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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Wet seats

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As I sit here listening to the rain pour on the Mid-Atlantic, I was reminded about a recent tip my wife (referred to here as the DisneyMommy) reminded me about as we plan an upcoming trip.

It involves dealing with wet seats on attractions. Believe it or not, it does sometimes rain at Walt Disney World (shocking, I know), but it's true. And sometimes it can rain a lot and for many hours. Unless there's lightning in the area, many of the attractions will keep running, even those exposed to the elements, like Dumbo. Personally, I recommend heading to the parks when it rains. Most times, the lines are shorter as some guests just don't want to get wet. It's just water, you can hack it.

Rain, however, does mean some wet seats. Sitting on a wet seat isn't fun and there's not much you can do to dry off afterward. That's why my wife wisely suggests bringing along a hand towel in a large (gallon size) Ziploc bag to wipe off seats before you sit down. A microfiber towel is even better if you can get one.

This is a pretty simple tip and one that you can do every day. Even if the towel is pretty soaked by the end of the day, just hang it up in the bathroom and it will be fairly dry by morning. If all else fails, most resorts have laundry facilities so you can pop the towel in the drier (or just use a hand drier in the parks).

This is just another example of how a bit of preparation can help make even a wet day in the parks enjoyable!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Thanksgiving at WDW

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday and Happy Thanksgiving!

Since Turkey Day is only a few days away, I thought this would be an appropriate time to write about some tips I picked up during my trip to WDW last Thanksgiving.

Spending any holiday at the parks is a special experience, and Thanksgiving is no different. In fact, a Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World really means celebrating two holidays at once. On one hand, you can experience a unique and different Thanksgiving dinner at most of the restaurants across Walt Disney World. On the other hand, most of the Christmas/Holiday decorations are up and many of the holiday events are underway (or will start just after Thanksgiving).

So I have two main tips: one deals with dining while the other deals with the crowds (oh yes, there are crowds).

First the crowds. Thanksgiving is in the top 5 for most crowded times at Walt Disney World. That being said, you can still enjoy the parks with a bit of planning. I've said this time and time again, and Thanksgiving is a perfect reason for it: Get there early! Determine which park you want to visit and get there at least 30 minutes before rope drop. You'll see relatively low crowds for about the first 90 minutes to two hours. After that, the crowd levels ramp up dramatically, so be sure to get in those attractions you most want to experience and grab a FastPass (while they're still available) for something you want to do later in the day.

Ok, enough about crowds. Now for the food!

Each year, most of the restaurants at Walt Disney World offer a special Thanksgiving menu only on Thanksgiving Day. Most of these special menus include some of the classic Thanksgiving dishes (turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc.), though sometimes with a little twist. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to go to a restaurant that you and/or your family might not normally dine at.

For instance, if your family is not all that fond of seafood, you might not normally try to dine at the Coral Reef Restaurant. At Thanksgiving, however, the Coral Reef offers a special Thanksgiving turkey dinner. This would be a perfect opportunity to dine at Coral Reef and experience the aquarium atmosphere.

It's important to remember that Thanksgiving is a peak time of year, so if you are planning on Thanksgiving dinner/lunch at a WDW restaurant, you'll need to make that ADR (advanced dining reservation) as early as possible -- 180 days out from your trip. This is another reason an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner really comes in handy. They can make those ADRs for you so you don't have to keep track of when the booking window opens. One more note - since you're dining during the holiday season, don't be surprised to see a holiday surcharge, especially at buffet restaurants. This isn't just for Thanksgiving, it's for pretty much any busy holiday period.

Also, keep in mind that since restaurants are offering a Thanksgiving-based menu, the normal menu will be limited.

One Thanksgiving (or post Thanksgiving) tradition that isn't at Walt Disney World is Black Friday. You might find a few stores open early at Downtown Disney, but for the most part, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a regular day (at least that was the case last year). Before trekking to the World of Disney at Downtown Disney at 4 a.m. thinking you're going to get some great bargains, I highly suggest calling ahead or checking with the concierge at your resort.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to visit Walt Disney World and experience two holidays at once -- that is once you get there! Whether you fly or drive, Thanksgiving travel is a mess, so be careful and patient!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Epcot at night


Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

A few weeks ago, I talked about the Magic Kingdom and how the park changes when the sun goes down. This week, I wanted to continue this series with the next Disney park (and my personal favorite) Epcot!

There are quite a few attractions and experiences at Epcot that are quite different at night. First up is Spaceship Earth. I'm not talking about the attraction itself, but the exterior lighting at night. I absolutely love looking at Spaceship Earth at night. There's something magical and amazing about seeing it lit up with all the colors at night. On one trip about a year ago, we happened to stay at the Dolphin and had a room where we could see Spaceship Earth from our window. Each night, I would just stare in wonder at the sight of Spaceship Earth in the distance.

Put simply, when I think of Epcot at night, Spaceship Earth immediately comes to mind.

