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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top 10 of '09

As the final minutes of 2009 tick away, I wanted to take a moment and share with you my top 10 Disney moments for 2009.

And here they are:

10. Expanding my involvement in the Disney community to now include writing for Celebrations Magazine and working with the WDW Radio Show.

9. Seeing Disney's return to 2-D hand drawn animation in The Princess and the Frog.

8. Spending Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World. It's always such a treat to experience the holidays at WDW.

7. Attending MagicMeets in August. Never before have I been in a place where everyone was such huge Disney fans. To think that two pieces of my photography together sold for more than $600 to benefit the Disney World Trivia Dream Team!! That was such a huge thrill for me!

6. Being named the Biggest Disney Fan -- look for so much more about this in 2010!!!

5. Covering (remotely), the announcement of the Fantasyland expansion and Star Tours 2 at the D23 Expo. It was a fast and furious time gathering and posting different images and information. It reminded me of my old news days.

4. Spending literally days in front of a computer watching Lou Mongello's live coverage of the D23 Expo. I consider it an honor to be called a "Box Person."

3. Becoming a D23 Charter Member. While I haven't personally had the chance to take part in different events (I'm going to do everything I can to be at the 2010 D23 Expo), I've very much enjoyed being a D23 member and all the magazines, official blog and more that D23 has created.

2. With all the blog, D23 activity and other work, I've made so many new Disney friends that I feel truly blessed to be a part of the online Disney community. I look forward to making even new friends in the coming year.

1. Writing this blog and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I have really enjoyed writing this blog and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Look for more to come in 2010!


As for what 2010 will bring -- I am looking forward to so many Disney-related events!! These include:

Many, many more blog posts here on DisneyDaddy.

More articles in Celebrations Magazine and WDW Radio.

Running in the 2010 WDW Half Marathon.

The Biggest Disney Fan trip and all the amazing experiences that are planned -- best of all, I get to share these experiences with you!

... and so much more!!

2010 is going to be an outstanding year-- so let's get started!

Have a happy and safe new year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marathon Weekend program now online

Disney has posted the official program for the 2010 marathon weekend online. It contains important information for participants and spectators, so be sure to check it out if you're heading down to Disney this weekend.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tip Tuesday: New Year's Eve at WDW

Welcome to the final Tip Tuesday for 2009.

With New Year's Eve nearly upon us, I thought I'd share a few quick tips about spending the final night of the year at Walt Disney World.

The first that many will say is: DON'T!!!

It's no secret that the week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest, most crowded time of the entire year at WDW, and they would be right. According to the crowd calendar at TouringPlans.com, the crowds at the parks are a full out 10 (meaning peak standby wait times for the headliner attractions of 2+ hours) from Christmas to New Year's Day.

This being said, though, there are still plenty of ways to have a wonderful and magical New Year's Eve at the happiest place on Earth.

First, stay away from the Magic Kingdom. Unless you are dead-set on seeing the New Year's Eve fireworks (which are incredible, I hear), then you would be well-served to avoid the Magic Kingdom like the plague. If you do want to be in the Magic Kingdom for New Year's Eve, then get there early because it is very likely that the park will hit maximum capacity by mid-day and will close to new guests. Also plan on finding a place to watch the fireworks at least 90 minutes in advance. Be prepared to sit or stand a while.

If you really want to see the special New Year's Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, there are some other options that won't be as crowded, though it requires some advance planning.
  • Try to schedule a Wishes desert cruise on the Grand One or other boat. It will be expensive, but there won't be a crowd.
  • Get a boat from Grand Floridian, Contemporary or Wilderness Lodge and sit out on the Seven Seas Lagoon to watch the fireworks.
  • Go to the beach at the Polynesian and watch from across the lagoon (the beach next to the Wedding Pavilion is good too).
  • Stand on the docks near Narcoosee's at the Grand Floridian.
  • If you time it right, take the ferryboat from the TTC to the main entrance and sit up top.
  • There's always the California Grill -- just be ready to make that ADR 180 days in advance!
So if you shouldn't go to the Magic Kingdom, where should you go?

You can try Epcot, though it's nearly as crowded as the Magic Kingdom. Your best bet for a park is either Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. This is mostly because many guests are interested in the nighttime events (Wishes or Illuminations) that have special New Year's Eve shows. Normally Hollywood Studios doesn't have fireworks, so most guests tend not to go to the Studios on New Year's Eve. While the park will be crowded, it won't be totally nuts like the Magic Kingdom or Epcot.

Here's the extra gem: For the past few years, Disney has put on a smaller fireworks show at Hollywood Studios for New Year's Eve. So you might just get to see some fireworks after all. Besides, you can always hang out at the Boardwalk near Jellyrolls to see some of the fireworks over at Illuminations.

Personally, my recommendation for a nice New Year's Eve is to make an ADR (remember to book 180 days in advance!) at a signature restaurant with your significant other. What better way to end the year than dinner with someone you love.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Princess and the Frog hints at a return to Disney's glory days


It's amazing just how much a 16-18" snow will push your plans back for days and days.

I had originally planned to catch Disney's newest movie, The Princess and the Frog, during the first week it opened, but a little (actually, huge) snowstorm changed all those plans.

So, it wasn't until today that I had the opportunity to see this film that has been heralded as the long-awaited return to 2-D hand drawn animation and bring you a review and my thoughts.

So without any further introduction, here is my review:

GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!

Seriously, if you are a fan of any of Disney's hand-drawn classics, such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White or The Lion King, then you must see The Princess and the Frog. Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter wasn't kidding when he said this movie marked Disney's return to 2-D animation.

I'll go even further and say that The Princess and the Frog ushers in a return the grandeur and cinematic brilliance of Disney animation's modern glory days from the 1980's and early 90's.

Now, I'm not just gushing over the fact that Disney's finally released a 2-D movie, rather it's that The Princess and the Frog also marks a return to the kind of storytelling that pulls at your heart and makes you sing with joy. Somehow, these two elements work best hand-in-hand.

I know The Princess and the Frog took a long time to produce, but it's clear that the time was well spent. Each character, especially Tiana and Naveen have been well-developed with a complete backstory that helps to make these characters even more believable. Tiana is a strong-willed, focused and driven woman intent on achieving her dreams. She embodies Walt Disney's saying, "if you can dream it, you can do it." Tiana has a dream and she constantly strives through hard work and determination to achieve it. In one line of her song, "so work real hard each and every day," perfectly describes Tiana's work ethic learned from her father.

When The Princess and the Frog was first announced, many made a big deal out of the fact that Tiana would become Disney's first black princess. To be honest, I never even saw the color of Tiana's skin, which is how it should be. Instead, I saw an independent woman determined to achieve her goals. There is a hint of the differences between the races as was prevalent in the early 1900's, but it is not thrust into our faces. Big Daddy is a rich white person who's daughter, Charlotte, has no concept of what it means to work to achieve a goal. She thinks you just make your wish and it comes true. Tiana, on the other hand, learned at a young age that, as her father says, "wishes only take you so far." Dreams come to those who work for them.

Naveen, in contrast, is another black character who is every bit as reckless and care-free as Charlotte. Some key scenes in the film even poke fun at how Naveen hasn't worked hard for anything. Throughout the story, we see the true transformation of Naveen, not from prince to frog, but from irresponsible playboy to a loving, caring man. At first, I thought he was a bit over the top with the whole playboy-thing, but it's plain that this was necessary to most effectively setup the later transformation.

Then there's Dr. Facilier, the evil voodoo "shadow man," who is our main villain. This is one great villain. He is scheming, manipulative, swave, ruthless and, like many villains, working for some even greater evil powers. All throughout the film, Facilier is working to serve his own interests, no matter who he swindles and deceives along the way. I heard one person comment that Facilier wasn't "in" the movie enough, but I disagree. His presence was just right. Much like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Faciler is around just enough to prevent the primary characters from prevailing, yet isn't so overpowering that we lose the love story that develops along the way. In the end is a climatic battle, though not your typical good-vs-evil struggle. You'll just have to see it for yourself.

With such a well-developed story in hand, the animators created characters so real that there were times where the dialog wasn't needed. For instance, not one word needed to be said for us, the audience, to understand just how deep Ray's love for his Evangeline is. It was all in his eyes. That's something I don't think translates as well in CG animation.

In a similar manner, the environment is spot-on. Within minutes, I could feel myself being immersed in early 1900's New Orleans. The directors did a fantastic job of maintaining the New Orleans charm without slipping into the pit of stereotyping. To be honest, when I first saw the trailer, I thought that's what happened with the character of Ray, the cajun firefly. I was wrong. Ray is a heartfelt, fun-loving character who portrays the cajun spirit without being stereotypical.

Like New Orleans itself during Mardi Gras, the Princess and the Frog is filled with color, rich and vibrant. Even during some of the darker scenes (I'll keep this spoiler free), there still is a hint of color, just as there is a hint of hope.

As if all this eye-candy wasn't enough, there's plenty of ear-candy as well. There are seven original songs and a wonderful score by Randy Newman of Toy Story fame. The music is toe-tapping, heartfelt and inspiring. Newman took a great deal of inspiration from the musical heritage of New Orleans including jazz, blues and gospel. Music is a key part of what makes up New Orleans and The Princess and the Frog quite nicely blends music into the entire story, especially through the antics of Louis the trumpet-playing crocodile. This is one soundtrack you'll be glad you picked up. I got this soundtrack a few days ago and have listened to it several times already.

Disney has hit a grand slam with The Princess and the Frog. I'm hopeful the glory days of animation have returned and Disney continues with 2-D hand-drawn animation. Leave the 3-D CG films to the experts at Pixar. The Disney Animation Studios have re-asserted themselves as the experts at traditional 2-D. That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Holidays at the WDW resorts

Beach Club Gingerbread Carousel

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In this final installment of tips for the holidays at Walt Disney World, I wanted to take you not to any park, but to some of the different resorts around Walt Disney World.

While the parks do have wonderful and amazing holiday decorations and events, the resorts also deck their halls with some incredible displays, including edible art!

No visit to Walt Disney World at the holidays would be complete without spending at least some time seeing the different displays at the resorts, so let's start with the monorail resorts.

At the Grand Floridian, be sure to stop by the life-size gingerbread house. That's right, it's life-size!! Where else can you find a recipe that calls for more than 1,000 pounds of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 700 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of flour, 35 pounds of spices, tons of creativity and a pinch of Disney magic and pixie dust!

In addition to the huge gingerbread house, be sure to take a moment to listen to the live music being played up on the balcony by a small orchestra. Also, be sure to bring your PhotoPass card, because Disney's photographers set up a mini portrait studio in front of the huge tree in the lobby each evening. You can get top-quailty portrait photos taken with no sitting fee. They'll go right onto your PhotoPass account (yet another reason why PhotoPass is such a great idea!).

Continuing around the monorail loop, we come to the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts. Each resort also displays their own confectionary creations. The Contemporary has different gingerbread displays each year (this year, it's a gingerbread tree and characters inspired by Mary Blair), while the Polynesian displays holiday decorations with a distinct polynesian flair.

While we're in the Magic Kingdom area, you must take a quick boat ride over to Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Here you will find a massive tree filled with different rustic decorations. As you walk into the lobby, you are immersed into the sensation of the holidays in the great northwest. It's as if the snow is falling outside and you're snug inside by the fire. It's well worth the trip just to see this lobby.

As we leave the Magic Kingdom area resorts, we travel down the monorail, through Epcot and the International Gateway and on to Disney's Beach and Yacht Club resorts. These resorts host two more wonderful edible holiday displays. At the Beach Club, be sure to see the working gingerbread carousel (pictured above). Yes, I said it's working -- it acutally moves. Like all the other gingerbread displays, there are plenty of hidden mickey's abound, so keep a sharp eye out!

At the Yacht Club you'll find a wonderful train set featuring many Disney Department 56 houses.

Continuing around Crescent Lake, we take a quick stop at the Dolphin Resort where there is a huge tree made entirely of white poinsettias.

Next up is the Boardwalk resort, where we find another gingerbread creation - a gazebo with a model train set running around it. Again, more hidden mickeys are all over the place. While at the boardwalk, be sure to see some of the beautiful garland strung throughout the lobby.

Finally, we make our way over to Disney's Animal Kingdom resort for what might be the most interesting holiday display, simply because it's so different from the rest. Another huge tree greets us as we enter the lobby. This tree is covered with African-inspired ornaments. Like the Wilderness Lodge, it's worth a visit just to see these decorations.

The holidays are one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World and I hope these series of tips will help you enjoy your holiday visit to the happiest and merriest place on Earth!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DisneyDaddy returns to WDW Radio Show again

I had the pleasure and honor to again record a segment of the WDW Radio Show with Lou Mongello.

To listen or download the show, go to the WDW Radio.com Web page.

Disney announces dates for 2010 Star Wars Weekends

The official Disney Parks blog has announced the dates for the 2010 Star Wars Weekends.
  • May 21 – 23
  • May 28 – 30
  • June 4 – 6
  • June 11 – 13

So far, there's no word on what celebrities will be in attendance. With the big Star Wars Celebration convention coming to Orlando in August, I wouldn't be surprised if some big names happen to show up!

One thing that won't be at the 2010 SWW will be the Disney/Star Wars big figs. Last year, Disney announced they would not be producing any more SWW big figs after the 2009 event.

If you're a Star Wars fan, this is a must-do! I went to the 2007 Star Wars Weekends and had a blast!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Disney offers new booking promotion

The official Disney Parks Blog today announced a new promotion aimed at enticing guests to book on-property stays at Walt Disney World.

Book any 5-night/6-day non-discounted package through the Walt Disney Travel Company at a select Walt Disney World resort hotel and you could receive a Disney gift card up to $750. Note that this offer is for non-discounted rooms, meaning that you will probably pay the rack rate for the room.

Here are the details:
  • Book at a deluxe or villa resort and receive a $750 Disney gift card
  • Book at a moderate resort and receive a $500 Disney gift card
  • Book at a value resort and receive a $300 Disney gift card
There are limitations, so if you're interested, be sure to see the details page at Disneyworld.com. This offer is for bookings made by March 27 for travel dates up to June 3.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Captain EO returns to Disneyland, for now

This coming February, the late Michael Jackson will return to Disneyland as Captain EO, one of Disney's first 3D films will once again be shown, according to the DisneyParks official blog. Disney officials say Captain EO will take over the space currently housing Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Captian EO's time at Disneyland will be limited, though there was no indication of how long EO would run.

This announcement has re-ignited rumors that a similar move is planned for Epcot at Walt Disney World, where Honey I Shrunk the Audience currently is playing in the space Captain EO first premiered in Sept. 1986. Thus far, there is no word from Disney on any plans for Captain EO at Epcot.

My take:
While I'm not a huge MJ fan, it would be nice to see EO return to Epcot for a limited time. This would be a good opportunity for Disney to take out an aging outdated attraction like HISTA and, after EO's run is done, replace it with something new and fresh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A sad day for Disney as Roy E. Disney passes away

Roy E. Disney, son of Roy O. Disney and nephew of Walt Disney died today at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer.

Disney was a key figure in the hiring, and later firing, of now former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. He fought to keep the creative spirit alive during times when, as he would put it, the Disney company was more like a real estate company than a movie studio.

Roy O. Disney leaves behind two daughters, Abigail Disney and Susan M. Disney Lord, as well as sons Roy P. Disney and Timothy J. Disney, and 16 grandchildren.

I would like to express my condolences to the entire Disney family and company.

More on Roy O. Disney's passing from the Orlando Sentinel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Holidays at Epcot

Candlelight Processional

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In my continuing series about the holidays at Walt Disney World, I wanted to take you to Epcot to experience all the holiday happenings there.

Epcot (my favorite park, especially for the holidays), offers so many holiday-related opportunities that it's hard to fit it all into a single day. That being said, anyone planning to experience some of Epcot's holiday events would do well with a little bit of preparation beforehand. Most holiday events begin the Friday after Thanksgiving and conclude December 30.

So without further adieu, let's go!

The Candlelight Processional
This is Epcot's holiday "main event" featuring a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir consisting of the Voices of Liberty, honor choirs from local high schools and guest choirs from high schools across the nation. Each night there are three performances (5:00, 6:15, and 8:00 p.m.). In addition, special celebrity narrators tell the Christmas story in conjunction with the choir. This year's narrators include Whoopi Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose (voice of Princess Tiana), John O'Hurley, Vanessa Williams, Andy Garcia and more.

The Candlelight Processional is, by far, Epcot's most popular holiday event. If you're planning to see one of these shows, you'll want to keep the following tips in mind.

1. There are two ways to get a seat. The first is to purchase a Candlelight Dinner Package. This package includes dinner at one of the restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase, guaranteed seating in the America Gardens Pavilion and reserved viewing location for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (and holiday tag). This is a popular option and a lot of people book these dinner packages.

