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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Streamlining meet-and-greets

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

With today's announcement from Disney about a new meet-and-greet location for Mickey Mouse and friend at Town Square and the announcement about adding FastPass to the meet-and-greet location for the first time, I thought I'd share some quick tips about ways to streamline the meet-and-greet process so you (and those behind you) aren't waiting in line quite as long.

Autograph books: Have them out and ready, turned to the page you want the character to sign. Characters often have pretty large fingers and that makes page turning difficult.

Pens: Have them also out and ready. Sharpies are best because they produce a nice thick crisp line (as opposed to a ball point pen).

Cameras: Ditto. Have your flash already on and charged and start shooting the moment it's your turn. Sometime the best photos happen right at the beginning rather than the posed shots.

PhotoPass cards: Have that ready as well and be ready when the photographer gets you into position. If you don't have a PhotoPass card yet, that's fine, the photographer will have one for you.

Small children: Don't push them. The characters are very good at meeting a young guest at their level of comfort. Remember that to a 3-year old, Mickey Mouse might just look like a giant rat (no offense Mickey!).

Entrance and exits: Know where the entrance and exit is to the meet-and-greet location. I know this sounds obvious, but you'll be surprised at how many guests will walk right up to the exit and think they're next in line.

Things to do while in line: Try to find some hidden Mickeys. They're all over the place. Also take a moment to pin trade with the cast members nearby.

Most importantly have fun and interact with the characters. You'll find they are a blast to be around.

This one was short and sweet. Until next time!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Skip the Fastpass line for Toy Story Mania? Sometimes

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

What's the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World?

If you make that decision based on the longest average wait time, then the choice is very clear: Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Most times of the year, wait times at Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM) will top out at 100+ minutes, and sometimes much, much longer.

The best way to avoid the long lines is to get to the park at rope drop. I've talked about this several times before. However with TSMMl, there's an additional bit that I think will help make your experience with TSMM much more enjoyable.

You see once the rope drops and the crowds begin to move, there is a massive cattle rush toward TSMM. Everyone's headed for the FastPass machines. Within minutes, the line to get FastPasses can be backed up all the way to One Man's Dream. This means a wait of at least 30 minutes just to get a FastPass.

I've been in this situation several times. Instead of standing in that tremendous line, I skip it and go straight for the standby line. Most times, I will end up with a wait of less than that of the FastPass line -- and with much less hassle.

Best of all, by the time I get out from my first ride on TSMM, the FastPass line has gone way down (to less than 5 minutes) and I hop in and get another FastPass for that afternoon.

So there you go -- the best of both worlds!! Try this next time you're at rope drop at Hollywood Studios, you'll be glad you did!

Until next time: To Infinity and Beyond!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Vinylmations™

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

My apologies for the late posting. Ever had one of those days when you had more to do than you have time to do it all?

Anyway, on to today's tip!

The latest collecting craze to come to the Disney community revolves around little figures made of painted vinyl. Naturally, it's called Vinylmation™ and practically overnight it's become a huge success.

Above you'll see just a portion of my family's Vinylmation™ collection. Yes, we're all into Vinylmation™. My kids enjoy collecting and trading (see my previous post about trading) Vinylmation™ figures.

According to the official Vinylmation™ Web site, Vinylmation™ is "a fun and affordable collectible designer toy created by Disney Theme Park Merchandise. At its core, Vinylmation™ is about creative expression and the mysterious thrill of the chase."

Vinylmation™ first appeared in mid-2008 as a pin set, and the highly-popular three-inch and nine-inch figures that are shaped generally like Mickey Mouse (though Disney says they specifically are not Mickey) were first available in late-2008.

From the beginning, Vinylmation™ was very different but similar to pin collecting. The major difference is that Vinylmation™ is a 3-D figure that can literally stand on it's own without the need for a lanyard, book or some other means to display like pins do.

Unlike pins, Vinylmations™ are far less diverse. There is a pin for practically everything you can think of, while Vinylmations™ come in different themed sets with around a dozen or so in each set. Most sets also include a mystery chaser figure that Disney keeps secret, at least at first.

An ode to Mr. Toad - this is an exclusive figure for Annual Passholders

When purchasing Vinylmations™, there are two types to look for. There's the more common three-inch figure and the less common (and more expensive) nine-inch figure. Most of the nine-inch figures are limited to some degree (some more limited than others) and they can and do sell out quickly.

Most of the three-inch figures come in sets (as I mentioned earlier). Each figure comes packaged as a mystery figure, so you really don't know what you're getting until you buy it to open and look inside.

To me, that's part of the major fun for Vinylmation™ - the hunt for those elusive figures that may be hard to find. If you don't have luck in buying them, there's always the option to trade.

So where can you find Vinylmation™ figures? Well, for most sets, they're everywhere you turn. The open edition sets are available in just about every store in every park. Most of the Art of Disney stores in the parks carry more limited figures.

