Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fast Disney Facts: The Trouble with Toll Booths.

This is one of those weird little peculiarities of  visiting Disney World, so I thought I'd share it, particularly for first-time visitors as it can really ruin your day.

If you're like most people, you don't carry a lot of cash, opting instead for the convenience of a debit card. This probably means you don't have much change on you at any given time. Normally, that's not a big deal since probably also don't live in an area with a lot of toll roads; I can't even tell you if there are any near me.  Central Florida however, has a fair number of toll roads that can be a minor inconvenience or a big headache.  While it may seem like a small thing, in Florida toll violations are considered moving violations.  Run thru a toll booth without paying and you'll likely be fined up to $200 and receive points on your license.  Repeat offenders risk losing their license.  Look in the local phone book and you'll see a large number of Orlando attorneys specializing in toll booth violations.  Who knew?

You'll encounter toll roads when you go from the airport to the Disney World resort area.  While it's possible to avoid these roads, the few dollars you'll save hardly makes it worth taking a longer, more congested route.  While you might be aware of these toll roads, it's the unexpected ones that can cause problems because not all tolll booths are manned, so you'll need change to pass thru them or face a fine.

One of the trickiest of these unmanned toll road situations is right outside of Disney World on Osceola Parkway. This main road, which you'll likely use if you drive on site, turns into a toll road with very little warning shortly after you cross I-4.  I can't tell you how many times I've accidently found myself on this road, a couple of times without change for the toll booth, pitifully wondering if throwing a dollar bill in the basket would do the trick.  After digging around in the rental car for a couple of minutes, I was "rescued" by an impatient but kind fellow traveler who came up behind me and tossed a couple of quarters into the net.  That feeling of doom as I've come up to the toll booth, debating the merits of just running thru without paying just one time, is one I hope to avoid in the future.  One small tip about this road:  If you find yourself in this situation and you catch it in time, you can turn right and cross thru the massive Gaylord Palms resort complex and get out on Highway 192.  That's the last turn before you hit the toll road.

Obviously, the trouble with toll booths can be avoided by simply carrying enough change with you.  When you're making your packing list, just remember to bring a roll of quarters.  And don't spend it on a Dole Whip once you get there either!  Or, if you're renting a car, you can opt to get the  EZ-Pass service with your rental car. This service, which has a sensor pays the toll for you as you drive thru, costs around $5 a day or up to $30 a week however, so it's probably not cost effective unless you're going to be doing a lot of off-site driving.

The toll booth situation is really a minor one, unless you're that person in your car vainly searching for change.  Just remember your roll of quarters and maybe you'll be the impatient but kind person who helps out a fellow traveler on Osceola Parkway.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Updates on Lines.

I did a post back in January about using Lines, from the Unofficial Guide and Tourings Plans, to get wait times on your phone. I get a lot of hits on that post and a few things have changed since then, so I thought it was time for a update.

First, Lines now has chat, so you can ask questions while you're in the park and the guys from the Unofficial Guide or other users will answer them.  It's a pretty simple format and very easy to use, so now you don't have to walk around wondering where you can rent a stroller or how much a haircut costs in the Magic Kingdom.  I liked how this feature helps to create a community of users in the parks, just as the addition of user badges and the competition to be the top submitter for different attractions does. I checked it out the other day and it appeared that people were getting their questions aswered pretty quickly, either by the UG guys or from Lines users.

They've also updated some of the user badges, so if you're submitting wait times, you can compete with fellow users to be the top submitter for indvidual attractions or just reach goals like "Star Tunnel:  Wait times for every attraction in Tomorrowland."  Submit over 100 times and you have the honor of being an "Unofficial Chief Collector."  Okay, so no one's going to give you a t-shirt or even a free Waffle House T-bone, but it's another fun thing to do while you're in the parks and submitting times helps other users.  I found it especially entertaining while waiting in line.  Another update includes wait time predictions for the entire day and the next day; you'll need to go the attraction you're interested in and click on "see full forecast."

Finally, now that it's out of the testing period, Lines is no longer free.  The price, however, is pretty reasonable, particularly when compared to similar applications, none of which can claim to have chat answered by Disney experts. For $8.95 (slightly less if you own a current version of the Unofficial Guide), you can access Lines for 365 days as well as the entire Touring Plans website, including the crowd calender and touring plans for inside the parks. 

I'll be using Lines and other Disney wait time applications when I go to Disney World in October, so I'll be posting reviews and comparasons then. 

For more information, check out these podcasts:

WDW Today Podcast:  A Look at Lines.
Those Darn Cats #90:  Lines.

You might also like these reviews:

Lines:  The New Wait Times Application from Touring Plans by Theme Park Insider.
Disney World Lines and Touring Plans Review from Chip and Co.

Monday Morning Distraction: What's New Edition.

There's a lot going on at Disney World right now, so I thought I would focus on what's new and upcoming in this post.

I generally think the folks at  Disney can do anything they set their minds to doing.  Except pizza.  If you've eaten at  Pizza Planet in Animal Kingdom, you know what I mean.  Now there's news that a new pizzaria will be opening in the Italy pavilion at  Epcot. The pizza will be wood-fired and topped with fresh mozzarella. Even the water it's made with will be imported!  No name yet, but  Disney Parks Blog has an artist's rendering of how it will look when it opens this fall.  I'm really looking forward to trying this restaurant.

While we're at it, Disney Parks Blog also has a first look at the expansion of Cantina San Angel.

RideMakerz, a build-a-car store, just opened at Downtown Disney.  Looks like there's lots to see and do in this huge new space.  John Frost has the scoop plus lots of pictures.

The pictures are from Disneyland, but since WDW will be getting the same attaction in just a couple of years, I thought I'd include Jim Hill Media's pictures from the construction site of Ariel's Undersea Adventure.  I have a three-year old girl who is going to be thrilled with this when the Fantasyland expansion is finished.  Okay, I'm pretty excited too.

The Disney Food Blog, one of the smartest Disney blogs on the block, has details on the Wishes Dessert Party, returning March 28th.   

Anne at Chip and Co has the story behind the Dooney and Burke Disney-themed bags that are so popular right now and tells you how to get them if you won't be near a Disney park anytime soon.

Annual passholders will get a sneak peak at  D Street, a new store opening in Downtown Disney, April 3rd.  Details over at Stitch Kingdom.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Set to Open June 18th at Unviersal Orlando.

Photo: Universal Orlando.

After months of speculation, Universal Studios announced this morning that the Harry Potter attraction at its Islands of Adventure Theme Park will open June 18th.   Expect soft openings for annual passholders, certain events, and VIPs for weeks leading up to the official opening.  Universal has promised to honor their promise to those who purchased packages, set to begin May 28th, highlighting the attraction.  No word on how they will treat grad nights scheduled for April.  The press release for those events specifically mentioned Harry Potter. 

You can read more about it at the Orlando Sentinel or on The DisUnplugged blog.  There's also a webcast scheduled for 12:00 eastern today here at the official Wizarding World of Harry Potter site.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Annual Passholder Rates Announced for Summer.

Disney just released annual passholder rates for Summer, June 6th thru August 14th.  Discounts are as follows on select rooms:
  • Value - Save 30%
  • Moderate - Save 35%
  • Deluxe - Save 40%
  • Deluxe Villa - Save 40%
 These rooms are limited and some restrictions and blackouts may apply. If you have an AP and are looking for a reason to go, book soon!  These rooms will go quickly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reader Email: How does Disney get non-resort guests out during EMH.


How does Disney get non-resort guests out of the park after EMH.

Just wondering.

Dear Just Wondering:

It's very simple. They use this:

I know, terrible.  Okay, seriously, they just make it pretty boring for you go be in the parks because all you can do is shop.  Or sit and people watch.  Disney doesn't use wristbands anymore to identify park guests.  You just show your card, so there's really no ambiguity about who is and who isn't a resort guest. 

If you want to read more about EMH and non-resort guests, I wrote about it here.

And yes, that's a horrible thing to do to a duck, even a duck with an attitude problem like Donald.

Thanks for your email and enjoy your trip to the World!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

Law professor Chad Emerson talks the Orlando Sentinel about his book Project Future, which details the origins of Walt Disney World.  A really fascinating subject which forces you to look at the parks in a different way when you visit.  Adding it to the reading list.

Fantasyland expansion photos hot off the press (or, um, camera) over at The Disney Blog.

Disney Shawn remembers Fess Parker.

Oh yeah, I should probably start running more since skating this thing seems to be out of the question:  Details for the 2010 Wine and Dine 1/2 Marathon.

The Disney Parks Blog must be thinking about weddings and warmer weather:  Photos of a parasailing bride and groom. Is it just me or do Disney weddings look like a lot of fun?

Imaginerding with photos of a 1984 Fun Run at Epcot (two miles!).  They really had the right idea back in 1984.

Finally, a great video of one of Disney's best themed attractions, Splash Mountain:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers.

You know when you pick up a book and open it to the middle and learn something on that very page, it's probably going to be a good one.  This was my experience with Lisa Battista's Beyond the Attractions:  A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers.  Like most Disney nerds, I think I know a lot about Disney World, but I also know that I can something new. And while I've visited Disney World for years as an adult, I've only been taking small children to Disney World for the last few years.  Lisa's book, filled with tons of information specifically for younger children, gave me a lot of great ideas.

