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Friday, December 30, 2011

Photo Friday: A high-up view of MK fireworks

View of the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from the Contemporary Resort
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

As we get set to celebrate New Year's Eve (if you'are at the parks right now, I feel your pain for all the lines!), I thought I'd share a fireworks photo from a unique perspective -- near the top of the Contemporary Resort.

I happened to book a Magic Kingdom view room back in January 2011 and was astounded at the jaw-dropping view of the Magic Kingdom.  Imagine having this view outside your window day and night.  It was well worth the extra cost.

One of the best perks was what you see here -- an incredible view of the fireworks! 

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Prepping for Marathon Weekend

Half-marathon start in 2010
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well, there's less than two weeks away until the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  I've been in training (not enough) for my first ever full marathon.  About a month ago, I shared my thoughts for some of the best spectator spots to cheer on runners.

This week, I want to delve into some of the ways runners can get prepared for the event.

First, of course is to train (again, something I have not done enough of ).  RunDisney has developed a great partnership with famed marathon runner and trainer Jeff Galloway to provide the Galloway Training System -- a reasonable schedule where runners can get prepared for a half or full marathon with a series of short and long runs.  I've tried to follow this system as much as I could and I can see how it can really be helpful for those new to the marathon experience.

Beyond training, there are some things runners will need to have "on board" with them as they complete the course.
  1. Food:  Non-runners might think that a runner will need to eat a lot during an event to keep energy levels up.  In my experience, that's really not the case.  Yes, runners should have an energy bar or two on hand during the event, but most runners I've talked to don't want all that much food with them - mostly because that's extra weight to carry.  Also, there are four food stations (during the full marathon) located along the 2nd half of the course.  At these stations (according to other WDW Radio Running Team Members) are bananas, chocolate chip bars, energy packets (usually Gu - see below) and other items.  "Best bananas ever," so they say.  I do recommend eating a banana because it's so high in potassium, which will help.
  2. Fluids:  Runners need a lot.  But the good news is they don't need to carry any at all.  This is one of the biggest differences between a running event and training runs.  In a training run, runners have to carry water with them - quite a bit, especially on long runs.  In a running event, there are plenty of water/Powerade stations for runners to keep hydrated, so there's no need to carry their own water. 
    • Half Marathon:  Water/Powerade stations are located at:
      • Just past Mile 1
      • Mile 3.5
      • Mile 4.5
      • Just past Mile 6
      • Just past Mile 7
      • Just past Mile 9
      • Just past Mile 10
      • Mile 11
      • Just past Mile 12
      • Finish (Mile 13.1)
    • Full Marathon:  Water/Powerade stations are located at:
      • Just past Mile 1
      • Just past Mile 2
      • Just before Mile 4.5
      • Mile 6.5
      • Just past Mile 7
      • Mile 8.5
      • Just past Mile 9
      • Just past Mile 11
      • Just past Mile 12
      • Mile 13.5
      • Just past Mile 14
      • Just past Mile 15
      • Mile 16
      • Mile 17.5
      • Mile 18.5
      • Mile 19.5
      • Mile 20.5
      • Just past Mile 21
      • Just past Mile 22
      • Mile 23
      • Mile 24
      • Just before Mile 25
      • Finish (Mile 26.2)
  3. Energy:  While runners will need a bit of food and lots of water/Powerade, they will need some additional kicks of energy as they go through the course.  That's where energy chews and Gu come into play.  What are these?  Energy chews are flavored gummies that contain a high amount of caffiene, vitamins and electrolytes to help keep runners' energy levels up.  Gu is a similar product that's more, well, gooey.  For my upcoming run, I've purchased several packets of energy chews and two packets of Gu.  Between these, my energy bars and the Powerade, I should have all the energy I need.  Oh, and don't slack off the energy products just because you're close to the finish!  I did that in a recent half-marathon and nearly hit the wall inside the last mile - it probably cost me 3-5 minutes.
  4. Communication:  It's a good idea to have a cell phone handy to keep touch with friends and family looking to cheer runners on.  It's also a good way to share the running experience with others through social media (just be careful texting and running!).  I'm planning to stream portions of my run live via Ustream at so I hope to see you online!
  5. Pictures!!!:  There are tons (and I mean tons) of photo opportunities while out on the race course, so it's a very good idea for runners to have some sort of camera with them.  I'd suggest bringing a camera that has a flash, be it point-and-shoot or cellphone.  Also, if you're running with friends (something else I strongly suggest), you'll want some of those on-the-road pictures.  They're some of the best shots you'll have during the event.  Just be mindful of your time.  You have to maintain at least a 16-minute per mile pace, so don't get swept because you were standing in line for photo after photo (and there will be lines).  That being said, one photo I do recommend a decent wait for is with Jack Sparrow (if it's offered this year).  It's usually located backstage just after the runners leave Frontierland.  It's a great opportunity that's not normally available in the parks.
Next week, I'll wrap up my thoughts about preparing for Marathon weekend, including dealing with the (sometimes) unpredictable winter Florida weather.

If you're in training -- keep it up!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Photo Friday: Hark the Herald Angel

Epcot Christmas tree angel
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

Well, it's the final week before Christmas, so it's time to present what may be my best Christmas-related photo (thus far).  I took this shot in December 2008.  There was a full moon so I managed to position my photography position to get the full moon into the frame. 

I hope you enjoy this shot and I hope you and your family have a very happy and safe Christmas!!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Holidays Around the World

Los Treos Magos
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

With Christmas just days away, I wanted to share a special holiday event at Epcot that my family and I enjoy whenever we're at the parks during the holidays.  In most of the World Showcase pavilions, Disney presents a holiday story complete with the traditions of that host country.  For example, at the Mexico pavilion, the Los Tres Reyos Magos (pictured above) present the story of the three wise men who go to visit the baby Jesus in the manger.

In China, we meet the Monkey King and hear his tale of how he got into trouble and his redemption with a monk.  In Germany, we meet Helga to learn about the different Christmas traditions, including the tradition of the Christmas Tree pickle.  In Italy, we meet Le Befana the Christmas Witch and about the Epiphany celebrations in Italy, while in England we meet Father Christmas, and in France we meet Pierre Noel.  Papa Noel is in Canada.

Holidays around the world
Perhaps my most favorite holiday story is that of Julenissen, the Norwegian Holiday Elf and his "assistant" Sigrid.  They two tell a wonderful story of the holidays in Norway and Julenissen's love of porridge.

If you're thinking of seeing these different storytellers, you'll want to arrive at each location about 15 minutes early in order to get a good view, perhaps even 30 minutes early during the busy post-Christmas week.  Check the daily times guide for presentation times.  Be sure to have a camera ready because most of the storytellers will stick around for photos after their presentation.

Next week, we're getting ready for the marathon.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Once Upon a Time" is the next LOST

Once Upon a Time
I don't know about you, but my family and I are hooked on ABC's newest drama "Once Upon a Time."  (Sunday, 8pm EST) The show is all about how many of the most well-known fairy tale characters are thrust into our world but have no idea who they really are... that is until Emma comes to town.

What I really like about this show is how we discover the past in "Fairy Tale land" at the same time we see what happens in the present in Storybrooke.  It's a wonderful mystery.  We know who these characters really are,  what we don't know is what will make them remember and how.  As we learn more, we also see and experience the great chemistry among the cast, especially between Emma and Regina, the mayor (of course Regina also is latin for Queen). 
Be careful, this show can be addictive... very addictive.  It's from the creators of LOST and it has every bit of the same intrique and mystery that LOST did.  I anticipate "Once Upon a Time" becoming the next really big hit for ABC, again, just like LOST.  I think "Once" might even have a bigger following because it's more family-friendly than LOST was.  Case in point:  my children can't wait to see the next episode and already have their favorite characters.

