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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Vinymlation Trading

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've just returned from a quick holiday trip to Walt Disney World and found a few new tips to share for you.

This week, I wanted to point out a new feature available at many stores all across the World. Vinylmation trading. I've talked at length about pin trading with cast members in previous posts. Well, Vinylmation trading is a similar option, though not as widespread. According to the Disney Parks Blog, Vinylmation trading really got started at the D23 Expo in 2009.

Here's how it works: There are two ways to trade Vinylmations, and which method you want to use depends on what available and how much you like mystery trading. In the photo above are both trading methods. Of course, you first must have a Vinylmation to trade.

I'll start with the large black box. See all those numbers (1-24)? Each number represents a door behind which is a Vinylmation. You can decide to trade your Vinylmation for one behind a numbered door. This is the more daring option because you have no idea what you're trading for. The "Mystery Box 24," as Disney calls it, is a little harder to find. Not all stores have a mytery box. Now if you don't happen to see a Mystery Box 24, or aren't interested in mystery trading, there's always...

The clear trading box! This trading option is pretty self-explanatory. If you see a Vinylmation you want to trade for, go for it! These boxes contain three Vinylmations that are ready for trading. This kind of trading box can be found all over the place, including at the resorts, so you can trade just about anywhere. With both options (clear or mystery box), the cast member is the only one who can open either box, so please don't try any self-trading.

Also there are a few guidelines to keep in mind with Vinylmation trading:
  • Guests only can trade official Vinylmations - no knock-offs.
  • No custom Vinylmations may be traded -- only standard editions.
  • Guests can only trade like-size items (most trading is among the 3-inch size).
  • Boxes and cards (that came with the Vinylmation) aren't necessary when trading.
  • Only one trade per person, per location, per day.
We tried out Vinylmation trading during our last trip and it was a lot of fun. My younger son managed to trade for a Toy Story Vinylmation he was looking for.

Just one caution about Vinylmations: They're just as addictive as pins. Once you get started, you'll going to get hooked. But hey, what life without a bit of fun! Happy trading!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tip Tuesday: The Disney Tree

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well the holidays are just about here, so I thought I'd take a break from the parks this week and share a tip to help you let your inner Disney geek out during the holidays.

If you're like me, you have just a few (dozen, hundred) Disney related ornaments. I really can't count how many Mickey Mouse ornaments I have nor how many icon ornaments as well. This year, the DisneyMommy and I decided to put most of our Disney ornaments onto a single all-Disney tree. You can see the result above and I think it was a fantastic idea.

By putting most of our Disney ornaments onto a single tree (we have more than one Christmas tree in the house), we were able to really showcase our prized ornaments and turn the tree into a focal point. In years past the Disney ornaments would be scattered among trees throughout the house and guests didn't really get the chance to really enjoy our Disney collection. Now, they can.

Now if you don't have a gazillion Disney ornaments, you can always use a smaller tree and turn it into a table centerpiece or other decoration. The point is to let your Disney geek out let it shine!

That's going to do it for this week's Tip Tuesday. One note, there may not be a Tip Tuesday next week as I will be at WDW for a quick holiday trip. Also, keep an eye on my Ustream page (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/disneydaddy) because I just might pop up a live stream here and there.

If I don't manage to get a post out next week, let me now wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a Happy Kwanzaa!!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tip Tuesday: "Freezing" in Florida

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Hopefully it's nice and warm where you are. It's not here along the East Coast. It's down right freezing this week - even at Walt Disney World where some orange groves north of Orlando are worried about overnight temperatures threatening to dip below 32-degrees.

So this week, I wanted to talk about a few additional notes when it comes to cold weather at Walt Disney World. Shortly after the 2010 half-marathon, I posted a tip about cold weather at WDW.

In that tip, I talked about some of the attractions to avoid when Jack Frost decides to visit WDW.

This week, I want to talk about a few ways you can be prepared to deal with the cold weather, especially for those evening activities like Wishes!, Illuminations, Fantasmic! or the Main Street Electrical Parade.

First and foremost, don't get caught unprepared. Even if the forecast isn't calling for especially cold weather, you may want to bring a heavy sweater, a hat and gloves just in case. During the winter months, the forecast can change quickly. Also keep in mind that it can get windy at WDW and when the temperatures plummet, wind chill can become a significant factor, especially with exposed fingers and facial area.

Speaking of cold hands -- I can't stress enough the importance of bringing gloves. Your hands get cold quick. Now you photographers out there will immediately notice a big problem. It's hard to manipulate a camera with gloves on. So what do you do?

I happened to find a pair of gloves with pull-over mittens. The fingertip portion of the gloves was cut off to allow fingers to do things unencumbered. The pullover mitten part helped keep the fingers warm when not working. These are pretty neat gloves and I highly recommend them for photographers/videographers.

One place some people forget to think about are your feet. Cold feet mean a cold person. If the weather's going to chill out, you may want to have some proper socks to help keep your feet warm. Just keep in mind you will still be doing a lot of walking, so avoid socks that can rub blisters. A great idea to to put on a pair of moisture-wiking socks and then a warmer pair of socks over the wiking socks. During last year's half marathon (where it was so cold it was snowing for a while), I actually wore two pairs of wiking socks. My feet never really got all that cold.

Finally, if it's really, really cold outside, try to limit your exposure. Hop into a store or attraction to warm up. I know that seems obvious, but some people try to tough it out and end up with problems.

Fortunately it doesn't get really cold all that often at Walt Disney World, but if it happens, you want to be sure you're prepared. Enjoy the weather!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Wet seats

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Thanksgiving at WDW

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

Ok, enough about crowds. Now for the food!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Epcot at night


Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mousevent: A little Disney magic for the holidays

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kingdom Keepers 4: Power Play to be released in April

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Honoring our veterans

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Hall of Presidents

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting tidbits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Watching Wishes

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Last week, I talked about taking advantage of all that the Magic Kingdom has to offer at night, especially some things you might not have thought about.

In that post, I mentioned watching Wishes! from a perspective other than Main Street U.S.A. (as seen in the photo above). While I heartily agree the best way to watch Wishes! is from just in front of the Partners statue (so that you can get these great looking pictures), it is by no means the only vantage point from which to watch one of the best fireworks shows put on at Walt Disney World.

Let's look at a few other locations to watch Wishes!

Fantasyland
This may be my second favorite place to watch Wishes! because the entire show completely changes. When watching from Main Street, all the fireworks appear to come from behind the castle. When you watch from Fantasyland, the fireworks are happening all around you. It's like experiencing perimeter fireworks every time.

Some effects will shoot off from the top of Mickey's Philharmagic, while larger pieces will explode in the sky in the opposite direction. In the photo above, the larger shells are exploding over Pinocchio's Village Haus. I can only imagine what Wishes! will look like when the Fantasyland expansion is complete and the old area for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is accessible again.

Some quick notes about watching in Fantasyland. First, it's loud. Very loud. Shells are exploding over your head. Second, you need to be in place a bit early because a portion of Fantasyland (the area between the Prince Charming Regal Carrousell and Cinderella Castle) is closed off for a while before and during the show for safety reasons. Be prepared to be looking in all directions because something's happening all around you.

I have heard some people say it's pretty neat to watch Wishes! while riding Dumbo. Of course Dumbo's day in it's current location are severely numbered, so I'm not sure that will be an option much longer. The Carrousell doesn't run during the show.

Tomorrowland
Another favorite spot of mine is Tomorrowland. This is a very different perspective on Wishes! and depending on where you are, your view may be a bit limited. What I like about Tomorrowland is that the land itself remains lit up, so the scene is a bit different. This also is a great place to get a good look at Tinkerbell as she soars from Cinderella Castle to her landing location on top of the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station. If you want to get a good view of Tink flying, try to stand in the Rose Garden or along the edge of the Noodle Station (if it's not closed for a dessert party).

It's also a interesting site to be on the TTA PeopleMover while Wishes! is showing. While you can't see the entire show, it's a different perspective and is pretty cool.

Frontierland
While I personally haven't seen Wishes! from this viewpoint, I imagine it's a good vantage point, though those large shells will be exploding just about right over your head, so I bet it's really loud there. If you are going to watch Wishes! from Frontierland, try to stand along the wooden walkway between the Liberty Belle Riverboat and the docks for the Tom Sawyer Island rafts.

Adventureland
With all the high vegetation, Adventureland probably isn't the best viewpoint, though you might get some interesting views while high up in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. I've never tried it, so if you have some experience with watching Wishes! from the treehouse, post a comment!

Toon Town Fair
Same story as Adventureland -- too many tall tents and trees to get much of a view.

The next time you're in the Magic Kingdom and planning to catch Wishes!, try some of these alternative viewing locations. You just might be surprised at how much the show changes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tip Tuesday: The Magic Kingdom at night

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As we move through Fall and approach Winter, the days continue to get shorter and shorter. This means we're spending more of our time in the parks in the dark. Personally, I really enjoy being in the parks at night. Everything takes on an entirely different look and feel as opposed to during the daytime.

Of course, nighttime is when some of the evening spectaculars take place, most notably Wishes!, the Main Street Electrical Parade, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth and Fantasmic! But beyond these eye-popping productions (I highly recommend them all), are some additional gems that come out only at night.

This week, we'll examine some of the gems at the Magic Kingdom - even the seasoned WDW veteran just might discover an entirely new experience.

Tomorrowland:
Just being in Tomorrowland at night is a sheer spectacle. Just being in the middle of all that neon is just plain eye candy. Be sure to ride the PeopleMover for some great vantage points of Tomorrowland at night. The Tomorrowland Speedway also takes on a different perspective at night.

Adventureland:
Ride the Jungle Cruise at night. The "jungle" takes on an entirely different life at night and the skippers are a lot of fun at night. It's well worth it. Trust me. The entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean takes on a more sinister look as well.

Liberty Square:
There's nothing like the Haunted Mansion at night. Once the sun goes down, the Haunted Mansion really comes into it's element. From the simulated lightning effects to the down right spooky nature of the place, the Haunted Mansion is an absolute must do at night. This also is a good place to catch the Main Street Electrical Parade (aside from Main Street itself).

Frontierland:
Splash Mountain really becomes something new at night, especially all those outside sections. The view just before the big drop is really incredible, but look quickly, because you're going to be dropping fast! Big Thunder Mountain also is an entirely new attraction at night with all the different lighting on the rocks.

Fantasyland:
In it's current state, Fantasyland might be a different story at night as some of the key attractions are going down as part of the massive expansion of this land. Nevertheless, I could just stare at Cinderella Castle for hours at night, especially when the holiday lights are up. Fantasyland at night is worth it just to see Cinderella Castle. If you get a chance to ride Dumbo before it closes (presumably sometime next year), it's a neat experience at night. Who knows, you might even find a character or two joining you, sometimes just before the park closes. No promises, but it's been known to happen at times.

Main Street USA:
Stroll down Main Street USA. All the different signs light up and you can't help but be transported back to a time nearly forgotten. The charm of Main Street really comes out once the lights come on. Of course, this is the prime location to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes, but not the only location. I'll talk about alternative viewing locations in an upcoming post, possibly next week.

Toon Town Fair:
As this land is about to close in just a few months, there's not much to say about Toon Town. If you get the chance to stroll one last time before it closes forever, do it.

Coming up in a future post, we'll examine the evening gems at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney and the various resorts.

Until next time, have a magical day!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Keeping the Magic alive

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Unless you happen to be one of the lucky few who work at WDW or live close by, most of us don't have the opportunity to experience the wonder and magic of Walt Disney World every day. Those of us who get to the parks only a few times a year (or less), have to find other ways to keep the Disney magic alive and to find our "Disney fix."

As I was thinking about what to write about this week, I took stock of all the Disney activities I'm involved in. I run a Disney fan blog, I occasionally appear on a Disney podcast, I'm frequently on some Disney message boards and chats, I'm constantly talking to Disney friends on Facebook, I participate in Disney contests, I've applied (again) for the Disney Mom's Panel, it goes on and on.

Basically, I realized that I rely on a number of sources to keep my Disney magic going each and every week. I also realized that I need to rely on sources to keep the magic alive, then others probably are too and may even be looking for other ways to connect with the Disney fan community.

So this week, I'm sharing how I keep the Disney magic going each week through different Disney related activities. I hope you will find this list helpful and maybe you'll discover some new resources for a little extra Disney magic. Please note that this is not an endorsement for any particular business or service.

First up are some official Disney sites...

The Official Disney Parks Blog: Since the official blog started a little over a year ago, it quickly has become one of the top sources for Disney news. I think Disney realized that if the online community was going to break Disney news, they might as well be the ones breaking the news online and they do a fantastic job of it. I have the official blog in my RSS feed reader so I'm alerted to new items as they are posted.

The Walt Disney World Mom's Panel: In a similar manner to the official Disney Parks Blog, the Disney Mom's Panel Web site is a great site to get questions answered. I keep an eye on this site to see if there are answers to questions I might not know the answer to.

D23: I am a proud Charter Member of D23 and, personally, the membership is very much worth it even though I have not been able to attend any D23 events yet (I hope this will change soon). The D23 Web site is a great resource for some historical information and I enjoy the old Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics.

WDWNews.com: This is Walt Disney World's official Web site for the news media. You need a login to access most of the content, but you can read the latest news releases and announcements.

Ok, now for the fan sites/publications, and I frequently visit a lot of them! First up is...

DisneyDaddy Blog!!! Ok, ok... shameless self promotion... had to do it!

Celebrations Magazine: Yes, I'm a writer for Celebrations, but I'm also a subscriber. I read each issue cover to cover and often go back to re-read articles. This really is a fantastic magazine and I'm always closely looking at Tim Devine's photography to see how he creates those beautiful images.

The WDW Radio Show: I have had the honor of being a guest several times on this podcast. Lou Mongello has turned this into an audio-version of a Disney magazine with in-depth segments about different Disney topics, often featuring the actual people who make the magic happen. I never miss a show!

WDW Today: This is another podcast I listen to every week. They usually have three episodes a week and a monthly live show. What I like about WDW Today is the banter. I tend to think of WDW Today as late-night Disney talk. There's a lot of humor, quite a bit of sarcasm, plenty of negative views about Disney (which I appreciate the honesty) and some good information at the same time. Lou also has a vast message board system with tons and tons of information and posts.

Inside The Magic: This is the third weekly podcast I listen to. Unlike WDW Today or the WDW Radio Show, Ricky Brigante's podcast is much like the nightly news. Ricky has a nice standard format with lots and lots of news, some extra item, a commentary from "Skipper Ben," and a little bit of Q&A.

Mouse World Radio: Ahhh, there's nothing like listening to Disney music while you're working (or writing blog posts!). Mike Newell (who is one of the hosts on WDW Today) has so much Disney music, I still am amazed at how in the world he gets it all. His library of Disney park audio may rival Disney's itself. Recently, Mike added some new features so you can listen to MWR on your smartphone -- I've done this a few times and the quality is pretty good.

D-Cot: One of the downsides of Mouse World Radio is that you don't have control of the playlist. D-Cot solved that problem with their online jukebox. You pick what you want to listen to and it plays. Disney park audio on demand -- pretty sweet! The library isn't as vast at MWR, but new files are added all the time.

Scrapping the Magic: This is a different side to Disney fandom. April Baker has developed a fun site with all sorts of craft-related ideas. She holds monthly photo contests with real prizes and has a fun list of message board-based games. You'll find me on here all the time. April also holds a weekly live trivia contest via chat. It's every Friday night starting at 9:30. It's a lot of fun and I'm on this chat often.

The Daily Disney: This is a Web site created by The Orlando Sentinel. This site is a great resource for Disney news and a bit of commentary. If there's breaking news at Disney, this is a great resource to get the news fast.

AllEars.net: If you're looking for information about the Disney parks, say you need to find a menu for a restaurant or are looking for park hours or when Fantasmic! is playing, AllEars.net is one of two sites I recommend.

WDWInfo.com: This is the other site. Both have a wealth of information.

So there you go -- some more ways to keep the magic alive in between trips to Walt Disney World. I hope you will find these helpful and will be active in the Disney online community -- we're a fun bunch!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bambi and Smokey Bear team up to help prevent forest fires



Yesterday a new campaign aimed at preventing forest fires featuring Bambi and Smokey Bear went live. The new PSAs feature characters and scenes from Disney’s Bambi and communicate Smokey Bear’s enduring message, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” Bambi starred in the first Wildfire Prevention PSA in 1944, prior to Smokey Bear’s debut in the campaign later that year. The new ads are being distributed to media outlets nationwide to coincide with Fire Prevention Week (October 3-9).

Since 1944, Smokey Bear has been a recognized symbol of protection of America’s forests. His message about wildfire prevention has helped to reduce the number of acres lost annually by wildfires, from about 22 million (1944) to an average of 6.5 million today. However, wildfire prevention remains one of the most critical environmental issues affecting our country. Many Americans believe that lightning starts most wildfires. In fact, on average, 9 out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by people. The principle causes are campfires left unattended, debris burning on windy days, arson, careless discarding of smoking materials or BBQ coals, and operating equipment without spark arrestors.

Created by Disney, the new television, radio, outdoor and web PSAs specifically target elementary-school children and their parents and seek to continue to decrease the number of human-caused wildfires. The PSAs feature Disney’s Bambi and his woodland friends as they teach children to “Protect Our Forest Friends.”

The PSAs direct audiences to visit the campaign’s website, http://www.smokeybear.com/, where they can take a pledge and learn more about wildfire prevention. While the new PSAs directly target elementary school children, Smokey Bear continues to encourage young adults to be proactive in preventing wildfires through his social media channels on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube and through a series of online games and widgets featured on the sites:

• Facebook: www.facebook.com/smokeybear
• MySpace: www.myspace.com/wildfireprevention
• Twitter: www.twitter.com/smokey_bear
• YouTube: www.youtube.com/smokeybear
• Mobile: http://www.smokeybearmobile.com/

“We are delighted to reunite Smokey Bear and Disney’s Bambi to remind Americans about their important role in wildfire prevention. They are both beloved and enduring characters and these wonderful new PSAs will continue to resonate with a new generation of children and further the reach of Smokey’s critical messages,” said to Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of The Advertising Council.

Since 1944, Smokey Bear has been communicating his well-known message, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” In 2001, the term ‘wildfires’ was introduced to define all unwanted, unplanned fires in natural areas, including grass fires and brush fires.

The Ad Council will be distributing the new PSAs to media outlets nationwide. Per the organization’s model, the PSAs are airing and running in advertising time and space that is donated by the media. Over the last 66 years, media outlets have donated more than $1 billion in time and space for the Wildfire Prevention campaign.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Going Deluxe

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to begin a discussion about the benefits of staying at a deluxe resort on property, as opposed to a value or moderate resort. I have four personal favorite deluxe resorts, and I'm going to share why I feel these resorts provide so much value to justify the extra cost.

Grand Floridian
First up is the Grand Floridian Resort (my #1a favorite). Located on the western shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian is the flagship of the deluxe resorts at Walt Disney World. As such, it is often the most expensive. The GF offers a number of fantastic features that make it worth staying there, especially during certain times of the year. First and foremost is location, location, location. The GF is one monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom, something that's especially handy for families with younger children.

The resort is elegantly themed with one of the most beautiful lobbies on property. The GF also has one of the best resort-based character dining options (1900 Park Fare) featuring different characters for breakfast and dinner. In all, the Grand Floridian offers the most elaborate fine dining of any resort with Narcoosee's, Citricos and the ultra-upscale Victoria and Albert's.

During the Christmas season, the Grand Floridian truly shines with the best resort holiday theming on property bar none. The gingerbread house at the GF is worth it alone. Add in the live holiday music, the gigantic lobby tree, the Photopass studio shots in the evening with the tree as a background and the innumerable poinsettias all over the place, you'll quickly see why the GF is the best place to be during the holidays, especially during the value season.

Now, all this being said, the GF is not the best option year round. During the most expensive holiday season (between Christmas and New Years), I don't recommend the GF as the cost skyrockets. The GF, however, is my #1 recommendation for the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's value season and you can't find any better resort, especially if Disney offers a good discount.

While I like the GF, it's not my #1 recommendation for the warmer (ok, blistering!) summer months. That's because there's another resort that's my #1b favorite...

The Yacht/Beach Club
If you're coming to Walt Disney World during the hotter half of the year, you need to stay somewhere where you can cool off, and there's no better place than the Yacht/Beach Club resorts -- and that's because of Stormalong Bay. Stormalong Bay is the largest resort pool on property and it's also the largest sand-bottom pool in the world. Stormalong Bay is a mini waterpark in itself and it's fantastic.

Personally, I prefer the Beach Club over the Yacht Club because of the closer access to Epcot (remember, location, location, location). From your room, it's less than a five minute walk to the International Gateway. Also, all the great restaurants and shops at the Boardwalk are only a few minutes away.

The Beach Club also receives a holiday theming overlay during November and December and it's pretty nice as well. Of course, it's more beach-oriented and is not as grand as the GF. Still, the Beach Club is a nice option for the winter months. Oh, and don't think that you can't enjoy Stormalong Bay during the cooler months -- the water's heated!

And now for the others...
The GF and Beach Club are my two favorite resorts, but I also really like three other resorts: The Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Boardwalk. I like these for some of the same reasons I like the GF and the Beach, and these reasons are:

Location, location, location -- the Polynesian and Contemporary are on the monorail and offer quick access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Boardwalk is within walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Each resort has outstanding theming, large rooms and excellent dining options.

So why should you think deluxe?
Well as I've said several times, location, location, location and theming, theming, theming.

Think about it. How much time do you spend waiting for a bus to get to a resort? The average is 20-30 minutes (each time). How much time do you spend waiting for a bus to go back to your resort? Depending on when you're leaving the park, it could be quite a long time - upwards of an hour. Staying at a deluxe resort literally can save you several hours during your trip (to say nothing about being much less stressful). It's a lot nicer to be able to walk back to your resort (Yacht/Beach, Boardwalk or Contemporary) or take a monorail (Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian) as opposed to waiting in a huge line to catch a bus.

And then there's all the other benefits of staying at a deluxe resort that you don't get at a moderate or value.

The first is space. Deluxe rooms are much larger than rooms at value or moderate resorts. You'll appreciate that additional elbow room after being in a small room for a few days. Along with the extra space comes the ability for extra guests. I have a family of 5. That means I really can't stay at any of the value or moderate resorts (Port Orleans Riverside excepted) because they can only accommodate four people. Nearly all the deluxe resorts (Wilderness and Animal Kingdom excepted) can accommodate 5 to six people. It's really nice to keep the family in one room without having to book a second room.

The second is another benefit of location, location, location. Not only do you have a short travel time to get to a nearby park, you also have the ability to watch the evening fireworks, possibly from your room or on the beach. This is especially true for the Magic Kingdom area resorts. The picture shown above was taken from the balcony of our room at the Polynesian in March. You can see the same angle from the beach at the Polynesian -- and the music is piped in. You get another great angle over at the Grand Floridian, especially by the main dock for the resort launches.

You really have to ask yourself how much is your time worth? How much is convenience worth? How much is theming and atmosphere worth?

There's an old saying... once you go deluxe, you'll never want to go back. Personally, I think they're right.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tip Tuesday: La Nouba!

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

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

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

Below is a news release Disney issued today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Avoiding the Fireworks

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

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

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

So what are these guests to do?

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

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

Magic Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Major Disney releases set for Nov. 30

    Disney fans, listen up!

    November 30 will be a pretty big day for you.

    Why, you may ask?

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

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

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

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

    But wait, there's more.

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

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

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

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Medical needs while at your resort

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Space Mountain tidbits

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Enjoy your next trip from Starport Seven-Five!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Park etiquette - part 2

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

    With that, let's move forward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Partial introduction to Epic Mickey released

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

    Check it out!

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Tip Tuesday: Avoiding the "grunt work"

    Authorized Disney Vacation Planner

    Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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