Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Now that the holidays are over and Marathon weekend is behind me (my most sincere thanks to everyone for their kind messages), it’s time to get back to some tips that apply all year round.
While I’m a huge fan of the parks, I also enjoy spending time away from the parks, most especially at Downtown Disney.
One of the best things about Downtown Disney is the cost to visit – nothing. There isn’t even a parking fee. You can stroll from the West Side through Pleasure Island (what’s left of it) to the Marketplace and enjoy the sights and sounds (and smells) without spending one cent.
What’s even more fun is to go into the individual stores and shops and seeing what each has to offer (and there are some amazing things to see!). So I thought I’d bring you a series of tips about Downtown Disney and about the different things to do there.
Let’s start with the big kahuna at Downtown Disney – the World of Disney. This is the largest Disney character store in the world. If you’re looking for a piece of Disney merchandise, you’ll probably find it at the World of Disney. I could (and have) spent hours wandering the store looking at the different items for sale. Be careful, this is one place where it’s very easy to spend a LOT. If you’re an annual passholder, be sure to bring your AP, as Disney often gives passholders a discount.
While at the World of Disney, be sure to check out the highly detailed model of Cinderella Castle in the center of the store. I’m amazed every time I see this at the level of detail in this exact replica of the real thing in the Magic Kingdom. It’s a very good thing the model isn’t for sale, because I would have bought it a long time ago, no matter the cost!
Also be sure to see what specials are being offered as you shop. Most times, Disney offers some sort of discounted item if you purchase a certain amount. I’ve been able to get several canvas bags and blankets for a pretty steep discount.
If its pins and artwork you’re looking for, the World of Disney probably isn’t your best stop. I’ll have more about the Pin Trading Station and the Art of Disney store (one of the best in all of WDW) in a future Tip Tuesday post. However, the World of Disney is a good place if you’re looking for Disney jewelry. There’s an entire section of the store devoted to jewelry, both expensive and not-so-expensive.
As for apparel, there’s no better place than World of Disney. There are clothes of all sorts there for boys, girls, women and men. If you’re looking for a shirt featuring the Mouse, you’re in the right place.
Speaking of clothes for girls, the World of Disney also has the place that is the mecca for budding princesses. Of course, I’m talking about the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Here hopeful princesses (and princes for that matter) can be transformed into the real thing, with clothes, hairdo and make-up to boot. These costumes aren’t the cheap ones you might find at a big box store back home – these are high quality (at a cost). Disney offers different packages and advance reservations are required. For more information about the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, see the Disney Web site. http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/bibbidi-bobbidi-boutique/
One last tip about the World of Disney: if you’re entering the building under the huge statue of Stitch (this would be the entrance next to Ghirardelli), be careful. Stitch, being his usual self, is a bit mischievous and may squirt water on you. For some kids, this becomes a game, trying to avoid the “Stitch spit.” You have been warned.
Be sure to check back for more tips about Downtown Disney!
Monday, January 25, 2010
According to the blog post, construction already is underway on the 300-seat restaurant, which will feature traditional Florentine architecture, vaulted-ceilings and outside dining. I suspect, though there is no official confirmation, that this will likely be a quick-service restaurant, which was badly needed in the Italy pavilion.
Naturally, this new restaurant will feature pizza (apparently using wood-burning ovens, to be specific) and other Italian dishes that will compliment offerings currently at Italy's table-service restaurant, Tutto Italia.
"The pizzeria will be the newest flagship restaurant in the Patina Restaurant Group’s portfolio. And one of the special touches at the Epcot location will be the water. It’ll be imported from a source where the composition most resembles water used in Naples, Italy, to make the authentic Italian dough," said Thomas Smith, Disney Parks Social Media Director in the blog post.
I look forward to this new restaurant to further amplify the already outstanding offerings all over World Showcase.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Having just returned from Walt Disney World during marathon weekend, I have a couple of tips that I think you will appreciate should you plan to visit WDW during future marathon weekends.
