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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tip Tuesday - dealing with changes at WDW

You are not the first to pass this way... but soon, you could be the last...

On this week's Tip Tuesday, I'm opening Pandora's Box.  Yep, I'm going to talk about the changes coming to Epcot.  There have been a lot of strong opinions about the recently announced Frozen attraction that will replace Malestrom in Epcot along with the new slate of live entertainment coming to World Showcase (replacing very popular attractions like Off Kilter).

So here's the deal:  Walt Disney World is always changing.  That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, just look at all the changes that came to the Magic Kingdom with the expansion of Fantasyland (with great fanfare, I might add).  So why is there so much backlash about changes to Epcot and is that ire justified? 

Before you get your hackles up, hear me out.  Let me start by asking myself a few questions.

Me:  Are you in favor of the changes to the live entertainment acts in World Showcase?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to see what Disney brings in before I decide.
Me:  Are you in favor of the changes to Malestrom?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to see what Disney does before I decide.
Me:  Well do you think Magic Bands are a good idea?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to have more time to try them out before I decide.

Do you sense a theme here?  The point is that before we go and bash some of the new ideas proposed by Disney, I think we need to give things a chance.  To put it simply, I trust Disney to do what is best to make the parks as successful as they can be.  Remember, Disney is in the business to make money along with making guests happy.  Sometimes those two goals work hand in hand and sometimes they work against each other.

So while I may have some reservations about some of the proposed changes coming to Epcot, and I'll share them in a second, I also trust Disney to make sure that changes have the same level of quality and guest appeal as that which is being replaced.

So what are my reservations about these changes? 

Well, I'm fine with changing Malestrom to a Frozen attraction.  The Snow Queen story (Frozen is based on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Snow Queen) has it's origins in Scandinavian culture, so it makes sense that the Norway pavilion would be home to a Frozen attraction.  I'm not as fine with the entire Norway pavilion being changed to become the city of Arendelle.  The Norway pavilion should, in my opinion, still tell the story of Norway.  I trust that Disney will keep the "spirit of Norway" alive in the pavilion.  As I said above, I want to see what Disney does before I decide if this is a good change or not.

As for the entertainment changes coming to World Showcase, I am cautiously optimistic that the new acts will be at least as good as the ones departing, especially Off Kilter.  I think the reason so many hardcore fans are upset about this change is that these acts have been in World Showcase for so long that people have developed a deep loyalty for these acts.  I can understand that there are plenty of reasons for acts to leave and new ones to come in.  To be honest, there is a time where it's time for fresh content.  How many of you are starting to say it's time for Wishes to end and a new fireworks show to come to the Magic Kingdom?  Same thing applies here.  New isn't always bad.  Yes, I had the same reaction many of you did when I read that Off Kilter is being replaced by some sort of "lumberjack" show.  Many of you immediately thought of the "I'm a Lumberjack and that's OK" song from Monty Python.  It's ok to admit it - I did.  I trust that Disney will ensure that the new shows will be just as high quality. 

So when the next announcement comes from Disney, and I expect some whoppers at the D23 Expo in August, let's all take a deep breath and give these new ideas a chance before we rush to judgement.

Alright, I've had my say -- I'm sure some of you are dying to throw in your comments so now's the time -- go for it!  Post your comments below!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The "intimate" details of race planning

Click for larger view.
Welcome back to another Tip Tuesday. 

This week I'm continuing my series of tips about the pre-race area during RunDisney events at Walt Disney World.

Ok, so it's time to get intimate - and I do mean intimate.  We're going to talk about pee, poop and private parts, so if you'd rather not go there, now's your time to move to another page.

I won't mind.


It's ok.

If you're reading this, then you're probably ok with this week's topics, so off we go!

One of the most important things to do at the pre-race area is to make sure you use a bathroom (porta-pottie in most cases) before you get into your corral.  Now here's a really big tip for you.  DON'T bother lining up for the first porta-potties that you see once you pass through the runners only zone.  Take a look at the map above.  Those areas in red generally are where Disney places porta-potties.  Notice that there is a big group just after you enter the runners only area.  This is where most runners will line up (I've seen 20 people or more in a line for a single porta-pottie).  There is a smaller second area as you turn to the left and head down the path toward the corrals.  These porta-potties are usually far less crowded.  So skip the first set and venture on a bit. 