But if you're looking for those really limited figures or new releases, then there's only one place to go and that's D-Street at Downtown Disney's West Side. D-Street is the official home for Vinylmation™ (at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland), so it really is the place to go for newly launched figures and really limited edition figures (like those nine-inch figures).

Disney does sometime release Vinylmations™ exclusively online as well, so the best place to stay in touch with everything happening in the world of Vinylmation™ is to keep and eye on the official Vinylmation™ Blog. As new releases are announced, it will be included on the blog.

Vinylmation™ is another fun Disney collection. For the most part, the three-inch figures are anywhere from $10-$15 each while the nine-inch figures can run anywhere from around $40 to $75 (some nine-inch figures also come with a three-inch figure).

What are your thoughts about Vinylmation™? Post a comment!

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Take: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Well it's time I ventured off Disney property (shocking, I know!) and gave my thoughts about the other major new attraction to come to Orlando -- the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Located at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened about six months ago with tremendous fanfare and acclaim.

I figured I'd give the new land a little time to shake the bugs out before I ventured into the land of wizardry. Now, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. I love the books and enjoy the movies as well. Next to Disney, Harry Potter and Star Wars are my other two subjects I tend to geek-out about.

So you could say I had very high expectations as I first crossed into the Wizarding World, especially after hearing everyone rave about how wonderful this new addition was.

With all the backstory done, let's get to my thoughts about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The exterior theming is, in a word, outstanding. Universal nailed this aspect. I really felt like I had walked into the village of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. For the most part, everything I had expected to see was there and many windows had little animated elements or other tidbits to further enhance the overall theme. As you walk down the main avenue of Hogsmeade, you will likely have difficulty bringing it all in. I'd recommend just standing and looking at everything.

The huge Hogwarts Express greets you as you enter the main entrance to the Wizarding World. I understand this is a great photo opportunity, though Universal was shooting a show or commercial and had the area roped off for film crews when I was there in late January, so we didn't get the opportunity to experience the train set.

Just past the Hogwarts Express on the right is the entrance to Dragon Challenge, one of two existing attractions that was re-themed for the Wizarding World. The queue is fantastic, as you walk through the story of the first task of the Triwizard Tournament (if you don't know what I'm talking about, read or see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The queue was very long and it took quite a while to walk to the loading area. The day I was there, it was a walk-on, but it still took at least five minutes to walk to the loading area. The queue also is a bit tight and much of it is in "underground" tunnels with not a lot of moving air. I imagine this queue can get very stuffy in the summer, especially after a rain shower, when the air is muggy.

I'll talk about the attraction itself a little later. Time to go to in some shops.

The theming inside is equally as excellent as outside. Again, the designers did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of each store. Unfortunately they didn't capture the essence of how a crowd moves through stores. In every shop we went to (Honeydukes, Zonko's, Olivander's and Dervish and Banges), aisles were way too narrow. To be honest, I have no idea how a handicapped person would be able to move around in these stores. No kidding -- the aisles have to be only about three feet wide (if that). We were at WWOHP during a non-peak time of year and it was very difficult to move around -- I can't imagine what it would be like when the crowds are heavier.

Beyond the size of the aisles -- the stores themselves are simply too small. They should have been twice their size. There was plenty of interesting merchandise for sale, you just couldn't get to it because there wasn't enough room.

Speaking of too small, one of the key stores, Olivander's, offers a special wand-selection presentation. Unofrtunately only about 20 people can be in the store at a time and then there's a huge crush to move into the next (too small) room to select wands. Frankly, I wasn't impressed with the wands - they're plastic. I've found better wands elsewhere.

OK, enough ranting about the stores, let's head back outside and walk up to Hogwarts.

Uhh, we would, if we could ever get there. I'm standing in the line to enter Hogwarts and you can see how long the line is behind me. Yikes.

Turns out, I was standing in the line to get to the lockers to put all my stuff in because you can't take backpacks, purses, etc. inside Hogwarts (well, not on the ride) because it will get lost and there's no way to secure it.

TIP: If you can, leave all that stuff with a non-rider and head straight to the entrance and go into the non-locker line. This will save you and hour or more.

Time to start talking about the attractions, of which there are only three. The big kahuna is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This takes place inside Hogwars Castle. The tour through Hogwarts becomes the preshow as Muggles (that's you) have been invited on a special tour of the castle.

I have to admit the preshow queue here is one of the best I've seen ever - Disney could learn a thing or two here. The tour through Hogwarts was an oustanding mix of animatronics, carefully placed video screen and set pieces. Yeah - it's THAT good. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me (remember that bit about leaving backpacks with family members) to take pictures. It's kind of dark inside the castle, so photography can be tricky.

Unfortunately I wish the ride itself was as good. Put simply, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a body jerking attraction. You will be slug left and right, up, down and around. It's pretty rough and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of 10. My 13-year old went with me and thought it was pretty rough. Also, there's absolutely no air in the attraction, so I found myself wanting some fresh air afterward.

This is a common problem with many simulators (Sum of All Thrills has this same problem) where there's no moving air. Mission Space, on the other hand, has a fan that blows air right into your face. I have no problem with Mission Space at all and really like that attraction -- it's all about the air.

The other problem with Forbidden Journey is that it's too fast. I'm not saying the attraction isn't long enough, rather the story moves too quickly. I found it difficult to keep up with what was happening.

Forbidden Journey mixes animatronic scenes and film-based simulations very well. It really is the next level in attractions - they just need to smooth it out and slow it down some. Oh, and be prepared to have water sprayed in your face a few times.

There are two other attractions at WWOHP, the Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. I briefly touched on Dragon Challenge a little while ago, so I won't discuss the queue. The ride itself is a standard roller coaster, well coasterS. There are two tracks - blue and red. You get to choose which you ride. There are plenty of loops, rolls and other maneuvers as you make your way around the track.

The Flight of the Hippogriff is a coaster designed for kids and features a queue going by Hagrid's hut. The ride looked like it was a lot of fun, though the line was far too long for us to try it out.

Food (this part is brought to you by Lou Mongello)
I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the food. The main dining establishment is the Three Broomsticks, which comes right out of the books and movies. Again, the theming is outstanding. The Three Broomsticks offers rotisserie chicken, ribs, turkey legs, fish and chips, and various side items. For kids, there's chicken fingers, mac and cheese, turkey leg and fish and chips. The food at the Three Broomsticks is pretty good, though you'll probably go through a lot of napkins - dishes can get messy. The interior theming is outstanding, though the restaurant is small with not a lot of seating. If you do plan to dine at the Three Broomsticks, you'll want to eat early or late in the day -- avoid lunchtime. Oh, and don't expect to find soft drinks. You can get apple juice, pumpkin juice or butterbeer.

Speaking of Butterbeer...

There are lots of places to get the signature drink that was created exclusively for the Wizarding World. There are two version of Butterbeer -- frozen and non-frozen. Personally, I'd recommend the frozen. We got the non-frozen type and it's very sweet. I mean really sweet. The "foam" that's on top (which really is more like a cream that added on top) adds even more sweet flavor to the drink. This being said, Butterbeer is very good. I wouldn't try to drink it too fast, though. I think it's meant to be sipped.

My Take
Overall, my main comment about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is this: Awesome theme, but it's too small.

If this new land is to succeed, it has got to be bigger. As stated earlier, the stores are very small and way too tight. There aren't enough attractions, especially for younger guests. The special shows, like Olivanders, can't accomodate enough guests at once. It's almost as if all the attention was spent on the theme and not enough on the functionality.

Moreover, it's all concrete and stone. I'll bet this area is roasting the hot summer months, so you'll want to take that into consideration if you plan a visit to The Wizarding World.

Will I go back? Oh sure, but it won't be during the summer. Now I know what to expect (and not to expect), so I think I'll be better prepared.

So that's my take. What's yours? Think I'm crazy? Think I've hit the nail on on the head? Post a comment!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Sometimes the view is worth it

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've returned from another trip to Walt Disney World and I wanted to share with you one of the most magical parts of this trip: the view!

We were staying at the Contemporary Resort with a view of the Magic Kingdom.

Now I know what you're thinking, and yes, it was expensive. To be honest, I was only able to manage this thanks to Disney's big room-only discounts they were offering at the time.

Now that I've stayed there, I can say with certainty that the view is worth the extra cost. We watched Wishes! every night from our room without having to stand in the middle of the crowds, nor have to fight our way out of the Magic Kingdom afterwards (the park closed right after Wishes!). The kids watch the fireworks and then were able to get some rest.

It was so nice to have that view to wake up to as well. Take a look for yourself!

Who wouldn't want to wake up to scenes like this?

Now I'm not so sure about the view from the Grand Floridan. I know there are more trees blocking that view and the highest floors aren't anywhere near as high up as the Contemporary. The shots you see above are from the 11th floor. It's the close proximity and the higher elevation that make the Magic Kingdom view rooms at the Contemporary so wonderful.

Back during the Disney's Biggest Fan trip, I did stay at Club Level at the Polynesian. Those rooms do offer a view of the Magic Kingdom with a few from all the way across the Seven Seas Lagoon.

It's a nice view as well, though you don't really see much of the Magic Kingdom -- just Cinderella's Castle and part of Space Mountain. With the view from the Contemporary, you can see quite a bit more. I was even able to watch and hear (distantly) the Main Street Electrical Parade going through Liberty Square.

Those who like to take things a bit slower and want to enjoy time at their resort should give the Magic Kingdom view at the Contemporary Resort some serious consideration. The view is worth the extra cost -- no doubt about it!

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