Now that we're into the holiday season, there unfortunately won't be any new episodes until Jan. 8, 2012.
But if you haven't seen the show, now's a great time to get caught up.  If you're already a fan, now's a good time to watch each episode again to see what you might have missed the first time. has put all 7 complete episodes online at  I've gone back and watched a few already to see if I can pick up on a few more clues to the overall mystery of the curse (watch the first episode, you'll know what I'm talking about).

What do you think about "Once Upon a Time?" Take our poll!  Who's your favorite character?  Post a comment!
And never forget, "All magic comes with a price."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Photo Friday: A "Magic"al Christmas Tree

Main Street USA at Christmas
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

With just over a week to go until Christmas, I think it's time to start enjoying some Christmas trees!  Here is a nice view of the Magic Kingdom Christmas tree from the 2nd floor balcony of the Main Street Railroad Station.  There's nothing so magical and wonderful like a huge Christmas tree full of lights...

Oh, and if you like Christmas trees, just wait until you see the shot I've been saving for the final Friday before Christmas!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Last minute Disney holiday shopping

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Ok, here's the 'sitch (to borrow a line from Kim Possible):  there's only 12 days left until Christmas and you want to get your special someone that perfect Disney gift that you remember seeing at the parks on your last trip.  There's one little problem -- it's not sold online at  What do you do?

You are not without hope.  Disney has an entire staff of "shoppers" ready to find that special item for you.  It's called the WDW Mail Order Service.

All you need to do is call them at 407-363-6200 or send an e-mail to to place an order. Be sure to give as much information about the item as possible so the folks at Disney can try to find it for you.

Now, I hate to be a Grinch, but I do have to tell you that if the item you're looking for is sold out in the parks or resorts, you might be out of luck.

I've used this service a few times and it's been very handy.  In fact, I've even called in advance to have some items delivered to my resort so they were at the front desk when I checked in.  Best of all, it doesn't cost a thing!

If you are trying to get that last-minute Disney item -- good luck!!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Photo Friday: MK entrance at the holidays

Main St. USA Train Station at the holidays
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

We're another week closer to Christmas.  This week, I thought I'd share a shot from Dec. 2008 showing the entrance to the Magic Kingdom all decked out for the holidays.  I especially like the rich blue sky in this shot.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Seeing the castle lighting

Cinderella Castle Dreamlights
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As we continue to celebrate the holidays, I wanted to share a few tips about another magical event that takes place nightly at the Cinderella Forecourt Stage in the Magic Kingdom, and that's the lighting of Cinderella Castle. 

If you're never seen the Cinderella Castle "Dreamlights" (as they're called), then you must try to see this in person.  Like the Osborne Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios, photos and/or videos just don't do it justice.  It is truly a spectacle to behold.

Now the lights don't just come one once it gets dark.  This is Disney, which means we have to have some fanfare and a little bit of magic. 

Cinderella Castle Dreamlights

Each night around dusk, Mickey, Minnie and the gang come out to enjoy the evening and notice how everything's decorated for the holidays... everything but the castle that is.  After a bit of discussion about how the castle should the decorated, the Fairy Godmother intervenes and asks Cinderella how she would like her castle decorated.  Naturally, Cinderella wants her castle to shine with ice and snow (even in Florida).

Remember what I said about magic?  Well the Fairy Godmother (with a little help from the audience) magically adds shimmering ice to decorate the castle for the holidays.

Disney's Imagineers really outdid themselves on this effort.  When we all heard the Imagineers were thinking of "plussing" up the castle for the holidays, visions of pink birthday cake danced (more like exploded) in our heads.  Instead, the Imagineers took one of the most photographed building in the world and made it even better.  In all, more than 250,000 LED lights adorn the castle.  What's really impressive is that the Imagineers wove the lights into specially dyed fishing nets, so there's no tangling and, with the dyed net, the lights are nearly invisible except when viewed close up.  From the hub, you have a hard time even seeing them.

Ok, so now that I've got you dying to see this wondrous sight... just where's the best place to see it?

You can stand anywhere around the hub and if you're really interested in the stage show, you may want to plan to stand close up.  I personally like being farther back so I can take in the entire vista.  I recommend standing along the railing in front of the Crystal Palace.  You won't have anyone in front of you and it's a great vantage point.  The railing in front of the Plaza Restaurant also is a good spot.

Be sure to find a spot about 15-30 minutes before the show starts! 

See you next week!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Want more Prep and Landing?

Prep and Landing

The newest Prep and Landing special just aired about a hour ago on ABC and I have to say it was absolutely "tinsel!!"  Avoiding re-hashing the same storyline as the original, this new show still maintains the "James Bond" look and feel in a completely new direction. I also appreciated the emphasis on family and how, even at the holidays (ok, especially at the holidays) we all can get on each other's nerves a bit.

If you're like me and you're looking for even more Prep and Landing fun, the folks over at have you covered.  Just check out the Prep and Landing page for more fun including all-new webisodes, "behind-the-scenes" videos and more!

You also can watch the special Prep and Landing short, "Operation Secret Santa."

So get your goggles ready.  It's Jingle time!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Photo Friday: Standing guard at the Osborne Lights

Osborne Lights
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

As we continue our holiday-themed photos, I wanted to share a picture from my favorite holiday event at Walt Disney World - the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  This (and pretty much any other photo you see) really don't do the Osborne Lights justice -- they truly are that spectacular.

I took this photo while waiting in line to take a PhotoPass picture with the light switch and the trees/soldiers seen here.  You can see that photo in this week's Tip Tuesday post. Like most night photography, you really need to find a way to hold your camera very still and allow the shutter to be open for a longer time (this shot had a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second).  I also like the slightly odd angle to the image - it just looks different.

I hope you enjoy this and more holiday photos from Walt Disney World!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Better night photos at the Osborne Lights

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Now that the holiday season is officially upon us, I wanted to give some tips specifically related to the holiday season.

It's no surprise that my most favorite holiday event at Walt Disney World is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios.  There's nothing like it in the world!  If you're looking to get some good photos, however, you might find that's much harder that you think.  Mostly, it's because the event takes place at night and you're using a standard point-and-shoot camera, you're probably going to have to shoot your pictures using a small flash which tends to wash out the background.

If only you had better equipment to use... but you do!

Disney has several PhotoPass photographers station at various locations throughout the Osborne lights area.  Each photographer has a professional-grade Nikon camera with lights and (most importantly) a good steady tripod.  This means they can take those longer exposure shots that allow the background lights to be much more vivid in the final photo (see above).

If you take advantage of these and other PhotoPass opportunities, you can later purchase a digital download of the photo or (better yet) a CD of every shot.  You'll really appreciate the kind of pictures you'll get -- far better than what you (or anyone else) could take with a standard point-and-shoot camera, or even a decent SLR.

So be sure to take advantage of the top quality provided by PhotoPass - it really will help you best capture all those holiday memories at Walt Disney World!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Photo Friday: Castle Dreamlights at dusk

Cinderella Castle Dreamlights
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

Now that the holidays are officially here, it's time to start sharing some of my many holiday photos from Walt Disney World.  Where better to start that at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.  I absolutely love the Castle Dreamlights that were added in 2007.  This is a shot at dusk when the lights were on before the lighting ceremony.  I especially like this shot because there is enough light to still see the moat, trees and the fading sky, yet the lights are prominent.

I hope you enjoy this first of several holiday photos!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Country Quizzes

Canada quiz
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're back in Epcot to highlight yet another overlooked experience.

Most pavilions have some sort of retail store offering goods from the country the pavilion represents.  However, these stores also often have one little extra bit of fun -- a quiz about that country.

