Harry Potter Is Not At Disney World, and Other Misconceptions Debunked

by on February 20, 2018

I was chatting with another guest at Magic Kingdom on a recent trip to Walt Disney World that was telling me that he was going to take the bus over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to see Harry Potter. I did my best to politely advise him that Harry Potter is not at Disney to hopefully avoid any unpleasant surprises, but he was undeterred to the point of arguing with me about it, so I did my best Elsa and let it go. 

Hiya pal! No corporate synergy here.

While it would be easy for us theme park nerds to just kind of laugh this off, a surprising number of people think Harry Potter is at Disney, or even more broadly confuse Disney and Universal (or think they are one and the same). It can be a costly and/or heartbreaking mistake to make. I assure you, those folks received a rude awakening, either when showing up to Hollywood Studios and wondering where Hogwarts was, or when they showed up at Universal Orlando and realized their Disney tickets wouldn’t work, meaning they were going to have to fork out more cash if they wanted to see the boy wizard.

With that in mind, let me say this:

Harry Potter is not at Disney Wold. Harry Potter is at Universal Orlando. Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are competitors.

(Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)

Please spread the word. Thank you.

Unfortunately, this Harry Potter – Disney connection is not the only misconception about Disney World out there. Between the internet, friends-of-friends, and the like, the reality is that there is a lot of bad or outdated information floating around that can really impact trip planning. Read on to make sure you avoid these traps when planning your next trip — and my apologies in advance for any dream crushing that unintentionally results.

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Trip Planning 101 (3.0): Deciding When to Visit Walt Disney World

by on January 8, 2018

Welcome to our periodic refresh of the TouringPlans Trip Planning 101 series, where we walk new WDW trip planners through some of the basic components of getting ready for a trip to Walt Disney World. Here we’re looking at factors to consider as you decide when to make your Disney visit.

The first step in planning a visit to Walt Disney World is deciding when to take your trip. This basic decision can have a big influence on the pace, mood, and cost of your vacation. Here’s a guide on how to choose the best timetable for your Walt Disney World experience. We’ll do this from two perspectives: a family with kids in school and adults not traveling with children.

Gather Your Tools

Before you sit down to plan, you’ll need to gather the following items:

  • A blank calendar. I like having one where I can see whole year in front of me, such as the 2018 calendar above.
  • Your school district calendar (if applicable).
  • Work schedules.
  • Calendars for your family’s activities: sports, church groups, dance recitals, etc.
  • Your personal appointment calendar.
  • The Crowd Calendar.
  • The Walt Disney World attraction closures schedule.
  • Access to information about Disney’s special events each month. There’s a great section about this in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
  • Access to your favorite weather website, such as
  • Access to your favorite airline website, travel aggregator website (Expedia, Travelocity, etc.), or travel agregator app (Kayak, etc.).
  • Access to your favorite Disney discounts website, like
  • Several colored pencils, highlighters, or markers.

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A Review of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

by on October 9, 2017

Last month I stayed at both the Swan and the Dolphin hotels. Both hotels plus the convention space make up the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. I ended up at the Swan and Dolphin when I could not find a Disney hotel reservation between September 16-21. Being a bit of a Disney snob, I have always looked past the Swan and Dolphin.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort recently completed a $140,00,000, 3-year renovation. The resort has re-designed guest rooms, renovated meeting spaces, and the Dolphin Resort lobby has a new contemporary look. Little to no changes have been made to the exterior of the resort’s buildings. The resort was designed by Michael Graves as part of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s Disney Decade. Eisner, on the Swan’s January 13, 1990, opening, described his company’s plan to “do nothing less than reinvent the Disney theme park and resort experience in the next 10 years.” (The Dolphin opened June 1, 1990.)

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The Best Staterooms in Each of the 10 Categories on a Disney Cruise

by on August 1, 2017

Are you overwhelmed by the number of stateroom choices on a Disney Cruise?  Well, I don’t blame you.  You may think there should be three simple choices:  inside, oceanview, or verandah – but it’s nowhere near that cut and dry.  Each of those three stateroom types has several different classifications of staterooms!  Disney has thirty-one various categories of staterooms.  Thirty-one!  How will you ever decide?

Well, that’s what I’m here for!  I’ve actually sailed in over half of those categories, and been inside every other one.  I’m going to break them down for you, and help you pick the best stateroom for you and your family.

Concierge 1 Bedroom Suite with Verandah – Category T -Disney Dream

A few ground rules and guidelines first:

– I’m not going to recommend accessible staterooms.  If you need an accessible stateroom, there are options in almost every category.  If you don’t need one, pick something else.

– If you don’t need a connecting stateroom, try to avoid them.  Lately, I have stayed in two different staterooms with a connecting door and we could hear the guests on the other side almost as if they were in our stateroom.

