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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Becoming "Royality" at Walt Disney World

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In honor of the upcoming wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, I thought I'd take a moment to share the story of how my daughter became a "Princess of Virginia," at least for an afternoon -- and it's an experience your little girl (or boy) can share as well!

I'm talking about the "My Disney Girl Perfectly Princess Tea Party" held most mornings (except Tuesday and Saturday) at the Grand Floridian Resort. This event, which starts at around 10:30 a.m., is a fairly exclusive opportunity for little girls to let their inner princess out a bit.

Bookings for this event are suggested 180 days in advance, and it can be a difficult booking because of the small guest list for each tea party. The event runs $250 for one adult and one child. Additional children can attend for an additional fee ($100-$150 a person depending on age). Yes, it's a bit expensive, but as you'll see, it's well worth it. Bookings must be made by phone by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463). A credit card is required at the time of booking.

What makes this tea party such a royal event is, well, the royal treatment. My wife (the DisneyMommy) and my daughter attended this event in June 2007.

The tea party begins in the lobby of the Grand Floridian where guests check in and are invited to be seated in the lobby. At this point, I'm going to only be talking about what the little princesses do. Moms (and dads) become ladies/gentlemen in waiting and serve at the pleasure of the princess (and take lots of pictures!).

Princesses are not permitted to enter the tea party until they are first properly announced to those in attendance. "Welcome to the princess of Virginia!" After being properly announced, each princess is escorted to their table with their entourage (parents) following along. Waiting at the table is a very special friend -- a My Disney Girl Doll, dressed like Aurora. The doll is about the same size as an American Girl doll, as I believe some of the AG outfits may fit the My Disney Girl dolls. Disney does sell additional outfits for the My Disney Girl dolls at stores all across the property. I personally recommend the gift shop at the Grand Floridian (upstairs). They seem to have some of the best selection of doll clothes and accessories around.

The doll is yours to keep (which accounts for the cost), and the tea party is a wonderful way for your child to be introduced to her new doll. In addition to the doll, little princesses are presented with their own tiara, bracelet, special scrapbook page and "Best Friends" certificate.

I should note that little princes are welcome as well. Should a prince attend the tea party, they will be presented with a Disney Bear (similar to Duffy) and a princely crown instead.

Once all the royal guests are seated, the first special guest makes her appearance -- Rose Petal (see top photo). Rose Petal has a special story which she will tell. I won't spoil the story other than to say she has a special connection to the other special guest -- Aurora herself!

Both characters spend a lot of time with the little princesses (and princes) and there are plenty of opportunities for photos. Rose Petal leads the royal guests in some songs and a princess parade around the tea room.

As you can see, the Princess Tea Party pulls out all the stops. All guests (including children) enjoy tea or "special tea" (apple juice) on fine china. The food is pretty good as well with cucumber sandwiches (an English tradition), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for kids), biscuits, scones and other pastries.

And what's a tea party without cake! Naturally the royal guests (and their escorts) are treated to a special princess cake to top off the event.

The entire event runs about 90 minutes and is packed with activities. This isn't your typical "for kids" event with a few events and time to eat. There is a lot to do in that 90 minutes.

When you think about everything that you get, the doll, the tiara, bracelet, certificate, tea, cake and more - the $250 price tag for two people really isn't all that bad.

I highly recommend the My Disney Girl Perfectly Princess Tea Party for any little girl looking to have a little royal treatment time. It's a wonderful event and the doll has become one of my daughter's favorites.

Friday, April 22, 2011

De-valuing the Annual Pass

Disney has announced their new lineup of Annual Passholder discounts for Walt Disney World for the spring/summer:
35% off select Disney Deluxe Resort Villas
30% off select Disney Deluxe Resorts*
20% off select Disney Moderate Resorts
20% off select Disney Value Resorts

* - excludes the Polynesian and Wilderness Lodge resorts for travel dates June 3-Aug.13 and excludes the Animal Kingdom Lodge for travel dates June 3-June 14.

Here endeth the news portion of this post. Bring out the soapbox please.

Thank you.

I try to refrain from ranting and raving on this blog. I prefer to provide facts and useful information, not just opinion. Today, I beg your forgiveness as I share my own thoughts on this latest announcement.

While this might sound like a great deal, keep in mind that Disney recently announced their new spring/summer discounts for the general public, which also features 30% off select deluxe resorts and villas. What's even worse, the public discount for the Polynesian, Animal Kingdom and Wilderness lodges is 25%, yet there is no mention (on the official passholder Web site) of any reduced discounts for AP holders. It's just that the AP discount doesn't apply at all during the dates mentioned above.

So where's the added value of an annual pass? There really isn't one. Oh sure, there's a minor discount for moderate and value resorts, and a bit more off for villas, but to set the AP discount the same as the general public discount has drastically devalued the benefits of the annual pass.

I understand Disney wants to "wean" guests off discounts, but AP discounts aren't the place to do that. If anything, Disney has discouraged guests getting annual passes. Why get an AP if you can get the same room discount without one?

I hope this was just some poor planning and short-sighted thinking. If Disney thinks they can eventually return to the old normal of high rates and ticket prices, then they have made a critical misjudgement. Giving guests more for less is part of the "new normal" for this economy. Get used to it an move on.

OK, I'm done. I'll put the soapbox away for now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tip Tuesday: The windows on Main Street USA

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

It's generally accepted that Walt Disney considered Disneyland (and, later, Walt Disney World), to be living stories -- stories that guests could actually walk into and interact with. That was the genesis for Disneyland.

The opening credits to this living movie are the numerous windows that line Main Street USA in each Magic Kingdom/Disneyland park around the world. Each window pays tribute to the contributions of those who worked so hard to make the park a reality. There are different windows in each park, though windows dedicated to some key individuals can be found in all parks.

I can't begin to count the number of guests who hastily rush down Main Street USA, trying to get to the next attraction and don't take a moment to appreciate the special tributes to the Imagineers who turned a dream into reality.

At Walt Disney World, the beginning to the opening credits has to begin with the man who started it all: Walt Disney. High up atop the Main Street Train Station is a window dedicated to Walt Disney. The window reads, "Railroad Office, Keeping Dreams on Track. Walter E. Disney, Chief Engineer." This window pays tribute not only to Walt Disney, but also to Walt's love of trains. That's why there is a railroad at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

As you pass underneath the train station, you will see windows all over the place along Main Street USA.

Each window gives a bit of a hint about what contribution that person made to the creation of the park. For instance, the window seen above is a tribute to Walt Disney's long time friend Ub Iwerks. Iwerks was instrumental in developing new technologies for many different facts of the Disney company.

Perhaps my most favorite "window" isn't really a window at all, but a door. It's the Casting Agency door, which was dedicated to the cast members at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I seek this door out every time I'm on Main Street. It's one way to give a brief nod to Walt himself and pay tribute to the man who started it all.

Of course, there are a LOT of windows at Disneyland (more than 60) and Walt Disney World (more than 85) to try to see. Discovering the backstory for each window can be an even greater task. Fortunately, Disney has a resource for you.

Disney and D23 recently published a small book with brief stories about a few windows on Main Street USA in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. This book, "Windows on Main Street" can be found in many stories all over Disneyland and Walt Disney World and but scratches the surface on all the windows and tributes on Main Street.

The next time you start "walkin' right down the middle of Main Street USA," take a moment to look around and appreciate the tributes to the various Imagineers who used their own brand of pixie dust to make incredible magic a reality.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Rope drop at the Magic Kingdom

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday! This week, I'll round out my series on what to do at rope drop at the parks. This week, we're heading to the Magic Kingdom!! First and foremost, you'll need to arrive at the Magic Kingdom turnstiles no later than 30 minutes before park opening. Every morning, Disney puts on a brief welcome show (see photo above) where a family of the day is chosen to help open the park. In order to get a good view of the welcome show, you'll want to be toward the middle of the main entrance plaza. However, if you're more interested in getting into the park, then make your way to either the left or right entrances and be ready to move (please don't run) when the ropes drop. Once you help Mickey count down from ten, the park will officially open and it's time for the big crush through the two tunnel entrances and down Main Street. So where do you go now? Well this depends on what you're interested in and who you're with. I'll try to boil your options down to three basic scenarios. Scenario 1: Time to Fly!!

The quintecential attraction for young children, riding Dumbo is a rite-of-passage. This also means that Dumbo is widly popular. The short flying elephant attraction can quickly generate queues of well over and hour by late morning. If you have young children who are dying to take their turn soaring into the skies on an elephant, you'll want to make your way straight to Dumbo once the park opens.

After your little one has soared through the sky on Dumbo, you'll want to head straight to another popular flying attraction -- Peter Pan's Flight. This is another attraction that is wildly popular and also quickly can generate a huge queue. Unless there is a short standby line, you should grab a FastPass and move on to other attractions, such as the carousel or it's a small world. When your FastPass window opens, you can return and enjoy a nighttime flight over London (I still love that scene!).

