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Friday, November 21, 2014

D23 eliminates silver memberships, to offer Gold Family option in 2015

In an email to members today, D23, the official Disney fan club, announced they will no longer offer D23 Silver memberships as of today.  Current D23 Silver memberships will still be honored until renewal time when those members will be offered the opportunity to upgrade to a Gold or Gold Family account.  For those who may not recall, a D23 Silver membership included an official membership card, membership certificate, access to D23 special events and D23 special discounts and member access D23.com as well as extra special surprises.

In addition, D23 announced they will offer a new Gold Family membership, where a member can include up to three guests at various D23 events.

To read the entire email, click on the photo below.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Photo Friday: Farewell to a bear

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It's Friday and you know what that means!!! Photo time!

With the closing of Malestrom earlier this week, I wanted to say goodbye to one of my favorite parts of this attraction - the giant polar bear that you speed by as you go "back, back, over the falls..." and then stare at as you pass into the next show scene. 

We can only hope this big guy will find his way into Arendelle.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another chance to win a Disney trip

As you know, I'm a fan of entering sweepstakes to win Disney trips -- and as some of you know, I did win one Disney trip back in 2009.

So when I run across opportunities for you to win a Disney vacation, I feel I need to share.  This one is presented by the rental car company, Alamo (which, by the way, offers discounts to annual passholders).  This contest is open until Nov. 2, so good luck!

Here's a news release from Alamo:

Alamo Rent A Car, the official rental car of Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, is offering the chance to win vacations this fall with its “From Coast to Castle” sweepstakes. From now until November 2, 2014, participants can visit Alamo’s Facebook page or the From Coast to Castle website to enter daily for a chance to win their choice of one of the following three unique Disney vacations:

Disney Cruise Line Prize Package: Climb aboard the Disney Magic for a seven-night cruise vacation experience unlike any other. This package for four includes round-trip airfare, complimentary onboard dining experiences, pre-paid gratuities, a $500 Visa gift card, a $500 Disney Gift Card and more.

Walt Disney World Resort Prize Package: Enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience for four at the Walt Disney World Resort, complete with round-trip airfare, seven nights' accommodations at a Walt Disney World Resort deluxe hotel, four seven-day Magic Your Way tickets with Park Hopper Option, a Tour Guide for up to six hours, a $500 Visa gift card, a $500 Disney Gift Card and more.

Disneyland Resort Prize Package: Journey to Anaheim, Calif., for an adventure for four at the Disneyland Resort. The vacation package includes round-trip airfare, seven nights' accommodations at a Disneyland Resort deluxe hotel, four seven-day Park Hopper tickets, a Tour Guide for up to six hours, a $500 Visa gift card, a $500 Disney Gift Card and more.

“We know that many families want to experience the magic of a Disney vacation, but with so many great Disney destinations available, we wanted to give the winners a choice,” said Rob Connors, assistant vice president of brand marketing for Alamo. “So whether their dream vacation is aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship, or on a trip to Walt Disney World Resort or Disneyland Resort, we’re letting the lucky winners decide.”

The sweepstakes features eight weekly entry periods with one winner selected each week and runs September 8 – November 2, 2014.

Participants can enter the sweepstakes three times per day. Alamo Rent A Car is also offering three easy ways to earn bonus entries:

Design a Postcard: After registering for the sweepstakes, participants will be given the option of earning up to three additional entries per day by creating Disney-themed postcards. Registrants can follow the links and instructions to choose their vacation (Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, or Disney Cruise Line), upload a photograph to the postcard frame, and decorate their postcard.
Tell A Friend Program: After finishing a postcard design, participants can submit the names and email addresses of up to three friends with whom to share their postcard and details about the “From Coast to Castle” sweepstakes. For each referral of up to three friends, participants earn one additional entry per weekly entry period.
Share on Twitter: Sweepstakes registrants will be given one bonus entry per weekly entry period for sharing the sweepstakes on Twitter.

For more information and a copy of the official rules, visit the Alamo Rent A Car “From Coast to Castle” sweepstakes website at www.fromcoasttocastle.com.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Photo Friday: Catastrophy Canyon no more

Click for a larger view
It's time for another Photo Friday!

With the recent closing of the Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios, I thought I'd share a photo of one of the great moments of this attraction.  While I'm eager to see what's next for the studios, I will miss this scene from the Backlot Tour where guests got an up-close experience of a major special effects shot.  I especially enjoyed seeing the shock on people's faces just after the moment you see here when tons of water appears to pour over the ride vehicle. 

Farewell Backlot Tour!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Finding Divine



Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading to Disney Animal Kingdom (Captains - this is for you!) to talk about one of my favorite hidden treasures - Divine!

If you've never seen Divine, and she can be easy to miss, you're missing out on one of the best examples of live character entertainment in all of Animal Kingdom.  As you can see from the photo above, Divine is a cast member on stilts dressed all in leaves and other foliage.  Her gangly shape is barely humanoid in form, so, I suspect that's why some people pass her by.

She often can be found along the pathway between Africa and Asia.  This photo was taken of Divine near the Africa side of this pathway.  She tends to hide in areas with a lot of foliage, so it's easier for her to blend in.  Her "appearances" often are listed in the Animal Kingdom times guides, so be sure to check that out so you know when to keep an eye out.  Don't think you're going to get a photo with Divine, she's not that kind of character and, obviously, she doesn't do autographs.

If you do run across Divine, be sure to stay and people watch for a bit.  You'll be surprised how many people will pass right by.  Also be sure to pay attention to how she moves.  The cast member really does go fully into character, making slow, vine-like movements.  You could almost imagine this really is a creature made of vines.

On your next visit to Animal Kingdom, take a few minutes and appreciate the incredible performance of Divine - she's one more example of how Disney takes the theme park experience to a whole new level.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tip Tuesday - dealing with changes at WDW

You are not the first to pass this way... but soon, you could be the last...

On this week's Tip Tuesday, I'm opening Pandora's Box.  Yep, I'm going to talk about the changes coming to Epcot.  There have been a lot of strong opinions about the recently announced Frozen attraction that will replace Malestrom in Epcot along with the new slate of live entertainment coming to World Showcase (replacing very popular attractions like Off Kilter).

So here's the deal:  Walt Disney World is always changing.  That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, just look at all the changes that came to the Magic Kingdom with the expansion of Fantasyland (with great fanfare, I might add).  So why is there so much backlash about changes to Epcot and is that ire justified? 

Before you get your hackles up, hear me out.  Let me start by asking myself a few questions.

Me:  Are you in favor of the changes to the live entertainment acts in World Showcase?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to see what Disney brings in before I decide.
Me:  Are you in favor of the changes to Malestrom?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to see what Disney does before I decide.
Me:  Well do you think Magic Bands are a good idea?
Me:  I'm not sure yet.  I want to have more time to try them out before I decide.


