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Friday, November 28, 2008

Pecan and Pumpkin arrive at Disneyland

If you don't know who Pecan and Pumpkin are, don't worry - I didn't either until I saw this story. I did know that Pecan and Pumpkin were the two turkeys that were spared by the President this Thanksgiving.



(Image copyright Disney, all rights reserved)

After receiving the Presidential pardons, the two "luckiest turkey's in the nation" flew on "Turkey One" to Disneyland. Pumpkin was then the grand marshall at the annual Disneyland Thanksgiving parade.

You can see video of the whole event here:



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from the DisneyDaddy!

On this Thanksgiving Day, I wish each and every one of you a very happy and safe Thanksgiving. I hope you will take a moment to reflect on what you are thankful for this year.

What's on your Disney thankful list?

I'm thankful for the magic Walt Disney World creates every second of every day
I'm thankful for the wonderful imagination and creativity of the Imagineers
I'm thankful for the outstanding dedication of all the cast members

and finally,

I'm thankful for you -- for allowing me to share my thoughts about Walt Disney World!

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy that post-turkey nap.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Norway Viking ship to be demolished?

According to documentation from the Orange County Comptroller, a filing was made on Nov. 20 by the Walt Disney World Corp., stating the company was going to "demo viking ship, salvage props, safety deck material, back includes electrical" at the Norway pavilion in Epcot.

According to forum posts on DisneyWorldTrivia, the wood that the ship is construction of has been rotting, so this isn't a complete surprise.

So far, there's no word (rumor or otherwise) of what might replace this portion of the Norway pavilion, nor is there any word of a timeline. I wouldn't be surprised if this happens pretty soon. I'll be there in a little over a week, so I'll check it out for myself.

Let's hope something family-friendly replaces the old ship and not another DVC kiosk.

Tip Tuesday: Disney Dining Plan Secrets

In last week's Tip Tuesday, I talked about how to make the best out of those Advance Dining Reservations, or ADR's. That tip goes hand-in-hand with this week's topic -- the Disney Dining Plan.

First of all, just what is the Disney Dining Plan, or DDP? The DDP is an add-on to a Magic Your Way Package in which you can pre-pay for dining options at a considerable savings.

There are several versions of the Disney Dining Plan (these are 2008 prices):
Quick Service Dining Plan ($30 per adult/$9 per child ages 3-9): This option gives guests two quick-service meals and two snacks per day, plus a resort refillable mug.

Standard Dining Plan ($40 per adult/$11 per child ages 3-9): This option gives guests one table service meal, one quick service meal and one snack per day.

Deluxe Dining Plan ($72 per adult/$21 per child ages 3-9): This option gives guests three table service or quick-service meals and two snacks per day.

First I'll explain what each option is.

A quick-service meal can be used at any counter-service restaurant (such as Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square). These meals come with an entree, side, drink and dessert.

A table service meal can be used at any full-service restaurant (such as Le Cellier in Epcot). These meals come with entree, drink and dessert. Note that tips are not included.

A snack can be any single item from a counter-service restaurant (not including entrees), snack stand or resort store. Things like drinks, ice cream, pretzels, dole whips, etc. are snacks.

The Disney Dining Plan is a must, especially for families. You would spend that much ($40 per adult/$11 per child) at one table service meal alone. I haven't tried the counter-service plan, but it's also worth considering. Personally, I like having the option to sit down at a nice restaurant.

Now for a few secrets
As I mentioned earlier, those table service meals generally require an ADR. Also, when you dine, especially with children, the kids HAVE to order from the children's menu (adults may order from the kids menu, but not the reverse). That's not the case with counter-service meals.

Let's say you're dining at Cosmic Ray's. There are two adults and two children in your family. One child wants something from the kids menu, one from the regular menu. If all four go up and order at once, the clerks will allow two adult and two kids meals to be ordered. However, if you only order the two adult meals and a kids meal and then GO BACK and order the adult meal in a separate order, you will be able to get an adult item for a child. The dining plan doens't keep track of adult vs. child counter service meal credits. They are all lumped into one category, like the snacks. I've used this trick several times when my 9 year old son was at WDW and the kids meal was too small (or too kiddie in nature). Again, this will not work for table service credits -- those ARE tracked separately.

Now for the next secret. With all these credits -- that a LOT of food for one day. It's not unusual to not use counter service credits, especially if you have table-service dinners. What are you to do with some of those unused counter service credits? Well they're worth two snacks. That's right, you can exchange a counter-service credit for two snacks.

Understand you're not getting the same value, but if you're on the last day of your trip and you still have a few counter-service credits left over, you can hop over to your resort store and grab some snacks to take home. I used this trick on the last day of our visit in March and wound up bringing ten Mickey Rice Krispy treats home for friends and family. Those credits would have been wasted otherwise.

And for the last secret -- many of the character dining experiences only require ONE table service credit. Only a handful of restaurants require two -- Cinderella's Royal Table is one of those that takes two credits. In my opinion, Akershus is a better option and it's only one credit. The famous Le Cellier at Epcot is only one credit as well. One of these days I'll actually get an ADR there.

For a complete list of participating restaurants and which ones require two credits, see the 2008 Disney Dining Plan brochure.

Happy eating everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Restaurant Review: Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus (Epcot)

Short version: If you have kids who love Disney princesses, this is the place for you.

I have been to Walt Disney World twice (June 07 and last March) with my wife and three kids (10, 8, 6) and both times we made an ADR at Akershus, located in the Norway pavilion in Epcot.

Let me say right away that we much preferred this experience to Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom (and it was only 1 table service credit on the Disney Dining plan). I'll have a review of CRT in a future post. The food is much better and the entire atmosphere is far less rushed and hectic than CRT. When we first arrived for our reservation, it's pretty obvious this is a popular place as there are a ton of people waiting outside for a table.

Especially in the summer months, this can be a hot wait, as there is little shade around. Disney doesn't have any paging system in use here, so you have to be within earshot to hear your name called. Once you are brought inside, it's photo time with a princess, usually Ariel. These photos are available for purchase, similar to other restaurants, but guests are allowed to take their own photos if they wish.

After the photo op, guests are ushered to their table. The dinner menu features several authentic Norwegian entrees including the traditional Kjottkake, or meat cake (which I had both times -- it is outstanding and the sauce that comes with it is downright wonderful). Also available is salmon, pasta, braised lamb and a few other entrees. Before we get to the entree, first is the "salad" bar. I put that in quotes because there is much more than salad here. It's more like a salad, cold cuts and fruit bar. The salad selection is fairly standard but the cold cuts are traditional meats including fresh deli sliced ham and turkey. This is one area where my kids loved the bar.

Speaking of the kids, Akershus has them in mind for the children's menu. They offer hot dogs, cheese pizza, grilled chicken (sorry Ricky, no chicken strips or nuggets here) and a few other options - pretty kid friendly. The entrees are BIG portions. I'm not kidding. You get a TON of food, so be ready. My wife fell in love with the salmon. I tried a bite and I quickly understood why - it was quite good.

To wrap up the meal is the dessert tray. I highly recommend the traditional rice cream with strawberry sauce. It is wonderful. It's like very soft serve ice cream with soft rice mixed in. This recipie, btw, is in the Cooking with the Disney Chefs cookbook. I've tried it and it's not too tough to make.

Oh yeah, in and among all this great food are about five princesses. The princesses visiting each night do vary somewhat. Our first time there, Belle and Cinderella were not around. Our second time, they both were there, but Alice and another were not. Aurora, Jasmine and Snow White appear to be regulars.

A tip for young boys -- WATCH OUT FOR KISSING PRINCESSES! Both times we were there, one of my boys got a huge smooch on the cheek from a lipstick-laden princess (Alice and Snow White). Parents, this makes a great photo op and something embarrassing to show at your son's wedding rehearsal dinner slide show years down the road .

But wait, there's more.

The staff at Akershus is quite friendly. Especially on our first trip, we spent about a half hour (in different bits) talking to our waitress from Norway about her homeland. My wife was so taken with what our waitress told us that she now wants to visit Norway.

If you want a fun character dining experience that also offers outstanding dining, Akershus is for you. Just be ready to book that ADR in advance, as it's a popular spot.

So as the Royal Proclamation outside reads, "It shall be a magical experience for all who attend."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

WDW at the Holidays: Animal Kingdom

(Image copyright Disney, all rights reserved.

In the next installment of my thoughts on Walt Disney World at the Holidays, we travel to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Here the holidays are in full swing as well, albeit with a bit of a jungle theme (no surprise).