Scenario 2: The Thrill Seeker

There's something about racing along a roller coaster track feeling the wind race past. The Magic Kingdom has plenty of options for thrill seekers, most notably the Mountains of the Magic Kingdom (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain). For the thrill seeker, the first destination after rope drop is Space Mountain. If you can do so quickly, grab a FastPass and then head straight into the standby line for your first launch from StarPort 77. After you return to Earth, make your way to Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland.

While you're walking, take note of when you can get another FastPass. It will say so at the bottom of the FastPass ticket (see this previous post for more).

As you approach Big Thunder, glance to the left and see what the FastPass and standby lines are for Splash Mountain. Then glance ahead at the FastPass and standby lines for Big Thunder. Odds are, the standby lines will likely be fairly short (3o minutes or less). Here's where you have to do some thinking. Depending on when you can get another FastPass, enter the standby line that will take up the remaining amount of time until you can get another FastPass. For instance, if the current time is 8:30 a.m. and you can get another FastPass ticket at 9 a.m., you need to burn 30 minutes. See which line best matches how much time you have left to kill and go. Once you come off Splash Mountain or Big Thunder, grab a FastPass for the attraction that has the soonest FastPass time, even if it's for the attraction you just came off of.

Now head into the standby line for the other attraction (Splash or Big Thunder). Again, you shouldn't see a standby line longer than about 30 minutes or so. While you're waiting in the second standby line, again take a look at when you can pick up your third FastPass. When that window opens, grab a pass for whichever mountain you don't have one for yet. Now you'll have three FastPasses to use later in the day when the crowds are much higher.

Scenario 3: the no-FastPass Route

While many attractions at the Magic Kingdom have a FastPass option, just as many, if not more, do not. So while you may have the opportunity to bypass a long standby line with FastPasses for some attractions, there is no such option at many beloved attractions at the Magic Kingdom.

So the best way to get an early jump on those non-FastPass attractions is to head to them first. Chief among them, in my opinion, is the Haunted Mansion, especially since the new queue area opened a few weeks ago, making the Mansion particularly popular.

After rope drop, head straight down Main Street and veer to the left to enter Liberty Square. Make your way straight into the interactive queue for the Haunted Mansion, taking time to enjoy the different activities. After your return to the world of the living, head straight through Frontierland to the far entrance to Adventureland. It's time to greet some salty 'ol pirates at Pirates of the Caribbean, taking the right queue line (I think it's better).

Assuming you survive your journey and don't meet a pirate's end, you may want to cross over into Tomorrowland to pick up a FastPass for Space Mountain and then check out the queue for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, the Tomorrowland Speedway or the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and enjoy the rest of your day!

Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of those precious few hours at park opening when the crowd levels are at their lowest.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Rope drop at Animal Kingdom

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I'll continue my series on what to do at rope drop in each of the four parks at Walt Disney World. This week we'll brave the wilds at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Now some may think there's no real need for a rope drop plan at Animal Kingdom because not as many people go to Animal Kingdom as opposed to the other three parks.

Ahh, but you just might be wrong.

One key factor is that Animal Kingdom doesn't have as many major attractions (compared to the other three parks). This means the initial demand for those attractions will be high, despite lower overall crowds.

OK, enough pre-game analysis. Time for rope drop!

As you first make your way through the Oasis to Discovery Island, you have a big choice to make: left or right. This may sound like I'm being facetious, but I'm quite serious. You're pretty much deciding between the Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest.

So which way do you go? To be honest, it's a decision that can go either way, and I'd say some of that depends on the weather. If it's raining, I would probably head left toward Africa and the Safaris. Why? The Safari vehicles are covered, while the Expedition Everest cars aren't. Depending on how hard it's raining, Everest might not even be running.

The weather also plays another key deciding factor: if the forecast calls for very hot temperatures later in the day then you definitely want to go to the Safaris. Why? The animals are much more active in the morning as opposed to during the heat of the afternoon.

If, however, you're not all that interested in seeing the animals (why are you at Animal Kingdom then?), then you should hang a right and head for Expedition Everest. Either way, you'll want to take a quick glance at the FastPass areas to see what the line looks like. If you can, grab a quick FastPass and then either go into the attraction or head to the opposite attraction and go into the standby line. If, however, the FastPass line is pretty long, you'll probably have a shorter wait going straight into the standby line and trying to get a FastPass afterward.

Don't forget about some of the other great attractions at Animal Kingdom, such as Finding Nemo the Musical and Dinosaur! These can be great attractions to take in while you're waiting for a FastPass window to open. The various walkways and paths also are great places for discovery.

Don't forget that you may be able to hold more than one FastPass at at time. I'll talk more about an alternate approach to rope drop in a future post. In the meantime, enjoy your adventure!

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