Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Disneyworld: Better Than the Pool.

Perhaps you've heard about the incident in suburban Philadelphia where a group of minority children from a daycare center were refused admission to a swimming pool alledgedly based on their skin color. The daycare center, Creative Steps, had originally paid to use the Valley Swim Club during the summer, but their check was returned without explanation after the children began using the facilities. Later, club director John Duesler claimed that the children, some of whom had been exposed to racial epithets during their time at the pool, changed the "complexion" and "atmosphere" of the club, a statement which brought protests outside the club as well as national attention.

I think for most of us, this incident is chillingly reminiscent of the old Jim Crow days and yet, we feel powerless beyond what we teach in our own homes to do anything about it. Well producer Tyler Perry felt the same way, and he wanted to make it up to the kids, so he is sending all of them on an all-expense paid vacation to Disney World. As a spokesman for Perry noted Disney is "better than the pool." I have to agree.

This trip won't change what happened and it certainly doesn't change the fact that there are still adults out there who think it's okay to judge someone, a child no less, on the basis of their skin, but it also shows these kids that there are good people out there. After an incident like this, I think concrete proof in the form of a stranger's gift will go a long way. I'm certainly rooting for these kids and hope they have the time of their lives.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Curious about Bay Lake Towers?

There's an interesting thread on the Disboards right now about BLT, including photos, floorplans, and just about every other question you could have. No, my friends, BLT isn't a sandwich, but rather Disney's unfortunately named newest timeshare property (known as Disney Vacation Club) located right next to the Magic Kingdom. Highly anticipated for the last few years by Disney fans, Bay Lake Towers is part of the Contemporary Resort, so it will offer monorail access and a walkway to the Magic Kingdom.

There's an elevated walkway between the Contemporary and BLT so guests will have easy access to the shops and restaurants in the Comtemporary Resort, but BLT will have its own check-in area, pool and viewing lounge for fireworks.

Walkway from BLT to Contemporary Resort.

Three-bedroom villas look like this:

And have this view:

Can you imagine watching the fireworks from your terrace at night?

Other rooms have this view:

Beautiful. It's hard to say which one is better.

Why yes, don't mind if I do. That bed looks really inviting:

Hmmm. A bed this comfortable and a view like that could seriously undermine my will to get up and go to the parks that day.

BLT opens in early August. The good news is, you don't have to be a DVC owner to rent rooms. You can rent points from DVC members (go through a well-known owner on a site like Disboards or Mouseowners) or rent rooms through Disney. The former will save money, but you'll have to trust the person you're renting through.

I can't wait to stay there!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Feed Your Disney Addiction: Books on Disney World.

Even if you're not planning a trip to Disney World any time soon, a good book can let you dream about your next trip or relive your last one. Here's a list of my favorite Disney books:

The Unofficial Guide is, without question, one of the best Disney travel guides available. At a little under 900 pages, the Unofficial Guide is filled with everything you need to plan a great Disney vacation: Advice on when to travel, weather, and special concerns for people who may have difficulties travelling; restaurant reviews and descriptions of all the Disney table service restaurants as well as off-site locations; information on Disney hotels, including suprising details such as which resort is the most quiet and which rooms offer the best views; information on getting around on Disney property and off-site; detailed descriptons of attractions; and well, just about anything you could think of asking, it's been asked and answered in this book. I know that probably sounds like hyperbole, but there's a reason that Disney fans regard The Unofficial Guide as indespensible.

It also has touring plans, which are great for those visiting Disney during busier times of the year. I'd recommend this book to anyone going to Disney World, both first-time travellers and the Disney-obsessed. In fact, I've been known to steer total strangers in the bookstore toward it.
Yes, I'm a nerd. But you already knew that.

The authors don't sugarcoat Disney. If they have a bad experience at a hotel or a restuarant, it will be reflected in the book. For this, they've received some criticism, but they are also clearly fans who love Disney and have a lot of respect for the creativity and work that goes into running a place like Walt Disney World. I think the fact that the writers are true fans separates this book from other Disney guides.

The Unofficial Guide comes out every year in the fall. Updates are added yearly, but some things will be the same from year to year. You don't technically need to buy a new one every year, but owning one does give you free access to their website (which you can pay for without purchasing the book) which in turn allows you to read their crowd control calendar and access other information. I don't plan a trip without looking at their calender, which I've found to be very accurate. You can find The Unofficial Guide in just about any bookstore.

If the Unofficial Guide is more information than you want to wade through, try The Complete Walt Disney World 2009. Unlike the Unofficial Guide, which has a few pictures in the beginning of the book, The Complele WDW has photographs on every page. It includes maps of the parks, as well as on-site hotel and restaurant descriptions; there are a few very brief descriptions of off-site hotels. The strongest part of the Complete WDW is that they describe each ride in detail and in some cases, give you the history of the ride or tell you how it was built. There are also descriptions of all shows and parades. This book is a great source of Disney trivia as well as practical information.

