Monday, September 28, 2009

New Buy 4/Get 3 Deal Announced for Disney Visa Holders.

Disney just announced that VISA cardholders can book a buy-4/get 3-free package for select dates between 11/1 - 12/24/2009 through 1/3 - 3/27/2010 at Moderate and Deluxe Resorts. Guests staying at Value resorts will be able to buy 5/get 2-free.

It's not official yet, but Disney will likely announce the same deal for non-cardholders in the near future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

Is there a chill in the air where you are? Console yourself with these warm Disney thoughts on your Monday morning.

The Orlando Sentinel's columnist Dewayne Bevil has a few thoughts on Fantasyland, current and future.

New details on the Harry Potter attraction scheduled to open at Universal Studios this Spring:

Love the Grand Floridian? Check out this tour of the grand suite, the most posh suite at the resort, on My Disney Blog. Over $2300 a night and it sleeps six. Makes a few hundred points at Bay Lake Towers seem like a bargain! Do you think this argument would work with my husband?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Off Site: Orlando Crib Rentals.

Last December we rented a condo in Windsor Hills, a popular community off Irlo Bronson Highway. Because we have young twins, we needed to rent two cribs and a few other items to make our short stay more comfortable. After comparing prices and equipment, we settled on Orlando Crib Rental because they seemed to have the best selection and prices. They have Pack-N-Plays, standard-sized cribs, and toddler beds, as well as mid-priced strollers (think Graco, not Bugaboo), car seats, and high chairs. We even rented a white noise machine for the kids' room.

Because the owner has a working relationship with the agency we rented the condo from, All Star Vacation Homes, she was able to deliver the cribs to our room and start setting them up before we even got there rather than leaving it at the front desk. The cribs were white metal cribs with standard crib mattresses ; you may want to bring your own sheets from home if you're children are used to a certain type or if you want to avoid the cost of renting them. They folded easily, but were very sturdy once set up. The owner explained that she replaces them frequently because they get a lot of wear and tear being set up and taken down so often. She then showed me where she usually places them--thoughtfully, away from the windows and blinds--and even figured out how to get two cribs into the room while still being able to walk around the existing furniture.

Our trip was a short one and to be honest, it was pretty difficult as the twins did not sleep well and picked that weekend to rebel against the stroller. By the time the owner came to our condo to pick up the cribs, I was exhausted and I'm sure it showed. We talked for a while and it turns out she's not only a mother of five, she also has twins. Coming from a veteren twin mom, her words of advice and funny stories that day really made my trip. I'm still laughing about the story of her then-toddler twins, a jug of milk, a bathing suit, and the cat's haircut.

I would recommend Orlando Crib Rentals to anyone. They were easy to reach via email or by phone and answered all my questions quickly. The service was super-friendly and I felt they went above and beyond what I would have expected.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review.

The following is a guest post from a friend of mine, a WDW cast member and all around good guy. Thank you, D.

Tucked away in a wooded corner of Walt Disney World is one of the most fun experiences you can have on vacation, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review!

Located at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, the Hoop Dee Doo is most easily described as a "hootin', hollerin' good time!" If you want to get more specific, the Hoop Dee Doo Review is done in the style of the traveling comedy vaudeville shows of the 1800's, and is done with a "wild west" theme. The show hasn't changed at all since it opened in August of 1974, and even some of the performers (the banjo player, for one) are the same 35 years later! The show is goofy enough for the kids to have a blast and witty enough to make even the most glum adults laugh.

While mostly scripted the show is also filled with improve. comedy, so expect plenty of jokes specific to your crowd (or possible specific to you!) The show is also very interactive, and you may end up doing anything from playing the washboard to dancing on stage in a bright pink tutu!

Of course the Hoop Dee Doo is a dinner show, so no review would be complete without mentioning the food! Don't expect to be served on a silver platter here. In line with the theme of the show, the meal is served "trail style", piled high in tin buckets! The offerings include tossed salad, southwestern-style ribs, friend chicken (the best I've ever had at a restaurant), corn bread, beans, and corn. Also included are tea, fountain beverages, beer, wine, and sangria. Everything is all-you-care-to-eat (or drink), so go with an empty stomach and a hearty appetite for food and fun!

In short, the Hoop Dee Doo offers all the fun and magic you would expect in the heart of Fronteirland, but is hidden from the crowds. If you haven’t made it over some time in the past 35 years, you should make it a top priority for your next visit!

The Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review is the oldest dinner show in the world. It's located at Pioneer Hall in the Ft. Wilderness campground and is accesible by boat from the Magic Kingdom or the Wilderness Lodge and by bus from all parks and the Ticket and Transportation Center. You can also park your own car at the lot at the front of the campground and take one of the internal busses to Pioneer Hall. Seating is in three categories, ranging from $59.99 to 50.99 for adults and $30.99 to $25.99 for children ages 3-9; children under 3 eat free. Prices include tax and gratuity.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nostalgic Disney.

Old promotional video from the early 1970s.

Includes the elusive Swan Boat attraction!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction: Fantasyland Makeover Edition.

I'll admit that when I saw the "leaked" plans for the proposed Fantasyland expansion that came out this summer, I thought it was a very well-executed hoax, mainly because it seemed so incredibly ambitious. Turns out I would have made a very poor Imagineer, because I was wrong. Disney announced over the weekend at the D23 Expo in Anaheim that it will expand Fantasyland adding a circus themed area where Mickey's Toontown Fair used to be and several princess-themed elements, including the anticipated Little Mermaid dark ride, to be completed in phases by 2013. Goofy's Barnstormer will be re-themed and Dumbo will actually be a double ride with an elaborate queue. It will be interesting to see what happens to Mickey and Minnie's country houses. Rumor has it they'll be moved to the front of the Magic Kingdom, but where?

Pictures and the full story are here and here, including planned updates to Star Tours.

Not surprisingly, there've been some complaints that the Magic Kingdom will be too "girl oriented" and that boys will opt to skip the park, but I'm thinking that won't be the case. Go on over to Zannaland for her take.

Finally, it's Disney so there's got to be food, right? The Disney Food Blog has some thoughts on the matter as well as drawings of the proposed restaurants. Be sure to check out the video of the announcement (with explanations of the drawings) at the bottom of the post.

I have to admit, I'm going to miss Mickey's Toontown. Yes, I'm an adult who loves it. It's just so Disney. And even though I've often said it's the worst bathroom in Walt Disney World, I will miss Pete's Garage, AKA the only combination bathroom/waterpark in Toontown. No word yet on when Toontown will close.

See you around, Pete. You'll be missed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quick Bites: Ode to the Gigantic Turkey Leg.

If you've ever been to Disney World, you might have noticed the smell before you ever laid eyes on one, that delicious, siren song drawing you forward. It probably didn't take long before you figured out what it was. After  all, there's nothing subtle about the smoked turkey leg. Much maligned by its critics but loved by many, Disney's smoked turkey leg is one part of the holy trinity of Disney theme park food that also includes the Dole Whip and the Mickey Bar. And no, it's not really Emu.

There's something barbaric about gnawing on a giant turkey leg and walking through a public place, but it seems to work at Disney World in much the same way that walking down Bourbon Street at 11:00 in the morning with a fruity adult beverage seems to work. Nonetheless, I was a little shy about eating one. You mostly see men eating them for one thing because, let's be honest, men don't care if they look like savages. In fact, it probably makes them feel more, I don't know, manly, like they're connecting with their caveman past. Women however, even women like me who tend to have the sense of humor of a 12-year old boy, don't want to appear too unladylike while eating and devouring a Flintsone-sized piece of poultry doesn't exacly bring to mind images of Junior League ladies and watercress sandwiches.

Still, I'd been eyeing the turkey leg for some time and finally took the plunge on a recent trip with some mom friends and our kids, figuring that my husband wouldn't be there to document it on film and mock me forever. Predictably, when I came back from the counter of the Tocluca Legs Turkey Co., my friend Kelly said to me, her eyes widening, "You're going to eat that?" "Yes," I replied, "want some?" She demurred and I was left to follow her down Sunset Boulevard, eating my gigantic turkey leg as I went.

What can I say? It was delicious. Smokey, juicy, tender and oh so tasty. It reminded me of a turkey I'd had one thanksgiving that had been carefully smoked overnight by a barbeque pro, not, as I was expecting, something that had been mass produced in a large industrial kitchen. But where, I wondered, did they find such large turkeys that produced such massive legs? One Thanksgiving, when I was first learning to cook and was reading everything I could find in an effort to cook the perfect turkey, I remember reading that the legs of turkeys that weigh over twenty pounds tend to be very tough because the bird was just not meant to support that large of a body. In fact, larger turkeys are actually the result of a lot of scientific hoodoo that includes, amont other things, a lot of hormones, the result of which is a larger, but not necessarily more flavorful, turkey. Nonetheless, this turkey leg managed to be both huge and delicious. I decided not to think about it.

I only got about halfway through the turkey leg (I considered stretching the truth a bit and saying that I only had a couple of bites, but we're friends, right?) before I decided to toss it, but I think if you're really hungry and you want a quick, inexpensive snack that isn't the usual park fare, this might be a nice alternative. Particularly if you want to get in touch with your inner caveman.

Gigantic turkey legs are available in all four parks for $9 and some change. Turkey legs are considered a counter service credit under the Disney Dining Plan.

Gigantic turkey leg recipe here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Resort Review: Fort Wilderness Cabins.

The cabins at Fort Wilderness offer space and privacy, but if you're looking for a typical resort experience, you may want to pass. The resort is spread out, so you won't be able to take a sleepy walk down to the lobby for your morning coffee, but the great thing is, you can make that coffee in your own kitchen! And then sit on your porch and watch the world--or the squirrels--go by.
The Fort Wilderness campground, "The Fort" to those in the know, was one of three available places to stay when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, along with the Polynesian and the Contemporary Resorts. The history of the Fort is a rather amusing one. When the Disney company was buying up property in Central Florida to build what would later become Disney World, they discovered that a few hundred acres in the northeast corner of the property were owned in five-acre parcels by northerners who'd literally bought "swampland in Florida" a few decades earlier. Obviously this land was worthless to the owners, many of whom had never visited their property or who didn't know they'd even inherited it, but it was terribly useful to Disney. Moving quickly so as to keep who was buying vast amounts of land in Central Florida a secret, they set up their own round the clock office to contact and buy the property before anyone discovered what was happening. Once the property was acquired, those in charge of building the Fort often felt like the proverbial red-headed step-child when competing against the builders of the Contemporary and the Polynesian for supplies, often leading them to take matters into their own hands. There are many funny stories of equipment and supplies "walking away" from the showplace hotels during the night and ending up at the Fort the next morning.

The Fort has 799 campsites and 409 cabins on 700 acres. Check-in is at the Reception Outpost near the front of the campground. The cabins are clustered in loops a couple of miles away. There are laundry and pool facilities a short walk from the cabins. I found the laundry facilities to be immaculate. The pools are very basic, but also clean. The main pool, the Meadows Pool, has a snack bar. The campground has two sit-down restaurants, each of which are buffet style, and one counter service restaurant. All serve "American" style food. The Hoop-de-Doo Review, held nightly at Poineer Hall, is a corny but wildly popular dinner show. It can be difficult to get a reservation, so book as far in advance as possible. If you're not staying at the Fort you can get there easily by taking the boat from the Magic Kingdom. There are also two stores where you can buy basic (but slightly more expensive) groceries, as well as rent bicycles and other sports equipement.

If you're going to be doing any real cooking in your cabin, you will find numerous grocery stores off site. Try the Winn Dixie (take the short cut around the back of Disney property--they'll tell you about it at the Reception Outpost if you ask) on Highway 535. I'm not a big fan of Goodings Supermarket, which is also on 535; it's overpriced, poorly stocked, and not very clean, although there are a few reasonably priced take-out places nearby. I generally prefer to trek over to one of the local Super Targets in the area simply because of the variety and savings. If you don't have a car or you prefer to avoid the hassle of driving off site, try a grocery delivery service like Garden Grocer. Their prices are competitive and they super friendly; put in your order as early as possible (up to a few months ahead of time) to get the best delivery times.

The cabins have one bedroom with a double bed and a set of bunk beds. There is a built-in dresser, a small bedside table, and a closet. There was enough room in the bedroom for two Pack-N-Plays and the assorted "stuff' that the kids collected during our stay, but the room is small and we were definitely crowded. On the plus side, the double bed in our cabin was incredibly comfortable. The bathroom was more than adequate and came with one of those shower curtains that bow out to give you extra space. The kitchen has just about everything you probably have at home: Full-sized refridgerator, range, dishwasher, single sink and a built-in microwave. You'll find placesettings for six and a few pots and pans as well as serving pieces, but if you're planning on serving a large meal, as do some guests during the holidays, you might want to augment what Disney provides with a few pieces from home. I found the kitchen more than adequate for our needs. The living area has a table and chairs, a sofa, a flat screen television and a Murphy bed. There are also two built-in cabinets on either side of the Murphy bed for a little extra storage. Each cabin has a large deck with a picnic table and a grill.

If privacy is important to you, you'll love the cabins. Not only can parents spend time alone after the kids go to bed without worrying about keeping them awake, but you're also afforded a bit of privacy from other guests. It was a huge bonus to us, as we were travelling with two infants and I didn't have to worry about my children keeping anyone awake when, predictably, they decided not to sleep the first night. At night, the Fort is very quiet. It's easily one of the most peaceful resorts.

There are so many activities at the Fort that you may not even make it to the parks. Besides swimming and fishing and just about every other athletic activity you can think of (archery, volleyball, basketball), you can take a carriage ride or visit the petting zoo. There is also guided horseback riding and pony rides. You can even visit the stables where the horses who work in Disney World are cared for. There are nightly marshmallow roasts and outdoor movies, as well as wagon rides. If the lake looks invitng, consider renting a pontoon boat. Or you can do what a lot of guests do and just take a nap on one of the hammocks on the white sand beach.

One thing I loved about Fort Wilderness was the atmosphere. All Disney resorts are beautifully themed and the Fort is no exception, however there is one key difference here: Some of the theming is done by guests. If you go to the Fort from Thanksgiving through New Year's you'll find cabins and campsites decorated with all manner of holiday lights. It was a fun surprise for us, as we didn't know that the guests, some of whom are "snowbirds" who stay for a few months at a time, did this. It's also very relaxed. It's not just the beautiful scenary and the peace and quiet: It's the attitude of the guests, many of whom are Disney pros who've been coming to the Fort since Disney World opened. There's a sense of family here that's hard to describe. The cast members really added to our stay at the Fort in little ways. I worried about having two Pack-N-Plays delivered to our cabin at midnight (when we checked in) but they actually were in the room and being set up in just the short amount of time it took to get from the Reception Station to our cabin. That's amazing service.

So what's the downside? The cabins, while rustic and cozy, are also somewhat dark at night. If you're driving and have the space, consider bringing a small lamp. There have been some complaints about the Murphy bed being uncomfortable, although I didn't find that to be the case. The cabins give you a lot of privacy and are still a deal when compared to comparable rooms on Disney property, but they are by no means spacious, at just over 400 square feet. While it's possible for six adults to sleep in a cabin, a more comfortable number is probably 2-3 adults and the same number of children, max. We were very comfortable with two adults and three kids, but I think anything beyond that would really be stretching my own personal comfort level., Finally, there is only one bathroom, which can be tricky with a larger group.

Ft. Wilderness bus transportation is almost universally derided among guests. Personally, I wouldn't stay at Fort Wilderness without a car, even if I did plan on using Disney transportation most of the time. Having said that, about half of our group (we rented multiple cabins with family) never got into a private vehicle for the entire stay and had no complaints, but they were also the types who get into the parks very late in the day, stay a short while, and then return back to the cabin. If you're planning on "going commando" from morning until night, you may want the convenience of your own car. Even if you don't plan on spending the entire day in the parks, Fort Wilderness is so far from everything else on Disney property it can be difficult to get a quick meal or supplies without one. Keep in mind that if you rent a car, the only place you can park it at the campground is in front of your cabin. You are not permitted to park at any of the restaurants, bus stops, and pools. If you don't have a car, the internal transportation system is adequate, but be prepared for some waits. You will take that bus to the main bus stop area where you can catch a bus to the parks or downtown Disney; service to the Magic Kingdom is by bus and by boat. You can also rent a golf cart for $54 a day and park it near the bus stop when you leave the parks. Given the price of the golf cart, it's actually cheaper to rent a car, but the golf carts are a very useful and fun mode of transportation in the campground.

If you're expecting the same experience you'd have in a hotel, you'll be disappointed. The "front desk" is several miles away. There's no room service. When you open your door, you open it to the great outdoors. Fort Wilderness is very much like a cabin in the woods, albeit a Disney version of one. But if you want some privacy and space on Disney property without paying a huge amount of money, this may be the place for you.

When I got home from our trip, which was overall one of my best Disney trips, I thought about Ft. Wildnerness and what it has to offer and I began to see why others were so loyal: The feeling that you're in your own quiet, peaceful world, the friendly atmosphere, the people who came there as kids and now are coming there with their kids: There's something unique about Fort Wilderness.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Disney Moms Panel Competition Starts Tomorrow.

If you're an amatuer Disney expert and you'd like to serve on a year-long panel dispensing Disney advice, now is your chance. Applications for the Disney Moms Panel are being accepted starting tomorrow and despite the name, you don't have to be a mom, or a dad, or even a parent to apply. Last year's application consisted of three short (100 words or less) essay questions designed to show your personality and your Walt Disney World knowledge. Disney will accept up to 20,000 applications from which they will choose a smaller group to move onto the next round. There are three rounds of essay questions and a phone interview. In the end, Disney will choose sixteen ardent, well-versed fans to answer approximately fifteen emails each per week on the Disney website.

The position is unpaid, although Disney does pay for a trip in early December for the winners to get to know each other and train. Having followed this process last year on a Disney message board, I can tell you that the competition is very serious and the applicants are a well-informed, impressive group.

Good luck to those who apply!

Laughing Place article on last year's winners.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction on Tuesday.

Ninety-nine percent of all doctors recommend easing into work the day after a holiday weekend. No really, it's true. Probably. With that in mind, here are a few distractions to make your transition easier.

The Disney Dudes podcast may be the funniest Disney podcast of all. Imagine Joe Bob Briggs with a couple of younger, Disney obsessed brothers.

Mouse Extra speculates on what Disney's purchase of Marvel means.

Come on now, everyone knows Darth Vader doesn't need gloves:

At least he appears to be committed to recycling.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Disney World Going High-Tech for Better Parks?

In an effort to better understand guest reactions to its attractions, Disney may soon ask volunteers to wear headsets designed to measure brainwave responses to stimuli in the Florida parks. The devices, manufactured by a company called EmSense, are already being used in Disneyland. Volunteers will wear the lightweight headsets for about two hours.

In related news, my head simply exploded after one too many viewings of this atraction:

Of course, I'd be the first to complain if they ever got rid of it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Changes to Touring Plans Website Access.

If you're buying the newest Unofficial Guide for free access to, bear in mind you'll have to pay around $4.50 for a subscription to the full website beginning in 2010 due to increases in website costs. I usually buy a new guide every year because it gives me free access, but next year I'll be keeping the 2010 edition and paying the full fee (around $8 per year) for access to the site. The change caused a bit of a kerfluffle last week among readers who'd already bought their guidebooks expecting free access; it appears that the authors are willing to accomodate these readers. Email the website by September 10th. Fee or not, I think it's still the best guide out there and the crowd calendars are priceless.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fast Disney Facts: Getting to the Magic Kingdom.

If you stay off Disney property, give yourself about 90 minutes to get from your hotel to the Magic Kingdom, even from the closest hotels and rental houses. Why does it take so long? Because Disney World itself is very large, but also because you'll need to take three different modes of transportation:

1) First, your car, to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC);

2) then, a tram, from the parking lot of the TTC to the TTC itself;

3) and finally, you'll take the ferry or monorail to the Magic Kingdom.

When the Magic Kingdom was built, it was designed to create a heightened sense of anticipation in the visitor as he or she got closer to the park. Having a parking lot just outside of the Magic Kingdom where everything was visible to guests wouldn't create this feeling. Instead, Imagineers designed it so that you only caught glimpses of the Magic Kingdom as you arrived, either by ferry as you cross the Seven Seas Lagoon or from the monorail. It's all part of the "show," which starts long before you actually enter the park and it really does create that feeling.

You can cut some of this travel time by walking from your parked car to the TTC or, if you're a Triple AAA member, by parking in the Triple AAA Diamond parking lot. This lot fills up very quickly, however.
Just so you know, the parking lots at Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom are right outside of those parks and can be reached within minutes of most hotels in the immediate area around Disney World. Give yourself about 30 minutes to get from your front door to the park, depending on your location and time of year.

Photo from Google Earth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Safety and Disney World.

Do you let your guard down at Disney World? It's something I catch myself doing, thinking nothing, for example, of walking alone at night in the parking lot of the Ticket and Transportation Center even though I wouldn't do the equivilent at home. To most of us, Disney World is not only the happiest place on earth, it's also a very safe place. There are helpful cast members everywhere. You don't have to look far to find security. Your surrounded by families. It's well-lit. For the most part, the assumption that Disney is a safe place is well-founded. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be mindful of safety.

The best advice is simple: Take the same safety precautions at Disney World that you would at home. Most people do this, but at times I am stunned by the wilfull stupidity of some guests visiting Disney World. A few weeks ago a couple left their young foster children in their resort room for several hours while they relaxed by the pool. In another incident, a family left their toddler to sleep unattended on a chair in a water park while they enjoyed the park. When they returned some time later, they were angry to find that security had been called and taken the child. I can't say that these couples wouldn't have made the same mistake at home, but I do wonder if the fact that they were on vacation in a place generally regarded as safe didn't influence their decision.

Orlando is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world, so it's not surprising that it's also home to criminals whose intent is to separate you from your belongings . . . or worse. With that in mind, here are just a few safety tips for your next trip to the World:

1. Never leave young children alone in your hotel room. I know this seems like an obvious piece of advice, but people do it. If you need a night out, Orlando has numerous babysitting services that are reasonably priced and whose sitters undergo thorough background checks. If you are a Disney resort guest, you can take advantage of the on-site Kids' Clubs which provide children with dinner and entertainment nightly.

2. Consider putting a temporary tattoo with your phone number on it should your child get lost in the parks. Also, identify a meeting place beforehand in the event that members of your party get lost.

3. Bring a small ziplock bag of your own babyproofing supplies if you have small children, as most hotels and rental homes are not babyproofed. Many rental houses have private pools just a few feet from the living room. While this is a real luxury, it also poses a safety issue. Ask the owner or rental agency ahead of time what kind of safety measures are in place. Also remember to be mindful of doors that lead out to balconies and half walls that separate your balcony from your neighbor's, as children might be tempted to climb over the latter.

4. If you're concerned about having an opposite sex older child accompany you into the bathroom, consider using a family bathroom; they are in all the parks. Check your park map for locations.

5. Resist the urge to leave valuables in an unattended stroller or wheelchair. If you're staying on-site and make a purchase, have your item sent back to your room; it's a perk for Disney resort guests. If you're not staying on-site, you can still have your items sent to the front of any park for pick up on your way out.

6. Don't open your hotel room door unless you're sure who's there. If you're concerned, call down to the front desk.

7. Lock and latch your door. The latch, which is located on the upper part of the door out of most small children's reach, not only gives you added security from the outside, it also keeps younger children, who can easily open a locked hotel room door while mom or dad is momentarily distracted, from getting outside.

8. Use your room safe. Most hotels will safeguard larger items for you.

9. Do NOT buy partially used tickets from "businesses" set up outside of Disney. This is a scam.

10. Familiarize yourself with Florida's child safety seat laws.