– While I will give some specific stateroom numbers in some cases, in other cases I’ll just give general guidance.  It’s always good planning work to check a review of the particular stateroom you have in mind.  There are some staterooms out there that have noise or vibration issues.  There are also some right above the theaters or the nightclubs.  You probably want to avoid those.

– To find stateroom reviews, use Google or check a site like Disney Cruise Line Blog.  Scott has a good list of reviews going over there.  A quick search may save you some headaches on board!

– Finally, the staterooms on the Dream and Fantasy will be the same, so I will address those staterooms as the Dream Class.  Similarly, the Magic and Wonder have the same type of staterooms, so I will address them as the Magic Class.

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Things Your Family Needs To Pack For Your Disney Trip

by on October 29, 2016

saturdaysix_asseenonThis week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things Your Family Needs To Pack For Your Disney Vacation! Getting ready for a Disney vacation is one of the things we love to do the most. It means your trip is almost here! Once you’ve gotten together your clothes, ponchos, and medicine, what else do you need to bring on your trip to The World? Good news, that’s why we’re here. After pestering an exhaustive investigation with many vacationing families, the SATURDAY SIX is ready to give you a list of things to bring to Disney that you didn’t know you needed to bring. These items are designed to make your life easier, or to make your trip more memorable. The only “rule” we had was that every item had to cost less than $20 (and believe it or not, almost all of these items can be found in some fashion at your local Dollar Tree.) The first ever SATURDAY SIX informercial is ready to go, so sit back, make sure you remembered to pack your reading glasses, and let’s begin our list with….

# 6 – A Pop-Up Hamper

Everyone loves to pack for a Disney vacation, but rarely do we consider what we are going to do once we are done wearing our special outfits. There are almost no rooms at Disney hotels that have a hamper, and the ones that do only have them for towels. If your family is like ours, you generally pick an area in the room (usually a closet) and just start throwing your dirty clothes on it until the pile almost becomes sentient like the talking Trash Heap in Fraggle Rock. In the past, we would go to the resort’s gift shop and ask for an extra large bag to try and stuff all the clothes in, but this was as about as fun and useful as it sounds. We finally realized it was a much better idea to bring a pop-up hamper with us.

Mesh pop-up hampers are affordable, compact, and  will allow you to stay organized while keeping all of your family’s dirty clothes in an area that doesn’t make you want to apologize to MouseKeeping if you run into them in the hallway.


Pop-up Hamper from the Dollar General. Kids love the cute animal designs which makes it easier to get them to actually put their clothes into it.


It doesn’t take long for dirty clothes to pile up while on vacation.


Would you like paper or plastic?



# 5 – Mini M&Ms Container For Pressed Penny Change

Weekly readers of this fine blog know how much we love pressed pennies. They are an extremely affordable souvenir, and one that is easy to collect and carry with you. What’s not as fun or easy, is having to carry around the actual change to get the pressed pennies. Pockets full of change are noisy and annoying, while having to dig through a change purse can also be frustrating. An easy solution to this problem is buying a tube of Mini M&Ms and storing your change in there. The tube is the perfect size for quarters, and your life will be much easier if you load your change in to the tube in a two quarter/one penny stack. This is going to allow you to pop out the required 51 cents for a pressed penny as easy as a Pez dispenser.


Getting change ready for a vacation.


Two quarter: one penny ratio is crucial in time management.


Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

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Walt Disney World FastPass+ Strategy Update

by on May 4, 2016

Kiosks? We don't need no stinkin' kiosks!

Kiosks? We don’t need no stinkin’ kiosks!

Remember a couple of months ago when we released a three part series on Disney’s FastPass+ service at Walt Disney Worldhow to use it, the best strategy for getting the most out of it, and then hacks and tips to make it even better? Well, Disney had to go and enhance the service, rendering some of our advice outdated. Well, consider it outdated no more. Read on to find out how these changes impact the process of making your picks, and the strategy to using the FastPass+ system!

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The Basics: Selecting the right Walt Disney World Moderate hotel

by on April 4, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


As we continue our Back to Basics series, it’s time to take a look at one of the most beloved Walt Disney World hotel categories: the Moderates. In previous Basics posts we first discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World category, and later dug into how to select the right Walt Disney World Value hotel. The Moderate category hotels are a great blend of quality theming, beautiful atmosphere, a strong selection of amenities and features, all without the higher price tag found at the Deluxe resorts. They are some elements at the Moderate resorts that are also found at the Value resorts, but you can definitely see these are a step up from the Value category.

Caribbean Beach grounds

Caribbean Beach grounds – photo by Brian McNichols

It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best. There are four hotels in the Moderate level.  For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

First came the Deluxe resorts. Then in the 90’s, the Disney Decade, the first Moderate resort came unto the scene: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which was a prototype of sorts. Disney had never built a resort that was scaled back in order to provide a more affordable price tag, yet it couldn’t just be a hotel, it needed to be a resort. Caribbean Beach ushered in a new resort experience for Walt Disney World, and while it does have its flaws, there is lots of beautiful scenery and enjoyable amenities.

