I would classify the news concerning Avatarland coming out of D23–especially the announcement of a “Summer 2017” opening–as the most “important” item from the event. Now, obviously “summer” could mean anything from late April through early September, but I’m going to try to be optimistic (remember, Animal Kingdom first opened on April 22).
Bolstering the opening date announcement, Disney also revealed additional details about the new land, including (i) Satu’li Cantenn (the major restaurant in the land), (ii) Pongu Pongu (a “special drink location”), and (iii) Windtraders (the merchandise location.) What seems pretty clear from the concept art Disney released is that this land–much like the upcoming Star Wars land–is going to maintain its theming throughout the entire land, from the food offerings, to the merchandise offerings, to (I bet) even the way cast members interact with guests (I believe the buzzword is “immersive.”)
Robert Niles over at Theme Park Insider also had a write-up of the actual D23 presentation, that included confirmation from James Camerson himself that Na’vi will not be walking around Avatarland, instead limiting their appearances to attractions.
Maybe the most interesting release from the event was this video of a Na’vi animatronic–the “Shaman of Songs”, a key figure in the Na’vi River Journey BOATRIDE:
If the actual animatronics are going to look that good, Avatarland really could be something.
Though the news coming of Avatarland might have more immediate impact on Disney World, Star Wars land also got a minor highlight, including a mention of the attraction that will allow guests to “take controls of the Millennium Falcon” and the release of new piece of artwork showing what the new land will look like at night:
Windtraders – Artwork courtesy of Disney
Similar to what happened when Disney released Episode VII, it was also announced that there would be a new Episode VIII theme mission that will be added to Star Tours along with the release of the movie.
“Major Changes” coming to Epcot – Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek said that Epcot would be going through a “major transformation” in the next couple of years (WDW News Today classified it as “an overhaul“.). Write-ups of the speech all reference his use of the phrases “dream big” and “more Disney, timeless, [and] relevant”, while staying true to Epcot’s “original vision”. At this point, those phrases are more a Disney fan Rorschach test (“relevant means it’s going to be all current IPs!”, “timeless means they’ll be thinking outside of what’s hot now, and doing something that will last”, etc…), than actually revealing about what might happen at Epcot. With so much else going on around Disney World, I’m going to take more of a wait-and-see approach on this one.
MagicBand 2 coming to Disney World – This new magic band has been rumored for a few weeks, and involves a removable disc that you can take out of the band and insert in other items (e.g., a necklace.) Ultimately, I’m glad I’ll now have an easy, visual way to know which of my Magic Bands is older, but I don’t really have a lot of excitement (or disappointment) about this. (Check out WDW News Today’s Magic Band 2 gallery if you want to see a metric buttload more photos of the new style of Magic Band.)
In-Park Cabanas coming to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. – This news item was not part of the official D23 announcements, but, instead, quickly spread on Twitter. Details are still a little hazy, but it seems like the “cabanas” are $650ish a day “tents” (see here and here) that have AC, seating, television, and the ability to order “room services” (at an additional cost.) As you might imagine, that initial pictures look ridiculous. However, if Disney can somehow offset additional prices increases or staff reductions on the backs of people who want to hang out in a tent and watch tv in the Magic Kingdom, I’m fine with it.
Our latest trip to Disney World focused around a few major Disney World events: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I’ve learned these past couple of years that having defined things that we want to do lets us feel a little of the time pressure that people who don’t visit as frequently as we do can end up feeling. It makes for an interesting trip. Here are some initial thoughts:
The End of Celebrate the Magic:I’ve already written about how much Celebrate the Magic means to Elyssa and me, but seeing the show for the last time was still overwhelmingly emotional for both of us. I have faith that the new projection show will be good, but I doubt we’ll ever have the emotional connection to that new show that we have to this one. It truly will be missed.
Kona Cafe (Breakfast): I still love starting a day with a press of Kona Coffee and an order of Tonga Toast. Elyssa almost always ends up with a Big Kahuna (which, again, is a great way to start the day.) We normally get an early ADR, and then head to the Magic Kingdom to watch the Welcome Show. I don’t know if I’d recommend Kona if you want to rope drop Mine Train, but it’s pretty perfect for what we use it for.
Homecoming Florida (Dinner or Drinks): Homecoming is fast becoming one of our favorite spots to grab a drink later at night (in addition to being an excellent dining option for either lunch or dinner.) Fried Chicken, biscuits, and hush puppies aren’t the most “adventurous” of dishes, but Homecoming does them very well. If southern comfort food is something you enjoy, I’d definitely give Homecoming a shot.
Animal Kingdom at Night is a (Hidden?) Gem: We now build nights at Animal Kingdom into our trip. An evening Safari, a drink or two at Nomad Lounge, and the Tree of Life Awakenings (which are extremely fun to watch) all make for a really enjoyable night.
Seeing Friends is Always Fun: Elyssa and I were fortunate enough to run into world famous podcaster, “Light ‘Em and Hide”, twice including once with a guest appearance by similarly renowned Disney theme park photographer Brandon Glover. Though we didn’t get to meet up with friends of the site, Dutch, Josh, or Eric, I’m sure we’ll run into them again before too long. Name dropping aside, it’s always nice to spend time with people we know from this little hobby of ours. I hope the trend those meet-ups continues.
Over the next week (or two, or three…), I’ll be working some more in-depth coverage of a few of things we did, but here is a little preview:
Goofy and Pals Breakfast at the Four Season: Elyssa and I decided to switch things up on the character breakfast front and try something a little different. My (almost) twitter length review: Breakfast was good. It has a little different vibe than standard Disney character meals (fancier?). The food also seemed to be a step up from what you might find at a traditional Disney buffet. The character interactions were superb (and if that’s what you want, I’d recommend making a 10:45am or so reservation, since the place was nearly cleared out by 11:00.).
Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party: Halloween is Elyssa’s favorite holiday, so we had been thinking about planning a trip around the halloween party for years. Things finally fell into place this year. We arrived at the party a little before 4 (and used our AP to gain admission.) We ended up meeting Tink, Rapunzel, Tiana, the Seven Dwarfs, and riding Mine Train before the party officially started at 7pm. From then on it was character meet-and-greets, parades, fireworks, and candy. It was a super fun night (Maybe Elyssa and I should do a Mic Drop segment on it??)
Food and Wine: I feel like the stand outs from Food & Wine the past couple of years are either desserts or from the Chew booths (or sometimes, both.) Things like the Liquid Nitro Truffle, or the Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse stand out in my memory more than the duck bun I got from China. At this point, I’d probably be fine attending 1 or 2 mornings mid-week and calling it a Festival.
Overall, it was a pretty great (if not a little jam packed) trip (even with Celebrate coming to and end.)
We hold hands tightly as the paper lanterns rise on the castle, we smile and laugh as the children around us sing along loudly with Let it Go, and then, when the final segment starts, we shed a tear or two of joy as Pocahontas’s defiant look turns into Carl’s balloon-attached house rising into the air.
For almost three months in 2014, I worried about Elyssa’s health and future. I watched as she struggled to learn to walk (and run) again. On our wedding day, I was so happy that she’d made it that far. It wasn’t until the first night of our honeymoon, though,–when we were standing on Main Street and Celebrate the Magic started–that I finally felt like things were really going to be okay. Even if you didn’t connect with the show itself, just think of some moment in your life that has come to represent something special; that’s what Celebrate the Magic is for us.
I’m glad Elyssa and I were already planning to be down here to say goodbye to one of our favorite shows. Because of our connection with it, it was the list of things we would have had to drive down to see one last time before it ended. Now, we get one more night to celebrate the memories that Celebrate the Magic has given us.
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a new navigation option pop up in the menu a few days ago. That was a “soft launch”, but today we’re officially launching a new feature on the site: Everyday Carry – John’s Disney Bag. People who know me are aware of the extent that I iterate over every aspect of my Disney plans, always trying to refine each and every detail. As you might expect, that refinement extends to the bag that I bring with me to the parks pretty much every day.
As I mentioned in the last post, one of the goals during this trip was to make smaller updates along the way (instead of waiting to talk about the trip at the very end.) Since we’re going to STK tonight–which means you might never hear from me again–, I figured now would be a good time to post an update.
We both really enjoyed the night time Kilimanjaro Safaris. As I mentioned on Twitter, the experience is almost impossible to photograph, but don’t let my crappy photos deter you from giving it a shot. We were lucky enough to see the best lion interactions we’ve ever seen on a safari at Animal Kingdom, and I would still feel like I’m ahead if I rode the ride 10 more times and didn’t see an animal. If you’re at Animal Kingdom at night, I think it’s worth your time to give it a try (and Elyssa would probably even give a stronger recommendation.) That said, if Disney’s only running 1 side of the queue (which I hear is pretty common), you’re going to want to do what you can to get a Fastpass+ reservation. Otherwise, you’re probably going to wait an hour. (We managed to get a Fastpass+ reservation for about 20 minutes in the future after about 3 minutes of refreshing the app around 7:50pm.)
The Tree of Life Awakenings are fantastic. I saw 3 different versions, and I enjoyed them all. I especially like the one that featured more “movie type” excerpts, which gave the whole thing a Celebrate the Magic-like feel.
Nomad Lounge was pretty much dead from 8:45-10:00 while we were there, but it was a nice, relaxing way to end the day. The Kungaloosh Ale (which almost had Newcastle-like flavors with some added spice) and the Tempting Tigress were both quite good. Elyssa also enjoyed the Hightower Rocks (where the sweetness that covers the alcohol could easily get you sneaky drunk without too much effort.)
The actual breakfast at Akershus is not quite as good as places like Crystal Palace, Tusker House, or Whispering Canyon (it consists of a “hot plate” with eggs, bacon, potato casserole, etc…, and a buffet with pastries and cold cuts.) We had decent princess interactions, seeing Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, and Snow White in the span 50 minutes (though the princesses all came out much later than we thought they would.) We still managed to exit in time to get into Frozen Ever After with only about a 15 minute wait (I’ll probably write about this more later, but you probably want to exit at 8:45-8:50am if you really want to guarantee a low wait. We exited at about 8:55am and ended up merging with the flow of people. I think we got pretty lucky.)
I really enjoyed Frozen Ever After. The movement on animatronics–especially Olaf–has to be seen to be believed. It is just so fluid. Elsa’s ice palace scene is also fantastic. For us and our sensibilities, it’s an upgrade over Maelstrom.
Even though we weren’t on the far edge of the Soarin’ screen, we could see some bending of the structures. For us, it was only really noticeable for the Eiffel Tower. That said, the Soarin’ experience is still great. I’ll refrain from any “spoilers” about what’s in it, but I like the new video. (It’s probably blogger bias, but when I first thought about what to write for Soarin‘, the minimal bending was what came to mind. That’s why that sentence was first, not the part where I explain my overall impression of the ride.)
I think Ample Hills is my second favorite ice cream on property (it is probably Elyssa’s first.) I think I still prefer a No Way Jose, but knowing I can get Ample Hills if there are no Beaches & Cream ADRs available is a great fall back. (I know the ice cream itself is probably better than plain ice cream from Beaches & Cream, but I just have so much connection to the No Way Jose, that I can’t pick something else ahead of it.)
After having lunch there on Monday afternoon, I think Via Napoli has moved into a clear 3rd place in the “Disney World restaurant most frequented by the Kivii” rankings. (Whispering Canyon is pretty far out in the lead (since we have stayed at Wilderness Lodge a bunch, and it has breakfast, lunch & dinner options), Beaches & Cream is second place (partially because of stops for No Way Joses), and BOATHOUSE is probably 4th (for now).) The “flexibility” pizza provides is probably one of the reasons we like it so much (we decided to make a last second Ample Hills stop about 45 minutes before Via Napoli, which meant we didn’t eat our entire pizza for lunch. That wasn’t an issue, however, since we were able to take it home and pull it out of the fridge to have for dinner a couple of hours later.)
We finished our day by watching the Main Street Electrical Parade. I’m glad I got to see it again before it goes away in a few weeks, but watching it does reinforce that I’m super bummed it’s leaving. Elyssa and I have so many good memories of watching it.
That’s it for this update. Dinner at STK tonight. Wish me luck!
We’re going to try something different on this trip and try to post some more updates during the trip (in addition to coverage once it’s completed.) Here are some thoughts about the first night and day of the trip:
Homecoming turned out to be pretty good (even if I was a little miffed at some of the seating mishaps when we arrived.) The “famous fried” chicken was good, and Elyssa enjoyed her “dinner of sides” (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and biscuits.) I can think of a couple of local NC places with better fried chicken, but not to the point where I wouldn’t go back to Homecoming. Getting to enjoy the meal with Eric and Kristi certainly helped things, too.(BOATHOUSE is still our top choice, but Homecoming & Morimoto are pretty close to each other in second.)
Kona Cafe breakfast is still fantastic. We had a 7:30AM ADR to load up on Tonga Toast (Elyssa, as always, was a “big kahuna”) before heading over to watch the Welcome Show at the Magic Kingdom (which we sometimes forget to enjoy because we’re too amped to get to our first attraction.)
Rope drop remains a great way to get a bunch of stuff done as your start your day. (We had a number of our favorite attractions–Buzz, Under the Sea, Jungle Cruise, Pirates–done before 10 am with–essentially–no waiting.
When it comes to viewing Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, Josh from easyWDW is not wrong when he recommends standing right near the top of the slope in back of the partner’s statute. I walked to that spot about 30 seconds before the show started and got an (almost) unobstructed view of the whole thing (thanks, random guy with the giant balloon who moved up front for the finale.) It was a great vantage point for a really fun, enjoyable show.
Of course, the highlight of our trip so far was getting to meet up with friend of the site, host of Mighty Men of Mouse and all around great guy, Dutch Lombrowski. Dutch took some time out of his night to come join Elyssa and me, ride of Splash, and catch up all various things (that have happened over the 3+ years we’ve known each other.) As an added bonus, always entertaining Gosh Jonzalez joined us for the last hour or so of the night as well. It was great hanging out with both of them.
That’s all for this early trip update. The idea is that we’ll post more soon (but we’ll see how that goes.)
After a recent trip to Disney World involved a major life event for Serenity, we reached out to see if she would be interested in being interviewed for the site. Thankfully, she graciously accepted.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: As always, the questions are presented in bold, with Serenity’s answers following. I have made minor edits for readability, but have made every effort not to impact the flow of the conversation.)
After what happened on your most recent trip, Disney World is going to have a major place in the story of your life. Is this a change for you or have you always had strong ties to Disney and its theme parks?
I grew up in southern California, so the Disney fandom has long been strong with my family! We never had annual passes because we lived just too far away from Anaheim to make good use out of them, but we’d usually make two or three Disney excursions a year. Some of my favorite early memories as a kid were at that park — trying to pull King Arthur’s sword out of the stone, riding Mr Toad’s Wild Ride late at night, waiting in line for hours during the debut of the Indiana Jones ride and memorizing the old AT&T decoder card to figure out what the runes on the walls said… and, of course, playing hooky from school with my dad to go ride Space Mountain.
Disneyland will forever be my one true park, but I’ve got a slow-growing fondness for Disney World after some particularly fun and memorable trips—this last one included! I’d wanted to visit Disney World for years, but I didn’t actually set foot there until I was 20, with a college boyfriend who had the same fondness for Disney World as I had for its west-coast sibling. I have him to thank for getting me thoroughly ensconced in the lore and love of WDW: He’d been on some of the fancy WDW backstage tours and provided excellent commentary about the parks and their many attractions as we waited in lines and dodged parades. And he introduced me to the glory — and gut-ache! — of the World Showcase dinner (one piece of food or drink from each pavilion).
How many times since that initial Disney World trip have you been back? How has your anticipation and planning for those trips evolved?
Since that initial trip, I’ve been three times, including our last adventure. The second time was much more whirlwind — only a day or two, and spent largely at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. The third was another two-day adventure, but it came after the FastPass+ revolution, which meant I was introduced to the magic of online scheduling. Once I figured out that you could book not only rides, but food, via the Disney app, I became obsessed.
I’ve always used MouseSavers as my baseline guide to all things Disney, but for this last trip, I leaned heavily on Disney’s own resources — the app was where I discovered I could book food experiences at other resort hotels, and we used Disney’s maps and transportation options to heavily plan how we’d jump from park to park. Like my last two WDW trips, this was only a two-day affair, so we had to plan smartly around meals and the like.
People who follow you online know that you had a major life event on your last trip to Disney World. Would you mind sharing what happened and the details around it?
Indeed I did. 🙂 While on our trip to Florida, my boyfriend not-so-subtly set up a lovely proposal, followed by our trip to Disney World!
Funny story: As he tells it, his original plan was to propose to me in the park, incorporating Star Tours — my all-time favorite Disney ride. But when he went to ask my folks for permission and fill his folks in on the plan, both of them rebelled and insisted he do it before we left. (In part, I think, because they wanted to give us a proper congratulatory send-off.) So the official proposal happened on a lovely beach near his dad’s house in Florida the day before Disney; but the “Star Tours proposal that almost was” is how I’ll remember it.
And best of all, we still got to celebrate our engagement at Disney World! We did as many “newly engaged” park activities as possible, including an incredible dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jiko followed by an adorably sweet phone call from Mickey and Minnie wishing us well. (We may have snuck out to the rear patio for some nighttime animal-watching, too, because how can you not when you’re at Animal Kingdom Lodge?)
Though it might be a little cliche, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t ask such a prominent member of the tech media at least one “tech” question. So, do you have any recommendations for readers of the site for what technology they might be able to use to help with their Disney Vacations?