I often encourage Guests to take a few moments to try their hand at these quizzes, not really to show off what they know, but rather as a way to talk with Cast Members who are from those lands.  Invariably, you'll strike up a conversation and learn more about that country, which is what World Showcase is all about.

UK quiz
This particular quiz from the UK pavilion was especially fun for my oldest son, who recently discovered The Beatles and was very interested in the Beatles quiz.

So as you're making your way around the World Showcase, try to take a moment to stop and test your knowledge about the different countries represented in Epcot -- you might know more than you think you did and you certainly will learn something!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Injun Joe's Cave

Injun Joe Cave

Welcome to another Photo Friday! 

I was looking through photos of past trips and ran across this photo I had forgotten about.  This is a scene towards the end of your journey through Injun Joe's Cave on Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland.  I like how the lighting creates the creepy skull effect.  This was a particularly hard shot to take as I had to hold very still in a tight space in order to take a slow-shutter shot.

Enjoy -- if you dare!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Best marathon cheering spots

Marathon finish line

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I'm returning to a topic that's high on my priority list:  SURVIVING the full marathon!!!

Ok, actually I'm talking about some of the best places for spectators to cheer those runners on (believe me, I'll need all the cheering I can get!!).

So without further adieu, here are some of my suggestions for spectator spots along the course (and a few places to avoid).

The starting line
Forget about it.  The race starts at around 5:30 a.m. and you really can't get to the starting line since it's out on Epcot Center Drive.  If you want to pep up your runner, your best bet is to be a the pre-race meeting area where runners will be warming up, checking bags, etc.  Once the runners are called to assemble at the starting line, that's your cue to move to your next spot.

Epcot - full marathon part 1 (and half marathon finish)
Once the race starts, runners (and half marathoners completing their race) will enter Epcot near the Living Seas Pavilion and run along the West side of Spaceship Earth, down to World Showcase.  Half-marathoners will turn around and head back toward the East side of Spaceship Earth and out to the finish line (see below for my comments about the finish line).  Full marathoners will continue into World Showcase, turn left and run along the promenade and go backstage just before the Germany pavilion (based on the map provided by Disney).  Good viewing places along this leg are anywhere in Future World by the fountain.  There's plenty of space for lots of spectators.  I'd be careful about venturing down into World Showcase itself -- it can get a little tight along the promenade, especially by the Mexico pavilion.

Following the Monorail...
After leaving Epcot (and once the half marathon starts), runners will again head down Epcot Center Drive, and will turn north onto World Drive, running through the Magic Kingdom parking booth and through the parking lot to the TTC.  Unless you have the ability to get to this part of the course, I'd recommend against trying to find a spot along this stretch until the TTC.
There are a few possible spots to cheer on runners at the TTC, especially right at the entrance.

Approaching the Magic Kingdom
After passing the TTC, runners will return to World Drive, pass the Contemporary and will turn left into a backstage entrance to the Magic Kingdom.  While it might sound like a good (and convenient) option, the Contemporary is not a good spot for spectators.  The main reason is the runners use the southbound (far) lane and spectators can't get close to the course, so you're cheering from a distance at best.  Also, forget about trying to walk to the Magic Kingdom -- can't happen.  Disney cast members won't allow it.  You have to use the monorail.

I'm running right down the middle of Main Street USA...
Probably the best spectator spot of all is along Main Street USA.  I recommend staying on the West side of the street (the Emporium side), as you can easily see the runners go down Main St. and then walk to the hub to see runners pass through Cinderella Castle and turn down Liberty Square.  Depending on the time of the morning, you might not be able to go down to Liberty Square or Frontierland, so if you want to see your runner(s) go through the Magic Kingdom, you need to arrive about an hour in advance.  Oh, and you just might see a bunch from WDW Radio Running Team cheering on runners here.  This is the traditional spot for Team WDW Radio.

The Grand Floridian
After heading backstage from Frontierland, runners turn south on Floridian Way and head to the Grand Floridian.  Like the Contemporary, this might not be the best of viewing spots as it's hard to get close to the runners.  It's a little easier here than the Contemp, but not much.

Here's where we part company...
From here, half marathoners will continue down Floridian Way onto World Drive and back onto Epcot Center Drive for the return to Epcot and the finish line (see Epcot above).  Full marathoners, however, are only halfway home.  The full marathon course turns right onto Bear Island Drive and heads to Animal Kingdom.  Like the leg approaching the TTC, this is probably not the best place for spectators.  Head onto Animal Kingdom, if you really want to.

Animal Kingdom
After making it through the relatively uninteresting portion of Bear Island Drive, runners will enter Animal Kingdom from backstage around Asia and run in front of Expedition Everest, the Nemo theatre and into Dinoland USA and then backstage again.  That's it for Animal Kingdom (based on the official race map).  The runners do make a brief appearance at the main entrance before heading back out onto the road.   If you really want to see runners go through Animal Kingdom, I'd suggest watching from Dinoland USA where you can easily leave the park afterward.  All-in-all, Animal Kingdom isn't the best place for spectators, based on the limited availability to the runners.

Another dreaded stretch
Here we go again, another uninteresting stretch of plain ol' road called the Oseola Parkway.  The runners will come close to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, but not quite.  Not the best leg for spectators -- skip it.  We'll see you in the Studios.

Hollywood Studios
Ahh, something interesting at last!  There are a ton of great spots here.  The runners enter from backstage somewhere near the Animation courtyard (it's hard to see on the official map), and run through Pixar Place, down the Streets of America (an awesome place for spectators!) and down Hollywood Boulevard (another awesome spectator spot!). 

Almost there!
After leaving the Studios, runners follow the walkway to the Boardwalk, run in front of the Yacht and Beach Clubs and proceed to Epcot's International Gateway.  All along here are outstanding spectator cheering locations, so take your pick.

Epcot, the Sequel
Home at last! Runners enter Epcot from backstage in between the Canada and UK pavilions and run all the way around World Showcase, passing in front of every pavilion before running through Future World on the East side, exiting Epcot and ending at the "thank heavens I made it" Finish Line!  There are plenty of great spectator locations all along World Showcase, with the exception of the Mexico pavilion -- that area is too narrow to allow for good spectator viewing locations.  Likewise, there are plenty of great spots in Future World.

As for the finish line, I really don't recommend it.  Most of the finish line spectator areas are reserved for those who purchased Disney's CheerSquad packages.  Besides, the finish line is a zoo.  You're far better off cheering on the runners from somewhere inside Epcot and then meeting up right after the race ends.

So there you go -- a quick overview of some of the good (and not-so-good) places to watch the 2012 Half and Full Marathons.

To those who are running this year -- good luck and I'll see you in the full marathon!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

PhotoFriday: A tribute to Veterans

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

In honor of Veterans Day, I thought I'd share a photo from June 2010 of the Eagle at the end of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  I like this shot because that bright light above the eagle's head is the full moon.  This photo doesn't do the vista justice.  It was a magical moment!

To all our veterans who have served and to those who serve today, I want to thank you for your sacrifice and for your tireless efforts to protect our freedoms to enjoy places like Walt Disney World.

This photo is dedicated to you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Voices of Liberty

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to follow up on last week's post about the preshow area of the American Adventure pavilion at Epcot.  And what a preshow it is:  The Voices of Liberty.

If you've never experienced the Voices of Liberty, you're missing one of the true gems of World Showcase and one of the few live performance opportunities at Epcot.

The Voices of Liberty is an acapella group that sings patriotic songs and hymns inside one of the most acoustically perfect locations anywhere.  The group stands in the exact center of the rotunda that makes up the entrance to the American Adventure attraction.  Standing in that center creates incredible acoustic conditions.  Just talking about it doesn't do the experience any real justice.  In fact, listening to a recorded performance of the Voices of Liberty doesn't truly capture the live experience.  You really have to hear it to believe it.

