Don’t Forget – Live Stream of Princess Elena of Avalor’s Royal Welcome at 10:20am Eastern Today

The Disney Parks Blog is live streaming Princess Elena’s Royal Welcome today. The easiest way to watch this event is probably to just visit Disney Parks Blog and see if they have a new post up that has a link to the live stream (Disney has turned off the various ways to easily access its streams via YouTube.)

For those that actually in Disney World during August, this Royal Welcome event is supposed to take place a few times each day over the next couple of weeks.

Saying Goodbye to the Main Street Electrical Parade

A few minutes ago, Disney confirmed the rumor that the Main Street Electrical Parade will be ending. The last night for the parade will be October 9.

The next set of rumors / theories (that I first saw mentioned by friend of the site Howie from Maryland) is that Disneyland’s “Paint the Night” parade (which was recently discontinued) would be making its way to the Magic Kingdom. UPDATE: Paint the Night will actually be running on “select dates” through the Holiday Season. That, obviously, makes it harder for it to be starting at the Magic Kingdom soon.

Personally, I’m really torn on all of this. Watching the Main Street Electrical Parade, especially the second showing on a giving night, is always a highlight of Elyssa’s and my trips (even more so if we can win the Reno Challenge while watching.) That said, Paint the Night has gotten spectacular reviews and I would love to see it in person.

Ultimately, though, I’m really glad that Elyssa and I have a trip planned so we can say goodbye to the Main Street Electrical Parade one last time.

One last kiss goodnight from the MSEP
One last kiss goodnight from the MSEP

A Disappointing Change in runDisney Policy – No Race Deferrals, Even for Brain Surgery

Through some recent discussions on the Mickey Milers Facebook group, it has come to our attention that runDisney no long provides deferrals for any of its races. (Previously, you could pay a nominal fee to defer a race a year into the future.) Even more disheartening, this was not a change that was broadcast by runDisney or even before registration for the races took place, but, instead, was something we found out about when of our fellow Mickey Miles team members was informed of this policy change when requesting a deferral because of upcoming brain surgery. Instead of allowing him to have a deferral to a future year, runDisney decided to make a “1 time exception” to the “no refunds” policy and provide our fellow team member with a Disney Gift Card in the amount of 1/2 of the funds he paid to register for his races (minus the registration fees that Active.com charges.) That’s right, instead of allowing a runner to defer to the future because he was having brain surgery, runDisney said he could have 1/2 of his money back, in the form of Disney credit.

Policy changes like this disappoint me, greatly. When Elyssa had her brain surgery a couple of years ago, runDisney was fantastic about deferring our race registrations at no cost to the following year. Knowing that race was coming up again was a huge part of what motivated Elyssa to learn to walk, and then run, again. Getting that deferral was such a pivotal moment, that I clearly remember the night I got off the phone with runDisney, walked into Elyssa’s hospital room (crying) and said “I just got off the phone with runDisney. We’re running the race next year. You and me. Whatever it takes.” It was about 2 days later that Elyssa took her first post-surgery steps, and about 5 days later that she first jogged around the hall. To hear that runDisney has decided to not offer this same benefit to someone who is a very active participant in the runDisney community is heartbreaking. It really feels like taking some of the magic away

Elyssa and I love participating in runDisney events. We’ll be running the Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge in April of next year, and are really looking forward to it. In fact, while we are participating in it, we’ll probably love it. That said, thinking about it now, it saddens me that runDisney’s policies are standing in the way of people having the same chance to “come back” from major surgery and injuries that Elyssa did. Frankly, I would have been devastated if runDisney told me what they’re telling people now. It’s so disappointing that I hardly even know how to express it.

Under runDisney's new policy, I wouldn't have had this moment. My princess finally completing her race.
Under runDisney’s new policy, I wouldn’t have had this moment. My princess finally completing her race.

Review of Disney Emoji Blitz – A Piece of Game-ified Garbage

tl;dr – Though mildly enjoyable to play, it’s your typical, scammy “free-to-play” mobile game that is best avoided.

In a recent article at MacStories Graham Spencer dug into the top grossing apps in the iOS App Store, and found that over 65% of them were what are known as “free-to-play” games. These games use a model that involve a “free” download of the game, and then the ability to use the in-app purchase functionality of your to allow you to “enhance” your experience. Insidiously, the games are then designed in a way that you are almost constantly tempted to purchase these “enhancements”, thereby allowing the developers to rake in money from users. Sadly, Disney’s iOS offering has all the worst elements of that trend.

What is Emoji Blitz

When I first heard of KIMOJI, I couldn’t understand what would make the application so popular. Clearly, I was in the minority, as KIMOJI shot to the top of the iOS App Store sales chart. When it was announced that Disney was going to make its own emoji keyboard–featuring its famed icons like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy–I figured I would give a try. What I never expected was that Disney Emoji Blitz would set a new low in gamification of a simple concept. You see, instead of purchasing the Disney Emoji keyboard and getting access to the various emojis that Disney has created, the Emoji blitz requires you to “unlock” the various emojis through repeated play of a simple matching game (think of a combination of Tetris and Connect-Four, where when you end up with 3 of the same emoji next to each other, they disappear from the board and new emoji fall into place.)

Emoji Blitz Game
Emoji Blitz Game

On its face, the game play isn’t terrible. It’s a nice little distraction when you have a minute or two. If that’s all the game was, I might have such a problem with it. Sadly, however, it gets much, much worse.