Probably the highlight of the holiday-related events at Animal Kingdom would be Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade, which is very similar to the regular parade, just with a holiday overlay. Some things I'll be looking for are the stockings for the various characters and the naughty and nice list -- apparently Donald Duck has found his way onto both lists -- a neat trick. Another hidden treasure is Minnie's hot chocolate float -- the Imagineers have actually put a scent box on the float pumping out hot chocolate scents. This is just another example of the immense detail Disney puts into everything they do.

Also, I'm told the Animal Kingdom tree is something to behold. It is very African in nature and gives a very different take on holiday decorations. As a big fan of Christmas, I'm looking forward to these kinds of new experiences for the holidays.

This wraps up the holidays at the four parks -- up next will the a review of some of the resort-based holiday events.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mousefest 2008

Well my Mousefest 2008 packet finally arrived today. I have to say I'm excited to be attending my first Mousefest event. There are a number of interesting events I'm looking forward to attending, especially the Mega meet on Saturday. That is, if I ever get my Mousefest pin and lanyard away from my daughter who has caught the pin-head bug from my wife. If she see's a Disney pin, it's hers. Pin trading, by the way, is another great way to experience some Disney magic - and it can be done on the cheap, if you know how. Look for more in a future Tip Tuesday post.

I've been getting more and more involved in the online Disney community and I am very impressed with the welcome I've received from many big Disney fan names including Lou Mongello and Ricky Brigante.

I hope you all are enjoying this blog - I'm enjoying putting it together.

Of course, you can look for upcoming posts about Mousefest later next month!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Disney's "Animation Inn and Suites?"

Jim Hill Media is reporting a rumor that the unfinished portion of the Pop Century Resort (the Legendary Years) will finally be completed and the entire resort re-named to, get this, "Disney's Animation Inn and Suites."

Now anything coming from Jim Hill has to be taken with a grain (or rock) of salt. Occassionally he's right, but more often he's a little off the mark. Personally, I have a little trouble believing this one. He does cite a recent permit filed with Orange County, FL for "the installation of a model room somewhere on property for 'Disney's Animation Inn and Suites." Full disclosure here - the actual report for this filing comes from Touringplans.com.

Assuming this report is accurate (again, I am quite skeptical), this new name sounds more like Disney plans to turn the Pop Century into an Econo Lodge or La Quinta Inn. This name is not at all appealing.

The intent, so Jim Hill says, is to create a resort more appealing to families, who apparently aren't as enamored with Pop's current theming (never mind the fact that Pop has the largest rooms of all the value resorts).

Folks, take this one for what it's worth. As for me, this one's going to be filed in the "I'll believe it when I see it" folder.

What do you think -- real deal or tall tale?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy birthday Mickey Mouse!


The big cheese turns the big 8-0 today!

(Image copyright Disney, all rights reserved.)

Mickey Mouse celebrates his 80th birthday today. It is generally accepted that Mickey was "born" when Steamboat Willie premiered at the Colony Theater in New York City Nov. 18, 1928. Here's Mickey's official Disney bio. More about the history of Mickey Mouse.

Steamboat Wille was directed by Walt himself and he even provided the voice for Mickey.

Happy Birthday Mickey! May you be the symbol of magic and youth for another 80 years!




Tip Tuesday: How to get the most out of your ADR's

Anyone planning a Disney trip probably knows this bit already: book your ADR's ASAP. (Translation for those who have no idea what an ADR is: ADR stands for Advance Dining Reservation).

In most cases, ADR's can be booked up to 180 days in advance. This most especially applies for those very popular restaurants, such as the California Grill and Cinderella's Royal Table. If you're planning to dine at one of these (and other signature) restaurants, you need to be ready to call 407-WDW-DINE right at 7 a.m. exactly 180 days in advance of when you want to dine.

That is, if you're staying OFF property. For guests staying at a Disney resort, you get a bit of a perk. Your 180 window is based on the FIRST day of your visit. I believe there is a ten-day maximum window here - check with your travel agent on this, sometimes the rules do change.

Here's an example of how this works:

Two families are going to Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July. They will arrive on July 2nd and will stay for 4 days. Each wants to book breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT) for the morning of July 4th. One is staying on property, the other is staying off-property.

