Archive for February, 2015

Theme Park Confessions: My First Mistake

by on February 25, 2015

Dear readers,

I have a confession to make. I have not always been the perfect theme park traveler. I know it may seem that way but unfortunately I am not. Out of the many different mistakes I have made going to theme parks, the first was thinking I could handle more than I should. It was my first time at Knott’s Berry Farm–maybe when I was around 10 or so–and one of their main attractions was metal roller coaster called Boomerang (which is still there today). It is a short, fast, metal coaster that sends you barreling forwards and backwards at 47 mphs with two quick loops. I remember hearing about this attraction on commercials, and I was hyped to experience it. Even when I was in line, I believed I could handle it. Well, I was wrong.

Right after the ride ended, I was the first one to run off, crying, and not ever wanting to experience any roller coaster again. As a matter of fact, I was not able to go on any other roller coaster again for a few years. When I look back at this incident, I wish there was something that would have given me the ability to know what it was like to encounter this attraction beforehand. Even while standing in line, I did not truly understand what it would feel like to sit in one of those coast seats. This is why my advice to everyone–first timers or not–is to take advantage of ride through videos. It is the only way to truly know what you are going to get yourself into before stepping one foot into any theme park.

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A Non-Park Disney Vacation

by on February 25, 2015

As a non-Florida resident, my trips to Walt Disney World are not as frequent as I’d like. And when I get the opportunity to get to my favorite place on earth, I plan every moment of every day and pack in as much pixie dust as possible. It’s not uncommon for me to only get 4-5 hours of sleep a night as I open and close parks and fill the days with finely-tuned Touring Plans and FastPass+ reservations. These trips usually end with me in a Disney-induced coma on a plane heading back to the southwest, but completely content. I imagine it’s what marathon runners must feel like. Yeah, it can be painful, and sometimes you wonder if you’re insane for committing to this, but afterword it’s such a triumph and you can’t help but feel proud for all you’ve accomplished.

Photo - Michael Dahlgren

It’s vision that brings us all joy.
Photo by Michael Dahlgren

When I was presented with the opportunity to be in Orlando for a work conference, my heart simultaneously leapt and crashed all at once. What a great excuse for an impromptu Disney trip (especially with a flight and 2 hotel nights paid for)! But then I looked at my budget, there’s a reason I didn’t have a Disney trip in the works already – I was already over-extended and committed to other trips this year. But how could I be in Orlando – so close to the House of the Mouse and NOT go?! The mere idea violates my very nature as a Disneyphile. I confided my disappointment in friend who kindly suggested, why don’t I just pick one park to go to for a day? That suggestion is almost more unnatural. One park? How can I choose one park? That’s like choosing a favorite child! I love them all! Choose the classic innocence and magic of Magic Kingdom over the food and culture of Epcot?  Or the details and natural beauty of Animal Kingdom over the stomach churning thrill rides of Hollywood Studios? No, no – there’s no way to pick just one park! The thought then occurred to me, I could do the four-parks-in-one-day challenge. But with only one day to dedicate to parks, I couldn’t be cheated that way. And I know that there’s no way I could only do one or two attractions in each park and pass by everything else without knowing I’d be right back to really do the park justice. And the time spent traveling between parks would take up too much precious time. So, that ruled out four park hopping.

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Disney It Yourself: The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App Review

by on February 24, 2015

Photo - Angela DahlgrenImagine yourself sitting in front of the television on a Sunday evening. There you are minding your own business when suddenly, a Disney Parks commercial comes on.

BAM! The nostalgia hits you like a ton of bricks. You get that yearning feeling in the pit of your stomach while your heart aches for the most magical place on earth. Your next trip isn’t for several months. What can you do?!

In this series, I’m on a quest to scratch that Disney itch from the comfort of my own home. I’ll be reviewing Disney apps, trying out Disney crafts and exploring different options for satisfying that Disney craving.

First on the agenda: The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App.

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App was first introduced in the Apple App Store on June 24, 2013. An update followed on March 14, 2014. It is based off the attraction of the same name, found at Innoventions West in Epcot. It is published by Disney and is presented by T. Rowe Price.

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Disneyland Crowd Calendar Report – February 15 to 21, 2015

by on February 24, 2015

Except for Presidents Day Monday, crowds at Disneyland Resort edged one level higher than the Crowd Calendar predicted each day last week. The flow of crowds from day-to-day was exactly matched by the calendar’s predictions however.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Disneyland Resort Crowd Report:

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – February 15 to 21, 2015

by on February 24, 2015

Last week, a rainy Tuesday kept Universal Orlando crowd levels at bay until Wednesday and Thursday when wait times spiked a couple levels higher than expected. This happens often when guests lose a vacation day to bad weather. The Crowd Calendar did correctly predict the flow of crowds throughout the week however, including the near-maximum crowds levels on Sunday and Monday as guests took advantage of the Presidents Day and Mardi Gras holidays.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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Disney World Crowd Calendar Report – February 15 to 20, 2015

by on February 24, 2015

Presidents Day, Mardi Gras and the Princess Half Marathon all in the same week meant for some interesting crowds last week. A rainy Tuesday kept crowds lighter than expected but then as the clouds broke away Wednesday the crowds returned. Other than that, our calendar correctly predicted the flow of crowds throughout the week.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Disney World Crowd Calendar Report:

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Best Themed Restaurants at Disney World

by on February 23, 2015


The level of detail that Disney Imagineers put into the theming of the parks is astonishing. If I can be perfectly content just sitting in an area and soaking in all the details, then that to me is a wonderfully themed area of a Disney park. The same goes for Disney dining. Obviously, food quality comes first but with the premium that you’re going to pay at Disney, I always try to eat at restaurants that are immersive and give me that feeling that I’ve actually entered the setting that the Imagineers were trying to convey. If you have that same desire to be transported away during your next Disney dining experience then you’re in the right place. Below, you’ll find a list of my personal five best themed restaurants at Disney World. Each of these restaurants has excellent theming that will surely enhance your meal. Luckily, the food happens to be great at each of them as well.


5. Flame Tree Barbecue

Might have to talk to your kids about the birds and the...snakes?

Might have to talk to your kids about the birds and the…snakes?

Starting off our list is the only quick service entry and the only outdoor entry on our list. Located in Animal Kingdom, Flame Tree Barbecue is my favorite place to eat a meal outdoors in the parks. Animal Kingdom is already a beautiful park so it’s no surprise that Flame Tree lives up to its park’s reputation. There are both covered seating areas and more sunny areas that are overlooking the water with Everest in the distance. There’s also a beautiful pond/pool towards the back of the seating area as well. Along with the great views, the covered areas I mentioned before are cool looking and come complete with a surprisingly “real” Circle of Life theme. Each patio features a predator eating its prey, which shows that Disney can take the kid gloves off every once in a while without going over the top. When it comes down to it, Flame Tree has arguably the best counter service food and best outdoor seating areas in the parks, which make it my fifth most atmospheric restaurant at Disney World. Note: Flame Tree is currently closed during Rivers of Light construction at Animal Kingdom, though some of its seating is open and you can find your smoked meats other places in the park.

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Foodie Awards: Where Locals Eat (Part 1)

by on February 23, 2015

Every major area has their town’s “best of” competition, and Orlando is no exception. Each year, the Orlando Sentinel runs an extensive foodie competition where readers and critics weigh in on the best of various cuisines throughout the Orlando metro area. A surprising (or not so surprising, depending on your view) number of these restaurants are located near the Walt Disney World resort, and make great options for times when you want to drive off property for a little something different than “normal” Walt Disney World dining.

I’ve gone through the restaurants and compiled all of the restaurants that are less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World here. And yes, I’ve eaten at many of them. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.) So if you’re looking for a change of pace, here’s some places to try.

Boma (Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jiko (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Both Boma and Jiko are perennial favorites in The Unofficial Guide, so it is no surprise they rate highly in this award as well. The African-inspired cuisine is not only delicious, but very approachable, even for cautious eaters.

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Publix Super Market (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Bakery). Various locations near Walt Disney World.

It may come as a surprise for people outside of Florida that Publix was a winner for best bakery, but the Publix bakery has a pretty devoted following within the Sunshine State. Insider tip: Kids get a free cookie just by stopping by.

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (Readers’ Choice: Best Bar Menu; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Burger). 6000 Universal Boulevard at Universal CityWalk.

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Walt Disney World Fun Facts

by on February 22, 2015

This fellow from the Festival of Fantasy parade is terrifying, and awesome. Read on to hear more about the parade!

This fellow from the Festival of Fantasy parade is terrifying, and awesome. Read on to hear more about the parade!

Okay, trivia fans!  Today we’re going to look at some fun facts about the Orlando home of the main mouse! The sheer size of the entire Walt Disney World resort means that a lot went into the creation, and also that it provides tons of opportunities for number crunching and trivial knowledge. For example, did you know that the resort covers approximately 40 square miles? If you’re not able to wrap your head around what that means, the normal comparison is that it’s about the same size as San Francisco. No wonder you’re tired after walking all day!

As you likely know, the Walt Disney World resort is divided up into four theme parks, a shopping area currently being reinvented and renamed Disney Springs, and a variety of resort hotels. To make it easier to keep all the fun facts straight, the numbers will be divided up into five categories: General, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Let’s get to it!

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Walt Disney World Ticket Price Increase Breakdown

by on February 21, 2015

MYW_Ticket_LogoBeginning tomorrow (Sunday, February 22, 2015), if you’ll be traveling to Walt Disney World, entering a theme park is going to be more expensive.

For the first time ever, Disney has increased the price of a Magic Kingdom single day park ticket past the $100 mark: a one-day ticket to just the Magic Kingdom will now cost $105 for those ages 10 and up, an increase of $6. Ticket prices also increased for Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with a one-day ticket costing $97 for those ages 10 and up, a $3 increase.

Other Magic Your Way base tickets have jumped about $11 per ticket (with a few exceptions).

It’s not just Magic Your Way base tickets that have increased in price. All options have increased, with minor increases to Park Hoppers, as well as the Water Park Fun & More options – both of which increased about $4. (Again, there are a few exceptions.) Also, the Park Hopper plus Water Park Fun & More combined ticket option increased by $4.

I do have some bad news for those of you who like to purchase the No Expiration option. Disney will no longer offer the No Expiration option, and now all tickets will expire 14 days after first use.

This is how the new pricing is structured:

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