This tip is courtesy my wife, the "DisneyMommy," who discovered this little gem while I was out running 13.1 miles, and it's pretty simple -- the Magic Kingdom is a great park to visit during the half- and full marathons.
Why, you may ask? Isn't the Magic Kingdom packed with spectators? Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no.
Yes, certain areas of the Magic Kingdom can get busy during the half- and full marathons, but only for a few hours in the morning. By the time the park opens at 9 a.m., the runners have gone by and most of the crowds (who are supporting the runners) will leave the MK headed to other areas (Epcot, mostly).
What's left is an empty Magic Kingdom, and by empty, I mean literally you have the park just about to yourself for a couple of hours. My wife and kids walked onto Peter Pan Saturday morning and I did the same on Sunday morning. For the first few hours, the park was deserted. Nearly everything was a walk-on. The only line I ran into was a ten-minute wait for Space Mountain at around noon.
The next time you're at WDW during marathon weekend, give the Magic Kingdom a try. It will be a bit tough getting to the park at first, but the effort is worth it!
January 2010 will forever live in my memory as the second greatest Disney moment in my life when I completed the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Jan. 9, 2010.
The entire weekend was one my family will never forget for many reasons – not the least of which was the amazingly cold weather – the coldest in 20 years (so I was told).
After a little problem with our first room in the Garden Wing of the Contemporary on Wednesday, Jan. 6th, we were moved to a Bay Lake view room in the main tower. I won’t get into the nature of the problem, other then to say the problem required that we move to a new room. The guest services cast member working the front desk was quick to resolve the problem and was very kind to upgrade our room to the tower. I’ll share more about my thoughts of the Contemporary in a later post.
We had a nice breakfast at 1900 Park Fare Thursday morning and then spent the day at Epcot before going over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to register myself and the kids.
After picking up the Mickey Mile race packet for the kids and my Half-Marathon packet at the Milk House, we went over to the new Josten’s Center to get some marathon merchandise. I don’t know who was in control of the heat – but they overdid it. Big time. I know it was pretty cold outside, but it was stifling in that center. I don’t know how all those vendors and castmembers stood that heat.
The next morning was race day for the kids. In the morning we went over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and managed to find a somewhat short standby line for Toy Story Mania. I have the Wii version of this game, and some of the same tricks apply here. I managed to get my highest score ever. So did my two boys. After a quick run on Star Tours, we went back to the car and went back to the Wide World of Sports for the Mickey Mile that started at 12:30 p.m.
For anyone wondering what’s around for kids during Marathon Weekend, the Kids Fest is a must. There are several races for kids 13 and under from the Diaper Dash up to and including the Mickey Mile. My three kids were signed up (by me!) for the Mickey Mile. As the name suggests, it’s a one mile run through the Wild World of Sports Complex. I was surprised at the large number of kids signed up (777 in all). Of course, Mickey Mouse, himself, started the race with some help from a Radio Disney DJ. With a simple “GO!!” the kids were off!
What’s just as surprising was how fast some of the kids could run a mile. The first person to cross the finish line (I don’t say “win” as everyone is considered a winner) was an 11-year-old who did so in 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Of my three, my daughter finished first with a time of 8:42. The boys were a bit slower (they ran together) and finished at 13:08, still a pretty decent time for a mile.
We returned to the Studios for the rest of the day and had a wonderful relaxing dinner at Hollywood & Vine. It was incredibly quiet – thanks to no Fantasmic. My wife and I had a wonderful conversation with our server who told us that on nights when there is no Fantasmic, Hollywood & Vine is much less crowded, especially during non-peak times of the year. On Friday night, half the restaurant was closed. Dinner also is a non-character meal, so we had the opportunity to sit back and take our time at dinner, which I really appreciated since I was carbo-loading for the half marathon the next morning.