The off-property family can book for CRT around January 5 (exactly 180 days out from the date of the CRT dining).
The on-property family can book for CRT around January 3 (180 days out from the first day of their visit).

So guests staying at a Disney resort book several days in advance of non-Disney resort guests.

So how can this advantage help you get a booking for those hard-to-get places? Plan to go to those special dining events a few days into your trip, not right at the beginning -- to allow that advance window to work for you. Perhaps make that special event for the final day of the trip, so that you conclude your visit with a big moment.

Not sure when your 180 day window opens? Call Disney at 407-WDW-DINE and they'll tell you. Also, there are some events that have a shorter booking window. WDWinfo.com has a booking calendar that also can help you determine when to book, although it sometimes isn't precisely accurate -- it told me my 180 window started two days earlier than Disney would allow - so keep that in mind. Also, some special events aren't subject to the early window -- so it really is a good idea to call Disney ahead of time so you know when you can book what.

This is especially useful if you're on one of the Disney Dining Plans. I'll have more on the DDP in a future post.

Happy booking!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Disney magazines

If you're like me, you can't get enough Disney news. For the past year, I've subscribed to Orlando Attractions Magazine, produced by Ricky Bringante (of the Inside the Magic Podcast) and Matt Roseboom. OAM gives news, not only about Disney, but all attractions in the greater Orlando area (and even includes Busch Gardens Tampa).

I've really enjoyed many of the articles on OAM. But now there's a new player in the Disney magazine game, and another podcaster is partially behind it.

Lou Mongello (of the WDW Radio Show Podcast) has teamed up with Tim Foster (of the Guide to the Magic Web site and books) and a few other Disney pros to create Celebrations Magazine. Like OAM, Celebrations is a bi-monthy publication. Unlike OAM, Celebrations is focused solely on Disney.

Based on the first issue, which recently was released, Celebrations looks to be an outstanding publication. The quality of the photography is incredible (it should be no surprise as Tim Devine from The Magic in Pixels is a contributor). In addition, the paper stock is a very high quality, making this a durable magazine.

So Disney fans, if you're looking to find another outlet for your Disney fix, I suggest checking out both Orlando Attractions Magazine and Celebrations Magazine. The best news of all: it appears they distribute on alternate months, so if you subscribe to both, you're sure to get a Disney fix each and every month.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Disney announces new partnership with Verizon

From an official Walt Disney World news release:

Disney is teaming up with Verizon to offer a whole new range of mobile opportunities for Verizon subscribers at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Beginning next year, guests will be able to access an array of features on
their Verizon Wireless phones while at the Walt Disney World or Disneyland
Resort to help them make the most of their Disney experiences. Planned
services include an exclusive mobile application that will give guests with
Verizon Wireless service the ability to easily locate shows, restaurants and the
Disney characters anywhere inside the Parks; get real-time attraction
availability information; access mobile games; receive messages from characters
and more. Verizon Wireless is also continuing to invest in its wireless network
from coast to coast, and the relationship with Disney means the wireless users
will benefit from further enhancements to the Verizon Wireless network in the
Parks.

In addition, guests visiting Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort in early
2009 will be among the first to experience Disney’s
Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure
. An ultra-interactive
attraction, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure invites guests of all ages to
team up with members of Team Possible to save the world from various comical
villains and their mad inventions. Armed with an official Verizon Wireless
“Kimmunicator,” guests will use these handheld devices to help maneuver through
the mission. The interactive wireless theme park game was inspired by
Disney Channel’s Emmy® Award-winning animated series, “Kim Possible.”


Now, here's the bad news in this news release. It looks like the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure has been delayed to early 2009. I'm especially bummed about this since I was hoping to take part in this new offering while at Epcot in a few weeks. Maybe I'll luck into a soft opening.

All-in-all, this looks to be a nice addition to the parks. It's a great feature for guests to get information about the parks, especially wait times, without having to consult a tip board or an attraction itself. I hope this works as well as advertised.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

WDW at the Holidays: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Up next in my preview of the holidays at Walt Disney World -- Disney's Hollywood Studios.

What am I looking forward to seeing in person here? Well, it's the obvious: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This show originated in the Osborne's yard in Arkansas (no, not Ozzy). His christmas decorations became so big that he bought the houses on either side of his and then expanded even further. Things got so big that people would come from all parts of the nation to see this spectacle, causing insane traffic nightmares. The town took legal action to shut down the whole thing. When Disney heard about this, they stepped in and offered to move the entire thing to Disney World. Since the 1995 move to WDW, the spectacle has become bigger and bigger, but all the original lights are still there.

(Image copyright Disney, all rights reserved.)

This is one holiday event that is near to my heart. Each year, I want to do more and more decorations (lights) outside. I'm trying to find a way to add more Disney references to the decorations. Who knows, maybe I'll get a few ideas from seeing this spectacle.

When I say this thing is huge, I really mean HUGE!!! There are about 4 MILLION lights in this event, and now they dance across the Streets of America. To top it off, "snow" falls during the evening. Best of all, this is not a hard-ticketed event (like Mickey's Very Merry), it's included with the price of admission.

This really is one I will not miss. See for yourself, check out the YouTube clip from http://www.wdwinfo.com/ below.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Disney offers huge, enormous, fantasic deal!!!

Disney has just announced an incredible deal to visit Walt Disney World in the first half 2009.

How good does it get? How about three FREE days (hotel AND tickets)!! Just book at least a four-day Magic Your Way package at a Disney resort and you'll get three extra days free. That's a seven-day vacation for the cost of four days. This applies for trips between January 1 and June 27, 2009 (April 5-18 is blacked out).

Sound too good to be true? This is the real deal -- see for yourself from the Disney Web site.

This could mean savings of over $1000, depending on where you stay.

I may just have to find a way to take advantage of this incredible offer.

There is one catch: You must book your package by December 20, 2008.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2009 Flower & Garden dates and theme announced

Disney today released the 2009 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival theme and dates.

The 2009 event will feature an elaborate “Cinderellabration” topiary. An environmentally friendly Green Garden will bring fresh springtime flair to the 16th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival March 18-May 31, 2009.

Each year, Disney gardeners channel their creative energy into presenting an intricate topiary display against the backdrop of Spaceship Earth. This year, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Snow White and the seven dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip, and Belle and Beast from “Beauty and the Beast” will debut in all their “blooming finery” as the grand front-entrance topiary during the 75-day festival.

New gardens, events and children’s play areas offer more reasons to visit the 16th annual festival:

  • Green Garden– Anyone can create an environmentally friendly garden; here’s where guests will learn about low-water-use gardens, incorporating native plants into their garden and recycling.

  • Pixie Hollow – Colorful topiaries of Tinker Bell and her friends from Walt Disney Pictures’ “Tinker Bell” will sprinkle pixie dust over this playful garden designed just for kids.

  • Pirates Adventure Zone – Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Croc topiaries will lure young swashbucklers to this interactive space designed for exploration and adventure.

  • Special Environmentality Celebration (April 24-26) – This special event will showcase how to keep the planet green through solutions like reducing waste and using friendly bugs.

I went to the 2008 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and it was really cool to see all the different character topiaries.

The above photo was a topiary design piece located along the walkway between Future World and World Showcase. There were tons more all over the park!

More information is available by calling 407/W-DISNEY (934-7639) or by visiting disneyworld.com/flower. The festival, including all gardening programs and exhibits, is included in regular Epcot admission.

Tip Tuesday: Getting out of the Magic Kingdom after Wishes

Ok, you've watched Spectromagic and the final firework of Wishes has just faded away. You've been at that perfect spot near the Partners statue to watch Wishes. You turn around and realize there are a few thousand people between you and the exit. What do you do?

You really have two options.

Option 1: Start walking and join the long queue to leave the park and then join the long queue to wait for your bus to your resort. Not much fun.

Option 2: Stick around for about an hour to 90 minutes. Enjoy a few rides, perhaps watch Spectromagic again (if there's a second showing), and then leave the park. You will end up getting back to your hotel room only about 30 minutes later. The best news is that nearly everyone else is in the pack leaving the park, which means they're not in line. I tried this during the very heavy spring break season and found no waits for the Haunted Mansion or Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I then watched Spectromagic from the hub and walked out to a very short bus line.

Give this tip a try the next time you're enjoying the nighttime shows at the Magic Kingdom. Spend those extra minutes enjoying the park instead of waiting for the bus.

Check back next week for another Tip Tuesday!