Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Brian Perkins

Podcasts were my gateway into online Disney fandom. The influx of quality new shows over the past couple of years, however, has has made the space hard for even me to keep up with. Thankfully, Brian Perkins, along with James Francis, created the Disney Podcast Awards to help recognize excellence in Disney podcasting, and to provide potential podcast listeners with a place to find new shows.

Brian and his Family in Norway (Pavilion)
Brian and his Family in Norway (Pavilion)

I recently reached out to Brian to do an interview for the site about Disney podcasts, and he graciously accepted. (As always, my questions are bolded and Brian’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)

How did you first get into listening to Disney podcasts?

I think I first got into Disney podcasts back in 2013 when I was at a job where I was commuting a lot, up to 16 hours a week, and I had been listening to audio books.  My family had a Disney Vacation scheduled and I started to do some searching on the internet about what had been changed since the last time I was there.  I began to notice the large internet community that was out there for Walt Disney World fans, but the blogs and message boards weren’t really working for me.  So, I decided to try out podcasts for the first time.  I hadn’t listened to any podcasts before at all, and I had a Windows phone at the time, so I had a limited availability to what was out there.  The big ones were there though.  I am pretty sure that WDW Radio was the first show I ever had the pleasure to listen to.  With all of that travel time I had to make use of, I quickly started filling up my feed with others that I could find.  I got onto some other shows pretty early into their existence, and it was great to watch them develop.  Then I started to find some podcast catching apps and found more and more shows.

What are some of the shows that you got in on the “ground floor” with (so to speak)? Have you noticed any difference in the way new shows debut now as opposed to back in 2013?

A couple of the shows that were just coming out as I started listening were the WDW Happy Place podcast and the Resortloop.com podcast.  I connected with those shows and still listen to them constantly.  There were some other shows that I picked up from their first show and followed along as they developed, but there really have been so many of those lately that it wouldn’t be fair to name just a few.  One thing I have noticed lately is that there seems to be more shows starting from people who see it as a business opportunity.  I think you can just feel it when someone has an angle.  They are pushing merchandise and a bunch of links or commercials.  I am more of a fan of shows that are done by people who are just fans and want to connect with other fans.  Don’t get me wrong, I know it can’t be cheap to get the podcasting equipment and there are internet fees and things involved, but if it feels like you are trying too hard to make money off of your show, you probably lost me.  Shows by travel agents are fine, get your name out there, I am good with that.  But, make them feel natural.

In 2014, you launched the Disney Podcast Awards. What motivated you to start something like that?

'Ohana means Family
‘Ohana means Family

Towards the end of 2013 I had tried to do a few little awards on twitter, but I didn’t have a whole lot of followers to my account yet and they really didn’t go anywhere.  Then in the spring of 2014 I heard about the podcast awards, the big ones that encompass all of the podcasts that are out there on all subjects.  I got to thinking that there really needed to be something specifically for the Disney podcasts, because there were so many great shows out there that didn’t crack the list for travel podcasts in the big awards.  I still didn’t really have a plan on how I was going to make it happen, but luckily I got some help when James, who goes by @travel2disneyme, contacted me on twitter and asked if I had thought about doing awards and if we wanted to work together to get them going.  So, after a few emails back and forth about what the categories were going to be, we launched surveys to people we knew listened to podcasts and asked them to be our panel for selecting nominees.  We tried to make several categories to get as much recognition for different shows as possible.  They seemed to be received well, and we did it again this year and got some more responses.  Its really just meant to be a fun thing for some shows to get bragging rights and for all other shows to get some more exposure.  Even my list of shows, which I think is pretty comprehensive, gets some added to it when we go through the process.

What changes did you notice between the 2014 and 2015 awards?

I think I definitely noticed some changes in the awards from our first year to this year.  In 2014, there was definitely some more representation from the longer running, more established, podcasts.  This year’s awards had a larger number of unique nominees, and winners.  I think the reasoning for this is kind of two fold.  One reason is definitely that the quality of the newer shows just keeps getting better and with them gaining some more exposure and traction in the online Disney communities, they were getting more votes.  The other reason for this type of increase I think has to do with the participants of the awards process.  We had more members on our panel this year and they are the more of the social media participatory type people.  These type of people, I feel, tend to favor the newer shows and have their favorites that fit what they look for in a podcast.  I have noticed that there does seem to be a shifting landscape of sorts in the Disney podcasts.  Fans are looking for specific types of shows that talk about what they are interested in.  For instance, I listen to the informational shows to make sure I know what’s going on, and some of them present it better than others.  But I look forward to my favorite shows that don’t just report what is going on, they give a perspective on what it means that lines up with what is important to me.  What’s important to me though, may not be important to someone else.  So, they are going to want to listen to some other type of show.  The good news is, that other show is out there, they will just need to find it.

How do you see Disney podcasts continuing to evolve? Are there any areas or Disney-related topics that you think aren’t currently being covered by the existing shows?

I think the era of Disney podcasts that just report the news is coming to an end.  I have noticed more and more shows that bring a focus to a particular area, or look at it through a specific lens.  The Disney Hipsters were some of the forerunners in this movement with their views and then Radio Harambe launching with their focus on Disney’s Animal Kingdom pushed things along even more.  There are plenty of areas out there to be targeted.  There are shows out there already focusing on families, or bringing an adult view, and shows that bring their regionalized views to the forefront.  I am predicting that those trends will continue, although there will still be a need for news shows.  The shows that help people find someone who thinks like them feel like they are at the park, and/or help them plan their next trip are the shows that I see being successful in the future.  Some of the bigger named shows are starting to step back a little bit, and this will allow more room for someone to come in with the next great idea, or one of the existing shows to take over the lead.  I am looking forward to see what type of show could be next.  Until then, I will keep my earbuds in and searching my Stitcher feed for anything new.

Wrap Up

A huge thank you to Brian for sharing his insights on Disney podcasts. I always think it’s beneficial to get opinions about a particular area from someone who is an expert in that area (and Brian clearly fits that description.) If you want to hear more from Brian, you can find him on Twitter @WDWPodReview and on the Disney Podcast Awards site.

On a related note, I also wanted to do something to help recognize all the great Disney podcasts out there. So, contemporaneously with this interview, I am launching the Rope Drop [dot] Net Disney Podcast Directory. I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks putting together a list of Disney podcasts (including getting input from Rope Drop [dot] Net readers on what shows I’m missing) and have now added a Disney Podcasts link to the top bar of this website to allow easy access to it. Long term, I have some additional plans for how this directory might evolve, but this first iteration is designed to make sure people are aware of wide range of Disney-related shows available to them. I’d encourage everyone reading this to take a look at the directory, pick a show you’ve never listened to, and give it a shot. Who knows, it might end up being one of your new favorites.

Disney World Schedule Changes for November, December (2015), and February (2016) at easyWDW

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: Josh at easyWDW is almost always one of the first people to post information about Disney World Schedule changes.

Here are his updates for:

Personally, I’m most excited to see some hours extended for Princess Half-Marathon Weekend.

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

Just after dusk at Epcot
Just after dusk at Epcot

It’s another week, and it’s another round of News Nuggets. As with last week, I’m including a “stock” image from Disney World until Elyssa and I can build up our catalog of corndog nugget imagery. (Trust me, she’s looking forward to that part of our trip.)

  • New Minnie “Seasonal Dining” Experience at Hollywood & Wine It makes sense to add some more character dining to The Studios, and Hollywood & Vine is the logical choice for where to put it (especially since its the go-to spot for various “special” character dining events.) The addition of this experience as “year long”, however, seems to be another indication of the lack of a Star Wars-specific special dining experiences coming up. (And, relatedly, lack of a Star Wars Weekend?)
  • Custom Magic Bands now Available in TomorrowLand I know I’m sucker for it, but I really want one. I have no idea what characters, color, etc… that I’ll pick out, but it seems inevitable that I pick one of these up during my next trip.
  • Rick Bayless to open Frontera Fresco at Disney Springs I think they’re doing a good job of rolling out these restaurants at a pace that allows each announcement some room to breath. Hopefully, Frontera Fresco will get the same positive reaction that we are seeing from The BOATHOUSE and Morimoto Asia.
  • Enhancements to Shop Disney Parks App allow for resort and front of the park delivery It’s kind of an interesting concept. You see something in a store while you’re roaming around the park, but—instead of having to buy it right then—you head off to your ADR and buy it while you’re sitting down for dinner. Then, your item is then waiting for you at your resort the next day.
  • Sorcerer Mickey Meet-and-Greet now in the Old Studio Backlot Area This is an “interesting” place to put Sorcerer Mickey, but you have to have this meet-and-greet somewhere. It’s too classic of a Mickey look to not have a place where you can see it.
  • New Musical Group Debuts in Morocco Here’s the blurb from the Disney Parks Blog: “Ribab Fusion, a popular band from northern Africa, celebrates Morocco’s Amazigh culture with everything from smooth grooves to high-energy funk, fusing the traditional sound of the single-stringed ribab with a contemporary, Afropop style.” It seems like an interesting choice, but I’ll reserve judgment until I see them in person. If you prefer to see watch a video now, however, you can find one here.
  • Epcot’s Holidays Around the World to Start November 27 I always enjoy these little experiences, so I’m glad to see they’ll be back before too long. It’s the little touches like this (and the fabulous decorations at the resorts) that really make the low-crowd period in early December a great time to visit Disney World.

Though not exactly “news”, the construction of the Magic Kingdom Hub has reached another milestone. If you want to see a great set of pictures of what the Hub looks like now, I suggest this post from Da Mouse.

Mighty Men of Mouse Listener Disney World Land Rankings are Live

As mentioned on Episode 231 of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, the results of the MMoM Listener Land Rankings Survey are now available.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and a huge thank you to Howie from Maryland for putting together the survey and the date.

You can find the results here: Mighty Men of Mouse Listener Disney World Land Rankings

Is it really a surprise that Fantasyland ended up on top?
Is it really a surprise that Fantasyland ended up on top?

News Nuggets from around Disney World

Thank you to everyone for the positive reaction to our first round of “News Nuggets.” Though I think Elyssa and I really enjoyed the comments, I believe that Elyssa’s most excited about ordering copious amount of corn dog nuggets during our next trip to photograph for use in this feature. Until then, however, you’ll have to make due with various other stock Disney images we have.

With the housekeeping out of the way, here is the latest round of nuggets:

Dusk at the Magic Kingdom
Dusk at the Magic Kingdom

easyWDW has Released its 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival PDF

Earlier today, Josh from easyWDW (with a major credit given to Steve Milz) published the 2015 Version of the easyWDW Epcot Food & Wine Festival Review PDF. As I’ve said before, I always start my Food & Wine planning with easyWDW‘s food reviews. Therefore, it seems like a no-brainer to download this PDF to your phone, so you can reference it at the festival. (Though, I would love to see people walking around the festival with any of these guides in printed and bound form. Full color, of course.)

News Nuggets from Around Walt Disney World

I also like my corn dog nuggets with a side of beignets.
I sometimes prefer my corn dog nuggets with a side of beignets.

Since there has been a lot of news coming out of Disney World recently, it seemed like the appropriate time to debut Rope Drop [dot] Net’s “News Nuggets” feature (inspired by one of Elyssa’s favorite Disney Food items: the corn dog nuggets from Casey’s Corner). As you would expect, these are small, bite-sized “nuggets” of news that you may find delicious useful.

Before we get to the actual nuggets, I do want to point out that Josh at easyWDW has started posting his 2015 Epcot Food & Wine Festival “booth by booth” reviews of all of this year’s food and drink options. (As I’ve mentioned before, I always start my Food & Wine Festival planning with Josh’s reviews. They are top notch.) You can already find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on his site, and I would imagine the rest of the booths will be up shortly.

Now, with that out of the way, it’s time for the nuggets:

That’s all the news for now. If you want more to read about Disney World, I suggest taking a look at the interview we posted yesterday with Casey Liss. It has gotten some really good responses so far, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

A lot of changes coming to The Studios
A lot of changes coming to The Studios

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Casey Liss

Casey, Erin and Declan (Photo courtesy of Casey)
Casey, Erin and Declan (Photo courtesy of Casey)

Casey Liss is a developer, podcaster, and writer who lives in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. Though his name might not be immediately recognizable to those in the Disney World fan community, people in the tech community might recognize him from his widely popular podcasts, ATP and Analog(ue). In fact, it was Casey’s description of a trip to Disney on a recent episode of Analog(ue) that led me to reach out to him for a Rope Drop [dot] Net interview. Casey is not someone who visits Disney World every year, so I thought he could bring a unique, thoughtful perspective about planning and then experiencing Disney World. Thankfully, he graciously agreed to the interview:

(As always, my questions are bolded and Casey’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)

What do you remember about the first time you went to Disney World?

The first time I remember going to Disney World is very vague memories of being in a treehouse in Fort Wilderness. I don’t believe they’re there anymore, but you could rent some sort of cabin-like treehouse. I vividly remember, despite being only around 4 at the time, that it had a spiral staircase in it. I was mesmerized.

I remember always reflecting on the trip fondly, but I remember so little else about the trip.

The first visit I remember in more detail is when I had just finished my freshman year of college. My whole family went – at this point I had two younger brothers – and loved it. It was in the summer of 2001, and I believe Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster had just opened. I hated the feeling of negative G’s – drops – and loved Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster because it was a “launcher” rollercoaster – no drop required.

I also rode Splash Mountain on that trip; I enjoyed that… quite a bit less.

NOTE FROM JOHN: When Casey mentions that spiral staircase, I think he is talking about the original Treehouse Villas the operated from 1975 through 2002. You can read about the villas and see pictures of the staircase in this post from 2719 Hyperion.

If you still aren’t a fan of “negative G’s”, then I assume you probably don’t get super excited about some of Disney World’s signature attractions (Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc…). What are your “must do” attractions when you visit Disney World?

I wasn’t a fan of negative G’s. Not too long after Erin and I started dating, we had started only-sorta-jokingly talking about getting married and honeymooning. I confided in her that I’d always dreamed of honeymooning in Disney World. As a lifelong Disney fan, who had never visited Disney World before, Erin was all-in from the get go.

Except.

Except that she knew I didn’t care for roller coasters, and she knew that there were at least a handful of roller coasters at Disney World. In a very rare case of Erin… explaining… something to me, she explained to me that if we are going to honeymoon in Disney, then darnit I’m going to go on rollercoasters with her.

We started with launch coasters at our two local theme parks – Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens – and eventually moved up to negative Gs, one step at a time. By the time we went to Disney for our honeymoon, I was able to do everything except Tower of Terror. I drew the line there.

When Erin turned 30, I surprised her with a trip to Disney World. She didn’t know where we were going until we checked in at the airport. That trip, we did ride Tower of Terror once. I was more than a bit nervous about it. I’d ride it again, but I was extremely nervous until it was all over.

Casey, Declan and the TTA (Photo courtesy of Casey)
Casey, Declan and the TTA (Photo courtesy of Casey)

When we travel to Disney, there are definitely some must-sees. Number one on that list is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover. Honestly, I’m not sure why I love that ride so much, but I do. Maybe it’s my proclivity for lazy rivers at water parks. Maybe it’s that the ride rarely has a line and generally has a nice breeze. Maybe it’s because my mother has always loved it. No matter the reason, it’s always been my favorite.

Outside of the People Mover, I also love the Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster and, as a huge car nut, the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. In fact, I have long thought that MGM Hollywood Studios gets a bad rep, and is far better than most give it credit for. Though I’m told that quite a lot of it is under construction now, so perhaps now it really does live up to its crummy reputation!

Outside of Hollywood Studios, though not an attraction, I always loved the dancing water in Epcot, ever since I was a toddler. I could sit there and watch it for hours. I don’t know why. Also in Epcot, and again appealing to my inner car nut, I love Test Track. Erin loves Soarin’ and Living with the Land; that has endeared both of those to me quite a bit. Living With the Land is in many ways my Epcot equivalent of the People Mover.

I loved Expedition Everest the first time I rode it, because I didn’t know what to expect at the apex of the ride. I still quite love it, but I’d kill to be able to ride it again, not knowing what to expect.

On a final note, I will forever miss Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Such a fun one to sit through. I’ll also miss Maelstrom, but I’m curious to see how the new Frozen Ever After turns out.

Knowing that you have certain rides that you and Erin want to go on, how do you go about planning your trips to make sure you get to do the things you most want to do?

We’ve done all flavors of planning. We’ve done last-minute and far-out. We’ve done with-agent and by ourselves.

Our most recent trip was for three nights, two days, when we happened to be near-ish Orlando for a wedding. We hemmed and hawed about going in the first place, since our son was only 8 months old at the time. We finally decided to just go for it about a month before our arrival – we finally booked on 18 May for an arrival on 23 June. We weren’t able to get some of the dining nor FastPass+ reservations we wanted, but we didn’t expect the trip to go as planned, thanks to our delightful little baby. 🙂 At least during his first year, he’s the boss of us. We did all the booking ourselves using Disney’s site.

Erin and Declan (Photo Courtesy of Casey)
Erin and Declan (Photo Courtesy of Casey)

The time before that I also procrastinated a bit. For Erin’s 30th we booked at the end of June for a mid-August trip. We did better that time, though we didn’t get a chance to dine in Be Our Guest, which I suspect we’d really love. I did all the booking in concert with a AAA travel agent.

For our honeymoon, we booked in February and March for a late-June arrival. We did the booking via a AAA agent.

In general, we’ve been enough times now that we generally know what we like. For the two-day trip, I definitely referred heavily to Disney’s website, as well as allears.net for some menus that either weren’t available or weren’t up to date on the Disney site. I also had a bear of a time trying to get information about the Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. We were really trying to figure out what the room layout would be in advance, to plan appropriately for our baby’s crib/etc. We eventually found the floor plan on yourfirstvisit.net, though of course I can’t find the specific link again now.

Were we to do it again, I would definitely prefer to be far more deliberate about the whole experience. I would likely be the one waking up early, 180 days out, to book dining. The last couple of trips have just been decided so late in the game that I just had to roll with what options were left.

Once we’ve decided on which days to go, I typically start with dinner reservations and work backwards from there. Every time we go, excepting the last time, we try to hit at least Coral Reef and the 50’s PrimeTime Cafe. The dinner reservation will define what park we want to be in that evening. We try to be in different parks each night. I’ll then back into FastPass+ reservations based around our dinner time. Pre-baby, we would usually do two parks in one day, and visit each park two or three times per week-long trip. With the baby, all bets are off.

We have now stayed in all three monorail resorts, and though the call of the Wilderness Lodge is strong, we’ve been extremely spoiled by being on the monorail. Our favorite for just the two of us was far and away the Contemporary, but for the family, the Polynesian did work out really well.

What are your thoughts on the changes that have been made to certain aspects of Disney World vacations over the past few years? What, if any, of the upcoming changes to Disney World are you most excited about?

I don’t keep up with Disney in the “off season” like many do. Generally I get my news about the parks by way of friends or family who have recently visited.

That said, having visited in 2013 and again in 2015 we have seen the “beta” and then adoption of the Magic Bands and FastPass+.

The Magic Bands I really like, from start to finish. Picking them out in advance gets you excited way before your vacation begins. Receiving them in the mail gets you excited about your imminent vacation. Using them is so much nicer and easier than worrying about a key card. It’s slightly awkward bending your wrist so that they can be read, but that’s a small price to pay to be able to travel without a thing in your pockets if you so choose. (Being able to travel without anything in your pockets is particularly useful at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.)

Casey, Erin, and Declan (Photo Courtesy of Casey)
Casey, Erin, and Declan (Photo Courtesy of Casey)

FastPass+ I’m less of a fan of. I understand the motivations behind it, but I feel like it’s a net loss for guests. Even as someone who loves to plan things in advance, for me, it just creates even more anxiety up front. This is compounded by the “packages” that they compel you to use. I’d probably like it more if it was a complete free-for-all based solely on availability, but it seems like you’re always limited to only one “top tier” attraction per park per day. Again, I understand the motivations behind this, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow.

I do like being able to change them by way of the My Disney Experience app. But inevitably I end up getting frustrated because of the aforementioned “packages” that don’t fit my needs.

I did like the FastPass+ far more when we went in 2013. We stayed in the Contemporary, which was one of the “beta test” resorts. It was pretty neat, and made us feel special, to walk around with the bands on. About halfway through our trip, we befriended a couple at the 50’s PrimeTime Cafe. They asked us if we still had our traditional hotel key cards. We did, and they then enlightened us that we could still get traditional FastPass tickets with the keycards, while still holding FastPass+ via the bands. That was magical. Unfortunately, that loophole has since closed.

It’s funny; I write software for a living, and have written apps in the past. However, in this case, I think that having FastPasses managed by way of an app, in advance, is worse for guests. The app in general, however, is very useful, especially to see where you are in the parks.

With regard to changes I’m excited about, I can take or leave Star Wars and am not a huge Avatar fan. I always loved Maelstrom and enjoyed Frozen so I’m curious to see what’s going to come of the Norway pavilion. I wasn’t aware of pending updates to Soarin’ until this interview; I’m cautiously optimistic about those changes. The fact that Soarin’ was all about California I couldn’t care less about, but the ride is one of my favorites, and is my wife’s favorite. If they stick with the same general idea, as I assume they will, I’m sure I’ll love it.

Though it’s old now, I didn’t have a chance to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when we were there in the summertime; I’m anxious to see that. I’d also love to visit Radiator Springs in Disney Land; we were there in 2012 when it was being constructed, if memory serves.

Wrap Up

A huge thank you to Casey for agreeing to be interviewed for the site. As I alluded to in the introduction, I think it is beneficial and intriguing to get thoughtful opinions about Disney World from outside of the standard Disney fan community. Casey clearly delivered on that front.

Though I will give a more general “where to find Casey” in a second, I do want to encourage you to listen to Episode 47 of Casey’s Analog(ue) podcast or read this entry on Casey’s site. In them, Casey describes taking his son, Declan, to see the Leave a Legacy block that his family purchased many years prior. It’s a heartfelt story about what that attraction can actually mean to people (even though some dismiss it as simply an eyesore in front of Spaceship Earth). Again, I encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to or read the story.

Finally, if you want to hear more from Casey, you can listen to him on the Accidental Tech Podcast with Marco Arment and John Siracusa, or on Analog(ue) with Myke Hurley. You can also find more about Casey on his website caseyliss.com or follow him on Twitter, @caseyliss

Casey and Declan in Epcot (Photo courtesy of Casey)
Casey and Declan in Epcot (Photo courtesy of Casey)

What Disney Princess are you?

I know John wants this blog to give you Disney news and really good insight, so I’m going to help with that, by telling you to take this quiz to determine what Disney princess you are!

I found this quiz on Oh My Disney, which is like Buzzfeed for the Disney crowd. This particular quiz purports to determine which Princess you are based on your zodiac sign. Drumroll please…..

Elyssa is Merida

I’m Merida. Which, let’s face it, I already knew:

Ginger Princesses

Which princess are you? What other Disney quizzes should I waste time on? Who wants to know which princess John is?

Five Items I want to Try at 2015 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

It’s less than a month until Elyssa and I head down to Disney World to visit the Food & Wine festival (and run a race, or something….). That means it’s time to really start figuring out which booths I might want to visit at this year’s festival.

My process is simple: start with Josh of easyWDW’s reviews of the new (one and two) and the returning food items, and supplement with other reviews, as necessary. (As you’d probably guess, I would encourage you to check out Josh’s posts for the full description and photos of all the items.)

After going through the various reviews, here are five items that I know I want to try. I’m sure I’ll add to this list as I read more coverage, go back over reviews, etc…, but this is my starting point:

Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato (Brazil)

Josh from easyWDW describes this as:

It’s high quality meat with little fat and a crispy texture, despite sitting in the generous spoonful of flavorful black beans

Potato and Leek Waffle with Beer-Braised Beef and Smoked Gouda Cream (Belgium)

Josh from easyWDW describes this as:

Several large bites of tender, slow cooked beef top a freshly pressed waffle. It’s basically beef stew over a waffle with a little bit of an onion-y kick from the leeks

Chilaquiles de pollo (Mexico)

Josh from easyWDW describes this as:

[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.

Tacos de camarón (Mexico)

Josh from easyWDW describes this as:

Battered shrimp, pico de gallo, pickled onions, and chipotle mayonnaise is a slightly different take on Mexico’s usual shrimp taco. This is the best version yet, with four lightly fried shrimp sitting underneath a creamy, spicy chipotle mayo and the piquant onions adding a little crunch along with the pico.

Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel (Next Eats)

WDW Magic describes this as:

It is made right in-front of you using liquid nitrogen to rapidly cool the truffle mix. It is all topped in a warm whiskey caramel to make a delicious sweet treat

John’s Guest Appearance on Mighty Men of Mouse Episode 229

The gang at the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast were kind enough to invite me on the show. You can find the episode here.

Here are links to some of the things we talked about:

Disney Annual Pass Price Increase.

Trip Planning – Segmenting

RopeDrop.net

Listener Questions

As always, thank you to the Mighty Men of Mouse guys for having me on the show. Please don’t blame them when I bring the overall quality of the show down.

runDisney has Released its Race Schedule for Late 2016 and Early 2017 (Along with Registration Dates)

Earlier today, runDisney tweeted out its late 2016 through early 2017 race schedule, including related registration dates:

It looks like Elyssa and I will have to decide whether we’re going to do the Princess Half Marathon over Feb. 23-26, 2017 (which we did last year and are doing this year), or the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side April 20-23, 2017. In a vacuum, we’d probably go for the Star Wars half (since we love Star Wars), but April 20-23 falls right in prime wedding season for Kivus & Camera, so that could be an issue.

Elyssa at this year's Princess Half Marathon Weekend
Elyssa at this year’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend

Reacting to Disney World’s Annual Pass Price Increase

On an upcoming episode of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, I briefly discuss my thoughts on the price increase of Disney World annual passes. I frame those thoughts on the idea that they impact “people in Florida” at a much higher level than they impact Disney World guests at large. Thinking things through a bit more, I think my explanation on the podcast lacked some of the nuance that I intended to convey.

When people listen to my reasoning tomorrow, I would anticipate that one major criticism of my opinion is that I fail to account for the impact the price increase has on DVC members. Ultimately, I think is more a failure in my word choice than an actual point against my position. I should have said that the changes in annual pass pricing impact “people in Florida AND DVC MEMBERS” at a different level than it impacts other people who may purchase annual passes. My thoughts are the same for both groups.

The Yacht Club Lighthouse at Dusk
There’s a not of text on this page. I just kind of wanted to break it up. This is a picture of the Lighthouse at the Yacht Club.

My position (which I share with various other theme park commentators) is that Disney World has a certain, definitive capacity that, at peak times, is actually reached. Disney, therefore, has determined that if people who have the “option” of attending the park other times during the year (such as Florida residents and DVC members) want to attend at peak times, those people will pay a premium to do so. Basically, Disney is saying “if you want to take the spots that could go to a family making their only Disney World trip in 2 or 3 years, then you’re going to have to compensate us for that privilege.” I’m not saying thats “right” or “fair”, but it’s the decision that Disney appears to have made. (And it shouldn’t really be a surprise to DVC members who sometimes have to spend almost twice as many points to stay during Christmas as during September.)

A common attack on this pricing approach by Disney has been the idea that “Disney World is punishing its best customers.” I understand that position (and frankly, I would much rather pay the previous $535 to renew my annual pass than the new $635 (before tax)), but Disney has determined that attempting to funnel these “best” customers into non-peak seasons is a better economic strategy than trying to preserve the “loyalty” of certain repeat guests. Only time will tell if this strategy pays off, but I think it’s clear that the strategy is in place.

Lastly, I want to show some of the math that fueled my position that these prices had a disproportional impact on Florida residents and DVC members. As a non-Florida resident, non-DC member, it will cost me $676.28 (including tax) to renew my annual pass next year. Here are a couple of possible trip plans that Elyssa and I have for 2016, along with their combined prices for a Park Hopper pass:

  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + 2 Two Day Trips ($257.30 * 2) = $882.10
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Three Day Trip ($325) + Two Day Trip ($257.30) = $949.80
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Four Day Trip ($367.50) = $735.00

Buying individual tickets for these trips still comes out to be more expensive than buying an annual pass, even without including the benefits like free parking, photopass downloads, and restaurant discounts that an annual pass provides. (Also, these ticket prices are almost surely going to go up next year, probably in February. At that point, these numbers will look even better.)

NOTE: All ticket prices were found using the lowest price available from the TouringPlans Ticket Calculator (And, yes, the 4 day and 5 day passes do cost the same according to that calculator)

In other words, as someone who is purchasing an annual pass as a way make multiple trips a year, I am still saving money versus buying individual trip tickets. (And also getting some benefits I’ve questioned the value of in the past.) That said, there’s a good chance that I “make up” some of the difference in my annual pass renewal price by having an extra meal or two offsite during those visits (Always feel free to let me know if you want to meet up with Elyssa and me for some G-Mac and Cheese).

In summary, I stand by my position that the annual price increase impacts certain types of guests (Floridian residents and DVC members) more than it impacts regular Disney World travelers, but I wanted to “show my work” a little more than I did when I made those statements on the (soon to be released) podcast.

Reviewing Disney World Annual Pass Restaurant Discounts

Annual Passholder Discount Card
Annual Passholder Discount Card

With the recent increase in price for Tables in Wonderland, I bet I’m not the only one trying to figure out if it is going to be worth it to renew that card. One part of that cost-value analysis involves comparing the Tables in Wonderland discounts to those discounts that I already get as an annual pass holder. Though I am still working through my own analysis, here is a list of AP discounts compared to what you receive via Tables in Wonderland (“TiW”). These discounts appear to be good as of today (and, presumably, through the end of the 2015): NOTE: TiW Discounts do include alcoholic beverages

20% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages During Lunch, and 10% off during Dinner:

15% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages

10% off Any Purchase

10% off Lunch & Dinner Entrées:

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING LUNCH ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING LUNCH MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING BREAKFAST ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

The above mentioned blackout days are what you would probably expect: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

NOTE: The Annual Pass does offer a 20% discount off the House of Blues Gospel Brunch, but the discount not available on the following dates: April 5, May 10, June 21, December 20 and December 27, 2015.

Hopefully, this listing helps you a little as you try to decide if continuing with Tables in Wonderland is the right idea for you.

New TouringPlans Article – Managing Disney Gift Cards

My latest TouringPlans article, Paying Your Way – Managing Disney Gift Cards is now up. It’s not as “high concept” as some of my other posts, but contains some practical advice on how to manage your Disney gift cards. Here’s the intro:

With Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival underway, you are almost guaranteed to see various articles and message board threads suggesting you buy a Disney gift card to purchase your items (Food & Wine even offers special, smaller gift cards that come with an elastic wristlet so the card is always available for easy payment). That makes now the perfect time to discuss how to best manage your Disney gift cards and add a bit of an update to Laurel’s write-up about gift cards from last year.

You can find the whole article over on the TouringPlans blog.

Kivus Family Magic Box
Kivus Family Magic Box

Changes to Disney World’s Annual Pass, Parking, and Tables in Wonderland Pricing

As first reported by WDW News Today, Disney World has changed the Annual Pass pricing structure, effective immediately.

Annual Pass Box
Annual Pass Box

For Non-Florida residents, the Annual Passes now come in two options: “Platinum Plus” and “Platinum”. Both passes include admission to all 4 parks (with park hopper privileges), free parking (which has been raised from $17 to $20 per day) and photopass downloads (a new addition this year). The Platinum Plus option also includes admission to Disney’s waterparks, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and the Oak Trail golf course. There are also a number of changes to the Florida resident pass options ,which can be seen at WDW News Today and TouringPlans. These changes include new “Gold” and “Silver” options that include certain blackout dates, and could possibly point to the tiered pricing structure that we have seen hints of over the past couple of months.

Looking at the numbers, renewing my annual pass as a new “Platinum Pass” is going to cost $102.24 more this year than it did last year (including tax). I had assumed that the amount would be closer to a $50 increase, but I can (kind of) stomach the larger increase because of the inclusion of Photopass downloads as part of the pass (especially since I have previously said that I don’t think Memory Maker is worth its cost.)

In a related move, Disney has increased the cost of Tables in Wonderland by $50 for annual pass and DVC members. Translated, this means that you have to spend $750 in food at Disney World in a given year to break even on your Tables in Wonderland purchase (up from $500 a year.) Based on Elyssa’s and my eating habits on our Disney World visits, this price increase might mean we will no longer be purchasing Tables in Wonderland.

The Good Dinosaur Preview to Air at One Man’s Dream

Ever since the Magic of Disney Animation closed and Walt’s office was removed, Elyssa and I have been waiting for (and fearing) the announcement that One Man’s Dream would be closing its doors at The Studios. Today, it feels like we are another step closer to that annoucement, as the Disney Parks Blog announced that previews of The Good Dinosaur would take place in the One Man’s Dream theater. Though there are not a lot of details (maybe part of the day will be the traditional One Man’s Dream film, and the rest of the day will movie preview? I doubt it.), this feels like more of an indication that One Man’s Dream will be on the way out of the parks soon (If I had to guess, I’d say it’s closed about the same time as the Osborne Lights come down.)

Though I undertand that One Man’s Dream might not fit with the more “Hollywood Adventure” approach to The Studios that’s on the way, I do hope they find somewhere to add more of the history of Walt Disney to the resort. In fact, I don’t even care if it’s in one of the parks. I just want somewhere on Disney World property to get that “look back” we won’t have when One Man’s Dream finally closes its doors.

I like learning about *this guy*.
I like learning about this guy.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Sharla Manglass

I like to think of myself as a “knowledgeable” Disney fan. That said, I don’t mind a little help when I’m planning my Disney vacations. For the past fews years, my vacation planner of choice has been Sharla Manglass of MEI-Travel.

A couple of the people Sharla works with to help make your vacation magical (Photo courtesy of Sharla)
A couple of the people Sharla works with to help make your vacation magical (Photo courtesy of Sharla)

I will get into more details about how I’ve worked with Sharla in the wrap-up section of this post, but, first, let’s get to the good part: (As always, my questions are bolded and Sharla’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)

How did you become a Disney travel planner?

Growing up I was always a Disney fan. I went to Walt Disney World a couple of times and Disneyland once in college, but it wasn’t until my honeymoon in 2004 (where we did a cruise and the parks) that I truly fell in love with all things Disney. I was working in a non-profit job and loved it, and had a lot of flexibility with vacations to visit as often as possible.

After several more years I decided to leave my job and pursue a career with Disney in some aspect. For me, it seemed the best thing to do was to become a travel planner. After researching several travel agencies it seemed that Mouse Fan Travel would be the best fit; what I liked most about it was that we were free to book Disney as well as non-Disney travel and that seemed to appeal to most people. Six years later here I am. It’s by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had in terms of seeing the magic. I love helping people’s dreams come true!

With all those trips to Disney World and Disneyland before you became a travel agent, did you find that you had to learn many “new” things in order to help your clients?

She's not just a planner, she's also a fan (Photo Courtesy of Sharla)
She’s not just a planner, she’s also a fan (Photo Courtesy of Sharla)

There is a big difference in being a Disney fan vs. being a salesperson. The Disney fan in me is what got me started, but the salesperson is something I had to learn about (and still learn) as I go. Just because you know a lot about Disney doesn’t mean you know how to sell. And, of course, you have to know the rules and regulations Disney puts forth. That meant I needed to learn both Disney’s sales techniques and their various policies (especially when it came to cruises and Adventures by Disney trips).

How do you keep up to date on the new developments at Disney parks, cruises, etc…?

I keep up with the products in several ways- one, the College of Disney Knowledge has refresher courses that we have to take yearly, and, two, as often as I can I do an Agent Education Program (I just did one at Disneyland in August).

I am also a big fan of several Disney Fan sites (blog.touringplans.com is my current favorite) and I rely on various social media pages as well.

How do you leverage your Disney-related knowledge to help your clients? I assume you can help people who are unfamiliar with taking Disney vacations, but how do you help someone who already reads TouringPlans or is otherwise “well versed” in Disney trips?

I like to think I help my clients as much as they need it. For people who know little to nothing about planning a Disney vacation, I might walk them through the whole process. This could include making suggestions on where to eat and securing ADRs for those places, setting up and configuring My Disney Experience (especially linking together reservations for multiple families), suggesting and securing FastPass+ reservations, etc…

Sometimes, dealing with clients can be a bear (Sharla's picture, John's joke)
Sometimes, dealing with clients can be a bear (Sharla’s picture, John’s joke)

For people who have more experience, it’s a balance between doing what my clients ask me and making sure that that they have the right information. Even though there’s a lot of information about Disney available, some of it might be out of date or just plain wrong. I try to, at a minimum, direct people to the right information so that they can plan their vacation. Even with people who know pretty much what they want, I still suggest special ideas that they may not have done, such as a tour or celebration (like a carriage ride for an anniversary couple.) (Ed. Note: John, take me on a carriage ride!) I also review the latest discounts to make sure there isn’t a better rate for someone’s existing reservation (often this means checking daily for different deals and configurations based on what exactly Disney is offering.) For example, we have special “group rates” for events (including most runDisney races, as well as other various group events throughout the year), and, in general, our group prices are quite a bit lower than what Disney has available.

I also handle last minute travel issues. This is one of the toughest tasks, because I am limited to what Disney’s currently has available, however, Disney is amazing at working with people. It’s sometimes a matter of who you talk to and what they can do, but in most cases my main job is to reassure the client.

Is there any aspect of your job that surprised you?

I’m not sure how to phrase it, but sometimes I end up playing things like a marriage counselor or a shoulder to cry on. Again, I don’t know how exactly to say it, but it’s been the most surprising thing of this job. Clients will call me because they are trying to “save” their marriage with one last trip, or because they can no longer go on the trip because of legal issues with custody… It can be difficult, but I have always thought that my job is about listening to what it is that my clients need.

Wrap-up

First, I want to thank Sharla for taking time out of her day to talk to me. One of my goals in starting this site was to be able to point people to good resources for Disney information and Sharla is nothing if not that.

Second, I’ll address a question that you may have: this interview was something I requested of Sharla. I don’t get any commission, kick back, or anything of that nature if you use her, MEI, or any other Disney vacation planner. I use her because I think she’s good at her job and, frankly, I’d prefer to email her and say “Book me the best rate you can find for dates x-y at a a Crescent Lake hotel” than do all that stuff myself. She may come back with “I can do the Beach CLub at this amount” or she may say “I know you wanted Crescent Lake, but there’s a super good discount right now at this other place, do you want to try that?”. She gives me exactly what I want from someone booking my vacation.

Third, a question I get a lot when I say that I use a Disney travel agent is “how much does that cost?” It’s difficult to explain, but (most) Disney vacation planners cost nothing (at least the ones I’ve used, including Sharla.) Basically, Disney bakes a “planner commission” into its rates. If you book your travel through an outside travel planner like Sharla, then the person gets the commission part of the rate. If you book your travel through Disney, then Disney keeps the “commission” part of the rate. You pay the same rate whichever way you go, though I’ve found that third-party vacation planners are much better about looking for the “best” rate for you than the people you speak with when you call Disney directly.

Finally, I’ll end with story about why I’ve continued to use Sharla for my travel. When Elyssa and I had a life changing experience last year, we were literally on our way to Disney World to run in a runDisney race. At one point, in between doctor conversations and MRIs, I emailed Sharla and said “I’m in a hospital in South Carolina, we’re going to have to turn around. Cancel everything as best you can.” Though I didn’t see her email response until much later, Sharla handled everything. She cancelled my reservation (including getting a refund of my deposit, even though it was a “day of” check-in), cancelled my ADRs and other bookings, and, generally, helped me clear something off my plate so I could be with Elyssa. Again, it was the exact kind of help I needed at that moment. Why would I book my Disney vacations any other way?

If you want to get in touch with Sharla, her email address is [email protected]. You can also find her full contact information at MEItravel.com