Did I mention it was cold? Yeah, well I didn’t appreciate cold until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Jan. 8. In order to get on the monorail to Epcot before 4 a.m., I got up at 2:45 a.m. After a quick breakfast, I got “dressed” and was ready to go. I say “dressed,” though it was more like bundled. First, I put on two (not one, but two) pairs of running pants. Then I put on a wiking short-sleeve shirt, followed by a long-sleeve wiking shirt, then a sweatshirt, then my WDW Radio Racing Team wiking shirt a race bib and finally my outer running jacket. Top it off with earmuffs and gloves and I was ready to run the Iditarod (which was what it felt like!).
I got to Epcot shortly before 4 a.m. and trudged my way to the far parking lot behind Ellen’s Universe of Energy. As I (and several others) were walking, one comedic cast member shouted, “Welcome to Alaska!” He had a good reason for cracking jokes: it felt like Alaska. The temperature was a balmy 31 degrees with a bit of wind.
As I met up with some other WDW Radio Running Team members, it started to snow. That’s right, snow. Not flurries. Snow. While there wasn’t enough snow to accumulate, it was enough to make it feel even colder.
I met up with my running partners Lori Burke and Mitch Brannen. Here I have to give a shout out. While this was my first ever long-distance race, Lori was running with an even greater challenge – a broken leg. She had a stress fracture in one leg, but was determined to still run. Mitch and I vowed that we would get her across the finish line by hook or by crook.
At around 5 a.m. it was time to make our way to the starting corrals located on the eastbound side of Epcot Center Drive - right out on the highway. We were in Corral G, which basically meant the end of the line. In reality, the “end of the line” meant standing with about half the entire field. There must have been five to seven-thousand people in that final corral. We managed to ease our way up toward the front of the corral so we could get a bit of running room once we started.
At 5:45 a.m., the countdown was on. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – GO! Fireworks lit up the night sky and the elite runners took off. About 30 minutes later it was our turn to start and with another countdown and fireworks, we were off.
All through this time, I was wondering if I had it in me to actually finish. I had not done as much training as I would have liked, especially in the month leading up to the race because of all the snow that fell in mid-December. Now that I was on the course, I was trying to get a feel for how I could do. Lori set the initial pace with an easy jog. At times we had to slow to a walk because of all the people around us. As we crossed the second mile marker, we saw runners coming back down Epcot Center Drive. These were the elite runners who had already made it to the Magic Kingdom and were on the home stretch. Wow, these guys (and gals) were fast!
As the miles ticked away, I kept in touch with my wife via my cell phone. I was really looking forward to seeing her and the kids as I ran into the Magic Kingdom. As it turns out, we had a bit of bad luck in that where they were standing was further away from the course than we planned. Nevertheless, as I passed the Contemporary, they were there, freezing. In fact, they were even colder than me since I was at least running and generating some heat. They were just standing there waiting for my slow butt to pass by. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that they were right there cheering me on, despite the freezing weather. All too soon, I made the turn into the Magic Kingdom and they were behind me. I knew they were heading into the MK as soon as they could get a monorail (which were packed by this time).
A few short steps later, I was running down Main Street USA, where I saw some other Disney friends and fellow WDW Radio supporters. After a quick high five, we were off to Tomorrowland, then Fantasyland for a quick stop for a photo with Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. Moments later, we were off again, running through Cinderella Castle and then turning toward Liberty Square and Frontierland. Just after we crossed the railroad tracks, we stopped for another key photo op: Jack Sparrow. This is the only time I know of were guests can get a shot with Captain Jack. Sadly, we didn’t have time to talk, because we knew we had the longest and hardest part still to come – the return leg down World Drive.
As we got closer and closer to Epcot, we noticed on thing – it was getting colder. By the time we could see Spaceship Earth again, we were pulling on gloves and hats again. That being said, I was so glad to see Spaceship Earth because I knew the finish was close at hand. We made our way into Epcot through a backstage entrance behind the Seas pavilion and burst into Innoventions Plaza. We made a quick dash down the center walkway towards World Showcase, around the Christmas tree and again back to Innoventions Plaza before taking a backstage exit just before the Epcot entrance. A few minutes later, I could see the finish line. What a wonderful sight!
