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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top 10 of '09

As the final minutes of 2009 tick away, I wanted to take a moment and share with you my top 10 Disney moments for 2009.

And here they are:

10. Expanding my involvement in the Disney community to now include writing for Celebrations Magazine and working with the WDW Radio Show.

9. Seeing Disney's return to 2-D hand drawn animation in The Princess and the Frog.

8. Spending Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World. It's always such a treat to experience the holidays at WDW.

7. Attending MagicMeets in August. Never before have I been in a place where everyone was such huge Disney fans. To think that two pieces of my photography together sold for more than $600 to benefit the Disney World Trivia Dream Team!! That was such a huge thrill for me!

6. Being named the Biggest Disney Fan -- look for so much more about this in 2010!!!

5. Covering (remotely), the announcement of the Fantasyland expansion and Star Tours 2 at the D23 Expo. It was a fast and furious time gathering and posting different images and information. It reminded me of my old news days.

4. Spending literally days in front of a computer watching Lou Mongello's live coverage of the D23 Expo. I consider it an honor to be called a "Box Person."

3. Becoming a D23 Charter Member. While I haven't personally had the chance to take part in different events (I'm going to do everything I can to be at the 2010 D23 Expo), I've very much enjoyed being a D23 member and all the magazines, official blog and more that D23 has created.

2. With all the blog, D23 activity and other work, I've made so many new Disney friends that I feel truly blessed to be a part of the online Disney community. I look forward to making even new friends in the coming year.

1. Writing this blog and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I have really enjoyed writing this blog and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Look for more to come in 2010!


As for what 2010 will bring -- I am looking forward to so many Disney-related events!! These include:

Many, many more blog posts here on DisneyDaddy.

More articles in Celebrations Magazine and WDW Radio.

Running in the 2010 WDW Half Marathon.

The Biggest Disney Fan trip and all the amazing experiences that are planned -- best of all, I get to share these experiences with you!

... and so much more!!

2010 is going to be an outstanding year-- so let's get started!

Have a happy and safe new year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marathon Weekend program now online

Disney has posted the official program for the 2010 marathon weekend online. It contains important information for participants and spectators, so be sure to check it out if you're heading down to Disney this weekend.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tip Tuesday: New Year's Eve at WDW

Welcome to the final Tip Tuesday for 2009.

With New Year's Eve nearly upon us, I thought I'd share a few quick tips about spending the final night of the year at Walt Disney World.

The first that many will say is: DON'T!!!

It's no secret that the week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest, most crowded time of the entire year at WDW, and they would be right. According to the crowd calendar at TouringPlans.com, the crowds at the parks are a full out 10 (meaning peak standby wait times for the headliner attractions of 2+ hours) from Christmas to New Year's Day.

This being said, though, there are still plenty of ways to have a wonderful and magical New Year's Eve at the happiest place on Earth.

First, stay away from the Magic Kingdom. Unless you are dead-set on seeing the New Year's Eve fireworks (which are incredible, I hear), then you would be well-served to avoid the Magic Kingdom like the plague. If you do want to be in the Magic Kingdom for New Year's Eve, then get there early because it is very likely that the park will hit maximum capacity by mid-day and will close to new guests. Also plan on finding a place to watch the fireworks at least 90 minutes in advance. Be prepared to sit or stand a while.

If you really want to see the special New Year's Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, there are some other options that won't be as crowded, though it requires some advance planning.
  • Try to schedule a Wishes desert cruise on the Grand One or other boat. It will be expensive, but there won't be a crowd.
  • Get a boat from Grand Floridian, Contemporary or Wilderness Lodge and sit out on the Seven Seas Lagoon to watch the fireworks.
  • Go to the beach at the Polynesian and watch from across the lagoon (the beach next to the Wedding Pavilion is good too).
  • Stand on the docks near Narcoosee's at the Grand Floridian.
  • If you time it right, take the ferryboat from the TTC to the main entrance and sit up top.
  • There's always the California Grill -- just be ready to make that ADR 180 days in advance!
So if you shouldn't go to the Magic Kingdom, where should you go?