Do you sense a theme here?  The point is that before we go and bash some of the new ideas proposed by Disney, I think we need to give things a chance.  To put it simply, I trust Disney to do what is best to make the parks as successful as they can be.  Remember, Disney is in the business to make money along with making guests happy.  Sometimes those two goals work hand in hand and sometimes they work against each other.

So while I may have some reservations about some of the proposed changes coming to Epcot, and I'll share them in a second, I also trust Disney to make sure that changes have the same level of quality and guest appeal as that which is being replaced.

So what are my reservations about these changes? 

Well, I'm fine with changing Malestrom to a Frozen attraction.  The Snow Queen story (Frozen is based on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Snow Queen) has it's origins in Scandinavian culture, so it makes sense that the Norway pavilion would be home to a Frozen attraction.  I'm not as fine with the entire Norway pavilion being changed to become the city of Arendelle.  The Norway pavilion should, in my opinion, still tell the story of Norway.  I trust that Disney will keep the "spirit of Norway" alive in the pavilion.  As I said above, I want to see what Disney does before I decide if this is a good change or not.

As for the entertainment changes coming to World Showcase, I am cautiously optimistic that the new acts will be at least as good as the ones departing, especially Off Kilter.  I think the reason so many hardcore fans are upset about this change is that these acts have been in World Showcase for so long that people have developed a deep loyalty for these acts.  I can understand that there are plenty of reasons for acts to leave and new ones to come in.  To be honest, there is a time where it's time for fresh content.  How many of you are starting to say it's time for Wishes to end and a new fireworks show to come to the Magic Kingdom?  Same thing applies here.  New isn't always bad.  Yes, I had the same reaction many of you did when I read that Off Kilter is being replaced by some sort of "lumberjack" show.  Many of you immediately thought of the "I'm a Lumberjack and that's OK" song from Monty Python.  It's ok to admit it - I did.  I trust that Disney will ensure that the new shows will be just as high quality. 

So when the next announcement comes from Disney, and I expect some whoppers at the D23 Expo in August, let's all take a deep breath and give these new ideas a chance before we rush to judgement.

Alright, I've had my say -- I'm sure some of you are dying to throw in your comments so now's the time -- go for it!  Post your comments below!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The "intimate" details of race planning

Click for larger view.
Welcome back to another Tip Tuesday. 

This week I'm continuing my series of tips about the pre-race area during RunDisney events at Walt Disney World.

Ok, so it's time to get intimate - and I do mean intimate.  We're going to talk about pee, poop and private parts, so if you'd rather not go there, now's your time to move to another page.




I won't mind.




Really.





It's ok.



If you're reading this, then you're probably ok with this week's topics, so off we go!

One of the most important things to do at the pre-race area is to make sure you use a bathroom (porta-pottie in most cases) before you get into your corral.  Now here's a really big tip for you.  DON'T bother lining up for the first porta-potties that you see once you pass through the runners only zone.  Take a look at the map above.  Those areas in red generally are where Disney places porta-potties.  Notice that there is a big group just after you enter the runners only area.  This is where most runners will line up (I've seen 20 people or more in a line for a single porta-pottie).  There is a smaller second area as you turn to the left and head down the path toward the corrals.  These porta-potties are usually far less crowded.  So skip the first set and venture on a bit. 

Speaking of pee and poop -- you'll probably need to do so while you're out on the course, especially for the longer races.  While there are porta-potties along the race, it's much less stressful to have access to a real bathroom.  There are a few opportunities during the race, usually in the parks, where runners can go off the course briefly to hit a regular bathroom.  There are three good places to do so in the Magic Kingdom.  The first is as you're passing Mickey's Star Traders - there is a bathroom within steps of the course.  The second is as you're passing through Frontierland, there is a bathroom located in one of the two corridors that connect Frontierland and Adventureland.  The third is just before heading out of Frontierland.  Take the back path from Frontierland to the restrooms located at Pirates of the Caribbean - it's not far away. 

In Animal Kingdom, there are two opportunities - the first is as you pass Kali River Rapids and the second is as you pass Finding Nemo:  The Musical.  In Hollywood Studios, there is a bathroom as you pass behind what was the American Idol Experience.  A second easy-to-reach bathroom is located to the left as you get to the Crossroads before exiting the park.

By the time you get to Epcot, you're very near the end, but the good news is that you're running along World Showcase from the UK pavilion all the way around to the entrance, so there are a bunch of restrooms along the way - just about one in each pavilion.

One last note about pee.  During those pit stops, do be sure to keep an eye on the color of your pee.  I know this sounds gross, but it is important.  If your urine is gold or even light orange in color, you are getting seriously dehydrated and you need to drink a lot right away.  Dehydration is no fun at all - ask Len Testa sometime.

Ok, enough with the bathroom stuff.  Now it's time to talk about your private parts (see, I said we were getting intimate).  The fact is, running is a sport where parts of your body are moving all the time.  Webster defines "chafing" as "to cause soreness or damage by rubbing against something."  When you're running, your skin is rubbing against things like clothes and other parts of your skin.  So it's very important to guard against severe chafing, which can bleed (trust me on this one).

It's important to use some sort of anti-chafing product, such as Glide.  Men and women should use this on the butt crack, on the chest/breasts and nipples and on the underarms and perhaps inside each thigh (if not wearing running tights).  Women also should use Glide on the cleavage area, especially for women with larger breasts.  I have heard of some people actually taping down their nipples and/or using bandages to avoid severe chafing.  Use whatever works for you.

So why am I discussing this in a post about the pre-race area? These are some of the things you may need to do while you're in the pre-race area and don't be surprised to see people lubing up before the race.

Well, I think that just about covers everything for the pre-race area.  I'll talk more about some tips during the start and during the race in future posts.  Until then, keep up the training!



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Photo Friday: Off Kilter about changes to Epcot



Time for another Photo Friday!

With the recent announcement that several live attractions in Epcot will be leaving in September, I wanted to share a shot of what I think is, and soon will be "was." the best live attraction in World Showcase - Off Kilter.  Back in November, 2011 (show# 249), I joined Lou Mongello on the WDW Radio Show to talk about the best live music in World Showcase.

So if you have a chance to get out to Epcot in the next few weeks, I'd recommend catching one more show of Off Kilter and several other World Showcase live acts, because they will be gone soon.

What's coming next?  Well, Disney isn't saying much right now, other than to say that Off Kilter will be replaced by a "lumberjack show."  Not sure what that really means, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The morning of the race - part 2 - the pre-race area

Click for larger view.
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!  Last week, I talked about transportation to the pre-race area (seen in yellow on the map above).  This week, we're going to talk more about the pre-race area and some ways to avoid some common headaches and some of the planning decisions that need to be made ahead of time.