Standing there cheering us to the finish was Mickey Mouse. After a quick photo stop, Lori, Mitch and I grabbed hands and we crossed the finish line together.
Our time? Three hours and 39 minutes. Not as fast as I had hoped, but finishing nonetheless.
Before I knew it, I was awarded my Donald medal (they are huge!), said my thanks to Mitch and Lori and was walking back to the monorail station to meet the family in the Magic Kingdom.
The remainder of the day was like a dream. I met up with my wife and family in Liberty Square where we sat down (thankfully!!) for lunch at the Columbia Harbor House. About an hour later, we were joining Lou Mongello, the Box People and many Disney friends for a WDW Radio meet in the Exposition Hall. It was a lot of fun being on the other side of the box for a change!
That night, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday at Chef Mickey’s and the day was done. But what a day!
Oh, what’s my greatest Disney moment, you ask? That would be in June 2007 when my wife and I, along with our children, first set foot in Walt Disney World. It was like discovering our true home. If you’re reading this blog, you’re a Disney fan, and probably know just what I mean.
Monday, January 18, 2010
You can find both shows in the iTunes podcast directory or at www.wdwradio.com.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I just returned from Walt Disney World, where I ran in the half-marathon. Let me say right up front that I was really worried that I wouldn't make it. I had not done as much training as I would have liked in the month leading up to the race because of all the blasted cold weather and tons of snow in Virginia.
That being said, I did finish and it was one of my proudest Disney moments. If you're thinking about the half-marathon (or the full), I strongly encourage you to go for it! It is an amazing experience! I will have a more detailed post about my half-marathon later this week.
Now for this week's tip, and I'm afraid that it's a bit late, now that the weather is starting to warm up.
While I was at WDW with my family and many good friends, we all were flat out FREEZING the entire time, especially while waiting at the start of the half-marathon. At one point, it started snowing. Yes, I said SNOW. While I was trying to stay warm at the start, my wife and kids were standing along the side of the road in the sleet and snow in front of the Contemporary.
What surprised me the most was how many people took the warmer Florida weather for granted. Sure, the temperatures often get into the upper 70's and even 80's during this time of year, but just as often, the mercury can dip into the 40's or even 30's. Of course, last week it was in the mid-20's, which created all kinds of problems, especially for orange growers.
So what do you do when it's this cold outside? First (and here's where that planning word comes back), you must check the forecast before you head to Orlando. Don't assume that the Sunshine State also is a warm state. Here are a few resources to check the weather forecast:
If you happen to get caught in the parks when temperatures get chilly and you're not prepared for it, you need to re-think your touring strategy, especially if it's a bit windy as well. For sure you want to think twice about attractions that expose you to the cold air. The following attractions may not be a good idea:
- Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Astro Orbiter, Big Thunder Mountain, Dumbo, Aladdin's Magic Carpets, Barnstormer, Tomorrowland Speedway, The Tomorrowland Transit Authority and maybe the Jungle Cruise and the WDW Railroad
- Epcot: Test Track (sure most of it's inside, but it can get extremely cold during that 62+ mph lap outside in an open-air car)
- Hollywood Studios: Backlot Tour, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Beauty and the Beast on Stage, Jedi Training Academy, Honey I Shrunk the Kids set
- Animal Kingdom: Kali River Rapids (you're insane if you ride this in cold weather), Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, Triceratops Spin, Boneyard and most of the trails
As you can see, your best park to visit when it's cold is Epcot. That's because most attractions are inside and, therefore, are heated. The one caveat to Epcot is World Showcase. Most people do a lot of walking around the pavilions, which means staying out in the cold and wind. The park to avoid the most when it's cold is Animal Kingdom. Just about everything is outdoors, so there are not many options to get out of the cold.
As a general rule, try to follow some of the same tips as rainy days in a park -- go from covered location to covered location and try not to linger outside. This is especially true when it's cold. It's a lot harder to warm up from being cold than to dry off when it's hot but rainy.
Finally, it's important to dress in layers. Don't just put on a huge bulky sweater and head out for the day. Instead, put on a shirt, a sweater and a coat. If you're in an attraction, store or restaurant where it's warm, you can take off the coat and still be properly dressed.
Oh, and don't forget that Walt Disney World has plenty of places to get a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate!
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday! Later this week marks the annual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. There are several events scheduled for the weekend, including the Family Fun Run 5K, Mickey Mile and Kids’ Fest on Friday, the Half Marathon on Saturday and the Full Marathon on Sunday.
Then there are those true running “enthusiasts” who will run the “Goofy,” by participating in the half and full marathon.
For those of you coming to marathon weekend (including myself), there are a few things to keep in mind so you can best experience all the events.
First, registered runners have to pick up their race packets at least a day before their race. Add this with all the activities and events taking place (especially Friday) at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, and Friday promises to be pretty crowded when it comes to picking up the race packets. Instead, if you can, try to pick up your race packets Thursday afternoon (especially for those participating in the Family Fun Run 5K, Mickey Mile or Kids Events on Friday).
If you’re part of a runner’s “cheering section,” Disney has a few online resources to help you plan how to best be in place to cheer your runner on. Go online to http://www.disneyworldmarathon.com/ and click on the runner tracking link. You will need to know your runner’s average pace (how fast to run one mile) to best use the spectator planning page. Also on the runner tracking page is another resource where anyone can get updates from the course for the half or full marathons. Updates are specific to each individual runner and can be sent by email and/or TXT message (standard message rates apply).
If you’re not participating in the half or full marathon, you may want to make some alternate plans for Saturday and Sunday. Epcot will be especially busy Saturday morning through around noon and again Sunday morning and early afternoon. Likewise, the Magic Kingdom will be busy Saturday and Sunday mornings as racers pass through. The best bet would be to visit either Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom on Saturday and Sunday as they will probably be the least crowded.
I’m looking forward to this weekend’s half marathon, so check back for more updates!
Monday, January 4, 2010
As before, Disney held an online search to find the right Disney fans from all across the country (and Canada) to answer questions submitted by even more Disney fans.
I can tell you from personal experience that the selection process is rigorous. I made it to the second round, but, sadly, did not get selected for the third and final round of evaluations. One of my Disney friends did make it though, and went on to become a Disney Dad, er, Mom! So congratulations to Marc Lorenzo and all the new Disney Moms.
Disney News release:
What do a ballet teacher from Alabama, a lawyer from North Carolina and a NASA rocket scientist from Maryland all have in common? An affinity for all-things Walt Disney World Resort! Announced today, 21 new panelists from the United States and Canada, hailing from different backgrounds, are named official members of the 2010 Walt Disney World Moms Panel, www.disneyworldmoms.com. Additionally, due to the popularity of the site and an ever-growing number of questions, Disney welcomes back 22 panelists from 2008 and 2009 - totaling 43 members for 2010 to serve as online Disney-savvy vacation gurus, providing helpful tips to guests planning a Walt Disney World vacation.
The Walt Disney World Moms Panel is an online question-and-answer venue that serves as a free resource for families looking for a touch of pixie dust to add to their Disney vacation. The panel is led by everyday parents who have mastered the art of planning a vacation for their own families and are excited to share their pearls of wisdom with others. Through a comprehensive application process, the new panelists proved that they have the knowledge and desire to answer any and all questions that come their way.
Whether organizing multigenerational gatherings and large family reunions or navigating the parks with special needs children and adults, the panelists are accessible online with an abundance of their own Disney vacation experiences, memories and tips for making every moment magical. Additionally, the Moms Panel will include panelists who are skilled in Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney vacations.
Each panelist brings a unique perspective to the vacation planning process, providing personal answers to questions which remain online as a reference for future site visitors.
"This is the largest group of panelists we've ever had," said Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World Resort. "Because interest in the Web site has grown so quickly, and we had so many highly qualified applicants, we started out searching for 10 knowledgeable parents, and eventually selected 21. Now we'll be able to share even more Disney park secrets and travel tips with families visiting the Moms Panel site."
The Moms Panel was created to answer the demand made by families going online to research vacation planning options. After only its second year, the panel touts nearly 45,000 original questions answered to-date.
Get to Know the New 2010 Walt Disney World Moms Panelists:
Amanda Allen; Raleigh, N.C.
Suzannah DiMarzio; Wesley Chapel, Fla.
Dorothy Drakos; Dundas, ON
Bernie Edwards; Columbia, Md.
Kathie Flood; Greer, S.C.
Portia Gadson; Cleveland, Ohio
Chris Gildea; Boston, Mass.
Diane Gonzales; San Antonio, Texas
Kaylene Jablecki; Cape Cod, Mass.
Joel Kennedy; Milwaukee, Wis.
Jonas Lehmann-Karp; Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.
Marc Lorenzo; Corning, N.Y.
Maria Marquez; Doral, Fla.
Terry McKinney; Charleston, S.C.
Dannee Neal; Indianapolis, Ind.
Amanda Pursch; Austin, Texas
Amy Rueffert; Talking Rock, Ga.
Andi Sims; Birmingham, Ala.
Allison Valdes; Johns Creek, Ga.
Amanda White; Atlanta, Ga.
Maribel Zambrana-Garcia; San Juan, PR
Visit www.disneyworldmoms.com to catch-up on our returning alumni panelists:
Kara Bacon; Omaha, Neb.
Kay Belin; Valparaiso, Ind.
Bret Caldwell; Evanston, Ill.
Diane Campagna; Bristol, R.I.
Beth Choisez; Floral Park, N.Y.
Margaret Fries; Oak Lawn, Ill.
Jodi Grundig; Natick, Mass.
Doug Ingersoll; Carmel, Ind.
Diane Luba; Plymouth, Conn.
Darcie Maranich; Vail, Ariz.
Tanya McNally; Basking Ridge, N.J.
Michelle May; Lebanon, N.J.
Joanne McCabe; Ottawa, ON
Heather Murry; Social Circle, Ga.
Brigitta Noer; Nanoose Bay, BC
Whitney Pickering; Laurel, Miss.
Karen Prince; Plymouth, N.H.
Heather Roberts-Nault; Louisville, Ky.
Cathy Schikowski; Richfield, Ohio
Anna Skamarakas; Bellmawr, N.J.
Jennifer Wilkes; Acworth, Ga.
Erin Foster; Scarsdale, N.Y.
About the Walt Disney World Moms Panel
Entering its third year, the Walt Disney World Moms Panel is an online forum where guests can get insider tips and insights for vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort from real moms and dads who have mastered the art of planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Each panelist was selected to share their vast knowledge of the resort and personal secrets of success with other families who are considering a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Guests can pose questions to the panelists, as well as gain access to other valuable park insights and vacation planning tools for booking a Walt Disney World vacation. Featuring just 12 members during its inaugural year in 2008, the panel now boasts 43 park-savvy parents as a result of the popularity of the site and an ever-growing number of questions submitted by curious parents. For more information and to meet the moms and dads, visit www.disneyworldmoms.com.
Friday, January 1, 2010
To start helping out in your community - see this page:
Members can save 50-75% off select merchandise and take advantage of special doorbuster sales.
It runs from 7-9 a.m.
At the stroke of midnight, Disney released the 2010 hidden Mickey pins for Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Check them out for yourself (a few of the WDW hidden Mickey pins are pictured above):
Disney said on their official pin blog that these pins will start appearing on castmember lanyards in the coming weeks.
So all you Disney pinheads out there have some new collections to start searching for!!!