You can try Epcot, though it's nearly as crowded as the Magic Kingdom. Your best bet for a park is either Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. This is mostly because many guests are interested in the nighttime events (Wishes or Illuminations) that have special New Year's Eve shows. Normally Hollywood Studios doesn't have fireworks, so most guests tend not to go to the Studios on New Year's Eve. While the park will be crowded, it won't be totally nuts like the Magic Kingdom or Epcot.

Here's the extra gem: For the past few years, Disney has put on a smaller fireworks show at Hollywood Studios for New Year's Eve. So you might just get to see some fireworks after all. Besides, you can always hang out at the Boardwalk near Jellyrolls to see some of the fireworks over at Illuminations.

Personally, my recommendation for a nice New Year's Eve is to make an ADR (remember to book 180 days in advance!) at a signature restaurant with your significant other. What better way to end the year than dinner with someone you love.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Princess and the Frog hints at a return to Disney's glory days


It's amazing just how much a 16-18" snow will push your plans back for days and days.

I had originally planned to catch Disney's newest movie, The Princess and the Frog, during the first week it opened, but a little (actually, huge) snowstorm changed all those plans.

So, it wasn't until today that I had the opportunity to see this film that has been heralded as the long-awaited return to 2-D hand drawn animation and bring you a review and my thoughts.

So without any further introduction, here is my review:

GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!

Seriously, if you are a fan of any of Disney's hand-drawn classics, such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White or The Lion King, then you must see The Princess and the Frog. Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter wasn't kidding when he said this movie marked Disney's return to 2-D animation.

I'll go even further and say that The Princess and the Frog ushers in a return the grandeur and cinematic brilliance of Disney animation's modern glory days from the 1980's and early 90's.

Now, I'm not just gushing over the fact that Disney's finally released a 2-D movie, rather it's that The Princess and the Frog also marks a return to the kind of storytelling that pulls at your heart and makes you sing with joy. Somehow, these two elements work best hand-in-hand.

I know The Princess and the Frog took a long time to produce, but it's clear that the time was well spent. Each character, especially Tiana and Naveen have been well-developed with a complete backstory that helps to make these characters even more believable. Tiana is a strong-willed, focused and driven woman intent on achieving her dreams. She embodies Walt Disney's saying, "if you can dream it, you can do it." Tiana has a dream and she constantly strives through hard work and determination to achieve it. In one line of her song, "so work real hard each and every day," perfectly describes Tiana's work ethic learned from her father.

When The Princess and the Frog was first announced, many made a big deal out of the fact that Tiana would become Disney's first black princess. To be honest, I never even saw the color of Tiana's skin, which is how it should be. Instead, I saw an independent woman determined to achieve her goals. There is a hint of the differences between the races as was prevalent in the early 1900's, but it is not thrust into our faces. Big Daddy is a rich white person who's daughter, Charlotte, has no concept of what it means to work to achieve a goal. She thinks you just make your wish and it comes true. Tiana, on the other hand, learned at a young age that, as her father says, "wishes only take you so far." Dreams come to those who work for them.

Naveen, in contrast, is another black character who is every bit as reckless and care-free as Charlotte. Some key scenes in the film even poke fun at how Naveen hasn't worked hard for anything. Throughout the story, we see the true transformation of Naveen, not from prince to frog, but from irresponsible playboy to a loving, caring man. At first, I thought he was a bit over the top with the whole playboy-thing, but it's plain that this was necessary to most effectively setup the later transformation.