There are several activities taking place during the pre-race area.  The biggest activity is the race retreat (half and full marathons only).  This is an optional hard-ticketed event that starts at 3 a.m. and sells out nearly as quickly as the races themselves.  The race retreat offers runners some useful pre-race benefits, most importantly a heated environment so runners don't have to stand out in the cold morning air (and those pre-dawn mornings can get quite chilly in early January).  Other features of the race retreat include bagels, fruit, coffee and sports drinks, private restrooms, padded stretching area, Disney character meet and greets and a separate first aid station.

The race retreat can by a bit pricey.  For the 2015 marathon weekend, the cost is $120 for each race (or $225 for Goofy or Dopey runners).  It is a very popular option and can be a bit crowded.  After each event the race retreat offers brunch and internet access to check results.

The race retreat isn't the only thing going on at the pre-race area - there are DJ's playing music and lots and lots of groups all meeting up before the race.  The major difference here is the weather - you're out in it.  If it's especially cold and/or raining (or snowing - it's happened!) then it can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant wait until the time comes to walk to the corrals.

This is where you need to do some planning.  Do you think the race retreat will be worth it?  Will having some food and a warm tent be worth the price?  Are you willing to run the risk with the weather?  These are all questions you need to consider as you're planning your pre-race.  Also, if you are going to skip the race retreat and wait outside, do you need to bring extra clothing or blankets to stay warm while you wait (knowing that you'll have to do something with them once the race starts - either get rid of them or hand off to a waiting spectator down the road).  Again, this is where runners have to do some planning in order to be prepared.

What do I do?  I personally don't go to the race retreats.  Instead, I join the WDW Radio Running Team as we meet up before each race.  Depending on the weather conditions and temperature, I'll bring an extra old or cheap sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear until just before the start of the race.  I'll then toss those to the side once I start running.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  I'll talk more about how the corrals work in a future post.

Next time - I'll discuss the walk and a very important potty break!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photo Friday: A photographic comparison of Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week it's 2 for 1 day!  Well, sort of.

During my May trip to Disneyland, I noted a change to the main cavern portion of the Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction at Disney California Adventure.  The lighting was drastically different than the Magic Kingdom version.  Later, I found out Disney was testing a different lighting level to see if it improved the attraction.  The main reason, as I understand it, was to eliminate guests seeing production elements such as light instruments, projectors, etc.

So see for yourself - which do you like better?

Here is the Magic Kingdom version (this shot is from June, 2013):
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and this is a similar shot from the California Adventure version (this shot is from May, 2014):
click for larger view
So which version do you like better?  Post your thoughts in the comments section below!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The morning of the race - part 1 - getting there

WDW Radio Running Team before the 2012 Marathon

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well, there's just over five months to go before the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  While I've still got a lot of training to do, it's also time to start talking about some more tips about participating in a RunDisney event.

I wanted to focus on the morning of the race (or races in the case of the Goofy and Dopey folks like me).  There is quite a bit of planning that runners need to think about prior to race morning.  I'm a visual guy, so how about a quick map (this is a rough approximation of locations and is not official).  This week, I'll focus on getting to the pre-race area.  In future posts, I'll talk about some things to keep in mind while you're getting ready for the start.


click for larger view


First, runners need to try to arrive at the pre-race area located in the eastern-most section of the Epcot parking lot, shown in yellow on the map, by around 4 a.m. at the latest.  Disney says runners must be in the corrals by 5 a.m. or they will not be allowed to race.

Runners staying on-property:
For runners staying on-property, this is pretty easy.  Disney offers bus transportation from just about every resort starting as early as 3 a.m. each race morning (depending on the race).  For a detailed schedule for each race, see the RunDisney website.  From my past experience, these are usually touring buses, not standard Disney transit buses.  It's important to remember that these RunDisney events are VERY popular, so there will literally be tens of thousands of people (often more) all trying to get to the pre-race area.  What does this mean for you?  It means that buses can fill up FAST, so you would be wise to get down to your bus stop at your hotel by around 3:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. for the 5K) so that you can ensure you won't run into any issues and end up missing the start.  Disney recommends runners be on a bus by no later than 4 a.m. to avoid missing the race start.

Buses will drop off runners at the front of Epcot.  Runners will then have to walk to the pre-race area.

Oh, if you're staying at a monorail resort, the monorails will start around 3 a.m. each morning  You'll need to take the resort monorail to the TTC and then take the Epcot monorail to the front of the park and walk to the starting area.  For my 2010 half marathon, this was surprisingly easy and painless.  This is one benefit of staying a monorail resort -- easy transportation and no buses.  Just like the buses, I recommend being on a monorail by no later than 3:15 a.m.

Runners staying off-property:
If you're not staying on property, you'll need to plan to arrive at the Epcot entrance no later than 4 a.m.  Arrive any later, and you'll run the risk of missing the start, which would be a very bad thing considering how expensive these races are.  Therefore, you'll need to carefully think about how much time you need to allow to get to Epcot and add LOTS of additional time for traffic delays (which there will be due to road closures).

So, you've made it to the pre-race area!  Now what do you do?  And what else do you need to think about before the race starts?  I'll discuss that in a future post. 

Until then, keep up the training!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Photo Friday: Going ape for smartphones?



Welcome to another Photo Friday!

I was going back through some of my Animal Kingdom photos today and I ran across this shot of a gorilla along the Pangani Exploration Trail.  While the photo itself isn't all that compelling, there was something about the way he was sitting and looking at his hands that made it look as if he was using a smartphone.

So here's where you come in -- it's caption time!  Imagine that our gorilla friend above is doing something with a smartphone - what caption would you put on the photo?  Post in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Getting your soccer fix at Epcot

Orlando City Lions soccer club.  Image courtesy Disney.  All rights reserved.
Welcome back to another Tip Tuesday!

With the Barclay's Premier League starting back up this weekend, I thought I'd share a quick tip about how you can get your soccer fix while at Walt Disney World.

A few of the countries around Epcot's World Showcase offer jerseys for various international soccer (futbol) teams, both for club teams and country teams.  A couple of shops (one in Germany and another in the UK) also sell soccer balls.  Around World Cup time, you can often find World Cup merchandise including official balls and jerseys.

If you're looking for Barclay's Premier League teams, such as Manchester United or Chelsea, your best bet is the Sportsman's Shoppe located across from the Rose & Crown Pub in the UK pavilion.  Bear in mind that not every BPL team will be represented in the merchandise for sale (c'mon - show the love for teams like Everton and Liverpool!). 

Of course you'll have to strike up a conversation with one of the British cast members working in the store and see which team they support.  

If it's Saturday around lunchtime, you might be able to catch a Premier League match at the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk.  Sure there will be college football games going on, but there are so many TVs there that you'll probably be able to find at least one match (though they're on NBC Sports, a direct competitor to ESPN).

If it's live soccer you're interested in, you might be able to catch some Orlando City games through early September at the ESPN Wide World of Sports center - check the schedule here: https://www.espnwwos.com/sports/soccer/Orlando City will be a new MLS team starting with the 2015 season and will normally play at the Citrus Bowl stadium, but the Lions are playing their 2014 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports while the Citrus Bowl is being renovated in advance of the Lions' official MLS start.