The Voices of Liberty performs several times a day, usually before the start of the next showing of the American Adventure.  If you want to hear the Voices of Liberty, it's a good idea to arrive at the American Adventure about 30 minutes before the start of the next show. 

The Voices of Liberty also can be heard outside the parks as well.  The group is known as the Liberty Voices - and they do have CD's available for purchase.  Visit their Web site at:

So the next time you see there's 30 minutes before the next American Adventure attraction, go ahead and go on it -- and experience the wonder and beauty of the Voices of Liberty!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Photo Friday: A face can say a lot... even for a giraffe!

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

It's been a few weeks since my last photo post... it's just been one of those months.

Anyway, by popular request (from my nieces!!!  Hi E. and S.!), here's shot of a giraffe from the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

I especially like the expression on the giraffe's face.  It's almost as if he's saying "how you doin'?"

I'll have to share a few more pics from the Safaris in future posts.

Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tip Tuesday: American Heritage Gallery

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading over to the American Adventure pavilion at Epcot to visit a bit of a hidden treasure - the American Heritage Gallery.  This small exhibit opened late September 2007 and reopened about a year ago after being closed for several months for an update. The updated exhibit features displays about some of America's most notable citizens including Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beacher Stowe, Daniel Inouye and Frederick Douglass.  There also are special displays about your "hosts" inside The American Adventure attraction, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain.  The displays include original artifacts on loan to Epcot.
Here you see some items used by astronauts Gus Grissom and John Glenn.

It's important to take a few minutes to walk around the gallery to learn more about the real people, some of who you will meet in the attraction. 

The gallery, along with the Voices of Liberty (which I'll discuss in a post very soon), is yet another reason why it's a good idea to head into the American Adventure pavilion even if the next showing of the attraction isn't soon.  You'll be glad you did.  You just might learn something too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Photo Friday: Playing with fire, literally

Aloha! Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week, we're heading to the Spirit of Aloha dinner show a the Polynesian Resort. At the end of the performance, a fire dancer comes on stage and amazes the crowd with his ability to literally play with fire.

I especially like this particular shot because the image refracted a bit, making it look like his hair is on fire as well!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tip Tuesday: "Scary" is a relative term

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I want to begin this week's tip with quick story.

My family and I were at Disney's Hollywood Studios in December 2008 and my younger son (who was about 8 at the time) really wanted to ride the Rock-n-Roller Coaster. He'd never been on the attraction before. I described the experience, giving great emphasis on the launch at the beginning and asked again if he wanted to ride.

He said yes.

So I got a pair of FastPasses and a little while later we were boarding the car and off we went. From the moment we launched, I knew this was a bad idea. I don't think I've ever seen a look of terror like I did on his face when we went from 0 to 60 in a hearbeat. Fortunately the ride only lasts a few minutes and we pulled into the unload area.

"I am NEVER riding that again!!" he said.

Six months later, he swore he had changed his mind, so we waited in a 60 minute line in sweltering heat (we already had FastPasses) only for him to change his mind at the last second when he saw one of the cars in front of us launch away.

The "chicken door" is there for a reason.

Now I tell you this story to tell you this week's tip: just because you think your children can handle a potentially scary attraction, don't assume it.

There are plenty of attractions at Walt Disney World that, for whatever reason, might be scary to some children (or even adults). It could be due to the scary content, like the Haunted Mansion; or due to the intense experience, like Rock-n-Roller Coaster or both, like the Tower of Terror.

Even rides you might not think are scary could be frightning to some. Ever been afraid of the dark? Imagine being in something apparently harmless like the TTA Peoplemover, but have a fear of the dark... that ride around Space Mountain can become something truly terrifying.

So if you or someone else has a few fears (don't we all!), you might want to do a bit of research to find out about attractions before you're put into a potentially frightning situation.

There are several resources out there: Just about every attraction can be found on YouTube, so you can watch a first-person ridethrough. Also, read up on the attractions. There are plenty of descriptions on the official Walt Disney World Web site as well as sites like Also check out a new site dedicated to classifying the terror factor of rides, The Disney Ride Classification Program.

I've checked out this site and it's pretty good. If you have a concern about a particular attraction, you can look it up to see it's rating and a description of the experience.

Before you set out for the parks and plan to ride attractions like Mission: Space (orange) or Dinosaur!, do a bit of research to find out what you're in for. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Keep an eye open for those magical moments

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week's tip comes from my wonderful wife, who reminded me of something she's always reminding me about on Disney trips. I'm one who's constantly looking at the Disney details, you know, those little homages to Imagineers, dates, or any other obscure reference Disney geeks thrive on.

My wife, on the other hand, is on the lookout for those magical moments and wants me to capture them -- like this moment you see above. My younger son is less-than-thrilled at how Main Street USA Town Councilman Dewey Cheatum is playing with him. I just love the looks on both faces.

The tip here is simple: take the time and keep your eye open for those little magical moments that are out there. They don't have to be a huge production, it might just be a fun interaction with streetmosphere characters, it might be just laughing at a character's antics during a parade, or it might be just a chance to sit down and enjoy being together in the most magical place on Earth.

Take those moments when they come, because they will never come again. The attractions aren't going anywhere.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Photo Friday: Lights, Camera, Action!

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week, I wanted to share a classic photo from Disney's Hollywood Studios. One of the signature nighttime shots from DHS is of the Sorcerer Mickey hat with the spotlights behind. This is a pretty easy shot to take, if you have the right approach. I took this shot with my Canon XTi and set it on top of a trash can to serve as a tripod. A few test shots in manual mode and here's the final result!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Enjoying the Food & Wine Festival

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading over to Epcot for the 16th Food and Wine Festival (yum!).

This year's Festival features more 25 international marketplaces offering tapas-sized portions paired with beer, wine and inventive new cocktails.

Marketplace tasting menus offer variety and adventure for guests on a mission to tantalize their taste buds during a scenic stroll around the 40-acre World Showcase Lagoon. The adventure can take them to the festival’s first Hawaii marketplace, which will cook up Kalua pork sliders and tuna poke with seaweed salad and lotus root chips to team with a refreshing Seven Tiki Mai Tai or a Kona Longboard or Pipeline beer. A new Caribbean Islands marketplace will serve ropa vieja with rice and jerk-spiced chicken with mango salsa. A beverage menu featuring a frozen Dragon Berry Colada and frozen Rock Coconut Mojito is sure to conjure steel-drum fantasies.

With a swing across the Atlantic, guests will be transported to the new Portugal marketplace, where guests can pair a red, white or port wine with calamari salad with olives and smoked paprika or Linguica sausage with onions, peppers and olives. The Scandinavia marketplace will return after a hiatus with a fresh new Xante Sunshine cocktail made from Xante pear and cognac liquer. And the Canada marketplace will introduce a sweet treat: apple ice wine.

With all these opportunities, it can be a bit overwhelming, so I've put together a few tips to help you best experience the Food and Wine Festival (or F&W for short):

Take your time and take more than just one day
F&W is simple huge. Don't believe me? Take a look at the guidemap to see just how many kiosks are available this year. With so many options, it's simply not possible to sample everything in a single day. Also, if you try to rush it, all you'll end up doing is making yourself sick and not enjoying the different cuisines. So if you have the time, I strongly suggest devoting two afternoons/evenings to enjoying the Festival. If you only have one day, then you'd better....

Make a plan
Given that there are so many kiosks and given that F&W is VERY popular, especially on the weekends (more on that in a moment), it's a good idea to download the guidemap and make a note of which marketplaces are high on your priority list. Plan your touring based on these key locations and don't try to cram in as much as possible. Visit your key locations, and enjoy those. You can always come back another year.

Go mid-week and start early
Like I mentioned earlier, F&W is very popular, especially Fridays through Sundays. If your schedule allows, try to visit the F&W during early to mid week (Mondays through Thursdays) to avoid the worst of the crowds, though even on those off-days, there still will be crowds in the evenings. The best way to avoid the crowds (in addition to visiting on a weekday) is to start your F&W touring right at 11am when World Showcase opens. Have an early lunch and stay for an early dinner! Like I said earlier, it's important to take your time. Yes you're there to eat, but you're also doing some walking, and while it's now Fall, Florida still can get pretty warm in the afternoons, so you don't want to overeat and make yourself sick - that's no fun.

Get the gift card
In the past few years, Disney has offered a special F&W gift card attached to a plastic bracelet. This is a gift card you and preload with a certain amount of money and then use wherever you want. This is a great way to avoid pulling out your wallet (or purse) again and again as you go from kiosk to kiosk. Just pull the bracelet card off your wrist, give a quick swipe, and you're good to go! (My thanks to our friends at the DisneyFoodBlog for the card photo!).

So there you are... a few tips to help you on your next trip to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. For more information, be sure to check out the Food & Wine Festival page on the Disney Web site.

Until next time Bon Appetit!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It all started 40 years ago today...

Today marks a very special day for me and for countless Disney fans. Today in 1971 the Magic Kingdom opened at Walt Disney World.

While I was not there in person (I was only 9 months old), I have felt connected to Walt Disney World for as long as I can remember.

Since that moment, central Florida, the nation and the world have never been the same. Within a few years, WDW was THE place for people to visit and it has become a rite of passage for American families and a destination for victorious athletes (remember "I'm going to Disney World!").

On behalf of myself and the millions of Disney fans around the world, I want to wish a very happy birthday to Walt Disney World and to all those cast members who have been with the parks for 40 years and I also wish all the best for the next 40 years!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Photo Friday: Mickey and Main Street

Welcome to another Photo Friday!
(and it's actually on a Friday! How about that!)

This week's photo comes from the Magic Kingdom (like you couldn't tell) during the afternoon parade. This photo is taken from the Main Street Train Station balcony centered nearly perfectly down Main Street. What I like most about this shot is how the flagpole bisects Cinderella Castle with Mickey Mouse in the foreground.

As we celebrate 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World tomorrow, I thought this would be a most appropriate shot.

Happy birthday Walt Disney World!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tip Tuesday: It's all in the feet

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week's tip is short and sweet and it's something I hope you're already doing -- wear good shoes when touring the parks.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but it's not. Every time I'm in the parks, I see people walking around in sandals, flip-flops or crocs and complaining about how their feet hurt.

Keep in mind that over the course of a single day in the parks, you'll walk quite a bit -- several miles at least!

Wearing the wrong kind of shoes can turn a day of magic and memories into a day full of pain and discomfort - and that's not fun.

So what kind of shoes should you wear? I strongly recommend good walking or running shoes. I actually wear my marathon shoes when I'm at the parks. They provide extra support and cushioning and don't wear my feet out by the end of the day.

So go to a quality shoe store (not some bargain shop) and get properly fitted for a pair of running/walking shoes.

Trust me on this one, you and your feet will be glad you did.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Photo Friday: Tori Gate Ablaze

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

While I was listening to some pre-Illuminations music by Uttara-Kuru, I remembered a series of shots I took from the Mitsukoshi balcony during Illuminations. I really like this spot because it gives a different vantage point of Illuminations.

We go on!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tip Tuesday: To renew or not

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week's Tip Tuesday is a work in progress -- in that I'm undecided whether this is a good tip to follow or not.

So here's the "stich:"

It's time to renew the ol' annual passes (a total of five). The problem is my next WDW trip won't be until January, unless I hit the lottery soon. Now if someone's got some sure-fire numbers they could give me.... but I digress.

So if I renew now (at a total cost of about $2550), I'll lose out on at least 3 months of the AP, though I will save around $47 per pass ($235 total savings). I'll still be able to use the APs for Marathon weekend and a summer 2012 trip, though they will expire at the end of Sept. 2012.

If I decide not to renew and purchase all new passes in January 2012 (about $2765 total), I'll spend $235 more total, but I'll have a full 12 months to use the passes, including for Marathon weekend in Jan. 2012, a summer trip and the possibility for a trip in December 2012 with an expiration date in early Jan. 2013.

So here's the tip in all this: Do the math! Just because it's time to renew doesn't mean you should or need to renew just yet. It may be a better over all "value" to not renew and purchase new annual passes so you can best take advantage of the 12-month window.

Some additional elements to consider: If you let your annual pass expire, you're no longer eligible to book AP discounted rooms until you purchase your new AP. This is a big consideration and something you must take into account before deciding to let the annual pass expire. This is one of the major factors I'm keeping in mind as I decide which route to take.

I'd like to hear your thoughts -- post a comment!!

Avatar official news release

Here's the official news release from Disney Parks:

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide is joining forces with visionary filmmaker James Cameron and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the world of AVATAR to life at Disney parks. Through an exclusive agreement announced today by Disney, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox, Disney will partner with Cameron and producing partner Jon Landau to create themed lands that will give theme park guests the opportunity to explore the mysterious universe of AVATAR first hand. Disney plans to build the first AVATAR themed land at Walt Disney World, within the Animal Kingdom park. With its emphasis on living in harmony with nature, Animal Kingdom is a natural fit for the AVATAR stories, which share the same philosophy. Construction is expected to begin by 2013.

“James Cameron is a groundbreaking filmmaker and gifted storyteller who shares our passion for creativity, technological innovation and delivering the best experience possible,” said Robert A. Iger, President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “With this agreement, we have the extraordinary opportunity to combine James’ talent and vision with the imagination and expertise of Disney.”

“AVATAR created a world which audiences can discover again and again and now, through this incredible partnership with Disney, we’ll be able to bring Pandora to life like never before. With two new AVATAR films currently in development, we’ll have even more locations, characters and stories to explore,” said James Cameron. ”I’m chomping at the bit to start work with Disney’s legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life. Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park goers the chance to see, hear, and touch the world of AVATAR with an unprecedented sense of reality.”

The agreement announced today gives The Walt Disney Company exclusive global theme park rights to the AVATAR franchise and provides for additional AVATAR themed lands at other Disney parks. The other locations will be determined by Disney and its international theme park partners. James Cameron, Jon Landau and their Lightstorm Entertainment group will serve as creative consultants on the projects and will partner with Walt Disney Imagineering in the design and development of the AVATAR themed lands.

“This exciting new venture combines the world of AVATAR with the enormous reach of Disney and the incomparable talent of Jim Cameron,” commented Fox Filmed Entertainment chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman. “While Jim is bringing audiences further into Pandora with the next two chapters in the AVATAR motion picture saga, the theme park attraction will likewise bring a new dimension to the amazing universe he created.”

“AVATAR is a uniquely powerful franchise that has global appeal with audiences of all ages. Its spectacular settings, intriguing characters, imaginative creatures, and strong themes of family and loyalty make it a perfect fit for Disney,” said Thomas O. Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “We can’t wait to give our guests the ability to journey to Pandora and explore the incredible immersive world of AVATAR in person.”

In addition to setting a global box office record, AVATAR has been hailed as one of the most innovative and visually stunning movies ever produced. With its advanced motion capture and 3-D digital projection technologies developed by James Cameron and his team, moviegoers were able to connect with the world of AVATAR in new and engaging ways.

This new venture complements Walt Disney Parks & Resorts’ strategic efforts to continue to invest in its core theme park businesses around the world while simultaneously expanding into other parts of the family vacation business.