Beyond the Attractions includes the type of things you'd expect from a Disney travel guide, like descriptions of age-appropriate rides, but it's more than that.  Lisa's perspective is different from many travel writers. Sure, she'll tell you about It's a Small World or describe a resort, but she'll also tell you where to take your little one off site when he's sick and provide you with a mom-certified packing list of things you just might not know you needed.  She's on the ground, in the trenches, with her kids, so she knows what it's like to discover that you've run out of diapers in the middle of the Magic Kingdom or how difficult it can be to drag toddlers around a rainy park.

Most travel guides focus on taking older kids to Disney World.  Beyond the Attractions recognizes that the needs of younger children are different and that your touring style will have to reflect that.  At the end of the book, you'll find  useful appendices full of information that you might not have time to compile yourself or maybe didn't even think of.   At under 200 pages, Beyond the Attractions is small enough to throw in your carry-on luggage.  It's a keeper; I'll be taking it on my next trip to the World.

You can purchase Lisa's book here and listen to Lisa discuss her book on the WDW Today podcast here.  If you'd like a free copy of Lisa's book, I put up a duplicate post at Chip and Co.  Be the first to comment and I'll send you one!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Disney's Second Best Kept Secret: Renting DVC Points.

If you've been in a Disney park, you've seen the signs touting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) as "Disney's Best Kept Secret."   DVC is Disney's version of a timeshare right on Disney property (without the typical "hard sell" you get at most timeshares.  It's Disney. They won't bother you).  Owners buy into a specific resort, known as their "home" resort, allowing them to book up to eleven months in advance. They can also book rooms at other resorts in the DVC family at seven months out.  Owners don't have assigned weeks, but rather they buy a number of points, so they can break up their yearly allotment of points for shorter stays or use them all at once.  Most DVC contracts sold by Disney start at around 160 points; some owners have hundreds of points.

DVC resorts are attached to certain Disney deluxe level resorts, including the Wilderness Lodge, Animal  Kingdom Lodge, Bay Lake Towers at the Contempoary Resort, and the Boardwalk, to name a few.  They start as small as a studio and go up to a roomy, three-bedroom villa. All of them have balconies or patios and  full kitchens; all but the studios have a washer and dryer.  Since space comes at a premium on Disney property,  renting points is one way to enjoy some extra room without breaking the bank.

A one-bedroom unit at Boardwalk Villas.
Image Copyright Walt Disney Company
Many people aren't aware that you don't have to be an owner to stay at a DVC resort.  In fact, it's probably one of Disney's best kept secrets.  If you're not a DVC owner and want to stay at a DVC resort, you have three options:  One, you can rent a room directly from Disney, as they hold back a certain percentage of rooms to be rented out on a cash basis.  Two, you can rent points privately from a DVC owner.  Or three, perhaps the least common choice, you can rent from a "broker" who matches you with an owner who, in turn, will make your reservation through Disney.  All three options have their pros and cons.

 Renting through Disney is perhaps the most expensive choice, but unlike renting from an individual owner or broker, you don't have to pay the entire amount right away and it's as risk-free as they come.  It's also the easiest, particularly with regard to cancellations.  Recent discounts, between 40 and 45 percent, have been so good that the gap between renting through Disney and renting points is becoming smaller.  For example, right now Disney is running a 40% discount on certain DVC properties through mid-August (there are some black-out dates around holidays).  Under this code, a standard view studio at Kidani Village runs $230 (including taxes; it's $380 without the discount).  You'd pay $140 a night if you rented points through an owner, assuming you paid $10 a point.  Renting points is a big savings, but you have to decide it the risk is worth it.

Renting through an individual owner can be very cost effective.  Familiarize yourself with the point charts before you start shopping around for a rental.  You can find point charts and other important information about DVC over at Mouseowners, a website devoted to DVC.  The point system is simple and basically works like this:  You check the chart and see that a week in a one-bedroom standard view villa during adventure (low) season at the Villas at Animal Kingdom rents for 169 points.  The same type of room in an extremely popular resort such as Bay Lake Towers goes for 201 points.  At $10 a point, your entire transaction for Animal Kingdom would be $1690.  You can still use Magical Express and the dining plan, but you'll have to have the owner arrange these thins for you.  Most owners will tell you that they'll make these  arrangements for you. 

Resorts vary in location, theme, amenities and room size, so shop around to find one that's right for you.  I like the Disboards resort board or the DVC  board for this type of information, but you can also find great information from resort fansites (links to follow).  If you have a specific resort in mind, start looking for a rental at around the 11-month mark.  Christmas will fill up quickly, as will rentals during special events.  If you're flexible about where you want to stay you can wait a little longer, but I don't recommend looking under four months out unless you're specifically waiting for a bargain and don't mind where you're staying.

Most owners rent for around $10-11 per point, but this varies somewhat depending on the time of year and how badly the owner wants to rent.  One trend I've noticed on DVC rental boards is owners starting out at around $13 a point and gradually reducing their prices, so don't be afraid to negotiate.  If you don't mind gambling a bit and want to save some money, you can try renting at a couple of months out from when you want to go.  Usually you'll find listings by owners who have to cancel and need to get rid of their points in a hurry.  I've seen listings in this case as low as $6, but these are normally not the most popular resorts.  If you choose to wait for a point "sale," make sure you have a back-up reservation somewhere (that you'll cancel once you get a better deal) or you run the risk of not finding anything.  This is especially true during busier times of the year when entire resorts fill up months in advance.

Most owners have a no-refund policy due to the difficulty of cancelling DVC reservations, although you may be able to transfer your reservation, depending on the owner. Make sure you've read and understood every element of your contract. If being able to cancel your reservation is important to you, you may try to negotiate something with the owner.  This is the biggest risk of renting points.

The most active and helpful sites on the  internet for renting points are the DVC boards at  Disboards and on Mouseowners.  Before you post, make sure you read the posting guidelines at the top of the forum so that you know what is acceptable.  If you're not a member of these boards you'll have to register to post (and in some cases to view the forum). Some boards will not allow you to receive private messages until you have a certain number of posts.  Since you'll need to be able to receive PMs so that owners can communicate with you, you may have to register and post for a short time on other forums first.

Being able to rent out your own points is one of the advantages of owning DVC.  Disney doesn't put limits on owners renting their points; they can do so every year if they wish.  Professonal brokers however, fall into something of a gray area.  Obviously, Disney isn't in love with the idea of brokers selling points for a variety of reasons.  Because of this, Disney recently limited the number of associates a member can have on his DVC membership to four, which means that only those four individuals can make reservations.  Since brokers can't make your reservation for you, they act as an intermediary between the renter and the owner.  Once the initial negotiations between the broker and the renter are completed, the broker finds a prospective owner and the owner makes the reservation in the renter's name.   The broker herself has no contact with Disney.  If you use a broker, your transaction is perfectly legitimate because the broker is something of an invisible partner in the whole process. 

Brokers tend to charge more per point than private owners to cover their services, which includes drawing up the contract, contacting the owners, explaining the obligations of both parties, and handling money matters.  One benefit of working with an established points broker is that they only deal with trustworthy sources, so you won't have to worry that someone is going to take your money and disappear.  They're also very good at matching renters with harder to get resorts.  For many people, the safety and ease of the transaction in exchange for paying a bit extra is worth it.  Brokers normally rent at about $13 a point with the owner receiving $10.  Most have a no-refund policy, so their cancellation policy is potentially the worst of the three options.  You may find individual brokers who are willing to transfer a reservation, but I am not aware of any.  You can purchase trip insurance from another source in the event that you need to cancel.

If you rent points from an individual, here are a few things to remember:
  •  Get references from past renters!
  • Verify with the Florida Comptroller's Office that this person is a DVC owner.  Scams are unusual, but it can happen.
  • Most DVC websites have blank contracts that you can use as a guideline.
  • Ensure that you fully understand the owner's cancellation policy.
  • Be wary of owners who advertise points on a website where they have only a few posts or post only occasionally. While it's not 100% guaranteed, posters with high post counts usually have a reputation they want to protect.  You can check out their prior posts and get a feel for who you're dealing with by clicking the information under their user name.
  • Consider buying trip insurance.
  • Do not rent from an owner on Craigslist or Ebay.  While there are undoubtedly legitimate deals, the potential for being scammed is too high.
  • Use credit cards, PayPal, or bank check. Don't use Western Union.
Good sources for those thinking of renting from DVC:

Disboards DVC Board.  Fast moving, very active board.  This board seems to be most well-moderated, but as in any points rental transaction, buyer  beward. Check out the owners and have a good contract.
Mouseowners. Lots of information for renters, including contract examples and floorplans of every style of DVC unit.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Fan Site.  Great site for checking out AKL and the villas.
AllEars.  Photos of all DVC resorts, inside and out.
Contemporary Resort fan site, including pages on Bay Lake Towers, Disney's newest DVC resort right next to the Magic Kingdom.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: The Color Companion to Walt Disney World.

