Walt Disney World (FL)

A SATURDAY SIX Look At Christmas Through The Magic of Movies!

by on December 23, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Christmas through the Magic of Movies! The SATURDAY SIX and movies go together like pepperoni and pizza, chocolate and peanut butter, and insects and lollipops (well, maybe not the last one.) We’ve done articles on Avatar, Star Wars, and even the Disney animated film library. This week we’re going to look at our favorite genre of Hollywood, Christmas movies. Every Thanksgiving we pull all of our Christmas stuff out of the garage, and among that junk those annual traditions is our treasured box of Christmas DVDs. Pretty much every night until Christmas itself you’ll find us watching timeless classics such as Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Elf, The Grinch Who Stole ChristmasEmmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, or Miracle on 34th Street. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite Christmas films, several of which have tie-ins to the theme park world we know. Let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Now That Disney Owns DIE HARD, A Few Changes May Need To Be Made To The Christmas Classic…

The Die Hard franchise is famously known for television stations working overtime on “creative” ways to coverup the movie’s curse words. With Disney now in charge of the brand, there’s a chance something else needs to be made more family friendly: the film’s liberal use of guns. Readers may remember it was just two years ago this very month when Disney began to remove all guns from property. This new mandate included bubble guns sold at the outdoor kiosks. So while we still may have the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade and the cold steel wielded by Jungle Cruise skippers, you won’t find any guns at the gift shops (they all went to the Outlets, and we mean all of them.)

With a little Disney Magic, we can make one scene in particular more “family friendly.”

Die Hard. (art by Matt Cleary)

Die Hard. (art by Matt Cleary)

# 5 – Meanwhile, Universal Prepares To Deliver A New Gift For Its Fans

Like Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story, each of us had that One Special Gift we always wanted growing up. For me, it was a Han Solo blaster.

For theme park fans, our precious theme park rides of years past have been pushed aside for 3-4 minute “experiences” that must be based around an intellectual property. On Christmas Eve, our silent wish will be for the rides we used to get.

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How to Escape the Disney World Crowds During the Holiday Season

by on December 22, 2017

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… It was the holiday season at Walt Disney World. Yes, Walt Disney World during the holidays is one of the best times to visit due to the magical holiday décor, festive treats and merchandise, special entertainment, ticketed events, and more. But it’s also one of the busiest times of year with gridlocked paths and extra-long waits not only for attractions, but for restaurants, monorails, and even the restrooms! Many Disney World regulars avoid the parks around the holidays and understandably so. But with a little strategy, you and yours can still enjoy Walt Disney World during the most wonderful time of the year. Take a look at a few of my strategies for how to escape the crowds at Disney World during the holiday season.

Rope Drop Mornings

If you don’t start your day at a Disney Park with rope drop, you’re doing it wrong. This is my philosophy no matter what the season, but even more so at the holidays.

First of all, you can walk on almost any attraction without the need for FastPass+, meaning you can save those reservation slots for when the holiday crowds descend. Cast Members are usually out and welcoming guests into the park, and many areas of the park are largely empty and give you the sensation of having the place all to yourself.

Mornings at the Magic Kingdom are definitely the best time to visit as this is when the Main Street Vehicles and the Main Street Trolley Show are out and about, something you won’t see any other time of the day. I also have to note that Main Street, U.S.A. now opens a full hour before the park does, meaning you can get your shopping out of the way, grab a coffee at Starbucks, and take one of those coveted crowd-free photos for before the park even opens.

Note: While I recommend rope dropping all of the parks during your vacation, I should mention that rope dropping Animal Kingdom does NOT mean a crowd-free experience at Pandora – The World of Avatar. Flight of Passage is still incredibly popular and pretty much everyone rope dropping the park are heading in that direction. However, a crowd-free experience is still a possibility throughout the rest of the park!

Visit Disney Springs Early in the Day

Shopping shouldn’t be your only reason to visit Disney Springs as Walt Disney World’s ultimate shopping and dining destination also offers live entertainment, decorations, a meet and greet with Santa Claus, and the Christmas Tree Trail complete with a 100% chance of snow!

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Walt Disney World Preview — Week of December 23

by on December 21, 2017

Happy Holidays TouringPlans.com friends! Will you be celebrating at Walt Disney World? Here’s your weekly preview.