Gamification Elements

The easiest place to start talking about the gamification of Emoji Blitz is in the “currency” system that’s in place. In the game, you have 3 different types of currency:

Currency at Top
Currency at Top
  1. Hearts – These are your “lives”. You can only play the game if you have a heart. These re-generate every 10 minutes, but you can only keep five of those auto-generated hearts at once (you can, of course, buy more.)
  2. Coins – These allow you to buy things like “boosts” to use in your game, or, most importantly, new emojis.
  3. Gems – You trade in gems to get more hearts or coins (yep, it’s that convoluted) or to change the “challenges” the game is presenting you. Gems are what you can purchase more of with actual money via the game’s in-app purchase system.

So, why have this kind of confusing system of currency? Because, it provides a way to obfuscate what you are purchasing and how much you’re actually spending. For example, you can purchase 81 gems for $1.99. You could then use 30 of those gems to get 5 extra hearts, and 50 of those gems to 6000 coins. Of course, you need 15,000 coins to buy a new emoji, so maybe you should buy 486 gems for $9.99 and then trade 300 of those gems into 40000 coins to pick a “gold box” emoji. You then have a 1 in 20 chance of getting that Tinker Bell emoji you really want (And it’s always 1 in 20, since, SURPRISE, you might get a awarded an emoji you already have.) It’s crazy. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars trying to get the ability to insert a cute WALL-E emoji into your text messages.

Maybe I'll get Tink this time?
Maybe I’ll get Tink this time?

If you think that’s bad, the actual game play might be worse. To incentive you to keep playing the game, there are “Missions”, which are things that you need to complete to get to the next “level”:

Missions
Missions

“Items” which are things you can collect during the course of the game play:

Items
Items

And daily” Challenges”, which are things you need to compete in a given day in order to get some kind of bonus:

Challenges
Challenges

All of these are designed to get you to want to play the game more (“Oh, I’ll just try to complete the next mission.” “Oh, I’ll just play until I can collect pirate ship.”), but the challenges are especially terrible, since, not only do you have to complete the challenges in a given day, but your playable characters can only be used once after 2 FREAKIN’ HOURS (Unless, of course, you pay to buy gems, which you can then use to “wake up” the character to play agin.) It’s such a scam.

Can't Play. Characters are Sleeping
Can’t Play. Characters are Sleeping

For another perfect example of how manipulative Emoji Blitz is, take a look at that this screen shot:

Spend money at your time of weakness?
Spend money at your time of weakness?

In this example there’s a “rare” item on the board, but my time is expired. So what does the game offer me? A chance to use 20 gems RIGHT THEN, in order to get 10 more second to try and collect that “rare” item. If you remember from above, those 20 Gems might cost me a $2 in-app purchase. In other words, the game is trying to capitalize on the fact that I might be willing to do something extra to get this rare item and is hoping I’m caught up in the moment enough to think that paying $2 for 10 seconds of gameplay is somehow a good idea. It is such a scam.

Conclusion

I like emojis. I think they’re cute. I was looking forward to putting Disney emojis in my tweets and text messages. Instead of giving me that chance, however, Disney has created a “game” that has been systematically engineered to try and get you to pay as much money as possible why you pay. It’s so shameful that I would recommend that you don’t even bother downloading Disney Emoji Blitz. I’m sure you can find much better ways to spend tens (or hundreds) of dollars than trying to unlock a cute drawing of Tink’s face.

6300 Gems for $100. Such a Steal!
6300 Gems for $100. Such a Steal!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It might be the weekend, but here at Rope Drop [dot]Net HQ we are still committed to providing you with your News Nuggets. Before we get started on the “links” part of the Nuggets, a quick update to Tables in Wonderland. Disney has finally decided to add Skipper Canteen & Jock Lindsey’s to the list of places that get discounts (along with the much newer Nomad Lounge and Tiffins at Animal Kingdom.) I wonder if this will have any impact on attendance at Skipper Canteen.

As another special perk, Disney is giving 20% of merchandise purchase at Word of Disney in Disney Springs to Tables in Wonderland members through Labor Day. As always, I would recommend that you point out this discount to the cast members (i.e., I doubt they’ll ask you about it.)

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the rest of the Nuggets!

That’s it for this edition of the News Nuggets! Of course, if you’re like me, the biggest news of the weekend is probably the announcement that the new Rogue One trailer will drop during NBC’s Olympics coverage on Thursday! (I’m a little excited for that movie.)

Elyssa Being Goofy
Elyssa Being Goofy

25% Off Sale in Shop Disney Parks App

The Shop Disney Parks App currently has 25% off and free ground shipping on “most orders”. This is great if one of your favorite website contributors has a birthday coming up and you haven’t gotten her anything yet.

Seriously, though, I use the Shop Disney Parks App even when I’m at Disney World. It is sometimes cheaper (and almost always easier) to have items just shipped directly to my home than have to worry about transporting them myself back from Disney World. Since the app even gives you a lot of your various discounts (AP, DVC, etc…), it’s usually worth checking out.

Shop Disney Parks Sales
Shop Disney Parks Sales

FuelRod or Not – Use Low Power Mode on your iPhone at Disney World

Since I posted my article on Disney’s new FuelRod program, other people have also weighed in with their opinions. (Josh from easyWDW seems to make many of the same points I made, so I—obviously—think he did the best job.)

All that said, however, one thing that you should be doing at Disney World, regardless of what battery pack you use (or don’t), is using Low Power Mode on your iPhone while in the parks. (Android apparently has its own Battery Saver Mode, which might have a similar impact, but, I’ve never used Android, so I can’t confirm.)

