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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Space Mountain tidbits

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

With the recent announcement that new "Starry-o-Phonic" audio now is in Space Mountain at WDW's Magic Kingdom, I thought it would be a perfect time to share a few tidbits about Space Mountain that may help your next trip from Starport Seven-Five go a little smoother.

Three to a car
For those who haven't been on Space Mountain before, the ride vehicles are a bit different that other coasters. Each car can hold three guests, sitting "toboggan" style, meaning guests sit in front of each other as opposed to side-by-side. This really isn't a major issue, except when kids come into play, especially if the kids are a bit nervous about riding.

Here's what I suggest: Have the nervous child sit either in the middle seat (best) or the front seat. Have an adult sit right behind them (middle or back seat). The adult can then keep a hand on the child's shoulder to reassure them throughout the ride. I did this with my younger son and daughter for their first rides on Space Mountain, and they seemed to do just fine. I think it was a bit comforting knowing I was right behind them the whole way.

For those who are dying to get a front row seat, it's best to do a bit of counting. Remember that there are three guests to a car. Usually the cast member assigns guests to rows from front to back. Try to position yourself so you will be the first or the fourth person in the queue when the next cars pull up (remember two cars are connected to each other). If you manage this, you just might find yourself in the front seat (which is a bit roomier than the others!).

Smile!
A new feature added to Space Mountain in late 2009 was on-ride photos. The one major different between on-ride photos for Space Mountain and those of other major attractions (Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Rock-n-Rollercoaster, etc.) is that the angle of the shot is to the side, as opposed to the front. This means you are moving from left to right (or right to left) instead of moving toward the camera. This results mostly in a side-profile (as opposed to a full face) image.

One way to help improve the shot is to turn your head toward the camera when the shots taken. Depending on which track you're on will determine which way to turn (left or right). As you shoot through the launch tunnel (those pulsing blue lights), see which way your car is going to turn. If it turns to the right, you want to look to the left. If it turns to the left, you want to look right. You'll want to turn toward the camera just as your car is whipping around that first turn after the launch tunnel (you'll see the huge flash).

After the shot is taken, sit back and enjoy your trip through the cosmos while you listen to the new audio track.


When to launch
Space Mountain is one of the major attractions at the Magic Kingdom. This means the standby line can get long quickly. If you want to get in a few run on Space Mountain, I strongly suggest being at the Magic Kingdom right at park opening. Once the gates open, head straight to Space Mountain (but please don't run).

As you approach, take a quick glance at the lines for the FastPass machines. At the start of the day, there may be a big line of people trying to get FastPasses. If there's a decent line -- skip it. Head straight into the attraction. You'll likely find it's likely a short wait. By the time you're coming out of the attraction, the initial FastPass lines will have died down - grab a FastPass for later in the day and move on (unless the standby line is pretty short - if so, go again!).

Space Mountain is a great attraction for just about anyone. It really doesn't go that fast -- the speed is mostly an illusion, thanks to the lack of light and other visual references.

Enjoy your next trip from Starport Seven-Five!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Park etiquette - part 2

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

It is my sad duty to again call to your attention some additional bits of etiquette, especially when it comes to touring the parks. I previously talked about etiquette for dark rides, parades and smoking.

What's even more sad, is that I personally had to deal with these issues during my most recent trip in June (in addition to some of the issues previously discussed).

With that, let's move forward:

Move all the way to the end of the row
How many times have you walked into Philharmagic, Country Bears, Muppets 3D, pretty much any show in which guests exit to one side (usually right) and enter from the opposite? We've all heard the instructions from the cast member, "Please move all the way to the end of the row to allow for guests entering behind you." Sam Eagle put it more succinctly in the Muppets 3D pre-show: "Move all the way to the end of the row. Stopping the in the middle is distinctly un-American."

This tip is simple. JUST DO IT!
(The term "Just Do It" is a registered trademark of the Nike Corporation. The use of this phrase in no way implies Nike endorses or even knows about the fact that I used it. If you are from Nike, please don't sue me!!)

Yet time and time again, I run into guests who insist on stopping in the middle, or, worse right at the beginning of the row, forcing other guests to cross in front of them.

Case in point: we were at the Carousel of Progress, where guests enter from the left side and exit to the right. One woman decided she HAD to sit at the entrance to the row and refused to stand to allow us to into the row. After a few heated looks, we moved down a row and proceeded to the far side (as instructed by the cast member).

Now I understand there weren't many people in this attraction and we could have (and did) moved to another row, but the principal remains the same - it's just polite to make room for others. Sadly this person just didn't get the politeness memo.

There is a line at the buffet
My family and I enjoy character dining. Most of these meals are buffet-style. As usually happens, there are a lot of people it the restaurant. This means there usually is a line to go through the buffet. Usually the buffet starts with the salad items (or breads/pastries for breakfast buffets), followed by the kids offerings, the main courses and then the carving (or made-to-order omelet) station(s).

Now I understand that kids, especially younger kids, have a hard time waiting in line (they are at Walt Disney World, a great place to practice waiting in lines!), especially when they're hungry. This does not, however, give a parent the license to cut into the line just to get something for their children. I'm an understanding person and I'll sometimes allow parents to do this if I'm asked nicely ("Excuse me, can I cut in for a second to get a few chicken nuggets?"). However, it seems like (again), the concept of politeness is a dying art. Several times I've had guests just jump in line to get something for the kids, or just to slip in to the carving station, without one word of apology and sometime with a dirty look like I'm the one who cut in front of them.

If there's not a line and one person is taking their time making a salad, it's perfectly fine to jump ahead. It's not fine to jump in front of someone else who is waiting in line. This is simple grade-school rules. Wait your turn (that is, unless they have snow crab legs at Cape May - in that case, get out of my way!!).

Do you really need a seat?
This is one of those you-know-you-should tips. Often times, the monorail (or bus) is very crowded to the point where guests have to stand. If you can, please try to allow those who can't stand for long periods of time to have a seat while you stand (that is, unless you are someone who can't stand that long - I'll leave that decision up to you). It's not a requirement, but it a nice way to make a little Disney magic.

Be mindful of others around you, especially those with disabilities
I'm very thankful that I have the ability to walk and talk and see and hear. Not everyone does. Yet these people have every right to enjoy the magic just as I do. Therefore, it's my responsibility to make sure to be as accommodating to these individuals as possible (see the previous tip). This also means walking around in the parks. Please don't cut in front of guests in wheelchairs or ECV's. That's the same as someone cutting in front of you on the road. You'd be upset if that happened to you. Just be mindful of your surroundings. However, ECV people aren't blameless...

Why do ECV's have horns?
Oh yes, I'm going there. Lay off those blasted horns! I understand guests in ECV's are trying to make their way through the parks, but if I can't make my way easily through a throng of guests in front of me, what makes you think you're going to have any different result by constantly honking that little horn? The parks get crowded. That means it's sometimes hard to move around. Have a little patience and be understanding. Most importantly, please don't bump into the guest in front of you trying to get them to move out of your way (when there's no where to move to). This happened several times to myself and my wife in June. The ECV driver just didn't understand that there was nowhere to go, or didn't care.

Hopefully you haven't committed these park sins. If you have, hopefully you'll act differently next time.

Remember, be polite - it's another way to keep the Disney magic going!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Partial introduction to Epic Mickey released

Disney recently released a partial introduction to the upcoming highly anticipated release of Epic Mickey for the Wii. The vidoe above gives a great deal of information as to how Mickey is thrown into the wasteland and (presumably) what he has to do to make things right.

Check it out!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Avoiding the "grunt work"

Authorized Disney Vacation Planner

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, Disney announced a new series of big discounts and incentives for the fall and winter seasons. Since the new offers came out, people have been booking (and re-booking) like crazy. The result is a slower Disney Web site and tied up phone lines.

To be honest, the task of booking a trip and making ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations) can be a real hassle. It takes a while to go through all the steps required to book a trip and then there's always the chance that Disney will announce a new, even better offer - one you might not be aware of.

So how can you avoid the grunt work of booking while also ensuring you are getting the very best deal, even if that means re-booking your trip after a new discount is announced?

That's pretty easy -- use a Disney specialized travel agent!

I know, I know. You may be thinking that a travel agent just adds more cost to the trip and you can book it cheaper directly through Disney. Well, that's not the case, especially if you use a no-fee travel agency.

What do I mean by no-fee agency? A no-fee travel agency doesn't charge their clients any fees for using their services. No agency charges for the initial booking, no agency charges for any re-bookings, no agency charges for making ADRs, even no agency charges for planning advice!

So how do these agencies make their money? Disney pays commission on every booking. If you book through a travel agency, that commission goes to the agency. If you book directly through Disney, that commission goes back to Disney. The rate a travel agent can quote will be at least as low as Disney posts online and often times will be better because the agent can take advantage of a discount or other offer you might not be aware of.

It's important to remember that not all travel agents and agencies are no-fee, so you have to do your homework. You'll want to go with an agency that is licensed, bonded, insured and is trusted in the travel industry. There are quite a few fly-by-night agents out there, so you want to make sure you're working with someone you can trust and who knows Disney.

So how do you know who to use? I recommend looking for an agent or agency that is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. These are agents and agencies who are specially identified by Disney as the top Disney vacation planners and so may call themselves "Authorized Disney Vacation Planners" and use the logo shown above. In short, these are the agents and agencies who are the cream of the Disney crop. If you book with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you know you are working with someone who knows Disney inside and out.

But getting back to why using a travel agent or agency is so helpful, let me give you some real-world examples. Earlier this week I was talking with Beci Mahnken from MouseFanTravel, who told me that she was spending literally hours and hours on the phone (while on vacation, I might add) booking trips for various clients. Beci wasn't the only one. My own personal MouseFanTravel agent (yes, I personally use and highly recommend MouseFanTravel), Vicki Damanti, worked for a solid 18+ hours making bookings (including for me - thanks Vicki!!), and then was up early and at it again the next day for another 18+ hours. It's a safe bet that many, many other Authorized Disney Vacation Specialists were up for many hours.

Why all this time? As I mentioned at the top of this post, Disney announced some pretty major discounts/incentives this week. As a result, there have been a lot of new bookings, but also a lot of RE-bookings. While a new booking doesn't typically take all that long, a re-booking is a completely different matter. Vicki told me she has spent anywhere from 30 minutes to upwards of two hours on hold with Disney to re-book for a client to take advantage of the new discounts.

Let's stop and think about this for a minute. Let's say about a month ago, you booked a Walt Disney World vacation at the Contemporary Resort for this December directly through Disney. At the time there were no real significant discounts available. Then, this week, you hear about the new major discounts, including a 40% off room-only discount for certain deluxe resorts including the Contemporary, or a $500 gift card offer or free dining. You realize you could save hundreds on your upcoming trip and decide to call Disney to re-book your package. Well, you're not alone as thousands of other people are doing the same thing. This means a lot of hold time. You would end up spending hours on hold waiting to speak to a Disney representative to re-book your trip. That's a lot of time you could spend doing other things. Wouldn't it be nice if someone else could handle all that grunt work? If you used an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you wouldn't have to do a thing! They will take care of all the grunt work for you.

Best of all, you shouldn't even have to ask. Again, I'll use a personal example: When I first booked my Disney trip for June 2010 at the Beach Club, the Annual Pass discounts had not been announced. Before I even knew the new AP discount had been announced, I got a call from my MouseFanTravel agent Vicki Damanti telling me she had re-booked my trip and saved me about $200.

A good Disney-specialized travel agency will take care of all those details for you and it doesn't cost a cent to you. So why NOT use a Disney-specialized travel agency? You have nothing to lose and everything to save.

Disclosure notice: in no way have I been compensated by MouseFanTravel or any other agency for the opinions expressed in this post.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tip Tuesday: World Showcase shops

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

One of the most frequent bits of advice I give to people visiting Walt Disney World for the first time is this: take your time and slow down.

All too often we fall into the trap of rushing from one attraction to another and don't stop to enjoy some of those little details along the way.

Those Disney details can be found in many places including the various shops located all throughout Walt Disney World.

While browsing in a shop, especially in Epcot's World Showcase, you will discover many aspects of the host country. For instance, in the Venetian masks store in the Italy pavilion, you will discover some of the masks that are a key part of Italian culture. Just step up to the cast member and you'll hear all about the history of Venetian masks and their significance in Italian culture.

