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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Backpacks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday! Yes, it's Wednesday, I know.

This week's tip is short and sweet, as I'm getting ready to leave for Walt Disney World in a few hours.

Over the past year (and then some), I've talked about different things you may want to bring with you as you tour the parks (cameras, water, etc.). Well, what about how to carry all this stuff?

Some women like to take huge purses, which can hold everything including the kitchen sink. While these type of bags do work, I understand they really take a toll on a person's shoulder. In a similar manner, I see guys carrying around huge camera bags filled, no doubt, will all sorts of gear and other items. I've hauled a big heavy camera bag around the parks for several trips and I can say from personal experience that the single strap was quite hard on my shoulder. I kept shifting the bag from shoulder to shoulder to even out the ache.

I happened to talk with some experienced photographers who swore that backpacks were the way to go. Now understand that a good camera backpack can run upwards of $100 and more. Even with this higher price, I still recommend these over a normal backpack. First, camera backpacks have padded sections that are just right for lenses, flashes and the camera itself, while a normal backpack has just one big pocket to hold things, for the most part. I went out and got a camera backpack and what a difference! While my shoulders get tired at the end of the day, they are not aching and my arms don't feel like they want to fall off.

Depending on what you're carrying around will determine what kind of backpack you need. If you're a real shutterbug like me, then you want to seriously consider a camera backpack. If you're carrying around a lot of water, than you might want to look at other types of packs.

No matter what type of pack you choose, your back and shoulders will thank you.

To everyone out there, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving and I'll have more from Walt Disney World when I return!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Child safety at the parks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

A few weeks ago, I talked about important information to keep on-hand while visiting Walt Disney World. I mentioned that keeping information about your children is paramount, which leads me to this week's tip.

It's no surprise that kids often get separated from parents in such an enormous place as Walt Disney World. Just a single park is huge! With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for parents to help keep track of their children and what to do if (hopefully never) something goes wrong.

Credit, where credit is due: some of these are tips I've heard from many different Disney circles. If you came up with this tip -- my many thanks!

1. Have important information handy (write it down!!). This includes Social Security Numbers, date of birth, height, weight, eye color, etc. If something goes wrong, you'll quite likely be so freaked out, you just might not remember. I'm not kidding, I've seen it happen.

2. Take a photo of your children each day with your camera, cellphone, camcorder, whatever. If your child gets lost, you'll have a current photo to show authorities. Make it fun when you take the photo - that way kids won't get worried about getting lost.

3. Know what to do if something goes wrong. The moment you notice your child is missing, tell a CastMember. Don't wait. Disney has procedures to handle lost children. The same goes with your children. Tell them that if they can't find Mom or Dad, to tell a CastMember. Show them what CastMembers look like (especially the name badge).

4. Have a pre-arranged meeting place. If you do get separated, plan to meet somewhere specific. Don't just say "if we get separated, we'll meet at Cinderella Castle." That's way too broad. Make it very specific. For instance, "if we get separated, we'll meet at the entrance to Casey's," or "at the statue of Pleakey in Tomorrowland." This is especially important when visiting with older children who may have "free time" in the parks. A specific meeting place helps to avoid confusion.

5. Give your children emergency cards to carry with them. If a child, especially a young child, gets lost, they may be so scared they can't communicate well. Ahead of time, print a set of cards with the child's name, your name, your cell and the resort you're staying at. Tell the child that if they get lost, they can give the card to a CastMember and they will help you. I would strongly suggest that you emphasize to only give the card to a CastMember. I know there are a thousand guests who would be more than willing to help and all would be well, but you never know with guests (sorry, everyone). CastMembers are a safe bet.

6. Finally, stay calm. If something does go wrong, you won't get anywhere by panicking and freaking out. Keep a cool head and you'll get things straightened out in no time and be back enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth.

This is one tip I pray you never use. However, this is one tip that may just make all the difference when a parent faces one of their worst nightmares.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DisneyParks: Epcot's Lights of Winter is retired


On the official DisneyParks Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/disneyparks), Disney has announced the following:

The Lights of Winter at Epcot has been enjoyed for years. But tech to operate the lights is obsolete, prompting us to retire the lights.