Basically, when you’re walking around Disney World, your phone is constantly trying to deal with things that suck battery (low or non-existent network connection, you checking the time or trying to refresh FastPass+ availability, etc…). Low Power Mode helps address some of this drain by doing things like reducing background app refreshes and some of the visual effects on your phone. Though I haven’t done extensive comparisons of when my phone dies while in a given Disney Park, I can report that my phone lasts significantly longer when on Low Power Mode. In fact, I’ve even managed a near full Disney day (rope drop at the Magic Kingdom, lunch at Beaches & Cream, visit to Disney Springs, then back to Magic Kingdom for Celebrate the Magic and Wishes) without running out of battery. (Obviously, your results may vary—and I wouldn’t recommend this being your standard operating procedure—but, it’s possible.)

Should you decide to give Low Power Mode a try, turning it on is pretty simple. First, go to the settings app on your iPhone. From there, select the “Battery” option from the third grouping of choices.

Setting Screen
Setting Screen

On the Battery menu, you then simply turn on Low Power Mode. That’s it.

Low Power Mode
Low Power Mode

iOS is kind of aggressive about turing “off” Low Power Mode, so if you happen to plug your phone in (to a charger or battery pack), you might want to check to make sure Low Power mode remained on. (I like to turn Low Power Mode on before I unplug my phone from a charger. That seems to help the automatic shut-offs a bit.)

Hopefully, this tip helps your battery survive a little longer while visiting Disney World. Good luck!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s time for another edition of the News Nuggets, and the biggest news of the past few days might be that the complete menus of the Epcot Food & Wine festival have been released. Thankfully, it looks like the chocolate truffle from last year is coming back.

Of course, there was a whole bunch of other Disney World news stories to cover, so let’s get right to the News Nuggets!

As you might imagine, there have been a bunch of ride-through / experience videos of the new attractions. I don’t think I’m going to watch any of them, but if you’re interested, here are a few:

I’ll end things, however, with a link to this timelapse video of “Magic Moments” at Disney World. Enjoy!!

Don’t Forget – Disney is Live Streaming the New Star Wars Fireworks Tonight at 9:20PM Eastern

Just a quick reminder that Disney is live streaming Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at 9:20pm tonight. It’s usually easiest to just go to the Disney Parks blog about 10 minutes before the show is supposed to start, but I’ll also try to update this post if I’m around.

Regardless, enjoy the show tonight!

UPDATE: Here’s the Disney Parks Blog Link and here’s the embed:

These are NOT the fireworks they are showing tonight.
These are NOT the fireworks they are showing tonight.

Tips for People Driving from (or through) North Carolina to Disney World

This might seem like a very specific topic to cover, but friend of the site Dutch Lombrowskiis driving from New England down to Florida the next couple of weeks and I planned on typing up this information for him anyway. (I have no idea if he actually wants it, but I figured I’d share anyway.)

Coming from Raleigh / Durham, we get on I-95 at Exit 81. Since that’s about 40 minutes from our house we don’t normally need to stop quite yet, but Exit 79 (Benson) does have a top flight, North Carolina BBQ stop—White Swan BBQ—if you’re interested

Here are our other key notes for the drive:

North Carolina

  • NC Exit 22 – The only Chick-Fil-A between when we get on I-95 and the end of the state. If we’re getting an “after work” start, then we usually stop here.

South Carolina

Driving through South Carolina always feels like the longest part of the drive. It’s not the prettiest part of highway, there’s not a lot of good places to stop, and it’s only 2 frakin’ lanes!!!. (And, yes, I know South of the Border exists, but, realistically, I’m not stopping there.) Thankfully, gas prices are usually pretty low. We usually find, however, that once you get into the last 30 miles of the state, it’s better to wait to Georgia.

  • SC Exit 164 – If we didn’t stop in Lumberton, NC (Exit 22), then this is usually our first stop on the drive. The exit has a Bojangles and a Zaxby’s for your fried chicken needs. (Bojangles is much, much quicker.)
  • SC Exit 160A – The only Chick-Fil-A off I-95 in SC (I know, right?). It’s this weird “drive-through only”-type establishment that we usually skip because the whole experience is a pain in the rear.
  • SC Exit 98 – There’s a Hampton Inn and a Bojangles here. The next place with decent hotels is Savannah, GA (which is 100 miles away.) Make sure you’re not too tired to go that distant.
  • SC Exit 53 – That said, there’s a Holiday Inn Express here in Walterboro that we’ve thought about trying. (It has good reviews, but we’ve also heard horror stories.) We’ve always ended up making it to Savannah, though. (Technically, there’s also a Hampton Inn, but it’s a converted, old motel with all exterior entry rooms.)

Georgia

Getting across the bridge into Georgia (and it’s 3 lane highway!!) always feels like such a relief. There’s a ton of different exits in Savannah that have hotels, so I won’t go over all of them here. Just know that, if you make it to Savannah, you’re almost always going to be fine finding a place to stay.

  • GA Exit 104 – If you made it through South Carolina and want to reward yourself with a Frozen Lemonade, here’s your first Chik-Fil-A.
  • GA Exit 38 – This is kind of “stretch” goal if we leave in the evening after work (For example, if we know Carolina is playing Duke in basketball at a 9pm tip-off and we’re going to be up late anyway.) There’s a Hampton Inn here that’s right off the highway.
  • GA Exit 3 – Here’s another Chick-Fil-A. (Though we normally wait until we get to Florida to stop.)