Stroll over to the the German pavilion to learn more about German glass ornaments and to discover the legend of the pickle. Do you have a pickle in your Christmas tree?

These are just a few examples of why Walt Disney World is so much more than just attractions.

It's all about exploration and discovery.

So take your time, explore the different shops and exhibits and discover more about our world.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Le Cellier dinner soon to require 2 DDP credits

The Disney Food Blog has confirmed that Le Cellier, the uber-popular-nearly-impossible-to-get-an-ADR restaurant in the Canada pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase will soon be a little more "expensive" for Disney Dining Plan members.

According to the folks at the Disney Food Blog, starting next March, dinners at Le Cellier will require two table service credits. Currently both lunch and dinner seatings at Le Cellier only require one table service credit. Under the new plan next March, lunch seatings still will require only one tabe service credit.

While there is no explanation given for this change, it seems pretty obvious. Le Cellier is one of the hardest ADR's to get in all of Walt Disney World -- even harder than Cinderella's Royal Table. It seems natural that in order to lighten the pressure on the ADR, the cost for dinner will go up substantially -- enough so that the folks at the Disney Dining Plan felt it should require two credits instead of one.

So here's the real question -- will the increase in price have an impact on reservations? Will Le Cellier ADR's start becoming easier to get because of the higher DDP cost? What do you think? Will or would you change your ADR booking habits because of this new price? Post a comment.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Lunch with an Imagineer

Chuck Lionberger and Alex Caruthers

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I'm dipping into the back file to talk about something I experienced in December 2008. It's known as the Lunch with an Imagineer program.

This is one of those "must do" opportunities for any Disney fan. You (and about 6-7 others) actually get to sit down and have lunch with an actual Imagineer. I had the great pleasure to talk with Alex Caruthers (see photo above). Mr. Caruthers is (or was at the time we met) the art director for the Magic Kingdom.

We talked about projects he worked on, like the updates to the Haunted Mansion, the Hall of Presidents update and more. It was fascinating to hear about how the Imagineers consider story in absolutely everything they do. For instance (I can talk about this now that it's open -- at the time it wasn't), Mr. Caruthers worked on the design for Golden Oak Outpost near Pecos Bills. His role was to make sure the design and look of the structure blended with both Frontierland and, to a lesser extent, Adventureland (since it was so close to Pirates of the Caribbean).

Oh, and did I mention where you get to have lunch? At the best restaurant in all of Disney's Hollywood Studios -- the Hollywood Brown Derby!

When you first arrive, you are greeted at the entrance and given a special Disney cast member-like red name badge - a great keepsake in itself! You're then escorted to the exclusive back room at the Brown Derby. Disney uses this space for visiting celebrities so they can enjoy lunch without staring fans. The next time you're at the courtyard in front of Starring Rolls, the windows on the wall connect to this special room.

Lunch is a special four-course meal, starting with a fantastic lobster and sweet corn bisque. Your salad is none other than the world-famous Brown Derby Cobb salad. You have a choice of entrees including New York strip steak, pan-fired grouper or a Thai noodle bowl. I had the steak, which was prepared to perfection. For desert, we had the famous Brown Derby grapefruit cake (though I understand the desert option may have changed since).

To top it off, each guest receives a special glass plate that is signed and personalized by the Imagineer. This is one of my most treasured Disney collector items. I won't post a photo to spoil the surprise of how beautiful and unique this plate is. You'll just have to book this experience for yourself.

Speaking of booking -- that's the real trick. The Lunch with an Imagineer program is available only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (though these days could change - it's best to call Disney in advance to verify dates before booking). Reservations can be made 60 days in advance by phone at 1-800-WDW-DINE (and it's a good idea to be ready at 7 a.m. exactly 60 days in advance of the date you want to book).

Now you're probably thinking this all comes with a hefty price tag, and you're somewhat right. As of this posting, Lunch with an Imagineer runs $60.99 a person. If you stop and think about it though, this is not a bad price at all. If you consider the four-course meal (which itself would run somewhere around $50 a person), the personal name tag and the personalized plate, the $61 price tag is a pretty good deal.

If you have the opportunity to have lunch with an Imagineer, I highly recommend it. It's an experience any Disney fan will cherish and treasure.