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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Epcot at rope drop

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

A little over a month ago, I had a tip about skipping the FastPass line for Toy Story Mania! just after rope drop. I received quite a bit of feedback from that post, so I thought I'd share another non-conventional approach when it comes to rope drop at Epcot.

At rope drop there are two major attractions people gravitate toward: Soarin' and Test Track. I'll address how to approach each attraction in turn.

Soarin'
Probably the second most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World (based on standby line times), Soarin' is located in the lower level of the Land pavilion in Future World West. At rope drop you can count on a hoard of people making their way to the Land pavilion. Cast members will direct guests to enter on the right side and walk along the right walkway to descend to the lower level and toward Soarin'. The vast majority of guests will line up at the FastPass machines and within minutes, there is a huge crowd of people all jockeying to get passes. The end result can often be a 15 minute wait just to get FastPasses.

The solution? Unless you happen to be toward the front of the line, skip the FastPass line. Go straight into the standby line. Odds are you will experience about the same wait or less by going standby. Still want a FastPass for Soarin'? No problem, just duck into the FastPass area as you come out the Soarin' exit (which takes you right past the FastPass machines anyway). By the time you come off the attraction, the huge crush to get FastPasses has dissipated and you can get a pass for later in the day.

Test Track
The second of Epcot's two main feature attractions, Test Track presents a bit of a different scenario when it comes to rope drop. First, it's not as popular as Soarin', so the initial FastPass crush isn't quite as huge and, similarly, the initial standby line isn't usually as long. So what do you do at rope drop? Head for the FastPass machines (at first). If you can find a fairly short line, then go ahead and catch a FastPass. If, on the other hand, there's a long line to get passes, then skip the FastPass and go right into the standby line. Just like Soarin', you can always get FastPasses after your first round on Test Track. As you come out the exit, just hang a right and you'll be right at the FastPass area.

I hope this brief tip will convince you just how important it is to get the parks early each day. You can do so much more when you are part of rope drop.

Have fun!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Flower and Garden from the Monorail

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!
(ugh! I have got to find a way to make Tuesday nights less busy!!)

We're in the middle of the annual Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot -- which means Epcot will be at it's most beautiful time of the whole year!

Some of the floral displays are so large that it's hard to really take in all the massive displays, especially along the small lake between Future World and World Showcase.

What you need is a new vantage point -- and you can get that on the monorail!

So this week's tip is pretty simple -- take the monorail from the TTC to Epcot. Doing so allows you to make a nice slow loop around Future World, which gives you plenty of opportunities to see those beautiful floral displays.

As you can see from these photos, Imagineering and the Disney horticultural staff spend a ton of time putting up these incredible displays -- you simply have to take a moment to ride the monorail and take in the sights.

There's so much more to the Flower and Garden Festival -- and I'll talk more about some of the other features next week (and with any luck it will actually be on Tuesday!).

Until next time!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kingdom Keepers 4: Power Play hits shelves in April



The fourth installment of the popular Kingdom Keepers series will hit bookshelves April 5.

In this latest edition, the Kingdom Keepers learn that the Overtakers may be trying to rescue Maleficent and Chermabog from their current prisons. But what has the Kingdom Keepers even more worried is that the Overtakers may have found out a way for their DHI selves to escape from Disney's control (inside VMK) and connect to the internet, where they are searching for followers.

At the same time, there is contention within the Keepers themselves. Can the Kingdom Keepers stay together as a team to stop whatever the Overtakers are up to? You'll just have to read/listen to the book to find out! Above is a video preview created by Disney.

I've been a big fan of the Kingdom Keepers series since book 1 (Kingdom Keepers: Disney after Dark) was released years ago. Ridley Pearson has a great deal of imagination and includes intricate details about the parks. In writing these books, he had a lot of backstage and after-hours access to all kinds of places in Walt Disney World. It's that level of detail that makes the Kingdom Keepers series so engaging.

Pre-order from Amazon.com.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Pre-Parade Fun

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!
(Sadly, yet another on a Wednesday... why does everything else happen on Tuesday nights?)

One of the main attractions for which hundreds (sometimes thousands) of guests each day line Main Street, Liberty Square and Frontierland to watch is the afternoon parade. I've mentioned before that guests wanting to watch the parade should pick out a spot at least 30 minutes in advance (45 minutes during peak times of year).

So you've got your family's spot all picked out and now it's time to... wait.

And wait. And wait.

I think we all know that kids and waiting are a tough combination - that's one of the reasons Disney gives so much attention to making attraction queues as interesting as possible so that guests, especially younger ones, don't get bored why waiting in line.