Florida

Florida! You’ve made it! (Well, almost.) I’m not going to talk about hotel options in Florida, since (if you’re like me) you’ll probably want to just get to Orlando now. If you really can’t go any farther, than St. Augustine has a variety of options.

  • FL Exit 363: One of our primary Chick-Fil-A stops. It’s a little off the highway, but your GPS should explain the funky traffic pattern to you. This exit also has a Blaze Pizza if you want to try that before it opens at Disney Springs.
  • FL Exit 344: As I said, 363 is our primary Chick-Fil-A stop. At exit 344 we’re getting a little too close to Jacksonville, and we’d rather not risk some kind of traffic occurring when we are really ready for a stop. (Sitting in traffic when you really have to go to the bathroom is the worst.)
  • FL Exit 339: Another Chick-Fil-A here, but we never stop.
  • FL Exit 268: The Chick-Fil-A opened in Fall 2016, and we’ve actually stopped on the way home from Disney.
  • FL Exit 260B: I-4! You’re really almost there! (Probably about an hour, depending on traffic.)

As you can imagine, when we’re that close to Disney World, we don’t usually stop (so, I can’t really make any I-4 recommendations.)

Those are Elyssa’s and my tips for driving from North Carolina to Disney World. If our Chick-Fil-a focused plan doesn’t work for you, check our the I-95 exit guide to try and plan a drive that works for you!

Don’t Forget – Disney is Live Streaming Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire at 4:00pm Eastern Today!

This is a big month for people who like Disney live streams, as the Disney Parks Blog is doing one every Monday. Today’s stream, which goes live at 4:00PM Eastern Time, is Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire.

The other upcoming streams are:

  • July 18 – Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular; and
  • July 25 – Paint the Night Parade

Enjoy getting your Disney fix, even when you can’t be at the parks yourself!

UPDATE: They’ve put up the YouTube Link:

Disney’s new Fuel Rod Service Seems Like an Unnecessary Hassle

tl;dr – Plan ahead and buy a battery rod or packfrom Amazon instead of spending more time and money on Fuel Rods. Also, this article has a lot of numbers.

As has been reported on a number of different sites, Disney World has started rolling out Fuel Rod portable chargers for people to use in the parks. The basics of the system are that you pay $30 to get a Fuel Rod that comes fully charged to use with your phone. When you have used the entire battery, you can either recharge the Fuel Rod yourself, or exchange it at a kiosk to get a different, fully charged one at no cost.

On the surface it sounds like a decent system, but I wondered how convenient this whole process really is, especially when compared to the plethora of USB battery packs that are on the market.

Unfortunately, Fuel Rod doesn’t really advertise the size of their…ummm…rod? (Sorry.) The only Fuel Rod review I was able to find said that he got about 65% of an iPhone charge with one of the rods. (This is consistent with what I heard on an episode of DIS Unplugged, but it seems that they used the same review I did to come up with their number.) For those mathematically inclined, 65% of the current’s iPhone’s battery would mean a Fuel Rod would have just over 1,100 mAh of capacity (the current iPhone has a 1,1715 mAh).

To satisfy my intellectual curiosity, I also tried to calculate the size of a Fuel Rod by using the “around 8 hours of phone charge” claim reported by WDW Magic. Though Apple lists a variety of battery times for its iPhone, an estimate of 15-17 hours per day for a normal user isn’t terrible. (A normal user not at Disney World, where the combination of poor network connectivity and “need” to refresh My Disney Experience repeatedly for Fastpass+ availability means that you’re probably looking more realistically at 8-10 hours of battery life, if you’re lucky.) This would mean that a Fuel Rod would charge just over 50% of the current iPhone, and most likely have a capacity of around 850 mAh.

In order to give Fuel Rod the benefit of the doubt (which they don’t deserve for keeping their specs a secret, but, whatever), let’s assume their rods have 1,200 mAh of capacity. How does that compare to various other battery options on the market? SPOILER ALERT: Terribly.

For example, for $10, you can get this Anker battery rod that has just under 3x the capacity of a Fuel Rod and is still slightly slimmer in size. This would let you charge your phone twice without having to think about “recharging your rod”. If you want to invest the same $30 you’d spend on a FuelRod, you can purchase this Amazon Basics Battery Pack that will charge your iPhone over 9 times before it needs to be recharged. In other words, you’d need to either recharge or swap out your Fuel Rod 12 times to get the same capacity as the the Amazon Basics pack. That’s ridiculous. I’d much rather “worry” about remembering to plug in my battery pack every 2-3 days than have to find Fuel Rod kiosks 10+ times over that period.

Look, I understand that some people might not want to carry a battery pack with them when they first enter the park. But, once you buy that first Fuel Rod, you’re going to be carrying it with you anyway for the rest of the day (your Disney World visit?) so you can swap it out. You might as well just pay $10 in advance and get the Anker rod that weighs 2.7 oz to bring with you. At least then you’ll be able to charge your phone almost twice before you need to worry about your battery pack, instead of the .65 times you’d get from the $30 Fuel Rod.

Disney World has made smart phones necessary items to enjoy your park going experience, and, if you want to actually use your phone, you’re probably going to need some additional power. Though the Fuel Rod seems like an interesting idea on the service, its high cost and apparent low capacity seem like a poor option to fit almost all use cases. Think of it this way: you’re already planning things like ADRs and Fastpass+ reservations in advance of your Disney vacation, why not also plan to buy a battery rod or packin advance and save yourself a bunch of hassle?

Everyone needs a phone
Everyone needs a phone

What Did I Miss?