If the above guides offer great detail on every aspect of Disney World, Bill Burke's Mousejunkies tells you what if feels like to be at Disney World. There is a lot of practical information in this book, but where this book is stongest is in sharing with the reader the experiences that he and his co-authors have had at Disney, the good, the bad, and the occasionally bizarre. Burke is really good at answering questions you might not have thought about asking and he is pretty funny while doing it; any book that details over several pages the best and worst bathrooms at Disney World is bound to get a chuckle out of even the most stoic among us.
Mousejunkes is more of a travelogue than a true travel guide. While the Unofficial Guide may give you an overview of each and every table service restaurant on Disney property, this book offers only a handful of descriptions. Instead, what you get here is the story behind the meal and a real sense of how the author and his friends felt about it. He does the same thing with attractions and resorts. Because there are a lot of anecdotal descriptions in Mousejunkes, you don't get the kind of in-depth detail you get from the guides mentioned above; there's simply not room for it. For this reason, I wouldn't recommend this as the only book for a first timer to buy, but I would recommend it as a supplement to one of the above guides; in fact, it's the one you may read again and again. For those who know their way around Disney, it's a great way to relive the experience and discover a few secrets you might not already know.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Funny Google Search

I notice that I get a lot of interesting/fun searches here when I check Statcounter. The search "Does Disney World close down in bad weather" reminded me of this video:

To answer your question, I've been there in rain and sleet and while the parks weren't crowded, they were open. The parks don't close for thunderstorms, but they do close certain attractions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monorail Accident.

The Disney Blog has an explanation of the possible causes of yesterday's monorail crash.

The young man who died was working his way through college; driving the monorail was his dream job.

My thoughts go out to his family and friends, as well as the others involved in the accident.

ETA: The monorals are apparently back up after being down for a day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two Months of Christmas.

Okay, it's July. You're probably not even thinking about Christmas. In fact, you're probably thinking about what you're grilling tomorrow or fireworks or how incredibly hot it is. But if you're going to Disney World in November or December, you can buy tickets now to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and dream about (somewhat) cooler weather and snow on Main Street.

What, you didn't know it snowed on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom during the Christmas season? Okay, it's not real snow, obviously, but it does snow thanks to a few strategically placed machines up and down Main Street that mysteriously float little flakes over your head as you walk around soaking up the Christmas spirit. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP to those in the know, which now includes you) is a separately ticketed event that takes place in the Magic Kingdom on select nights in November and December. This year's dates are as follows:

November 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 29
December 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18

Weekends and some weeknights tend to sell out, particularly the closer you get to Christmas. Tickets are on sale now at the Disney site . I've also seen tickets listed on the Orlando area Craigslist closer to the event, but keep in mind that you're not dealing with Disney directly and you could be opening yourself up to less than scrupulous sellers. Still, if you're in Orlando and don't have tickets, then a cash-only transaction in a public place could save you money or get you access to a sold-out event. MVMCP tickets are plastic and look very much like your park tickets; the date should be on the back.

MVMCP officially runs from 7:00 to midnight, but you'll be allowed into the Magic Kingdom as early as 4:30 the day of the event, so it makes sense to not go to the parks that day. Instead, think about having a quiet day at your hotel and then going that night. We did this the first time we went and it was perfect; the second time, our six-year old was at the parks all day. By 7:00 that night, he wanted to go back to the resort and sleep; needless to say, that was one wasted ticket (although, I went back later with my best friend, who travelled with our family).

Besides the aforementioned snow on Main Street, you'll see a special Christmas parade and shows, and be able to ride most attractions with the promise of shorter lines. There is also free hot chocolate and cookies. The Christmas parade alone, to me, made the whole evening worth it, but you also can't beat the Magic Kingdom lit up at night with added bonus of gorgeous Christmas decorations. We've gone the last two years in a row and it's been the highlight of our trip (tired six-year old notwithstanding).

MVMCP gets some bad press and the naysayers do have a valid point. Some nights are notoriously crowded, however as much as I enjoy speculating on how crowded a park will be on any given day, I wouldn't begin to guess as to MVMCP because there doesn't really seem to be any way to predict it. I will say that we have gone on both a Sunday and a Thursday night in early December. Both nights were not crowded, although I did hear that other nights those weeks were so bad that guests complained that they couldn't even watch the parade. I think the trick is to not expect to do everything and to go for the atmosphere--it is, afterall, a party. You may do as we did and simply walk onto every ride or you may not ride anything. We didn't bother trying to see the Christmas shows because the lines were too long, but it also wasn't important to us. I would definintely not schedule it as your only visit to the Magic Kingdom that trip, not only because of the crowds but because not every attraction is open. For me, the festive atmosphere was everything; the fact that we rode Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin half a dozen times in a row without waiting was just extra.

Okay, that was pretty great. But, I would have had a wonderful time regardless.

Advance tickets for adults run $55.38; event day tickets are available for $62.84. Kids tickets are $48.99 for advanced tickets and $56.45 for same day purchases. Slight discounts are available for Annual Pass holders and DVC members. Again, be advised that some nights often sell out in advance.

A little video for the uninitiated:

Another on how the castle is decorated during the holidays: