’ve lived the gamut of pros and cons of Disney travel at various life stages. Let’s break it down:

Travel with an Infant

  • Pros:
    • Free admission for the child! Never underestimate the benefit of free park admission.
    • They’re portable. They’ll keep to your itinerary with no complaints.
    • Everything is new and interesting to them.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
    • Photo ops are extra cute.
  • Cons:
    • They won’t remember the trip.
    • Too short for many rides.
    • Some attractions have height requirements, forcing an adult to stay behind and watch the baby.
    • You need to tote extra supplies: diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.

Travel with a Toddler (ages 1-2)

  • Pros:
    • Free admission!
    • They’ll likely “believe in” Mickey and friends.
    • They can express preferences about what they like. You’ll see real joy when they’re happy.
    • You can keep them safe/contained in a stroller during parades/crowds.
    • Several attractions are made with toddlers in mind.
    • Easily entertained by the little things: ducks, play fountains, giant lollipops.
    • Lots of kid-friendly food options.
    • Preschoolers are happy with simple rides.

    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
  • Cons:
    • They won’t remember the trip.
    • Some attractions have height requirements, forcing an adult to stay behind and watch the baby.
    • You need to tote extra supplies: diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
    • Potty training may make bathroom issues a priority.
    • Possible fear issues with characters.
    • Possible rebellion against the stroller.
    • Minimal patience for waiting in lines.
    • Too short for many rides.
    • Needs watchful water supervision.

Travel with a Preschooler (ages 3-5)

  • Pros:
    • Pays child admission fee and dining rates.
    • Will likely “believe in” Mickey and friends.
    • Often totally immersed in the experience. There’s no I’m “too cool” attitude.
    • Can walk some on their own, but you still have the stroller for breaks or to stow your gear.
    • Old enough for the Disney resort child care centers, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and Pirate’s League.
    • Lots of child-friendly food options.
  • Cons:
    • Possibly won’t remember the trip.
    • Possibly fearful of some experiences.
    • Not yet tall enough for some rides.
    • Needs watchful supervision in the water.
    • Younger children can best experience the Disney magic.

Travel with a Younger Elementary Schooler (ages 6-9)

  • Pros:
    • Pays child admission fee and dining rates.
    • They’ll likely remember most of the trip.
    • They’ll have stamina for a full day.
    • Most rides are accessible to them.
    • They’re unlikely to be jaded about the Disney experience.
    • They can assist with the planning.
    • They’re usually past the fear factor.
  • Cons:
    • School may limit travel dates.
    • Too old for stroller, but possibly still easily tired.
    • Perhaps still too short for some rides.

Travel with an Older Elementary Schooler or Middle Schooler (ages 10-13)

  • Pros:
    • Will likely be tall enough for every attraction.
    • Generally safe in water situations at pools and water parks.
    • They can assist with the planning.
    • Generally able to occupy themselves in lines.
    • Will often enjoy some of the more educational attractions at Epcot.
    • Easy to dine at signature restaurants.
    • Older children can start to go on some rides by themselves.

  • Cons:
    • Older children pay adult ticket prices.
    • Travel may have to be in peak season to avoid taking them out of school.
    • May be unwilling to share a bed with a sibling, making a larger room necessary.

Travel with a High Schooler (ages 14-18)

  • Pros:
    • They can enjoy many of the attractions on their own.
    • They may be able to participate in backstage tours with you.
    • Easy to dine at signature restaurants.
    • Easy to stay up late for fireworks, evening Extra Magic Hours.
    • Can stay up for the entire Halloween or Christmas party at the Magic Kingdom.
    • Ample free transportation means they can come and go at will.
    • Older children can participate in more activities.

  • Cons:
    • May think they’re “too cool.”
    • Sleep schedules not optimal for rope-drop touring.
    • Possibly expensive to feed hungry appetites.
    • May be unwilling to share a bed with a sibling, making a larger room necessary.
    • Travel may have to be in peak season to avoid taking them out of school.

Travel as a Young Childless Adult

  • Pros:
    • You can experience everything at your own pace.
    • Nothing is off limits.
    • You can travel light. No diaper bags or extra gear to tote.
    • There are plenty of opportunities for romance.
  • Cons:
    • Some attractions are better seen through the eyes of a child.
    • Possible awkwardness about hanging out with Mickey with no child in tow.
    • Disney is expensive. Budget may be an issue on a new worker’s salary.
    • Difficult to avoid children if you want quiet time.
    • Nightlife scene is relatively limited.

