Early Coverage of the 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Sunset at Epcot
Sunset at Epcot

The 2015 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival officially opened on Friday and (as you might expect) there has been a ton of early coverage.

My go-to source for reviews of food items at Disney World is easyWDW and Josh has already reviewed all of the new items at the festival in these two posts: Part 1 and Part 2. He’s already sold me on the $5 Chilaquiles de pollo from Mexico:

This is not exactly what I was expecting – I thought it would be more of a nachos situation, but this is more of a baked enchilada kind of thing with some corn chips that are no longer particularly crunchy. But it’s piled high with seasoned shredded chicken, melted cheese, and the other ingredients to make a flavorful dish that probably doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but tastes better than anything currently served at the Mexico quick service. It’s an above average value that’s easily shared.

Sounds great. If you’re interested in items returning from previous years, Josh also put together a post on those items a couple of months ago. Of course, though I enjoy the food-based posts, I’m still eagerly anticipating his reviews of the various new craft beer options available at this year’s festival. (Yes, I know there is a site dedicated to reviewing beer at Walt Disney World, but since at least one of their reviewers has said she is not a huge IPA fan I discount the site’s opinions pretty heavily.)

UPDATE: September 30, 2015 – I was contacted by Scott of Beers & Ears via Twitter, and he explained that though Jenn isn’t an IPA fan, he actually is. He also pointed me to his recent review of BrewDog’s Punk IPA as an example of an IPA he’s enjoyed. Given this new information, I might have to re-evaluate how I interpret the opinions of the writers on Beers & Ears.

TouringPlans has a series of posts looking at this year’s festival, including one taking a look at this year’s Food & Wine Festival branded merchandise, one reviewing some of the new food items, and one giving some general updates about things like the Chase Lounge and the “Remy’s Ratatouille Hide and Squeak scavenger hunt”. I especially like Julie Mascardo’s description of the new Chocolate-Almond Truffle from The Chew’s “Next Eats” booth:

Essentially the chocolate truffle is a chocolate mousse made into a ball and then dipped into liquid nitrogen, which instantly freezes it. The frozen ball is then tapped with a small hammer to crack it open, and almond powder is sprinkled over the top and then it is coated with a whiskey-caramel sauce.

Yes, please.

Both WDW Magic and Disney Food Blog also have reviews and recommendations of items at this year’s festival, but I found the WDW Magic reviews lacked detailed descriptions of the food items, and I think my sense of taste differs slightly from those who write for DFB. That said, I’m including the links should your preferences differ from mine.

One new wrinkle I plan on trying this year is the Food and Wine Tracker app by Dave Kennedy of disneypodcast.net. I first heard about this app via EatingWDW and, though it seems fairly basic, I think I am going to give it a shot. (Of course, if easyWDW puts together a PDF version of its 2015 Food & Wine coverage, I’ll probably end up downloading that as well.)

Finally, if you want to get a flavor (pun kind of intended) of what this year’s Food & Wine festival looks like, there are a ton of photos over on DISboards.com. The gang from the DIS also put together this video walk through: (which seems like a great way to end this post)

Season of the Force Appears to be Replacing Star Wars Weekends at The Studios

UPDATE: Based on the comment from Kenny the Pirate (see below), I reached out to WDW News Today via Twitter to ask if there was any confirmation about this story (especially since the Disney “Star Wars Weekend” page mentions Summer of 2016.) I’ll include the response tweet below, and you can read the full interaction here. Personally, I have found Tom Corless and WDW News Today to be very reliable when it comes to “early” reporting of stories. Still, without official confirmation from Disney, I wrote the original article to say that it “appears” Star Wars Weekends would be replaced. In summary, though I think it would make logical sense for the event to go away as construction on Star Wars Land begins, and though I think WDW News Today has a solid track record on this kind of thing, I will let you make your own decision about what you think might happen.

In a move that I think most people saw coming, Disney’s new Season of the Force event appears to be replacing The Studios’ Star Wars Weekends in at least 2016. (WDW News Today was one of the first sites I saw reporting the news, though it was also (inadvertently?) posted on the Disney Annual Passholders page). Season of the Force will also occur earlier in the year than Star Wars Weekends used to, as it runs from January 8 through March 20, 2016. (As someone who plans on being down there in February for Princess Half-Marathon Weekend), I’m excited about the timing.)

Unfortunately, the above linked news reports give no indication that Season of the Force will feature the same interactions with Star Wars characters (and the celebrities who play them) that Star Wars Weekends used to. Instead, the reports only mention “special snacks”, “special merchandise”, and the previously mentioned new fireworks show as Season of the Force-only enhancements.

I'm afraid I'm really going to miss the character interactions from Star Wars Weekends
I’m afraid I’m really going to miss the character interactions from Star Wars Weekends

Disney’s Video Preview of Morimoto Asia

On the heels of the Morimoto Asia releasing its menu on its Facebook Page (and 1 day before it opens on September 30), Disney Parks has released a new video “preview” of the restaurant:

The video gives a decent look at the interior of the space, but does not provide a ton of insight into what the experience will be like (though it does put a lot of emphasis on this being the first time that Masaharu Morimoto will be doing pan-asian cuisine.) Based on the reviews of Chef Morimoto’s other restaurants, however, I think people expect good things.