Then there's Dr. Facilier, the evil voodoo "shadow man," who is our main villain. This is one great villain. He is scheming, manipulative, swave, ruthless and, like many villains, working for some even greater evil powers. All throughout the film, Facilier is working to serve his own interests, no matter who he swindles and deceives along the way. I heard one person comment that Facilier wasn't "in" the movie enough, but I disagree. His presence was just right. Much like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Faciler is around just enough to prevent the primary characters from prevailing, yet isn't so overpowering that we lose the love story that develops along the way. In the end is a climatic battle, though not your typical good-vs-evil struggle. You'll just have to see it for yourself.

With such a well-developed story in hand, the animators created characters so real that there were times where the dialog wasn't needed. For instance, not one word needed to be said for us, the audience, to understand just how deep Ray's love for his Evangeline is. It was all in his eyes. That's something I don't think translates as well in CG animation.

In a similar manner, the environment is spot-on. Within minutes, I could feel myself being immersed in early 1900's New Orleans. The directors did a fantastic job of maintaining the New Orleans charm without slipping into the pit of stereotyping. To be honest, when I first saw the trailer, I thought that's what happened with the character of Ray, the cajun firefly. I was wrong. Ray is a heartfelt, fun-loving character who portrays the cajun spirit without being stereotypical.

Like New Orleans itself during Mardi Gras, the Princess and the Frog is filled with color, rich and vibrant. Even during some of the darker scenes (I'll keep this spoiler free), there still is a hint of color, just as there is a hint of hope.

As if all this eye-candy wasn't enough, there's plenty of ear-candy as well. There are seven original songs and a wonderful score by Randy Newman of Toy Story fame. The music is toe-tapping, heartfelt and inspiring. Newman took a great deal of inspiration from the musical heritage of New Orleans including jazz, blues and gospel. Music is a key part of what makes up New Orleans and The Princess and the Frog quite nicely blends music into the entire story, especially through the antics of Louis the trumpet-playing crocodile. This is one soundtrack you'll be glad you picked up. I got this soundtrack a few days ago and have listened to it several times already.

Disney has hit a grand slam with The Princess and the Frog. I'm hopeful the glory days of animation have returned and Disney continues with 2-D hand-drawn animation. Leave the 3-D CG films to the experts at Pixar. The Disney Animation Studios have re-asserted themselves as the experts at traditional 2-D. That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Holidays at the WDW resorts

Beach Club Gingerbread Carousel

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In this final installment of tips for the holidays at Walt Disney World, I wanted to take you not to any park, but to some of the different resorts around Walt Disney World.

While the parks do have wonderful and amazing holiday decorations and events, the resorts also deck their halls with some incredible displays, including edible art!

No visit to Walt Disney World at the holidays would be complete without spending at least some time seeing the different displays at the resorts, so let's start with the monorail resorts.

At the Grand Floridian, be sure to stop by the life-size gingerbread house. That's right, it's life-size!! Where else can you find a recipe that calls for more than 1,000 pounds of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 700 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of flour, 35 pounds of spices, tons of creativity and a pinch of Disney magic and pixie dust!

In addition to the huge gingerbread house, be sure to take a moment to listen to the live music being played up on the balcony by a small orchestra. Also, be sure to bring your PhotoPass card, because Disney's photographers set up a mini portrait studio in front of the huge tree in the lobby each evening. You can get top-quailty portrait photos taken with no sitting fee. They'll go right onto your PhotoPass account (yet another reason why PhotoPass is such a great idea!).

Continuing around the monorail loop, we come to the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts. Each resort also displays their own confectionary creations. The Contemporary has different gingerbread displays each year (this year, it's a gingerbread tree and characters inspired by Mary Blair), while the Polynesian displays holiday decorations with a distinct polynesian flair.

While we're in the Magic Kingdom area, you must take a quick boat ride over to Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Here you will find a massive tree filled with different rustic decorations. As you walk into the lobby, you are immersed into the sensation of the holidays in the great northwest. It's as if the snow is falling outside and you're snug inside by the fire. It's well worth the trip just to see this lobby.

As we leave the Magic Kingdom area resorts, we travel down the monorail, through Epcot and the International Gateway and on to Disney's Beach and Yacht Club resorts. These resorts host two more wonderful edible holiday displays. At the Beach Club, be sure to see the working gingerbread carousel (pictured above). Yes, I said it's working -- it acutally moves. Like all the other gingerbread displays, there are plenty of hidden mickey's abound, so keep a sharp eye out!

At the Yacht Club you'll find a wonderful train set featuring many Disney Department 56 houses.

Continuing around Crescent Lake, we take a quick stop at the Dolphin Resort where there is a huge tree made entirely of white poinsettias.

Next up is the Boardwalk resort, where we find another gingerbread creation - a gazebo with a model train set running around it. Again, more hidden mickeys are all over the place. While at the boardwalk, be sure to see some of the beautiful garland strung throughout the lobby.

Finally, we make our way over to Disney's Animal Kingdom resort for what might be the most interesting holiday display, simply because it's so different from the rest. Another huge tree greets us as we enter the lobby. This tree is covered with African-inspired ornaments. Like the Wilderness Lodge, it's worth a visit just to see these decorations.

The holidays are one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World and I hope these series of tips will help you enjoy your holiday visit to the happiest and merriest place on Earth!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DisneyDaddy returns to WDW Radio Show again

I had the pleasure and honor to again record a segment of the WDW Radio Show with Lou Mongello.

To listen or download the show, go to the WDW Radio.com Web page.

Disney announces dates for 2010 Star Wars Weekends

The official Disney Parks blog has announced the dates for the 2010 Star Wars Weekends.
  • May 21 – 23
  • May 28 – 30
  • June 4 – 6
  • June 11 – 13

So far, there's no word on what celebrities will be in attendance. With the big Star Wars Celebration convention coming to Orlando in August, I wouldn't be surprised if some big names happen to show up!

One thing that won't be at the 2010 SWW will be the Disney/Star Wars big figs. Last year, Disney announced they would not be producing any more SWW big figs after the 2009 event.

If you're a Star Wars fan, this is a must-do! I went to the 2007 Star Wars Weekends and had a blast!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Disney offers new booking promotion

The official Disney Parks Blog today announced a new promotion aimed at enticing guests to book on-property stays at Walt Disney World.

Book any 5-night/6-day non-discounted package through the Walt Disney Travel Company at a select Walt Disney World resort hotel and you could receive a Disney gift card up to $750. Note that this offer is for non-discounted rooms, meaning that you will probably pay the rack rate for the room.

Here are the details:
  • Book at a deluxe or villa resort and receive a $750 Disney gift card
  • Book at a moderate resort and receive a $500 Disney gift card
  • Book at a value resort and receive a $300 Disney gift card
There are limitations, so if you're interested, be sure to see the details page at Disneyworld.com. This offer is for bookings made by March 27 for travel dates up to June 3.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Captain EO returns to Disneyland, for now

This coming February, the late Michael Jackson will return to Disneyland as Captain EO, one of Disney's first 3D films will once again be shown, according to the DisneyParks official blog. Disney officials say Captain EO will take over the space currently housing Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Captian EO's time at Disneyland will be limited, though there was no indication of how long EO would run.

This announcement has re-ignited rumors that a similar move is planned for Epcot at Walt Disney World, where Honey I Shrunk the Audience currently is playing in the space Captain EO first premiered in Sept. 1986. Thus far, there is no word from Disney on any plans for Captain EO at Epcot.

My take:
While I'm not a huge MJ fan, it would be nice to see EO return to Epcot for a limited time. This would be a good opportunity for Disney to take out an aging outdated attraction like HISTA and, after EO's run is done, replace it with something new and fresh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A sad day for Disney as Roy E. Disney passes away

Roy E. Disney, son of Roy O. Disney and nephew of Walt Disney died today at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer.

Disney was a key figure in the hiring, and later firing, of now former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. He fought to keep the creative spirit alive during times when, as he would put it, the Disney company was more like a real estate company than a movie studio.

