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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Living in Disney Luxury - Club Level

Concierge service at the Polynesian

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This is the first of several posts about Disney luxury. As you no doubt are aware, I was named Disney's Biggest Fan and, as part of the prize, I won a trip suitable for the "Disney fanatic."

Yeah, I fit that description.

One part of this trip was a stay at the Club Level building (Hawaii) at Disney's Polynesian Resort. On average, staying at a Club Level room runs around $200+ more per night as compared to the same type of room (i.e. water view, theme park view, garden view, etc.) that is not Club Level.

So what do you get with the Club Level service?

concierge lounge at the Polynesian

To start with, you get complete access to the concierge lounge. Snacks and drinks are available just about 24/7. In addition, cast members provide Continental breakfast during morning hours, extra snacks in the afternoon and appetizers and other adult drinks in the evening. This is all included with concierge.

    Typical offerings:
  • 6:30-7:00 a.m.: Coffee, juices, soft drinks (24/7).
  • 7:00 - 10:30 a.m.: Continental breakfast with various juices, coffee, tea, milk, cereals, fruit, and different breakfast breads/pastries
  • 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.: Various snacks with sodas, iced tea, lemonade, coffee, tea, etc.
  • 5:00 - 7:00p.m.: Hot and Cold appetizers with wine and beer as well as soft drinks, tea, etc. The appetizers vary at each resort.
  • 8:00 - 10:00 p.m.: Desserts and other sweets.

These concierge lounges usually offer outstanding views of theme parks and especially good views of nighttime fireworks complete with a feed of the music. We enjoyed watching Wishes from the concierge lounge and the view was great! Take a look:


Wishes from the concierge lounge

Also, there is a separate, personalized, check-in process for Club Level guests. No need waiting in the main line - go straight to the concierge desk.

Of course you also have access to the special concierge desk which can make all sorts of arrangements for you during your stay and even before your stay. Want ADR's to a certain restaurant? The concierge staff will take care of those needs before you even arrive.

That's probably the biggest advantage of Club Level -- the personal service. If you need something, all you have to do is ask. If you're thinking of staying Club Level as a means to avoid some food costs (such as breakfast or snacks), then Club Level isn't for you. It's not a good option to try to save on food. At more than $200+ extra a night, there's no way you're going to get that kind of savings.

Where Club Level really becomes a treat is the perks -- staying in rooms with the very best views, where the personal attention is the greatest and where you can relax and not have to worry about things. It's about pampering yourself.

So would this Disney fanatic consider staying at a Club Level room again? You bet. Not every time, certainly. But if I want a little extra luxury and the convenience of the lounge, then Club Level is worth considering.


(FTC statement: This post is based on a trip that I won from Disney and United Vacations. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent any form of paid endorsement for Disney or United Vacations.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Get there early

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday.

My apologies for the delay in this post. I just returned from a big trip to Walt Disney World last weekend. In fact, it was a trip fit for the Biggest Disney Fan! That's right! Last weekend was the big trip filled with lots of amazing experiences. The local newspaper even did a story on me.

Best of all, YOU get to share in what happened as I will be bringing reviews and articles about some of the more exclusive experiences at Walt Disney World, including the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, concierge service, fireworks aboard the Grand One and premier VIP park touring.

It was the best five days my family has ever spent at Walt Disney World.

So be looking for more on these topics coming to this blog very soon.

Now, on to today's feature presentation!

I've talked about this tip a few times in passing, but it's so important that I wanted to highlight it again -- get to the parks EARLY, especially if you're planning to catch major attractions.

Case in point: We arrived at rope drop in the Magic Kingdom on Monday morning. As soon as we entered the MK, we took the train to Frontierland (another quick reminder: the WDW Railroad doesn't stop a ToonTown until after 10am). My son and I then proceeded to walk on Big Thunder Mountain twice in a row while my wife and other two children walked onto Pirates and had an entire boat to themselves. They then walked onto Alladin's Magic Carpets.

We met up after this and just about walked onto the Jungle Cruise, and then walked again onto Pirates. After Pirates, we made our way to the Haunted Mansion where we had to wait only two minutes for the mansion doors to open and admit the next group.

Boom! Before 10am, we had hit several major attractions - some twice!

Now you might be thinking that the park wasn't all that crowded that day. Think again. At one point, Buzz Lightyear had a 70 minute wait -- the longest wait time I've ever seen for Buzz. Space Mountain was at 60 minutes and Big Thunder quickly rose to 60 minutes by lunchtime. By the afternoon, there was a line for even the smaller attractions like the TTA.

The reason getting to the parks early is so important is that most days, especially during busy times of the year such as spring break and holidays, the parks start to get very crowded around 11 a.m. Apparently most guests just don't want to get up early for a 9 a.m. rope drop. This is to your benefit.

After 11 a.m., be prepared for long lines and to make heavy use of FastPass (in fact, it's a good idea to go ahead and get some FastPasses early and not use them until the afternoon). Remember you can possibly hold more than one FastPass at a time (see this previous Tip Tuesday post for more about this).

The other benefit to arriving early and getting major attractions out of the way is that frees up time for you to enjoy some of those hidden details in shops, shows, restaurants or just out and about while other guests are standing in those massive standby queues.

So, as they saying goes: the early mouse gets the cheese, er, ride.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Personalized art

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I am a Disney collector (gee, what a surprise). I particularly like to collect Disney-related artwork. I especially like pieces by Larry Dotson, David Doss and, of course, Thomas Kincade (the new Peter Pan piece by Kincade is simply breathtaking).

However, there is one other type of Disney art I enjoy: personalized hand-drawn character art.

At most Art of Disney stores in the parks and Downtown Disney, guests can get a custom hand-sketched piece of character art, complete with a personalized message. Disney artists can draw the characters in any number of settings, professions, interests, etc. I have two pieces: a Mickey Mouse golfer and Mickey and Minnie as Luke and Leia in Star Wars. I’ve seen characters as nurses, policemen, firefighters, teachers, playing all kinds of sports and more.

Most pieces usually are 11x14 inches in size and can come with different colored mats and with different color highlights. They fit well into pre-made frames. There are pre-drawn sketches with a wide range of themes available for purchase and personalization, or you can have a custom sketch drawn when an artist is available.

What makes these pieces so wonderful is the personalized touch. I’ve seen some sketches displaying something like “The Lionberger’s trip to Disney World” in a multi-photo frame with a few PhotoPass pictures. It’s the little touches like this that make these character sketches so unique.

Also, keep in mind that these are exclusive to the Art of Disney stores. You won’t find these pictures at any other retail location in or out of the parks. One other note – you can have just about any Disney or Pixar character(s) in the sketch. Of course, prices vary depending on the number of characters and the amount of personalization.

The next time you’re looking for a unique one-of-a-kind Disney collectible, stop by the Art of Disney and check out these character sketches. You never know what you may end up with.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TRON Lightcycles coming to a Walt Disney World monorail near you

TRON Monorail overlay

In another surprising announcement, Disney today announced that they are working on a new graphics overlay for the popular monorail system at Walt Disney World. One of the monorails will feature TRON lightcycles - blue on one side, yellow on the other.

As you can see from the image above, these are major overlays - far more than recent overlays for What Will You Celebrate? or Year of a Million Dreams. Click on the image above for a larger version.

A Disney spokesperson today clarified the extent of this overlay -- it will only be on one train.

What do you think of this new overlay? Post a comment!

Disney announces new "Premier Passport"


For a few weeks, there has been a rumor circulating that Disney was considering offering a new annual pass for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Upon hearing this rumor, many fans said "finally!"

Well today, Disney made it official. The new "Premier Passport" will be a combination of Walt Disney World's and Disneyland's Premier Annual Passes. The cost for this super pass is $700 a year.

Benefits for Passport holders at Walt Disney World:

  • Unlimited admission for a period of one year to all four Walt Disney World Theme Parks, including park hopping privileges
  • Unlimited admission to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach Water Parks
  • Unlimited admission to DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (valid only on event days; some events require an additional admission charge) and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course (greens fee only. Tee time reservations are required and subject to availability)
  • Parking at all four Theme Parks
  • Subscription to Mickey Monitor, a collectible Passholder-only publication


Benefits for Passport holders at Disneyland Resort:
  • Unlimited admission to both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure
    Parks for a period of one year, including park hopping privileges
  • Parking at any pay-on-entry parking lot
  • Subscription to "Backstage Pass"
  • Complimentary subscription to Disney’s Family Fun Magazine (one per household)
Guests who already have a Premium Annual Pass for both Resorts, will automatically be issued a “Disney Premier Passport” – with an expiration date based on the later of the two annual passes. Guests may also upgrade an annual or seasonal pass for one resort to a “Disney Premier Passport” for an additional fee.

Disney announces next D23 Expo -- August 2011

During the annual shareholder meeting, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the next D23 Expo will be held August 19-21, 2011 in Anaheim.

Tickets for the 2011 D23 Expo will go on sale August 19, 2010. Below is some content from the D23 Web site.

The next D23 Expo, which will light up the Anaheim Convention Center from August 19-21, 2011, promises to deliver even more excitement! We're still hard at work finalizing plans for the D23 Expo 2011, but you can expect to see what's new and what's next from Parks and Resorts, The Walt Disney Studios, Media Networks and Disney Consumer Products and more. Of course, there will be special exhibits of rarely seen Disney props and costumes from the legendary Walt Disney Archives, headline-grabbing celebrity appearances, screenings of classic Disney movies and exclusive sneak peeks at some that no one has seen yet, musical performances, panel discussions with legendary Disney actors, performers, animators, Imagineers and more and of course, Mickey and some of our favorite characters will be on hand to make sure the fun never stops!

Tickets for the D23 Expo 2011 will go on sale August 19 (one year in advance), with specially priced tickets available exclusively to D23 Members. In addition, D23 Charter Members will have access to a special Charter Member Lounge at the D23 Expo 2011, at no additional cost.

"The first D23 Expo surpassed all of our expectations, and our 2011 Expo is already shaping up to be a jaw-dropping, not-to-be missed showcase of the best and brightest Disney has to offer," said Steven Clark, head of D23.

Tip Tuesday: Your Passport to the World (Showcase)

Epcot Passport

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

My apologies for the delay in this post. Too much to get done in the real world.

Anyway, on to this week's tip!

I previously talked about the KidCot stations in World Showcase and how much fun they can be for kids at Epcot.

These KidCot stations also are a great place for another unique adventure at Epcot -- the World Showcase Passport.

Guests can pickup a passport at just about any retail store in Epcot. They run around $10 each. The package includes the passport booklet (seen above), stickers from each World Showcase pavilion and an Epcot button.

Here's how it works: Take your passport around to each KidCot station in World Showcase and present it to the cast member. That person will write a special message reflecting that pavilion. For instance, at the China pavilion, a cast member will stamp your passport with your Chinese Zodiac sign (as you can see from my page below, I was born in the year of the Dog (much to my kids' laughter). Additionally the cast member wrote my name and a special message in Mandarin (as you can see below, it's "Dreams Come True").

Passport page from China

The stickers included feature different scenes from each pavilion. Once you're done, you have a great one-of-a-kind keepsake to remember your trip around World Showcase.

Guests of any age can enjoy the passport, however, I feel it's best for kids who are at least of elementary-school age. Preschoolers might not fully appreciate the experience and I most definitely recommend the passport for adults (or big kids at heart like me).

The next time you're in Epcot, be sure to have your passport as you enjoy your trip around the World (Showcase)!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Give A Day, Get a Disney Day" is done

After only 10 weeks, the "Give A Day, Get a Disney Day" program has come to an end. An overwhelming number of guests signed up to volunteer their time and, in turn, receive a one-day, one-park ticket at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

Disney had a goal of one-million volunteers. Today, Disney announced they had reached that goal and has ended the program. So far there is no word about any sort of ongoing promotion to replace "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day."

I'm somewhat surprised that Disney would just end the program when the one-million mark was reached without something ready to replace it. Maybe that's coming soon.


Below is the news release Disney issued today:

“Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” – a first-of-its-kind program of Disney Parks – reached its goal of inspiring 1 million people in 2010 to give back to their communities through volunteer service in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Since the program started just 10 weeks ago, on Jan. 1, a million people already have volunteered or have committed to volunteer in their communities, according to Disney Parks and HandsOn Network, the nation’s largest volunteer network and a facilitator of “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day.”

To celebrate the good deeds of these individuals, Disney Parks offered each volunteer who completed an eligible project a free one-day admission to one theme park in Walt Disney World Resort in Florida or Disneyland Resort in California. Although registration is now closed and the program has ended, those who volunteered have until Dec. 15, 2010, to redeem their free park ticket (certain block-out dates apply).

“By any measure, the ‘Give a Day, Get a Disney Day’ program exceeded our expectations,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “These one million volunteers touched their communities with their hearts and hands. Their commitment to service is truly worth celebrating, and there’s no better place to celebrate than at Disney Parks.”

Volunteerism has been a part of the Disney culture since the beginning. Through Disney VoluntEARS, cast members have been giving back to communities for more than a quarter century. More than 5.5 million hours of volunteer service worldwide have been donated, and Disney’s commitment to volunteerism will continue even as “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” draws to a close.

Officials at HandsOn Network credited the “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” program for increasing volunteer activities this year.

“The innovative nature of this program has exponentially increased our capacity to both invite and excite people about volunteerism,” said Michelle Nunn, co-founder of HandsOn Network and CEO of Points of Lights Institute. “The overwhelming participation of families – and youth especially – is a testament to a growing trend. Many of these volunteers are serving for the first time, and some will develop into service leaders who help change the face of our nation.”

Encouraging that kind of commitment was one aim of the Disney program, Staggs said.

“The goal of the ‘Give a Day, Get a Disney Day’ program was to lay the groundwork for a new spirit of volunteerism,” he said. “The need for volunteers across the country is ongoing. We look forward to more people, especially families, carrying on the momentum and giving back to their communities through volunteerism.”
Neighborhoods in need were the big beneficiaries of “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” – from San Juan to San Diego, Vero Beach to Vancouver.

In Puerto Rico, 500 volunteers cleaned the beaches of Vaciatalega and La Perla located in the vicinity of Old San Juan. In Oakville, Ontario, a neighborhood center got new shelving and a spruced-up mural.

In Boston, volunteers served meals to people in need, knitted and crocheted scarves and mittens for children afflicted with life-threatening illnesses and helped as caregivers at an animal adoption center. In California, San Francisco Bay-area volunteers helped with basic English lessons, painted park benches and planted flowers.

In Jacksonville, Fla., volunteers painted murals and spruced up rooms at a home for women and children, while in Pittsburgh they took on construction tasks – tiling, sanding, staining and painting – to help create affordable housing.

Although the program has ended and a free Disney theme park ticket will no longer be provided, those still interested in volunteering may search for opportunities through HandsOn Network at HandsOnNetwork.org (or in Canada, at govolunteer.ca).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Alice in Wonderland -- a Wonder of a film!

I've just returned from seeing the 2D version of Alice in Wonderland. I decided to see the 2D version, primarily because some 3D movies are annoying to watch because of the glasses, and due to the dimmed luminance, again, because of the 3D glasses.

It also may have been due, in part, because the line to get into the theater where the 3D version was playing was nearly out the door, while the 2D theater had plenty of room.

Nevertheless, I found the film to be another masterpiece by Tim Burton and another charming performance by Johnny Depp. I'll keep this review spoiler free, other than to say that this cast brought Wonderland to life, especially Helen Bonham Carter, who just might have stolen the show as the Red Queen.

This is an inspiring story, especially for young girls. You'll have to see the film to understand what I mean.

Based on the attendance at my local theater, I think Alice is headed for a #1 at the box office and, hopefully, will remain at #1 for quite a while. Maybe it will give the Dances With Smurfs movie a run for its money.

One downside -- I didn't get to see the new trailer for Tron Legacy. From what I've read via Facebook/Twitter posts, it's pretty good! It may be that it's only playing on 3D screens. Who knows.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fantasyland expansion project officially underway, no D23 Expo this year?


The official Disney blog today announced the Fantasyland expansion project at the Magic Kingdom has officially broken ground today. As you can see from the model above, there have been a few changes since Disney first announced at last year's D23 Expo that the rumors of the Fantasyland expansion was, in fact, true. The most obvious is the dual Dumbo attraction has moved next to the Barnstormer.
Construction walls are up as some of the backstage work now is underway.
In a somewhat related note, the L.A. Times stated in a blog post yesterday, that it appears that Disney will not hold a D23 Expo this year. According to the post, "The Disney plan, as of now, is to stage the D23 Expo as a biennial event." I guess this means the next possible D23 Expo will be in 2011. If an expo does take place in 2011, it will likely be in Anaheim again as Disney had initially said that the D23 Expo would take place in Anaheim for the first four years before considering other locations, such as Orlando.
I guess this makes sense, as Disney would have to have some pretty big announcements up its sleeve to top last year's D23 Expo. We'll just have to wait and see how things unfold.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Driving around the World - the parks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Before I discuss this week's tip, I have to issue a disclaimer: I just finished watching this week's episode of LOST and I am more lost than ever before. So if I start rambling, my mind is still pondering just what in the world is happening on that blasted island!!

Ok, on with the show!

Last week, I talked about one great way to get to Walt Disney World if you happen to be flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO), and that's Disney's Magical Express.

Of course, there are more ways to get to Walt Disney World than just flying. A whole lot of people (including my family) will hop in the car and make the long trek on the good ol' road. Now road trips these days aren't (hopefully!) like the infamous Griswald trek to Wally World as seen in Vacation! (a classic!).

I'm not going to discuss how to drive to WDW this week, though I may bring it up on a future post. This week, I'm going to talk about getting around WDW in your own (or rental) car.

First is getting to the different parks. All the major roads at Walt Disney World (World Drive, Epcot Center Drive, Osceola Parkway) have plenty of signage directing you to the different parks, resorts and more. Of course, when parking at any of the theme parks, there is a parking fee... unless you happen to be:
  • An annual passholder
  • An on-property resort guest
AP holders and on-property resort guests may park for free - that's right free! Many park pros have discovered it's sometimes easier and faster just to take your own car instead of waiting for a bus to come by. This is most particularly the case at the value resorts, where there are many more guests usually waiting for buses than at other resorts. All you have to do when you stop at the parking gate is to show your annual pass or have your parking pass on your dashboard. That's it. You're done! You'll be in the parks following a short tram ride.

So if you've got wheels and you're an AP holder or on-property resort guests (or both) -- use 'em!

In an upcoming post, I'll talk more about driving around the world, especially when visiting places other than the parks.

Oh, and if you happen to be the smoke monster - please just stay home.