Travel while Pregnant

  • Pros:
    • Disney is a comfortable place for travel while pregnant. There are plenty of clean restrooms and nearby medical assistance.
    • There’s plenty to see/do while taking it easy (shows, spas, etc.)
    • Cute photo opportunities of Junior with Mickey before birth.
  • Cons:
    • Heat and walking require substantial stamina.
    • Some rides must be avoided due to intense motion.
    • You’re away from your own medical team.

Travel as Senior

  • Pros:
    • Easy to visit when crowds are low.
    • Disney is very accommodating for guests with medical challenges.
    • Spur of the moment trips more possible.
    • Can see the joy in a grandchild’s eyes at WDW.
  • Cons:
    • Heat and walking require substantial stamina.
    • Difficult to find quieter places without children.
    • Intense rides may exacerbate medical conditions.

Obviously there are good and bad aspects to Walt Disney World travel at any age or stage. For me, there’s no right time to go. Or to put it differently, there are many right times to go. I loved my Disney visits when my kids were toddlers and I love them now when they’re teens – even though the trips themselves are entirely different.

What have you found to be the “sweet spot” for Disney travel? Are there advantages or disadvantages that I missed? How have you coped with family members at different life stages traveling together? Let us know in the comments below.

Coral Reef Review

by on March 28, 2012

On my last trip I made a reservation to have a late birthday celebration at one of Epcot’s restaurants.  I’ve been to most of the eateries in Epcot, but there was one that was missing from my list. I had never been to Coral Reef before. I had always heard mixed reviews, but I wanted to give it a try for myself. I thought at least the scenery would be cool with a great view of the fish tank. I really love seafood, so I wanted to give it a shot since it touts a menu featuring my favorite food. Was it worth going against all of the bad reviews? Read on to find out!

Our visit to Coral Reef started with a 30 minute wait, even though we had made an Advanced Dining Reservation. There seemed to be a lot of folks standing around in a similar situation. Since the restaurant is located inside the Seas Pavilion, we wound up sitting outside listening to the seagulls chant, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” for half an hour. There is not a ton of space inside, so if the weather is not cooperating, waiting could be a very wet time. I could stand around talking and being silly with my friends for hours, so it wasn’t horrible to have to spend half an hour with them outside, but we were hungry!

Once inside, the atmosphere at Coral Reef is one of its key selling points. The lobby feels as though you are walking into the sea: there are jellyfish-shaped light fixtures on the ceiling and a wave pattern on the floor. When guests are seated, the tank side dining area is revealed. The view of the Seas Pavilion’s aquarium is the main event here and really is beautiful. The dining area is smaller than I pictured, but there are semi-circular booths facing the tank to give parties a nice view of the fish swimming around. My group was given one of these tables and really enjoyed the view. It is also quite loud in here, which occasionally made conversation more difficult than it really should have been.

Since we were celebrating a birthday and the completion of that day’s half marathon for two of my dining companions, we ordered appetizers. I had heard great things about the creamy lobster soup (basically, lobster bisque), so that was my selection. A couple of my friends were disappointed that there were only one or two options that were not made with seafood. With that in mind, the other appetizers at the table included crab cakes, the mixed field greens salad, and the day’s soup of the day made with veggies and beans, but no fish. My soup was good, but not amazing; I’m not sure if I would order it again. The salad with candied walnuts, seasonal fruit, and blue cheese looked lovely, and my friend reported it tasted as good as it it looked. The crab cakes also got a good review. The soup of the day didn’t get get much praise, unfortunately. It sounded like an odd combination of spinach and beans, and my friend didn’t love it by any means.

Photo by Doug Uhlig

When it came to picking and entree, my philosophy was “the more fish the better.” I opted for the mahi mahi, which was topped with shrimp and with a coconut based sauce. Unfortunately, the shrimp were really overcooked. Otherwise, the mahi was decent, and I liked the sauce, but I just couldn’t get over the chewy shrimp. One friend ordered the vegetable-potato strudel and really enjoyed it, so keep that in mind, vegetarians. The seared chicken breast was also ordered, but it wasn’t enjoyed. My friend who ordered the braised pork shank all but licked his plate.

Dessert was probably my favorite part of the meal. Most of us ordered the signature chocolate wave, and one opted for the Baileys and Jack Daniel’s mousse. The chocolate wave was basically a molten chocolate cake with a raspberry gelato served along with it. It was delicious! I love the combination of chocolate and raspberry, so I was very happy with this sweet ending. The Baileys and Jack Daniel’s mousse also got rave reviews!  It was a good way to end an otherwise so-so meal for me.

In addition to my so-so meal, the service was also mediocre. The fact that the restaurant was running behind may have been because service was slow. It took a while to get both our food and our check, and I don’t think our server ever checked on us after our entrees were served. The cast member was pleasant, so I couldn’t fault her for her personality, but it was less than impressive service on top of a less than impressive dinner.

Overall, I wasn’t all that pleased with my Coral Reef experience. I’m usually pretty upbeat about my adventures in Disney World, but this restaurant just fell short for me. Sure, it was cool to watch the fish swim around while we had dinner, but that alone is not worth sacrificing a good meal and good service. It certainly wasn’t the worst dinner I’ve ever had, but it was far from great. A few of my fellow diners did really enjoy their meals, but there seemed to be an even split between those who liked their food and those who weren’t really impressed. I think it will be a while until I give this one another chance, especially since I really love a lot of the other options in Epcot.

How about you? Have you dined at the Coral Reef recently? Tell me if you loved it or hated it in the comments!

Walt Disney World Resort Television Cable Line Up Expanding

by on March 28, 2012

Earlier this month the Walt Disney World Resort began rolling out an expanded line up of cable television programming for all of its Disney Resort Hotels. The newly expanded channel offerings now include: AMC, TBS, TNT, TV Land, The Travel Channel, History Channel, Food Network, Bravo, SyFy, Discovery, Fox News, HGTV, TLC, and National Geographic. Hotels are being added to the list of those converted daily, with the final installation expected to be complete with the installation at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground on May 8, 2012.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Implements Play Capacity Restrictions

by on March 28, 2012

The new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive game in the Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort will operate only on the “Easy” game play mode until further notice. The restriction on the difficulty level will prohibit players from moving beyond the basic level of the game and completing the primary missions. At the Easy level, essentially all puzzles/battles within the game can be solved by a single use of any of the available spell cards, rather than by employing any level of strategy or card tactics that the more difficult game levels require.

Normally, guests would advance in the computerized game system as their proficiency in the game improved as they completed missions; thus, the game would increase in difficulty the longer they played, and they would in turn need to play the game more adeptly to advance. This new restriction locks everyone temporarily at the Easy level, so for now all guests will play at the Easy level regardless of the level of play they have achieved. When this restriction has ended, guests should be able to resume their game playing at the level at which they were playing prior to the restriction.

As to why the restriction is being imposed: crowds and lines. There is congestion at the individual game play portals because guests at the higher levels take more time. This is combining with a higher overall number of guests playing due to the park being relatively busy. Quite simply, with all levels enabled, the attraction cannot handle the volume of people who want to play.

If you’re looking to experience the attraction, your best bet is to do so outside of peak periods and peak attendance days. If you want to fully experience the interactivity and difficulty levels available, you’ll have to visit the park multiple times. Be sure to keep your assigned “key card” from the game, and of course check the TouringPlans blog for an update for when the current Easy-play capacity restriction has been relaxed.

Magic Kingdom Park Hours Extended Tonight March 27

by on March 27, 2012

The park operating hours at the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World resort have been extended until midnight (12 a.m.) from the original 11 p.m. closing for tonight, Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

Disney World’s Randy Pausch Tribute

by on March 27, 2012

Sometimes it is the little things that you remember most while touring the parks. For example, every time I visit Magic Kingdom I make it a point to stop by the Randy Pausch tribute. You don’t know about the Randy Pausch tribute?

As you walk by the Mad Tea Party, look closely and you will find a plaque that is shaped like a leaf (or all of the signage in Downtown Disney in Anaheim). It says:

“Be good at something, it makes you valuable…Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”

Randy Pausch (1960-2008) is best known for co-writing a book called The Last Lecture. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006, Randy put together a lecture called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. He gave the lecture on September 18, 2007 and it became an instant hit on YouTube, which lead to other media appearances. Hyperion, a publishing company owned by Disney, paid Pausch $6.7 million for the rights to publish a book based on the lecture. The book went on to sell 400,000 copies in its first printing and has been translated into 46 languages. It spent more than 85 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. To date, the book has sold more than 4.5 million copies. Pausch was a professor of computer sciences and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, PA.

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

Epcot Extends Hours To 10pm On Fridays And Saturdays For Food & Wine Festival

by on March 27, 2012

From September 28, 2012, through November 11, 2012, Epcot will be hosting the International Food & Wine Festival. This year, park hours have been extended one hour to 10pm on both Fridays and Saturdays throughout the event dates. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth will be performed at 10pm rather than at its typical time of 9pm. Last year there were similar hours, but the additional hour was not offered every Friday and Saturday during the Festival.

Are you looking forward to this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival? If so, you now will have an extra hour to enjoy it on Fridays and Saturdays!

Drinks of Disney World: Vol 2 – Port Orleans

by on March 27, 2012

I am not going to lie to you; this Drink of Disney World series is one of my favorites to write and most certainly my favorite to research. It started with a trip behind the drinks that are served at the UK Pavilion in Epcot. Today, I’m going to throw a change up and head over to a resort that I recently spent some time at: Port Orleans.

As you are no doubt aware, the Port Orleans resorts are designed to resemble different aspects of southern living. French Quarter is a Disneyfied version of central New Orleans (meaning no…uh, gentlemen’s establishments), while Riverside is an equally sanitized depiction of a more rural lifestyle. In reality, the adult beverages available in these two areas would be equally different, but this is not quite reality.

Sadly (to me anyway), the drink menus are nearly identical at both Riverside and French Quarter. They both have a full liquor array and mostly standard beer lists, as well. The only interesting beer choices come from the Abita brewery, which is a relatively small brewer from New Orleans. Abita has some good quality brews, but its story is not particularly interesting, nor is it very long (Abita has been brewing for under 30 years, and any product younger than I am does not count as history).

Where you can find some true Louisiana history in a glass is in the cocktails. No, you won’t come across moonshine hidden in the back woods of Riverside, nor will you run into the Duke boys evading Rosco P. Coltrane (although that would be fantastic). What you will find is two mixed drinks with a lot of history that leads straight back to New Orleans: the Hurricane and the Sazerac.

The Hurricane is a rum-based cocktail invented by Pat O’Brien, the proprietor of the French Quarter bar, Pat O’Brien’s (I wonder how he thought up the name). During World War II, good quality whiskey and vodka were hard to come by, but rum was widely available-a little too widely available. Liquor distributors in the New Orleans area began requiring the purchase of several cases of rum for every case of whiskey or vodka bought. Obviously, bar owners were trying to find ways to move all of that less popular liquor, and Mr. O’Brien decided to concoct a cocktail of rum and fruit juice. In an attempt to make it more desirable, he began serving it in a large, curvy glass shaped like a Hurricane lamp…and a legend was born.

Today people flock to the original site of Pat O’Brien’s to imbibe in the famous drink and take home a souvenir glass. While the bartenders of Port Orleans will gladly make you a real authentic Hurricane, they may not be as happy with your trying to take the glass home (although I have never tried).

The Sazerac is a lesser known cocktail, but it is every bit as dear to New Orleans as the Hurricane. In fact, it was named the “Official Cocktail of New Orleans” in 2008 after several amended bills in the State Congress (who says government wastes time on silly things?). It is made almost entirely of rye whiskey (or sometimes cognac) and simple syrup (sugar water), so it is a pretty stiff customer, but having a Sazerac at Port Orleans will instantly link you to centuries of Louisiana history.

In short, a bar owner began serving a cocktail in New Orleans around 1850 that was made from a particular brand of cognac: Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils (did you make a link to the name yet? Of course you did). The drink became so popular that the bar was renamed “The Sazerac House.”

Since you’re pretty smart you are probably wondering why the drink is named after a cognac yet made with rye whiskey, right? Well, around 1870 there was a vegetation decimating disease in France that devastated the grape crop, making cognac scarce. The recipe was amended to rye, which was much more reliable and apparently did not impact the cocktail’s popularity (there is now a rye named Sazerac, but it is predated by the drink).

There are subtle and obvious links to Louisiana, and specifically New Orleans, all over the Port Orleans resort. You may not have realized the relationship at the bar before, but now you can amble into the River Roost or Scat Cat’s and confidently order a real connection back through history.