As people who follow me on Twitter (or are observant enough to notice the lack of updates on the site) are aware, the last few weeks have been some of my most disconnected from Disney World in the past few years. That said, it’s about time to throw on some of my best bright colors and come high stepping back to the Disney World community that Elyssa and I love so much.

On our recent 9 hour (but not to or from Disney World) drive, Elyssa and I talked like we would if we had been heading back from a Disney World trip. As we almost always do, we started our discussion with some talk about our favorite breakfast locations (Kona—which we hadn’t been to at the time of our original post—and Tusker House, obviously). We talked about our preference for going to Narcoossee’s over Be Our Guest (we’d rather spend a little extra money, have a a better meal, and not be rushed through it), and our general strategy for how we’d tour if we go to Disney World over Christmas this year (rope drop to take advantage of—what will almost assuredly be—early opening hours, and then have breakfast closer to 11:00 as people really start to arrive.) We also discussed our preferences for New Year’s plans if we’re still down there (Magic Kingdom on the 30th, Studios (??) on NYE?). It was a good couple of hours Disney discussion that got me ready to (hopefully) jump back into a few things that I have been working on for the site.

The biggest take away from the conversation, though, was me once again realizing that how lucky I am to have someone like Elyssa to help me run this site, and—more importantly—my life. I do feel like I (probably?) missed a good bit over the past couple of weeks, but at least I got to keep up with one thing (she’s probably prefer if I say “person”) that’s most important.

Now, with all that said, who’s partying with us in October?

Fireworks over Birmingham by Elyssa
Fireworks over Birmingham by Elyssa

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

Both here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ and throughout Orlando, the events of the last week the events of the last week+ still leave a lasting impression. Though we continue to mourn for all the lives that were lost, we are going to try and talk once again about a place that we (and probably a lot of you readers) love. There’s not real “good” approach to moving on from something like this, so we’re going to do a symbolic “reset” and clear the deck of all our pending News Nuggets (even if some may be a little out of date, now.) Here is what we’ve got:

That clears all the pending News Nuggets. Hopefully, the next couple of weeks will bring some better news.

What Does One Write about Disney This Week

This week has been pretty awful for Disney World and the Orlando area. Here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ, we’e been struggling with how to react to such horrible situations. Ultimately, we decided a big “News Nuggets” post earlier this week would be misplaced, and last night’s horror just adds to that sentiment. So, we’ll wait another couple of days before putting up anything of real substance as we try to deal with / understand this stuff as best we can.

In the meantime, we’ll shine a light on one of the more positive stories of the week and suggest something you might want to check out if you’re just looking to escape the world for an hour.

Take care of each other.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – James Rosemergy

Whether you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of Fastpass+ strategy or you prefer a poetic approach to your Disney World analysis, you’ve probably run across the writings of “J R Toastyman”, James Rosemergy. Recently, James agreed to take a break from deciding what 100 yard plot of land was the optimum location to spend eternity at Disney World, and (virtually) sat down for a Rope Drop [dot] Net interview.

James and Family - Picture Courtesy of James
James and Family – Picture Courtesy of James

(As always, my questions are bolded and James’ 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 are your earliest Disney World memories?

The truth is that I don’t really have an extensive childhood background with Disney.  Growing up in North Carolina, most of my early theme park memories as a kid were from trips to Busch Gardens Williamsburg when I’d go to visit my grandmother in Virginia. It was always a goal, but we didn’t actually make it down to Disney World until I was 14 (which was the only trip I tool down there as a “child.”)  Some of the most vivid memories of that trip are actually of the family sitting down with an Unofficial Guide and having a great time planning our trip together and then having fun executing our plan (which is perhaps fitting considering that I’m helping Unofficial Guide readers with their planning now on TouringPlans.com.) Regardless, I always viewed Disney as the gold standard of vacations, and I remember it being my favorite childhood vacation.

I had a couple more trips – once while in college and then another all-adults trip with my extended family and my wife in 2007 – but the real turning point, the moment that got me hooked, came the first time we took my then two-and-a-half year old daughter to Walt Disney World as part of my niece’s graduation trip in 2011. The very first thing we did upon arriving to the Magic Kingdom was to go visit the Princesses to make sure that we checked that box.

Kenley and Aurora - Picture Courtesy of James
Kenley and Aurora – Picture Courtesy of James

As Kenley was waiting her turn, she basically displayed no emotion one way or the other and we didn’t even know if she knew these characters, so we weren’t really sure how she was going to react.  First up was Princess Aurora, though, and when it was her turn, Kenley bolted across the room and literally launched herself into her arms, leaving the ground and everything.  The room then suddenly got kinda dusty, but when the dust all settled, our whole family was officially hooked.  We bought into Disney Vacation Club on that trip and have been going regularly ever since.

It sounds like you were a reader of the Unofficial Guide from even your first trip. Did you continue following new developments at Disney World even when you didn’t have trips planned? How has your research into planning Disney World trips changed since you started going more frequently?

I would say that prior to 2011, Disney World was something that I thought of fondly and wistfully, but it wasn’t really on my radar day to day.  Any time we did have the opportunity to go, we’d plan the trip to the hilt and tour commando-style, just as we did on that first trip, but unless there was a trip planned, I wasn’t thinking about Disney.  Any time there was something big and new that was announced – for example, I remember the opening of Tower of Terror – it would catch my interest just as a theme park fan, but without kids or regular ties to it growing up, it wasn’t somewhere I seriously considered as a vacation destination.  With that said, in 2007, my wife had a conference in Orlando and, remembering how much I enjoyed Disney the last time I had been, I suggested that I meet my wife down there after her conference and that we take in the parks.  As it turns out, we tried to pack WAY too much into what was basically a long weekend, but it was still ultimately a fun trip.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that laid the groundwork for the unfathomable geekery that would unfold a few years later.

The 2011 trip was the real turning point. We were going to be there for a week, so I had done a ton of planning for the trip, as was my wont.  Not only did I buy a fresh copy of the Unofficial Guide, I started listening to WDW Today and other podcasts, and going on the message boards and blogs to be as prepared as possible.  We had that sort of light bulb moment that I described earlier with my daughter and the Princesses, and after buying into DVC, I was all in returning from that trip.

Probably because I knew we would be there regularly, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I possibly could and keep abreast of everything that was happening at Walt Disney World.  Blogs, books, podcasts, message boards, anything I could read that would inform our future trips.  Part of the thing I always liked about the Unofficial Guide was the idea that just by taking the time to read up on WDW, I could tour much more efficiently than most people that were there.  Since I’d be there a lot (although I didn’t realize how much at that time), it seemed like a good idea, but it just kind of snowballed from there.  I continued to uber-plan our trips for a while, not so much because I thought it was necessary, but because I felt like planning the trip – or helping others plan theirs – kept me in that Disney vacation mindset.

Over time, the planning has definitely changed, just in that some aspects of the trips become second nature, as it does for most of us Disney geeks, I would assume. There’s obviously not really a need to bone up on the various attractions, restaurants and hotels, because we’ve been enough to be familiar with them.  With that said, however, we still map out our days in a rough way, and make sure we’re locked and loaded when it comes time to make ADRs and FastPass+ reservations.  For me, deciding what to do and then trying to piece it together in a way that is as efficient as possible is part of the fun of a Disney trip, so I doubt that will ever change.

You’re known throughout the Disney online community for some of your application of (semi-?)ridiculous scenarios to Disney World trips. (My personal favorite is the where to spend eternity at Disney World one.) What caused you to start creating these scenarios?

James Recruiting Assistance for the Zombie Apocalypse - Picture Courtesy of James
James Recruiting Assistance for the Zombie Apocalypse – Picture Courtesy of James

The guys from Mighty Men of Mouse probably unwittingly contributed to that as much as anything.  As you are no doubt aware, there are countless Disney podcasts out there, and when you listen to a lot of them, as I did and do, you certainly begin to notice some sameness in the subject matter.  There are only so many ways to frame a discussion of your favorite attractions at Disney, and after a while, repetition becomes inevitable and the discussion just becomes less interesting. Enter the Mighty Men of Mouse.  I was introduced to their show when they joined the Touring Plans network, and I really enjoyed that they brought a more analytical view to Disney and sort of put the traditional questions that are raised in the Disney community into different contexts that would require you to think about these attractions, restaurants, and hotels in a unique way.  Their fantasy drafts are a great example, because drafting a great trip required you to balance all of those things and make determinations about what was most valuable at that moment in the draft considering what else was out there, rather than just going for your favorite thing.

My penchant for quirky topics is really an extension of that idea.  Taking the “Best Places to Spend All of Eternity” as an example, it was an opportunity to go beyond the “what is my favorite attraction in each park” question that we’ve all thought about millions of times and instead look at things like density and variety, and possibly force you to forego your favorite attractions in favor of areas that you might not like as much, but that have more going on because, you know, forever is a long time. Each of those articles is intended to have some substance underlying it, though.  Believe it or not, the zombie article was a roundabout way of giving deeper consideration to the architectural features, details, and flow of the parks – it’s just a more interesting way of getting at it, in my opinion.

At the end of the day, it’s a way for people that are very familiar with the Disney Parks to think about them in different ways, and I’m glad to see that at least some people share my enjoyment of these non-traditional, if not outright absurd, quandaries.  It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I’m a huge fan of the “Preposterous Ponderings” segment that Jeremy & Ryan do over at Backside of Magic.  Also, the day the Disney haiku article posted was an unmitigated blast, I had a great time reading a parade of creative haiku roll in all day long.  It makes for great discussion and is a lot of fun, I think.

Wrap Up

A huge thanks to James for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. It’s great to finally get the perspective of an attorney on this site (I kid, obviously. Having James agree to be interviewed was fantastic, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share the interview.)

If you want to read more from him (and how could you not), you can follow his Disney-related writings at TouringPlans, and follow him on Twitter at @jrtoastyman.

A Dust in the Room Disney Moment - Picture Courtesy of James
A Dust in the Room Disney Moment – Picture Courtesy of James

May 2016 BOATRIDE Club Fleet-Up

Phasma!!
Phasma!!

In late June of 2013, the TouringPlans podcast network introduced me to a new (to me) Disney World-centric podcast, Mighty Men of Mouse. It featured three guys from Rhode Island, talking about Disney World, statistical analysis, and a little bit of Boston sports. I was hooked. I listened to the show’s entire back catalog and I declared it my favorite Disney Podcast. Since then, Elyssa and I have become friends with show hosts Russ, Kip, and Dutch, and even appeared on the show a couple of times. Through interactions Twitter and a series of Disney-related drafts , we’ve become part of a larger community that Russ, Kip, and Dutch have built, the BOATRIDE Club (hat tip to the Bullet Club.)

During Elyssa’s and my various trip to Disney World, we’ve met up with locals like Gosh and The Admiral (and their lovely wives, Carye and Kristi.) We’ve even run into fellow BOATRIDE Club members like Howie from Maryland while traveling to other parts of the country. But we’ve never had a situation where other BOATRIDE Club members planned specific trips to Disney World so we could all be together. That changed this past weekend.

Sacrifices (for me and her career)
Sacrifices (for me and her career)

In order to satisfy my “I have to go to Disney World every 4-5 months to stay alive” requirement, Elyssa agreed to a weekend trip during the heart of wedding season if I would be okay with her doing some photography work while on the trip. Around that same time, Wes was also planning a trip to Disney World and we suggested that we try to get those trips to align. It wasn’t much longer before Howie also committed to joining us. Throw in locals Eric and Josh, and we had the makings for a pretty nice BOATRIDE Club “fleet-up” (term credit to Eric.)

The Skillet
The Skillet

Elyssa’s and my first fleet-up event was saying hello to Eric on arrival night, followed by closing down the Magic Kingdom with Wes during the After Dark even. That was followed up by a safari with Howie and Wes on Friday morning, dinner at Via Napoli with Howie, Wes, and Josh on Friday night, and then drinks with Howie, Lite ‘Em and Brandon Glover at Jock Lindsey’s to close out the day. Saturday we got to see the child-like (?) excitement of Howie getting to see Captain Phasma in person, including epic “behind the scenes” periscopes of the event by Wes. The main event, however, was the epic Whispering Canyon dinner with Howie, Wes, Josh, Carye, Eric, and Kristi. We talked over beers and skillets. We joked about Josh’s punctuality (or lack there of), and truly converted friendships that developed online to friendships that existed “IRL”.

We followed up the skillet meal as only BOATRIDE club members could, with rides on Pirates and Splash. 8 friends, filling the 8 seats in one of Disney’s signature (boat)ride vehicles. All of us brought together because 3 guys in Rhode Island started talking about Disney World and putting it on the Internet.

The MMoM listener community is one of those things that’s good about the Internet. It consists of people who are friendly and supportive, even during tough times. Elyssa and I feel lucky to have found it, and even luckier to be included as such a part of it. I am sure we are not alone when we say a huge “Thank you” to Russ, Kip, and Dutch for what they have built.

NOTE: If you’re thinking your late October calendar looks suspiciously devoid of Disney World trips and that you need to correct that, drop Elyssa or me a line. Maybe we can try to do something like this again.

BOATRIDE Club, baby!!
BOATRIDE Club, baby!!

Thoughts from a Whirlwind Weekend Trip to Disney World

If you were following along with either my or Elyssa’sTwitter accounts this past weekend, you know that we had a whirlwind trip down to Disney World. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Magic Kingdom After Dark was Awesome: Even though Elyssa and I walked in a couple of minutes after 11, we had a fantastic time at this event. We rode Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Splash, Big Thunder (Elyssa rode BOTH Splash and Thunder!), Haunted Mansion, Pan, Mine Train, Under the Sea, Mad Tea Party (all 3 of us in 1 cup), Buzz, and met Mickey. We walked onto everything but Mickey (where we waited for about 10 minutes.) My only regret is that we didn’t eat more free ice cream. Overall, this event was well worth the $75 per person we spent, and I would love to do it again. (And, yes, I know that’s not the real name for the event.)
    Mickey is adorable in his safari gear
    Mickey is adorable in his safari gear
  • Tusker House is always Great (Even after only 3 Hours of Sleep): Elyssa and I love breakfast at Disney World, and one of our favorite places is Tusker House. As we’ve said before, it seems to have higher quality food than other Disney World breakfast buffets, and the character interactions have almost always been fantastic. Even Kilimanjaro Safaris being down with “technical difficulties” when we finished didn’t damper our enjoyment of the morning. (Thankfully, Safaris opened right around the time of our Fastpass+ window.)
  • The Boardwalk is Pretty Great if You Like Ice Cream: If you remember the famous easyWDW YOU WILL LOSE MEMBERS!! post, you know there was some outrage when they closed Seashore Sweets (including the thought there was no ice cream in the Boardwalk area anymore.) Well, as major fans of Beaches & Cream, Elyssa and I were always fine with grabbing a No Way Jose as our ice cream item of choice (we did that on this trip, too), but Ample Hills Creamery now provides another option. The ice cream at Ample Hills is fantastic, with some unique flavor choices (I went with the coffee toffee coffee / chocolate milk and cookies combo), but you do pay for the quality. The 2 cups of ice cream that Elyssa and I got cost more than a No Way Jose (combined, obviously).
  • Joy & Sadness!!
    Joy & Sadness!!
    There is a Stark Contrast between the crowds at the booths at Flower & Garden compared to Food & Wine: (Feel free to make your “Stark” / Game of Thrones joke here.) When you go to Food & Wine, you have to get there right when they open at 11:00am if you want to “guarantee” that you won’t have super long waits. At Flower & Garden, it was rare to even see a line at the booths (even on a Friday night.) Though I had done some research into what was being offered, I ended up deciding that I would rather just spend my money other ways than on the “outdoor kitchens.” I know people say Flower & Garden has become a “mini-Food & Wine”, but I just didn’t get that vibe. (EPCOT AISDE: The Joy & Sadness meet-and-greet is pretty awesome. Highly recommended.)
    Just like I get in my mall food court
    Just like I get in my mall food court
  • Disney Springs is a Really Nice Place to Visit and It Keeps Improving: The “it’s just mall” take is weak and tired. We get it, there’s an Under Armour store at Disney Springs and there’s one at your favorite mall. Cool. Now leave so I can enjoy the ambiance, great places to eat, and the Disney-specific shopping that is also at Disney Springs without you taking up space. I’m fine with people saying Disney Springs is “not for them”, but you’re doing a disservice to people who are planning their Disney World tip if you just dismiss it out of hand. Places like the BOATHOUSE and Jock Lindsey’s offer a chance to relax, have a drink, or get a pretty decent meal in a nice setting that doesn’t require theme park admission (The BOATHOUSE filet sliders are still a great value, and I keep waiting for them to raise the price by like $5 one night), and the construction isn’t even done yet. I think when construction is finally completed, Disney Springs really is going to be a place a majority of people are going to want to visit on their vacations. (DISNEY SPRINGS ASIDE: The 3 Little Pigs Sampler at B.B. Wolf’s was fantastic.)