Next up is Test Track. For most of this attraction, there's no difference between day and night because it's indoors. The major change comes when you shoot out the doors and go around the high speed loop. It's exciting during the day. At night it's plain exhilarating!! I know the speed hasn't changed, but it feels like you're going faster a night. I guess that's because some of the normal visual references you can see during the day aren't there. Trust me -- take a spin on Test Track at night -- you'll love it!

Next door is Mission Space. Like Spaceship Earth, the exterior to Mission Space is very different at night and, I think, is far better. This is another example of how the Imagineers paid such careful attention to detail to help heighten the since of space travel with the nighttime lighting.

On the other side of Future World is the Imagination Pavilion. While it's neat to see the reverse waterfall during the day, it's really beautiful at night with the lighting from underneath.

I guess this is a good time to talk about another "attraction" of sorts that's very different at night -- the monorail. The Epcot line runs about four miles and for a large part of the ride, it's fairly dark, which can be nice, especially after a long day in the parks. At either end, though, you get a fantastic view of Epcot at night or the TTC and resorts. Take a ride on the monorail at night - you'll get a beautiful view of some of the best nighttime scenes.

OK, time to get to the real deal -- World Showcase!

Most of the World Showcase pavilions have special lighting at night, which is enhanced during the ultimate nighttime experience -- Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. I'm not going to get into Illuminations in detail for this week's tip. I'll probably talk more about Illuminations in a future post. Suffice it to say that no trip to Epcot at night would be complete without seeing Illuminations. It's that good.

Back to World Showcase. I feel the charm factor in each pavilion goes up significantly at night. The pavilions become little scenes themselves with lighting effects creating different moods and drawing guests into certain areas. I really like the Japan and the United Kingdom pavilions at night, though the Norway and China pavilions are equally beautiful.

Over at the American Adventure pavilion is the America Gardens Theatre. Often times there are special concerts that are included with your park admission. Disney's pretty good about getting some well-known talent to play at the America Gardens Theatre. And then there's the Candlelight Processional. I've discussed this fantastic holiday event in some previous posts.

The best part about World Showcase at night is just strolling along the World Showcase promenade listening to the Illuminations preshow music and enjoying the sights around you. It's my favorite time to walk around World Showcase.

Like so many other parks, Epcot is like a fine wine. It's best experienced slowly. Take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds of Epcot at night. It's a fantastic time to be at the park.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mousevent: A little Disney magic for the holidays

I happened to find out about a new project starting up that many Disney fans certainly will enjoy. It's called mousevent, and it's basically a digitial Disney version of an old-fashioned advent calendar. For those who might not know, an Advent calendar counts down the days to Christmas, starting with Dec. 1. Each day, a window in the calendar is opened and a small treat or gift or saying is revealed.

In the case of mousevent, the little gift will be audio files.

Check it out for yourself at www.mousevent.com. The fun begins December 1.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kingdom Keepers 4: Power Play to be released in April

Amazon.com now is accepting pre-orders for the fourth installment in the popular Kingdom Keepers series of books about a group of teens who are working to stop the Overtakers from gaining control of Walt Disney World.

Along with the pre-order site, Amazon has released a brief description of the upcoming book:

For the five teens who modeled as Disney Hologram Imaging hosts, life is beginning to settle down when an intriguing video arrives to Philby's computer at school. It's a call for action: the Overtakers, a group of Disney villains, seem to be plotting to attempt a rescue of two of their leaders, both of whom the Disney Imagineers have hidden away somewhere following a violent encounter in Epcot. A staged attack by new Overtakers at Downtown Disney, startles the group.

One of their own, Charlene, is acting strange of late. Has she tired of her role as a Kingdom Keeper or is there something more sinister at play? When caught sneaking into Epcot as her DHI, acting strictly against the group's rules, Finn and Philby take action.

Has the "impossible" occurred? Have the Overtakers created their own holograms? Have they found a way to "jump" from the Virtual Maintenance Network onto the Internet, and if so, what does that mean for the safety of the parks, and the spread and reach of the Overtakers? Are they recruiting an army from outside the parks?

A dark cloud in the Kingdom Keeper era is unfolding, and with dissention in their own ranks, it's unclear if there's any chance of escape.


I, for one will be sure to get the latest edition in this fun series. Hopefully we'll see a cover soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Honoring our veterans

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As Veterans' Day approaches, I wanted to take a moment and mention a brief ceremony that takes place at the Magic Kingdom each day promptly at 5 p.m. It's called the "Flag Retreat" and it is a ceremony where the United States flag located in Town Square is lowered, folded and taken away for the night.

Each day, a "Veteran of the Day" is selected who accompanies the WDW band and security service to lower and fold the flag. Before the actual lowering, the Main Street Band plays several patriotic tunes. The veteran of the day joins the band and the WDW security service in marching from the Main Street Train Station to the main flagpole at the center of Town Square.

After a bit more music, the band surrounds the flagpole area and plays the national anthem as the flag is slowly lowered and then folded.

After the flag has been properly folded, it is presented to the veteran and there is a quick photo opportunity. The veteran's military service is announced to the crowd and the veteran then carries the flag with the WDW security service to the Exposition Hall where the flag is put away until the next day (after a few more photos).

The veteran is given a special pin commemorating the event (it's interesting to note that the veteran is asked not to sell or trade the pin, but to keep it) as well as a certificate noting that he or she was the veteran of the day.

In all, the flag retreat ceremony runs a little less than 10 minutes and it's a nice way to show honor and respect for our nation's flag (once again to my international friends, please pardon my bit of nationalism here).

You may be wondering how you can become the "Veteran of the Day" and participate in the flag retreat ceremony. Well, it's mostly luck, but you can improve your odds by simply asking. If you happen to be at the Magic Kingdom at rope drop, head straight to Guest Services at Town Hall and ask if the veteran of the day has been selected. If not, you have someone to recommend. The veteran doesn't have to make the request in person, a friend or family member can do so. There's no guarantee you (or your friend/family member) will be selected, but your stand a decent chance, so it's worth trying.

See for yourself! You can see photos and watch video of the flag retreat ceremony from AllEars.net's Jack Spence.

I hope you will take a moment to remember, honor and thank veterans this Veterans' Day. These people have made incredible sacrifices (some the ultimate sacrifice) to keep freedom and liberty alive so that we all can enjoy a wonderful place like Walt Disney World.

To any readers who are vets, my most heartfelt thanks to you for serving our nation! You are true American heroes. To those readers who have lost veterans, you have my most heartfelt sympathies. I join you in remembering those who gave their lives to defend this nation.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Hall of Presidents

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As election returns come in on this election night, I thought I'd highlight an often overlooked attraction in the Magic Kingdom that chronicles those who have answered the call to serve in the nation's highest office: The Presidency.

An original opening day attraction, The Hall of Presidents was originally developed by Walt Disney himself. Back during the early days of Disneyland, Walt wanted to create an attraction that featured all the Presidents of the United States. Unfortunately, the technology to do so just hadn't been developed yet, so Walt set his sights instead on a single President: Abraham Lincoln. "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," which premiered at the 1964 New York World's Fair, was the end result of Walt's efforts. After the World's Fair ended, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln moved to Disneyland.

While Walt never gave up on his original idea, he would not live to see any further advancement on his original project.

After Walt's death in Dec. 1966, Imagineers were coming up with ideas for attractions for Liberty Square, one of the lands in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and decided to take another look at Walt Disney's original concept for an attraction featuring all the Presidents. In 1971, the Hall of Presidents was born.

When it first opened, the Hall of Presidents featured 36 Presidents (Richard Nixon was in the White House in 1971). Since then, seven more Presidents have been added (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama).

Last year, the attraction received a significant refurbishment, not just to add the 44th President of the United States (Mr. Obama), but also to add an all-new introduction film voiced by Morgan Freeman and new title: "The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty's Leaders." This new title echo's a new storyline, "We the People," paying tribute to the bond between the people and the President.

Outside the theatre, the lobby area is a treasure trove of hidden gems. The pre-show lobby features presidential portraits, display cases filled with personal artifacts of presidents including Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and George Washington, and large display cases exhibiting dresses and personal objects worn by several first ladies, including Edith Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife), Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan.

With all this history, why do so many people go right by? To be honest, I really don't understand it. The Hall of Presidents is a heart-stirring tribute to our nation's leaders and a technological marvel. The line for Peter Pan's Flight can be upwards of an hour and the audio animatronics are nowhere near the caliber of what's in the Hall of Presidents. Don't get me wrong, I really like Peter Pan's Flight, but I think the Hall of Presidents deserves its props for being just as much of a headliner as other attractions. In fact, when HOP opened in 1971, it was an "E" attraction.

The Hall of Presidents is much more than just a place to beat the heat or get out of the rain. The show is very moving and will make you proud to be an American (to my international friends, I hope you also are proud of your heritage as well, so please pardon by bit of national pride here).

I highly encourage you make the time to see the Hall of Presidents. The show runs about 25 minutes, so it's worth the effort. Who knows, in a few years, the show might be changing again. That's one thing that's always interesting about this attraction, when a new President takes the oath, it's time for another refurb for the Hall of Presidents.

Some interesting tidbits:

When Imagineers met with President Obama, they were scheduled to record his speech in the White House Map Room. The sound quality wasn’t optimum for the recording, so White House staff placed upholstered screens around the room to achieve good acoustic quality.

The new Audio-Animatronic Barack Obama stands on stage next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. His figure is one of the most lifelike because of the subtlety and smoothness of its movements and facial expressions.

Disney legend Blaine Gibson sculpted every president except Obama – his protégée, Disney sculptor Valerie Edwards, sculpted Obama with oversight by Gibson, now in his 90s.

While Barack Obama is the 44th president, there only 43 men standing on the Hall of Presidents stage when the curtain rises. That's because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, so he is both the 22nd and 24th president.

The Imagineering team combed through the National Archives, Library of Congress, museums and private collections to acquire more than 130 new images ultimately woven into the show.

In the 2009 re-launch of the attraction, Lincoln recites the Gettysburg address with the original Royal Dano recording directed by Walt for President Lincoln’s World’s Fair debut.