If you want to make sure you get a decent seat - you'll want to give this option serious consideration. Prices run from $32.99 (lunch, tier 1) to $59.99 (dinner, tier 3) per person. The prices vary depending on what show time you reserve and where you dine. Those booking a Candlelight Dinner Package should check-in at the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package booth near the America Gardens Pavilion no later than 15 minutes before the show. I would recommend checking in no later than 40-minutes in advance, especially if you want a seat towards the front. I've seen the dinner package line run from the pavilion all the way to Morocco. That's a lot of people!!!

2. If you don't want to book a dinner package, you can roll the dice and try the standby line. This line forms on the Italy side of the America Gardens Pavilion. Once all the guests from the dinner packages have been seated, the standby line opens. If you get a seat, it will most likely be toward the back of the pavilion, and there is no guarantee of getting a seat. Your best chance for getting a standby seat is try to attend a show in the middle of the week and before about December 20th when crowds begin to swell. The closer to Christmas, the more crowded the parks (and Epcot) will become.

3. If you're standing anyway - how about standing room only? This is the option I've used when I've watched the Candlelight Processional and, as you can see from the photo above, you get a decent view. This option, as well, requires some advance work. I like to stand on the rope line behind the left side of the pavilion, near the center. If you can get on the rope, you'll have an near un-impeded view of the show (since you're standing and everyone else is sitting). You also get a wonderful (and, depending on where you're standing) close-up view of the choirs processional into the pavilion. Your feet will be tired, so be sure to wear good shoes (you should be anyway -- you're at a park!).

4. If you don't care about seeing the show and just hearing it, try to find a table outside the Liberty Inn. The show's plenty loud, so you'll hear everything just fine. Best of all, you might be able to make it a real "dinner" show, with a bite from the Liberty Inn.

The Candlelight Processional is awe-inspiring and highly recommended. This is a DisneyDaddy must do!

Holiday Storytellers in Norway

Holidays Storytellers Around The World
Now for another DisneyDaddy must do -- the Holiday Storytellers. At every World Showcase pavilions, Disney puts on a brief show feature a holiday figure from that host country. For instance, in China, the Monkey King tells the story about the Chinese New Year, while in Norway, Sigrid tells the story of the mischievous Julenissen, the Christmas Gnome (see photo above). The America Adventure pavilion actually features three storytellers, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Santa and Mrs. Claus.

These performances happen several times during the afternoon and evening. If you're interested, be sure to check the daily times guide when you enter Epcot.

These storytellers are absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend seeing every one. There are thirteen presentations in all. It's pretty tough to see them all in one day, so I suggest devoting two afternoons to seeing all the storytellers.

Unlike the Candlelight Processional, you don't need to show up quite as early. If you want an up front viewpoint (there are no seats, this are out on the promenade), you'll want to be in place about 10 minutes early (15-minutes early closer to Christmas when the crowds are heavier).

Parents: These are wonderful photo opportunities as each storyteller will allow some time for photos after the performance. Have your camera ready as PhotoPass photographers aren't usually on hand (though they can be).


Joyful
New this year is a gospel group performing at Innoventions Plaza in a show called "Joyful," featuring the talents of D'Vine Voices. Joyful is performed four times from 1:15 to 4:15 p.m. each day and blends gospel and inspirational music with jazz, soul and R&B. This is another wonderful show with music you can't help but sing along with.

There are so many wonderful holiday events at Epcot that guests really have to make a choice: holiday events or attractions. You just can't do it all in a day (or even two). For my family, we always choose the holiday events. What better way to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year in the most wonderful place on Earth!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Last week, I talked about a few tips to get the most out of the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights over at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

This week, I wanted to discuss some tips for best experiencing the ultra-popular Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP).

This parade is one of the best you will see at Walt Disney World all year, and it's well worth watching. The hitch is, everyone else knows it's a great parade as well, especially on Main Street, so the crowds tend to congregate along Main Street.

So, how do you best experience the parade during MVMCP? It depends on your schedule and what's most important to you.

If you can stay late (at least 11 p.m.):
Catch the second parade. Most people tend to flock to Main Street to see the first parade, which usually runs around 8:15 p.m. The crowds stay around Main Street to watch Holiday Wishes at 9:30 p.m. and then make a beeline for the exit. The end result? Far fewer people to watch the second parade at around 10:30 p.m. You'll stand a much better chance to get a great vantage point, perhaps even the highly sought after view down Main Street (see image above). I took this shot during the second parade during a 2008 MVMCP.

If you can't stay late:
Your options get a little more limited, because time is more limited. If seeing the parade is a high priority, then find a spot at least 35-45 minutes ahead of time, especially for spots along Main Street. If you don't have that much time (or don't want to devote that much time to waiting), consider some alternate parade viewing locations, like Frontierland. The crowds tend to be a bit lighter in Frontierland where the parade starts.

Either way, find a spot early, especially for prime viewing. Even if you're planning to catch the second parade, if you want some of the prime viewing spots, you'll need to get your spot at least 30 minutes in advance for the second parade.

Be prepared to sit a while, and have the right gear:
The Once Upon a Christmastime Parade is long!! It runs around 20-25 minutes. If you're planning to record the parade (it's well worth it!!), be sure you have plenty of tape or hard drive space to capture the entire parade. It's also a VERY good idea to bring a tripod. The lighting is darker that you might suspect and having a tripod, even a small one, will help make your video look better.
As for still photography, the darker lighting makes shooting the parade especially challenging. Most point-and-shoot cameras don't have the flash strength to properly illuminate the floats, even if you're at the rope line. I suggest learning how to use your camera's manual settings and use a longer shutter time. With some practice, you can take a fairly steady shot at 1/30th of a second or faster. Using a tripod for your still shots can produce some outstanding shots, as you can really use a slow shutter speed.
So there you go, a few ways you can me the most of the holiday parade.
If you see Santa (he's the guest of honor!), be sure to tell him I said hi!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Disney tip boards go mobile

About a year ago, Disney announced they were working on a new application with Verizon where guests could get in-park information such as wait times, FastPass info and park hours through their cell phone.

About a month ago, Disney announced the new application finally was ready, and so http://m.disneyworld.com/ was born. There are two version of this new Web site, one is free and the other requires users to pay a subscription fee. To be more accurate, the Web site is free, while the smart phone application (called Mobile Magic) requires a fee, though some information in the Web site also is in the app.

It is important also to note that this is an app available ONLY to Verizon customers, meaning all those iPhones using AT&T service are shut out.

I've used the free Web-based version and while it's somewhat useful, it's pretty clear that Disney wants users to download the fee-based app. At first, m.disneyworld.com provided some limited wait time information, such as "see now," or "moderate." About a week or two after it launched, even this limited wait time information was removed. What's unclear about this "light" page is what constitutes a "see now" wait time versus a "moderate" or whatever. The Disney site doesn't specify.

UPDATE: Apparently just this week, the limited wait time and FastPass information returned to the free site.

The downloadable app offers updated attraction wait times and FastPass times for the park the user currently is located in. It also displays GPS-enabled park maps, showing the locations of attractions and restaurants. Also included are tips about different happenings in each park and trivia games to compete against other guests in the parks. That's about the most unique element of the downloadable app. Aside from the wait and FastPass times, a standard paper park map provides much of the same information.

I have not tried the Verizon app, mostly because of the price. What I've seen in demos, however, doesn't make me think that the $9.99 fee per six-months makes this app worth it. You read right, ten-bucks for six months access. That's 20-bucks a year! Further, I'm not much of a fan of restricting information based on location. From what I understand, if you're in the Magic Kingdom, you will not get as much information about wait times in any other park. I'm not sure what info is available when you're not at WDW at all. One things for sure - you're paying for 180 days of access whether you're in the parks or not.

Disney isn't the only group offering mobile-based wait and FastPass times. The folks at TouringPlans.com have recently launched "Lines," which provides wait-times and FastPass return times for all parks, regardless of location (in or out of the parks). Lines also provides park hours, crowd calendars and predicted wait times. The one thing Lines doesn't appear to provide (I couldn't find it) is event information, such as when Spectromagic or Fantasmic is showing.

The major differences between Lines and Mobile Magic are accessibility and price. Lines is completely web-based and so it's available to most popular devices (as of this writing, Lines is available for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Palm Pre/Pixl). Support for additional devices apparently is coming. Further, Lines (as of this writing) is FREE while in beta testing. Eventually it will require a subscription to TouringPlans.com. Those that own a current edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (ding!) can get free access for a limited time. Non-book owners can subscribe for a yearly fee of $8.95. This includes access to Lines and to TouringPlans.com.

I have Lines on my Blackberry and it's a great service. I most especially like being able to see what wait times are like while being more than 700 miles away from the parks. For instance (as I pull up Lines on the BB), Space Mountain only has a 25 minute wait right now, and the crowd level is at a 4, which means most attractions are a walk-on!!

Knowing Disney, I'm sure they're planning to plus Mobile Magic pretty soon. At $20 a year, they need to put more value into such an expensive app. Disney also has to find a way to make this app available to iPhone users. While I don't have an iPhone (don't get me started), there are a gazillion Disney fans with iPhones who are excluded from even having the option to purchase this app.

At this point, if I had to recommend one -- sorry Disney, but I'm going with Lines - for the price (free right now) and the more-specific information, even outside the parks. The Disney free site is nice, but the information, even if it's free, is limited.

What are your thoughts? Do you have Mobile Magic and/or Lines? If so, post a comment -- do you like it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Space Mountain - the refurb

Space Mountain

During my recent Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World, I managed to catch a near walk-on to ride the newly refurbished Space Mountain. So I thought I'd give you my take on the changes.

Space Mountain

First, the queue is much, much better, especially for the standby line. Imagineers have added a bunch of interactive games along the main tunnel near the loading area that are similar to the old Asteroids game (kids, that was a game many years ago where a small triangle-shaped spaceship blew up asteroids). There is room for somewhere around 80 people to play. I didn't get a chance to try it out as the line was moving way too quickly at this point.

Space Mountain

The loading area is very, well, blue (as you can see in the photo above). There are a series of blue neon lights in the ceiling that casts the loading area in a dim blue light. It's not as bright as the photo appears.

As for the ride itself, Disney said they wanted to make the ride experience darker so guests wouldn't know where they were going and boy did Disney deliver. It is DARK!! It's not completely pitch black, rather you get a much more immersive experience as you race through the stars. You can still see small points of light projected all throughout the attraction, but you can't tell what the ride path is (unless you happen to know it). I should note that the track layout hasn't changed, but it did feel smoother. You still get jerked around a bit as you whip around tight turns, but at least you're not rattled to death like before the refurb.

Disney also gave some significant attention to the ride vehicle itself. It's the same car with three guests riding in single file. The seat cushions, however, are greatly improved, which may account for the overall smoother ride experience.

Something that's new is on-board photos. As you exit the launch tunnel, you come around a turn and are greeted with a bright flash. This is your ride photo being taken. After the ride, there is a bank of monitors to see your photo.

I have to say I'm not impressed with the ride photos for a couple of reasons. First, Disney decided not to include the option to add the pictures to your PhotoPass card, like at TestTrack in Epcot. For me, this is a big disappointment. The only on-ride photos I ever get are those I can include on my PhotoPass CD. I would have thought Disney would have realized the benefits of making the PhotoPass option available.

Second, the angle of the shot is not the best. It's just about from a side view, so you get a profile shot of the guests, which isn't a great angle. I understand this is a three-person single-file ride vehicle which makes for a more difficult shot to take, but I think Disney could have found a better way to take a 3/4 angle shot or shoot from a higher angle or something. As it is now, I won't be purchasing any Space Mountain on-ride photos.

Space Mountain

As for the post-show, nearly everything is new. There are some nice references to old Disney attractions including a sticker for Mesa Verde (remember Horizons?) and what looks like a hidden Spaceship Earth. Also, the final part of the moving sidewalk includes a portion where the tunnel is painted a vivid green. This is obviously for some sort of chroma-key (or green screen) effect that hasn't been unveiled yet. The right side is just covered with a banner that reads "Thanks for Flying With Us."

All in all, the newly updated Space Mountain was worth the wait. It's a better, more thrilling attraction that purist fans will still enjoy and appreciate. So on your next trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to check out Space Mountain!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Christmas at Walt Disney World

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've just returned from a quick Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World.

The holiday decorations were up and many events were just getting started as the weekend came to a close.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to focus on some tips to help you experience the holidays at Walt Disney World.

So with that, let's get to this week's tip: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

For those who might not know what the Osborne Lights are - this is a HUGE display of holiday lights along the Streets of America. All the buildings are completely lit, making this one of the most spectacular holiday displays you might ever see.


Now this gets really crowded. The lights go on at dusk and stay on until the park closes. There are two ways to plan to view the lights. The first is to be on hand as the switch is made - then be ready to deal with the crowds that will quickly assemble once the lights are on.

The other option is to wait until the end of the night, especially if it's a Fantasmic night. The crowds will diminish as closing time approaches (usually around 8:30). The final hour in the park is a great time to see the Osborne Lights without quite such a huge crowd.
One other thing to keep in mind -- there's more to the lights than just the main avenue-- there also are lights in other places that are just as incredible.
Oh, and parents, a little tip for you when it comes to the kids. It does "snow" all along the Streets of America, though this isn't snow you'll want to eat. They are actually tiny soap bubbles, so trying to catch the snowflakes on your tongue might not be such a good idea.
Don't forget your PhotoPass card, because there are plenty of photographers around!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Backpacks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday! Yes, it's Wednesday, I know.

This week's tip is short and sweet, as I'm getting ready to leave for Walt Disney World in a few hours.

Over the past year (and then some), I've talked about different things you may want to bring with you as you tour the parks (cameras, water, etc.). Well, what about how to carry all this stuff?

Some women like to take huge purses, which can hold everything including the kitchen sink. While these type of bags do work, I understand they really take a toll on a person's shoulder. In a similar manner, I see guys carrying around huge camera bags filled, no doubt, will all sorts of gear and other items. I've hauled a big heavy camera bag around the parks for several trips and I can say from personal experience that the single strap was quite hard on my shoulder. I kept shifting the bag from shoulder to shoulder to even out the ache.

I happened to talk with some experienced photographers who swore that backpacks were the way to go. Now understand that a good camera backpack can run upwards of $100 and more. Even with this higher price, I still recommend these over a normal backpack. First, camera backpacks have padded sections that are just right for lenses, flashes and the camera itself, while a normal backpack has just one big pocket to hold things, for the most part. I went out and got a camera backpack and what a difference! While my shoulders get tired at the end of the day, they are not aching and my arms don't feel like they want to fall off.

Depending on what you're carrying around will determine what kind of backpack you need. If you're a real shutterbug like me, then you want to seriously consider a camera backpack. If you're carrying around a lot of water, than you might want to look at other types of packs.

No matter what type of pack you choose, your back and shoulders will thank you.

To everyone out there, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving and I'll have more from Walt Disney World when I return!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Child safety at the parks

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

A few weeks ago, I talked about important information to keep on-hand while visiting Walt Disney World. I mentioned that keeping information about your children is paramount, which leads me to this week's tip.

It's no surprise that kids often get separated from parents in such an enormous place as Walt Disney World. Just a single park is huge! With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for parents to help keep track of their children and what to do if (hopefully never) something goes wrong.

Credit, where credit is due: some of these are tips I've heard from many different Disney circles. If you came up with this tip -- my many thanks!

1. Have important information handy (write it down!!). This includes Social Security Numbers, date of birth, height, weight, eye color, etc. If something goes wrong, you'll quite likely be so freaked out, you just might not remember. I'm not kidding, I've seen it happen.

2. Take a photo of your children each day with your camera, cellphone, camcorder, whatever. If your child gets lost, you'll have a current photo to show authorities. Make it fun when you take the photo - that way kids won't get worried about getting lost.

3. Know what to do if something goes wrong. The moment you notice your child is missing, tell a CastMember. Don't wait. Disney has procedures to handle lost children. The same goes with your children. Tell them that if they can't find Mom or Dad, to tell a CastMember. Show them what CastMembers look like (especially the name badge).

4. Have a pre-arranged meeting place. If you do get separated, plan to meet somewhere specific. Don't just say "if we get separated, we'll meet at Cinderella Castle." That's way too broad. Make it very specific. For instance, "if we get separated, we'll meet at the entrance to Casey's," or "at the statue of Pleakey in Tomorrowland." This is especially important when visiting with older children who may have "free time" in the parks. A specific meeting place helps to avoid confusion.

5. Give your children emergency cards to carry with them. If a child, especially a young child, gets lost, they may be so scared they can't communicate well. Ahead of time, print a set of cards with the child's name, your name, your cell and the resort you're staying at. Tell the child that if they get lost, they can give the card to a CastMember and they will help you. I would strongly suggest that you emphasize to only give the card to a CastMember. I know there are a thousand guests who would be more than willing to help and all would be well, but you never know with guests (sorry, everyone). CastMembers are a safe bet.

6. Finally, stay calm. If something does go wrong, you won't get anywhere by panicking and freaking out. Keep a cool head and you'll get things straightened out in no time and be back enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth.