There was one other big part of the trip for Elyssa and me: The BOATRIDE Club “fleet up” (term credit to friend of the site Eric Laycock). That, however, deserves its own write-up (which I’ll hopefully get to later this week.)

I had a pretty good trip
I had a pretty good trip

Meanwhile, at Disney World

We’re trying to a little something different and posting some trip photos on the site during the trip. These are different than the ones Elyssa and I have been posting on social media, so enjoy!

Always great to meet Mickey
Always great to meet Mickey
The Star Wars fireworks are fantastic
The Star Wars fireworks are fantastic
Always great to see BB-8
Always great to see BB-8
Ample Hills Ice Cream
Ample Hills Ice Cream
Waffles at Al Forno
Waffles at Al Forno
Pork Nachos at Territory Lounge
Pork Nachos at Territory Lounge

Tons of New Announcements, but we’re at Disney World!

There were a bunch of new announcements today, including that from May 27 through June 17, you’ll be able to see classic Soarin’ at Epcot and that Frozen Ever After will open June 21 (comments on the post seem to indicate that Anna & Elsa will be stand-by only ?!?!?). Though I would love to write things up in more detail, Elyssa and I are currently at Disney World, so I’ll point you to this post over at easyWDW with a summary of all the new stuff taking place this summer at Disney World.

Oh, and in case you were worried, we’re having an okay time down here:

The Big Cheese
The Big Cheese

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It may seem like you just had a large helping of News Nuggets, but the Disney World news has been coming hot and heavy for the past week or so. Sounds like it’s time for another order!

Here are the latest Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets:

Even though it’s not really our beat, we’ll end with a couple of videos from Shanghai Disney. First the TRON coaster:

And this one of Shanghai’s version of Pirates of the Carribbean:

Rumors are that this is the BOATRIDE system that will be used in the new Pandora BOATRIDE. Hopefully, that ride will be as impressive as this version of Pirates is.

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s been a little bit since we did a full version of the News Nuggets, so it looks like we’re going to need a double order! (As an aside, Elyssa and I once thought we were hungry enough to get 2 orders of corn dog nuggets from Casey’s Corner. It did not end well.)

First, today’s big news was the release of the famous “Free Dining” offer (and related room-only discount.). Free dining is one of the most “famous” of the Disney discounts, but if you’re staying a moderate or deluxe resort, it’s almost always a better value to get the room-only discount instead.

Second, initial reviews of the first couple of “After Hours” parties at the Magic Kingdom are starting to trickle in. Attractions Magazine has some nice pictures that show (what feels like) a nearly empty park, easyWDW showed how there was virtually no wait at any of the attractions that were operating, and Dave’s brief summary on yourfirstvisit.net seems to confirm the “non-existent crowd” feel. Even TouringPlans thinks the party is worth the money. Personally, I’m tempted by it, but Elyssa and I could do a lot with $300 at Disney World, so I’m not sure we’ll end up doing it.

Third, you can now book your 4th Fastpass+ on your phone!. This should mean that a lot (most?) people no longer will need to ever visit one of the Fastpass+ kiosks (which means maybe Disney can put staffing cuts in those areas instead of on actual attractions.)

Now, on to the rest of the Nuggets!!

That’s it from this double-sized order of News Nuggets. I’ll leave you with the final performance of the Dream Along with Mickey castle show:

Disney World Summer Entertainment Announcements – EMERGENCY News Nuggets

The Disney Parks Blog exploded this morning with news about what’s coming this summer to Disney World. There is so much information that it seemed appropriate for a very special EMERGENCY EDITION of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets!

First, we learned that near the end of May (i.e., Memorial Day Weekend), we’ll be getting:

A couple weeks later, in June, we’ll be getting:

  • Frozen Ever After – Say what you want about Frozen, but this is going to draw people to Epcot in a way that hasn’t happened for months (years?).
  • Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire. – The previous Magic Kingdom stage show had been around for so long that I can’t even really remember watching it. I’m interested to see what they do with this one.
  • Soarin’ Around the World – Speaking of things to draw people to Epcot. Going into The Land pavilion the past few months has been eerie. I’m looking forward to Soarin’ re-opening, and I have high hopes that the new video is going to be great.

Disney also announced that new princess Elena of Avalor will debut at the Magic Kingdom in August and posted another rundown of the new Disney Springs elements opening this summer.

Lastly, Disney shared some more details about the upcoming Toy Story Land at The Studios. Personally, I’m less concerned with the attractions coming to this land, and more interested into how intricate the theming is. I really hope I feel like I have been “shrunk[en] to the size of a toy” while I’m there."

Disney also released some concept video of the Slinky Dog Dash coaster, and that seems like an excellent way to end this post: