Archive for April, 2014

SATURDAY SIX: Six Universal Trends We Just Don’t Understand

by on April 26, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Top Six Universal Trends We Just Don’t Understand. A little while back we looked at Six Disney Obsessions we had a hard time wrapping our head around, and today we’re going to go across town to look at the Universal Orlando Resort. Now you’ve read Saturday Six articles on Marvel Superhero Island, the Wizarding World, Springfield USA, and many other areas of Universal that we love, but believe it or not, the parks aren’t perfect. Today we are going to look at six things that we think Universal could improve upon.


IOA on a night where there was no hard ticket or special event.

# 6 – Short Park Hours

Some of the “criticisms” of Universal seem to come because we have been so spoiled by Disney. With Extra Magic Hours the parks can be enjoyed very late into the night (if not the early morning). The Magic Kingdom regularly closes at 11PM and is often extending its hours to Midnight or 1AM. Meanwhile, the Universal parks can be seen closing as early as 6PM or 7PM.

Universal has a hard time keeping guests in its parks after dark, a trend it is trying to turn around with elements such as the Cinematic Spectacular nighttime show at Universal Studios Florida. But the fact remains that once 5PM hits, Islands of Adventure starts losing 1-2,000 guests per hour (or more) until closing. This is shame because many attractions and areas in IOA take on a whole new life at night. Hogsmeade Village almost transforms once the sun goes down and somehow becomes even more immersive in the night setting. It just feels right. Coasters such as The Incredible Hulk, Dragon Challenge, and Rip Ride Rockit also seem to have a little bit of extra thrill when you get to ride at night.

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Epcot After Hours Wind Down Review: La Cava del Tequila and Spice Road Table

by on April 25, 2014

Epcot After Hours Wind Down Review

You can see Epcot from a unique perspective — for a price — at the new After Hours Wind Down.

Recently, we brought you the first word on Epcot After Hours Wind Down, a brand-new after hours program that began on April 17 at World Showcase in Walt Disney World’s Epcot park. Because we are will to sacrifice almost anything — including sleep, brain cells, and our livers — to bring Touring Plans readers complete coverage, my wife and I volunteered to be opening-weekend guinea pigs for this new food and alcohol tasting adventure (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it…). Now that our hangovers have cleared, enjoy this exclusive in-depth Epcot After Hours Wine Down review, covering the experiences offered at Mexico’s La Cava del Tequila and Morocco’s Spice Road Table.


La Cava del Tequila Wind Down Review

Since I developed a new appreciation for tequila while reviewing Universal CityWalk‘s Antojitos, I chose to attend the Wind Down tasting at Mexico’s La Cava del Tequila, long one of my favorite bars inside any theme park. The tasting sessions are scheduled to begin at 9:20 p.m., but because we watched IllumiNations before from near Morocco (on the opposite side of the World Showcase lagoon), I didn’t arrive until approximately 8 minutes into the session. I suggested that they hold the start time until at least 15 minutes after the closing fireworks, but until that change is made I strongly suggest watching the show from a spot nearby your selected tasting venue.

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How Well Does Disney World Meet Vacation Needs?

by on April 25, 2014

True confession time: I am rarely happier than when I am in my own home, in my comfy sweats, consuming a book or movie, and enjoying a glass of tea or wine (depending on the hour). This Class-A introvert could easily putter for weeks without leaving the house. But despite my love of bunny slippers, inertia, and Riesling (preferably in combination), I manage to drag myself out for travel, often Walt Disney World travel, on a regular basis.

But why? I mean, travel is expensive, tiring, uncomfortable, and sometimes just a downright pain in the tush.

Attractions like Living with the Land make education fun, particularly for kids.

Attractions like Living with the Land make education fun, particularly for kids.

Seriously, why bother?

As uncomfortable and annoying as many aspects of travel are, the benefits are many. Some of the positive aspects of travel, any travel, could be:

  • Education: Learning new things.
  • Novelty: Humans seek new experience. Travel quells the thirst.
  • Nostaliga: You’ve traveled before. Repeating the experience evokes pleasant memories.
  • Escape from Reality: Travel takes you away from humdrum obligations at home.
  • Relaxation: Being chill.
  • Change of Climate: You’re cold, you go somewhere warm (or vice versa).
  • Meeting New and Interesting People
  • Enhanced Relationships with Travel Companions: shared experience makes bonds.
  • Comfort: Aspects of your destination might be better/nicer or more comfortable than home.
  • Altruism: Expanding yourself by helping others.
  • Confronting Fears: Stepping out of your comfort zone.
  • Trying New Foods.
  • Moving Your Body: A chance to exercise.
  • To Experience the Natural World.

Now lets see how a trip to Walt Disney World measures up on these criteria.

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FastPass+ Changes Rolling Out Next Week at Walt Disney World

by on April 24, 2014



Recently, I posted an article about how Disney was in the process of tweaking its MyMagic+ system to allow for additional FastPass+ perks for guests at Walt Disney World. These tweaks include adding the ability to make more than 3 FastPass+ reservations per day and adding the opportunity to park hop from one theme park to another.

Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, announced today that beginning on Monday, April 28, after guests use their first 3 FastPass+ selections, they will be able to return to one of the FastPass+ kiosks found within the parks and select another FastPass+ reservation. This fourth FastPass+ entitlement will be available on a rolling basis.: as soon as guests use this fourth FastPass+ reservation, they can then go back to a FastPass+ kiosk to select yet another FastPass+, and so on. (It does appear that, at least for now, you will have to head to a kiosk – and not the My Disney Experience app – to make your additional FastPass+ selections.)

In addition, guests will able to select and use their additional FastPass+ reservations when hopping from park to park.

These updates to the current system are occurring due to guest feedback of the current system’s set up. The change is certainly welcome. It will make it so that guests have even more flexibility in their touring.

Now I need to go change the FastPass+ reservations I have scheduled for next week!

In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of April 25, 2014

by on April 24, 2014

In Case You Missed It!

In Case You Missed It!

Who’s been busy celebrating? The anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair AND Disney’s Animal Kingdom were this week. Did anybody get any cake? I seemed to have missed out.

Anywho…here’s all the fun spectacular stuff you may have missed out on seeing this week!

In Case You Missed It – Disney News and Rumors

Are you a fan of Raglan Road at Downtown Disney? It was named The Best Restaurant by Orlando Magazine. A big congrats to them! To see the other Walt Disney World restaurants that took home awards, make sure to check out this article.

James Cameron had a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) last week and in it, he briefly discussed Avatarland. Here’s his quote about the land of Pandora, currently being built at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios To Celebrate 25th Anniversary on May 1

by on April 24, 2014



Did you know that on May 1, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will celebrate its 25th anniversary? (Of course, back when the park opened in 1989, it was known as Disney-MGM Studios.) To celebrate this monumental achievement, the park will be hosting a party. The day’s events will include fun and excitement for all ages!

According to the Disney Parks Blog, here’s what you can expect to see, for those of you lucky enough to be in the park on this joyful occasion:

  • At 10:00 a.m.: guests will be invited to join Disney’s Hollywood Studios Vice President, Dan Cockerell, for a short re-dedication ceremony.
  • At 7:00 p.m.: the park will hold the “Stars of the Studios” motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, featuring many favorite animated Disney stars.
  • Following the parade, The Sorcerer’s Hat Stage will feature a dance party, where guests are invited to party the night away.
  • At 9:30 p.m.: the skies will light up in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat with a spectacular fireworks extravaganza. The show will pay tribute to 25 years of show business stories, that have been told throughout the park.
  • Commemorative merchandise will be for sale, featuring the 25th anniversary logo. Merchandise will include shirts, pins, key chains, bags, and more.
  • A 25th anniversary cupcake will be for sale, a chocolate Nutella cupcake, which can be found at many counter service dining establishments.

I’ll make sure to update this post with any additional information that gets released about this memorable celebration.

Happy early anniversary Disney’s Hollywood Studios!

Disney Cruise Line Itinerary Change

by on April 24, 2014

A few weeks ago, Disney Cruise Line announced its itinerary offerings for most of 2015 and they’ve already started to tinker with their schedule.


Thanks to heads up from Scott Sanders of the Disney Cruise Line Blog and a note from a travel agent friend, we’re confirming that the 11-night Norway/Iceland Magic sailing departing from Copenhagen will now include a day-10 stop at Kirkwall, Scotland rather than at the previously announced Torshavn, Faroe Islands. The exact language provided to travel agents states:

In order to provide [your clients] with a premier family experience, we have modified our 11-night Copenhagen to England repositioning cruise to include a call on Kirkwall, Scotland, instead of the call on Torshavn, Faroe Islands. We’re excited to provide our Guests with this revised sailing itinerary that offers the opportunity to visit both of the countries that inspired the recent blockbuster hit, Frozen from Disney Animation Studios and Brave from Pixar Animation Studios. Your assistance in passing this information along to your client is appreciated. Kirkwall, located off the Northern coast of Scotland in the Orkney Islands, offers many fascinating historic attractions, adventure tours, and bountiful wildlife.

As a guest who is booked on this voyage, I have to say that I’m happy about the change. I don’t have anything particularly negative to say about the Faroe Islands, but in doing some preliminary research it did seem to have quite a bit of activity/atmosphere redundancy with many of the other ports on this trip. Scotland should provide more variety and, as the note mentioned, it has the added cachet for kids of being the site of another recent Disney film. (I mean, I seriously LOVE Frozen, but at this point haggis would be a welcome palate cleanser for all that icy reindeer.)

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Planning for My First Disney Cruise

by on April 24, 2014

Disney Dream Lobby

Disney Dream Lobby
Photo courtesy of Scott Sanders

I have never been on a cruise. I’m not into casinos, bingo, cheesy musicals, hypnotists, art auctions, or shopping in third-world tourist traps. Thus most cruise ships and itineraries don’t catch my fancy. Disney Cruise Line seemed different, and doing the programming to enliven our Disney Cruise Line product heightened my interest in sailing with Mickey.

My wife and I discussed taking a DCL cruise once our child was old enough to enjoy the kids’ activities, and that time has come. Conveniently enough, we’ll be sailing for on a 4-Night Bahamanian Cruise on the Disney Dream in October 2014, when my son will be about 3½ years old. Our family of three will fit fine in the smallest on-board room (Category 11C, baby!), and I’m confident we’ll find plenty to do to fill four days.

My main challenge – and most of what I’ll blog about – is getting to and from Port Canaveral in a way that works well with our schedules while minimizing costs and hassles. One recurring wrinkle in my planning is that I need to have my son in a car seat in any non-bus vehicle in which he might ride; that makes renting a car, hiring a town car, riding in a cab, etc. more burdensome. Ironically, so far I’ve found the logistics of our family trip to Tokyo in 2012 to be simpler than those for this DCL trip!

I hope you’ll join with me as I analyze my transportation options and make rational decisions based on my group’s preferences and the cost impacts of our decisions. I start with a brief overview of some travel decisions I need to make. In subsequent blog posts I’ll look at tools and consult you, Dear Readers, for assistance.

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Disney Cruise Line Tips from our Research

by on April 24, 2014

DCL pool deck photo

Hit the pools when people are ashore to avoid crowds

This month Len Testa and I are heading on our next cruises, back to back 3 and 4-night Bahamas itineraries on the Dream. Two years ago after the Fantasy debuted, we began to toss around the idea of expanding our DCL coverage, and the result has been our DCL subscription on TouringPlans, which we brought online last fall, and the Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line, which we co-wrote with Erin Foster.

Between our theme park research, not living in Florida, the cost of fares, and needing to work around school schedules, we’re not able to cruise as much as we’d like (unlike the lady in front of us on the last cruise who checked into her 70th cruise), so each time is still special. (I can’t say that about every trip to Walt Disney World anymore.) However, even though I haven’t cruised 70 times, I feel like I’m really getting the hang of cruising Disney. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

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2014 Star Wars Weekends Celebrity Lineup Announced and More

by on April 23, 2014

Star Wars Weekends 2012One of the highlights of Star Wars Weekends is the ability to meet the Star Wars stars of the screen and TV. It is always a hodgepodge of celebrities that make an appearance at this popular event, ranging from stars of the original saga, all the way to the celebrities who lend their talents to the more recent offerings.

This year brings a wide range of celebs to the five Star Wars Weekends, which are scheduled to take place Fridays through Sundays, May 16 to June 15. Many favorites are returning (like Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Ray Park, and Billy Dee Williams), and a few new additions have been added to the schedule (such as John Ratzenberger, Mark Hamill, and some voice actors from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels series). Here is a full list of who you can expect to see and when:

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