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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Disney testing improvements to the online ADR system

Today the official Disney Parks blog announced some new changes to the online Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) system. With these new changes, guests can now select the type of dining they are interested in (i.e. character dining) and then see what restaurants are available on the date and time preferred. I assume Disney still is searching a window of time (something like two- to three-hours) based on the time desired.

This is a huge improvement over the previous system, which required guests to search for ADR's one restaurant at at time. The new system provides a detailed list of which restaurants are available that meet your criteria, and a list of restaurants meeting your criteria that are not available. I like that the list of restaurants with no availabilities is included as a way to remind guests which restaurants meet their criteria so guests can modify their dates to see if a certain restaurant becomes available.

While these are welcome changes, I personally still would like to see some additional flexibility in the system by allowing guests to search a range of times and dates. For instance, if I am interested in breakfast at 'Ohana, I'd like to see which days might be available over the course of my stay (or at least over a three-day span). Similarly, I'd like to have the flexibility to search a range of times. Perhaps, to continue the previous example, 'Ohana is available at 7:30 a.m. I'd like to be able to search a three- or four-hour window to see what other times are available without having to go back and run multiple searches.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Miyuki

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading to the Japan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase to feature a very special and unique lady -- Miyuki the Candy Artist.

While this might not seem like such a big deal for those who have not seen Miyuki's shows before, I assure she is not one to miss.

Miyuki is trained in the Japanese tradition of candy art. This is a process by which the artist takes near molten candy (with rice dough as the base) and shapes it into whatever figure the guests request. As the sculpture takes form, the artist uses a special type of edible paint to add color to the design. The guest USED to receive the candy sculpture as a souvenir. (UPDATE: I've learned that Disney no longer allows her to hand out the scuptures. There is plenty of speculation as to why, ranging from health concerns to complaints from guests who weren't picked).

What makes her show so incredible is the fact that she's doing this with her BARE HANDS. The candy she is working with is very, very hot -- nearly 200 degrees! What makes Miyuki's show even more incredible is the fact that she is the only female Japanese candy artist in the world! That's right - the only female! From what I understand, there are only a handful of people still performing Japanese candy art at all.

Myuki's kiosk is located just outside the main entrance of the Mitsukoshi store, just off the World Showcase Promenade. She has several shows a day, so be sure to check a daily times guide for specific appearance times. A typical show begins with Myuki introducing herself and briefly talking about what candy art is. She then selects a guest (often children), and then asks what they would like her to make (usually an animal of some sort - either real or imaginary). Miyuki begins with a while ball of pre-prepared rice dough candy. Her cart has some heaters to help keep the dough hot while she works it into the shape she needs. As she progresses, she uses simple hand tools to manipulate the candy into whatever she's trying to make.

For instance, in the photo above, Miyuki is making the wings for a pink flamingo. She uses a small pair of clippers and simply works along the wing area adding "feathers" as she goes.

To watch Miyuki practice her trade is an amazing sight. What I found most impressive was her creativity. She didn't skip a beat whenever a guest named an animal, she got started right away and within a few minutes, she had created an amazing candy sculpture. Here's the finished creation:

Now here's a little tip for you if you (or your children) are interested in being picked to request a candy sculpture: arrive at Miyuki's kiosk about 20 minutes ahead of time (30 minutes if the parks are crowded). Try to stand in the front of the kiosk. If you don't happen to be chosen, you may have to catch the next show. Miyuki's pretty good about remembering if a guest was at the previous show and wasn't chosen.

The best part about Miyuki's show is that it's completely free, it's part of your park admission..

The next time you're at Epcot, be sure to check out Miyuki the Candy Artist. She's another reason why World Showcase is filled with adventure and hidden treasures.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Larger families

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Visiting Walt Disney World is a highlight of the year (or several years) for many families. However, as some families begin to plan their trip, there's a little extra hurdle they have to clear: finding a room to accommodate everyone.

This actually can be a greater challenge than it sounds.

Most rooms at Walt Disney World resorts, especially value and moderate resorts, only can accommodate up to four guests. For larger families, like mine, four only to a room just doesn't cut it.

So what do you do?

Last week, Disney announced they will be constructing a new series of family suites on the portion of land across from the Pop Century resort that was supposed to be phase 2 of Pop Century, but never happened (some have dubbed it the"Legendary Years" area).

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, the 26th resort at Walt Disney World, will be one-of-a-kind, with themed building exteriors and room interiors, and larger-than-life icons from the animated films in the courtyard areas. All of the themed suites and rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort are expected to open by the end of 2012.

In the meantime, there are some other options for large families. I'll examine these at each category of resort.

Value Resorts:
The All-Star Music Resort has family suites that can accommodate up to six guests. While I have not personally stayed at these suites, I have heard that they are still pretty tight, especially with six guests.

That's pretty much it aside from the old standby -- booking two rooms, which may be an option, especially for very large families of nearly eight members.

Moderate Resorts:
In the moderate category, there are two resorts that can accommodate larger families.

The first are the cabins at Fort Wilderness. These cabins can sleep up to six guests and even offer curbside parking - a plus, especially if you have your own car (which you might want, since bus transportation to the parks from Ft. Wilderness can be a bit cumbersome).

The second option in the moderate category is Port Orleans Riverside. Rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of POR can sleep up to five guests. One caveat: the fifth "bed" actually is a trundle bed. For those who don't know about trundle beds, a trundle bed is a bed under a bed. Basically it's a mattress on a small rack that you slide out from underneath one of the other beds. We stayed in one of these rooms for our first trip to WDW in June, 2007, and I can tell you, it was a little tight when the trundle was pulled out. These trundle beds are suitable for children up to around age 10. A child older than ten might find the bed to be a bit small.

That's it for the moderates, aside from the old standby -- booking two rooms.

Deluxe Resorts:
Now we get to some real options. Just about every room at any of the deluxe resorts can accommodate five guests and some can sleep six guests. Most larger-family rooms have two double beds plus a daybed that can convert into a twin bed. My family and I have stayed at several different deluxe resorts and every single room offered plenty of space, even with the daybed opened up.

Notice that every option I've discussed so far involve families of up to six. For even larger families, the choices (aside from booking multiple rooms) become quite limited and, frankly, boil down to one word:

Villas.

Something some people might not realize that villas located at the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts can be booked by anyone, not just DVC members. Depending on your family's size, you can get a villa that can sleep up to 12 guests! There's one major drawback of villas -- the price.

Villas can get very expensive, especially when considering Grand Villas. Rates can be nearly $400 (and even more) per night. These are some of the best places to stay, especially since villas come with kitchens (studios have a mini kitchen, one and two bedroom villas have a full kitchen), washer/dryers and living rooms (for one and two bedroom villas).

Disney has a few resources online for families of 5 or more. These resources can help you plan out your trip.

If you have a larger family, I hope this helps and you enjoy your trip to WDW!!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Go, Go Power Rangers. No, seriously, go, go.

Power Rangers

Earlier this week, the news broke that Saban, the original license-holder of The Power Rangers, had purchased the franchise back from Disney. Saban sold The Power Rangers to Disney in 2001 as part of a larger deal involving the then-named Fox Family Channel.

Now, Saban has re-claimed control of his mighty-morphin' team of martial arts teens.

The Power Rangers have been a meet-and-greet fixture at Disney's Hollywood Studios for many years. This acquisition by Saban has many (including myself) wondering if (or more likely, when) The Power Rangers will teleport away from DHS forever.

With Disney no longer holding the rights, it has to be only a matter of time.

In the meantime, what could replace The Power Rangers as meet-and-greet options for the Streets of America portion of DHS?

The answer, in my own personal opinion, may come from Disney's newest partner: Marvel.

While there may be some legal issues to steer around, it would be a huge draw if meet-and-greets with Spiderman, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, the Fanstastic Four and more were available at DHS.

Sorry Red Ranger, but Spidey would be an enormous draw, far greater than The Power Rangers. And it fits - the streets of New York are Spidey's hangout anyway. Disney could add a few spider webs here and there to help enhance the Spiderman theme.

Of course, there's that little issue with Universal Studios to contend with.

As I understand it (and I'm no lawyer), the sticking point between Disney and Universal over the Marvel characters relates to attractions. Personally, I don't know that a meet-and-greet would count as an attraction. As I said, I'm no lawyer, so there may be other restrictions that would prevent major Marvel characters from coming to DHS.

There's always Captain Marvel.... SHAZAM!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Finding some quiet time to walk

Walkway along the western part of the Seven Seas Lagoon

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

For this week's post, I wanted to take a moment and help you find ways to relax while at Walt Disney World.

"What??? Relax???? Time not spent in the park is time wasted!!!"

Ive heard that statement several times, especially from hardcore, commando-style Disney fans, and, to be honest, I thought the same thing myself at first.

As I spend more time at WDW, I've come to really appreciate those moments where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the parks and even the resorts. There are lots of places to find a quiet place for a romantic stroll with a loved one. Perhaps a relaxing stroll with the family to allow some time to simply talk about Disney, or even a nice, fairly uncrowded place to get in a bit of a jog.

I happened to come across the path leading from the Grand Floridian to the Wedding Pavilion, through the Polynesian and on to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). This path provided some beautiful morning views of the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts.

Walkway along the western part of the Seven Seas Lagoon

As my family and I walked along the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon admiring the beautiful views, we came upon the Wedding Pavilion (why do I have the feeling I will be back here in 15-20 years?). The path from the Wedding Pavilion to the Polynesian was made up of some special bricks I had forgotten were placed here.

In 1994 Disney announced a program to sell special bricks as part of a new "Walk Around the World" program. Guests could purchase a customized brick which would become part of the walkway. The program ended in 2000. These bricks make up part of the pathway in front of the Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary Resort, from the TTC to the Polynesian (short segment) and from the Polynesian to the Wedding Pavilion. I personally never had a chance to take part in this program (and really wish Disney would start it back up).

These bricks are a wonderful testament to the spirit of the Disney fan. As we walked we would see the different messages inscribed on the various bricks. While we didn't see it personally, there is a brick that the Disney family purchased. I have seen pictures of it.

What made this pathway so wonderful was the serenity of the experience. Once we were away from the Grand Floridian, there was no background music to interfere with the sounds of the world around us (aside from the occasional monorail passing overhead).

This pathway would be a fantastic place to take your significant other on a romantic stroll, perhaps walk all the way to the Polynesian and up to Sunset Point for a bit of alone time (hey -- not THAT kind of alone time -- this is Disney after all!). Pretty much anywhere along this pathway is a perfect place to stop and watch Wishes. Depending on where you are (especially if you're close to one of the resorts), you just might hear the music being piped in through the sound system.

This is another example of a larger tip I've talked about before -- take your time. Allow some time to relax. It is a vacation after all.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tip Tuesday: The Grand 1

The Grand One

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Ever heard of the phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words?" That's how this week's Tip Tuesday is going to work.

Why? Well, this week, we're going to take a trip aboard the Grand 1!

For those of you who don't know about the Grand 1, allow me to do a bit of explaining.

The Grand 1 is a boat... no, that doesn't do it justice. The Grand 1 is a 52-foot Sea Ray yacht based at the Grand Floridian Marina. When it comes to heading out onto the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake in style, the Grand 1 is as posh as it gets.

The yacht costs about $1.5 million, can accomodate up to 18 passengers and has three staterooms. The main cabin has satellite TV, special sound systems and all the comforts of home. The bridge features some of the latest marine technology. For an extra price, you can arrange for all sorts of dining options from dinner to dessert. Oh, and the Grand 1 can be a great alternative for an intimate wedding (it's been done before). It's also a very romantic place to pop the big question.

In short, this is an incredible way to travel on the water - and it comes at a pretty price. Feel like cruising aboard the Grand 1? Better get out your wallet, because the Grand 1 costs about $550 per hour (as of this post)! That sounds like a lot, but to be honest, it's not that much if you happen to spread the cost over ten guests.

The Grand One

The ultimate Grand 1 experience has to be watching Wishes from the Seven Seas Lagoon. That's just what my family and I did during the Biggest Disney Fan trip in March. We spent about an hour and a half on the yacht and had the chance to watch not only wishes, but also the Electrical Water Pageant from up close!

But back to Wishes... the view is spectacular from the bridge or the stern. Seeing the show from this vantage point is a photographer's dream! Check out some of the shots I was able to take.

The Grand One

The Grand One

To be honest, the photos don't do the show justice. Oh, and remember that great sound system? They also pipe in the music and it's perfectly timed to the fireworks -- what a show!!

The Grand One

If you're interested in booking the Grand 1, call 1-800-WDW-PLAY. Excursions can book up quickly, especially at night, so be sure to call well in advance of your trip.

The next time you're at Walt Disney World and are thinking about splurging on a bit of Disney luxury -- give the Grand 1 a try! It's an awesome experience.