Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction: Oh Canada Edition!

In a post-Olympic funk?  Well take your mind off that second place finish in hockey by reading the latest in Disney news.

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that two construction firms have been chosen to oversee the Fantasyland expansion.  They'll break ground on the first phase of the expansion starting this spring alongside Disney's own Buena Vista Construction Company.

The Disney Food Blog has a great guest post up about the Chef's table at Victoria and Albert's.  Looks like an incredible experience.

John Frost with some really insightful points regarding OSHA's preliminary report on the monorail crash that resulted in the death of a cast member.

Disney Vacation Club owners can now get a button that identifies them when they are visiting the World.

WDW Centrals discusses how to rekindle your Disney obsession should it begin to wane. As if, Matt! 

Lou Mongello over at WDW Radio tries his hand at tilt-shift photography in Adventureland. Adorable!  I thnk he really captured it.

Disney Shawn goes back to 1980 and discusses the construction and opening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Great photos and story.

From the official Disney Parks blog, accolades for six Disney resorts from Triple AAA.

Also from the Disney Parks Blog, a fun, historic video of one of my favorite attractions, It's a Small World


Check out the official Disney blog for more videos.

Have a great Monday!

Reader Email: What does Disney World do for Saint Patrick's Day?

Another reader email, this time about St. Patrick's day in the parks.

Two years ago I married a wonderful man with some darling small children. I have enjoyed Disney with my own children for more than 20 years (my oldest son is married), but this will be the first trip for my new little ones ages 4, 7, & 9. We will be in Magic Kingdom on Saint Patrick's day and I am wondering if they usually do anything special for it.

Suzi C.

Suzi: 

Thanks for reading my blog and for your question and congratulations at being a mom again. I have three children and I know they keep you busy!

St. Patrick's day celebrations at Disney World are pretty low-key, particularly since Pleasure Island closed.   You may find a few activities in the World Showcase; in past years, Disney has had Irish dancers and green beer in the United Kingdom pavilion, as well as some activities for the kids.  I haven't been able to find anything scheduled for this year however, but definintely check at guest services when you get to the parks.  There is a small amount of St. Patrick's day themed merchandise available.  If you or your family collects pins, theresere a number Irish-themed Disney pins available this month, including this Stitch pin which you can purchase in the parks.


These cute Mickey ears are available at  World of Disney and at the Mad Hatter in both Fantasyland and on Main Street.


You'll likely find the biggest celebration on Disney property at Downtown Disney at the Ragland Road restaurant. Fittingly, it's a Irish pub with music and dancing beautifully recreated in Florida.  Don't let the fact that it's a pub deter you from taking the kids.  Everything is kid-friendly, particularly early in the evening; expect a slightly rowdier crowd as the evening wears on.  The food at Ragland Road is a couple of steps above traditional pub food, so bring a good appetite and save room for dessert:  The bread pudding with caramel sauce and creme anglaise will haunt your dreams.

I know that you said you were looking for something in the parks on St. Patrick's day, but if you find you'd like to try an entirely different experience, check out Bok Tower Gardens, less than an hour from Disney property.  Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Bok Tower Gardens features beautiful gardens, special children's programs, and a 205 foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower carillon featuring 60 bells.  For a small fee you can also tour the historic home, Pinewood Estate, that is located on the grounds.  The real draw for St. Patrick's day is the two hour carillon concert with Irish tunes in the early afternoon.  It's great for kids because they can run around and explore while still appreciating the music playing in the background.  If you're looking for a break from the parks, it's a wonderful opportunity to let the kids get outside and stretch their legs.  Bok Tower is really a hidden gem in Central Florida.

Finally, if you decide to get a sitter for the kids and go off property for a more boisterous celebration, Universal CityWalk's branch of the New Orleans' institution, Pat O'Brien's,  has a huge party that starts at 4:00 on St. Patricks' day. Admission is free until 7:00, when a $12 fee is required to hear the Irish bands play.

Have a wonderful vacation.  If you find any St. Paddy's day activities that your family enjoyed, please send me an email and tell me about it!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reader Email: How far in advance should you plan for Christmas at Disney World?

Dear Chris:

I know it's not even spring, but we're planning a trip to Disney World during Christmas this year and have heard that  it's the most crowded week of the year.  How early can we make hotel reservations?  We hope to stay on Disney property and do some extras like a behind the scenes tour or visit a spa. 

Thanks,

Kristina


Kristina:

Thanks for reading my blog and for your question.    It seems like we just took down the Christmas lights, but Disney World is such a popular destination at Christmastime, the earlier you can plan, the better, particularly when you consider all the other obligations you'll have to worry about come December.

You can make your resort reservation 499 days in advance by calling Disney at 407-W-DISNEY.  Since it's now well under the 12-month mark, you can also book online at this point.  For a room-only reservation, you are only required to pay one night's room rate as a deposit; you'll pay the rest when you check in.  You can cancel without penalty five days prior to check-in if you've booked over the phone.  You must cancel within six days if you made an online reservation.  Since Disney resorts tend to fill up quickly and Disney's room-only reservation policy is so liberal , I'd book as soon as possible. 

Some other dates you may want to remember:

At 180 days out, make your advanced dining reservations.  This is probably the single most important thing you'll do after making your hotel reservations.  If you have a resort reservation at this point, you can book at the 180 day mark plus an additional ten days, giving you a slight advantage over off site guests in getting your dining reservations.  At the very least, you'll want to book special dining (such as Christmas day) and the more popular restaurants at this point even if you want to wait a bit longer to book the rest.  You can also book Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and special tours like the Backstage Magic Tour in the Magic Kingdom at this time.

At 120 days out, you can make appointments at the Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs Spa.

At 90 days out, can book two unique Disney experiences:  Wishes Fireworks or Illuminations cruises.  If you're staying at the Grand Floridian and want to spend a day relaxing in a cabana by the pool, you can reserve one at this point.  If you're using an off site babysittting service like Kids Nite Out or making a reservation at one of Disney's Kids' Clubs, you may book up to 90 days in advance.

At 45-30 days out, place your order for your online grocery delivery and make reservations for crib/stroller rentals.  You'll also want to call Magical  Express if you're using it to give them your airline information.

At no less than 30 days out, order your park tickets if you're buying them online from a  Disney-authorized Discount broker.  Ordering a full 30 days out means  you won't have to pay extra postage to avoid the holiday mail rush.

If you're adding the dining plan, you have up until 72-hours before check-in to add it to your reservation.

December is such a busy month for most of us that your to-do list can be overwhelming.  Don't forget the little things back home.  Try to mail out packages/cards as early in the month as poissible so you're not rushing around right before your trip.  If you have Christmas lights up outside your house, consider putting them on a timer while you're gone.  Put in requests to stop newspaper deliveries or and the mail two weeks or so in advance.  Don't forget to reserve your petsitter/housesitter early as she will likely be very busy Christmas week.

Good luck and happy planning!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Stop Motion Post-It Animation by Disney.

Very clever!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fast Disney Facts: It's Not Such a Small World After All.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who once spent an exhausting but fun 48 hours touring all four parks.  She saw a lot, but as a first-timer, I wondered what she wished she'd known before her trip.  The answer was simple:  That Disney World is huge!  Guests who've visited other Disney parks or who are only familiar with non-Disney amusement parks are often surprised by how large Disney World is.  Here are a few big and small facts about Disney World:

Disney World covers 48-square miles, about twice the size of Manhattan.  Less than one-fourth of the land has been developed.  Another one-fourth has been set aside as a nature preserve.

Walt Disney unveils the "Florida Project."

The tallest building on in a Disney World park isn't Cinderella Castle, which is 183 feet high, it's actually the Tower of Terror at 199 feet.   Disney Imagineers didn't want to put lights on the castle, so they kept it a bit shorter.  The Tower of Terror's extra 13 feet means it has lights to warn approaching aircraft.  (ETA:  Oops. Kathryn pointed out there aren't actually lights on the building.  It's one short shy of needing them. Thanks, Kathryn.)


Hollywood Studio's Tower of Terror.

The largest park in Walt Disney World is Disney's Animal Kingdom at 500 acres. Animal Kingdom's iconic symbol, the Tree of Life, is 150 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter. The tree itself is actually framed around an oil rig that was dismantled and brought to Central Florida.

Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life.

The entire length of the Disney World monorail system is 14.7 miles.

The Monorail in Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival.
26.2 miles of sausage are served every 60 days in Epcot's Germany pavilion.  That's an entire marathon's length of sausage and honestly, it's disturbing.  And delicious.

This dog doesn't work at Epcot and he
probably isn't even German. 
He is, however, wearing Lederhosen.
That's good enough for me.

Typhoon Lagoon is the most visited water park in the world, with approximately 2.06 million guests in 2008 alone.
Typhoon Lagoon.

Chef Remy from the movie Ratatouille can be seen at Chefs de  France in Epcot. Remy is one of the newest Audio-Animatronic figures at Disney World. He is also, at a mere six inches, the smallest.

Oui, oui. But of course it makes sense to
have a rat as the mascot of your restaurant.
Why do you ask?

The moat that partially surrounds Cinderella castle contains 1.9 million gallons of water.

Cinderella Castle and moat.

Those giant turkey legs at Disney World have a whopping 1100 calories each.   Fear not:  It's a scientific fact that it is impossible to gain weight on a Disney vacation. 

Scene of the crime:  Taluca Turkey Legs Company.

The rooms at All-Star Music, at 260 square feet, are the smallest resort rooms on site. 


Kids love the fun atmosphere at the All-Star resorts.

Disney World recycles about 30% of its waste every year. It's a step in the right direction.  Next time you're in Disney World, make sure you look for the recycling bins!

Innocuous trash can or the first line of defense
in Disney recycling? 
You be the judge.

If you'd like more Disney trivia, check out Lou Mongello's site, WDW Radio.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Staying on Disney Property vs. Staying Off Site.


Gaylord Palms is just minutes from Disney property.

Deciding where you want to stay on your Disney vacation is probably the second decision you’ll make, right after deciding when to go. It’s a decision that can greatly affect your experience and given the sheer magnitude of options in the Orlando area, your choice won’t necessarily be easy: Do you need a lot of space? Which parks will you be going to the most? Do you want a luxury resort or just a place to lay your head at the end of the day? To further complicate things, you have to decide whether or not you want to stay on or off Disney property.



Disney pools range from kid friendly . . .

to the sublime.



All things being equal, staying on property for a vacation that is primarily aimed at seeing Disney parks makes perfect sense, but if you’ve researched resort rates, all things are decidedly not equal. You pay a premium for staying on site, so the question is, is it worth it? What does Disney offer for a standard resort room that a similar room off site can’t offer? And how does a luxury hotel off site compare with Disney’s deluxe resorts?

Here’s what staying on Disney property offers:

1. Bus transportation from the airport to your hotel and back.

2. Bus transportation from your resort to the parks and back.

3. Package delivery from the parks and Downtown Disney to your resort.

4. Extra Magic Hours which allow you to enter certain parks an hour early or stay three hours after regular closing.

5. The option of using Disney’s dining plan.

6. The ability to make advanced dining reservations at the 180 days plus 10 mark.

My favorite benefit of staying on site is Disney transportation. I love Disney’s Magical Express, which takes you to and from your resort and “magically” deposits your luggage in your room while you’re out enjoying the parks. I also like being able to ride Disney transportation to and from the parks and the flexibility that it allows. This is especially beneficial if you're travelling with a group: You can all come and go as you please and no one will end up feeling like the chauffeur.

Mickey says get out of my dreams and into my bus.

Perhaps the biggest thing that Disney resorts offer is something that isn’t exactly tangible. It’s not just the theming that makes your resort feel like an escape from the everyday. People describe staying on Disney property as being “inside the bubble.” You’re in a world where good service is the norm, where everything is kept clean and serviceable, and where attention has been given to the smallest detail. As much as I love Florida, the tourist areas around Disney are often not the most pleasing to the eye. Sometimes I like that escape from the real world that staying on Disney property offers. I also like the feeling that I can trust my vacation to Disney. It’s what brings visitors back to Disney property year after year.

With so much going for it, why would you stay off site? Well, in a word, cost. Particularly when you compare rooms at the moderate and deluxe price point, you will likely find more spacious rooms that are equal to or better than what you would find on Disney property. Travelers who normally stay in higher-end hotels are especially difficult to win over because they complain that Disney deluxe rooms, which are often pricier, just can’t compare to places like the Ritz Carlton or Waldorf Astoria. For these guests, the convenience of staying on Disney property isn’t worth giving up what they’ve come to associate with luxury hotels.

Per square foot, off site is almost always a better bargain. Parents who want to relax after the kids go to bed will be happier in a suite or in a house rather than together in a small room. If you have a large group, accommodating them on Disney property can be very expensive. For the cost of renting several Disney value rooms a night, you could rent a four-bedroom house with a screened-in pool and a full kitchen. If your group has different interests and schedules, the extra space is a great way to keep the peace.
Full kitchen in a rental home by AllStar Vacation Homes.

What’s the downside? Primarily getting to and from the parks. While most rental communities are within minutes of Disney property, keep in mind that Disney property is quite large. We stayed at Windsor Hills, a popular resort right off Highway 192. It was literally a couple of miles to Disney property. In fact, getting to and from Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom was actually very convenient as we could just drive right to the parks. Paying for parking, parking the car and then walking over to the park added about 15-20 minutes to our commute, but it wasn’t a huge burden. The problem was the Magic Kingdom. Rather than taking Disney transportation right from our resort to the park, we had to use the Ticket and Transportation Center. This meant it took about an hour to get from our resort to the Magic Kingdom during one of the slowest times of the year. If you’re not going to be spending a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom, of course, it’s really a non-issue. But remember to factor in things like breaks during the day and your family’s individual needs. Going back and forth off site for breaks and naps can be exhausting.

Make sure you factor in all the additional costs of staying off site. If you need a crib and your rental doesn’t provide it, you’ll be paying an additional $10 or so per day. Parking on Disney property is free if you’re a resort guest; if not, you'll pay $14 to park. You’re almost always going to need a car if you’re staying off site, adding several hundred dollars to your “savings.” If you have a large group or even if you are with a smaller group but will have different schedules, you may need more than one vehicle. Finally, if you're renting a condo or home, be aware that most agencies add cleaning and security fees onto your final bill. This isn't factored into the nightly cost and can add up quickly. We once stayed at a condo managed by one of the more well-known property management companies in the Kissimmee area. They had a great nightly rate until you added in the additional $300 per week cleaning and security fees as well as some additional fees that I still don't understand. This is an acceptable business practice, so you can't avoid it, but know going in what these fees are and factor them into your nightly rate when making your decision.

Ultimately, I think a couple of things drive one’s decision. First, ask yourself how important it is to be totally immersed in the Disney experience. For some people, it’s just not that big of a deal, particularly if you’ve never stayed on site before. If you’re going to visit other Orlando attractions, it might make more sense to stay off site. Next, how much is convenience worth to you? Some people are willing to pay extra to avoid hassles during their vacation. They figure they only get so much time off, they might as well enjoy it. If so, staying on site may be the answer. Finally, if having a lot of space is important and you don’t want to pay Disney resort prices, off site may be the best deal for you.

Regardless of where you stay, you’re going to have a great time. But with all the choices available, it can’t hurt to weigh some of these questions before you make your decision.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Great Article in Redbook Magazine about Taking Kids to Disney World.

Thanks to the author, Jeannie Kim, who was kind enough to mention this blog.

It's a great story about the author's Disney "conversion" and offers some great tips about travelling with kids.  You can read all about it here:

Going to  Disney without Going Crazy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fast Disney Facts: Disney Resorts.

Did you know that with 2,880 guest rooms Pop Century is one of the largest hotels in the Untited States?


Pop:  If you're going to be this big, you'd better be efficient
Fortunately, they are.

The outdoor water playground next to the pool at Kidani Village, located at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, is so large that it's zoned as a water park.


Entrance to the play area at Kidani Village.

The 90 foot floor to ceiling mural in Disney's Contemporary Resort was designed by none other than Mary Blair, the Imagineer who designed It's a Small World. Next time you're in the Contemporary, take a closer look.  You'll see her distinctive, fun style.


Mary Blair mural in the Grand Canyon Concourse. The monorail is to the right.

The Fort Wilderness campground is named after the fort on Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland.

If you stay at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, you can take a boat from your resort to Epcot or Hollywood Studios.

The extensive wine list at Artist's Point, located in Disney's Wilderness Lodge, is made up entirely of wines from the Pacific Northwest.

Ever notice keys hanging behind the desk at the Grand Floridian? Those are the original room keys used by the resort before they switched to magnetic card door keys.


The beach at the Grand Floridian.  Lovely.

If a player were to wear one of the helmets at All-Star Sports, he would have to be 200 feet high, one foot taller than the Tower of Terror.


Want to learn more about Disney resorts?  Check out these fan sites:

Wilderness Lodge:  Wilderness Lodge Site:   An Unofficial Tribute to Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Villas.

Pop Century:  Pop Centurty Site.

Animal Kingdom Lodge:  Animal Kingdom Lodge Site.

Grand Floridian:  Where the Magic Lives.

The Polynesian:  The Tikiman Pages.  Lots of great information.  A must for anyone planning a stay at the Poly.

For a fun collection of photos of Disney resort rooms, try AllEars or Suite Disney.

This is the silliest thing ever . . .

and you should go do it right now:

http://www.mymagicaldisneyvacation.com/

It's Disney's cute little  interactive movie staring you.  Just tell them what kind of vacation you like, and they send you and up to four others on a little virtual vacation.

Seriously, even if you can't go on vacation, your head can.  I mean, not literally. Just follow the link and check it out. It's adorable.  I promise.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reader Email: Can you get a better deal by using a travel agent?

From the in-box this morning:

Chris:

What's your take on using a travel agent when planning a Disney vacation?  Do you use one?

Thanks,

Paul
Ontario


Paul:

Thanks for reading my blog and for sending in your question.  In the past, I never used a travel agent because I erroneously thought it would cost me more, but last year a friend of mine recommended one she trusted and I decided to check it out.  I ended up getting a one-bedroom at Wilderness Lodge for around $200 less per night than I would have paid on my own.  The reservation was nine months out and as it turned out, just slightly better than the general public discounts that came out later that year, but I was also able to get that room and have that peace of mind well in advance.  Plus, there's never any guarantee that Disney will announce these discounts or that the room you want will be available, as discounted rooms are limited and go quickly.  As it turned out, I needed to change that reservation and she was able to do so very easily and I didn't have to spend time on the phone with Disney.

So if travel agents don't charge you extra, how do they make their money?  Well, they get a commission for everything they sell from Disney. Some do charge for making cancellations or changes to your reservation, so ask about that in advance. Also, all agents charge for making plane reservations, since the airlines do not compensate them for selling tickets.

I don't think you have to use a travel agent to get the best deals, but one reason I would advise someone to consider using one for Disney in particular is because of the way Disney prices its rooms.  Full-price Disney rooms are pretty expensive; the one thing I always tell people who ask me about Disney resorts is never, ever pay full-price.  Many of these rooms will be available for a discount during the year, the question is whether or not you'll find out about that discount.  If you're the type of person who follows a site like Mousesavers or Disboards and you frequently check for discounts, then you may see it.  Or you may receive a pin code, which is a discount code personal to you, from Disney itself. If so, that's all well and good. But if you're like most people, it can be difficult to keep up and sort through all the latest news. In this case, booking with an agent who will not only get you the best price at the time you make the reservation but should continue to check for better deals right up until your trip, is a great option.

One further reason for considering an agent is that Disney vacations can be complicated.  There are four parks and two water parks and countless lodging and dining options.  One benefit of having an agent is that not only can she find you the lowest rates, but she can point out some things you might not have the time to research, whether it's a special tour or some dining option you might not be aware of.   Your agent can make your dining reservations for you. She can also simplify a trip for a larger group.  Finally, a good travel agent will smooth out any difficulties you may encounter once you are on your vacation.

If you're booking a Disney vacation with a travel agent, you'll want to find an agent who is Disney-certified. That means they earned a certificate that is recognized by ASTA (The American Society of Travel Agents) and were later certified by the Disney College of Knowledge, which is Disney's special travel agent school.  I don't personally recommend a specific agency, but if you're looking for an agent, check around on Disney message boards for agencies that posters recommend.  Also, many Disney websites have agencies they recommend or who sponsor them.  If you trust that website and the information you've read there, you might want to look into their recommendations.

Ultimately, I'm probably not the kind of person who will always use an agent, but keep in mind that I like to plan and I find it entertaining to keep up with the latest discounts.  You really have nothing to lose by consulting with one and seeing what kind of deals are out there, while at the same time checking on your own for a better deal.  Good luck and happy planning.

Monday Morning Distraction.

Just time for a few good things from  the Disney blogosphere this morning.
Not Disney World related, but I thought this story from The DisUnplugged about a student's view of the Napa Rose cooking school at Disneyland was interesting.

A look at an Epcot touring plan from Only WDWorld. 

How to make your own Kona Cafe Tonga Toast and POG juice.

A really interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel about Disney World's park performance in the last quarter and how it could effect resort promotions in the coming year.

Finally, a time-lapsed look at the world-record can sculpture built this past weekend at Epcot for Disney's Give a Day/Get a Disney Day:



After this sculpture was dismantled, the food was given to charity.

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Room-Only Discounts Announced Through Summer.

Disney just extended their room-only discounts announced earlier this year. They are good for travel from June 4th through August 14th and are as follows:

Disney World Value resorts – 25% discount


Disney World Moderate resorts – 30% discount

Disney World Deluxe resorts – 35% discount

Disney World Deluxe Villa resorts – 40% discount
 
Use code QNY when making your reservation.  Not all dates are covered under this code and some locations will fill up quickly, so make your reservations as soon as possible.  Considering that Disney is offering these major discounts during its busiest travel season, look for similar discounts, or free dining, in the Fall.

ETA: No world yet on Annual Pass discounts for the same time period. If you hear anything, please pass it on. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fast Disney Facts: Kids under Three Get into Disney World for Free!

You probably know that kids under the age of three get into Disney World parks for free, but did you also know that they eat free and don't count against your room total at your Disney resort?  That means that a family of five with a child under the age of three can stay at a value resort like Pop Century, which normally only sleeps four people.  Since kids under the age of three can eat free at any Disney table service restaurant, buffets, even character dining, are an especially good deal.

If your child is turning three during your visit, they'll remain free thoughout the trip.  Their age for that trip is based on how old they were when they started the trip.

One final thing:  I've never heard of anyone being asked by Disney to verify their toddler's age, but if you're worried, bring a copy of their birth certificate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Learning You Are, Young Padawan: Jedi Training Academy.


UPDATE 11/15/10:  Please note that the process for signing up has changed, at least for now.  You can read more about it here.

Is your kid a Star Wars fan?  At Disney Hollywood Studios your little Padawan can confront Darth Vader and train to be a Jedi in Jedi Training Academy (JTA). Located in the back of the park right next to Star Tours, JTA is a 30-minute live show where kids learn lightsaber basics and then take turns confronting the big guy himself, Darth Vader.  The show, which loosely follows a script, is funny and moves quickly.  While there are inside jokes for Star Wars fans, you don't have to follow the movies to enjoy it.  There's no specific age range, but most kids are between 4 and 12 years old.  Right now, show times are as follows:  9:55, 10:50 and 11:45am, 12:40, 1:30, 2:20, 4:00 and 4:45pm .  This varies throughout the year, so check a website like Steve Soares' for show times before you plan your day.

In the past, children were chosen radomly, often the loudest, most enthusiastic kids or, at least, the kids with the loudest most enthusiastic parents.  This led to a lot of disappointed little Padawans.  Now if you want to be part of JTA, you wait. Groups of 15 (sometimes more during busier times)  are taken onstage and trained .  The show, as noted above, is 30 minutes. Quite often, there is a 30 minute or longer wait between shows, which means you could wait through several shows and intermissions before your child gets a chance. There are two "holding areas" where  kids wait.  The first is the line for the for the attraction itself, which gets longer as the day progresses.  When their turn comes up, kids are taken in groups of 15 into the second holding area right next to the stage where cast members ask their ages and if they're afraid of Darth Vader.

[For an update on how children may now participate in Jedi Training Academy, please see this post.]

The new system works really well in the sense that any kid who is willing to wait will get a chance, but it does mean longer waits.  Your best bet is to get to Hollywood  Studios when the park opens.  In fact, given how long the lines are for Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM), this is one day you'll want to make sure to get to the park at rope drop.  When the park opens, send a member of your party over to TSMM for fastpasses if you plan on visiting that attraction. The rest of you, including those who want to participate in Jedi Training Academy, will go and get in line.  Don't worry about trying to be first in line for your TSMM fastpasses; you actually want a later return time, say 11:30 or so, giving you enough time to participate in JTA, have a bathroom break, and head over to the other side of the park.

A couple of last thoughts.  There's very little that's scary in JTA, but Darth Vader in full regalia can be intimidating for some children, even those in the audience.   The show isn't as excessively loud as some shows are at Disney World, so kids with sensory issues should be fine with the noise level, but let your child's personality be your guide.  In addition, as all Star Wars fans know, the color of your lightsaber is very important and if your kid is a big fan, he or she probably has a preferred color when playing at home.  Let him know ahead of time that he won't be able to choose his lightsaber color. It sounds like a little thing, but I've seen younger kids really upset by not getting "their" lightsaber color.  Finally, there's no shade next to the stage, so if you have a long wait, remember to keep hydrated and reapply sunblock.

And of course, may the force be with you!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

The Federal goverment is off today due to a massive snowstorm that struck DC and the surrounding area. Take your cue from the Feds and ease into your work week with a bit of Disney distraction:

Chip and Co. has some pictures of construction going on around WDW this month.  They've also got a great review of Lines, which allows you to get wait times on your phone,  from a recent trip.

Speaking of Lines, you'll now be able to check attraction wait times a full day in advance.   The WDW Today Podcast has all the latest details. Happy planning.

AJ at the Disney Food blog talks about eating healthy at Disney World.

I know the adorable Samantha Brown goes just about everywhere in her work for the Travel Channel, but to me she seems to be having the most fun when she's in a Disney park.  The DisUnplugged blog has a great post about Samatha Brown's love of Disney World.  Great photos as well.  Set your DVRs for her new Disney specials, starting February 10th at 8:00 p.m. on the Travel Channel.
I See Kissimmee knows where to find good Mexican food in Central Florida.  Hint:  It's not on Disney property.

DisZine has a look at backstage at Expedition Everest, a ride I have never been on.  It's true. 

And since nothing distracts like video, here's a look at the D23 tour of Cinderella Castle last December. 



Here's part two, in case you need a longer distraction:



Oh my goodness. Turns out there's a part three:



No, this is too much! Part four?  I couldn't.  Well, if you insist:



Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bringing an Infant to Disney World.


Exhibit A:  Baby. He's smiling because he can get into Disney World FREE of charge!

It happens more often than you might think:  A family plans a Disney vacation a year or more in advance. Deposits are paid.  Itineraries are poured over.  The kids are excited. And then, right in the middle of planning, they find out they're expecting another child. Do they cancel their vacation or do they keep on planning?  While your first thought might be to cancel and reschedule a year or two later, the fact is that taking an infant to Disney World is actually quite easy.  Sure, you'll have to do a little extra planning, but taking a member of the under-one crowd is actually easier than taking a rambunctious toddler who wants to run everywhere.  

Probably the biggest decision you'll make when travelling with an infant will be your sleeping arrangements.  My thoughts?  Get all the space you can afford.   Even babies who normally sleep through the night may change their sleep patterns in an unfamiliar place.  If it's just you and your partner, it's not that big of an issue; you're probably not getting much sleep anyway. But if there are other children in the room or if you are travelling with extended family, you're going to want some space so that those who aren't getting up at night with the baby can actually sleep.  I usually prefer to stay on site, but you pay a premium  for extra space on Disney property.  This is when an off site rental home or condo with a full kitchen and several bedrooms can be a great idea. 

By the time your baby was just a few weeks old, you  probably discovered that babies don't travel light:  You need diapers, wipes, food, and an extra change of clothes just to drive to the grocery store.  Babies simply don't vacation without a lot of  "stuff."   The great thing about Orlando is that it's super kid friendly, so you'll find everything you need fairly easily, if not cheaply.  Most hotels provide cribs free of charge. Disney provides Pack N Plays at all resorts. They also have a limited number of cribs at some resorts.  Both Pack N Plays and cribs at Disney resorts are sturdy and in good condition.  Most rental homes will have a crib and a highchair for you to use, although it's a good idea to check in advance, particularly if you're renting from an individual owner rather than a rental agency.  If you need to rent a crib or other baby gear, I've had good luck with Orlando Crib Rentals.  I've also heard good things about Orlando Stroller Rentals (strollers only) and A Baby's Best Friend.   All three are locally-owned companies with excellent reputations in the area.  Most stroller/crib rental companies have a three-day/$50  minimum and a 10-day cancellation policy.  All deliver to your resort, free of charge.  Try to make your reservation at least two weeks in advance.

Fortunately, you don't have to drag all of your baby's supplies with you on the plane.  If you have a rental car, the nearest Super Target from Disney property is at 3200 Rolling Oaks Boulevard, just off I-192/Irlo Bronson Highway.   If you don't have a car or prefer not to drive, you can have diapers and other supplies delivered right to your resort from companies like Babies Travel Lite and Jet Set Babies.  Both offer convenient travel packages or you can customize based on your needs, but you'll pay a premium for this service.  You an also order baby supplies from Garden Grocer, a company I've mentioned previously on this site.  I've used with them several times and think very highly of them.

As for getting around on property, I always take my own stroller, even if I'm flying. It makes getting through the airport and from the parks to the parking lot easier.  It's also cheaper.  By the time you pay for a week's rental, either through Disney or an off site company, you've likely exceeded the cost of an inexpensive stroller.  You can rent strollers in all four parks for around $15 a day for a single stroller, but I don't recommend them for infants. They are too large for babies and are made of uncomfortable hard plastic.   You might want to consider bringing a lightweight sling or baby carrier that you can store in the stroller basket.  Not only will your baby appreciate having a different view and being close to you, but you can carry her more easily while waiting in line.  I even kept my Bjorn on during rides like It's a Small World.  Since it's often hot in Orlando, consider choosing a carrier made for use during hot weather.  Maya Wrap makes a sling for hotter climates or if you want your hands free, Baby Bjorn makes a mesh carrier

Probably one of the most difficult problems you'll encounter is getting on and off buses and trams.  You'll need to remove your child from her stroller and  fold the stroller to use the trams,  buses and the resort launches.  Disney drivers will wait for you to do this, but it's a good idea to have a system down so you don't hold up your fellow passengers too much.  You can keep baby in the stroller on the ferry, the monorail, and Friend Ships between Epcot and Hollywood studios.  Having your own car can alleviate some of the stress you might encounter trying to drag a stroller on buses, but it's not necessary by any means.   If you're really worried about getting around, consider staying at a monorail resort which gives you easy access to the Magic Kingdom or at one of the Epcot resorts, which will allow you to use the Friend Ships or walk to Epcot.   Be forewarned:  These resorts are pricey.

Practicalities aside, how do you tour a Disney park with an infant?  Well, it's different. Forget the complete commando Disney experience:  You'll only frustrate yourself trying to keep the pace you normally would.  Slowing down a bit can have it's advantages as you'll see and experience things you might normally miss.   This may be trip where you  find a quiet spot and perfect the art of people watching, a thoroughly enjoyable activity in the World. 

Obviously, infants are limited as to what they can enjoy in the parks. Even attractions that don't have a height restriction can be inappropriate for infants, such as the Haunted Mansion. Nonethesless, all parks have several attractions most babies will find enjoyable.  In the Magic Kingdom, Winnie the Pooh and It's a Small World are huge hits.  In Epcot, there are several slow rides that infants tend to enjoy, including the ever popular Living Seas with Nemo.  Hollywood Studios has great shows and I've seen many infants strapped into a baby carrier or sling on on Toy Story Midway Mania.   Keep in mind that strollers are not allowed in line without at Guest Assistance Card (for children and adults with disabilities) so you'll need to park it in one of the many stroller parking areas you see around the parks.

You may want to avoid especially loud shows like Mickey's Philharmagic. While there's nothing scary in this attraction, it's loud and can alarm even older children.  On the other hand, some rides that normally frighten toddlers are just amusing to babies who haven't yet figured out that the scary old witch glaring at them is supposed to frighten them.  Let your baby's personality be your guide in iffy situations like this.  Some seemingly innocuous rides are actually quite frightening for young children (i.e., Stitch's Greatest Escape) so if you're in doubt, ask a Cast Member.  Don't forget that you can trade off baby watching duties with members of your party and still ride the attractions you're interested in by using the "baby swap," which essentially allows members of switch off parenting duties while the other rides without having to wait in line twice  Mouse Planet has a great article  that describes, by attraction, how it works. 

What to pack for a day at the parks?  Well, first of all, if you forget everything (which you won't), you can buy supplies at the Babycare Centers located in each park.  You'll pay slightly more than you'd pay outside the park and the selection is more limited (diaper sizes in particular), but should you forget some indespensible item, you can usually find it there.  If you're not nursing, bring formula, a few bottles and some bottled water (although the water from the drinking fountains is just fine) and, if your baby is at that stage, food.  Sunblock for older babies is a must, as is several changes of clothing, diapers and lots and lots of wipes.  Even if you normally don't use a stroller, consider using one in the parks.  I prefer not to carry a diaper bag in the parks.  It just gets in the way.  Instead, I store the bulk of what I bring in the basket under the stroller.  Remember not to leave valuables in your stroller and if you're worried about stroller theft (exceedingly rare, but it happens), invest in a stroller lock.

It can be difficult to find quiet places for baby to nap and nurse in the parks.  In the Magic Kingdom, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and Carousel of Progress are practically famous among nursing mothers as quiet, discreet places for baby to nurse.   The walkway that goes from Toon Town around the back of Tomorrowland has benches and  is often deserted.  Animal Kingdom has some lovely, quiet areas.  And Epcot, which is so large that it rarely seems crowded, has lots of benches around the World Showcase Lagoon where you can sit and relax.  On our last trip, my twins slept on the Friend Ship from Epcot to Hollywood Studios and there's no denying that the monorail between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom is a great place for a quick nap.

One final thing. You're going to love the babycare centers. They're clean, comfortable and quiet and the Cast Members are great.  You can change your baby, allow them to safely crawl around and stretch their legs, nurse, and eat. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Universal Harry Potter to Debut during Super Bowl.

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Universal Islands of Adventure will be running a Harry Potter themed ad during the Super Bowl, the first of what is sure to be many such ads announcing the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter sometime this spring.  For months, photos and small bits of "leaked" information have sparked much excitement and speculation among theme park fans.  I'm even considering a visit on my next trip, and I rarely (okay, almost never) venture into non-Disney parks when I'm in Orlando.  If you'd like to take a look at some photos, there are some good  ones in this thread on the Dis.  You can also check the Orlando Sentinel Wizarding World archives for articles and more photographs.

Regardless of how you feel about Universal and Harry Potter, I think that the opening of this attraction can only be good for Disney fans in the long run by forcing Disney to respond more aggressively to its competitors.  There's no doubt that it will draw Disney guests away from Disney parks for a day or two of their vacation, but I don't think most people are going to give up their entire Disney vacation in favor of Universal just yet. 

One interesting thing to watch will be to see how Disney reacts when guests, many of whom would not normally leave Disney property, venture out to Universal and possibly the greater Orlando area for a day or two.  In the last fifteen years, Disney has made a priority of keeping guests on site for their entire vacation. They do this, in part, by how they price their tickets (which cost less the longer you stay) and, as you may have seen last year, their rooms.  Promotions like  Buy 4/Get 3 Free are designed to make the guest think "Well, it's paid for. Why go somewhere else?"  And as great of a deal as Magical Express is, the point of it is to get you on Disney property without the need for a car and keep you there.  It's not a nefarious plot, just the simple recognition by Disney that guests have a limited amount of vacation time and every day guests spend outside their parks means lost revenue.  So for fans, even those who don't plan on visiting, an improved Universal is a good thing.  Disney will need to respond with new attractions of its own (the exapanded Fantasyland being just the start) and continue to offer incentives to keep guests staying, and eating, on property.

How about you?  Are you looking forward to visiting Universal on your next trip?   And do you think Universal can pull off the kind of theming and attention to detail that Disney fans are accustomed to?

New Wizarding World of Harry Potter commercial here:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction: Snowed-In Version.

In case you're wondering, it takes about four inches of snow to completely paralyze the central portion of North Carolina.  We've been stuck in the house for three days, but fortunately, snow doesn't stop the internet, unlike our local post office. Let's see what's going on in lovely, unfrozen, Central Florida, shall we?

More monorail troubles, this time with monorail Coral.

WDW Central from an outsider's perspective.  This is a great blog, by the way, if you haven't read it before.

Tables inWonderland dining events for February.  With menus!  That you can stare at and dream about.  Okay, maybe that's just me.

Sambycat, from the Those Darn Cats podcast and My Life on the WDW D-List, is shocked by the travesty that has befallen every Disney Nerd's  favorite sweetheart.  She's so . . . calm, so uncharacteristically  Stacy.  Strange.  Sambycat is also planning a Disney wedding, so if you like weddings (there's bound to be talk of cake), check out her other blog posts.

Only Walt Disney World has some great photos of Cinderella in the Magic Kingdom.

Matt Hochberg from the Studios Central blog has a few things to say in Hollywood Studio's defense.

I just want to mention that if you'd like to catch up on the latest among Disney bloggers, check out Dismarks, which features posts from Disney bloggers ranked by popularity. Lots of good information over there.  You can also check into Alltop for more from Disney bloggers.

Finally, a 2010 version of the Boom De Ya Da Disney World Video. I love this.