News Nuggets from Around Disney World

With 2015 coming to a close, I figured we could sneak in one last edition of Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggests. After the big edition last week, this will feel like a little bit of a down week:

Let’s end things with a link to a video of this year’s holiday Illuminations and a link to Corey Disbrow’s 2015 Disney World photo recap. (And don’t forget that Disney is live streaming it’s New Year’s Eve fireworks from the Magic Kingdom tonight!)

The original news nugget picture for the last nuggets of 2015
The original news nugget picture for the last nuggets of 2015

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

There has been a lot of Disney World news over these last few weeks of 2015. So, let’s not waste any time and get right to this edition of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets: 

That’s it for this edition of the New Nuggets. Let’s finish off this post with a link to some pictures of some of the great Christmas trees found at Disney World And a video of the new Symphony in the Stars, Star Wars-based Fireworks at The Studios

News Nugget time!!
News Nugget time!!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

So many nuggets, they don't even fit in the cup.
So many nuggets, they don’t even fit in the cup.

It’s about time for a hearty helping of news nuggets. As you are probably aware, new Star Wars offerings opened at The Studios this week, but since Star Wars is so important (both to Disney, and to Elyssa and me), I will be saving a recap of that coverage for another post.

On to the nuggets!

We’ll close out with some links to the various Christmas decorations that are up around Disney World, including gingerbread sculptures at Contemporary, Mickey’s Village at the Yacht Club, and the famous gingerbread house at the Floridian.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Ken Storey (Part 3)

Today we conclude our 3-part interview with Ken Storey. Since Part 1 was about Orlando’s (and Ken’s) past, and Part 2 was about Orlando’s present, it seemed to appropriate that Part 3 would be about Orlando’s future. (It also is quite timely, with yesterday’s discussions and votes about some of the area’s future projects.) Since I know none of you are here to read my intro, let’s get right to Ken:

Ken, using his powers for good. (Screencap via Chad Reno)
Ken, using his powers for good. (Screencap via Chad Reno)

Disney and Universal have already made major announcements about how they will be expanding their parks (Volcano Bay, Sapphire Falls, Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land), but have also announced some price increases in advance of those expansions completing. How do you see the landscape of Orlando evolving over the next 10–20 years?

It can really be summed up in five major parts: new visitors, density, harnessing local non-tourism industries, sports, and celebrating the existing neighborhoods.

The next 20 years will see Orlando shift from a second (or third) tier city into a truly world-class destination. While that may be good for locals (higher pay, more options, better services) it will also mean major price increases that will limit many Americans from coming as regularly as they do now. Demand, lowering travel costs, and more world class amenities will mean Orlando will see more high-income international visitors.

Unlike the international guests we now receive, I believe the focus will shift away from budget travel groups (like the ones Brazilian high schoolers use to come here with), and instead will focus on more customized, small group options. Volcano Bay has released one official piece of artwork and in it we see private cabanas. I interpret that as signal of who Universal Orlando will soon to be going after. While Cabana Bay is focused on the ‘American family’, and Sapphire Falls will be focused on the convention crowd, I expect new investments in the resort to focus more on the untapped, higher income guests.

Disney has already begun slowly but surely rolling out new, one-of-a-kind options for these kinds of guests. The key is to keep the authenticity of the theme parks intact while also allowing for more up charge options. I believe in 20 years you won’t have a simple gate fee ticket option. Instead, every ticket will be linked to meals, cabanas, extra parks hours, etc… via up charge options. Options that are currently baked into the cost of the ticket will also be separated from it. I will hate it, but I won’t be surprised if Magic Bands someday means an up charge for unlimited rides.

For example, I think Discovery Cove is a smart way forward but unlike there—where they provide that ‘resort like’ experience by limiting the number of guests—Universal and Disney will provide that same level of quality via technology, crowd flow, and other tricks.

While many of the changes on property will be hard to see without a TouringPlans-style super computer, off property the changes will be much easier to find. We’re already seeing foreign investment. Skyplex is harnessing the power of EB–5, the iSquare megamall is funded by a group of foreign investors, and Asians are leading the pack in vacation home purchases in numerous major neighborhoods in the region. With more high-income foreigners coming, we’ll see more major foreign investment. The new direct flights to Dubai have caused at least two major business expos (one in Dubai with Florida companies and one here with Middle Eastern ones). These new direct flights and the expansions at MCO will also help make Orlando another hub option between Miami and Atlanta.

The location of Orlando is perfect for connecting the United States east coast with South America, Africa, and beyond. Africa’s emerging economies will be major players within the next 20 years, and Orlando is already positioning itself to embrace that African nouveau riche. Just as we saw with the Europeans over the past 30 years, we’ll soon see with the Africans, South Americans, and Asians.

All of that is not to say ‘mom and pop’ from Kansas still won’t be coming, but, instead of a yearly trip, their trip will be every five or ten years. Also, when they come, they will encounter more ‘worldly’ and ‘big city’ experiences. The shift in dining options at Disney Springs and in Epcot testifies to that. The Orlando that was a pure escape with no worries is already gone. An Orlando vacation already requires more planning than a similar trip to most other equivalents in the U.S. (Orlando currently sits in between Kansas City and Indianapolis in population). An Orlando vacation will soon look more like a foreign vacation, where more extensive planning is required.

That will also mean more opportunities for visitors to go offsite. Non-bus mass transit is already in the works to link I-Drive, MCO, Miami, and downtown. Disney showed it was willing to link up to mass transit if it was done properly (even though that high-speed rail project ultimately died due to Tea Party interests). Disney also seems to be shifting away from the model of doing everything themselves. The new Four Seasons and the 3rd party hotels of Flamingo Crossing seem to be a better model. I expect more of that type of model in the future both on and off-property. I-Drive will focus more on convention and special events. South Florida will likely get full fledge casinos and—despite what many say—I’d expect at least 2 or 3 major destination casinos in the Central Florida region, especially along the coastline and in declining areas like 192.

We’re already seeing a changing of the guard in many of the smaller attractions around town. The older, lower quality attractions are dying (like CSI) while new, high-cost ones are being built (like Skyplex). This will mean that ‘mom and pop’ from Kansas will suddenly find themselves in a much more urban Orlando. The new I–4 Ultimate project that will include congestion based tolling lanes, digital signage, artwork, and ramp meters might be enough in its own to scare ‘mom and pop’ from ever renting a car in Orlando again. While this might not be good for today’s Boomers, Millennials seem to love urban areas and Orlando will shift to address that new ‘big city’ vacation desire of that generation. A shift we’re already seeing in the new density that is occurring along I-Drive and throughout downtown Orlando (which has a 95% apartment occupancy rate).

There will still be plenty of suburban areas, but even those will be less organic. Places like Winter Park and Celebration are working hard to grow while keeping their small town charm. The difference is these smaller ‘towns’ mean the region will soon have large bases of locals and tourists to harness in creating large scale special events. Celebration has proven these to be successful already with things like the nightly snow fall. Other communities in the region will find their own voice and special events. We’ve seen an increase in local farmers markets, holiday events, and food truck gatherings. I expect these types of community gatherings to grow and to work their way into Central Florida based vacations. I see no reason why—with a strong non-bus mass transit system—local weekly events couldn’t be as much of a draw for visitors as they are in places like Paris, London, or Hong Kong.

Orlando’s booming tech scene will also play a major role in the future of tourism here. All those new tech companies are looking for cool ways to showcase their goods and what better way than with new attractions or partnerships with existing ones. This is the model the mag-lev train is using, the train here isn’t designed to be a huge profit driver but instead will be used as a working sales example that others can visit. Harris IT did a similar thing with the Amway Center where they ‘pimped out’ the arena with their tech and making it the most technologically advanced basketball arena in the nation. The cool tech means visitors (and lots of Brazilians seem to be going to those Magic games) will remember their experience for longer. With MLS, NBA and rumors of another major league sports team moving here, sports will become a major aspect of Central Florida tourism.

This new diversity will also mean Orlando will find its own voice, linking up in part with Miami but also moving beyond just being known as that strip of land in between MCO and WDW.

The biggest question for me—and I understand that 20 years out might be a bit too soon for this,but I’ve yet to find a satisfactory answer—is how will public space tourism affect Central Florida? With a major space port here, will we see Land and Space vacations like we now see Land and Sea ones?

Conclusion

Wow. There is a lot to unpack in Ken’s response, but I’ll save for another day. I think Ken’s thoughts deserve to stand on their own. Instead, I’ll simply offer a huge, huge thank you to Ken for sharing all of this information with us. It was great to read.

If you enjoyed reading Ken’s thoughts, I’d encourage you to check out his podcast (the Orlando Tourism Report), his Orlando Weekly columns, or follow him on Twitter. After all, when it comes to knowledge about Orlando, you’re not going to find anyone better than Ken.

 

Since y'all demand it, here it is, one last time.
Since y’all demand it, here it is, one last time.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Ken Storey (Part 1)

This next entry in the Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview Series will be slightly different from what we’ve done on the site before. Ken Storey (who you may know from Twitter, the Orlando Tourism Report, his Orlando Weekly columns, or various other places on the internet) graciously agreed to be interviewed for the site, but, as the interview evolved, we realized that there would be too much content to include in just one post. So, today we are starting a 3-part series on Orlando’s Past, Present and Future. The first entry (Past) is included below (and features some background on Ken’s past as well), and the additional entries (Present and Future) will come Monday, November 30, 2015 and Wednesday, December 2, 2015, respectively. I hope you enjoy it.

Ken...Preparing for a "typical" gator wrestling show?
Ken…Preparing for a “typical” gator wrestling show?

Orlando (and Ken’s) Past

Many people who know you online think of you as someone with a great deal of knowledge of all aspects of Orlando, not just Disney and Universal. How did you develop such a wide range of knowledge?

It’s a bit of a long story. When I was in 6th Grade for Social Studies I was required to make a portfolio on the state that included things like the history, main economic drivers, etc. Well back in 1996 there wasn’t a lot of ‘internet’ and ‘smart phones’ to help me with the project so my mother took me to the Visitors Welcome Center just north of Leesburg on 441. It was a small wooden building with a tall roof that stuck out even then so I had always wondered what was inside. I met the most knowledgeable people there, got cool brochures on amazing places all around the state and left with a new fascination with the state. That was the final click broke me and created my obsession.

Looking back there have always been hints of it. Growing up I had always been told the stories of life in Florida. My mother, raised here from the age 1, grew up in Venice and was friends with numerous Ringling Circus families. Then as a teenager she moved to Central Florida and lived on what is now the Sanford Airport, for a time they even kept pigs on what is now the runway. These stories of her babysitting for E-Tickets, mixed with the magic of growing up in later 1980s/early 1990s Florida have always been my inspiration to keep going.

I was still in the womb the first time I visited Magic Kingdom (an awful July 4th, 1984 in which the transit system couldn’t hold the crowds forcing many, including my mother who was very pregnant with me, to walk from the front gates to the parking lot).

Ken has also always been into construction
Ken has also always been into construction

My father has always been in construction. He taught me how to read blueprints with a job he was bidding. It was an oddly simple blueprint plan, unlike most this one only featured enough details for what he was bidding on (the doors), that plan was for Mission: Space at Epcot. Some of my strongest and fondest memories growing up are memories of Epcot (it was the first place I witnessed webcams and saw a robot that could mow the grass on its own).

My parents, who both had been in Florida a number of years, had many friends working at the mouse and when that ‘new park’ (Universal) opened in town we were some of the first to visit it. Luckily for us that new park had a meltdown on most of their rides and we were given wads of tickets, the last of which I finally used in 2007. All those tickets meant that I was able to not only spend my childhood with the magic of Epcot but in this new park that did things a bit different.

After that initial visit to the Welcome Center I became a regular visitor there and any time I passed a thing of brochures I had to stop to pick a few (a habit I’ve yet to break). Soon my walk-in closet was redone as my very own ‘welcome center’ where I kept rows of brochures. When family would come to visit I’d make sure to advise them on all the cool stuff to do in town. Most other kids in school took up sports, odd collections of meaningless items like rocks or cards with random facts on them or other seemingly (to me at the time) pointless hobbies but I kept my brochures.

The 1990s were a very odd time for Central Florida. 4 major theme parks opened in the course of 9 years, it wasn’t just the Disney Decade- it was the Orlando Decade. And here I was growing up right in the middle of it. My father went from working at a local lumberyard to helping build entire new towns. Places like The Villages and Celebration appeared almost overnight. My father, knowing what was taking place, was smart in showing me the construction. I saw the cow fields that became Celebration and drove the endless roads filled with houses still under construction in The Villages and west Orange County. All of this inspired me, all this change happening more or less because of one person. We’re taught as children that we can change the world but here I was truly witnessing it, the entire reality of Central Florida rapidly changing and all thanks in large part to one guy.

So throw all of that in a blender and I think it’s pretty easy to see why I’m the completely obsessed with this ever changing region.

That’s it for Part 1. I hope you enjoyed getting a little more background on Ken and some early Orlando. The next installment will be up on Monday, November 30.

Items We Tried at the 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Following the trend established by the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, I figured now (when the festival has ended?) is the perfect time to recap some of the items Elyssa and I had at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

As I have mentioned before, I made my list of “to try” items based on Josh’s reviews over at easyWDW. If you want a more comprehensive list of all the items that were available at this year’s festival (or a more detailed review of flavor profile of each individual item), I suggest giving that a shot.

With that out of the way, here’s what I tried:

Farm Fresh

Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions
Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions

Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions: Elyssa got a serving of this, and I had a bite. I found it to be okay in its overall flavor (but I’m not the big macaroni and cheese fan that Elyssa is.) I think I agree with Josh’s take that there were way too many onions for a portion this size.

Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens and house-made habanero sauce
Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens
and house-made habanero sauce

Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens and house-made habanero sauce: While Elyssa went with the above listed macaroni and cheese, I chose the griddled “yard bird.” The habanero sauce did end up giving the chicken a nice bit of spice (standard disclaimer that I’m the type to order “medium” hot wings instead of “atomic”), and that size of the portion was okay. I assume the braised greens were intended to be a garnish, so I didn’t eat them.

New Zealand

Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney
Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney

Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney: This was a pretty straightforward dish: a big meatball in a bread bowl. It was right up my alley and it was quite good (even if I ended up spilling some of it on myself.) I’m not sure I noticed anything particularly “spicy”, but that didn’t really impact my enjoyment of this.

Africa

Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit
Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit

Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit: As Josh noted, you can smell the spices for this one as you walk by. Though it was a little more spicy than I would normally like, both Elyssa and her sister (who both would order the “atomic” wings in a heart beat) really enjoyed it.

Morocco

Baklava (Oops, I got to excited and forgot to take a picture of the one I ordered.)
Baklava (Oops, I got to excited and forgot to take a picture of the one I ordered.)

Baklava: I decided to use this year’s Food & Wine Festival as a chance to try baklava (for the first time in my life.) For a first taste (ever) of this pastry, it was pretty good. (Since then, I’ve gotten the frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s. The Food & Wine stuff was better than that.) I’m still far from a baklava connoisseur, so feel free to take that into consideration.

Belgium

Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef
Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef

Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef: Though this booth was stocked with items I wanted to try, I ended up choosing this waffle with beef. The beef was tender and the waffle was quite good. I really liked this.

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream
Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream: Elyssa, on the other hand, went with this waffle with chocolate. I’m not sure how to review a fresh waffle with chocolate, other than to say “It’s as good as you’d expect it to be” (i.e., pretty good.)