Examining Disney Dining Scarcity as Evidenced by Third-Party ADR Sites

The recent closing of Disney Dining Buddy, and the interesting “Opening Soon” message on the former Dis Dining Agent has led people to talk about Disney’s response to the rather rapid rise of third party ADR services. (NOTE: As of this post, Disney Dining Scout appears to still be operating, and has said they “welcome any opportunity to speak to Disney” about their service.) Though a lot of the coverage on this issue has dealt with how “bad” such services are (for a variety reasons), I have been unable to find a good discussion about one of the primary, underlying issue: how Disney handles the scarcity in its available ADRs.

People *really* want to eat at Be Our Guest
People really want to eat at Be Our Guest

As anyone who has read The Unofficial Guide knows, it is pretty much a requirement that you be online, at 6am, exactly 180 days before you anticipated Be Our Guest dining date, if you want any real chance of getting a reservation. (Don’t worry, we’ll mention the onsite “whole trip” booking advantage later.) Though many restaurants will still have some availability 100, 60, or, possibly, 30 days out, Be Our Guest frequently fills up in a matter of minutes on the 180 day mark. This is a clear illustration of the extremely high demand for ADRs at this restaurant, and of Disney’s primary method of dealing this demand (a demand that clearly outstrips supply): distribution based on personal time investment.

Distribution based on personal time investment is basically saying that “those people who are willing to do thing X at time Y” are going to get a priority when it comes to distributing a scarce resource. In Disney’s case, this means being online at 6am, 180 days before your desired ADR date. Some view it as a “fair” system, since it has no real income or opportunity component (requiring you just that that you get up super early and be on a computer), but also provides a way for people to gain a small advantage by doing a little “something extra” (i.e., the previously mentioned getting up early.) In other words, it rewards people who are “invested” in their Disney vacations, but does not punish those who cannot afford to make more of a monetary investment toward them.

As you might expect, those who are well versed in Disney World planning usually like this personal time investment system, since knowledge of the system’s existence is such a high barrier to entry. (This “knowledge of the system” advantage was also one of the reasons people were upset with the removal of “Legacy” Fastpass, which significantly fewer guests used than the new Fastpass+ system.)

The third-party dining sites, however, fundamentally changed ADR distribution from being primarily based on personal time investment, to being primarily based on personal monetary investment. Now, instead of having a “fair” system where anyone could (in theory) book a reservation by getting up early, the reservations were based on who was willing to pay money to gain access to certain reservations. This distribution based on personal monetary investment is a valid way to distribute scarce resources (see, e.g., Uber’s surge pricing), but (thankfully?) Disney has not yet fully embraced it for ADRs. On the other hand, Disney has fully implemented such a distribution system on the room pricing side of the vacation (and has apparently investigated implementing it on the park admission side of things), so it’s not inconceivable that Disney could move to such a system to allocate ADRs. (Of course, to some degree, ADRs already have a flavor of monetary investment distribution because of the whole-trip booking advantages given to Disney’s onsite guests.)

Before Be Our Guest, it was a lot harder to eat at Cinderella's Royal Table
Before Be Our Guest, it was a lot harder to eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table

At this point, it seems likely that Disney will continue to provide some kind of advantage to people who are willing to make a little investment, whether in time or money, to their vacation (especially, those willing to stay onsite at Disney resorts.) Should Disney want to completely remove this advantage, however, it could move to ADR distribution via lottery. In that case, everyone who wants to eat at Be Our Guest on a given day would put in their request, and then Disney would randomly choose who, out of all the submitted requests, would get the reservations. Though some people may view this as the “fairest” alternative (and though a move to such lotteries for extremely high demand experiences has some precedent), I find it unlikely that Disney would ever make such a change.

A quick aside before concluding this piece: I would imagine that, in addition to the recebt issues people had with an ADR distribution system based on personal monetary investment, people also had an issue with it being third-party sites that were gaining the windfall from the ADR “fees.” That said, I believe that if Disney were to move to a purely monetary investment based system (again, think Uber surge pricing), people would have a very similar reaction.

In summary, the rise (and fall) of third-party Disney ADR sites shined an interesting light on the scarcity problem that Disney continually has to face. The reactions to this issue from the Disney fan community seem to indicate that the status quo of distribution based on personal time investment is the preferred approach of most Disney fans. How are we all going to react, however, if Disney decides that continuing to refrain from implementing a monetary distribution approach means they are (almost literally) leaving money on the table?

Getting an ADR has its rewards
Getting an ADR has its rewards

News from the Adventureland Frontier

Pirates of the Caribbean Sign
Pirates of the Caribbean Sign

As mentioned by WDW News Today on its Twitter feed (including a few preview images of the refurbished attraction), Pirates of the Caribbean has reopened at the Magic Kingdom. Here is how the Disney Parks blog describes the changes:

In addition to the restoration work and new paint inside the attraction, we added some enhanced special effects, including new cannons with water-based smoke and strobes for weather effects. There are also a handful of new scents to experience at different areas of the attraction. We also took the opportunity to enhance the Audio Animatronic figures in this fan-favorite attraction at Magic Kingdom Park. Each character was rebuilt and fitted with new costumes and now appear even more realistic and authentic, including Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa.

Though I couldn’t resit WDW News Today images, I think I’m going to skip the various video ride-throughs of the ride that I’m sure will pop up over the next few days. I will wait to see all the changes, first hand, on my next trip.

Tom Corless of WDW News Today also reports that fan-favorite quick service restaurant, Pecos Bill, will be getting a whole new, Mexican food based menu. The change will reportedly occur during a 3 day closure that starts today, September 28, and lasts through my birthday, September 30. Tom also gave his theory on what this could mean for the future Tortuga Tavern on Twitter:

Based on what I’ve seen over the past couple of days, I would encourage you to keep an eye on WDW News Today for future development on the restaurant changes in Adventureland (Yes, I know Peco Bill is technically in Frontierland, but I always enter from the Adventureland side.) Personally, I can’t wait to hear more news about the upcoming Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen

Pecos Bill
Pecos Bill

Your First Visit’s 2017 Walt Disney World Season Projections

For those of us who like to plan far, far in advance, Dave Shute of Your First Visit has posted his projections for Disney World’s 2017 pricing “seasons”. If you’ve been following Walt Disney World pricing for any length of time, you know that Disney World’s seasons don’t really parallel the traditional “spring, summer, fall, winter” calendar. Thankfully, Dave’s post gives us some early indications about when prices at Disney World might be at their highest and lowest.

This information might be especially interesting if there is a Mighty Men of Mouse Listener Vacation in October 2017. According to Dave’s analysis, the end of October (starting with October 15th) might end up having Deluxe Resort prices only 6% higher than the lowest prices of the year.

Check out the WDW News Today Twitter Feed if You Want One of the First Looks at the Pirates Refurb

Over at the WDW News Today Twitter Feed, someone (Tom Corless?) is giving an early look at the updates to Pirates of the Caribbean before it re-opens tomorrow (it’s in soft open now.) I’m sure there will be about 700 “reviews” of the changes in the next few days, but can you really wait that long?

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll find in the feed:

News and Lack of News about Star Wars at the Studios

A number of sites, including easyWDW and WDW News Today are reporting that the Jedi Training Academy will be closing for about 8 weeks on October 4th to revamp the show to tie in more with the Star Wars Rebels cartoon (admittedly, a really well done show.) For me, the biggest bummer is that Scout and Elyssa, Jr. will never be able to do this:

Meanwhile, the Disney Parks Blog released a a bunch of details about the upcoming Season of the Force event at Disneyland. The post contained a number of details for the Disneyland version of the park (including a Chewbacca meet-and-greet), but ended with this disappointing note:

[K]eep an eye on the Disney Parks Blog for dates and details on these new Star Wars experiences coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Kind of a bummer for people like me who are looking forward to the Disney World event (Though, probably not as much of a bummer as all the closings that will be taking place at Disneyland as part of the Star Wars construction.) I imagine that the Seasons of the Force event will start up once the Osborne Family Lights come down (since that would be an easy way to get people to go to The Studios.)

One of my favorite Star Wars action figures
One of my favorite Star Wars action figures

Early Reviews of Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar

As you may have heard on Twitter yesterday, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is now open at Downtown Disney (or “Disney Springs” if you’re reading this after September 29, 2015.) As is usually the case when a new place to grab food or drink opens, there have been a ton of new reviews posted.

The most thorough review of the bar, so far, comes courtesy of Dani (last name withheld) at TouringPlans. Her review features a good mix of photos, a description of the arrival experience (texting people that they can return is so much nicer than a pager-based system), and a nice rundown of the food and drinks she tried:

The calamari flatbread [$14.99] is a perfect choice for calamari fans. The harissa spread gives a nice Mediterranean flavor. This is a great option to share. The Air Pirate’s Pretzels ($8.99) were also a surprise hit. The caraway seeds add depth to the flavor, the beer cheese is way-too-good , though the mustard may be too strong for some palates.

(For people liked me who have no idea what “harissa” is, it’s “a Tunisian hot chili pepper paste the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and spices and herbs”.)

Josh from easyWDW also had an excellent write-up on the bar, that was full of his usual snark:

Lisa ordered the $10.25 Reggie’s Revenge: Florida Cane ‘Orlando Orange’ Vodka, Midori Melon Liqueur, White Cranberry Juice, and fresh Lime Juice. Ordinarily, you want to avoid just about anything originating in Florida, perhaps with the exception of this week’s episode of Cops, but Florida Cane does a good job with their vodkas. (emphasis added)

As you would expect from an easyWDW review, the article is full of good pictures (including some artsy titled ones) and good, practical advice about what you might want to actually order. (I admit I was pleased that he also seemed to enjoy the calamari flatbread, since I have been intrigued by that option since the menu was first posted. Also, his running joke about the name of the bar is fantastic.)

If you’re looking for more photos from the bar, then Denise at MouseSteps has a post with about a 100 of them. WDW Magic has also nice, concise, review, if you still want more coverage.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2015 featuring Josh Gonzalez

Tip of the Hat Selfie from Josh
Tip of the Hat Selfie from Josh

The reviews of this year’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are starting to pop up. Though we’ll get to those in a minute, I was more interested in hearing what friend of the site, recent Not So Scary party attendee, and all around class actJosh Gonzalez, had to say about the party. Thankfully, Josh was happy to oblige:

I attended my first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party this past Sunday night and I had an amazing time.  I saw the Boo to You Parade twice and I was very impressed with all of the performers and I really liked the parade music.  My favorites include the grave diggers and ballroom dancers from the Haunted Mansion and the portion that had characters from Splash Mountain and the Country Bears Jamboree.  I was also very impressed by Hallowishes.  I caught the very last Hocus Pocus Villains stage show at midnight and I was thoroughly entertained.  It was funny, creative, and included lots of very talented performers.  The villains in the show were a lot more impressive than the standard villains you see in parades and meet and greets.  I was thrilled to see Oogie Boogie with an articulated face that included a moving mouth and moving eyes.
I also really liked the overall atmosphere of the party, especially considering that it was only late September.  If you plan on going to a Halloween party, I highly recommend you wear a costume!  One of the real highlights of the night was seeing all of the different costumes that everyone was wearing.  I think the people who were wearing costumes were definitely having more fun than those who were not.  One last bit of advice: if you are planning on trick or treating, ask around about which locations are giving out the most candy and the best type of candy.  Some of the locations were only giving out 2 or 3 pieces of candy per person, while others were giving out 2 large handfuls of candy per person.

As you might expect, Josh practices what he preaches and put together amazing Hipster Minnie and Mickey costumes with his lovely wife, Carye:

Carye & Josh as Hipster Minnie and Mickey (Photo Courtesy of Josh)
Carye & Josh as Hipster Minnie and Mickey (Photo Courtesy of Josh)

For more of Josh’s photos from the party, check out Josh’s 2015 Mickey’s Not So Scary Google Photos Album. (which includes photos of the dancers and Splash Mountain characters he described in his recap.)

If you want even more information and reviews on this year’s party, this review by Dave at YourFirstVisit.net is probably the best place to start. He provides a nice level of detail about the party, as well as gives some general touring tips and information about some of the schedule changes they made to this year’s show. On the audio side of things, the gang from DIS Unplugged provides a pretty good recap of their experiences at the party in their most recent episode.

In a similar vein, Denise over at Mouse Steps also has some good tips on how to make the most of your visit to the party. My favorites from her list are:

  • Trick or Treating is for Everyone – Adults and children can trick-or-treat! Make sure to pick up a bag when entering the park. (And as Josh said, make sure you ask to see where they are giving out the best candy.)

and

  • Meet “Talking Mickey” in his Halloween costume at Town Square Theater

Her tips related to shows and parades (view the latest show and parade, watch the parade from Frontierland, etc..) are also good advice for whenever you are visiting the Magic Kingdom (whether there is a hard ticket party or not.) You can also check out Denise’s photo / video post, that includes over a 130 photos from the 2 nights that she attended if you want to see even more images from the party.

Lastly, if you’re a TouringPlans subscriber, you can find touring plans for the party on their Miscellaneous touring plans page (including plans for family’s with small children and for adults).

Details about the DVC Expansion at Wilderness Lodge

Earlier today, Disney released a press release that goes into some of the details about the Wilderness Lodge DVC expansion. As someone who loves staying at the Wilderness Lodge (John & Elyssa’s Favorites article preview?), I have been interested in seeing how Disney positioned this expansion.

Based on the press release, it appears that Disney is going to create an entirely new condo association for this expansion. My immediate reaction to that news was “shoot, that means they might not extend the contracts for the original Wilderness Lodge villas” (which are currently set to expire in 2042.) This post from DVC News, however, suggests some other potential issues:

  • Points Charts could be different;
  • Annual Dues could be different; and
  • The 11-month “home resort” booking window might not be good for the original Wilderness Lodge Villas if you buy a contract for the “new” ones.

At this point, that is a lot of speculation (and things with Disney are always subject to change), but even the possibility of those things happening is making me hesitate about buying an original Wilderness Lodge contract on the DVC resale market in an effort to take advantage of the new construction. With so much in flux, I think I’m going to spend a little more time observing before I make any moves.

Disney World October, December, and January Park Hours Updates from easyWDW

Josh at easyWDW has posted updates to Disney World’s operating schedule for October, December, and January. The December update is especially important since it includes a number of new Extra Magic Hour mornings around Christmas.

As a general note, I always check easyWDW for schedule updates before any trip. I know that I could pull the information directly from Disney but Josh’s layout and information is way more convenient. (I even prefer it to using MyDisney Experience to look for future park hours.)

Welcome to Rope Drop [dot] Net

It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you today as we proudly present: Rope Drop [dot] net.

Getting pumped for the site launch
Getting pumped for the site launch

This site is something that Elyssa and I first started thinking about in 2014, before life got in the way. Though I have since started writing for TouringPlans, and though I have continued to post various Disney-related links on my personal website under the Disney category, the idea of creating a website to capture all of Elyssa’s and my Disney-related thoughts kept popping back up. During the drive back from one of our recent Disney trips, we decided it was time to get back to that idea.

There is no shortage of Disney-centric websites to follow. Some, like TouringPlans and easyWDW, provide high quality information that greatly helps people plan their Walt Disney World vacations, while others try to keep their super fan readers up to date with the latest Disney news and rumors. Unfortunately, these sites don’t always play nicely with one another. Sites may re-write each other’s articles, or take information without giving credit. Our goal is push back against that. Though we will, of course, post our own opinions and commentary, we also want to point you to the best of what is available at the other sites in the Disney fandom community. We won’t link to every bit of news, every rumor, or every walk-through video, but we’ll hopefully link to ones that you’ll find interesting (or, perhaps, important?).

As part of our efforts to shed light on some of great resources in the Disney fandom community, one of our recurring features on the site will be our Rope Drop [dot] Net Interviews. The goal of these interviews is to give you insight on and from the people who are behind some of the high quality Disney information that you find online. The first interview in our series is with one of the fabulous co-hosts of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, Dutch Lombrowski, and is available today.

On the above mentioned opinion front, Elyssa and I will have the John and Elyssa’s Favorites series. As you have probably guessed, this series will be our opportunity to play the “rankings game” with various categories of Disney topics, as well as our chance to dive deeper into some of our individual favorite items. The first entry in this series, Favorite Breakfast at Disney World, is also Favorite Breakfast at Disney World. (Also available today: Elyssa’s Definitive WDW Land Rankings, in response to Mighty Men of Mouse Ep. 226.)

Over the past couple of years, Elyssa and I have made some great friends as a result of our love for Disney. When we were creating this site, we wanted to make something that these friends of ours would enjoy reading. We hope we succeeded in that goal.

All you need is faith and trust... and a little bit of pixie dust!
All you need is faith and trust… and a little bit of pixie dust!

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Dutch Lombrowski

One of the things Elyssa and I want to emphasize with this site is the great Disney fandom community that we feel fortunate to be a part of. This Interview Series is part of that effort.

A Dutch selfie in his natural environment: The Cali Grill
A Dutch selfie in his natural environment: The Cali Grill

Dutch Lombrowski is one of the co-hosts of the award winning Mighty Men of Mouse podcast. Fans of that podcast know him for his humor, analytical thinking, and love of the L’Artisan des Glaces “Croque Glacé” brioche ice cream sandwich. Elyssa and I know him as a friend, and one of the people we are most looking forward to sharing a drink at Trader Sam’s with some day. In other words, he is the perfect person for the first entry in the Rope Drop [dot] net interview series.

NOTE: My questions are in bold, and Dutch’s responses follow. The questions have been cut down from what I originally asked and responses have been lightly edited to make the interview easier to read, but all efforts have been made to preserve their original meaning and substance. All links were added by me.

On Mighty Men of Mouse, you talk about going to Disney World when you were younger. What are some of your earliest memories from Disney World?

My family’s first trip to Disney World was in August 1987 when I was five.  My dad had just been hired for a new job and my parents made the decision to head down before his start date.  We stayed at either a Quality Inn or Comfort Inn.  I can’t remember and I’ve even tried to find the hotel on Google, but I’ve come up empty so far.  The hotel was no great shakes either way, but it did have an okay arcade.

I don’t remember much about the trip.  I have a dim memory of eating in Cinderella’s Castle on my parents’ anniversary.  It was King Stefon’s Banquet Hall then.  There’s a foggy recollection of eating at Liberty Tree Tavern and watching the Main Street Electrical Parade.  My strongest memory is from our last day.  We were sitting at the little table in our hotel room and my mom was trying to hide her tears behind oversized sunglasses.  I was so happy when she said, “I think we’re going to come back.”

After that we went every year through the early nineties. From then on and through college, it was two, three or even four times a year.  We stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort a few times after it opened.  When we received a phone offer to stay at the Beach Club the year it opened, we gave it a try.  From then on, it the was the Yacht or Beach every trip.

Have your trips always had such a strong family component?

A Dutch family selfie
A Dutch family selfie

Trips have always been about family.  I took a four year layoff from Disney between 2006 and 2010. That timeframe pretty much accounts for my graduation from law school, getting married, establishing my career and the birth of my daughter.  Millie joining our little family is the spark that reignited my Disney passion.

I never took a guy weekend or trip like that down.  That’s not because I haven’t desperately desired to.  Sometimes the real world can get in the way of our hobby.

The one time I was down there with a friend was a little bit of serendipity.  When I was 13 or so, I bumped into my best friend from elementary school and junior high.  I was in the big store on Hollywood Boulevard when I saw his grandma.  After I picked my jaw up off the floor, she told me their whole family was waiting for a table to 50’s Prime Time.  I snuck over there and sat down next to Chris on the couch in the waiting area.  He noticed me after 15 long seconds.  We all ate lunch and then I got to spend the rest of the day with him.  The highlight of the day was heading over to Magic Kingdom during a huge afternoon storm and riding Dreamflight six or seven times in a row.  That will probably go down as one of the favorite days of my life.

One of the things that really makes Mighty Men of Mouse stand out is the analytical approach that you guys take to things. How did you start looking at Disney World in this way?

My first few jobs were working on political campaigns and in state government.  At a very young age, I learned to take hard looks at things and figure out what worked and why.  From there, my biggest epiphany came 2003 with the release of Moneyball by Michael LewisMoneyball is about how a small market baseball team was able to succeed on limited resources. At its heart, Moneyball is about the process of valuing things and exploiting market inefficiencies.

It was an easy transition to bring these principles to discussions about our hobby because that’s the way we think about the world.  It makes for fun discussions too.  It’s easy to just say that something isn’t worth doing because of what Disney charges.  It’s much more rewarding and fun to figure out what breakfast at Be Our Guest is actually worth.

Someone comes to you and says “I’m taking a trip to Walt Disney World next year. I’ve got the Unofficial Guide and I’ve started going through it. Anything else I should know?” What do you tell her?

Be at the turnstiles 45 minutes before the park opens and see the most popular stuff right away. If she seems open to the advice, a couple restaurant suggestions tailored to her family situation might be helpful too.

As people who love the parks, we can sometimes really overwhelm “normies” with information and that clutter doesn’t serve them well. Most people care about avoiding lines and seeing “the big stuff.” Getting to the parks early does 95% of the work. TouringPlans is a great service and optimizes at the edges, but it won’t make your day easy if you show up at 2pm.

If the person I’m giving advice is really Type A, I’d also point her to easyWDW. If there’s a review of her hotel or a restaurant she’s seeing, I’d her send the link to those reviews.

Wrap-up

First, a huge thank you to Dutch for being our first interview subject. When I thought about doing this, I was kind of nervous if (1) anyone would say yes and (2) if I would be able to ask good enough questions to let my subjects shine. Thankfully, Dutch’s answers were (unsurprisingly) stellar from the get-go, regardless of the quality of my questions.

If you want to hear more from Dutch (and why wouldn’t you?), you can listen to him on the Mighty Men of Mouse and Earvengers podcasts. You can also follow him on Twitter at @dutchlombrowski.

John and Elyssa’s Favorites – Breakfast at Walt Disney World

This is the first post in the Rope Drop [dot] Net John & Elyssa’s Favorites series. As you can probably guess, this series is our take on the always popular “rankings” game.

Elyssa and Tigger Selfie
Elyssa and Tigger Selfie

For the first entry in this series, we have put together our favorite places to have breakfast at Disney World. We based the rankings mainly on “in restaurant” factors (such as quality of food, and restaurant theming and ambiance), but external factors (such as location of the restaurant) did play some role in our rankings. Our rankings include all Disney World table service restaurants where we have ever enjoyed breakfast (and one “quick service” place that you can probably guess).

Favorite Breakfast Restaurants at Disney World

 11. Captain’s Grille: Every so often, you might hear about the “improvements” at the Captain’s Grille. I guess I understand that, but the restaurant still comes in the bottom of our favorites list. The major reason for its position is the generic theming and forgettable meals. If you’re staying at the Yacht or Beach Clubs, it’s not the worst option, but it’s nothing particularly special.

10, Cape May Cafe: This ranking may surprise someone people , who view it as a cheaper breakfast buffet that features characters like Minnie, Goofy, and Donald in their swim gear. For Elyssa and I, however, we cannot handle how loud the restaurant is. The buffet is fine, but we would rather enjoy our breakfast at one of the other breakfast buffets higher on the list.

Star Wars Breakfast at Sci-Fi Dine-In
Star Wars Breakfast at Sci-Fi Dine-In

9. Sci-Fi Dine-In: Though the Sci-Fi Dine-In recently announced it would offer breakfast starting in November, Elyssa and I had breakfast there during a previous Star Wars weekend. Much like the newly announced breakfast, the meal we had consisted of pastries, an appetizer, an entrée, and a beverage. Though we enjoyed the presence of Star Wars characters, we found the food underwhelming, the restaurant too dark, and the “cars” that you dine in rather small and uncomfortable. Since it is actually in The Studios, it jumps ahead of the out of park options mentioned above, but not by a large margin.

8. Trattoria al Forno: With Trattoria al Forno, we enter the section of the list that features restaurants that we consider going to on just about each trip. Though the theming is a bit bland, Trattoria al Forno’s food is top notch (I have enjoyed both the waffle and the apple-cinnamon pancakes). Its location near Epcot’s International Gateway also makes this a great way to start a late morning visit to World Showcase.

7. ‘Ohana: ‘Ohana delivers some of the best character interactions we have had at a character meal. Unfortunately, some of the food delivered was not quite as good as that at other locations (for example, we found the bacon to be soggy instead of crisp and the biscuits kind of disappointing). That said, the baskets of welcome bread were delicious (and they’ll give you more if you ask.)

Elyssa is a Princess at Cinderella's Royal Table
Elyssa is a Princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table

6. Cinderella’s Royal Table: You might expect that a restaurant with pretty good food, inside of Cinderella’s castle, would rank higher on the list, but extremely high cost and the clear pressure that they put on you to finish quickly knock it down our rankings. The interactions with the Disney Princesses, however, are top notch.

5. Be Our Guest: The one “quick service” location in our rankings (I add the quotation marks since the meal is actually delivered to your table after you order at an interactive kiosk), Be Our Guest, combines the excellent theming of Beast’s Castle with the ability to be done with breakfast and roaming the Magic Kingdom thirty-plus minutes before park opening. The mildly-high cost considering the quality and amount of the food you receive is all that keeps Be Our Guest from being ranked even higher.

4. 1900 Park Fare: Located in the Grand Floridian, 1900 Park Fare offers a good quality breakfast buffet and unique character meet-and-greet opportunities, for a lower price than a similar experience actually inside a one of the theme parks. Enjoy a quality breakfast here and then ride the monorail one stop to the Magic Kingdom.

3. Whispering Canyon Cafe: It probably won’t surprise anyone to see one of Elyssa’s and my overall favorite restaurants on this list. Whether you’re having an all-you-care-to-enjoy breakfast skillet, or a full-sized Mickey-waffle (though listed as “Jeffro Bodeen’s Belgian Waffle”, it’s a giant, Mickey-shaped waffle), you’re going to end up with a high-quality meal featuring all the Cast Member interaction that makes Whispering Canyon Cafe such a special place to eat. As an added bonus, you’re just a boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom when you’re done.

2. Crystal Palace: “Poof’s Puffed (Not Stuffed) French Toast.” Need I say more? Seriously, though, Crystal Palace features the gang from Winnie the Pooh and a top-notch breakfast buffet (including an omelet station) inside the Magic Kingdom. It would take some place really, really special to top that….

So onto our favorite spot for “brekkies” as Elyssa likes to say:

1. Tusker House: Tusker House is Disney at its best. Impeccable theming, magical character interactions, and a buffet that serves a bunch of tasty breakfast food. Some of Elyssa’s and my best days have started off with breakfast at Tusker House, and I would imagine that we’ll try to visit it during our Disney trips for years to come. Last but not least, its location near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris provides a great benefit now (see the animals first), and might provide even more of a benefit when an entrance to Avatarland opens nearby as well.

Meeting Mickey at Tusker HouseMeeting Mickey at Tusker House

There you have it: our favorite breakfast joints at the World. What did we miss? Has anyone tried the new character breakfast at the Four Seasons?

Elyssa’s Definitive WDW Land Rankings

Sometimes, your heroes are wrong. In Episode 226 of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, our friends Dutch, Kip, and Russ attempted to rank the various lands at Walt Disney World. They did pretty well – see their rankings here: Russ’sKip’s, Dutch’s – but they also got some things wrong. Put on some potholders, because here are my takes/rankings.

Celebrate the Magic
Celebrate the Magic

1. Fantasyland. I knew my top 3 lands without a doubt, but determining the order among the 3 was tough. Ultimately, the first place position came down to the number of offerings. The magic I felt flying on Peter Pan as a child is still present in Fantasyland. The expansion has only made it more amazing. There is just so much to take in and enjoy in Fantasyland; the fact that Kip can say Mexico is better with a straight face proves that he is a cyborg.

2. Main Street, USA. I, for one, CAN feed my family on nostalgia. (And corndog nuggets). A trip to WDW does not feel complete for me without going to the Magic Kingdom, even if it’s just for a brief walk up and down Main Street. Seeing Town Square the first time each trip still brings tears to my eyes. This is my favorite place to watch parades. Also, I like shopping and Meet & Greets (more about that below).

3. Adventureland. Jungle Cruise, people. Don’t take it for granite, it’s my favorite. I really like the Swiss Family Treehouse too, which is often overlooked. Finally, it’s like I have ESPN or something and I believe that Skipper’s Cantina will serve booze and will be my new favorite restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. That was not a typo. You better believe there will be Mean Girls references on this site.

4. Africa. The perfection of this theming has been discussed thoroughly, so I’ll just preface some other rankings by taking this opportunity to point out that I really love animals.

5. Echo Lake. This is probably where takes start to get a bit warm. I still love Hollywood Studios. Quite a bit. Echo Lake and Pixar Place are in the order they are in because, at the moment of writing, I like Star Tours a little more than Toy Story Midway Mania. Also, Echo Lake is not just about Star Tours. I think Jedi Training Academy is one of the most adorable things in the universe and my love for Harrison Ford obviously extends to Indiana Jones. Last but not least, I am not ashamed to admit I sang my heart out at the Frozen Sing Along and loved it.

6. Pixar Place. Having Pixar Place so high when it’s basically just one ride, a coffee cart, and some Meet & Greets is probably crazy. But Toy Story Midway Mania is so so so fun.

7. Future World. East and West have been lumped together because I can’t remember the difference and they would have been right next to each other anyway. Soarin’ is my favorite part of Future World, so whichever has Soarin’ is 7(a) and the other is 7(b).

8. Tomorrowland. I agree that the theming could be better, but the attractions are still great, especially Buzz Lightyear. One thing that killed me the whole MMOM episode was that none of you mentioned Meet & Greets. These are a crucial part of my WDW experience, and Tomorrowland has one of the most unique. #IncrediblesSuperDanceParty

9. Liberty Square. Rounding out my top ten are the other two Magic Kingdom lands. It is by far my favorite park and I am quite content to just walk around without even experiencing any attractions. Liberty Square edges out Frontierland because I like the stocks.

10. Frontierland. Splash Mountain is scary.

11. Asia. I don’t even ride Expedition Everest because it’s scarier that Splash Mountain, but there are tigers in Asia. Enough said.

12. Sunset Boulevard. I hold John’s bag when he rides Tower of Terror and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. While I hold his bag, I delight in the Citizens of Hollywood Cast Members surprising and entertaining while dressed in their Old Hollywood garb. I also can’t ignore the Beauty and the Beast show, because Belle was my favorite Disney princess when I was little. She’s second to Leia now.

13. Hollywood Boulevard. I mentioned that I like shopping right? I also like movies and the Great Movie Ride will always have a spot in my heart.

Okay, be careful, because the takes are about to get HOT.

14. Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Hey MMOM fellas, your ranking of Rafiki’s Planet Watch was NOT COOL. There are animals, some of them BABIES, and you can PET them. YOU CAN PET THE ANIMALS. It’s also educational.

Rafiki's Planet Watch petting zoo
Rafiki’s Planet Watch petting zoo

15. Animation Courtyard. This would have been in my top ten before they closed the Animation Academy and the character Meet & Greets there. The only reason it’s as high as it is now is because One Man’s Dream is still hanging on by a finger. It will break my heart if this does not come back somewhere. I like museums almost as much as I like theme parks, so this is the best of both worlds for me.

16. Mexico Pavilion. What the MMOM said. This pavilion is just phenomenally done. You can also meet Donald, in a sombrero. (For the record, Donald’s in the sombrero.  I guess you could be too, if you wanted.)

17. Italy Pavillon. After Mexico, I ranked the Epcot countries based primarily on food, shopping, and Meet & Greets. Italy has my favorite food. I also think the theming at the lake edge is done better in Italy than it is some of the other pavilions.

Beers of unusual size
Beers of unusual size

18. Germany Pavillon. I like Biergarten for the experience. And the beer. I like beer. And caramel. And animals. You know who else likes animals? Snow White. Germany is the best place for you to meet Snow White outside of a meal. She gets swarmed at Town Square.

19. Norway Pavillon. Uh hello? Almost all the princesses! And puffins! Awesome!

20. France Pavillon. I think we all recognize by now that L’Artisan des Glaces does really, really good work. France also has good lakeside theming, Aurora, and Belle in her adorable peasant dress.

21. United Kingdom Pavillon. I like pub atmospheres. In terms of Meet & Greets, you’ve got Tigger & Pooh, Alice, and Mary Poppins. They also sell Her Universe merchandise in the UK Pavillon which is awesome. (Instead of Patreon sponsoring, you guys can just buy me Alex & Ani bracelets and things from Her Universe).

22. Morocco Pavilion. Very well themed. You can meet Aladdin and Jasmine.

23. China Pavillon. This would be the lowest ranked country for me except for the fact that the China pavilion is the only place you can meet Mulan outside of a  meal. Mulan is a badass.

China at night
China at night

24. Discovery Island. There are several Wilderness Explorer Badges to be earned on Discovery Island. The Tree of Life needs to be looked at up close. And you can meet Pocahontas, and several other characters (like Dug).

25. DinoLand, USA. These rides are my speed. And the boneyard is quite fun. Even for “grownups.”

Boneyard slide!
Boneyard slide!

26. Streets of America. I think the Streets of America are pretty meh. I obviously love the Osborne Lights, and that puts this land above the next three, but the lights are all that Streets of America really has for me. Lights, Motor, Action is just hot and loud, and I’ve never really been a Muppets fan outside of Muppet Babies.

27. Japan Pavillon. Shopping! With swords! And pearls! I also like the Koi.

28. America Pavillon. Full disclosure: I’ve seen the movie thing like once. I’m also a bit of a contrarian. But really, the food is terrible, and our country has a lot more interesting time periods than the colonial days.

29. Canada Pavillon. Oh Canada. You’re a very nice hat. And Buffalo Plaid is nice. Sorry for ranking you so low, I’m sure you’ll understand.

30. Oasis. I thought about putting the Oasis above America because animals, but that would have just been mean.

31. Africa Outpost. I mean, drums are cool.

Fenway wants to bang on the drums all day
Fenway wants to bang on the drums all day

Disney to live stream Boo to You Parade and HalloWishes Fireworks Tonight

Disney has announced that it will be live streaming the Boo to You Parade and HalloWishes fireworks from tonight’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Even thought you can find various videos of these events online, I always think it’s kind of special to see it when Disney broadcasts something live.

If you’re on non-computer device that has Youtube access (i.e., an Xbox 360 or Roku), you can usually search for the “Disney Parks Live” channel to find the video. It will normally have a “Stream Coming Soon” placeholder about 20 minutes or so before an event is supposed to take place (so, approximately 8:00PM Eastern for this one.)

Disney’s Official Video on the Polynesian Village Resort

I understand it’s a marketing video, but sometimes these type of videos just make me smile:

Also, can you honestly tell me you are a Disney fan but that have absolutely no interest in ever staying at the Poly? Come on.

(If you want more Polynesian Village coverage, Josh at easyWDW just posted a nice little photo report of the resort, including a write up on Trader Sam’s Grotto, and, if you want more marketing videos, check out this video about the “fall decor” at the Magic Kingdom)

Construction on Star Wars Land at The Studios to Start in 2016

Daniel Miller reported in the Los Angeles Times that Disney COO Tom Staggs recently said that Disney will break ground on the new Star Wars Lands in 2016. This seems to make sense with the recent announcement that this will be the last year of the Osborne lights at The Studios.

Personally, I think the only thing surprising about this announcement is that construction on Star Wars Land is starting so soon. I figured it would be 2017 or 2018 before they “started pushing dirt around” (as Mighty Men of Mouse host Dutch Lombrowski likes to say.)

The Last Year of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Late last week, Disney announced that this year would be the last year of the Osborne lights at The Studios. I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that I’m majorly bummed out by this announcement (even if I expected it for the past couple of years.) When Elyssa and I have taken Disney World trips during the holidays, we would stop by the Osborne lights 2 or 3 times (maybe more). This year, we’ll be running through them as part of Wine & Dine half-marathon weekend. It is going to be pretty sad to see them go.

In the end, I understand the Osborne lights were a casualty of the new construction (and, yes, I’ve heard the rumors related to dealing with the family, how they might simply be re-branded to work with ABC’s christmas lights television show, etc…), but that doesn’t make their departure any less hard. I hope that Disney does a similar kind of action in a year or two (location TBD), but I am not going to hold my breath.

An old cellphone picture of the Osborne Lights from a couple of years ago
An old cellphone picture of the Osborne Lights from a couple of years ago

Rumors that Star Wars Weekends are Going Away

Boba, Darth, and Elyssa
Boba, Darth, and Elyssa

WDW News Today published a story about the rumor that we’ve seen the last of Star Wars Weekends at The Studios. I don’t find this really surprising with the large amounts of construction coming to the studios, as well as the new Season of the Force event that’s scheduled for early next year. I would assume that some of the events that used to be a part of Star Wars Weekends will be moved to the new Season of the Force event.

What does surprise me, though, is the additional rumor that Disney is going to stop dressing up traditional “Disney” characters (Mickey Mouse, Goofy, etc…) in Star Wars gear. Personally, I think using the Disney characters as a gateway into the larger Star Wars universe is a great way to get younger people interested in Star Wars. I really hope this rumor is false (and, if I had to bet on it, I would bet that it is. I mean, it’s tough to say that Disney is trying to go for a “more serious tone” with the brand when they just put out an ad for dancing wookies).

John and Mickey use the Force
John and Mickey use the Force
Elyssa as Minnie and Minnie as Leia
Elyssa as Minnie and Minnie as Leia