After several years, the lighted archways that would dance to music will be no more this holiday season.
The Lights of Winter was a series of archways with more than 30,000 lights that spanned the main walkway between Future World and World Showcase. The monorail also would pass through part of the display. The lights would dance to holiday music in coordination with the Fountain of Nations, creating a spectacular display.
As the Twitter post indicates, the current technology used to run the lights show is "obsolete," so instead of repairing or upgrading the system, Disney apparently is throwing in the towel.
So far, there's no word if Disney is working on something new to replace the Lights of Winter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Wishes/Illuminations without a park ticket

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

There's no better finish to a day at Walt Disney World than watching a nighttime spectacular. Sometimes, however, you might not want to use up a park ticket (or deal with the hustle and bustle inside the park) just to watch Wishes at the Magic Kingdom or Illuminations at Epcot.

The good news is you don't have to be in the park to enjoy these wonderful nighttime shows. With a little bit of planning (here I go again talking about planning), you can enjoy Wishes or Illuminations for as little as nothing.

That's right, nothing! I know nothing's really free at Walt Disney World, but this may be as free as things can get.
And there are some exclusive opportunities to enjoy these shows that do come at a cost, but offer very unique experiences that you will cherish for a long time.

So let's take a look at some of these alternatives, starting with the "free" options.


Wishes/Magic Kingdom Parties (Halloween/Christmas)
Wishes at the Magic Kingdom may be one of the best fireworks shows you'll see at Walt Disney World (and beyond). If you happen to be down during one of the party nights (Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party), the fireworks shows are even more amazing. However, you don't have to be inside the park to see them.

I've enjoyed watching both Wishes and the Christmas Party fireworks from the docks at the Grand Floridian Resort. There was no cost whatsoever and Disney event pipes in the music outside of Narcoosee's. You also can get great views from the beaches at the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Resort. In fact, the Poly offers a dead-on view of Wishes at a similar angle as you would see if you were on Main Street. Continuing around the Seven Seas Lagoon, the parking lot at the Contemporary Resort offers some stunning views, and if you can get to the observatory at the top of the tower, you can watch Wishes from one of the best vantage points of all. Here, too, Disney pipes in the music.

DVC members staying at the new Bay Lake Tower can watch Wishes from the new Top of the World club. Unfortunately, this is available only to DVC members staying at Bay Lake Tower.

You don't have to be a resort guest to enjoy many of these views, either. Just make your way to any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts and you'll get a wonderful view of Wishes. After the show, be sure to stay and take in the Electrical Water Pageant - a fixture at Walt Disney World since the park opened in 1971.

Now for some viewing options that do require some costs. One of the best and serene ways to watch Wishes is to be out on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney has several different options for renting boats and offers special cruises, including the granddaddy of them all, the Grand 1. If you're interesting in booking the Grand 1, which can cost up to $500 a night, call 407-WDW-PLAY.


Illuminations
The secret to watching Illuminations: Reflections of Earth for no cost is location, location, location. Disney's Boardwalk offers some wonderful views towards the World Showcase Lagoon. The downside with watching Illuminations outside Epcot is that you can't see any of the low-level effect (the globe, the water displays, the fire barge, etc.). This being said, you can still see (and hear) quite a good show. I have stayed at the Dolphin and watched Illuminations from the Boardwalk. Similarly, I have stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort and watched Illuminations from the Port Royal docks. In both cases, I could pick out the music (it wasn't piped in, but you could hear it in the distance).

Now if you'd like a more exclusive experience, you can book an Illuminations cruise or even Breathless II. These are boats that leave from the Yacht Club and park in the World Showcase lagoon during Illuminations. Like the Grand 1, these can get expensive. For rates and available times, call 407-WDW-PLAY.

If you really want to experience these nightitme spectaculars to their fullest extent, it's best to be in the park. However, if you're looking for a more relaxing, intimate or romantic option, than consider finding a quiet stretch of beach or a cruise. Have fun!

Disney offers a sneak peek of Space Mountain


On the official Disney blog, Imagineers gave a little sneak peek of some of the changes taking place inside Space Mountain. Based on some of the images Disney released today, the changes to Space Mountain look incredible! I especially like the blue lighting of the queue lines. It is reminiscent of the Soarin' queue at Epcot.

In another image, an Imagineer is seen working on one of several interactive game screens located along the queue.

According to the official Disney blog,
Passengers will be able to immerse themselves in unique game play as they prepare for blast off, becoming part of the space station adventure. During a recent walkthrough, we deflected asteroids to keep runways clear as part of the story. The interactive experiences are based on duties you’d find on board a long-traveling space craft, according to Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Show Designer Alex Wright. Each game lasts about 90 seconds with a 90-second interval and the games can accommodate 86 players at one time.


This should help those long queue go by a little faster. I'm glad to see that the games can accommodate a large number of players at one time. That should help cut down on competition for play time.

There also are some hidden treasures and tidbits included in the refurbishment. According to the official blog,

As you move along on your journey, there are “insider” touches typical in projects created by Imagineers. For example, if you’re up on your Disney trivia, you’ll recognize a sign bearing the logo “H-NCH 1975″ as a tribute to late Imagineer and Disney legend John Hench. There are also other “Disneyphile” references hidden throughout the attraction.Space Mountain celebrates the Golden Age of Rocket Travel – inspired by the jet age of the early 1960s. The attraction highlights excitement around the endless possibilities regarding space travel. It did back when it opened in 1975 and I think you’ll agree it still does.

I, for one, can't wait to see all the changes at Space Mountain. One thing's for sure - Walt would be happy to see that his dreams continue to evolve, grow and get "plussed."

Friday, November 6, 2009

DisneyParks steps up efforts to prevent H1N1

In a new post of the official Disney Parks blog, Disney's social media director Thomas Smith highlighted some of the efforts Disney is undertaking to help prevent the spread of the 2009 Novel H1N1 virus.

Just like you, Disney Parks is working hard to make guests and cast members aware of steps that they can take to prevent the spread of the flu. It’s just part of our ongoing commitment to our Guests’ health and safety.

"A Disney Parks’ team has been monitoring the developments regarding the spread of the H1N1 flu. The team has long-standing relationships with local health officials and we’ve continued to use their guidance to evaluate and, if appropriate, adjust our operations," said Thomas.

In addition to Disney's intense cleaning effort (the park already is spotless), Disney is installing hand sanitizers in high-traffic areas, such as park entrances, hotel lobbies and character “meet-and-greet” locations. "Our parks have already implemented more frequent cleaning of “high-touch” surfaces such as drinking fountains and telephones," Thomas said.

Thomas also said that measures recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of flu will be included in event guide brochures.

My take:
Being the world's number one vacation destination, Walt Disney World sees a LOT of visitors each day. This means there is a higher opportunity for viruses to spread. That being said, anyone visiting Walt Disney World should not be overly concerned about H1N1.

Just follow good hygiene habits we all learned in school (washing hands often, sneezing into a tissue, not touching eyes/nose often), and you'll greatly reduce your chances of catching the virus.

Get more tips on how to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mickey to see a radical makeover in upcoming game -- could this just be the beginning?

The New York Times has a story in today's paper about a quiet new effort by Disney to re-invent the character at the core of it all: Mickey Mouse.

I know it seems hard to believe - messing with the mouse himself? This is one of the most recognizable figures in the world.

The beginning for Mickey's possible transformation will likely come with the release of Epic Mickey, a bold, daring video game set for release next Fall. In Epic Mickey, the Mouse is more daring, more mischievous and even cunning -- a significant departure from the clean do-no-wrong image Mickey Mouse evolved into after 80 years of existence. One thing that won't change, says the game's designer, Mickey won't be evil.

The funny thing is that the Mickey portrayed in Epic Mickey is more like the Mickey Mouse of Walt Disney's imagination -- one who is mischievous, boisterous and even a little amorous with female characters (Minnie).

Epic Mickey also will feature another famous Disney creation -- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In the game, Oswald's a bit bitter about being left high and dry. In reality this happened because of rights problems with Universal. In fact, Disney had to trade to get Oswald back. What did they trade? Al Michaels, of all things. Turns out, Disney CEO let NBC have Al Michaels in return for rights to Oswald.

Of even greater importance -- the article indicates that Epic Mickey may just be the first wave in a transformation of Mickey Mouse. Apparently, Disney is very quietly looking at ways to freshen up the mouse for today's kids. Whether this effort will go any further than Epic Mickey is anyone guess at this point.

As for Epic Mickey (by the way, it's only for the Wii), this is one game I most certainly will be getting next year. It looks fantastic - especially some of the screen shots of the wasteland theme park.

Hunt for hidden Mickey's goes digital


Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide To Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets, the best-selling book by Steven M. Barrett, now has its very own “official” app for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

The new app builds on the successful formula of the book. It contains all of the Hidden Mickeys from the new fourth edition of the book -- with over a hundred added, the total is now up to more than 800 – but it takes things to a whole new level of interactivity.

Using the scavenger hunt structure that made the book so popular, the new app offers cryptic “clues” for searchers to puzzle over and “hints” for if they get stuck. But asking for hints before you find a Hidden Mickey lowers your score. Separate user profiles allow family members to compete on the hunts.

But the app is not just the book in digital form. It also includes completely new features only possible with Apple’s iPhone technology. For example, users can upload their scavenger hunt scores directly to their Facebook pages without having to exit the application. This means that for the first time Hidden Mickeys hunters from around the globe can compare their scores instantaneously.

The application also uses a GPS location tracking feature that identifies the user’s location in the resort and automatically displays the nearest Hidden Mickeys up to 500 meters away. Hunters in a hurry can thus save time without skipping Mickeys.

Users of the new app are enthusiastic. “This is awesome,” raved LightningMcQueen1983 in the iTunes Store. “I have already gone through and selected all the Hidden Mickeys I knew, but there are soooooo many more to find.”

The application is available for $5.99 under the “Travel” category in Apple’s App Store via this link http://bit.ly/4E3phY.

The Hidden Mickeys app was created by Campbell/Gambill Designs of Orlando, FL, with the assistance of author Steve Barrett. Barrett’s book, Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide To Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets ($12.95), is published by The Intrepid Traveler. It is available in the Disney parks, in bookstores, and online.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monorail Teal makes first appearance today

WDW Magic.com has photos of monorail teal in action today. The newest monorail, which is a compilation of the undamaged portions of monorails pink and purple that were involved in that fatal crash over the summer, began running this morning on the Magic Kingdom express loop. As was previously reported, the pink and purple colors have been retired and will no longer be seen at Walt Disney World.

If you look at the photos, monorail teal looks very similar to monorail blue -- so similar, in fact, that Disney has added a white "delta" to the teal stripe to help cast members quickly distinguish between teal and blue. These white deltas are located under the center window of each train car.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tip Tuesday: "Touring" Plans

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

For those of you new to the DisneyDaddy blog, each Tuesday, I offer a tip I've either developed or heard of. You can always go back and read past Tip Tuesday posts by clicking on the "Tip Tuesday" link on the right side of this page.

Now for this week's tip:

In last week's post, I talked about some information you needed to keep with you while at Walt Disney World. This information included dining reservations, park hours and Extra Magic Hours (EMH). One reason why you want to have this information handy is so you can develop your own touring plans.

I use the term "touring plans" only because it's the most common term used among Disney fans describing a plan for how to go about spending time in the parks. There is a site (http://www.touringplans.com/) that offers (for a fee) more than 100 different touring plans designed for all sorts of scenarios. For those who feel they need some advice from some Disney experts, TouringPlans.com might be a resource to check out.

The best kind of touring plan, in my opinion, however, is the plan that does what you want to do. If you're a "gotta-do-it-all-and-see-it-all" kind of person, than you'll want to think about the best ways to mix the use of FastPasses, single rider lines, and standby lines to get in as much as possible (it also helps to go on a night with late EMH hours so that the park is open much later, giving you more time, assuming you're staying on-property).

Most guests, aren't quite so commando in their time at the parks. That's why I suggest making a list of the top 3-10 attractions you want to experience in each parks (top 3 for shorter visits, top 10 for longer trips). Once you have that list, try to map out where you want to go, keeping in mind some basic tips:

  • If Dumbo's (MK) on the list - get there early and first (best on an EMH early day). That's one attraction that always has a long line - and there's no FastPass.
  • If Toy Story Mania's (DHS) on the list - get there early and get FastPasses. They tend to run out by the afternoon, if not sooner. If you're at rope drop, you can get a FastPass and then go right into the standby line - you might just get two rides in a few hours.
  • Peter Pan's Flight (MK) generally has a longer queue, especially in the afternoon. This is another good one to FastPass, if it's on your list.
  • Like Toy Story Mania, fastpasses for Soarin' (Epcot) and Expedition Everest (AK) go quick. If it's on your list, get a FastPass early. Be sure to check the standby lines, however - if it's 20 minutes or less, you might want to just go right in.
  • When Space Mountain (MK) reopens in a few weeks, it's going to be slammed, so if it's on your list, plan on using FastPasses, at least for the next few months.
  • Remember that World Showcase at Epcot opens later than World Showcase. Lately, WS has been opening at 9 a.m. instead of 11. If you have Malestrom on your list, keep an eye on the opening time and you might be able to catch a walk-on at Malestrom before the crowds come.
  • You can only hold one FastPass at a time, with some exceptions (see this previous post).
  • Always pick up a times guide. This will help you better plan when certain shows and character meet-and-greets are available.

So before your next trip, take a few moments and plan what you want to do at each park. Then plan your route to make your day go a little bit easier.

Have fun!