Special Events

  • Hall of Presidents has finally re-opened at Magic Kingdom park. Will you experience this refurbished attraction?
  • Also re-opened at Magic Kingdom is Stitch’s Great Escape! This ride will close until further notice on January 7, 2018.
  • There are several celebrities narrating the Candlelight Processional this week. Check out:
    • CCH Pounder: December 23 and 24
    • Jaci Velasquez: December 25 to 27
    • Chandra Wilson (eek!): December 28 to 30

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Holidays Around the Parks: Dinosaur Edition

by on December 20, 2017




It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and my gift to you this Christmas season is the gift of holiday cheer…in photo form. I’ve braved the unusually frigid temperatures and over-crowded parks to bring you complete coverage of each park’s holiday decorations. Today we are stepping it up a notch and visiting two parks in one day: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But why are we calling it the ‘Dinosaur Edition’? Well,  you’ll just have to read on to find out!


Our journey begins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where we encounter my all-time favorite theme park Christmas tree.

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Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels To Receive Extra Perks

by on December 19, 2017

Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista ©Rikki Niblett

Did you know that there are hotels that are on Walt Disney World property, but they aren’t officially Disney resort hotels, with the Disney moniker? The Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels are located right near Disney Springs, but because they weren’t Disney owned and operated, they didn’t have the perks of being on-site hotels. That is until now.

Beginning with stays on January 1, 2018, and continuing throughout 2018, Guests of the Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels will be able to participate in Extra Magic Hours at the four Walt Disney World Theme Parks. For those who maybe stay at these resorts but they don’t know what Extra Magic Hours are, Extra Magic Hours are when one of the four Walt Disney World Theme Parks opens early or stays open later for guests to enjoy select attractions.  To use this hotel benefit on a Disney vacation and staying at one of these Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Guests will need a valid, official Extra Magic Hours voucher from the hotel, and a valid Walt Disney World theme park ticket.

In addition, Guests of these resorts will receive an additional perk. Those who are scheduled to begin their vacation starting on January 10, 2018, are Guests at the Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, and have booked a Walt Disney Travel Company package including a stay at one of the hotels, and theme park admission, will be able to link their hotel reservation on MyDisneyExperience.com. This means that once you link your valid theme park ticket, Guests of these resorts will be able to make their FastPass+ reservations 60-days in advance, just like those staying at a Disney owned and operated resort.

Guests may take advantage of these new perks at the following Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels: 

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Disney’s Contemporary Resort: Part 1 + Video

by on December 19, 2017

Hi everyone!

Let’s take the monorail to Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Today, I’ll be covering the resort’s theme, rooms, room views and transportation.


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SATURDAY SIX: IN MEMORIAM Part 2 – A Look Back at Even More Things the Theme Parks Lost in 2017

by on December 16, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six MORE Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2017. Last week on the SAT SIX we took our annual look at what the theme park world lost in 2017. This year was unlike most though, as we lost even MORE things that just couldn’t go unmentioned as several have played a huge role in our collective Disney and Universal vacations over the years. So grab a box of Kleenex and get ready to pour out a 40 for some dear old friends, starting with…

# 6 – Old Port Royale

Old Port Royale was the main hub of Caribbean Beach and contained a food court, arcade, large gift shop, and the table service restaurant Shutters. The food court had several different stations, all set up like a Caribbean port town market. The entire food court, including the large seating area across the way, was very colorful. The nearby Shutters restaurant offered Caribbean fare, and while it wasn’t destination dining for your average Disney guest, it was more than acceptable for those staying at the resort.

Currently Caribbean Beach is going through a massive renovation that will include a DVC building that will allow guests a view of Epcot’s IllumiNations nighttime spectacular. Old Port Royale will be returning during the summer of 2018, and when it does it will be the area where guests also check into the resort (which was formerly done at the resort’s Custom House.) The reimagined Shutters will be coming back as well, this time with waterside dining.


Old Port Royale food court.


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Walt Disney World Preview — Week of December 16

by on December 14, 2017

This week brings you beautiful weather and Star Wars fun. Keep reading for more!

Special Events

  • Star Wars: Galactic Nights is Saturday, December 16 from 7:00 pm – midnight. If you’re attending, bring your ticket stub from Star Wars: The Last Jedi for a commemorative holiday ornament! (Valid for movie tickets used Dec. 14-17.)
  • Neil Patrick Harris is narrating the Candlelight Processional this week! You can see him from December 18–21.
  • Flights of Wonder, a bird show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will be ending on December 31. Catch this show before it’s gone forever!

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Dinner at Ale & Compass: In Need of Direction

by on December 11, 2017

The interior of Ale & Compass as you first arrive at the restaurant is bathed in muted greys and blues.

Just a few weeks ago, the newly renovated former location of Yacht Club Resort’s Captain’s Grille reopened as the Ale & Compass Restaurant and Lounge. After a few weeks of holiday cheer, and in hopes that the jitters common in new restaurants would be long gone, I dropped in for dinner to see how the new menu and décor measure up to the previous location. Long a staple of resort guests and conventioneers looking for a non-quick-service solution for dinner without much fuss, Captain’s Grille was a fine restaurant with a better-than-average breakfast buffet and a decent lunch and dinner service, but it never particularly wowed me in any larger sense. As a result, I looked forward to dinner at Ale & Compass, hoping for it to be an upgrade in all aspects, especially considering the amount of down time the restaurant underwent during renovations.

The open show kitchen at Ale & CompassAt first glance, the new décor is, in a word, uninspired. It’s fairly generic; very reminiscent of the “upscale modern” look Paddlefish chose for their interior – greys and deep blues accent the very, very dark interior (which I’m sure is better lit during daytime breakfast and lunch service). In short, the atmosphere seems meant to tell you this place is fancy and worthy of a spendy dinner. They even feature an open show kitchen now at the front of the restaurant, complete with a few choice spots available for diners on any given night. The open kitchen is a nice touch, in theory, but it reminds me a bit of the show aspect of Mama Melrose’s kitchen – it’s not there as a perk; more as a reminder, a warning before your meal, that real people are making this food, and that it’s not being taken from a frozen dinner box to the microwave.

The view from a typical table at Ale & CompassThis all may sound a bit harsh, but if I’m honest, I expected a bit better atmosphere with all the time spent renovating this restaurant. The impression given by the hoity host who sat me was that this place was all business, top to bottom. The menu, though, isn’t reflective of this: overall, it’s not much different than the standard non-signature menu from dinner at Captain’s Grille. New dishes are featured, to be sure, but overall, it tends towards the same style of simple selections vaguely inspired by New England lighthouse cuisine. The disconnect between the atmosphere (trying to be a bit more upscale than before) and the same kind of menu (with slightly higher prices), then, is a bit of an odd first impression.

The wine list is greatly expanded now, thanks in part to the larger lounge next door. Several craft beers appear on the menu now as well, and a few signature cocktails dot the menu here and there. I decided The Purple Marinerto stick to the light end of the beverage menu and sample the Tom Collins and Aviation-inspired “Purple Mariner”, an $11.25 concoction of Hendrick’s Gin, crème de violette, fresh lemon, simple syrup, and soda water. As it turns out, “purple” really means “the same color as everything else in the restaurant’s décor”, as you can tell by my photo of the drink. I had hopes this would be light, in the Aviation and Collins tradition, but the only thing I could taste was the crème de violette (very sweet and floral), with a slight hint of lemon. The gin was an afterthought here, which is a shame, but not terribly surprising, unfortunately. I’m open to trying a few of the bourbon-forward cocktails featured in the lounge in future visits, and hopeful they’ll be a bit more worth the price.

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Crowd Calendar Update For Walt Disney World

by on December 10, 2017

As we head into the last few weeks of 2017, it is time to update the Disney World Crowd Calendar for the next 365 days.

We are fairly happy with the performance of the Crowd Calendar this fall. Two-thirds of the days saw a crowd level within 1 index point of predicted levels. Even if you are only loosely following a touring plan a difference of one index level is virtually unnoticeable. When the calendar missed the mark by three or more levels it was usually due to severe weather or a higher than normal offline rate of key attractions. When major attractions go offline, wait times go up and the calendar shows a larger crowd than expected. Crowd predictions for Animal Kingdom and Epcot missed a little more often than Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Fall 2017 was closer to an average fall than 2016. Last year we saw some very large crowds on days when we expected the crowds to be moderate. Overall, if you used the calendar during Fall 2017 the crowds you experienced were likely to be close to what the Disney World Crowd Calendar predicted.

Crowd Level Predictions for Fall 2017 were solid

All of our Walt Disney World wait time models are refreshed with the latest information and trends. In general, the trend is longer wait times although there are some days where the crowd level will be lower. May will be an interesting month for Hollywood Studios if Toy Story Land opens up in that month. Perhaps for Memorial Day weekend? Let’s see what the 2018 Crowd Calendar looks like now month-by-month, after this update.


Epcot sees some dips in crowd level throughout January while Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom see some increases. The month is still a great time to visit if you prefer lower crowds.

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