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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tip Tuesday: La Nouba!

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

It's been a while since I brought you some more experiences from my Biggest Disney Fan trip in March**, so it's time to talk about one of the best experiences we had during our trip.

My family and I had the opportunity to sit front and center for La Nouba at Downtown Disney, and let me say right off, this is one show you absolutely must not miss.

La Nouba is the exclusive Cirque Du Soleil show located at Downtown Disney's West Side in the large white tent-looking building pictured above. The theatre can seat more than 1,100 people, and most seats offer good views of the stage.

Showtimes generally are Tuesday through Saturday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. There are a few days during the year when there are no shows, so be sure to check the schedule in advance. As far as tickets go, you can book up to six months in advance, which is a very good idea since shows do sell out often and the best seats go fast. Tickets (as of this post) cost anywhere from $57 - $124 for adults and $57 - $99 for children (ages 3-9). These prices do not include taxes and fees. See this seating chart for specific prices and seat locations.

Personally I don't recommend the cheapest seats. They are way up in the corners and don't provide the best view. It's worth the extra money to get front-and-center ($124 each) or category 1 ($109 each) seats. La Nouba is a show that' s all about the spectacle, so you want to make sure you can see everything.

I'm not going to discuss the show itself all that much so as not to spoil it for you. However I will just say you don't want to miss the young Chinese girls juggling -- it's spellbinding, and be sure you arrive at least 30 minutes in advance. La Nouba has a sort of "pre-show" that is quite funny. You don't want to miss it.

I've often heard people asking if La Nouba is "worth it." To be honest, I had the same questions, especially when you think about the ticket prices. After seeing the show, I can say without a doubt that it's worth the price every time, even at the cost of the front-and-center seats. This show is great for kids as well. There's plenty of amazing action and comedy to keep kids entertained and engaged.

As I said, La Nouba is a show that's all about spectacle. It combines some classic elements from the traditional circus, but presents them in such as way that you will be spellbound. The performers are masters in their craft and the way they can manipulate and control their bodies is remarkable. You will see human beings do things I didn't think were possible. The aforementioned Chinese jugglers are incredible.

Earlier this year, La Nouba added a new act featuring world-renowned juggler Anthony Gatto (see photo above). He holds 11 world records in juggling. In the nine-minute act Gatto juggles balls, hoops and clubs in unprecedented numbers at amazing speed with seemingly impossible accuracy. After seeing him in action, I can see why he's a world-record juggler. Amazing. Simply amazing.

To top it off, there's the music, which is phenomenal. It's so good, we downloaded it from iTunes. The soundtrack and DVD also are available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

La Nouba is one of those exclusive Disney experiences that I highly encourage guests try at least once. I have a feeling that once you see La Nouba, you will, like me, want to see it again and again.

** Full disclosure: The tickets to La Nouba were part of a package for winning the Disney's Biggest Fan Contest by Disney and United Vacations. In no way does this post endorse Disney or United Vacations, nor should the trip or tickets be considered compensation for the independent opinions expressed on this blog.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Disney launches new 2011 campaign - and you get to be the star!

At a news conference that also was webcast via Ustream, Disney today announced the 2011 campaign, called "Let the Memories Begin," which will focus on making memories. Also today, Disney announced some interesting new ways your photos and video can be seen by many and, perhaps, even projected onto some of the various park icons like Cinderella Castle.

Below is a news release Disney issued today:

In 2011, Disney guests will become the stars of a nightly spectacular when photos taken in the park during the day become larger-than-life projections on Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World Resort or “it’s a small world” at Disneyland Resort. This groundbreaking new experience will celebrate the family vacation memories created in Disney theme parks every day.

And this week, Disney guests will begin starring on television, too, as part of the new “Let the Memories Begin” campaign. For the first time, Disney Parks is featuring the home videos and snapshots of real guests in television ads and other marketing that will allow an audience of millions to share in true-life, heartfelt moments.

“A Disney vacation is the perfect way to create family memories that will last a lifetime,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, at a media announcement Thursday in New York. “We’ll spotlight those ‘only-at-Disney’ moments with family and friends during our ‘Let the Memories Begin’ campaign.”

A just-released survey of U.S. and Canadian families conducted for Disney Parks by Ypartnership, a noted research firm that tracks consumer insights and trends in travel, showed that vacation memories hold a special place in family history.

Nine out of 10 parents said they planned their vacations with the express hope that they would result in a lasting family memory, the survey showed. And those memories stuck with them – nearly three-quarters said they think back “often” or “very often” on their favorite vacation experiences.

‘Memories in the Making’ to be Shared on Disney Park Icons
Beginning in January 2011, some Disney parks guests will find that the memory they just made has become a larger-than-life image during a “Let the Memories Begin” nighttime experience.

At Walt Disney World Resort, the guest photos will be projected on the soaring spires of Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland Resort, the iconic fa├žade of “it’s a small world” will be the canvas for the show.

In both locations, Disney PhotoPass photographers will capture guests caught up in the Disney experience – a memory in the making – and as many as 500 photos will be used in each location every day, producers estimate.

The nighttime show will use the latest in high-intensity projection technology to create vivid visuals that seem to defy the architecture of the building. A new song commissioned for the show will provide an emotional context for these images of the Disney guest experience.

For TV Ads and More, Disney Parks Issues a ‘Call for Memories’
Beyond seeing their own projected photos in lights, guests also could become the stars of Disney Parks television commercials, online campaigns and social media opportunities that will showcase to the world the power of memories.

The campaign kicks off this week with a TV commercial created from videos posted online in social media forums.

For future TV commercials and other advertising and marketing programs, Disney Parks is asking guests to share their memories by uploading photos and videos at a special “Let the Memories Begin” online hub at www.DisneyParks.com/Memories. From a first meeting with a princess to a laugh-filled watery touchdown on Splash Mountain, Disney Parks is looking for videos and photos that capture those never-to-be-forgotten experiences.

Some memories will be shared online, while others may be selected to share in print ads, brochures and other marketing – including television ads to air across the United States and Canada.

With real visitor images on iconic attractions and home video featured in commercials, the storytellers at Disney Parks are letting guests tell their own stories in 2011, Staggs said.

“We wanted to give our guests a powerful way to share the memories they create every day in our parks,” Staggs said. “Essentially, this becomes our first user-generated show and our first user-generated marketing campaign.

“A day at a Disney park is filled with magical experiences that become cherished and unforgettable memories – and now we’re helping our guests share those memories with the world.

More Ways to Make Disney Vacation Memories in 2011
To help make special memories last a lifetime, in 2011 Disney Parks is adding new theme park experiences in California and Florida, new vacation opportunities on the high seas with Disney Cruise Line, a new luxury resort on a breathtaking lagoon in Hawaii, and new ways to explore the world with Adventures by Disney.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store:

“World of Color” (Disneyland Resort): “World of Color,” the new nighttime spectacular presented in Disney California Adventure park, brings classic Disney and Disney•Pixar animation to life with nearly 1,200 powerful fountains, larger-than-life projections, lasers, fire, music and special effects.

Disney California Adventure Expansion (Disneyland Resort): Next up for the continuing expansion of the park is the first major attraction based on the modern Disney classic, “The Little Mermaid.” The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure will treat guests to a musical retelling of the classic motion picture as the best-loved songs come alive in magnificent scenes all around them.

New Star Tours 3-D Adventure (Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort): Bridging that “long time ago” between the two “Star Wars” trilogies, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will take flight in 2011 and take voyagers to thrilling destinations throughout the “Star Wars” galaxy. And it will all happen in brilliant, 3-D technology.

Disney Cruise Line: The Disney Dream, the newest ship of the Disney Cruise Line, launching January 2011, will bring to life grand innovations and more, offering a cruise experience from stem to stern that caters to preferences of the entire family. The Disney Wonder cruise ship will “go west” in early 2011; and new West Coast itineraries for Disney Cruise Line will include, for the first time, Alaska cruises sailing from Vancouver.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina Hawai`i: A first-of-its-kind Disney resort in Hawaii creates a perfect setting for family fun. The new resort, which includes traditional hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas, is being built on 21 acres of oceanfront property, 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport and approximately 30 minutes from Waikiki.

Adventures by Disney: In 2011, Adventures by Disney guests will step off of planes, cruise ships and camels into living chapters of history during seven- and nine-night Egypt itineraries. These guided travel vacations allow families to visit destinations they never dreamed possible – including Italy, South Africa and China – with the assurance of the Disney name.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Avoiding the Fireworks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday (on a Wednesday... sigh).

If you've read this blog (which by the way is celebrating its three year anniversary!!!), then you know how much I enjoy the various nightime fireworks displays at Walt Disney World. While a lot of people do enjoy watching fireworks, there are quite a few guests who, for any number of reasons, do not like fireworks.

Whether it's the loud noises or the flashes of light or whatever, some guests (often young children) simply do not want to be in a position to hear and/or see fireworks, yet they still want to (and have the right to) enjoy the parks at night. Some of my own children are not huge fans of fireworks, mostly because of the very loud noises.

So what are these guests to do?

Well, there are several options available. The basic premise is to get indoor where you can't see the fireworks and the sound will be cut down. Naturally any restaurant or shop will meet this basic idea. I'm going to talk about other options that are available and a few that might not be a good idea.

Since the nighttime fireworks are mostly at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, I'm going to discuss the options at each park individually. Some of these options require a certain bit of timing, so it's a good idea to check the daily times guide to know when Wishes! or Illuminations is scheduled to start. It's also good to know how long each show runs. Wishes! is about 15 minutes long while Illuminations runs around 12 minutes.

Magic Kingdom

  • Carousel of Progress - this is the perfect place to get indoors and enjoy a show while muting the sound of fireworks. The loud booms taking place outside won't be completely filtered out, but the sounds will be cut down quite a bit. Best of all, this is a long attraction. If you time it out right, you just might be inside the entire time.
  • Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - this is another indoor attraction that can help cut down on the sounds. The hitch here is that it's not all that long. Depending on the length of the queue, you might be through the attraction before Wishes! is complete.

  • Space Mountain - this can be a pretty good option for older kids and adults who don't want to be around fireworks, especially if there's a decent queue line. For younger guests, this obviously isn't an option.
  • Country Bear Jamboree - if you can get in right as Wishes! starts, you're in a perfect spot. The show runs nearly 16 minutes, so it will easily keep you out of the sight of fireworks for the entire presentation of Wishes!. The only down-side here is that you're much closer to the launch spot for the bigger fireworks (they launch behind Frontierland), so the sounds outside will be louder, which means the sounds inside may be a bit louder as well.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean - like Buzz Lightyear, this all depends on the queue. The attraction itself isn't long enough, but if there's a bit of a queue, you might be able to be indoors during Wishes!.
  • Hall of Presidents - this show runs about 22 minutes, so if you time it right, you'll be just fine.

  • it's a small world - If you can get into your boat and be on your way just as the fireworks begin, you might be able to avoid most of Wishes! IASW runs about 10 minutes, so you might be caught in the tail end of the fireworks (which is the loudest). If you use this option, it might be better to hang out inside somewhere else for the first few minutes and then jump onto IASW.
  • Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor/Stitch's Great Escape - Both of these attractions provide shelter, but there both a bit short in runtime, so it really depends on the queue. These wouldn't be at the top of my list...
  • Here are a few attractions that I don't suggest trying: The TTA Peoplemover (you're outside for a third of the attraction), Splash Mountain (again, parts are outside and you're very close to fireworks).

    Epcot
    The options in Epcot can be pretty limited (again, aside from just hanging out in restaurants or shops), especially if Future World already has closed. If you can still get into the Future World pavilions, then you're in great shape. Just about every pavilion (except Test Track) is completely indoors and has plenty to do and see to last the length of Illuminations.

    Now what if Future World is closed? Then you need to consider attractions in World Showcase.

  • The American Adventure - this is the best overall option as the show runs just under 30 minutes.
  • Gran Fiesta Tour - while this boat ride is nowhere near long enough, you are inside the Mexico pavilion and can easily enjoy a ride (or two) through Mexico as you search for Donald.
  • Malestrom - you won't be the first to pass this way to avoid fireworks... nor shall you be the last... though you may have to stay to watch the Norway movie in order to avoid Illuminations.
  • Any Circlevision 360 film - China, France and Canada have special Circlevision 360 films highlighting their respective countries. Best of all, these films are at least 14 minutes long - which is plenty of time to cover Illuminations.
  • There are even more options available to guests who are willing to take a quick break from the parks and do a bit of resort hopping either via the Monorail or the International gateway. Keep in mind that you still can see and hear the fireworks from Illuminations if you are walking along the Boardwalk.

    Hopefully these tips will help those guests, young and old, who are not all that keen on seeing and/or hearing evening fireworks, but yet, want to enjoy the parks at night.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Major Disney releases set for Nov. 30

    Disney fans, listen up!

    November 30 will be a pretty big day for you.

    Why, you may ask?

    Three highly anticipated titles will be released on Nov. 30: Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 on Blu-Ray/DVD combo, Sorcerer's Apprentice Blu-Ray/DVD combo AND Epic Mickey, the videogame.
    Epic Mickey is a long-anticipated game for the Wii featuring Mickey Mouse as the hero who must make his way through the world of Wasteland, a place where Disney things have long been forgotten.

    “I believe that video games tell stories as deep and as sophisticated as movies, books or any other medium. In Disney Epic Mickey, Mickey Mouse is faced with challenges worthy of a hero, while the players’ actions and their decisions throughout the game alter the gameworld,” said Warren Spector, general manager and creative director, Disney Interactive Studios’ Junction Point in Austin in a news release. “We are honored and humbled by the anticipation for Disney Epic Mickey, and we could not be more excited to get the game in people’s hands so that they can experience the thrill of becoming a hero and controlling their own destiny.”

    What makes Epic Mickey so unique is the ability to remove or restore parts of the gameplay world through the use of ink or thinner. As the player makes their way through the game, their actions alter the game's world.

    You can pre-order Epic Mickey at many video game retailers, at Amazon.com or Disneystore.com

    But wait, there's more.

    On the same day, Disney will release the highly-anticipated Blu-Ray version of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 in a special four-disc pack. Also being released is a two-disc DVD set.

    Among special features on the Blu-Ray version is the highly requested Academy Award® nominated short Destino. Available for the first time ever on Blu-ray, the seven minute film is the result of a unique collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali begun in 1946, but put on hold due to studio financial concerns. In 2003, Roy E. Disney worked with a team of modern day animators to complete the film as a tribute to Walt's pioneering artistic vision. Accompanying the highly anticipated short is an all-new feature length documentary entitled "Dali & Disney: A Date With Destino," which explores the origins of the relationship between Disney and Dali, their collaboration on Destino, and ultimately how the film came to fruition so many years after its inception.

    Pre-order for the Fantasia set and Sorcerer's Apprentice are available at Amazon.com. I'm sure it also will be available wherever Blu-Ray movies are sold.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Getting the most "value" for table service dining

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

    I, like many other Disney fans, listen to several Disney fan podcasts each week. I happened to listen to show 771 of WDW Today, where the gang was reviewing the "value" of the different table service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. Each restaurant was evaluated as "excellent," "pass," or "fail" in terms of overall value.

    This led me to consider how to get the most "value" out of those and other table service restaurants.

    So I'll use the topic from WDW Today as a jumping off point and examine some of the restaurants at the Magic Kingdom.

    The first (and most prominent) restaurant is Cinderella's Royal Table. This is, by far, the most expensive restaurant in the Magic Kingdom at more than $50 per adult for dinner. There's a reason CRT is so expensive: exclusivity and the included photo. While I agree with many who feel this restaurant is overpriced (price should be about $10/person lower), especially when you consider that the quality of the food is just ok, there's much more to dining at CRT than just the food.

    Cinderella's Royal Table is an experience, one that I suggest Disney fans (especially those with young daughters) should do at least once. It's a right of passage for Disney park enthusiasts.

    So how do you increase the "value" of a CRT reservation? I can think of two ways.
    1. The first is to book a breakfast ADR for about 30 minutes to one hour before park opening. This gets you into the park well in advance and allows you to enjoy Main Street and get some great shots of Cinderella Castle without hoards of people in your shot. You'll experience some of the best photo conditions of the day.

    2. On the flip side, try to book an ADR for about 30 minutes before Wishes starts and request a window table. You won't be able to see the fireworks all that clearly due to the stained glass, but it's still a neat way to experience Wishes through the stained glass that's lighting up with different colors - it puts a different perspective on the show.

    Next up is Crystal Palace. This is a much better overall value than Cinderella's Royal Table, but it's still pretty expensive - more than $30 a per adult for dinner. The same suggestion for an early ADR will help add value to dining at Crystal Palace. As the WDW Today folks stated, a late breakfast, which becomes lunch, will help add some value to the dining experience.

    Both CRT and Crystal Palace feature meet-and-greets with characters. This is a great way to get photos and autographs without having to wait in lines. This also is a great opportunity to have the characters autograph special items, such as custom maps or photos. If you can find ways to make those character interactions more meaningful, that will help increase the overall value.

    Next, we come to the Liberty Tree Tavern. Everyone on the WDW Today team seemed to give this a "fail" in terms of value and I couldn't disagree more. Yes, it's expensive (about $30/per adult for dinner), but that dinner is all you can eat. Think of it as a never-ending Thanksgiving feast. That's a pretty decent value. Now if the characters were back, that would be an even better value.... but I digress. This is one restaurant I actually recommend, especially if you can get a window seat during the nighttime parade (Main St. Electrical Parade currently is running).

    I will have to take a pass on the Plaza restaurant as I haven't been there yet, which brings me finally to Tony's Town Square Plaza. Alright, I admit the Italian cuisine here isn't something to write home about, but it's not that bad. I'm not Italian, so maybe I'm not qualified to make this evaluation, but I enjoyed Tony's. What makes Tony's a better value than you may realize is that it's usually an easy ADR or walk-up to get, the portion sizes are pretty big and it's fairly quiet, which can be a benefit if you're looking to take it easy for a little while before heading back into the hustle and bustle of the park. There is a decent selection on the menu and the prices aren't that horrible. The most expensive item for dinner is the NY strip steak at $27. That's a little higher than I'd like to see, but it's not a deal-breaker.

    I guess the whole point is that "value" is a subjective term. Value is what you make of it. What's important to you may not be important to someone else. So when considering the value of a particular restaurant, remember to evaluate that value based on your criteria, not someone else's.

    I'll examine other park restaurants in a future post sometime. Until then, happy eating!

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Medical needs while at your resort

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

    Now that fall is around the corner, flu/cold/allergy/sinus/whateverelse season is around the corner as well. This means you could find yourself catching something while on vacation at Walt Disney World. While the custodial cast members do a fantastic job of keeping the various resorts, attractions, restaurants and more as spotless as possible, there simply is no way to completely prevent the spread of germs.

    So here's the scenario: you're in your resort room and you've talked to your doctor's office. They want to phone in a prescription for an antibiotic for you. Where do they call and how can you get it? There are a few drug stores located around Walt Disney World that will deliver prescriptions and other drug store-like items (cough syrup, etc.) for a small delivery fee. I've personally used Turner Drug. You can call them at (404) 828-8125. It's important to remember that they do not accept insurance plans, so be sure to keep your paperwork so you can send it into your insurance company later for reimbursement.

    But what if you're (or your child's) illness is a bit more serious? There are some physicians who will do "house calls" or you can go to a nearby urgent care center. CentraCare has an office located near Downtown Disney on South Apopka Vineland Road. They can be reached at (407) 934-CARE (2273). They have office hours Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to Midnight and weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you would rather schedule an in-room doctor's visit, just call CentraCare at (407) 238-2000. Another in-room doctor's service is MedicalConcierge. Like the drug store delivery, these services may not accept insurance plans, though they will provide the reimbursement forms for you.

    Of course, if you or someone is very seriously ill or injured, you should call 911.

    Hopefully, you'll never need to use any of these services, but this is good information to have just in case. Oh, and if you happen to be at WDW and didn't bring down phone numbers, etc. for these resources, don't worry. Just talk to the front desk concierge. They have all the information for you and will help you make whatever arrangements you need.