Waiting for a parade to start is no different, and Disney's approach to combating that wait is no different either.

As the time for the parade nears, cast members will start putting down tape or rope to identify where guests can and can't sit or stand to watch the parade. This is to make sure there's plenty of clear space for the parade to go through. Once that clear space is ready, there's plenty of room for a bit of fun!

That's when cast members will bring out chalk, hula hoops, etc. and will let kids literally play in the street by drawing on the pavement, doing hula hoops, singing, dancing, etc. The time for kids to cut loose while waiting for the parade to start is another fantastic way kids can also have a chance to meet and interact with cast members, who make the wait so much more fun.

Above you will see my daughter having a blast with a hula hoop (and burning off a little energy) while we waited for the afternoon parade to begin. The cast member was very nice and seemed to have fun playing along.

A few minutes before the parade is due to come through, cast members kindly get kids back to their proper places, and clear the street. The next thing you know, here comes the parade!

So next time you're thinking about waiting for the afternoon parade, try to have a little fun in the street with your kids -- remember they won't be kids forever.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TRON prequel trailer hits the net

Coming with the Blu-Ray/DVD release of Tron Legacy is a preview trailer for TRON Uprising, which is a 10-part miniseries that will air on Disney XD summer 2012. After seeing this trailer, I just might have to find a way to get Disney XD!

Check it out!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Enhancing Photopass pictures -- a how to guide

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've finally managed to get all my Photopass pictures enhanced from my last trip to Walt Disney World. As I was enhancing photos, I was posting my progress on my Facebook page. Several people commented that they weren't aware you could enhance photos or how to do so.

Well now you're going to find out because this week's tip is a DIY for enhancing your Photopass pictures -- and best of all, no photo editing software is required -- and it doesn't cost anything extra!

So let's get started!

First, of course, you need to have some Photopass pictures to work with. In my very first Tip Tuesday post, I talked about how Photopass works, so be sure to go back and read that post for more if you're not familiar with how to get Photopass pictures in the parks. Can you believe that was two-and-a-half years ago?? Anyway, I digress...

Once you have some pictures loaded onto your Photopass card, you'll need to go to the Photopass Web site at http://www.disneyphotopass.com/. If you don't have an account set up yet, take a moment to do so.

Once you're logged in, enter the code from the back of your Photopass card. Your photos will be loaded into your online account and will show up grouped by location. You also might have some bonus content as well! I'll save that bit for a future tip.


Now it's time to start enhancing! Just select a photo you want to enhance. For the purposes of our demonstration, I am using one of the bonus photos from my most recent trip. As you can see in the image above, you have several options in the window to the right of your image. There are two main enhancing sections -- adjustments to the photo itself and borders you can add. For the most part, you will probably be adding borders. If you want to get a bit fancier, you can manipulate the image itself and have some interesting results. The best news is that no matter what you do, you're not changing the original image.

So to add a border, simply select a border in the window and click on it. The main image will now be shown with your border applied. If you want to change the border, just click on a different one and the main image will be adjusted again. Once you have the border you want, just click "Save as Copy." In a second or so, your image will be saved. You can easily tell that your image has been added when you see something like this:

Notice how the "Save as Copy" button now says "Save" and you're got a new thumbnail in the list of images at the bottom of the screen?

Now what if you want to add another border? No problem. Just select the original image again. It's the first image in that series of shots -- loot at all the Mickey and Minnie images in the screenshot above. The first one in the series is the original. You'll know when you're editing the original when the "Save" button again says "Save as Copy." Just select a different border, and again click "Save as Copy." A new thumbnail will appear. Before you know it, you will have many different enhancements to the same image. Just look at the image at the top of this post. They're all different enhancements of the same photo.

Want to add another enhancement? Just go through the same steps again and again and again. You can add as many enhancements as you want. One caveat, though. You can't add multiple enhancements to the same image. For instance, you can add each of the fab five characters to some shots. Unfortunately, you can't add ALL five at the same time -- only one at a time.

Want to get really creative? Click on the "Edit Photo" tab and you can manipulate your original photos in a number of ways. With "rotate image," you are rotating the actual image 90-degrees counter-clockwise. I've never used this particular option, but it's there.

"Position" allows you to move the position of the crop box. This used in conjunction with the "zoom" tool will help you tighten a shot that you think is too wide. Just be careful you don't zoom in too far that you don't leave enough room for border enhancements.

"Rotate crop box" is very useful for taking a portrait photo and adjusting the crop box so it's in landscape orientation. I've used this frequently when a photographer forgets to take a landscape photo. Sometimes parts of the background may get cut off, but since this is a copy of the original image, there's no harm in making that change. Best of all, you can still add enhancements by clicking on the "Add Borders" tab, but now you're enhancing a landscape photo, not portrait.

My most favorite effect is to convert the image to black and white and then apply a color border. It creates a pretty interesting photo. See for yourself -- look at the montage at the top and check out the bottom left photo.

Another caveat -- not all enhancements are available for all shots. It just depends on where the shot was taken and what enhancements Disney wants to make available for that shot. For instance, a photo with Mickey Mouse will include the option to put Mickey's signature in the shot, but you can't put in Donald's.

On the plus side, Disney is adding new enhancement options all the time. This is especially true during special events. You just might see special enhancements for the Flower and Garden Festival for those shots taken in Epcot, or see special holiday enhancements for images taken during the holidays.

One downside of this capability is that you have to make enhancements one at a time. Most unfortunately, you can't select all the enhancements you want to apply to a photo and click once to apply them and get multiple additional images. That's why it can take a while to enhance Photopass images. The effort is well worth it, especially if you plan to get the Photo CD - which is by far the only way to go.

As I said before, there's no additional cost at all to enhance photos. Again, if you're getting the Photo CD, it doesn't matter if you started with 150 images and ended up with more than 750 (which is just about what I did for this last trip) the price is the same.

So if you know you're going to get the PhotoCD, be sure to get lots and lots of Photopass images that you can later enhance. They are perfect for making those scrapbooks that much more magical!!!

What's your favorite enhancement? Have some other neat effects to suggest? Post a comment!

Friday, March 4, 2011

ESPN the weekend gets underway

Marquee stars from the NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAA, plus well-known ESPN on-air personalities, are headed back to Walt Disney World Resort for the eighth annual Dick's Sporting Goods presents ESPN The Weekend -- a sports-themed weekend March 4-6 where fans have a one-of-a-kind opportunity see and hear many of their favorite athletes and ESPN personalities.

This year's lineup at Disney's Hollywood Studios features more than 35 athletes and ESPN stars, including former University of Florida football coach and current ESPN college football analyst Urban Meyer, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, N.Y. Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, NBA Hall of Famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving and MLB Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., plus former NFL star Derrick Brooks, ex-NBA great Alonzo Mourning and current Orlando Magic players.

Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, hosts of the popular "Mike & Mike in the Morning" show, return as co-hosts of the event, and will broadcast live March 3-4 from ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney. They will be joined by several fellow ESPN personalities such as "The Herd" host Colin Cowherd, "Monday Night Football's" Ron Jaworski and MLB analyst Nomar Garciaparra.

Additional ESPN personalities include, Tedy Bruschi, Linda Cohn, Herm Edwards, John Kruk, Karl Ravech, Bobby Valentine and Trey Wingo.

Other athletes expected to participate are Donald Driver and Greg Jennings (Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers), Anquan Boldin (Baltimore Ravens), Brandon Jacobs (NY Giants), Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh Steelers), Darrelle Revis (NY Jets), Bart Scott (NY Jets), Roddy White (Atlanta Falcons), DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers) and Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys); Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain (NY Yankees); Frank Thomas and Bernie Williams (MLB legends); Mia Hamm (U.S. Women's soccer legend); Karl Malone and Gary Payton (NBA legends); and Tony Dorsett and Mike Singletary (NFL Hall of Famers).

The complete list of ESPN personalities and sports celebrities expected to attend is detailed at www.espntheweekend.com (Click on Who's Coming).

For the first time in the event's history, several popular sports team mascots will participate in the event, including the Phillie Phanatic (Philadelphia Phillies), Albert E. Gator (University of Florida), the Penn State Nittany Lion, the Oregon Duck, Homer The Brave (Atlanta Braves), Captain Fear the Buccaneer (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Sebastian the Ibis (University of Miami).

In addition to athlete appearances, ESPN The Weekend will feature on-site telecasts of popular ESPN programs (beginning Thursday, March 3) at Disney's Hollywood Studios and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney, including "Baseball Tonight," "First Take," "Mike & Mike in the Morning," "NFL Live" and "Friday Night Fights;" motorcades and Q&A sessions with athletes and ESPN personalities; Inside ESPN sports shows with commentators and athletes; and the ESPN Sports Zone interactive area where fans can interact with their favorite sports stars. There will also be Atlanta Braves spring training games taking place at ESPN Wide World of Sports, including a March 3 game against the Tigers that airs on ESPN with new "Sunday Night Baseball'' crew Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Valentine.

To find the latest updates on Twitter for ESPN The Weekend, go to @DisneySports and search #ESPNWKND.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wide World of Sports unveils new field house


Walt Disney World and HP today unveiled the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex during a ceremony that featured NFL star Jason Witten and soccer legend Mia Hamm, along with ESPN Radio’s Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg and executives from HP and Disney. The project will deliver an even more immersive sports experience for the nearly two million athletes, coaches and spectators who visit Disney’s sports facilities each year.

The 165,000-square-foot HP Field House, a multi-purpose facility that can accommodate virtually any indoor sport and has been the cornerstone of ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex since it opened in 1997, has been outfitted with a variety of innovative HP enhancements, such as touch-screen kiosks and a one-of-a-kind retail imaging area. Additionally, HP technology is being infused throughout the 230-acre complex, enabling athletes, coaches and fans to have an unparalleled “hands-on” sports experience while providing ways to customize their visit with amenities previously unseen in youth sports.

The most prominent feature of the HP Field House is the HP Photo Creation Center, where players and fans can download, design and enhance commemorative photos and images from their events, then immediately produce and print them at an onsite retail location. Guests will also be able to purchase life-size posters of action photos from the complex, wallpaper coverings, multi-page calendars, photo CDs and many other unique photo keepsakes, giving athletes, coaches and fans even more ways to cherish their sports memories long after their competitions have concluded.

“Today’s youth athletes are extremely tech savvy and HP is the perfect partner to help them better capture and savor the lasting memories of their unique sports experience in ways that no other sports venue can,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president, Disney Sports Enterprises.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Tip "boards"

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday! (yeah, it's a Wednesday... oh well).

By request, I'm talking about ways to cut down on the amount of time you may spend waiting in lines... and one of the ways to beat the lines is with, well, Lines!

Lines in an application provided by TouringPlans.com that you can download for just about any smartphone (iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, Palm Pre) and/or as a mobile website at http://m.touringplans.com/wdw.

At first, Lines was a free service. Now that the kinks are worked out (and even on the 2nd version), it does require a modest subscription to the entire TouringPlans.com website. Subscriptions run around $10-$12 for an entire year, which is pretty reasonable given that you get 365 day access no matter where you are (as opposed to Disney's official service -- Mobile Magic, which is much more expensive for only 6 months, and it only works when you're actually in the parks).

Lines offers two tools to help you keep track of wait times at various attractions: 1. line estimates and 2. reported wait times.

Let's talk about these for a second. The estimates are generated based on a highly complicated formulas and statistical models using more than ten years worth of data. While these are only forecasts, they are generally pretty accurate. The folks at TouringPlans.com include a bunch of factors when creating their crowd forecasts, and the end result is very helpful for planning, especially if you're one of those who likes to "wing it" sometimes.

Even more helpful (in my opinion) are the actual wait times posted by other Lines users. That's right -- not only are you getting information, but you can be part of the team by uploading your own wait times (more on that in a minute). When you open up the Lines app, you'll want to first select your park, then scroll down past the wait estimates and click on "Reported Wait Times." This will give you a listing of reported wait times and posted FastPass times is reverse chronological order (most recent on top). These are actual posted times and can really help you decide which attractions to head to.

Lines also helps you keep connected to the magic. Even if you're not at the World, you can hop onto Lines and just check wait times to see what's going on. In fact, as I write this, Lines is up and I see that all the parks are, well, closed. But just before closing, Soarin' had a 20 minute wait... not too bad!

If you want to add your own time, you can do that as well. Just go to the park you want to post and click on the button at the top right to add your own time. It's pretty easy and you'll get credit for the posting!

Lines is a fantastic way to stay on top of wait times. Now if you don't want to pay for the subscription, there is a free way to get some idea of wait times through Disney's mobile site: http://m.disneyworld.com/.

Disney's mobile site will give wait times in three categories: see now, moderate or high demand. Though I've not heard of an official explanation, it appears that "see now" wait times generally are 20 minutes or less. "Moderate" wait times usually are about 20-40 minutes, while "high demand" wait times are around 40 minutes or more. This is just my observation, so take this with a grain of salt.

Since I've subscribed to Lines, I rarely check the Disney mobile site. Personally, I think Lines is well worth the money. Think about it, if spending $10 saves you a few hours of waiting over the course of a trip, that's well worth it.

So there you go -- one more way to save a bit of time and keep in touch with what's happening at Walt Disney World even when you're not in the parks.