Roy O. Disney leaves behind two daughters, Abigail Disney and Susan M. Disney Lord, as well as sons Roy P. Disney and Timothy J. Disney, and 16 grandchildren.

I would like to express my condolences to the entire Disney family and company.

More on Roy O. Disney's passing from the Orlando Sentinel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Holidays at Epcot

Candlelight Processional

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In my continuing series about the holidays at Walt Disney World, I wanted to take you to Epcot to experience all the holiday happenings there.

Epcot (my favorite park, especially for the holidays), offers so many holiday-related opportunities that it's hard to fit it all into a single day. That being said, anyone planning to experience some of Epcot's holiday events would do well with a little bit of preparation beforehand. Most holiday events begin the Friday after Thanksgiving and conclude December 30.

So without further adieu, let's go!

The Candlelight Processional
This is Epcot's holiday "main event" featuring a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir consisting of the Voices of Liberty, honor choirs from local high schools and guest choirs from high schools across the nation. Each night there are three performances (5:00, 6:15, and 8:00 p.m.). In addition, special celebrity narrators tell the Christmas story in conjunction with the choir. This year's narrators include Whoopi Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose (voice of Princess Tiana), John O'Hurley, Vanessa Williams, Andy Garcia and more.

The Candlelight Processional is, by far, Epcot's most popular holiday event. If you're planning to see one of these shows, you'll want to keep the following tips in mind.

1. There are two ways to get a seat. The first is to purchase a Candlelight Dinner Package. This package includes dinner at one of the restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase, guaranteed seating in the America Gardens Pavilion and reserved viewing location for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (and holiday tag). This is a popular option and a lot of people book these dinner packages.

If you want to make sure you get a decent seat - you'll want to give this option serious consideration. Prices run from $32.99 (lunch, tier 1) to $59.99 (dinner, tier 3) per person. The prices vary depending on what show time you reserve and where you dine. Those booking a Candlelight Dinner Package should check-in at the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package booth near the America Gardens Pavilion no later than 15 minutes before the show. I would recommend checking in no later than 40-minutes in advance, especially if you want a seat towards the front. I've seen the dinner package line run from the pavilion all the way to Morocco. That's a lot of people!!!

2. If you don't want to book a dinner package, you can roll the dice and try the standby line. This line forms on the Italy side of the America Gardens Pavilion. Once all the guests from the dinner packages have been seated, the standby line opens. If you get a seat, it will most likely be toward the back of the pavilion, and there is no guarantee of getting a seat. Your best chance for getting a standby seat is try to attend a show in the middle of the week and before about December 20th when crowds begin to swell. The closer to Christmas, the more crowded the parks (and Epcot) will become.

3. If you're standing anyway - how about standing room only? This is the option I've used when I've watched the Candlelight Processional and, as you can see from the photo above, you get a decent view. This option, as well, requires some advance work. I like to stand on the rope line behind the left side of the pavilion, near the center. If you can get on the rope, you'll have an near un-impeded view of the show (since you're standing and everyone else is sitting). You also get a wonderful (and, depending on where you're standing) close-up view of the choirs processional into the pavilion. Your feet will be tired, so be sure to wear good shoes (you should be anyway -- you're at a park!).

4. If you don't care about seeing the show and just hearing it, try to find a table outside the Liberty Inn. The show's plenty loud, so you'll hear everything just fine. Best of all, you might be able to make it a real "dinner" show, with a bite from the Liberty Inn.

The Candlelight Processional is awe-inspiring and highly recommended. This is a DisneyDaddy must do!

Holiday Storytellers in Norway

Holidays Storytellers Around The World
Now for another DisneyDaddy must do -- the Holiday Storytellers. At every World Showcase pavilions, Disney puts on a brief show feature a holiday figure from that host country. For instance, in China, the Monkey King tells the story about the Chinese New Year, while in Norway, Sigrid tells the story of the mischievous Julenissen, the Christmas Gnome (see photo above). The America Adventure pavilion actually features three storytellers, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Santa and Mrs. Claus.

These performances happen several times during the afternoon and evening. If you're interested, be sure to check the daily times guide when you enter Epcot.

These storytellers are absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend seeing every one. There are thirteen presentations in all. It's pretty tough to see them all in one day, so I suggest devoting two afternoons to seeing all the storytellers.

Unlike the Candlelight Processional, you don't need to show up quite as early. If you want an up front viewpoint (there are no seats, this are out on the promenade), you'll want to be in place about 10 minutes early (15-minutes early closer to Christmas when the crowds are heavier).

Parents: These are wonderful photo opportunities as each storyteller will allow some time for photos after the performance. Have your camera ready as PhotoPass photographers aren't usually on hand (though they can be).


Joyful
New this year is a gospel group performing at Innoventions Plaza in a show called "Joyful," featuring the talents of D'Vine Voices. Joyful is performed four times from 1:15 to 4:15 p.m. each day and blends gospel and inspirational music with jazz, soul and R&B. This is another wonderful show with music you can't help but sing along with.

There are so many wonderful holiday events at Epcot that guests really have to make a choice: holiday events or attractions. You just can't do it all in a day (or even two). For my family, we always choose the holiday events. What better way to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year in the most wonderful place on Earth!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Last week, I talked about a few tips to get the most out of the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights over at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

This week, I wanted to discuss some tips for best experiencing the ultra-popular Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP).

This parade is one of the best you will see at Walt Disney World all year, and it's well worth watching. The hitch is, everyone else knows it's a great parade as well, especially on Main Street, so the crowds tend to congregate along Main Street.

So, how do you best experience the parade during MVMCP? It depends on your schedule and what's most important to you.

If you can stay late (at least 11 p.m.):
Catch the second parade. Most people tend to flock to Main Street to see the first parade, which usually runs around 8:15 p.m. The crowds stay around Main Street to watch Holiday Wishes at 9:30 p.m. and then make a beeline for the exit. The end result? Far fewer people to watch the second parade at around 10:30 p.m. You'll stand a much better chance to get a great vantage point, perhaps even the highly sought after view down Main Street (see image above). I took this shot during the second parade during a 2008 MVMCP.

If you can't stay late:
Your options get a little more limited, because time is more limited. If seeing the parade is a high priority, then find a spot at least 35-45 minutes ahead of time, especially for spots along Main Street. If you don't have that much time (or don't want to devote that much time to waiting), consider some alternate parade viewing locations, like Frontierland. The crowds tend to be a bit lighter in Frontierland where the parade starts.

Either way, find a spot early, especially for prime viewing. Even if you're planning to catch the second parade, if you want some of the prime viewing spots, you'll need to get your spot at least 30 minutes in advance for the second parade.

Be prepared to sit a while, and have the right gear:
The Once Upon a Christmastime Parade is long!! It runs around 20-25 minutes. If you're planning to record the parade (it's well worth it!!), be sure you have plenty of tape or hard drive space to capture the entire parade. It's also a VERY good idea to bring a tripod. The lighting is darker that you might suspect and having a tripod, even a small one, will help make your video look better.
As for still photography, the darker lighting makes shooting the parade especially challenging. Most point-and-shoot cameras don't have the flash strength to properly illuminate the floats, even if you're at the rope line. I suggest learning how to use your camera's manual settings and use a longer shutter time. With some practice, you can take a fairly steady shot at 1/30th of a second or faster. Using a tripod for your still shots can produce some outstanding shots, as you can really use a slow shutter speed.
So there you go, a few ways you can me the most of the holiday parade.
If you see Santa (he's the guest of honor!), be sure to tell him I said hi!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Disney tip boards go mobile

About a year ago, Disney announced they were working on a new application with Verizon where guests could get in-park information such as wait times, FastPass info and park hours through their cell phone.