The Smurfs are coming! The Smurfs are coming!

Disney today announced a new partnership with James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment to bring the world of Avatar to Disney's Animal Kingdom. An entirely new Avatar land will begin to take form at Animal Kingdom with construction planned for sometime in 2013.

"We believe Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great fit for this project because it was created to give guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – real and mythical – in new ways. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR," said the official Disney Parks blog.

To read more about this announcement, see the official Disney Parks Blog.

Now for My Take:
I'm having a hard time getting excited about a new land based on "Dances with Smurfs." I wasn't (and still am not) a big fan of the movie - and I'm not the only one. Based on Facebook comments and comments on the Disney Parks blog, not everyone is gung-ho for this.

That being said, I realize a LOT of people went nuts for this film (it did smash all-time box office records) and so it's probably a good thing for a park that really NEEDS additional content. I just hope the whole Avatar theme doesn't overtake the entire park.

I guess I need to go put Avatar in my Netflix list and watch it again. Maybe it's better the second time around. I hope so.

Oh and I'll bet THIS was the big announcement that was supposed to happen at D23. I guess the negotiations didn't get finalized in time for the Expo.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Photo Friday: Good Morning, good morning!

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week's photo comes from January 2011. We were staying on the MK side of the Contemporary Tower. I happened to pull out the big zoom lens because I was hoping I could get a shot most people don't see. This is of the Walt Disney World Railroad as it comes into the station for the Welcome show. As you can see, all the stars are on the train. You can see Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald and Daisy, Snow White, Aladdin and Jasmine.

I hope you enjoy this shot -- one that only a few people can see!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Pull the rope, it's OK

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to share a quick tip about the well outside and to the left of main entrance to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios.

This is a fun bit many people pass by and never pay attention to.

So here's the scene. There's a well with a rope going down into the well. The rope goes through a pulley and is secured right at the fence guests walk by. Next to the well is a sign that reads:


Notice that the "not" is crossed out and in black are the words "do pull rope." So what should you do? You guessed it! Give that rope a good yank!

You'll get to hear a series of audio bits from the explorer who's "down in the well."

This little gag is especially fun to do with kids, so be sure to give this a try!

In a future post, I'll talk about a few more Do's that may seem like Don'ts...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Photo Friday: an electric Tinker Bell

Welcome to another Photo Friday (well... maybe it's not Friday, but anyway).

This week, I wanted to share the first from what will probably be a series of photos from the Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom.  As you can see above, this is a new float added to the classic nighttime attraction featuring Tinker Bell. 

What blows me away about this and all the floats in the MSEP is just how bright they are!  It's always a sight to see and I hope you'll take the time to watch the MSEP on your next trip.

Until next time!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

Ten years ago this morning, our nation experienced the worst single terrorist attack in our history.

No one across the county will likely ever forget where they were or what they were doing when they heard the news.

As time has passed since the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, some have allowed the remembrance of this day to slip and pass quietly.

We should all remember the sacrifices that were made on 9-11 and the sacrifices that have been made since to keep our country and our citizens safe from those who would stop at nothing to cause harm.

And so, today, we honor and we remember.

We honor and remember the 2,823 people who lost their lives when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

We honor and remember the 169 people who lost their lives when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

We honor and remember the 44 people aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who lost their lives when their plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania while attempting to fight back against terrorists determined to attack the White House.

We honor and remember the American service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq while defending our country.

Finally, we honor the American service men and women who, even now, are standing in harm’s way serving our country to protect freedom and liberty.

Never Forget.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tip Tuesday: The Dapper Dans

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading to Main Street USA to take a listen to one of the true gems of the Magic Kingdom -- the Dapper Dans!

If you've never heard the Dapper Dans before, you're really missing out on a great show! The Dapper Dans are a barbershop quartet that sings acapella (perhaps with a few musical props), often with guest interaction.

The Dapper Dans date all the way back to the early days at Disneyland when they debuted in 1959 and have been a staple at Walt Disney World since opening day in 1971.

At Walt Disney World, the Dapper Dans usually can be found in the horse-drawn trolley in the morning, all along Main Street USA in the afternoon and at Town Square at 5 p.m. daily for the flag retreat ceremony.

It's common to find the Dapper Dans hanging out in the Main Street Barber Shop (appropriately) as well as near Casey's Corner.

If you do happen to catch a Dapper Dans performance, I encourage you to stick around and appreciate the sounds of yesteryear as the Dapper Dans truly bring the turn of the (20th) century to life.

Take a listen for yourself!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Photo Friday: Spaceship Earth's light trails

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This weeks photo comes from Epcot (obviously). I was playing with the idea of some long-exposure light trail shots and thought I'd give it a shot with Spaceship Earth in the background. I set the camera on a short tripod, zoomed in on Spaceship Earth, set the exposure for about 2 seconds, set the ISO to 100 and set the iris to F/5.6.

Once I began to take the shot, I knew the shutter would stay open for only 2 seconds, so I quickly zoomed all the way out before the shutter closed. I didn't want to go much longer than 2 seconds because I knew I would get even more camera shake than what you see above.

I really haven't messed with this too much since. I think I'll have to play around with some ideas for the next trip -- this technique can create some interesting results.

I hope you enjoy this different take on Spaceship Earth!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Norway's Stave Church

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week we're going to seek "peril and adventure" at the Stave Church in Epcot's Norway Pavilion and the "Vikings: Conquerors of the Seas" exhibit -- something all too many people pass right by.

Quick quiz: Did you even KNOW there was anything inside the Stave Church and that you could go inside? If you're like most guests, the answer is no.

The Vikings exhibit presents a historically accurate view of three Viking leaders, Erik the Red, King Olaf, II and Rognvald. Disney and international Viking scholars collaborated to research fabric, clothing styles and artifacts from ancient times, and were even based on examples unearthed by archeologists.

Rognvald, a Viking raider from the late 800s

The exhibit features three life-like presentations of each key leader in Norway's Viking past. As you can see, each presentation is life sized and was recreated with as much authenticity as possible. As I was walking through this exhibit, I halfway expected these guys to come to life, like in the Kingdom Keepers books. Fortunately this didn't happen. In front of each presentation is a small sign explaining who each Viking was and their importance in Norwegian history.

But wait, there's more. There also are several displays of ancient tools and weapons used by the Vikings. It's possible these are elaborate recreations, but they certainly looked like the real thing.

Remember, part of the charm and reason for World Showcase is to learn about different lands and cultures. Exhibits like "Vikings: Conquerors of the Seas" are an integral part of World Showcase and yet another hidden treasure you shouldn't pass by.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Photo Friday: Go With the Flow!

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

Back in June 2010, I saw Finding Nemo: The Musical for the first time and fell in love with this show. The sheer spectacle combined with great musical numbers makes this show a must see at Disney Animal Kingdom.

In one scene, Marlin and Dory finally make to to the EAC (that's the East Australian Current for you non-fish out there) so they can travel to Sydney and find Nemo. During his time in the EAC, Marlin learns from Crush the turtle about the need to let kids explore and discover on their own, something I have to keep telling myself -- let the kids try things on their own. They might not succeed the first time, but that's how learning happens. Every time I see this shot from that number, I'm reminded of the simple lesson:

So just go with the flow!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Hurricanes and Disney

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!
(Yes, it's Wednesday. The "great" East Coast earthquake kept me busy yesterday.)

While the East Coast is still reeling from the Virginia earthquake (the center was about 150 miles from here), another major natural disaster is taking aim on the Caribbean and the East Coast shoreline.

All this talk of hurricanes led me to today's tip -- how Disney handles hurricanes.