I'm not sure what happened to my Unofficial Guide, but it's smaller, has lots of pictures, and is hilariously funny. Okay, the truth is, I know what happened to the Guide:  The authors put out a color companion full of great photos and condensed some of the information. They also added more humor.  The Unofficial Guide, if you're not aware, is a travel guide to Disney.  However, that might be an understatement.  The Unofficial Guide is big.  It's chock full of information about things you never thought to ask but really need to know, like how your little kid will probably be afraid on  Snow White even though it's a princess-themed ride, for goodness sake.  Most importantly, the authors really love Disney and are there all the time, so you're not just getting some blurb about a Disney resort or restaurant from someone who visited it once or worse, from someone who didn't visit it at all.  It's probably safe to say that no one knows Disney better than these guys.

The Color Companion has much of the same information as the Unofficial Guide, but with tons of great photos and, as noted above, funny commentary.  Just when you think the authors are getting serious, they whip out a nun with a ruler or urge you not to confuse Bratwurst with Brat Worst (the kind of kid you might happen to meet on a hot day in Epcot).   If you're intimidated by the heft of the Unofficial Guide, which incidently also makes a handy door stopper, this smaller version will tell you just about everything you need to know and keep you entertained in the process.  Is there enough here that you don't need the Unofficial Guide?  Maybe. It depends on what you want.  In particular, I think those who find the Guide too overwhelming will be pleasantly surprised by the Color Companion.

The Color Companion is a reasonably priced $19.99 and does not make a nice door stopper or increase your airline baggage feesYou can get it online from  Amazon or  Powell's

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disney World without Kids.

Stroll on over to Chip and Co and read about my secret shame as a parent:  Disney without the kids.

Shhh.  Don't tell anyone. 

Reader Email: Do I have to pay for parking on Disney property?


We're not staying on Disney property and I would like to avoid paying the daily parking fee. Is there a way to avoid?


Dear MB:

Thanks for reading the blog and for your question.  Like a lot of things in life, there are ways around paying the $14 fee for parking on Disney property, but the question is, is it worth the time, effort and worry?  Personally, I don't want to spend my vacation worrying about where I'm going to park or if my car is going to be towed, not to mention wasting precious time in the parks.

The good news is, once you pay your $14 you can park at any park that day.  Just keep your pass on the dashboard.  There are also some free places to park on Disney property if you'll be spending time out of the parks.  If you're eating at a resort or if you just want to explore, you may park there for a limited amount of time.  I don't recommend paying for an expensive meal, leaving your vehicle, and then going to the parks from there.  It's just not cost effective, for one thing. For another, if Disney finds out you're not a resort guest and that you left your car there all day, there's a chance it will be towed.  You can also park for free at Downtown Disney while you shop, eat or just look around.  A few years ago Disney had a problem with guests parking at Downtown Disney and then taking Disney buses to the parks, which resulted in a lot of congestion on these buses, so now buses at Downtown Disney only go to the resorts, making for a very roundabout trip to the praks. You can also park for free at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. 

Annual and premium passholders receive free parking as one of their benefits.  If you want to save $2, you can valet park at one of the resorts nearest to the parks, but keep in mind that you'll need to tip, which cancels out any savings.

I know that $14 a day can really add up, so I sympathize with your question.  Good luck and have a wonderful trip.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

Need cheering up this morning? Watch this super cute video from the Princess and the Frog 5K at  Disney World.  Make sure you watch until the end for two especially evil competitors.


Cute video from last weekend's Princess 1/2 Marathon.  There were approximately 13,000 women and 500 men.  Looks fun, other than that pesky running part.

John Frost over at The Disney Blog gets lots of great interviews and this one with John Lasseter is one of them. 

AJ over at the Disney Food Blog with a great review the delicious comfort food at of Liberty Tree Tavern as well as a discussion about the decor. 

Disney Shawn talks about his earliest memories of Disney World, circa 1978.   Disney  Shawn is like the Dean of the Disney history department.  Defnintely worth taking a look at the whole blog if you'd like to learn more about the subject.

There won't be a D23 Expo this year like last year's wildly successful event, but you can still attend a D23 event this September called Destination D.  There will be a D23 Expo in August 2011, again at Disneyland.  All the information at Jim Hill Media.

You've probably heard the news by now, but  Disney's  Give a Day/Get a Disney Day has closed.  Details at the DisUnplugged blog

Chip over at Chip and Co thinks Disney boats offer the perfect opportunity to relax.  I have to agree. 

Candy apples made to order at Disney Every Day.  They look pretty good.  Okay, not the ones with the green sprinkles.   

I love all the videos over at the Disney Parks Blog however, this video is doing nothing, nothing I tell you, to curb my desire to stay at Bay Lake Towers.  I want to stay there.  Badly.  How great is this view of the fireworks?

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Do You Need a Park-Hopper Pass?