About a month ago, Disney announced the new application finally was ready, and so http://m.disneyworld.com/ was born. There are two version of this new Web site, one is free and the other requires users to pay a subscription fee. To be more accurate, the Web site is free, while the smart phone application (called Mobile Magic) requires a fee, though some information in the Web site also is in the app.

It is important also to note that this is an app available ONLY to Verizon customers, meaning all those iPhones using AT&T service are shut out.

I've used the free Web-based version and while it's somewhat useful, it's pretty clear that Disney wants users to download the fee-based app. At first, m.disneyworld.com provided some limited wait time information, such as "see now," or "moderate." About a week or two after it launched, even this limited wait time information was removed. What's unclear about this "light" page is what constitutes a "see now" wait time versus a "moderate" or whatever. The Disney site doesn't specify.

UPDATE: Apparently just this week, the limited wait time and FastPass information returned to the free site.

The downloadable app offers updated attraction wait times and FastPass times for the park the user currently is located in. It also displays GPS-enabled park maps, showing the locations of attractions and restaurants. Also included are tips about different happenings in each park and trivia games to compete against other guests in the parks. That's about the most unique element of the downloadable app. Aside from the wait and FastPass times, a standard paper park map provides much of the same information.

I have not tried the Verizon app, mostly because of the price. What I've seen in demos, however, doesn't make me think that the $9.99 fee per six-months makes this app worth it. You read right, ten-bucks for six months access. That's 20-bucks a year! Further, I'm not much of a fan of restricting information based on location. From what I understand, if you're in the Magic Kingdom, you will not get as much information about wait times in any other park. I'm not sure what info is available when you're not at WDW at all. One things for sure - you're paying for 180 days of access whether you're in the parks or not.

Disney isn't the only group offering mobile-based wait and FastPass times. The folks at TouringPlans.com have recently launched "Lines," which provides wait-times and FastPass return times for all parks, regardless of location (in or out of the parks). Lines also provides park hours, crowd calendars and predicted wait times. The one thing Lines doesn't appear to provide (I couldn't find it) is event information, such as when Spectromagic or Fantasmic is showing.

The major differences between Lines and Mobile Magic are accessibility and price. Lines is completely web-based and so it's available to most popular devices (as of this writing, Lines is available for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Palm Pre/Pixl). Support for additional devices apparently is coming. Further, Lines (as of this writing) is FREE while in beta testing. Eventually it will require a subscription to TouringPlans.com. Those that own a current edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (ding!) can get free access for a limited time. Non-book owners can subscribe for a yearly fee of $8.95. This includes access to Lines and to TouringPlans.com.

I have Lines on my Blackberry and it's a great service. I most especially like being able to see what wait times are like while being more than 700 miles away from the parks. For instance (as I pull up Lines on the BB), Space Mountain only has a 25 minute wait right now, and the crowd level is at a 4, which means most attractions are a walk-on!!

Knowing Disney, I'm sure they're planning to plus Mobile Magic pretty soon. At $20 a year, they need to put more value into such an expensive app. Disney also has to find a way to make this app available to iPhone users. While I don't have an iPhone (don't get me started), there are a gazillion Disney fans with iPhones who are excluded from even having the option to purchase this app.

At this point, if I had to recommend one -- sorry Disney, but I'm going with Lines - for the price (free right now) and the more-specific information, even outside the parks. The Disney free site is nice, but the information, even if it's free, is limited.

What are your thoughts? Do you have Mobile Magic and/or Lines? If so, post a comment -- do you like it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Space Mountain - the refurb

Space Mountain

During my recent Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World, I managed to catch a near walk-on to ride the newly refurbished Space Mountain. So I thought I'd give you my take on the changes.

Space Mountain

First, the queue is much, much better, especially for the standby line. Imagineers have added a bunch of interactive games along the main tunnel near the loading area that are similar to the old Asteroids game (kids, that was a game many years ago where a small triangle-shaped spaceship blew up asteroids). There is room for somewhere around 80 people to play. I didn't get a chance to try it out as the line was moving way too quickly at this point.

Space Mountain

The loading area is very, well, blue (as you can see in the photo above). There are a series of blue neon lights in the ceiling that casts the loading area in a dim blue light. It's not as bright as the photo appears.

As for the ride itself, Disney said they wanted to make the ride experience darker so guests wouldn't know where they were going and boy did Disney deliver. It is DARK!! It's not completely pitch black, rather you get a much more immersive experience as you race through the stars. You can still see small points of light projected all throughout the attraction, but you can't tell what the ride path is (unless you happen to know it). I should note that the track layout hasn't changed, but it did feel smoother. You still get jerked around a bit as you whip around tight turns, but at least you're not rattled to death like before the refurb.

Disney also gave some significant attention to the ride vehicle itself. It's the same car with three guests riding in single file. The seat cushions, however, are greatly improved, which may account for the overall smoother ride experience.

Something that's new is on-board photos. As you exit the launch tunnel, you come around a turn and are greeted with a bright flash. This is your ride photo being taken. After the ride, there is a bank of monitors to see your photo.

I have to say I'm not impressed with the ride photos for a couple of reasons. First, Disney decided not to include the option to add the pictures to your PhotoPass card, like at TestTrack in Epcot. For me, this is a big disappointment. The only on-ride photos I ever get are those I can include on my PhotoPass CD. I would have thought Disney would have realized the benefits of making the PhotoPass option available.

Second, the angle of the shot is not the best. It's just about from a side view, so you get a profile shot of the guests, which isn't a great angle. I understand this is a three-person single-file ride vehicle which makes for a more difficult shot to take, but I think Disney could have found a better way to take a 3/4 angle shot or shoot from a higher angle or something. As it is now, I won't be purchasing any Space Mountain on-ride photos.

Space Mountain

As for the post-show, nearly everything is new. There are some nice references to old Disney attractions including a sticker for Mesa Verde (remember Horizons?) and what looks like a hidden Spaceship Earth. Also, the final part of the moving sidewalk includes a portion where the tunnel is painted a vivid green. This is obviously for some sort of chroma-key (or green screen) effect that hasn't been unveiled yet. The right side is just covered with a banner that reads "Thanks for Flying With Us."

All in all, the newly updated Space Mountain was worth the wait. It's a better, more thrilling attraction that purist fans will still enjoy and appreciate. So on your next trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to check out Space Mountain!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Christmas at Walt Disney World

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've just returned from a quick Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World.

The holiday decorations were up and many events were just getting started as the weekend came to a close.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to focus on some tips to help you experience the holidays at Walt Disney World.

So with that, let's get to this week's tip: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

For those who might not know what the Osborne Lights are - this is a HUGE display of holiday lights along the Streets of America. All the buildings are completely lit, making this one of the most spectacular holiday displays you might ever see.


Now this gets really crowded. The lights go on at dusk and stay on until the park closes. There are two ways to plan to view the lights. The first is to be on hand as the switch is made - then be ready to deal with the crowds that will quickly assemble once the lights are on.

The other option is to wait until the end of the night, especially if it's a Fantasmic night. The crowds will diminish as closing time approaches (usually around 8:30). The final hour in the park is a great time to see the Osborne Lights without quite such a huge crowd.
One other thing to keep in mind -- there's more to the lights than just the main avenue-- there also are lights in other places that are just as incredible.
Oh, and parents, a little tip for you when it comes to the kids. It does "snow" all along the Streets of America, though this isn't snow you'll want to eat. They are actually tiny soap bubbles, so trying to catch the snowflakes on your tongue might not be such a good idea.
Don't forget your PhotoPass card, because there are plenty of photographers around!!