This is one tip I pray you never use. However, this is one tip that may just make all the difference when a parent faces one of their worst nightmares.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DisneyParks: Epcot's Lights of Winter is retired


On the official DisneyParks Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/disneyparks), Disney has announced the following:

The Lights of Winter at Epcot has been enjoyed for years. But tech to operate the lights is obsolete, prompting us to retire the lights.

After several years, the lighted archways that would dance to music will be no more this holiday season.
The Lights of Winter was a series of archways with more than 30,000 lights that spanned the main walkway between Future World and World Showcase. The monorail also would pass through part of the display. The lights would dance to holiday music in coordination with the Fountain of Nations, creating a spectacular display.
As the Twitter post indicates, the current technology used to run the lights show is "obsolete," so instead of repairing or upgrading the system, Disney apparently is throwing in the towel.
So far, there's no word if Disney is working on something new to replace the Lights of Winter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Wishes/Illuminations without a park ticket

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

There's no better finish to a day at Walt Disney World than watching a nighttime spectacular. Sometimes, however, you might not want to use up a park ticket (or deal with the hustle and bustle inside the park) just to watch Wishes at the Magic Kingdom or Illuminations at Epcot.

The good news is you don't have to be in the park to enjoy these wonderful nighttime shows. With a little bit of planning (here I go again talking about planning), you can enjoy Wishes or Illuminations for as little as nothing.

That's right, nothing! I know nothing's really free at Walt Disney World, but this may be as free as things can get.
And there are some exclusive opportunities to enjoy these shows that do come at a cost, but offer very unique experiences that you will cherish for a long time.

So let's take a look at some of these alternatives, starting with the "free" options.


Wishes/Magic Kingdom Parties (Halloween/Christmas)
Wishes at the Magic Kingdom may be one of the best fireworks shows you'll see at Walt Disney World (and beyond). If you happen to be down during one of the party nights (Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party), the fireworks shows are even more amazing. However, you don't have to be inside the park to see them.

I've enjoyed watching both Wishes and the Christmas Party fireworks from the docks at the Grand Floridian Resort. There was no cost whatsoever and Disney event pipes in the music outside of Narcoosee's. You also can get great views from the beaches at the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Resort. In fact, the Poly offers a dead-on view of Wishes at a similar angle as you would see if you were on Main Street. Continuing around the Seven Seas Lagoon, the parking lot at the Contemporary Resort offers some stunning views, and if you can get to the observatory at the top of the tower, you can watch Wishes from one of the best vantage points of all. Here, too, Disney pipes in the music.

DVC members staying at the new Bay Lake Tower can watch Wishes from the new Top of the World club. Unfortunately, this is available only to DVC members staying at Bay Lake Tower.

You don't have to be a resort guest to enjoy many of these views, either. Just make your way to any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts and you'll get a wonderful view of Wishes. After the show, be sure to stay and take in the Electrical Water Pageant - a fixture at Walt Disney World since the park opened in 1971.

Now for some viewing options that do require some costs. One of the best and serene ways to watch Wishes is to be out on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney has several different options for renting boats and offers special cruises, including the granddaddy of them all, the Grand 1. If you're interesting in booking the Grand 1, which can cost up to $500 a night, call 407-WDW-PLAY.


Illuminations
The secret to watching Illuminations: Reflections of Earth for no cost is location, location, location. Disney's Boardwalk offers some wonderful views towards the World Showcase Lagoon. The downside with watching Illuminations outside Epcot is that you can't see any of the low-level effect (the globe, the water displays, the fire barge, etc.). This being said, you can still see (and hear) quite a good show. I have stayed at the Dolphin and watched Illuminations from the Boardwalk. Similarly, I have stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort and watched Illuminations from the Port Royal docks. In both cases, I could pick out the music (it wasn't piped in, but you could hear it in the distance).

Now if you'd like a more exclusive experience, you can book an Illuminations cruise or even Breathless II. These are boats that leave from the Yacht Club and park in the World Showcase lagoon during Illuminations. Like the Grand 1, these can get expensive. For rates and available times, call 407-WDW-PLAY.

If you really want to experience these nightitme spectaculars to their fullest extent, it's best to be in the park. However, if you're looking for a more relaxing, intimate or romantic option, than consider finding a quiet stretch of beach or a cruise. Have fun!

Disney offers a sneak peek of Space Mountain


On the official Disney blog, Imagineers gave a little sneak peek of some of the changes taking place inside Space Mountain. Based on some of the images Disney released today, the changes to Space Mountain look incredible! I especially like the blue lighting of the queue lines. It is reminiscent of the Soarin' queue at Epcot.

In another image, an Imagineer is seen working on one of several interactive game screens located along the queue.

According to the official Disney blog,
Passengers will be able to immerse themselves in unique game play as they prepare for blast off, becoming part of the space station adventure. During a recent walkthrough, we deflected asteroids to keep runways clear as part of the story. The interactive experiences are based on duties you’d find on board a long-traveling space craft, according to Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Show Designer Alex Wright. Each game lasts about 90 seconds with a 90-second interval and the games can accommodate 86 players at one time.


This should help those long queue go by a little faster. I'm glad to see that the games can accommodate a large number of players at one time. That should help cut down on competition for play time.

There also are some hidden treasures and tidbits included in the refurbishment. According to the official blog,

As you move along on your journey, there are “insider” touches typical in projects created by Imagineers. For example, if you’re up on your Disney trivia, you’ll recognize a sign bearing the logo “H-NCH 1975″ as a tribute to late Imagineer and Disney legend John Hench. There are also other “Disneyphile” references hidden throughout the attraction.Space Mountain celebrates the Golden Age of Rocket Travel – inspired by the jet age of the early 1960s. The attraction highlights excitement around the endless possibilities regarding space travel. It did back when it opened in 1975 and I think you’ll agree it still does.

I, for one, can't wait to see all the changes at Space Mountain. One thing's for sure - Walt would be happy to see that his dreams continue to evolve, grow and get "plussed."

Friday, November 6, 2009

DisneyParks steps up efforts to prevent H1N1

In a new post of the official Disney Parks blog, Disney's social media director Thomas Smith highlighted some of the efforts Disney is undertaking to help prevent the spread of the 2009 Novel H1N1 virus.

Just like you, Disney Parks is working hard to make guests and cast members aware of steps that they can take to prevent the spread of the flu. It’s just part of our ongoing commitment to our Guests’ health and safety.

"A Disney Parks’ team has been monitoring the developments regarding the spread of the H1N1 flu. The team has long-standing relationships with local health officials and we’ve continued to use their guidance to evaluate and, if appropriate, adjust our operations," said Thomas.

In addition to Disney's intense cleaning effort (the park already is spotless), Disney is installing hand sanitizers in high-traffic areas, such as park entrances, hotel lobbies and character “meet-and-greet” locations. "Our parks have already implemented more frequent cleaning of “high-touch” surfaces such as drinking fountains and telephones," Thomas said.

Thomas also said that measures recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of flu will be included in event guide brochures.

My take:
Being the world's number one vacation destination, Walt Disney World sees a LOT of visitors each day. This means there is a higher opportunity for viruses to spread. That being said, anyone visiting Walt Disney World should not be overly concerned about H1N1.

Just follow good hygiene habits we all learned in school (washing hands often, sneezing into a tissue, not touching eyes/nose often), and you'll greatly reduce your chances of catching the virus.

Get more tips on how to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mickey to see a radical makeover in upcoming game -- could this just be the beginning?

The New York Times has a story in today's paper about a quiet new effort by Disney to re-invent the character at the core of it all: Mickey Mouse.

I know it seems hard to believe - messing with the mouse himself? This is one of the most recognizable figures in the world.

The beginning for Mickey's possible transformation will likely come with the release of Epic Mickey, a bold, daring video game set for release next Fall. In Epic Mickey, the Mouse is more daring, more mischievous and even cunning -- a significant departure from the clean do-no-wrong image Mickey Mouse evolved into after 80 years of existence. One thing that won't change, says the game's designer, Mickey won't be evil.

The funny thing is that the Mickey portrayed in Epic Mickey is more like the Mickey Mouse of Walt Disney's imagination -- one who is mischievous, boisterous and even a little amorous with female characters (Minnie).

Epic Mickey also will feature another famous Disney creation -- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In the game, Oswald's a bit bitter about being left high and dry. In reality this happened because of rights problems with Universal. In fact, Disney had to trade to get Oswald back. What did they trade? Al Michaels, of all things. Turns out, Disney CEO let NBC have Al Michaels in return for rights to Oswald.

Of even greater importance -- the article indicates that Epic Mickey may just be the first wave in a transformation of Mickey Mouse. Apparently, Disney is very quietly looking at ways to freshen up the mouse for today's kids. Whether this effort will go any further than Epic Mickey is anyone guess at this point.

As for Epic Mickey (by the way, it's only for the Wii), this is one game I most certainly will be getting next year. It looks fantastic - especially some of the screen shots of the wasteland theme park.

Hunt for hidden Mickey's goes digital


Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide To Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets, the best-selling book by Steven M. Barrett, now has its very own “official” app for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

The new app builds on the successful formula of the book. It contains all of the Hidden Mickeys from the new fourth edition of the book -- with over a hundred added, the total is now up to more than 800 – but it takes things to a whole new level of interactivity.

Using the scavenger hunt structure that made the book so popular, the new app offers cryptic “clues” for searchers to puzzle over and “hints” for if they get stuck. But asking for hints before you find a Hidden Mickey lowers your score. Separate user profiles allow family members to compete on the hunts.

But the app is not just the book in digital form. It also includes completely new features only possible with Apple’s iPhone technology. For example, users can upload their scavenger hunt scores directly to their Facebook pages without having to exit the application. This means that for the first time Hidden Mickeys hunters from around the globe can compare their scores instantaneously.

The application also uses a GPS location tracking feature that identifies the user’s location in the resort and automatically displays the nearest Hidden Mickeys up to 500 meters away. Hunters in a hurry can thus save time without skipping Mickeys.

Users of the new app are enthusiastic. “This is awesome,” raved LightningMcQueen1983 in the iTunes Store. “I have already gone through and selected all the Hidden Mickeys I knew, but there are soooooo many more to find.”

The application is available for $5.99 under the “Travel” category in Apple’s App Store via this link http://bit.ly/4E3phY.

The Hidden Mickeys app was created by Campbell/Gambill Designs of Orlando, FL, with the assistance of author Steve Barrett. Barrett’s book, Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide To Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets ($12.95), is published by The Intrepid Traveler. It is available in the Disney parks, in bookstores, and online.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monorail Teal makes first appearance today

WDW Magic.com has photos of monorail teal in action today. The newest monorail, which is a compilation of the undamaged portions of monorails pink and purple that were involved in that fatal crash over the summer, began running this morning on the Magic Kingdom express loop. As was previously reported, the pink and purple colors have been retired and will no longer be seen at Walt Disney World.

If you look at the photos, monorail teal looks very similar to monorail blue -- so similar, in fact, that Disney has added a white "delta" to the teal stripe to help cast members quickly distinguish between teal and blue. These white deltas are located under the center window of each train car.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tip Tuesday: "Touring" Plans

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

For those of you new to the DisneyDaddy blog, each Tuesday, I offer a tip I've either developed or heard of. You can always go back and read past Tip Tuesday posts by clicking on the "Tip Tuesday" link on the right side of this page.

Now for this week's tip:

In last week's post, I talked about some information you needed to keep with you while at Walt Disney World. This information included dining reservations, park hours and Extra Magic Hours (EMH). One reason why you want to have this information handy is so you can develop your own touring plans.

I use the term "touring plans" only because it's the most common term used among Disney fans describing a plan for how to go about spending time in the parks. There is a site (http://www.touringplans.com/) that offers (for a fee) more than 100 different touring plans designed for all sorts of scenarios. For those who feel they need some advice from some Disney experts, TouringPlans.com might be a resource to check out.

The best kind of touring plan, in my opinion, however, is the plan that does what you want to do. If you're a "gotta-do-it-all-and-see-it-all" kind of person, than you'll want to think about the best ways to mix the use of FastPasses, single rider lines, and standby lines to get in as much as possible (it also helps to go on a night with late EMH hours so that the park is open much later, giving you more time, assuming you're staying on-property).

Most guests, aren't quite so commando in their time at the parks. That's why I suggest making a list of the top 3-10 attractions you want to experience in each parks (top 3 for shorter visits, top 10 for longer trips). Once you have that list, try to map out where you want to go, keeping in mind some basic tips:

  • If Dumbo's (MK) on the list - get there early and first (best on an EMH early day). That's one attraction that always has a long line - and there's no FastPass.
  • If Toy Story Mania's (DHS) on the list - get there early and get FastPasses. They tend to run out by the afternoon, if not sooner. If you're at rope drop, you can get a FastPass and then go right into the standby line - you might just get two rides in a few hours.
  • Peter Pan's Flight (MK) generally has a longer queue, especially in the afternoon. This is another good one to FastPass, if it's on your list.
  • Like Toy Story Mania, fastpasses for Soarin' (Epcot) and Expedition Everest (AK) go quick. If it's on your list, get a FastPass early. Be sure to check the standby lines, however - if it's 20 minutes or less, you might want to just go right in.
  • When Space Mountain (MK) reopens in a few weeks, it's going to be slammed, so if it's on your list, plan on using FastPasses, at least for the next few months.
  • Remember that World Showcase at Epcot opens later than World Showcase. Lately, WS has been opening at 9 a.m. instead of 11. If you have Malestrom on your list, keep an eye on the opening time and you might be able to catch a walk-on at Malestrom before the crowds come.
  • You can only hold one FastPass at a time, with some exceptions (see this previous post).
  • Always pick up a times guide. This will help you better plan when certain shows and character meet-and-greets are available.

So before your next trip, take a few moments and plan what you want to do at each park. Then plan your route to make your day go a little bit easier.

Have fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Disney Cruise Line gives a sneak peek at the Disney Dream



A first-of-its kind water coaster that sends guests racing above the upper decks of the ship. An animated turtle that engages children in conversation about life in the ocean. A sophisticated lounge where the sun sets over the skyline of a different world-famous city each night. When the Disney Dream debuts in early 2011, the newest ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet will bring to life these innovations and more.

The Disney Dream will take family cruising to all-new heights, embracing the spirit of innovation, magical family entertainment and immersive experiences that have made Disney Cruise Line the preeminent cruise of choice for families since 1998.

Disney Cruise Line revolutionized the cruise industry with purpose-built ships designed just for families. With the Disney Dream setting sail on Jan. 26, 2011, preparations are underway to expand the one-of-a-kind family experience, utilizing technology to enhance the world-class entertainment and legendary guest services onboard. From stem to stern, the Disney Dream will offer a cruise experience that caters to the preferences of the whole family.

“For more than a decade, passengers have filled their passports with memories sailing around the world with Disney Cruise Line,” said Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo. “With the Disney Dream joining our fleet, we’ll be able to take families to even more places they never imagined they could visit – in true Disney style.”

The Disney Dream features a remarkable interior design which provides guests with a warm and welcoming feel throughout. The ship’s design offers guests a perfect blend of elegant Art Deco style and fun-filled Disney whimsy to create one of the most spectacular ships afloat. Distinctly Disney guest features aboard the Disney Dream include:

AquaDuck Water Coaster. . .

Disney Cruise Line debuts a cruise-industry first: a shipboard water coaster … AquaDuck! Guests aboard the Disney Dream will get swept away on an exhilarating high-speed flume ride featuring twists, turns, drops, uphill acceleration and river rapids – all while traversing the upper decks of the ship.

  • AquaDuck stretches 765 feet in length - more than two and a half times the length of a football field - and spans four decks in height.
  • Guests slide 13 feet over the side of the ship in a translucent "swing out" loop allowing them to look down on the ocean 150 feet below.
  • Guests experience coaster-like thrills as high-powered water jets push them upwards and forwards at 20 feet per second.
  • AquaDuck continues through the forward funnel, encounters a 335 foot stretch of river rapids and splashes down to an end on Deck 12.

    A Virtual Porthole for Inside Staterooms. . .

    Disney Cruise Line introduces another stateroom innovation with all inside staterooms on the Disney Dream featuring a Virtual Porthole that provides guests with a real-time view outside the ship. High-definition cameras placed on the exterior of the ship feed live video to each Virtual Porthole.

    As guests observe the impressive outside views, they may glimpse a magical surprise: animated characters such as Peach the starfish from the Disney•Pixar hit film “Finding Nemo,” or Mickey Mouse may pop by the Virtual Porthole.

    A Magical Oasis for Children. . .

    Only on a Disney Cruise Line ship can children become immersed in their favorite Disney stories with the help of caring counselors, beloved Disney characters and a sprinkling of pixie dust. The celebration of children’s creativity rises to a new level on the Disney Dream with nearly an entire deck of youth spaces designed to inspire, entertain and unlock the imagination of children. There are two main spaces for children ages three to 10:

    At Disney’s Oceaneer Club, children can:

    Play among larger-than-life characters from Disney•Pixar's "Toy Story" in Andy's Room
    Explore the Laugh Floor with loveable monsters Mike and Sully from "Monsters, Inc."
    Dive under the sea with Nemo and friends or visit Tinker Bell's fairy forest

    At Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, children feel as though they are embarking on a great seafaring adventure in a room filled with maps, maritime instruments and swashbuckling artifacts. Here, children can try their hand at animation, become a pop star or navigate ships through digital seas.

    Both venues offer magical interactions with the animated characters such as Crush, the sea turtle from the Disney•Pixar motion picture “Finding Nemo” and Stitch, the mischievous alien from “Lilo and Stitch.” The characters chat, play and joke with children in live, unrehearsed conversations from their digital undersea and intergalactic environments via 103-inch plasma screens.

    Chill-Out Zones for Tweens and Teens. . .

    Located inside the forward funnel is Edge – the lounge just for tweens (ages 11 to 13). This tween pad is filled with a multitude of hi-tech entertainment including the ability to create and star in photo postcards and video karaoke using green-screen technology.

    Teens have their own exclusive club aboard the Disney Dream with Vibe – a trendy and inviting indoor/outdoor space created especially for guests ages 14 to 17. A “teen-only” swipe card provides access to the nearly 9,000-square-foot club.

    Teens can create and edit videos, play computer games, access the onboard social media application or try their hand at spinning and mixing dance tracks. Teens have their own private outdoor deck area with chaise lounges for sunbathing, two wading pools, misters and pop jets for cooling off, and deck games such as ping-pong and foosball.

    Personal Touches with Rotational Dining. . .

    Disney Cruise Line continues its innovative rotational dining concept onboard the Disney Dream with elaborately themed restaurants, distinctly Disney touches, and world-class cuisine to create a magical dining experience. Throughout the cruise, guests “rotate” through three different restaurants for dinner – with their servers accompanying them, providing guests with friendly, familiar, personalized service each night. The rotational dining restaurants include:

    Animator's Palate, a signature Disney Cruise Line restaurant that brings the magic of Disney animation into the dining room for a unique experience that will captivate the entire family.
    Royal Palace, an elegant restaurant inspired by the classic Disney films "Cinderella," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," " Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty."
    Enchanged Garden, a whimsical casual restaurant inspired by the gardens of Versailles and featuring a dining environment that magically transforms from day to night.

    Just for Adults. . .

    On the Disney Dream, while children are having the time of their lives in the elaborately themed youth areas, adults can look forward to incomparable indulgences and relaxation with exclusive areas and offerings designed exclusively for them.

    Adults can escape in to The District, a nighttime entertainment area on the Disney Dream with five unique venues. This playground for grownups features sophisticated lounges, each with its own unique design, look, feel and palate-pleaseing delights.
    Senses Spa & Salon offers adult tranquility with 17 private treatment rooms, lavish spa villas with indoor treatment rooms and private outdoor verandahs, and Rainforest, a special section of the spa offering the benefits of steam, heat and hydrotherapy to relax the mind and body.
    At Palo, adult guests find epicurean excellence and an unforgettable dinner experience at sea. Every seat offers beautiful ocean vistas while a pianist softly serenades guests in an intimate restaurant setting.

    The Disney Dream is scheduled to depart on its maiden voyage Jan. 26, 2011, and will sail alternating three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. During summer months, the ship will alternate four- and five-night itineraries with two stops at Castaway Cay. Guests can book their Disney Dream cruise beginning Nov. 9, 2009.

  • Terence joins Tinker Bell and other fairies at Pixie Hollow


    Terrence, the keeper of the pixie dust, has joined his friends Tinker Bell and other fairies at the character meet-and-greet at Pixie Hollow in the Magic Kingdom. Various "lost" items have been added to the meet-and-greet area as well.
    Welcome to the Magic Kingdom Terrence!

    Monorail Teal spotted

    John Frost over at The Disney Blog has video of monorail teal being tested and prepped. It looks like the "newest" monorail will be running very soon!

    Check it out at http://thedisneyblog.com/2009/10/29/video-of-a-freshly-painted-monorail-teal/.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Disney's online ADR system being upgraded?

    4pm UPDATE: The online system is up and running again.

    In my apparent never ending attempt to book some ADR's for an upcoming WDW trip, I happened to check to see if the online ADR system up and running again. What I found was something a little surprising. I got the following message:

    "We are currently rolling out a *NEW* online dining application to make your reservation process even easier. Please come back and try our new system when it is available. To make a dining reservation at this time, please call (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463."

    Hmm... I have to wonder if the timing of this new announcement is a coincidence, was intentionally planned or a reaction to yesterday's onslaught of bookings that apparently shut down the online system and totally overwhelmed Disney's ADR phone lines.

    Unfortunately, the message didn't give any indication as to when the online ADR system would be live again. As more information becomes available, I'll pass it along.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Tip Tuesday: Things to keep with you while at WDW

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

    Planning, planning, planning.

    If you're been reading this blog, you know I'm a big fan of pre-trip planning. While I'm not one to rigidly follow a touring plan, it is a good idea to have as much information as possible on-hand while in the parks.

    Here are some of the things you need to be able to quickly pull out, should the situation arise:
    • ADR dates/time and confirmation numbers - Even though I've never personally had an issue with an ADR, that doesn't mean problems sometimes arise. There's a reason you are given a confirmation number when you make an ADR.
    • Park Hours - It's tough to enjoy a park when it's closed. Knowing when parks open can help you make it to some of those important rope-drops.
    • Extra Magic Hours (for guests staying on-property). Yes, you can find out this information once you get to the resort, but it's more helpful to have this information already recorded in some fashion.
    • Rehabs/closings - some attractions may be down for refurbishment or maintenance. If you know ahead of time, it will help make your touring a bit smoother.

    Before the days of Blackberries and iPhones, I used to make a business-sized card with all this information (usually heavily condensed with a lot of acronyms). This would go into my wallet so I could refer to it at any time.

    Now, I just make a calendar entry in my Blackberry for each day during my trip called "Park Hours," listing the hours for each park, including EMH. I make additional entries for any ADR's and a third for key refurbs and other notes. Yes, there are "apps for that," but I think it's better to go through the exercise of adding this information yourself. It helps you to begin some of your plans for touring the parks. I'll talk about touring plans in a future Tip Tuesday post.

    Where can you get some of this information? All park hours and Extra Magic Hours are listed on the Walt Disney World Web site.

    This does not include some safety measures when it comes to your children. I'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

    I know to some of you seasoned WDW vets, this will sound like a no-brainer. But for many who are experiencing Walt Disney World for the first (or even second, third or fourth) time, these little bits of handy information can make a huge difference in ensuring a smooth vacation.

    On your mark, get set, BOOK!

    If you're planning a Walt Disney World trip in the next 180 days, you need to get on the phone or online right away. Today, Disney extended the ADR booking window back to 180 days. The ADR reservation system is going to be quite busy today, so be patient. In fact, I was trying to get some ADR's at 6 a.m. this morning and the online system was overloaded.

    If you're unable to get into the online system, call 407-WDW-DINE.

    Good luck!

    UPDATE (5pm):

    Disney apparently has experiences such a high volume of requests that the online system has shut down. I've been checking all day and it's appears to have been down since around 6 a.m. and still isn't up (as of 5 p.m.). Likewise, the phone lines have been overwhelmed all day. I've tried calling dozens of times throughout the day and can't get through.

    Disney probably should have considered some staggered system for switching to a 180-day ADR window. Having 90 days worth of bookings all become available on the same day has been an apparent recipe for disaster.

    What have your experiences been like? Have you been able to book ADR's today? Post a comment!

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Magic Kingdom Grand Opening: 38 years ago today

    While we all think of Oct. 1, 1971 as the opening date for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (and this date is correct - the park opened to the public on Oct. 1), it wasn't until this day 38 years ago that the Magic Kingdom celebrated it's grand opening weekend.

    The Orlando Sentinel was there (see for yourself), and has posted the original story from the Oct. 24, 1971 edition. I'll post a brief excerpt -- you can read the entire article at the Orlando Sentinel's new "Daily Disney" page.

    Nearly 40,000 visits – the biggest crowd yet – jammed Walt Disney World turnstiles Saturday as the $400 million “Magic Kingdom” kicked off its three-day formal opening celebration with the arrival of a plane-load of Hollywood notables.

    The celebrities – including Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Walter Brennan and Fred MacMurray – arrived aboard a chartered jet to take part in the festivities, starting with a performance of the World Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler.

    And they were greeted at Orlando Jetport at McCoy by a huge crowd of spectators who oohed and aahed as the stars, many accompanied by their families, stepped from the plane.

    The applauded Brennan and MacMurray, squealed at Stack and Hudson and whistled at Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers.

    The stars were quickly ushered aboard buses for the trip to Disney World and the theme park, the product of the imagination and dreams of the late Walt Disney.

    Inside the park, there were long lines at almost every attraction, every ride.

    But there was little of the gripping which normally goes with long lines.

    Instead, the fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and, of course, youngsters by the thousands waited patiently, smiling, laughing and talking.

    It was a good day to be there ...

    >> Read the rest

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Victoria & Albert's offers new New Year's Eve experience

    The official Disney Parks blog announced that, for the first time, Disney's award-winning Signature Dining restaurant, Victoria & Albert’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, will be offering a special New Year’s Eve experience.

    "Victoria & Albert’s restaurant is known for its special, personalized touches — and this event will be no exception," said Thomas Smith, Disney's Social Media Director.

    A chef and sommelier will prepare a menu that includes caviar from around the world and a collection of some of the most eclectic and famous champagnes available. Also, Chef Scott Hunnel and his team will make personal appearances during the event.

    The eight to 10 course menu with wine and gratuity will be $375 plus tax. Guests must be older than 10 years of age to attend and older than 21 to be served alcohol.

    Booking has already begun for the event. Visit www.disneyworld.com for more details or call 407-WDW-DINE.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Tip Tuesday: Get a Planning DVD

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

    In my continuing series about ways to get excited and geared up for a trip to Walt Disney World, I wanted to talk about another Disney freebie -- the vacation planning DVD.

    As you start to plan a trip to Walt Disney World, you might not know that Disney will send you a free DVD with planning tips, resort vignettes and much more.

    These are great videos to have and watch as the days tick off to your next trip to WDW. Further, they are a nice collectible to have on hand to see how Walt Disney World has changed over the years. I get the planning DVD every year for that very reason.

    So how do you get the planning DVD? It's pretty simple.

    First, go to the Vacation Planning DVD page on Disneyworld.com. On this page, you can sign up for a DVD. For anyone wanting the 2010 planning DVD, I don't think it's out just yet. You might want to wait until mid November or even December. Even though the 2010 promotion has been announced (Give a Day, Get at Disney Day), sometimes it takes a month or two before the new DVD is ready.

    In years past, there were two planning DVD's, one for Walt Disney World and one for Disneyland. In 2008 with the launch of the Year of a Million Dreams, Disney merged the two DVD's into one. So when you get your planning DVD, it also will have an entire section about Disneyland.

    Parents -- are you giving your kids a trip to WDW for Christmas? Here's a little bonus tip for how to spring the big surprise. After the kids go to bed (and before Santa comes -- you need to be in bed too, you know!), take the customized maps you've already ordered (see last week's tip) and place them opened up in the Christmas tree. Then, on Christmas morning, have the planning video running as the kids come in.
    Surprise!!! We're going to Walt Disney World!!!
    Next week, we'll look at another way to build the excitement for your next trip to Walt Disney World!

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    $1 coins begin circulation at Walt Disney World today

    When it comes to creating new experiences, Walt Disney World often takes the lead, even with something so simple as pocket change.
    Today, Disney announced on the official Disney Blog that new $1 coins have been placed into circulation at Walt Disney World. Disney worked with the U.S. Mint to pilot new 2009 Native American dollar coins. The coin’s design is based on the theme of agriculture.
    The coin features a Native American woman planting seeds in a field and the inscriptions UNITED STATE OF AMERICA and $1 on the reverse side. Disney says their participation in the circulation pilot is part of the company's continued commitment to environmentality.
    "The coin is an environmentally responsible choice – it’s recyclable and lasts decades longer than paper bills," said Thomas Smith, Disney Parks Social Media Director in the blog post.
    Only certain locations at Epcot and Magic Kingdom Park will be offering the coins through Dec. 13, 2009.
    At Epcot's American Adventure Pavilion:
    • Liberty Inn
    • Fife and Drum
    • Heritage Manor
    • Kodak Kiosk
    • AA Carts
    At the Magic Kingdom:
    • Columbia Harbor House
    • Liberty Square Market
    • Liberty Square Popcorn
    • Liberty Square Hot Dog
    • Liberty Square Turkey
    • Sleepy Hollow
    • Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe
    • Haunted Mansion Cart
    • Heritage House
    • Yankee Trader
    It will be interesting to see how well this pilot catches on. The U.S. Mint has been working for many years to get the public interested in using dollar coins (remember the Sacagawea dollar coin?). In fact, the coin being piloted at Walt Disney World is just one of a series of new dollar coins being offered this year by the U.S. Mint.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Disney announces new fall half-marathon


    Endurance fans will have a new reason to lace up their shoes next fall at Walt Disney World.

    Disney Sports has announced their newest half-marathon event, the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon. The event will take place Oct. 1-2, 2010. This will be a night run. In addition to the half-marathon, there will be a 5K, a family fun run, kids races and other activities.

    The half-marathon will start at the soon-to-be-renamed ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and finish inside Epcot with an exclusive post-race party at the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival that features culinary delights from around the world prepared by top Disney chefs.

    What makes this half-marathon different from other races is a new "team relay" option where a two-person team can run the 13.1 miles instead of just one person. Essentially the distance will be covered by two people instead of one.

    Those interested can sign up starting Nov. 16 at www.disneyenduranceseries.com.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Pink, purple monorails to be retired - new teal monorail coming

    The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Walt Disney World has taken the undamaged remains of monorails pink and purple and put them together to make a new train. Out of respect for Austin Wuennenberg, who was killed in the tragic monorail accident in July, both pink and purple will be retired as monorail colors. The new train will become monorail teal.

    In addition to the newly formed train, Disney also told the Sentinel that they expect to add a 12th monorail to bring the total number of trains back to the same amount as before the July accident.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Sum of All Thrills opens today


    Raytheon Company today unveiled the Sum of all Thrills™ at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort. This new ride is a unique experience that lets park guests custom-design their own thrill ride using mathematical tools, an innovative touch-screen table and a robotic simulator. As the first ride to be located within INNOVENTIONS at Epcot®, Sum of all Thrills™ is the latest example of Raytheon’s innovative approach to help educate and inspire young students about the power of math and math-related activities.


    “Sum of all Thrills™ is an example of how Raytheon is using innovation to encourage students to develop and sustain an interest in math and science,” said William H. Swanson, Chairman and CEO of Raytheon Company. “By experiencing the “thrill” of math in this environment, students have the opportunity first hand to feel the excitement and possibilities of careers that are possible with math and science. We hope young people and adults alike will enjoy this innovative experience.”

    Interactive and customizable, Sum of all Thrills™ lets guests of all ages create their own experience by first choosing a ride theme, including a roller coaster, bobsled or jet plane. Using multi-touch, object recognition tables with instructions available in six languages, guests use math and engineering based tools, such as rulers and speed dials, to design and customize their ride by adding corkscrews, inversions or steep hills. Guests learn and apply mathematical and engineering principles to determine how much energy is needed for a jet to take off or for a roller coaster or bobsled to make it up its first climb.

    When the design of the ride is complete, it is saved on a personal card with a unique bar code. The card is then utilized to allow each guest to experience their custom ride from beginning to end on the robotic KUKA RoboSim 4-D simulator. Inside the simulator, guests experience their ride on immersive high definition video combined with stereo sound and controlled air motion for a complete sensory experience. The KUKA RoboSim 4-D simulator creates a four-dimensional experience through 3-D robotic motion and “wind” that controls air movement to stimulate the senses, providing a more realistic simulation experience.

    “Disney parks are well known for their creativity and innovation. Raytheon’s Sum of all Thrills™ is a perfect addition to INNOVENTIONS, which was built in part to showcase cutting-edge technology,” said Dan Cockerell, Vice President of Epcot®. “This immersive experience, our first-ever INNOVENTIONS ride, will inspire young guests to embrace math and science and the important role these subjects play in our lives.”

    In addition to the experience at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot®, today, Raytheon unveiled a virtual Sum of all Thrills™ experience on-line at MathMovesU.com. The Sum of all Thrills™ world, aimed at middle school students, combines the three ride elements of the theme park experience into one multidimensional ride. Students answer math-related questions to unlock elements that enable them build their own ride on-line.

    Sum of all Thrills™ is the latest initiative in Raytheon’s MathMovesU program which is committed to increasing students’ interest in math and engineering by engaging them with activities they enjoy most, such as sports, fashion and music. Sum of all Thrills™ joins Raytheon’s other MathMovesU programs including the “In the Numbers” game, partnership with the New England Patriots on display at The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, the company’s three year sponsorship of the National MATHCOUNTS competition and the MathMovesU scholarship and grant program, which provides over $1 million in funding to students and teachers each year.

    More information on Sum of all Thrills™ can be found at www.raytheon.com.

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