When you buy your tickets to Disney World, you'll have the choice of adding a park hopper option.  A regular base ticket allows you to visit one park per day.  You may re-enter that park as many times as you like during that day, but you won't be able to visit another park if you use that same ticket.  You also won't be able to use another day's park admission for that day in order to gain admission to a second (or third) park no matter how many days you have left on that ticket.  The solution to this problem is to add a park hopper option to your ticket.

A park hopper is exactly what it sounds like:  It allows you to "hop" from park to park, all in the same day.  It costs an additional $52 per ticket and is good for all four major parks.  It's valid for the length of the ticket, so the longer your visit the cheaper its daily use becomes.  When you add up the total costs for a Disney vacation, adding $52 to each ticket seems like a fairly small amount, but these days a vacation is a luxury for most of us and saving money where you can is important.  If I cut something from the vacation budget, it's the first thing I cut.  Before you automatically get the park hopper option, think about how you visit the parks. 

A park hopper might be for you if you:
  • are the type of person who tours the parks "commando style" from morning until night.
  • are staying off-site and can't take advantage of extra magic hours.
  • are on your first trip and want to see everything.
  • are on a short (less than 4 nights) trip.
 A park hopper might not be your best option if you:
  • have young children and won't be spending a lot of time in the parks.
  • take a slower approach to the parks.
  • don't stay in the parks late.
  • are on a longer trip and can tour at a slower pace.
Having the park hopper option doesn't just mean you can change parks on a whim; it makes your planning easier.  For example, if you make a dining reservation for a restaurant located in a park, you can visit other parks that and not worry about it.  This is especially important when making your advanced dining reservations since park hours and extra magic hours (EMH) usually come out later than the 180-day mark. Without a park hopper, many guests schedule their park days around which days have the longest hours and/or EMH, giving them the most park time for their money.  Since you'll likely be making dining reservations before you know what park hours will be, it can be a guessing game if you're making a dining reservation in the park. 

If you don't add the park hopper option, you'll simply need to do a bit more research before your trip to ensure that you get the maximum use out of your ticket.  Don't hesitate to make your dining reservations as soon as you're allowed.  You an always change them later without a penalty, but if you're trying for an especially difficult reservation (Cinderella's Royal Table, Le Cellier to name two of the most difficult to get) don't change it until you know you can get another one.  I'd probably lose some time in the parks before I'd give up a reservation I really wanted.  If you're really concerned, search historic park and EMH hours online to give you an estimate of what you can expect and then make your reservations.  Finally, once you get official park hours from Disney, you can plan your trip to give you the most hours in the parks based on regular operating hours and EMH, if you're staying on site.

A park hopper is definitely not a necessity.  It's something that's nice to have.  If you're cutting costs, it's probably the first thing you should think about.  The great thing is that you don't have to add the park hopper option to your ticket when you purchase it.  If, after a day or two in the parks, you find yourself needing one, you can add it at your resort concierge desk or once you get to the parks.  If not, you've saved yourself a nice amount of money, enough to treat you and your family to a nice meal in one of Disney's better restaurants.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Disney Dining Plan: Quick Service Q & A.

On the Disney Dining Plan, you're allowed one drink, an entree, and a dessert on the counter service, or quick service, plan.  Pretty straight forward, but most people still have a few questions.  Here are a few of the most common:

Q:  Can you exchange two counter service meals for a table service meal?

A:  No. Disney is pretty strict with what they allow for table service meals. 

Q:  Can you use a table service credit for a counter service meal?

A:  Yes. And no.  Technically, it's not allowed but many cast members will let you use a table service credit at a counter service restaurant.  Be prepared to be told no.  Or yes. 

Q:  Can an adult buy a kids' meal on the plan?

A:  Yes.  And vice-versa.  Counter service credits don't distinguish between the kids' menu and the adults' menu, so by all means, buy whatever meal you like as long as what you order fits into the plan.   This isn't cheating the system, so don't worry about being dishonest here; Disney will verify this if you ask them.  This means that you can get creative with your meals.  Buy one regular adult meal and split it between two smaller kids or buy an adult meal for a child with a bigger appetite than the kids' meal will accomodate.  Edited to add 3/17/10:  This post has generated a lot of hits, email, and even a discussion on one of my favorite message boards (which didn't involve me), so I wanted to add some clarification.  I'm the last person to advocate cheating the system; I get nervous using a fastpass after it's expired.  So I would never suggest someone else do it.  I was able to use child CS credits for adult meals in December after being informed by a CM that this was how the system worked and I also called Disney Dining (twice) in the last few days to verify that Disney doesn't distinguish between adult and kids' meals.  I'm not sure if it's a glitch in the system at this point or what.  I do know that a few people have reported being stopped from buying adult meals with kid meal credits, but overall, most CMs allow it and will even tell you about it.  In my case, I didn't even ask, she just gave me the information.  Bottom line, the system does allow it.  Keep in mind that it could change at any time; if you're worried, call Disney Dining at 407-WDW-DINE.   If I find ou anything new, I'll post it here and elsewhere on the blog.  I'd love to hear about your experiences as well.  UPDATE 7/30/10:  Please check out this post for more on this issue.

Q:  Can I use quick service dining in Downtown Disney?

A:  Yes.  In 2010, the following Downtown Disney counter service restaurants accepted the Dining Plan:  Cookes of Dublin, Earl of Sandwich, FoodQuest (in Disney Quest), and the Wolfgang Puck Express.  Earl of Sandwich and Wolfgang Puck Express in particular serve exceptionally good food.

Q:  Does everyone on the room reservation have to be on the dining plan?

A:  Yes everyone on your room reservation must be on the dining plan unless they are under three-years old.  In fact, they have to be on the same dining plan, so for example, you cannot mix a quick service plan with a regular dining plan.

Q:  Can I purchase the dining plan if I'm staying off Disney property.

A:  No.  Keep in mind that the Downtown Disney hotels on Resort Plaza, Shades of Green, and the Swan/Dolphin hotels are not Disney hotels and do not participate in the dining plan.

Q:  When do I have to add the dining plan?

A:  You can add it when you make your reservation or up to 72-hours in advance of check-in.

Edited to add:  Thanks to Ginger for pointing this out in the comments section:  Animal Kingdom's Picnic in the Park requires an adult counter service credit for each person served on this meal, so you'll need to use adult credits but since Disney doesn't distinguish between adult and kid counter service credits, you can use those kid counter service credits to buy adult meals elsewhere so everything comes out even.

For more on the dining plan, check out Disney's official page here.  For a lot of general questions, including ideas on how to use the dining plan more effectively, Disboards has a very active sub-forum devoted entirely to the dining plan here.  You can also check out the Passporter community dining thread here

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

Lots of great information coming out of the D23 anniversary party at the Magic Kingdom this weekend.  Lou Mongelo, of WDW Radio, and Stitch Kingdom kept their followers updated on Facebook and Twitter as the news came out.  Highlights included:
  • The next D23 conference will be announced on March 10th at the annual shareholders meeting. 
  • Mickey and Minnie's country houses will not be demolished.  No word on where they'll be moved.
  • Also, no date on when Mickey's Toontown Fair will be closed.  Given that work has commenced in other areas and that Disney tends to work in sections to avoid interrupting guests, bet on later rather than sooner.
  • Depite posted information to the contrary, no decision has been made yet on the theme for Goofy's Barnstormer.
Regarding the fate of the next D23 conference, The Dis reported yesterday that there will be no expo this year

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Disney World will be adding more "storybook" themed rooms. Expect additions to coincide with regular resort refurbishment schedules.

Great article and pictures over at the official Disney Parks Blog about the work being done by the Seas with Neo and Friends team to help Florida manatees with the goal or rehabilitation and returning them to the wild.   A manatee named Jasper was rescued and will be taking up residence in Epcot with Lou, another rescued manatee.  Jasper is expected to be returned to the wild in a year once he's gained weight and recovered from some weather related injuries. 

How good of a value are the restaurants in Disney Hollywood Studios compared to other restaurants on Disney property?  Studios Central takes a look.

A nice review of three counter service classics at Disney World by A World View.

Two new shops and an upgraded 3D experience set to open in Downtown Disney.

If you're a parent, you're worried about it or it's happened to you:  Losing your child in a Disney park. Stories and tips on how to keep in from happening.

Finally, if you have a hankering for Disney parks related television, head over to Disney Theme Parks TV, a fun little site that lists everything park-related on television for the next 10 days or so.  

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reader Email: What can you do on Disney property without a park ticket?

Dear Chris:

Are there things I can do cheaply on Disney property without a park ticket?  I'll be in Orlando for a couple of days but am not able to buy tickets.


Gerrie K.

Dear Gerrie:

There are a number of things you can do on Disney property without a ticket, whether a ticket is not in your budget or you want to take a day off from touring the parks.  Here are a few very inexpensive things you can try:

1.  Resort hop. Literally one of my favorite things to do on Disney property outside of the parks.  Go check out all the great theming in Disney's resorts.  The easiest way to do this is to visit the monorail resorts in the Magic Kingdom area or take the boat and visit the Epcot resorts.   All Disney resorts have quick service restaurants where you can buy an relatively inexpensive lunch.  One of my favorites is Mara at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Bring a book and read and people watch in one of Disney's amazing resort lobbies.  Remember, you can ride Disney buses without a park pass. 

2.  For a little more money, you can have lunch or dinner at a sit-down restaurant at one of the resorts or downtown Disney.   Make sure you look at the menus on AllEars for prices before you make your reservation. 

3. Explore the Boardwalk.  Even if you aren't a Disney resort guest, you can park at the Boardwalk Resort. Just tell the guard that you want to shop and eat at the Boardwalk.  The Boardwalk is great for people watching; you may even see a wedding at Sea Breeze Point.

4.  Go shopping at Downtown Disney.  This doesn't have to be a budget-buster.  You can get a filling sandwich and drink from the Earl of Sandwich for under $10 and sit and people watch.

5. Have a quick drink at Raglan Road.  Perhaps the most themed restaurant outside of Disney parks or resorts, Raglan Road is one of those places that really shows you Disney's attention to detail.  A live band plays most nights.

6.  Go for a ride on the monorail.  It's free and it just happens to be the fastest ride at Walt Disney World.

7.  Go to Epcot for free.  Okay, so you're not exactly getting into Epcot free of charge, but if you ride the Epcot monorail from the Ticket and Transportation  Center to Epcot, you'll take a brief loop into Epcot.  The views from above during the Flower and Garden show are especially nice.

8.  Appreciate the artwork of Mary Blair, the Imagineer behind It's a Small World, in the Contemporary Resort.  You'll find a mural designed by her right as you get off the monorail.

9.  Walk from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian on the path that links the two resorts.  Along with great views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella's castle in the distance, you'll see the Disney's famed Wedding Pavilion.  If you time it right, you can even see the fireworks.

10. Take a boat ride, either from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, from Port Orleans Riverside to Downtown Disney ,or from Hollywood  Studios to Epcot.  If you get on the  DHS-Epcot boat, you can get off at any of the resorts they stop at and explore.

I can't promise you that any of this is as good as visiting the parks, but it will give you a little of that Disney magic. Have fun!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Extra Magic Hours and Non-Resort Guests.

One benefit of staying at a Disney resort is that you can take advantage of extra magic hours (EMH) in the parks. Each day, one park opens an hour early or stays open three hours late for resort guests only.  When you arrive at the park for EMH, you'll be asked to show your resort room key.  Guests who are taking advantage of evening extra magic hours will be asked to show their room key when they enter the park if they enter after closing time.  They'll also be asked to show their room key when the enter attractions or restaurants.  You do not need to exit the park at closing and re-enter if you are already in an EMH park for evening hours, just show your key.

I was recently asked if you can remain in a park that's having evening EMH if you're not a resort guest. This is perfectly okay, but you won't be able to visit any of the attractions or buy food.  If you're already eating when EMH starts, you won't be asked to leave and are welcome to finish your meal.  You'll also be allowed to ride an attraction if you're waiting in line when the park closes.   Unless it's a ticketed event like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, in which case you'll be ushered out of the park relatively quickly if you don't have a ticket, you can wander around pretty freely or just sit on a bench and people watch.  You can also go into the stores and shop.

I like to avoid the rush out of the parks, so when I stay off site, I don't automatically leave the park when EMH starts.  Instead, I usually sit and relax for an hour or so and then slowly make my way down Main Street, maybe doing a bit of shopping while the stores are less crowded.  As I understand it, the official policy is that non-resort guests can't buy food once EMH starts, but I've done it.   I haven't personally stayed the entire three hours of EMH, but I know people who have.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Staying Connected to the Disney Online Community with Dismarks.

If you've spent much time reading Disney blogs lately, you might have noticed the little castle with the words "Mark It" at the end of some posts.  That's the sign for the website Dismarks and if you click on it, not only can you mark the post you're reading so that other readers can find it, you'll also find lots of new Disney-related news all in one place.  If you sign up, you can post links to articles you like and discuss these articles with other Disney fans.  It's a great way to stay informed and connect with others in the Disney online community and since it's reader generated, you get a lot of different perspectives.

When you post a submission you'll be asked to give it a title.  It's probably easiest to use the title in the article, but you can also make something up if you feel it's more representative of what the article is saying.  You'll then be asked to write a sentence or two about the piece.  Nothing fancy and don't be shy; your submissions don't have to be perfect. If you think it's relevant to the community, it's probably relevant.  Next, you'll give it a tag or two so readers can find it. That's it. Easy peasy.

If you like, you can also post articles on any Disney topic from sites not using the Dismarks icon.  Just copy and paste the link.  Readers on the Dismarks site can "mark it" and let it gain in popularity there, ensuring that other readers will see it.  If you're a Disney blogger, don't toil in solitude.  Post a Dismark with your title so that you can share your ideas with other fans.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Branching Out.

I'm blogging today over at Chip and Co!  Come on over and read about Tom Sawyer Island, one of the Magic Kingdom's most overlooked attractions.