There are two different sections of Disney that I'll discuss when it comes to hurricanes -- Walt Disney World (including Disney's Vero and Hilton Head resorts) and the Disney Cruise Line. Then I'll discuss what you should do to be prepared should tropical weather impact your trip or cruise.

Walt Disney World
The chances of a hurricane-force winds itself hitting Walt Disney World are nowhere near as likely as the coast, though if a major storm where to make landfall in Florida, it is possible that WDW could see winds in excess of 74 mph.

Disney keeps a close eye on tropical systems and has been known to close the parks should weather conditions become too dangerous for guests. The first time the Disney parks closed due to hurricanes was for Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Since that first closings, the parks have closed for hurricanes several times in the last 12 years (it closed twice in 2004 for Hurricanes Charley and Frances).

In the event the parks are closed, guests usually are asked to stay in their resort. Cast members plan different inside events and activities including movie showings, special in-resort character meet-and-greets and more to ensure the Disney magic remains strong. Once the parks and weather conditions are safe for guests again, Disney will let you know so you can resume enjoy the parks.

If you're planning a trip to Walt Disney World and you see that a tropical system may interfere with your travels, you do have several options for cancelling/re-booking, depending on how your booked your trip.

IF you booked directly with Disney:
Disney's temporary hurricane policy is effective in the event a hurricane warning is issued no more than 7 days before your scheduled arrival date by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for the Orlando area or for your place of residence. It is also effective in the event a hurricane warning is issued for the Vero Beach area or Hilton Head Island area for Guests traveling to those destinations. Once that NHC warning has been issued, you can cancel and/or re-book your WDW vacation without any change fees. This DOES NOT apply to airfare.

IF you booked with a travel agency:
Disney's temporary hurricane policy DOES NOT apply. You will need to contact your travel agent to make arrangements. I talked with Vicki Damanti, my own agent with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel about how they handle hurricane-related cancellations and/or changes. She said that since Mouse Fan Travel is a no-fee agency, any possible change fees would come directly from the suppliers, including airfare (which can be expensive). One of the great benefits of working with a Disney Specialized travel like Mouse Fan Travel is that if you have to make last-minute changes, you don't have to spend hours on the phone. Just contact your agent, and they'll do the work for you.

Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Cruise Line handles hurricanes a little differently than Walt Disney World. First, being a ship, it can move out of the way while a hurricane passes by. Second, should weather make a particular port inaccessible, the ship can simply go to an alternate destination. "The wonderful thing about a cruise vacation is that we can easily modify our itinerary or course to avoid inclement weather and still provide a great vacation experience," Rebecca Peddie from the Disney Cruise Line explained to me. "Should changes in itineraries become necessary, information will be available to guests on our website at or through our reservation center," she said.

Anyone booking a cruise also has to bear in mind that cruises do operate during the traditional hurricane season and changes in the itinerary always are possible, should extreme weather arise.

So if a hurricane is forecast for the Caribbean (or other cruise destinations), what should you do? To be honest... nothing. Really. Ride it out. Disney's not going to put any guest in harm's way and will (literally) go out of their way to make sure your cruise experience is a pleasant one. Well, you may want to do one thing: pack some Dramamine (or other motion sickness medicine) because you might experience some rough seas, even though the cruise ships (especially the Dream and the upcoming Fantasy) are so large you might not feel the sea swells.

If you really feel like you have to cancel/re-book, then you need to carefully read the terms and conditions before you consider taking any action because you WILL incur change fees. Depending on how much in advance you make your changes, the fees can be staggering, and your trip might even be completely non-refundable. Basically, once you book a cruise -- you need to be prepared to go on that cruise be they fair or foul seas.

Additional Considerations
However there is one way you can cover yourself should things go completely awry (not just due to hurricanes, but anytime) and that's by acquiring trip insurance.

MEI and Mouse Fan Travel's Vicki Damanti says trip insurance is strongly recommended for anyone booking a cruise because the chance/cancellation fees are so high. Insurance is suggested for those booking trips to Walt Disney World, especially longer trips with higher total costs. Damanti has one reminder for anyone thinking about purchasing trip insurance to protect against hurricanes: You have to purchase insurance BEFORE a storm is named. Once a storm is named, you can't purchase insurance to cover yourself should that storm interfere with your plans, so you do need to decide if you want travel insurance well in advance of your trip.

All this being said, I need to pass along another important piece of advance from Vicki: "Use some restraint," especially when it comes to hurricanes. There's a very good reason for this advice. Hurricane forecasts have a tendency to change frequently. One day a storm might be forecast to hit central Florida, but 24 hours later, the forecast track has changed and central Florida is in the clear. This is a common occurrence, as has been seen with the constantly changing forecasts for Hurricane Irene (which as of this post, is forecast to brush the North Carolina Outer Banks.) Days earlier, this same storm was forecast to make landfall in central Florida.

The key point is stay informed and be prepared. Here are a few links to monitor when tropical weather potentially causes problems:

Hopefully, you'll never have any reason to worry about a hurricane causing problems on your trip, but should a storm arise, you'll know what to do and what to expect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

PhotoFriday: Aladdin's Magic Carpet

Welcome to a belated Photo Friday!

With everything going on at the D23 Expo, I sort of forgot to post a photo for Friday -- so here you go!

I happened to catch this photo one cold morning during the 2010 marathon. I had just run the half marathon the previous day and we were in the Magic Kingdom just as the majority of the runners had passed through.

The kids wanted to ride Aladdin's Magic Carpets and lo and behold there was Aladdin and Jasmine riding the carpets themselves! Of course, I quickly snapped a photo!

Until next Friday...

Friday, August 19, 2011

D23 Expo Parks and Resorts: A giant case of Anticipointment

The Parks and Resorts presentation for the 2011 D23 Expo just wrapped up. Thanks to Lou Mongello, I was able to watch it in the "box," though there wasn't really anything worth watching. There were a few new updates about existing projects, and a few new announcements about some experiences at Disneyland.

All in all, I came away from this presentation with a gigantic sense of anticipointment (which means coming in with great anticipation and leaving with great disappointment).

Sorry, Disney, but this entire presentation was a huge letdown. Disney HAD to know that fans were expecting some major news and got NOTHING. Much of this year's presentation was a re-has of 2009 with a few nuggets of new information, which Disney immediately shared on the official blog seconds later:

All in all, Disney really needs to re-think their approach when it comes to these big presentations at future D23 Expos. If they're not giving attendees a big WOW, they will end up with a big FAIL.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New contest for Pixie Hollow announced

Coming to Disney Channel this fall, “Pixie Hollow Games” is a world premiere television event where fairy talents from all over the Hollow gather to compete in a thrilling athletic competition. To prepare for this exciting television special, the Never Council wants to know how YOU will train for the Pixie Hollow Games!

The fairies and sparrow men in Pixie Hollow are busy training for the Pixie Hollow games and for three weeks the virtual world of Pixie Hollow, will celebrate the Games by hosting the “How Will You Train?” art contest. The contest, which runs from August 16 - September 6, invites Disney Fairies Fans to draw and share how they will train for the Pixie Hollow Games, with the grand prize winner receiving the ultimate viewing party kit.

The ultimate grand prize winning party viewing kit includes everything needed to enjoy the “Pixie Hollow Games” premiere on Disney Channel, including:

  • Flat-screen TV

  • Blu-ray/DVD player

  • Disney Fairies Blu-ray/DVD collection

  • Party supplies featuring the Disney Fairies

  • 5 one-month Pixie Hollow Membership Cards for you and your friends

Ten first prize winners will receive 1 One-Month Pixie Hollow Membership Card and the Disney Fairies Blu-ray/DVD collection. To enter the “How Will You Train?” art contest, fans can submit their art either by U.S. Mail or by Internet via

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Following the D23 Expo

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well the D23 Expo starts in just a few days, and if you're like me you're NOT GOING TO BE THERE!