Speaking of pee and poop -- you'll probably need to do so while you're out on the course, especially for the longer races.  While there are porta-potties along the race, it's much less stressful to have access to a real bathroom.  There are a few opportunities during the race, usually in the parks, where runners can go off the course briefly to hit a regular bathroom.  There are three good places to do so in the Magic Kingdom.  The first is as you're passing Mickey's Star Traders - there is a bathroom within steps of the course.  The second is as you're passing through Frontierland, there is a bathroom located in one of the two corridors that connect Frontierland and Adventureland.  The third is just before heading out of Frontierland.  Take the back path from Frontierland to the restrooms located at Pirates of the Caribbean - it's not far away. 

In Animal Kingdom, there are two opportunities - the first is as you pass Kali River Rapids and the second is as you pass Finding Nemo:  The Musical.  In Hollywood Studios, there is a bathroom as you pass behind what was the American Idol Experience.  A second easy-to-reach bathroom is located to the left as you get to the Crossroads before exiting the park.

By the time you get to Epcot, you're very near the end, but the good news is that you're running along World Showcase from the UK pavilion all the way around to the entrance, so there are a bunch of restrooms along the way - just about one in each pavilion.

One last note about pee.  During those pit stops, do be sure to keep an eye on the color of your pee.  I know this sounds gross, but it is important.  If your urine is gold or even light orange in color, you are getting seriously dehydrated and you need to drink a lot right away.  Dehydration is no fun at all - ask Len Testa sometime.

Ok, enough with the bathroom stuff.  Now it's time to talk about your private parts (see, I said we were getting intimate).  The fact is, running is a sport where parts of your body are moving all the time.  Webster defines "chafing" as "to cause soreness or damage by rubbing against something."  When you're running, your skin is rubbing against things like clothes and other parts of your skin.  So it's very important to guard against severe chafing, which can bleed (trust me on this one).

It's important to use some sort of anti-chafing product, such as Glide.  Men and women should use this on the butt crack, on the chest/breasts and nipples and on the underarms and perhaps inside each thigh (if not wearing running tights).  Women also should use Glide on the cleavage area, especially for women with larger breasts.  I have heard of some people actually taping down their nipples and/or using bandages to avoid severe chafing.  Use whatever works for you.

So why am I discussing this in a post about the pre-race area? These are some of the things you may need to do while you're in the pre-race area and don't be surprised to see people lubing up before the race.

Well, I think that just about covers everything for the pre-race area.  I'll talk more about some tips during the start and during the race in future posts.  Until then, keep up the training!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Photo Friday: Off Kilter about changes to Epcot

Time for another Photo Friday!

With the recent announcement that several live attractions in Epcot will be leaving in September, I wanted to share a shot of what I think is, and soon will be "was." the best live attraction in World Showcase - Off Kilter.  Back in November, 2011 (show# 249), I joined Lou Mongello on the WDW Radio Show to talk about the best live music in World Showcase.

So if you have a chance to get out to Epcot in the next few weeks, I'd recommend catching one more show of Off Kilter and several other World Showcase live acts, because they will be gone soon.

What's coming next?  Well, Disney isn't saying much right now, other than to say that Off Kilter will be replaced by a "lumberjack show."  Not sure what that really means, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The morning of the race - part 2 - the pre-race area

Click for larger view.
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!  Last week, I talked about transportation to the pre-race area (seen in yellow on the map above).  This week, we're going to talk more about the pre-race area and some ways to avoid some common headaches and some of the planning decisions that need to be made ahead of time.

There are several activities taking place during the pre-race area.  The biggest activity is the race retreat (half and full marathons only).  This is an optional hard-ticketed event that starts at 3 a.m. and sells out nearly as quickly as the races themselves.  The race retreat offers runners some useful pre-race benefits, most importantly a heated environment so runners don't have to stand out in the cold morning air (and those pre-dawn mornings can get quite chilly in early January).  Other features of the race retreat include bagels, fruit, coffee and sports drinks, private restrooms, padded stretching area, Disney character meet and greets and a separate first aid station.

The race retreat can by a bit pricey.  For the 2015 marathon weekend, the cost is $120 for each race (or $225 for Goofy or Dopey runners).  It is a very popular option and can be a bit crowded.  After each event the race retreat offers brunch and internet access to check results.

The race retreat isn't the only thing going on at the pre-race area - there are DJ's playing music and lots and lots of groups all meeting up before the race.  The major difference here is the weather - you're out in it.  If it's especially cold and/or raining (or snowing - it's happened!) then it can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant wait until the time comes to walk to the corrals.

This is where you need to do some planning.  Do you think the race retreat will be worth it?  Will having some food and a warm tent be worth the price?  Are you willing to run the risk with the weather?  These are all questions you need to consider as you're planning your pre-race.  Also, if you are going to skip the race retreat and wait outside, do you need to bring extra clothing or blankets to stay warm while you wait (knowing that you'll have to do something with them once the race starts - either get rid of them or hand off to a waiting spectator down the road).  Again, this is where runners have to do some planning in order to be prepared.

What do I do?  I personally don't go to the race retreats.  Instead, I join the WDW Radio Running Team as we meet up before each race.  Depending on the weather conditions and temperature, I'll bring an extra old or cheap sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear until just before the start of the race.  I'll then toss those to the side once I start running.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  I'll talk more about how the corrals work in a future post.

Next time - I'll discuss the walk and a very important potty break!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photo Friday: A photographic comparison of Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week it's 2 for 1 day!  Well, sort of.

During my May trip to Disneyland, I noted a change to the main cavern portion of the Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction at Disney California Adventure.  The lighting was drastically different than the Magic Kingdom version.  Later, I found out Disney was testing a different lighting level to see if it improved the attraction.  The main reason, as I understand it, was to eliminate guests seeing production elements such as light instruments, projectors, etc.

So see for yourself - which do you like better?

Here is the Magic Kingdom version (this shot is from June, 2013):
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and this is a similar shot from the California Adventure version (this shot is from May, 2014):
click for larger view
So which version do you like better?  Post your thoughts in the comments section below!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The morning of the race - part 1 - getting there

WDW Radio Running Team before the 2012 Marathon

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well, there's just over five months to go before the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  While I've still got a lot of training to do, it's also time to start talking about some more tips about participating in a RunDisney event.

I wanted to focus on the morning of the race (or races in the case of the Goofy and Dopey folks like me).  There is quite a bit of planning that runners need to think about prior to race morning.  I'm a visual guy, so how about a quick map (this is a rough approximation of locations and is not official).  This week, I'll focus on getting to the pre-race area.  In future posts, I'll talk about some things to keep in mind while you're getting ready for the start.

click for larger view

First, runners need to try to arrive at the pre-race area located in the eastern-most section of the Epcot parking lot, shown in yellow on the map, by around 4 a.m. at the latest.  Disney says runners must be in the corrals by 5 a.m. or they will not be allowed to race.

Runners staying on-property:
For runners staying on-property, this is pretty easy.  Disney offers bus transportation from just about every resort starting as early as 3 a.m. each race morning (depending on the race).  For a detailed schedule for each race, see the RunDisney website.  From my past experience, these are usually touring buses, not standard Disney transit buses.  It's important to remember that these RunDisney events are VERY popular, so there will literally be tens of thousands of people (often more) all trying to get to the pre-race area.  What does this mean for you?  It means that buses can fill up FAST, so you would be wise to get down to your bus stop at your hotel by around 3:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. for the 5K) so that you can ensure you won't run into any issues and end up missing the start.  Disney recommends runners be on a bus by no later than 4 a.m. to avoid missing the race start.

Buses will drop off runners at the front of Epcot.  Runners will then have to walk to the pre-race area.

Oh, if you're staying at a monorail resort, the monorails will start around 3 a.m. each morning  You'll need to take the resort monorail to the TTC and then take the Epcot monorail to the front of the park and walk to the starting area.  For my 2010 half marathon, this was surprisingly easy and painless.  This is one benefit of staying a monorail resort -- easy transportation and no buses.  Just like the buses, I recommend being on a monorail by no later than 3:15 a.m.

Runners staying off-property:
If you're not staying on property, you'll need to plan to arrive at the Epcot entrance no later than 4 a.m.  Arrive any later, and you'll run the risk of missing the start, which would be a very bad thing considering how expensive these races are.  Therefore, you'll need to carefully think about how much time you need to allow to get to Epcot and add LOTS of additional time for traffic delays (which there will be due to road closures).

So, you've made it to the pre-race area!  Now what do you do?  And what else do you need to think about before the race starts?  I'll discuss that in a future post. 

Until then, keep up the training!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Photo Friday: Going ape for smartphones?

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

I was going back through some of my Animal Kingdom photos today and I ran across this shot of a gorilla along the Pangani Exploration Trail.  While the photo itself isn't all that compelling, there was something about the way he was sitting and looking at his hands that made it look as if he was using a smartphone.

So here's where you come in -- it's caption time!  Imagine that our gorilla friend above is doing something with a smartphone - what caption would you put on the photo?  Post in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Getting your soccer fix at Epcot

Orlando City Lions soccer club.  Image courtesy Disney.  All rights reserved.
Welcome back to another Tip Tuesday!

With the Barclay's Premier League starting back up this weekend, I thought I'd share a quick tip about how you can get your soccer fix while at Walt Disney World.

A few of the countries around Epcot's World Showcase offer jerseys for various international soccer (futbol) teams, both for club teams and country teams.  A couple of shops (one in Germany and another in the UK) also sell soccer balls.  Around World Cup time, you can often find World Cup merchandise including official balls and jerseys.

If you're looking for Barclay's Premier League teams, such as Manchester United or Chelsea, your best bet is the Sportsman's Shoppe located across from the Rose & Crown Pub in the UK pavilion.  Bear in mind that not every BPL team will be represented in the merchandise for sale (c'mon - show the love for teams like Everton and Liverpool!). 

Of course you'll have to strike up a conversation with one of the British cast members working in the store and see which team they support.  

If it's Saturday around lunchtime, you might be able to catch a Premier League match at the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk.  Sure there will be college football games going on, but there are so many TVs there that you'll probably be able to find at least one match (though they're on NBC Sports, a direct competitor to ESPN).

If it's live soccer you're interested in, you might be able to catch some Orlando City games through early September at the ESPN Wide World of Sports center - check the schedule here: City will be a new MLS team starting with the 2015 season and will normally play at the Citrus Bowl stadium, but the Lions are playing their 2014 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports while the Citrus Bowl is being renovated in advance of the Lions' official MLS start.

There are a lot of other soccer events at WWOS throughout the year, mostly featuring youth teams.

So lace up your cleats and get your kit ready (that's a uniform to you non-soccer folks) - it's time for some soccer!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Fantasia Gardens

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, let's go back to Walt Disney World to discuss one of my favorite non-park activities - mini golf.  It's a fun activity that isn't all that expensive.  As of this post, a round costs around $14 for adults and $10 for kids under 10.  Annual passholders often get huge discounts (as much as 50% off).

I've written previously about Winter Summerland, the other mini golf area at Walt Disney World, located next to Blizzard Beach.

Fantasia Gardens, however, is quite different in many ways from Winter Summerland.  First, this activity is within easy walking distance of any of the Epcot area deluxe resorts (Boardwalk, Beach/Yacht Club, Dolphin or Swan) so getting there is pretty easy - at least for these guests - just follow the blue line as noted in the map above.  For guests from other resorts, it get a bit more cumbersome without your own transportation.  Fantasia Gardens is located next to the Swan Resort.  The best way to get to Fantasia Gardens from any non-Epcot area resort via Disney transportation is to take a bus to any park or the Ticket & Transportation Center and then take a bus to the Swan.  Alternatively, guests can travel to Disney's Hollywood Studios and then take the Friendship Boat to the Swan and then walk past the pool area to reach Fantasia Gardens.

Like Winter Summerland, Fantasia Gardens has two 18-hole courses, the Fantasia Gardens course or the Fairways course.  The Fantasia Gardens course is similar to the two courses at Winter Summerland in that each hole has whimsical obstacles to overcome, often involving water or some other challenge.  This course is especially fun for kids as they have to deal with all sorts of mishaps related to the movie Fantasia.  Some of these holes can be pretty tricky and it takes a keen eye and often more than a bit of courage and timing to make the right stroke.

Image courtesy

The other course, the Fairways course, is a completely different "ball game" (sorry for the pun, couldn't resist!).  This course is not your typical mini golf course with dips and tunnels and obstacles.  Instead, as the name implies, this course is a putting version of a real golf course, complete with sand traps and other hazards.  There are plenty of undulations to overcome and some holes are longer than others.

Personally, of these two courses, I prefer the Fairways course.  It is a true putting challenge for golfers.  While the Fantasia Gardens course is fun, there is much more skill and finesse required for the Fairways course.  For that reason, I wouldn't recommend the Fairways course for young children.  They'll just get frustrated and upset because of the higher degree of difficulty. 

One other consideration - when to go.  If you're visiting Walt Disney World in the warmer months, I recommend waiting until evening to visit Fantasia Gardens as it can be uncomfortable in the heat of the day.  During the cooler months, it's not so bad.  If you play these courses at night, and if your timing is right, you can catch some elements of Illuminations and Fantasmic in the distance.

So the next time you're at WDW and are looking for something to do outside the parks -- check out Fantasia Gardens and maybe even take the challenge and play the Fairways course!

Good luck!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Photo Friday: Happy Fourth from Disneyland!

Happy 4th of July!

For this week's Photo Friday, let's head back in time to July 4th, 2013 and this shot from Disneyland's 4th of July fireworks celebration!

It's amazing how much fireworks can light up the night sky, this shot has not been altered at all (aside from resizing) - the sky was really that red during the fireworks.

Enjoy and happy birthday America!