I’ve been going to Disney parks all my life, but the iPhone era has definitely changed how I pack and plan for trips! After some experimentation, I have a pretty set list of tech to pack and apps to use:
My iPhone 6s + Smart Battery Case (those parks eat battery life!)
My Anker 10,000 battery pack (see point #1)
Disney’s official app (a must for trip planning, fast pass reservations, and dining) (EDITOR’S NOTE: My Disney Experience)
Offline Google Maps caches of the resort property (to save on data and battery)
Heads Up! (Still the best line-waiting iPhone app.)
My Apple Watch for fitness tracking and notifications; it also functions as a great remote Bluetooth shutter for my iPhone’s camera
Your tech needs may vary depending on your own Disney plans, but in general, you want to make sure you have enough battery for navigation, trip planning, and the occasional line-waiting game; a good, easy-to-reach place to grab your phone to capture those magic moments; and any apps you know you’ll want to mess around with while in the park.
I also strongly discourage posting to Instagram, Facebook, and the like while in the park — not only will it drain your battery and your data plan, but you might miss something fantastic while staring at your screen waiting for your photo to upload.
A huge thank you to Serenity for agreeing to talk with us about Disney World, and a huge congratulations to her on her engagement!. If you want to read more from Serenity, you can find her writings on iMore (her review of the Apple Pencil is a fantastic place to start). If you want to her her talking about technology check out iMore Show and Apple Talk, and, or listen to her chat about pop / geek culture (and an assortment of related topics) at The Incomparable. (If you have any interest in mid-20th century-style radio dramas, check out The Incomparable Radio Theater, which Serenity directed.)
Thank you again to Serenity chatting with us. We really hope you like these interviews with people outside the standard Disney community, and we hope to bring more of them to you in the future!.
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.
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.
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?
(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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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 easyWDWYOU 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).
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.)
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.)
After seeing the Season pricing proposals earlier this Summer, I was pleasantly surprised with how the actual implementation of Seasonal Pricing took place. (Notice I’m not saying I’m “pleased that they implemented Seasonal Pricing”, I’m just happy with how they decided to implement if they had already decided they were going to do it.) First, Disney only applied the Seasonal Pricing to 1-day tickets. This alleviates a lot of the issues where people who had multi-day trips across the “seasons” would have been forced to buy tickets for the most expensive of the seasons in their trip. Relatedly, as was discussed on the above linked TouringPlans article and on WDW Today, the original “Seasons” had almost all weekend days listed as “Silver” or above (Disney decided to use Value, Regular and Peak for its Seasons instead of the Bronze, Silver, Gold structure it used in the survey that started all this discussion, but the concepts remain the same.) In the actual implementation, Disney generally left weekends as part of the same season as the weekdays surrounding it. Again, this could alleviate some of the “cross season” concerns when Disney implements Seasonal Pricing on multi-day tickets. (I think it’s safe to assume multi-day Season Pricing is coming within the next few years, so hopefully Disney continues to divide its “seasons” up the same way in the future.)
The actual division of the seasons was also a little interesting. I know that “Spring Break” is considered a popular time at Disney World, but I’m surprised to find it part of the new Peak Season (and, therefore, have the same price as the Summer and Christmas.) Similarly, I’m surprised to find that the 1st and 2nd weeks of December are part of the Regular Season instead of the Value Season, since they’re usually considered some of the lowest crowd times at Disney World. (Even the some of the “higher” crowd levels last year seem to suggest those weeks could have been value. Sorry, Howie.) Maybe Len Testa isn’t that far off the mark when he says that Value Season is “hurricane season” and Peak Season is “when your kids are out of school.”
In summary, I think we got (at least?) a 1 year reprieve from a full-on implementation of Seasonal Pricing for the multi-day tickets that a majority of Disney World guests purchase. We also ended up with a much more customer-friendly version of the “seasons” calendar than was originally rumored (I hope that holds true in future years.) Though I wish we weren’t moving to surge pricing at all, I’m pleasantly surprised by this particular implementation.
Okay, that description may apply to some people, but it surely doesn’t apply to Elyssa and I (unless a “runner’s high” means lots of wheezing and wanting to collapse). People who knows us, however, know that this time of year and this upcoming race are very important to us. (See also our Mickey Miles Podcast appearance, Part 1 and Part 2.)
So, if you want to follow us as we head down to Disney World to attempt the Glass Slipper Challenge (a 10K on Saturday morning, followed by a half marathon on Sunday), you can follow us on:
And, if you’re looking for some good Disney-related posts to read over the next couple of days, here are a few that you might want to check out:
Len Testa Tests Budget Hotels Around Disney World – This is Len doing hero’s work. I can’t imagine staying at some of these places (and, apparently, Len couldn’t either), but it’s pretty impressive to see the lengths TouringPlans goes to in order to show people all the options available for a Disney World vacation.
Tom Bricker shares some tips for using Uber at Disney World – Uber has greatly improved the way that Elyssa and I go between certain places, and Tom has one of the best articles about how to best utilize it at Disney World. While you’re at his site reading about Uber, you might also want to check out his review of L’Artisan des Glaces (including some nice pictures of my favorite treat: the Croque Glace.)
First, I don’t see this as impacting “traditional” free dining (the one where you actually get some variety of the Disney Dining Plan when you book a non-discounted stay at various resorts) at all. Here are the start dates for free dining in previous years:
2012 – September 30
2013 – September 29
2014 – August 31
2015 – August 28
As you can see, for the past 4 years, Disney has started its actual “Free Dining” promotion multiple weeks after this new “Summer” promotion is scheduled to end. I would imagine that if Disney does a free dining promotion this year, it will, as it has in the last several years, start in late August, after the traditional summer crowd (and this summer dining offer) has ended. I don’t think this summer free dining offer gives any real insight into Disney’s future “Free Dining” plans.
Secondly, I think this promotion is targeted at a very specific group of people, namely: Budget conscious travelers trying to decide between staying onsite or offsite for their summer visit. What leads me down this path is the offer’s limited applicability to only Value resorts. This suggests Disney World has a very specific market in mind.
In order to better evaluate this promotion, let’s look at a 4 night–5 day stay during the Summer Offer period for a family of 4 with two 5-year old children (specifically, staying Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, June 19th). The non-discounted rate for a standard room during that time at Pop Century is $155 per night before tax (NOTE: Art of Animation Little Mermaid standard rooms are not an option for this Summer Offer). Comparatively, the same family could stay in the brand new SpringHill Suites at Flamingo Crossing for $99 per night before tax. Even if they rent a car for $20 a day plus pay parking for $20 a day (neither of which is absolutely necessary, depending on how they travel to Disney World and what their plans are while there) they have a comparable per night cost at the SpingHill Suites (and that’s before factoring in things like free in-hotel breakfast, money you could save by buying bottles of water at an off-site location, grabbing a lunch at Chick-Fil-A on your way back to the pool instead of at Casey’s Corner, etc…). They could also save over $180 on the price of 4 day Park Hopper tickets by buying from a reputable third party.
Even if it turns out that there is only $200 in monetary savings by staying offsite, that is $200 of real money the family is saving. When you’re talking about a total trip budget of around $2,000, that’s a pretty important amount of savings. I believe Disney’s “Summer Free Dining” is an attempt to eliminate some of that price difference between onsite and offsite stays for guests in an effort to appeal to extremely budget-conscious travelers. It’s Disney’s way of saying something like “if you stay with us, we’ll pick up your lunch bill.”
I understand all the arguments about why staying onsite is the only way to vacation at Disney World. I enjoy the “Disney Bubble” and I love being able to just walk out of my room and take a BOATRIDE, BAYBAY!! over to the Magic Kingdom. I like getting the extra 30 days to make my Fastpass+ selections and taking advantage of some night-time extra magic hours.
But, if my budget for a Disney World trip for my family were $2,000, then those things might not be as important, and saving $100 here or $100 there could mean a lot. I think this Summer Offer is Disney’s attempt to close that off-site v on-site price gap in the budget-conscious market. I’m interested to see how it works.
Though have I have been fans of both Josh’s work at easyWDW and Dave’s work at yourfirstvisit.net for some time, I initially avoided a book that (by its title) appeared targeted to people who were not Disney World veterans. After getting getting asked “I’m going to Disney World, what should I know?” for the thirty-eighth time, however, I decided I should check and see if the easy guide might be my default answer to that question going forward.
Structure and Organization
NOTE: If you want a complete, super-detailed breakdown of the book, I will refer you to this post by Josh. If you’ve ever read his work on easyWDW you can probably guess what level of detail he goes into.
The easy guide is set up to walk a first time Disney World Vistor through the key decisions that any Disney World Vistor (first time or otherwise) would have to make when planning a Disney vacations, including: when to go, how long to visit, where to stay, how to tour, etc… Each one of those decisions is receives a dedicated chapter that contains a combination of reviews, recommendations, and tips on how to make the decision, and how to execute on that decision once it has been made. For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay”, starts by giving criteria you may wish to evaluate when making a decision about which restort to stay in, follows that up with recommendations by Josh and Dave on where they think you should stay, and then provides detailed reviews of all of the Disney World resorts. This structure means the book can be used in two different ways: as a step-by-step “how-to” for first time or inexperienced Disney World guests, or as reference for more experienced people who just want to look up certain information.
The easy guide as a Tool for First Time or Inexperienced Disney World Guests
The easy guide excels as a step-by-step guide for how to visit Disney World. It walks potential guests through the entire sequence of decisions that they will have to make as they are planning their trip, including key decisions such as when to visit Disney World and how long they should stay. The format of the book is great for first time visitors, since each chapter starts with either specific recommendations from authors Dave and Josh about their preferred choices and why they made those choices, or with an explanation of how one should evaluate various options in order to make her own decisions. (For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay” features a section entitled “How to Pick Your Disney Resort Hotel” that walks you through how to evaluate the various hotel options against your available budget.) Basically, it allows a first time Disney World guest to start a chapter, make the decision that chapter discusses, and then move on to the next chapter / decision, all in the order that Josh and Dave recommend.
Though first time Disney World visitors might not need to read all of the reference material available near the end of each chapter, the “cheat sheets” found in Chapter 6, “How to Spend Your Time”, are a must read. Anyone who’s ever used Josh’s easyWDW cheat sheets knows that they offer high quality advice on how to plan your day at a given Disney World park. By providing them in a book designed for first time Disney World guests, Dave and Josh have put their readers in a great position to efficiently and enjoyably see all the attractions and other entertainment available at Disney World, even if it’s their first visit.
My biggest complaint with the easy guide as a complete, go-to resource for first time Disney World guests is the sparse explanation on how to setup and use the various functionality found in Disney’s websites and mobile apps. For example, the section on making ADRs (Chapter 7, Where to Eat – Advance Dining Reservations) is only about a page and half of explanation, and does not fully convey the stressful, 6am, mad rush that takes place when trying to secure reservations at certain restaurants. Instead, that information is relegated to a “Disney World To-Do List” at the end of the book (where it could easily be missed by the book’s readers.) Relatedly, the second-to-last chapter of the book (Chapter 9, “How to Setup Everything Up and Get Everything Done”) dedicates only 3 pages to setting up a My Disney Experience account and booking Fastpass+ in advance of a trip. Though there are some very detailed descriptions of how to complete that process, some more in-depth discussion of how to use these systems (e.g., explaining that your My Disney Experience account needs to have reservations and tickets added in order to make Fastpass+ reservations) might be necessary for Disney World novices.
In summary, the easy guide is almost the perfect book to hand to someone who says “I’m thinking about going to Disney World, what should I know?” It will walk her through all the of the decisions she has to make in order to plan and enjoy her vacation. That said, if you are recommending this book to a first time Disney World vistor, you still might want to point out the importance of certain 180-day and 60-day deadlines, and don’t be surprised if you get a call or two asking for a little help when it comes time to the setup and use some of the My Disney Experience-related stuff.
The easy guide for Experienced Disney Veterans
I made a joke once when friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski was on the WDW 4 Families podcast: “Too much discussion about how various attractions matter to families, 1 star.” If you listen to a podcast named “WDW 4 Families,” you can’t really knock it when it focuses on planning a vacation for families. Here, we have a book entitled the easy guide to your first visit to Walt Disney World. You can’t really knock the book if it’s strength is in helping people plan their first Disney World vacation.
Still, I assume people who visit a site dedicated to Disney World might have some experience visiting the resort, and I want to assure those readers that they will still probably find value in the easy guide. First, as mentioned above, this book makes a great resource to hand to people who ask you what they should know when planning their first Disney World vacation, and, if you’re a Disney World veteran, you probably get that question every so often. Second, the book provides a nice collection of reviews of resorts and dining that you can reference when you need to make decisions in your trip planning. If you like Dave’s and Josh’s work on their respective sites, it’s pretty likely that you are going to like their work in the book. (You might also like the little insights from Disney historian Jim Korkis that are sprinkled throughout the book.)
Lastly, even the most veteran Disney World guest may benefit from seeing how two experts in Disney World vacations recommend planning a trip. After years and years of Disney World visits, us veteran guests might be so set in our ways that we never stop to see if someone has come up with a better way to do certain things. For example, take a look at Dave’s recommendations about which weeks to visit Disney World, or at Josh’s most recent theme park cheat sheets, and see if there’s something new you might want to integrate into your next Disney World trip.
The 864-Page Gorilla
Any review of a Disney World guide book must deal (at least to some degree) with how that book compares to the massive Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. As readers of this site are probably aware, the Unofficial Guide is an almost 900 page (three times the size of the easy guide) book that gives its readers a ton of information about Disney World and its surrounding area. Much like the easy guide, it contains reviews of hotels, restaurants, and strategies for touring the Disney World theme parks. It also adds in tons of information about off-site options, transportation (including airport and rental car information), and other Orlando area theme parks (e.g., Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld, etc…) that you will not find in the easy guide.
After spending time with both books, I think there is room on a Disney Fan’s bookshelf (on in her Kindle) for both of them. They both contain valuable information (though Josh might have an opinion as to which set of touring tips is better) and I have used both of them as a reference at various points since I purchased them. That said, the easy guide is much more focused on presenting the author’s recommendations than providing the huge dump of information that the Unofficial Guide does. Depending on how knowledgable about Disney World you are, you might see that as a benefit or a negative.
If I was picking a book to give to someone who has never visited Disney World before, I’d probably pick the easy guide. If I was picking a book for a Disney veteran, I’d have to know a little bit more about what kind of Disney guest the person was before making a recommendation.
Don’t These Guys Already Have Websites with this Information?
Yes. Dave runs yourfirstvisit.net, and Josh runs easyWDW.com You could almost certainly get all of the information in the book by digging through these sites and putting together your own “guide to a first Disney World visit.” My question is: Why would you? Dave and Josh have put together the information from both of their sites in a convenient, easy to follow structure, that allows first time Disney World guests to walk through all the important decisions necessary to plan their vacations. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?
For people like me who read Dave’s and Josh’s sites on a regular basis, I partially look at my purchase of the book as a way to support people who do good work that I find helpful. I’m not saying I would have bought the book if it was literally cow feces, but knowing that I’m supporting these guys doesn’t hurt.
The easy guide is a great book for first time (or inexperienced) Disney World guests, since it walks those guests through all of the important decisions they will have to make as they plan their Disney World vacation. Disney World veterans, though not explicitly targeted by the book, will probably also benefit from the information found in the easy guide. In the end, if you’re looking for a Disney World guide book, I recommend giving the the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit a shot.
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:
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.)
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.
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.
Neither Elyssa nor I would ever claim to be sophisticated connoisseurs of Asian cuisine. (Elyssa would probably be classified as “not a fan”, which means I might end up getting pad thai from a local place once or twice a year or I might occasionally stop by a certain well-known franchise.) That said, we were looking for a place to have dinner with Elyssa’s father (who did not have any park admission) and we’d already eaten at The BOATHOUSE, so we figured we’d give it a shot.
As you’ve probably read 15 times by now, Morimoto Asia is housed inside the same building as the former Mannequins Dance Palace (one of Pleasure Island’s dance clubs.) This means, if though the restaurant is nicely laid out, that it can feel a bit like (as Elyssa’s father pointed out) you’re eating in a warehouse.
We were seated upstairs in a section of reconfigurable, glassed-in hallways and mini-rooms. It’s kind of an interesting layout (it allows them to re-arrange the way doors are opened or closed to allow for some level of privacy between certain tables or groups), but I wonder if having nearly the entire “second floor” limited to an extra-wide walkway around the perimeter might have created an unnecessary limit on the restaurant’s capacity.
Personally, I enjoyed the privacy provided by restaurant layout. It is a welcome change from those places at Disney World where you are seated so close to the party next to you that you feel like you could reach over and grab an item off one of their plates. (NOTE: Josh from easyWDW did find the downstairs a little more chaotic.)
Being non-adventurous eaters, Elyssa and I wound up sticking with some fairly basic items from Morimoto’s expansive menu (which we’ll get to them in a second.) To start of things, Elyssa’s father ordered a cup of miso soup and an order of the pork dumplings. He said they were quite good, but, though I tried one of the dumplings and enjoyed it, I have no particular comparison with which to make.
For dinner itself, we decided to share the black pepper steak, the kung pao chicken, and the spicy thai basil fried rice. (Since Elyssa is not a fan of mushrooms, we told the waiter “just treat our entire order as if it’s for someone who’s allergic to mushrooms.”) On a whim, Elyssa also added the spicy king crab to the order at the last minute.
The black pepper steak consisted of a nice, tender meat that came with a flavorful sauce that added just a bit of spice. The kung pao chicken (not pictured, unfortunately) was our favorite item, and again had nice bit of spicy kick to complement the flavor from the cashews. Finally, the spicy thai basil rice actually had a pleasant, almost sweet flavor to it that paired well with the other dishes. I could see us ordering all 3 of these dishes again.
(NOTE: My tolerance / preference for spicy food is not particularly high. If I thought the food had a nice kick, I would assume some people would think it was not spicy enough. )
After sampling the above listed items, the spicy king crab was a disappointment. The sauce was more tangy than spicy and it overpowered any meat we were able to extract from the crab legs (this was exacerbated by the large amount of sauce they added). I doubt we would ever order this again.
Morimoto Asia continues the trend of solid, new dining experiences at Disney Springs that was started by The BOATHOUSE. I would recommend again giving it a shot, even if you’re not particularly a fan of Asian cuisine.
You can make reservations via Disney’s ADR system or OpenTable (though the OpenTable method allows for easier cancellations and no $10-per-person cancellation fee.)
If you want to read more about Morimoto Asia, I suggest checking out Josh’s 2 reviews at easyWDWhere and here, and this review from Len Testa at TouringPlans.
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).
As anyone who has read The Unofficial Guide knows, it is pretty much a requirement that you be online, at 6am, exactly 180 days before you anticipated Be Our Guest dining date, if you want any real chance of getting a reservation. (Don’t worry, we’ll mention the onsite “whole trip” booking advantage later.) Though many restaurants will still have some availability 100, 60, or, possibly, 30 days out, Be Our Guest frequently fills up in a matter of minutes on the 180 day mark. This is a clear illustration of the extremely high demand for ADRs at this restaurant, and of Disney’s primary method of dealing this demand (a demand that clearly outstrips supply): distribution based on personal time investment.
Distribution based on personal time investment is basically saying that “those people who are willing to do thing X at time Y” are going to get a priority when it comes to distributing a scarce resource. In Disney’s case, this means being online at 6am, 180 days before your desired ADR date. Some view it as a “fair” system, since it has no real income or opportunity component (requiring you just that that you get up super early and be on a computer), but also provides a way for people to gain a small advantage by doing a little “something extra” (i.e., the previously mentioned getting up early.) In other words, it rewards people who are “invested” in their Disney vacations, but does not punish those who cannot afford to make more of a monetary investment toward them.
As you might expect, those who are well versed in Disney World planning usually like this personal time investment system, since knowledge of the system’s existence is such a high barrier to entry. (This “knowledge of the system” advantage was also one of the reasons people were upset with the removal of “Legacy” Fastpass, which significantly fewer guests used than the new Fastpass+ system.)
The third-party dining sites, however, fundamentally changed ADR distribution from being primarily based on personal time investment, to being primarily based on personal monetary investment. Now, instead of having a “fair” system where anyone could (in theory) book a reservation by getting up early, the reservations were based on who was willing to pay money to gain access to certain reservations. This distribution based on personal monetary investment is a valid way to distribute scarce resources (see, e.g., Uber’s surge pricing), but (thankfully?) Disney has not yet fully embraced it for ADRs. On the other hand, Disney has fully implemented such a distribution system on the room pricing side of the vacation (and has apparently investigated implementing it on the park admission side of things), so it’s not inconceivable that Disney could move to such a system to allocate ADRs. (Of course, to some degree, ADRs already have a flavor of monetary investment distribution because of the whole-trip booking advantages given to Disney’s onsite guests.)
At this point, it seems likely that Disney will continue to provide some kind of advantage to people who are willing to make a little investment, whether in time or money, to their vacation (especially, those willing to stay onsite at Disney resorts.) Should Disney want to completely remove this advantage, however, it could move to ADR distribution via lottery. In that case, everyone who wants to eat at Be Our Guest on a given day would put in their request, and then Disney would randomly choose who, out of all the submitted requests, would get the reservations. Though some people may view this as the “fairest” alternative (and though a move to such lotteries for extremely high demand experiences has some precedent), I find it unlikely that Disney would ever make such a change.
A quick aside before concluding this piece: I would imagine that, in addition to the recebt issues people had with an ADR distribution system based on personal monetary investment, people also had an issue with it being third-party sites that were gaining the windfall from the ADR “fees.” That said, I believe that if Disney were to move to a purely monetary investment based system (again, think Uber surge pricing), people would have a very similar reaction.
In summary, the rise (and fall) of third-party Disney ADR sites shined an interesting light on the scarcity problem that Disney continually has to face. The reactions to this issue from the Disney fan community seem to indicate that the status quo of distribution based on personal time investment is the preferred approach of most Disney fans. How are we all going to react, however, if Disney decides that continuing to refrain from implementing a monetary distribution approach means they are (almost literally) leaving money on the table?
It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you today as we proudly present: Rope Drop [dot] net.
This site is something that Elyssa and I first started thinking about in 2014, before life got in the way. Though I have since started writing for TouringPlans, and though I have continued to post various Disney-related links on my personal website under the Disney category, the idea of creating a website to capture all of Elyssa’s and my Disney-related thoughts kept popping back up. During the drive back from one of our recent Disney trips, we decided it was time to get back to that idea.
There is no shortage of Disney-centric websites to follow. Some, like TouringPlans and easyWDW, provide high quality information that greatly helps people plan their Walt Disney World vacations, while others try to keep their super fan readers up to date with the latest Disney news and rumors. Unfortunately, these sites don’t always play nicely with one another. Sites may re-write each other’s articles, or take information without giving credit. Our goal is push back against that. Though we will, of course, post our own opinions and commentary, we also want to point you to the best of what is available at the other sites in the Disney fandom community. We won’t link to every bit of news, every rumor, or every walk-through video, but we’ll hopefully link to ones that you’ll find interesting (or, perhaps, important?).
As part of our efforts to shed light on some of great resources in the Disney fandom community, one of our recurring features on the site will be our Rope Drop [dot] Net Interviews. The goal of these interviews is to give you insight on and from the people who are behind some of the high quality Disney information that you find online. The first interview in our series is with one of the fabulous co-hosts of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, Dutch Lombrowski, and is available today.
Over the past couple of years, Elyssa and I have made some great friends as a result of our love for Disney. When we were creating this site, we wanted to make something that these friends of ours would enjoy reading. We hope we succeeded in that goal.
This is the first post in the Rope Drop [dot] Net John & Elyssa’s Favorites series. As you can probably guess, this series is our take on the always popular “rankings” game.
For the first entry in this series, we have put together our favorite places to have breakfast at Disney World. We based the rankings mainly on “in restaurant” factors (such as quality of food, and restaurant theming and ambiance), but external factors (such as location of the restaurant) did play some role in our rankings. Our rankings include all Disney World table service restaurants where we have ever enjoyed breakfast (and one “quick service” place that you can probably guess).
Favorite Breakfast Restaurants at Disney World
11. Captain’s Grille: Every so often, you might hear about the “improvements” at the Captain’s Grille. I guess I understand that, but the restaurant still comes in the bottom of our favorites list. The major reason for its position is the generic theming and forgettable meals. If you’re staying at the Yacht or Beach Clubs, it’s not the worst option, but it’s nothing particularly special.
10, Cape May Cafe: This ranking may surprise someone people , who view it as a cheaper breakfast buffet that features characters like Minnie, Goofy, and Donald in their swim gear. For Elyssa and I, however, we cannot handle how loud the restaurant is. The buffet is fine, but we would rather enjoy our breakfast at one of the other breakfast buffets higher on the list.
9. Sci-Fi Dine-In: Though the Sci-Fi Dine-Inrecently announced it would offer breakfast starting in November, Elyssa and I had breakfast there during a previous Star Wars weekend. Much like the newly announced breakfast, the meal we had consisted of pastries, an appetizer, an entrée, and a beverage. Though we enjoyed the presence of Star Wars characters, we found the food underwhelming, the restaurant too dark, and the “cars” that you dine in rather small and uncomfortable. Since it is actually in The Studios, it jumps ahead of the out of park options mentioned above, but not by a large margin.
8. Trattoria al Forno: With Trattoria al Forno, we enter the section of the list that features restaurants that we consider going to on just about each trip. Though the theming is a bit bland, Trattoria al Forno’s food is top notch (I have enjoyed both the waffle and the apple-cinnamon pancakes). Its location near Epcot’s International Gateway also makes this a great way to start a late morning visit to World Showcase.
7. ‘Ohana:‘Ohana delivers some of the best character interactions we have had at a character meal. Unfortunately, some of the food delivered was not quite as good as that at other locations (for example, we found the bacon to be soggy instead of crisp and the biscuits kind of disappointing). That said, the baskets of welcome bread were delicious (and they’ll give you more if you ask.)
6. Cinderella’s Royal Table:You might expect that a restaurant with pretty good food, inside of Cinderella’s castle, would rank higher on the list, but extremely high cost and the clear pressure that they put on you to finish quickly knock it down our rankings. The interactions with the Disney Princesses, however, are top notch.
5. Be Our Guest: The one “quick service” location in our rankings (I add the quotation marks since the meal is actually delivered to your table after you order at an interactive kiosk), Be Our Guest, combines the excellent theming of Beast’s Castle with the ability to be done with breakfast and roaming the Magic Kingdom thirty-plus minutes before park opening. The mildly-high cost considering the quality and amount of the food you receive is all that keeps Be Our Guest from being ranked even higher.
4. 1900 Park Fare: Located in the Grand Floridian, 1900 Park Fare offers a good quality breakfast buffet and unique character meet-and-greet opportunities, for a lower price than a similar experience actually inside a one of the theme parks. Enjoy a quality breakfast here and then ride the monorail one stop to the Magic Kingdom.
3. Whispering Canyon Cafe: It probably won’t surprise anyone to see one of Elyssa’s and my overall favorite restaurants on this list. Whether you’re having an all-you-care-to-enjoy breakfast skillet, or a full-sized Mickey-waffle (though listed as “Jeffro Bodeen’s Belgian Waffle”, it’s a giant, Mickey-shaped waffle), you’re going to end up with a high-quality meal featuring all the Cast Member interaction that makes Whispering Canyon Cafe such a special place to eat. As an added bonus, you’re just a boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom when you’re done.
2. Crystal Palace: “Poof’s Puffed (Not Stuffed) French Toast.” Need I say more? Seriously, though, Crystal Palace features the gang from Winnie the Pooh and a top-notch breakfast buffet (including an omelet station) inside the Magic Kingdom. It would take some place really, really special to top that….
So onto our favorite spot for “brekkies” as Elyssa likes to say:
1. Tusker House:Tusker House is Disney at its best. Impeccable theming, magical character interactions, and a buffet that serves a bunch of tasty breakfast food. Some of Elyssa’s and my best days have started off with breakfast at Tusker House, and I would imagine that we’ll try to visit it during our Disney trips for years to come. Last but not least, its location near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris provides a great benefit now (see the animals first), and might provide even more of a benefit when an entrance to Avatarland opens nearby as well.
Meeting Mickey at Tusker House
There you have it: our favorite breakfast joints at the World. What did we miss? Has anyone tried the new character breakfast at the Four Seasons?
What does surprise me, though, is the additional rumor that Disney is going to stop dressing up traditional “Disney” characters (Mickey Mouse, Goofy, etc…) in Star Wars gear. Personally, I think using the Disney characters as a gateway into the larger Star Wars universe is a great way to get younger people interested in Star Wars. I really hope this rumor is false (and, if I had to bet on it, I would bet that it is. I mean, it’s tough to say that Disney is trying to go for a “more serious tone” with the brand when they just put out an ad for dancing wookies).
I am taking a page out of Disney’s playbook and doing a “soft open” of RopeDrop.net before really starting to talk about the site. During that time, I’ll be posting and operating the site as I intend to going forward, but please understand if I still have to make some changes to ensure that everything is working correctly.