Ireland

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie
Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie: This was really, really good. Potatoes, lobster, cheese. How can you go wrong with an item that sounds so delicious? (Actually, don’t answer that.) The only negative thing I have to say about this item is that having it almost immediately after entering the festival set my expectations a little too high for the rest of the available items.

Chew Lab

Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel
Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel

Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel These things were amazing. They had a texture and taste almost like ice cream (but with more of a mousse-like consistency) and the caramel on top added just the right complementary flavor. Elyssa and I had five of these (each) while we were there, and would probably have them all the time if they there were available somewhere near us.

News Nuggets (Special, Double-Sized Edition!)

Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.
Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.

While we were away on an actual visit to Disney World, we fell a little behind on the various bits of news that came out over the past couple of weeks. We intend to rectify that situation with today’s special, double sized, edition of Rope Drop [dot] Net’s News Nuggets:

NOTE: While I was preparing this News Nuggets update, Disney released additional details about the nighttime “Rivers of Light” show coming to the Animal Kingdom. I couldn’t wait to share that news, and already posted about it here.

Lastly (and of particular interest to Elyssa), next year’s Dapper Days have been announced: * April 16 – Magic Kingdom * November 12 – EPCOT

I think we already have a Kivus & Camera wedding booked for April 16, so I guess we’ll see how badly Elyssa wants to go down for the one in November.

And We’re Back! (from Disney World)

Just before the end of the Wine & Dine
Just before the end of the Wine & Dine

If you follow Elyssa and Me on Instagram, you probably know that we just spent the last week visiting Disney World for the (shortened) Wine & Dine half marathon. This was our first big trip since we started Rope Drop [dot] Net, and, frankly, I anticipated posting a little on the site while we were on vacation. My apologies that didn’t happen, but we’ll try to make up for it over the next few weeks as we talk about some of the things we did on the trip, including:

  • Visiting Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival (Liquid Nitro truffles…mmmm….)
  • Dinner at The BOATHOUSE (including having a Baked Alaska)
  • 8am Breakfast at Be Our Guest (Pre-park-opening Mine Train, baby!)
  • Dinner at Tutto Italia
  • Running the Wine & Dine (our first (half-ish) Half Marathon)
  • Dinner at Morimoto Asia
  • Our last viewing of the Osborne Lights (we’re going to miss those)
  • Attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (It really was beginning to look at a lot like Christmas)

We also stopped by Diagon Alley, and (if you ask her really nicely) there’s a chance that Elyssa might do a write-up about that (after she catches up on Kivus & Camera related photo editing).

We also have some really great interviews coming up (including our first ever 3-part interview with the always great Ken Storey), and some interesting thoughts about some of the “News Nuggets” that happened over the past week (SPOILER ALERT: We are bummed about no more Star Wars Weekends, even though we kind of knew it was going to happen).

If you have any interest in hearing about one of the above items more than others, please feel free to drop us a line or hit us up on Twitter. And, while you’re waiting for more content here, check out friend of the show Howie from Maryland on this week’s Mighty Men of Mouse podcast. They’re talking all about the MMoM Listener Land Ranknings that we posted here a couple of weeks ago.

That’s all for now. See you real soon!

The Baked Alaska!
The Baked Alaska!

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.)

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)

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

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.

Early Coverage of the 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Sunset at Epcot
Sunset at Epcot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, please.

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

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

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

Frozen Meet and Greet Now Opens at 9am

Now, instead of trying to line up at 10:30am for the 11:00m am entry, you can just go there directly at rope drop. Unfortunately, if you want to meet Anna and Elsa without having to wait 2 hours, you should plan on making them your first stop.

The Frozen Meet and Greet at the Norway Pavilion Extended until January 31st

The meet and greet was originally supposed to go through January 4th, but has now been extended to last until January 31st1.

For anyone who wants to meet Anna and Elsa, I highly recommend being in line at 10:30am (for the 11:00am meeting session.) The amount of people that can be admitted for a given session is very short, so if you miss this first session, it could be a very, very long wait.


  1. I would not be surprised if it was extended again, too.