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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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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. 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. 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, is one of two sites I recommend. 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,, 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:
• MySpace:
• Twitter:
• YouTube:
• Mobile:

“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.

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