Sunday, August 30, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

Just a few things to help you ease into the last real Monday of summer:

I should have checked out these recipes from Disney World on All Ears before I told my best friend that the Smokey Portobello Mushroom Soup at Artist Point was vegetarian. Turns out it has chicken broth. But secretly, I think she thought it was worth it. It's probably the best soup I've ever had. We've been talking about it for months.

Break out the orange and black bunting: Great pictures of the Magic Kingdom decorated for Halloween. Yes, it's still August. And yes, I still think it's exciting.

Bonnie Sweeten, what will you celebrate? Jail time. Hopefully she'll get the help she needs to straighten out her life.

Disney World 3-D Using Google Earth:

That's really clever, but it made me just the slightest bit dizzy. Needless to say, you'll never see me on a certain ride with spinning teacups.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fast Disney Facts: Madame Leota.

Next time you're waiting in line at the Haunted Mansion, look to your left as you reach the front of the line. That face on the tombstone that blinks? It's none other than Leota Toombs, an imagineer who worked on the attraction whom Walt Disney himself found so beautiful that he used her likeness in the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. She's known as Madame Leota, the disembodied head that speaks from the crystal ball. Madame Leota's voice, which Walt thought too childish, is voiced by the actress Eleanor Audley, who is also the voice of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. You can also see Leota's likeness and hear her real voice as the little bride who says "Hurry Back" as you leave the attraction.

The inscription reads the inscription on the tombstone reads:

Dear sweet Leota
Beloved by all
In regions beyond now,

But having a ball

Now you know why it says she's having a ball! Pretty clever.

Leota's daughter Kim is an imagineer with the Disney company and has even performed as Madame Leota in special events at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

Video below of Madame Leota; it's easy to see why Walt found her features so extraordinary:

Monday, August 24, 2009

180 vs. 90-day ADR Windows at Walt Disney World.

If you've researched a trip to Disney World, you know the importance of making what is known among Disney fans as "advanced dining reservations" or "ADRs." Fail to make advanced reservations and you could find yourself gnawing on gigantic turkey legs and Mickey bars your entire trip or driving endlessly through the tourist maze surrounding Disney property. While I try not to be a food snob, even I have to draw the line at counter service meals every day of a trip. Enter the world of making your ADRs. Maybe you research exhaustively, checking out menus and reviews ( has menus of every sit-down restaurant at WDW as well as some reviews) or maybe you wing it, call Disney dining, and let the friendly cast member guide you. Whatever you choose, you probably know that you can make those reservations 180-days in advance (or 180+10 days if you're staying on-site).

For most of this year, Disney only accepted reservations 90 days in advance. This was great for people who travelled at the last minute or who didn't plan their vacations right down to what they were having for dinner. It meant they still had an opportunity to try Dinsey's more popular restaurants, some of which, like Cinderella's Royal Table or Le Cellier, fill up on the first day of availability. But for those who travel to Disney on a regular basis and who tend to plan out their vacations farther in advance, it meant more hassles at ADR-making time since they not only had to compete with Disney regulars, but also with Disney "newbies," people who travel on short-term notice, and locals.

Disney Vacation Club owners were particularly vocal in their dislike of the policy, since they were able to book their vacations 11-months in advance at their home resort and 7-months at other resorts. The new policy gave them no advantage in the ADR game whatsoever. But this sentiment wasn't limited to DVC owners. Most frequent vacationers hated the new policy. And then, quite aburptly, the policy was changed. Whether Disney listened to its most loyal guests or whether the 90-day policy simply overwhelmed the reservation system on ADR day, earlier this month Disney announced a return to the old policy.

I'll just admit right here that while I benefit from the 180-day policy because I tend to plan farther in advance, I don't particularly like it. For one thing, it makes it really difficult for locals to eat in many restaurants simply because they don't tend to book a night out six months in advance. For another, it ensures that those who are "not in the know" and don't know to book farther in advance will never experience some of the better restaurants and are left dining in those that are less desirable. It benefits Disney to ensure that all of its guests have a positive dining experience, but that won't happen if the only ADRs a guest can get are San Angel Inn and Nine Dragons, two Disney restaurants which are universally reviled. Finally, free dining is most often announced under six months. If the vast majority of ADRs are filled, free dining is a "promotion" in name only.

The 90-day window for ADRs wasn't perfect. There were long waits and many people reported being frustrated by not being able to get a special reservation. But it also seemed . . . . I don't know, more equitable and in some little way, more Disney.

Just a few thoughts.

Monday Morning Distraction.

Feeling too productive on this last Monday in August? Here's a little something to distract you:

A fan's Animal Kingdom Lodge website. Want to see a photo of that gym you'll be working out in on your next vacation? Or won't be working out in? Well, it's right here.

This is making me hungry: Disney Food Blog.

The lights are already going up on the castle. Feels early, and yet I can't help but get excited. Check out this cast member's fun blog.

Listen to the latest Disunplugged Podcast. You can also download it on Itunes. Lots of Disney and Orlando area information, a rant or two, and and occasional visit from baby Ferris. Cute.

There, don't you feel rested? Now get back to work!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fast Disney Facts: Most/Least Crowded Days of the Week at the Magic Kingdom.

Tuesdays are the busiest days of the week at the Magic Kingdom. Keep in mind that holidays and special events will have some impact on crowd levels, but generally Tuesdays will be the most crowded day of the week.

And which day is the least crowded? Saturdays. Despite the fact that locals come to the parks on the weekends, Saturdays are the least crowded day of the week at the Magic Kingdom. Again, holidays and special events may make for more crowding on certain Saturdays.

I'm not sure why Tuesdays are so busy, but I suspect Saturdays are the least crowded because it's often a travel day for vacationers. So . . . plan accordingly!

Official Toy Story 3 Trailer.

To me, the Toy Story movies are easily the best kids' movies ever made. Of course, I might be biased; my little girl sleeps with a Jessie doll every night.

Looking forward to seeing this next summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Waldorf-Astoria to Open in Disney's Backyard.

Years ago, when the the Disney company was quietly buying up property in a swampy backwater on the outskirts of a sleepy little town called Orlando, one mysterious owner of nearly 500 acres didn't sell. No one knows why, although there is speculation that the mystery owner simply couldn't be found.* The land went undeveloped until the early 90s when the owner, a Taiwanese invester, passed away. Gradually the area, which is flanked on three sides by Disney property, was developed and became what is known as the Bonnet Creek Resort area. When completed, it will have several high-end hotels and approximately 1,500 timeshare units.

In October, the latest and most luxurious by far of these hotels will open, the Waldorf-Astoria. In 2012, the Four Seasons is set to open on what was formerly a Disney golf course just off Bay Lake. The Orlando area has no shortage of upscale hotels, but until now only a few, such as the Ritz-Carlton, were convenient to Disney and none were adjacent to the property itself. It will be interesting to see how guests who stay at Disney deluxe hotels will react. Will they give up their monorail resorts and theming for the luxury of a true five-star hotel? Those with deep pockets have long complained that Disney deluxe hotels are deluxe hotels in name, and price, only. Certainly Disney's most expensive hotels lack some of the amenities you find at better hotels: It's either egalitarian or amusing that the threadcount in the sheets at the Grand Floridian is the same as those at the value resorts; in fact, they come from the same central laundry.

Obviously, when these plans were drawn up, the economy was much stronger, but even then I would have questioned how many more hotel rooms the Orlando area could support. Deep discounts have kept Disney resorts filled, but overall hotel occupancy in Orlando is down about 6 percent. With park attendance down an estimated 10 percent, one would not be out of line in questioning the rationale of saturating a market that was already at capacity prior to the recession. Of course, that's the crux of the argument, that this specific market, the luxury market, is not saturated at all. Some argue that Disney's own "hubris" created a gaping hole that they could not, or would not, fill. If off-site hotels can meet or exceed guests' experiences, it shouldn't be surprising that a once-loyal segment of on-site guests will gladly stay elsewhere.

With rack rate rooms at Disney's most expensive hotels starting at around $400 a night during low season, the Waldorf Astoria is practically a bargain at $329. Of course, staying on Disney property has some obvious benefits and certain intangibles that Disney fans are willing to pay for. It's what is commonly referred to as that Disney magic. Only time will tell if vacationers are willing to forgo that magic in favor of something else. Personally, I'm strictly an on-site kind of girl, but I could be lured over that way just once--that spa looks pretty posh.

Link to the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando website.

*Among the most persistent rumors was that the owner was related to Chinese Nationalist leader Chaing Kai-Shek. Turns out that was partly true: He was a nephew by marriage.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do You Buy a Photopass?

Do you buy a Photopass when you go to Disney World? For the unitiated, a Photopass is where you pay Disney a fee (starting at around $99) to photograph you and your party (with their cameras) at various locations in Disney World. When you get home, you can then pick which photos you wish to purchase or just keep the CD. Personally, it's not my thing as I am famous for forgetting to take any photos at all while on vacation, but the ones I've seen come out pretty well. They also help you avoid this:

You know, that really does look all to familiar, I'm afraid. Perhaps I need to reconsider our family's No Photopass Rule.

Photo via Awkward Family Photos. Site is safe for work (unless your company has a "no awkward photos" rule) and is very funny.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Changes in how Disney Releases Dining and Park Hours.

Effective October 27th, Disney World will begin releasing park hours 180 days in advance. In addition, you will once again be able to make your dining reservations at the 180 day mark, a change from the unpopular 90-day window for making reservations implemented earlier this year.

This announcement means that you can plan your dining reservations around which park is open earlier or later, rather than having to estimate as you did in the past. This should eliminate some of the problems visitors have experienced in the past year with park hours, in some cases, being announced only a few months in advance. I know that planning your meals six months in advance probably sounds a bit obsessive for the unintiated, but when you consider how quickly Disney restaurants fill up, it's actually a smart move for those who want to eat at the better sit-down restaurants. Of course, knowing park hours further in advance doesn't just help with scheduling dining reservations; it's a welcome change for anyone planning a special event or activity, such as a wedding or even a family photography session, during their next vacation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Feeling Crafty?

Via CakeWrecks, a very pretty cake that is decidely not . . . a wreck. The detail is amazing.

And yes, I want one for my birthday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bay Lake Towers Opens Today!

In a few hours, guests will be checking into Bay Lake Towers, Disney's newest vacation club property. I can't wait to read the reviews. In the meantime, if you'd like to see more of BLT, I got a kick out of the entusiasm of this Disney fan who shot a video at night from the outside:

Here's an early look at one of the BLT models from DisUnplugged (link includes pictures/information):

Finally, some really good video of the actual rooms:

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Princess and the Frog.

My twins will be not quite three-years old when this movie comes out during the holidays. I think this will be a good time to introduce them to the movie theater, don't you?

Summer Crowds

I've been hearing online and from friends who've recently been to Disney World that crowds are very low this summer. One person actually reported being able to get a walk-up reservation for Le Cellier, unheard of even during the slowest times of the year. Actual numbers are difficult to ascertain since Disney doesn't release them outright, but one friend, a former Floridian and frequent park-goer who went during the 4th of July, said that they didn't wait on-line for one attraction.

Could it be that crowds are really this low during the busiest time of the year, despite all the incentives Disney is offering? If so, what will fall look like? Will Disney be forced to reduce services and hours for cast members?

Your thoughts?