There are a lot of other soccer events at WWOS throughout the year, mostly featuring youth teams.

So lace up your cleats and get your kit ready (that's a uniform to you non-soccer folks) - it's time for some soccer!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Fantasia Gardens



Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, let's go back to Walt Disney World to discuss one of my favorite non-park activities - mini golf.  It's a fun activity that isn't all that expensive.  As of this post, a round costs around $14 for adults and $10 for kids under 10.  Annual passholders often get huge discounts (as much as 50% off).

I've written previously about Winter Summerland, the other mini golf area at Walt Disney World, located next to Blizzard Beach.


Fantasia Gardens, however, is quite different in many ways from Winter Summerland.  First, this activity is within easy walking distance of any of the Epcot area deluxe resorts (Boardwalk, Beach/Yacht Club, Dolphin or Swan) so getting there is pretty easy - at least for these guests - just follow the blue line as noted in the map above.  For guests from other resorts, it get a bit more cumbersome without your own transportation.  Fantasia Gardens is located next to the Swan Resort.  The best way to get to Fantasia Gardens from any non-Epcot area resort via Disney transportation is to take a bus to any park or the Ticket & Transportation Center and then take a bus to the Swan.  Alternatively, guests can travel to Disney's Hollywood Studios and then take the Friendship Boat to the Swan and then walk past the pool area to reach Fantasia Gardens.



Like Winter Summerland, Fantasia Gardens has two 18-hole courses, the Fantasia Gardens course or the Fairways course.  The Fantasia Gardens course is similar to the two courses at Winter Summerland in that each hole has whimsical obstacles to overcome, often involving water or some other challenge.  This course is especially fun for kids as they have to deal with all sorts of mishaps related to the movie Fantasia.  Some of these holes can be pretty tricky and it takes a keen eye and often more than a bit of courage and timing to make the right stroke.

Image courtesy TouringPlans.com

The other course, the Fairways course, is a completely different "ball game" (sorry for the pun, couldn't resist!).  This course is not your typical mini golf course with dips and tunnels and obstacles.  Instead, as the name implies, this course is a putting version of a real golf course, complete with sand traps and other hazards.  There are plenty of undulations to overcome and some holes are longer than others.

Personally, of these two courses, I prefer the Fairways course.  It is a true putting challenge for golfers.  While the Fantasia Gardens course is fun, there is much more skill and finesse required for the Fairways course.  For that reason, I wouldn't recommend the Fairways course for young children.  They'll just get frustrated and upset because of the higher degree of difficulty. 


One other consideration - when to go.  If you're visiting Walt Disney World in the warmer months, I recommend waiting until evening to visit Fantasia Gardens as it can be uncomfortable in the heat of the day.  During the cooler months, it's not so bad.  If you play these courses at night, and if your timing is right, you can catch some elements of Illuminations and Fantasmic in the distance.

So the next time you're at WDW and are looking for something to do outside the parks -- check out Fantasia Gardens and maybe even take the challenge and play the Fairways course!

Good luck!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Photo Friday: Happy Fourth from Disneyland!


Happy 4th of July!

For this week's Photo Friday, let's head back in time to July 4th, 2013 and this shot from Disneyland's 4th of July fireworks celebration!

It's amazing how much fireworks can light up the night sky, this shot has not been altered at all (aside from resizing) - the sky was really that red during the fireworks.

Enjoy and happy birthday America!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tip Tuesday: How to "win" at DCA carnival games


Time for another Tip Tuesday!

This week, let's once again head out to California to Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure park.  We've all seen those boardwalk-style carnival games where guests plunk down a few dollars to try their hand at winning some sort of plush or other toy.  Those of you who are parents know how kids gravitate to these type of games as if they were a magnet.  I've seen plenty of instances where people (guys mostly) will try round after round after round to win something for their girlfriend or child.

So how can you come away a winner without breaking the bank?

The trick is to know which games to play -- those where everyone wins!  This is especially key when dealing with children.  There is one game at Paradise Pier, Goofy About Fishing, where no matter what you do, the player always wins.  This is a great game for smaller children because it's very easy for them to play.  Players use a small fishing pole with a magnet on the end to "catch" a fish.  Keep in mind that this game, like so many others, have different levels of winners.  It all depends on the color of the dot on the underside of the fish you catch.  The vast majority of fish have the lowest level color, while only a handful have the middle level color and only one or two have the top level color.  In any case, the player always wins, that's the key part to stress here.  In the photo above, the farmer Mickey was a middle-level prize.

Besides, if you win one of those huge plush figures, how in the world are you getting it home, especially if you're flying?  You just might not want to win big when you think about it.

Keep playing and good luck!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Photo Friday: The civic groups of Radiator Springs



Welcome back to another Photo Friday!

This week, I'll share another photo from my May 2014 trip to Disneyland/California Adventure.

I've said many times before that Cars Land may be the best Imagineered space in any Disney park.  Here is just one more reason why.  This is the welcome sign to Radiator Springs.  You see these as you drive into just about any town across the nation.  Take a look at the different signs promoting the various civic groups - any sound somewhat familiar? 

Click on the image for a larger view and enjoy all those little Disney details!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tip Tuesday: The shake, rattle and roll of Star Tours


It's time for another Tip Tuesday!

With Star Wars rumors flying around right now (including on this blog), I thought I'd share a quick tip about how to either reduce (or get more of) the shake, rattle and roll on Star Tours. 

First, a bit of a recap for those of you who might not have experienced Star Tours yet -- Star Tours is a motion simulator-based attraction.  Guests board a simulator car that tilts up and down and rotates from side to side in concert with the on-board movie to create the illusion that guests are riding in a star speeder to different destinations with all sorts of adventures.

Star Tours can be a very jostling attraction, especially for those who do not tolerate sharp motions all that well.  On the flip side, it can be a thrilling attraction for those who like the sense of being out of control.

So depending on which side of the, er, "force" (sorry for the bad pun, it was too tempting) you're part of, you can take some steps to either take some of the jostling out of Star Tours, or get the biggest thrill you can -- and it all depends on where you sit.



The first thing to remember is that the seats for the simulator take up the back half of the ride vehicle, as you can see from the diagram above.  The center of motion is located right about at the fourth seat from the left on row 1 - that's the pivot point.  All up/down and left/right movement is centered on this pivot point.  The closer you can be to the pivot point, the less shaky your overall ride will be because you won't be moving as much.  So if you want a smoother ride, try to sit on the front row, preferably in the center of the row - there's also a bit more leg room for those who are taller.

Conversely, if you want the most thrilling experience with the most movement, then you want to get as far away from the central pivot point as you can.  That means sitting in the back row on the far right or left side - those seats will experience the greatest range of motion and offer the biggest thrills.

So if you've been reluctant to take an adventure to a galaxy far, far away because you were concerned about getting a bit shaken up along the way - there are ways you can cut down on the jostle.  Or, if you're wanting to get the most of Star Tours, now you know where to sit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Photo Friday: Dinner anyone?


Welcome back foolish mortals for another Tip Tuesday!

Last Friday I had the honor of sitting down at a Haunted Mansion themed table as part of Master Gracey's ball during Mousekemeets.

So this week, I thought I'd share a photo from one of the real Haunted Mansion ballroom scenes - this one from Disneyland.

It never ceases to amaze me the level of detail the Imagineers put into all their work.  The level of authenticity and believability is second to none, and I'm still blown away by the Pepper's Ghost effect, even if it is developed more than 100 years ago.

Anyway, enjoy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Long trip - one suitcase

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week's tip is short and sweet, and it comes thanks to my good friend Beci Mahnken from MEI & MouseFanTravel (who are my official travel partners).  I happened to have to fortune of picking up Beci at the airport in Roanoke, VA for Mousekemeets.

As we were waiting at baggage claim, she said she only had one checked bag.

"Only one?" I asked.

"Yep.  Just one, and this is a ten day trip," she confirmed.

This got me to thinking, just how could someone do a ten day trip and only have one large suitcase.  The answer was immediately obvious - laundry services.  Quite a few guests don't know that Disney resorts have coin-operated washers and dryers at each resort, and studio rooms and villas have in-room washer/dryer units.  Disney does offer dry cleaning services, though I understand this can get pricey.  For more on Disney laundry services, see this link.

So if you're going to Walt Disney World for an extended time, you can pack lightly and wash a few outfits while you're staying at the resort.  As most guests often are wearing very casual attire, it's likely easy to mix and match so it doesn't look like you're wearing the same thing on different days.

Plus, it's a whole lot cheaper to bring a roll of quarters than to pay $50 or more for another checked bag on a round trip flight. 

So the next time you're thinking about a long trip to Walt Disney World - bring some quarters and a bit of laundry soap!  You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rumor Mill: Making way for Star Wars Land? There's plenty of room

Map courtesy Bing

With the announcement that the American Idol Experience at Disney Hollywood Studios is closing and with reports that the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular may be coming to an end soon, the oft-discussed rumor that Disney is making room for a new Star Wars Land seems to be more and more plausible.

So I thought I'd have a little fun and take a look at what real estate would be available for a new Star Wars Land if Indy did close along with Idol, Sounds Dangerous and the Backlot Express and how, when combined with the existing Star Tours area, that space might compare with the space Disney carved out to create Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.

As the map above shows, if the areas in green were to be closed and re-purposed for Star Wars Land, it would create a space that could potentially be about 75% of the space that made available for Cars Land.  I created this map by using Bing and setting the scale to 100 feet to get an aerial image for both California Adventure and Hollywood Studios.  By using the same scale, we could make a reasonable comparison of the two potential spaces as noted by the yellow line.

Based on this analysis, it appears that Disney would have a decent amount of space to put in a good E-ticket attraction while also re-imagining the Backlot Express into some sort of Star Wars themed dining experience.

But let's keep one thing in mind:  how did Disney make room for Cars Land at California Adventure?  They used space that was originally a parking lot.  Could the same be true here?  You bet!
Map courtesy Bing
Just to the East of the Indiana Jones/Backlot Express/Star Tours area are some backstage areas and then the gigantic Television parking lot.  Even if Disney uses a portion of the Television parking lot for Star Wars Land, there is an incredible amount of potential space available for some sort of expansion. 

Oh and don't worry about parking, there's still two other huge lots that are available (Film and Music), and Disney could always expand those two lots or build more to the East.

With three Star Wars movies in the works, it seems like a no-brainer that LucasFilms and Disney are (or should be) working on a Star Wars Land.  I'll even go out on a limb now and say that Disney will make some sort of Star Wars-related announcement at the 2015 D23 Expo, possibly to announce Star Wars Land.

Let's just hope that this rumor is coming true!  May the Force be with us all!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Photo Friday: Honoring those who served on this historic day 70 years ago


As we pause to remember those who gave their lives for freedom on this day 70 years ago, I wanted to share a few images from the National D-Day Memorial, which is located in Bedford, VA, about 30 minutes to the East of Roanoke.

Here the memorial pays tribute to the brave men and women who gave their lives during the D-Day invasion, particular the "Bedford Boys," who were part of the 29th Infantry Division.  The town of Bedford lost more soldiers by proportion on D-Day than any other location in the nation.  

So why am I sharing this on a Disney fan blog?  Perhaps this second image will give you a clue.

This is an aerial view of the National D-Day Memorial site.  Notice the rather large hidden Mickey at the heart of the memorial?  This was done quite intentionally.  That's because the password used by solders at some point leading up to the invasion was "Mickey Mouse," and so the memorial designers decided to include a tribute to Mickey in the memorial.

I should note that there is some debate as to how widely Mickey Mouse was used as a password.  It could have been used for only one meeting, or could have been used more widely than existing documentation can prove.  One thing is clear, there is a direct connection between Mickey Mouse and the D-Day invasion, no matter how large or small that connection may actually have been.

I also want to take this moment to express my personal thanks to all our men and women who have, currently are and will one day serve our nation in the armed forces.  You are true American heroes.  I also want to give thanks and remembrance to the late Herman Angell, my wife's grandfather, who bravely served on a radio ship during the D-Day invasion.  Hearing him tell the story of D-Day from the viewpoint of one who was there was fascinating and humbling.

We miss you Gramps.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Thinking of going to Disneyland? First you have to get there



Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to start a series of tips related to my recent Disneyland trip this May.  I spent about six days in sunny (really sunny and hot) Los Angeles, and managed to get in a few days at Disneyland and California Adventure.

As I planned for this trip, one immediate difference struck me between this trip and my past trips to Walt Disney World.  It was so obvious that I really took this major difference for granted -- how was I going to get there?

Well, duh... I was going to fly.

As I said, this was so obvious that I just took this decision for granted, but as I started to research further, I quickly found that this was not so simple - where was I going to fly to?

You may not be aware that the greater Los Angeles area has not one, but five airports - all served to some degree or another by airline carriers.

The main airports are the Los Angeles International Airport (better known as LAX), LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) and John Wayne International Airport (SNA).  Smaller airports are the Bob Hope Airport (BUR) located in Burbank and the Long Beach Airport (LGB) located in Long Beach, as the name implies.

While LAX is, by far, the largest airport in the LA area, it is not the closest to Anaheim.  That would actually be the John Wayne International Airport, located in Santa Ana.  From this airport, Disneyland is about a 20-40 minute drive, depending on traffic, whereas the drive from LAX to Anaheim is at least twice that long, if not much longer.  The Long Beach Airport is a close second, while the Bob Hope Airport is the furthest away.

So as you can see from the map above, in terms of distance, John Wayne or Long Beach are the best airports to fly into if you're going to Disneyland.  But... there's more to consider -- airfare.

Depending on what airline you fly, you might find a cheaper fare to LAX or ONT than SNA or LGB.  The good news is that Delta has many regular flights to SNA, which were cheaper than flights to LAX or ONT.  It all depends on what airline you use and what day and time of year you're flying.  The best thing to do is go online and check airfare for all the LA airports and see what you can get... and then check it again, and again, and again until you think you're found the best price.

Another benefit to John Wayne is that it's a MUCH smaller airport that LAX, which means it's far easier to get into and out of than the behemoth that is LAX.  Anyone who's been through LAX knows what I mean.

Before I wrap this up, I'll add one more variable to the mix.  Don't discount San Diego.  Yes, it's about a 90 minute drive to Anaheim (assuming no serious traffic issues), but it's a beautiful drive up I-5 and I've often found flights into San Diego (SAN is the airport code) can be even cheaper.  Remember, Disney don't provide any free ground transportation from any of the airports, so you're likely renting a car anyway.

Every Disney Parks fan needs to visit Disneyland at least once (I recommend visits every few years), so I hope these tips will come in handy whenever you start to plan that trip out west!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Disneyland lodging


Welcome back for another Tip Tuesday!

With a trip to Disneyland the near future, I thought I'd share a tip about lodging when it comes to planning a Disneyland vacation.  One of the first major questions to answer is this:  to stay on property or not.

This is a key decision that must be made because it can impact many aspects of your trip.  Here's something you might not have considered before.

Do the Disney resorts give you closer access to the parks than off-site resorts?  Well the answer is both yes and no.  Certainly the Grand Californian provides the closest access to both parks - it is part of Disney California Adventure and has it's own special entrance to that park, so there's no beating the Grand Californian when it comes to proximity to the parks.

But what about the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel?

Click image for a larger view
If you take a look at the map to the right, you'll see the locations for the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and the Good Neighbor Resorts on Harbor Boulevard.

Do you see how far away both the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotels are from the main esplanade between Disneyland and California Adventure?  True, there is the monorail station in Downtown Disney that is fairly close to the Disneyland Hotel providing transportation to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, but overall, it's pretty clear that the Good Neighbor Hotels, especially those right across from the main pedestrian entrance provide closer walking access to the park entrances than do the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier Hotel.

Now, I know location is only one factor to keep in mind.  There's also theming, which you certainly will not get with any of the Good Neighbor Hotels.  I've stayed at these hotels before and will be doing so again soon and I'm not under any illusion that these hotels provide anything more than a clean room with decent amenities.  If you're looking for any sort of theming or experience, you'll find it at a Disney hotel, not at any of the Good Neighbor Hotels.

On the other hand, there's the price to consider and there's simply no way the on-property resorts come anywhere close to the inexpensive rates of the Good Neighbor Hotels.  Some of the rates you can find along Harbor Boulevard will be half (or more) the rate for the on-property hotels.

It's all about determining what your priorities are.  If you are focused mostly on proximity and/or price, then the Good Neighbor Hotels are the way to go.  If, instead, you're focused more on amenities and experience, then you need to seriously consider one of the on-property hotels.

Once you've got an idea of where you want to stay, you'll next need to think about how you're going to get there.  I'll share some thoughts about that in a future post.

What do you think?  Which is the better option?  Staying on-property or off?  Post a comment!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Photo Friday - the most beautiful sight


This week, I asked some of those who liked DisneyDaddy on Facebook (http://facebook.com/disneydaddy) to help me choose which photo to post today.  Mitch Brannen was the first to chime in with 2010 and he wanted an Epcot shot.  It seemed like destiny that Mitch of all people would say that.  Back in 2010 he and I along with another wonderful Disney fan, Lori Burke (many of you know her from the We Wants the Redhead blog) ran the 2010 half marathon together.  It was freezing, it was snowing, and it was one of the most fun Disney events I've ever participated in.

So why did I title this image "the most beautiful sight"?  From about mile 3, I was longing to see Spaceship Earth up close, not because I'm such a fan of this Walt Disney World icon (actually I am - it's my favorite park icon of all), but more because it meant the FINISH LINE was close!!!

So here is a shot I took just after I made the "turn for home" to again pass by Spaceship Earth on the way to the finish less than a mile away (from here, it was probably somewhere around half a mile to go).

It's also fitting that I post this shot today.  The 2010 half marathon was my first ever endurance event.  This coming weekend (April 26th), I'll run/walk in my third Blue Ridge Half Marathon, billed as America's toughest road marathon (and they're not lying - check out the course for the half) and earlier this week, I registered for the 2015 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge (I must be crazy).

So as you can see, running is on my mind lately, and I appreciate Mitch reminding me of all the fun I can have out on a freezing morning with a few thousand friends.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Photo Friday: Torch lighting at the Polynesian


Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week, I asked some of my Facebook friends to help me choose a random photo from my Disney archive (thanks John Reilly!)

This shot is from March 2010 and is from the nightly torch lighting ceremony at the Polynesian Resort.  This, like so many other things at the various Disney resorts, is completely free.  Every night around sunset, cast members hold a brief ceremony in which the ceremonial torches are lit for the night. 

As you can see, there's a bit more to this than just popping a few matches... though I'll leave that fire-tasting stuff to the experts.

Enjoy and aloha!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Introducing Mousekemeets 2014


It's here!  I'm so proud to announce that Mousekemeets 2014 will take place June 12 and 13 in Roanoke, Virginia, and I'm even prouder to announce that Lou Mongello from WDW Radio and Beci Mahnken from Mouse Fan Travel will be the key speakers.

There are a TON of events taking place, so go right over to Mousekemeets.com to read all about the events and to register.

Registration is limited to 150 people, so register today!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A historical view of MK ticket prices

Click for a larger view

Back in February, Disney announced the next round of price hikes for park tickets.  Today a one-day, one-park (ODOP) ticket for the Magic Kingdom is $99.  Given that this price increase came in February, it's entirely possible (and, sadly, not unprecedented) that another price increase may come later in the year.

Thanks to the folks at AllEars.net, we can take a look back at the Magic Kingdom ticket prices since 1982 (that's when the old ticket books went away completely and regular park admission started).  Looking back at 1982, a Magic Kingdom ODOP ticket was just over $13, a mere fraction of today's price.  If you look at the chart above you'll notice that prices rose fairly steadily until the late 1990s.  When Bob Iger became Disney's CEO in 1999, a Magic Kingdom ODOP was $44 - more than four times what it was seventeen years earlier.  Now, in 2014, that same ODOP ticket is $99, more than double what it was just 15 years ago. 

Now I understand costs do go up each year, but what I'm most concerned about is Disney's pace of increase.  If you look at the trend line (the black line), you'll see that from 1982 to around 1992, the ticket price was just slightly above the trend, but pretty close.  From 1992 until 2002, ticket prices dropped below the trend line.  In 2003, that's when things really started to change.  Notice the general slope of the ticket price line starting in 2003 - it's much steeper than it had ever been.  That meant the price of tickets started increasing at a greater rate than before, and for the most part that new slope hasn't relaxed.

In the small chart above, you can see the percentage change of ticket prices from year to year.  After 1999, the percentage of change has been quite volatile, from no change to as much as 12-percent.  Granted, the economy over the last few years has been anything but stable, so I guess it's not much of a surprise to see volatility in Disney's pricing structure.

So what's the point behind all this?  Using a tool like this, we can attempt to predict what prices will be in the future.  Given this rate of increase at around 6% a year, we can expect a Magic Kingdom ODOP ticket to run around $105 next year (that is if they don't already do another price increase this year), and could be around $140 by 2020.  Stop and think about that -- by the time the Magic Kingdom celebrates it's 50th anniversary in 2021, a one-day one-park ticket will be ten times what it was just after the Magic Kingdom's 10th anniversary.  I can't think of too many things that cost ten times what they did about 40 years ago.  If gas prices followed the same rate of increase then one gallon of gas will cost $13 by 2020. 

Maybe now you'll see what I'm concerned about -- Disney pricing themselves out of business.  There will come a point when the average family will no longer see the overall value of a Disney vacation.  I know some are already wondering if it's really worth it.  Sure, the parks are packed and attendance is still strong right now, but it doesn't take much to change all that.  Would you still drive a car if gas cost $13 a gallon?

I'm not griping about ticket prices.  Yes, they're too high, but that's not my main point.  My concern is the value of a Disney vacation.  I want people to be able to afford a Disney vacation.  I want the average family to be able to enjoy the magic.  I want Walt Disney World and Disneyland to be the premier theme parks in the world and the standard for which all others reach.  The more and more a Disney vacation starts to get our of reach for the average family, the closer Disney becomes to developing a reputation as something for the elite only.  Walt was never an elitist and I think he'd never want his parks to become something only for the elite. 

I understand prices have to increase, i just hope Disney will realize that their prices are going up too fast and will slow down that rate of increase. 

Those little Disney details...


Those who are long-time readers of this blog have heard me make this suggestion many times - stop and take in all those little Disney details.  As if you may need proof, here's just one more example.

Walking across the bridge connecting the UK and France pavilions at Epcot, you will see along the lagoon a small ledge where someone was painting along the shoreline.  Take a closer look at the painting and you'll see that it's not just some random scene, it's actually a painting of the International Gateway.  It's also somewhat of a look back in time.  Back when the International Gateway was first opened, it had burgundy awnings, as is depicted in the painting.  Yet now the gateway's awnings are green.  Also, there are more trees now than there were in Epcot's early days.

Also if you'll look carefully, you'll also see something that you never would have seen anywhere along the Crescent Lake area - a small sailboat. 

It's these little details that make Disney such a rich and immersive experience, if you take the time to take them in.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Farewell PUSH the talking trash can


It appears PUSH the talking trash can will never again grace the concrete walkways of Tomorrowland, at least for now.  Several reports indicate a possible contract dispute led Disney to break ties with the performer operating PUSH and so the beloved walk-around character is no more.  Now Disney has confirmed the talking trash can is no more.

UPDATE (Feb. 10):  According to an Orlando Sentinel article, Disney says PUSH will remain in Tomorrowland.  Earlier, an apparent internal Disney FAQ gave talking points to cast members about PUSH's removal.  I'm sure there will be more to come on this. 

UPDATE 2:  Disney has confirmed PUSH is gone, according to a new Orlando Sentinel article.

But did you ever stop to wonder just how PUSH did what he did?  He was a fully mobile and fully interactive character.  He could carry on complete conversations with people seemingly on his own.  Well, of course, that wasn't the case, but it was pretty hard to pick out just how it was done.

Now that PUSH has been retired, I'll let you in on the secret.


PUSH did indeed have a handler/operator.  If you looked carefully around at the crowd, you just might spot a person standing somewhere within eyesight of PUSH wearing a hat, some sort of fanny pack or satchel and holding his hand up to his mouth for an unusually long time.  Yep, that's the PUSH operator.  I've had the opportunity to secretly observe this performance several times and I have to say the person(s) who operate PUSH are quite good at blending in and not being conspicuous.  It's hard to see from the above photo, but this person is wearing headphones so he can hear what's being said around the PUSH character.  He can then speak into the mic and talk with unsuspecting guests.

It's a pretty simple operation but was beautifully done.  Even after I figured out who to look for, there were several times I couldn't find the operator, he had blended in so well.

So it is with great sadness and regret that I say farewell to PUSH the talking trash can from Tomorrowland.  I can only hope that there will come a day soon when you might make a return.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Photo Friday: Back in time


It's time for another Photo Friday!

This week' we're heading back in time to bring an Iguanodon forward in time - thanks to our time rover!  This shot captures the moment we are transported back millions of years to the time of the dinosaurs... or maybe it's just some huge heat lamps keeping us warm for when the T-Rex has us for a little pre-meteor shower snack.

Fortunately, I made it back to the present in the nick of time so I could share this with you.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Tip Tuesday: A hot time at Blizzard Beach


Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Well here in the mid Atlantic, it's still freezing with more snow in the forecast, so what's a better topic to discuss than the beach!  Blizzard Beach to be specific.

As many of you will know, Blizzard Beach is one of Walt Disney World's two water parks, the other being Typhoon Lagoon.  Blizzard Beach is located near Animal Kingdom, off West Buena Vista Drive (for those of you driving).  The story is that a freak snowstorm hit Orlando and Disney quickly created a ski resort.  Of course, it is Florida, so all that snow started melting, so suddenly this became a water park with the help of the Ice Gator!

Even though it looks like there's a lot of ice and snow around, Blizzard Beach can be anything but cool (even the water is warm).  Most importantly, the walkways and sand get quite hot, so if you're planning to hit Blizzard Beach, you'll want to bring along some flip flops, water shoes or some other way to protect your feet.  Trust me - by afternoon, those walkways are searing and you'll be doing the hot foot dance if you don't have foot protection.  Also, keep in mind that, unlike resort pools, Disney doesn't hand out towels, so you'll want to bring some along with you.  

Just like the theme parks, some of the same overall tips apply here - the most important of which is to get there early!  Yes, the major attractions such as the Summit Plummet start to develop long lines, but the more important reason you want to be there early is to get a chair!  Yes, you read this right, the primary purpose to arrive early is to get the type of chair(s) you want.  Some people prefer shade (I'm one of those), and the shady chairs that are along the main beach at Melt Away Bay go quickly.

Here's a bit more on finding the shade.  If you look at the Tobaggan Racers, they run roughly from West to East (more like from West-Southwest to East-Northeast, but that's being picky).  The point is that this set of slides can help you get an idea of where the sun will travel during the day and how the shade will move.  During the morning, the shadows generally will point toward the west (along the same line as the Tobaggan Racers) and will slowly get shorter as noon approaches.  By late afternoon, the shadows will reverse and start pointing toward the Lowatta Lodge and the Beach Haus.  Of course, these directions will vary some from the summer to the winter months.  In summer, shadows will point a little more to the south and in winter, shadows will point a little more north.  This will help you try to identify where you want to set up camp, depending on when you arrive.

There are more chairs further back and some areas and cabanas that require an additional cost.  Some of this depends on where you want to be.  If you're more into the large wave pool and the three regular slides, you'll want to be on the far left side of Melt Away Bay.  If you're with kids and will be in the younger area, you'll want to make your way to the far right side away from Melt Away Bay.

I'll talk more about the attractions at Blizzard Beach in a future post as well as some of the other things to do in this area.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tip Tuesday: Touring the parks without FastPass

With all the recent changes (and glitches) coming to Walt Disney World concerning FastPass+, Magic Bands and all, there are plenty of guests (myself included) who are less then enamored with the implementation of FastPass+.

So it begs the question:  is FastPass+ worth it?  Does it cause more problems that it solves?

While I have yet to experience FastPass+ first hand, I have heard plenty of horror stories about this new service, so I thought I'd share some thoughts about the best ways to enjoy the parks without having to get one FastPass.

Yes, Virginia, it can be done, but it does require some planning.

First, of course, you have to arrive at a park well before park opening -- at least 30 minutes, though 45 might be better for the Magic Kingdom.  While you're waiting for the park to open, you need to set a few priorities when it comes to attractions and/or characters -- which ones are most important to you?  Head to those first.  If you don't have any priorities, consider hitting the headline attractions such as Space Mountain, Soarin', Toy Story Mania or the Kilimanjaro Safaris.  You will have a good hour or two where the crowds will be considerably lower than later in the morning/afternoon.  You need to make good use of this time.

Once the park opens, walk briskly (do not run) to your highest priority attraction and get in the standby line.  The standby sign may indicate a 20 or 30 minute wait.  Go in anyway -- there's a good chance that standby time is not current.  Depending on the standby line, you may be able to get in two runs in short order before moving to the rest of your priority list.

Once the crowds start to build in late morning to early afternoon, it's time to move to the less popular attractions and shows as well as high-volume attractions such as the Haunted Mansion, its a small world, Living with the Land, Seas with Nemo, Star Tours, Muppets 3D, or the Animal Kingdom walking trails.  These attractions can handle a fairly large number of people at one time, so odds are the standby lines will be shorter.

The afternoon into the evening also is a good time to take in some scenery and do a bit of shopping.  Take some time to appreciate all those little Disney details and maybe take in a show or movie or two. 

As the evening fades into night, you'll start to see the crowds begin to thin in some areas, especially as families with young children head home with weary tykes in tow.  At the Magic Kingdom, crowds will start to gather along the parade route for the Main St. Electrical Parade.  Main Street and the Hub area will be especially crowded as people get spots for Wishes.  Avoid these areas if you're not all that interested in the evening entertainment and go hit more attractions.  You'll encounter some waits, but they'll have decreased since the peak of a few hours earlier.  In Epcot, the World Showcase promenade will start to fill with folks waiting for Reflections of Earth.  Same deal -- head to Future World and try to get in a few attractions there.

At Hollywood Studios, it's all about Fantasmic - there will likely be considerable lines at the end of Sunset Boulevard, so just avoid that part of the park.  Yes, the Rockin' Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror might be a bit busy, but the rest of the attractions will start to clear out to some degree -- even Toy Story Mania. 

With a bit of planning, some luck and flexibility, you can have a great day in the parks and not worry one second about getting a FastPass, dealing with return times or having to mess with the My Disney Experience app. 

Just go out and have fun!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Photo Friday: A "sweet" hidden Mickey


Welcome to another Photo Friday!

Can you spot the sweet hidden Mickey in this display at the Confectionary at the Magic Kingdom?  These hidden Mickey's can be found all throughout the Confectionary, though they're not really sweet - just decorations.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No April Fool's joke! Audio versions of Kingdom Keepers 6 and 7 to be released April 1

Kingdom Keepers Insider
Image courtesy Kingdom Keepers Insider
Kingdom Keepers fans - the day you've been waiting for will be here soon.  Today, Ridley Pearson released the cover for the anticipated final volume of the Kingdom Keepers series.

What is no surprise is that our favorite five heroes (and a few more) will have the final battle with the Overtakers at the place where all the Disney magic started -- Disneyland. 

Here's a description of the book from KingdomKeepersInsider.com:
The Kingdom Keepers’ senior year in high school is almost over. For more than three years, they’ve done little more than surveillance missions into the Disney parks after dark. Their battles are long behind them, they agree, the threat to the Disney realm silenced—albeit at great cost.

But inside the catacombs of the Aztec temple where Finn Whitman faced down his nemesis, the monstrous Chernabog, a new threat brews. One that will rise like a phoenix … or, more accurately, like a stealth bomber.

Deception and betrayal rock the Kingdom Keepers as the merciless group of Disney villains known as the Overtakers stage an unexpected comeback. Supercharged with black magic, the Overtakers seek an iconic element that will power them to victory and render the Keepers—not to mention all of Los Angeles—defenseless.

But a discovery by the Keepers provides them with one hope of victory––a lost icon that hasn't been seen in decades. Believed to be gone forever, it may yet be saved. If so, the Keepers have one last chance to preserve the heart of the Kingdom––Disneyland––from a terrifying destruction decades in the making.

But wait, there's more.

If you're like me, you've been enjoying the Kingdom Keepers series on audiobooks.  I spend a fair amount of time in the car, so I often listen to audiobooks.

Kingdom Keepers 1-5 are on audio, but, for various reasons, book 6 was never released on audio.  Well, that oversight will be corrected on April 1 as well.  According to the Brilliance Audio website, the audio versions of KK6 and KK7 will both be released on April 1.

Both titles are, again, read by MacLeod Andrews, who read all but the first Kingdom Keepers novels (book 1 was read by Christopher Lane).  As with the previous titles, these performances are unabridged.  Both books have run times of approximately 9 hours each.

As much as I'm looking forward to reading/hearing the final story in the Kingdom Keepers saga, I'm equally looking forward to finally enjoying book 6 and I prefer to - in it's audio format.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Photo Friday: It's A Curious World After All

Alice and the White Rabbit 

It's back -- Photo Friday returns!

My apologies for the looonnngg absence - the journey to earn a Masters degree from USC became all-encompassing for the last few months.

But enough of the past -- moving on to the future!

And speaking of the future, since I'm planning a return to Disneyland soon, I thought I'd share a photo that the DisneyMommy especially enjoys -- Alice and the White Rabbit found in the Disneyland version of it's a small world. 

I'm still blown away at how different the Disneyland and Walt Disney World version of these attractions are.  I'll have more about that in a future post.

Anyway, it's good to be back!

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