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The Basics: Disney World Resort Discounts

by on March 23, 2016

Pop - Grounds 8

Remember the 90s? Pop Century Resort does…sort of

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


Okay, here’s the situation: You’re looking at your hotel options for a week’s vacation in Disney World (and if you’re now singing Parents Just Don’t Understand, congratulations, you’re as old as I am).

Seriously though, there are a lot of Disney resort options and there is also a wide range of prices associated with those hotels. Luckily, there is almost always some sort of discount available on Disney resorts if you know how to find them and are alert when they are released. What follows is an overview of what discounts are often available and how to book them.

What Are Resort Discounts?

Put simply, Disney often makes many of their on-site hotel rooms available for an amount cheaper than the full rate. There are often two main types of discounts for any given season: Standard room-only discounts and discounts specifically for Annual Passholders. These discounts generally range from 15-35% depending on the type of resort and type of discount.

What Types of Discounts Are There?

Let’s look at what’s available right now for non-Florida residents: March 23, 2016. There are currently two discounts open to the general public and two discounts for guests with a Disney World Annual Pass. They are:

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The Basics: Dining at Walt Disney World

by on March 16, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

With four theme parks, a couple dozen resort hotels, and thousands upon thousands of guests on any given day, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of places to eat at Walt Disney World. To a first time guest, when and where to eat is likely something that isn’t thought to be a big deal. You’re hungry, you see somewhere that looks good, and you go eat there. Unfortunately for most first time guests, getting a table at a restaurant at Walt Disney World is not as simple as going to your local Olive Garden on any given evening. Disney has a great many mouths to feed every day and only so many tables from which to feed them. Toss on top of that the great theming and Disney character presence at many restaurants coupled with “free dining” promotions driving guests to eat three-squares every day and what you have is a recipe for crowded and fully booked restaurants, seemingly year-round. So yes, like most things at Walt Disney World, where and when you are going to eat is a decision you need to make months in advance.

Disney’s restaurants all generally fall into one of a few categories. First are the carts and stands. These are vendors around the park selling everything from ice cream bars and popcorn to craft beer and eggrolls. Enjoying the offerings from these stands requires no advance planning and as such they are from whom you will be purchasing most of your meals if you pay no attention to the rest of this article. Even this comes with a caveat…during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival in the fall (and to a lesser extent the Flower & Garden Festival in the spring) booths are set up throughout World Showcase featuring international cuisine and libations. They are equal parts a great option for people who don’t have advance dining reservations and something people need to plan to wait in line at, especially on weekends.

As far as actual restaurants, there are two basic styles: Quick Service (or “counter” service–think fast food) and Table Service (sit-down, with waitstaff) restaurants. Quick Service are the most casual and allow for no advance reservations (with one exception that I will mention below). They are located all around the theme parks, in the water parks, and at the resort hotels. Cuisine ranges from standard American theme park fare like hot dogs and pizza to gourmet macaroni & cheese and sushi.

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Hollywood Studios

by on March 14, 2016

Character meet

Hollywood Studios has a pretty solid line-up of Character Meet and Greets, including some great Character Meals.

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

We’re back again with another installment on Character Meet and Greets at Walt Disney World! We’ve already headed back to the basics with meeting characters at Epcot, and then we traipsed over to the Animal Kingdom. Today it is time for [insert dramatic pause] Hollywood Studios! (You’d never have guessed that from the title, right? And yes, I’m intentionally saving Magic Kingdom for the end.)

Character meet and greets can be magical for both adults and children alike, so even if you’re traveling without kiddos in tow, give some consideration to making time to meet the many characters who live in Hollywood Studios. (Expect maybe for the Disney Junior characters. That might be weird.)

Hollywood Studios offers some interesting characters, but it is worth noting that right now the park is under quite a bit of construction, which means that there could be more changes to character meet and greet offerings and locations than one might expect. For example, although you can meet Mike and Sulley from Monster’s Inc. at the moment, that character meet is scheduled to be closed on April 2, 2016. Just remember to double-check the character schedules right before your trip so you’re not taken unaware in the event any last-minute shuffling is done.

One of the major themes that seem to be occurring with my character meet and greet articles is that Disney has decided that right now is the best time to shuffle characters around! (I’m not kidding – the Epcot article was written and scheduled and the day before it was published Disney removed THREE of Epcot’s meets. Sigh.) Anyway, as I’m penning this particular article another announcement has come forth about adding new characters at Hollywood Studios. Check out this Touring Plans article for details about the new Olaf and Mickey and Minnie meets, which are coming soon.

Before I start with the details on who you can meet where in Hollywood Studios, I’m going to review the basic meet and greet tips I provided in the first two articles of the character meet series. Feel free to scroll past this section if you’ve already experienced it! (Or re-read it and see if you can spot the tiny adjustments I made to each version. And before you even ask, OF COURSE I’m providing new photos!)

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