So what's a stranded Disney nut to do in order to stay in touch with everything about the Expo?

There are a few resources to monitor to stay current with all the happenings at this year's Expo.

The first is the official D23 Expo Web site, where you can get news, schedules and shop for some exclusive D23 items. Disney has an extension of the official site for smartphones at You'll also want to follow the following D23 Social media feeds:

Twitter:!/disneyd23 (D23 hastag is #d23expo)
RSS feed:
Blog: http:

It's a good idea to closely monitor these feeds as Disney could possibly surprise online fans by providing coverage of certain presentations. You never know what magic Disney might make.

Lou Mongello from and Celebrations Magazine will be broadcasting live from the Expo for the entire event. You can watch the live stream (from the Collector's forum, sorry not from the actual presentations) and can chat with hundreds (maybe thousands) of fans at I've been in "the box" many times before and was in "the box" for nearly the entire D23 Expo in 2009 and I'll be in "the box" this year as well!

Ricky Brigante from InsidetheMagic is planning to provide a lot of playback coverage from the D23 Expo as well, so keep an eye on his site for coverage of major events.

Finally, keep an eye on this blog as I'll be posting major updates as well.

Let's hope we have some big news to celebrate this weekend!!! Enjoy the Expo!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My wish list for the D23 Expo

As we all wait with baited breath for the 2nd D23 Expo to start in Anaheim, CA, I can't help but wonder what amazing announcements may come from this ultimate Disney fan event.

If you recall at the last D23 Expo in 2009, Disney shocked everyone when they announced the rumored massive expansion of Fantasyland at Walt Disney World was, indeed, TRUE!

But wait, there was more... Disney also confirmed that Star Tours 2 was finally coming.

So what's in store for this year's Expo? Fantasyland's construction is well underway and should be completed in another 12-18 months or so. The huge expansion to Disney California Adventure is nearly completed as well, so I don't think we'll see anything new about those projects.

While no one (outside of Disney) knows for sure, here's my best guess and a few wish list items:

  1. Original Hyperion Wharf concept changes into some sort of "World of Color" evening attraction: Disney announced about a month ago that the Hyperion Wharf project was put on hold while they evaluated some "new opportunities." My thought is that Disney realized that just a new shopping/dining area wasn't enough. It need to be "plussed up," and with the recent success of World of Color, something of the sort would be perfect for the former Pleasure Island area.

  2. Soarin' over... somewhere else: Soarin' is my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World, but, I have to admit, it's time to stop flying over California. With the recent refurb at Star Tours where guests have multiple possible destinations, I think the same concept can and should be applied to Soarin. Sure Disney can keep the original California tour, but add in some additional scenes. Soarin' over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Soarin' over New York City, Soarin' over D.C. (if Homeland Security would permit it), Soarin' over Florida... the possible tours are endless. Having multiple random destinations with a digital projection (no more lint-riddled film) would greatly increase the re-rideablilty of this attraction.

  3. Grand Floridian DVC resort: This one's all but a done deal. It's been widely reported that Disney is planning to build a DVC resort at the Grand Floridian Resort, so just go ahead and make it official.

  4. Pirates 5: Another in the "done deal" category. Disney's still raking in the gold from Pirates 4, so a Pirates 5 is a no-brainer and there's word the script already is in development. Don't expect to see Johnny Depp reprise his appearance as Jack Sparrow (sorry, that's Captain Jack Sparrow) like he did in 2009.

  5. Major addition to Animal Kingdom: This is definitely one from the "wish list," though DAK really needs it, especially where Camp Minnie Mickey is. The lack of genuine attractions is what's really hurting Animal Kingdom. Don't get me wrong, I like this park, but it just doesn't stand up to the other three in terms of attractions.

  6. A new hand-drawn animated feature: I really hope we hear some sort of announcement in this area. While Princess and the Frog wasn't the most successful of films in terms of box office gross (really a victim of bad timing more than anything else - it was released against Avatar), it was one of the most beautifully drawn and written stories Disney has created in a long time. I would love to see the commitment to hand-drawn animation continue.

  7. Incredibles 2: It's time for the Incredibles to have another Incredible adventure. While I doubt this will be announced, I do think we'll hear a lot more about...

  8. Monsters Inc., 2 (prequel): Disney has talked about this already, though there's not much out there right now. Don't be surprised if there's a new trailer or some sort of teaser shown.

  9. TRON Legacy 2: Speaking of sequels, TRON Legacy was pretty successful and Disney has dropped several hints at continuing the story of Sam Flynn. I suspect we may just hear about a new story involving the son of Kevin Flynn (Sam) vs. the son of his arch rival Ed Dillinger (Ed. Jr.). I think we just may see the return of the dreaded Master Control Program as well.

  10. D23 Expo 2013 coming to Orlando: When the first D23 Expo was announced, Disney said the Expo would be in Anaheim for the first four years. Well, that was in 2009. In 2013 it will be four year later, so I think will be time for Disney to bring the Expo East.

So there you go, my top ten predictions, however wild and/or unrealistic, for possible announcements at the D23 Expo. What do you think? What other announcements do you expect? Post a comment!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo Friday: The sad truth about showbiz

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week, it's my sad duty to give you the hard facts about the REAL world of showbiz, as is so eloquently shown in this photo that can be found the the Muppets store across from Muppets 3D at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Trust me... I have to be right! Right?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Running at WDW

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well, the clock's ticking away, which means there's only five months left until the 2012 Walt Disney World marathon. Yours truly is running in the main event this (well, next) year, and I'm training hard (more like hardly training) for the massive 26.2 mile race.

During today's run, I was thinking about when I had done some training runs this summer while at Walt Disney World, and I thought this would be a good tip to share for those of you who might want to get in a few K's during your stay.

There are so many places to run at Walt Disney World that there's no way I can possibly cover them all, so I'm going to share some of my favorites. I've not personally done all of these, but these are the ones I hear the most about.

Let's start off with the Magic Kingdom area.

Contemporary/Polynesian/Grand Floridian

There are two good courses to run along the Seven Seas Lagoon. The first course (shown above) runs from the entrance to the Contemporary Resort past the entrance to the Magic Kingdom and to the end of the Walkway Around the World (and back). Total distance is about 1.7 miles.

The second course begins at the rear of the main building at the Grand Floridian, along the Walkway Around the World, past the Wedding Pavilion, through the Polynesian Resort and to the entrance of the Transportation and Ticket Center (and back). Total distance is about 2 miles.

Wilderness Lodge/Fort Wilderness
There are a ton of paths all through the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness areas. I personally haven't run here, but I understand they're popular among many runners.

Epcot area resorts

The whole Epcot resort area practically was made for running. There's a great loop course which can start pretty much anywhere. For the purpose of description, let's start at the entrance to the Beach Club. Follow the main walkway toward the Swan and Dolphin, go over the bridge and over to the fountain at the Dolphin. Go around the fountain and back over the bridge to the road running behind the Boardwalk. Follow this road to the pool area. Go around the half-circle of the pool area and back to the main walkway toward Hollywood Studios. Follow to the main entrance (or as close as you can get) and turn around, going all the way back to the Boardwalk. Go along the main boardwalk and across the bridge, turning right toward the Epcot International Gateway entrance, then turn around and go to the main entrance for the Beach Club. Total distance is about 3.1 miles (or a nice 5K).

Most of the other resorts have some nice running areas, so no matter where you are you can find some pavement to pound. Just as the concierge desk where some good running areas are if you're unsure.

And if you're running in the marathon next January, keep and eye out for me! I'll be the one in the WDW Radio Running Team Shirt trying not to pass out on the side of the road.

Happy running everyone!

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