Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Serenity Caldwell

If you listen to podcasts (tech or otherwise), then you’re probably familiar with today’s interviewee, Serenity Caldwell. I think Elyssa and I first heard Serenity on an episode of The Incomparable discussing British television shows, and we’ve been following her work in various media ever since.

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.

 

Rebel Spy? - Picture from Serenity
Rebel Spy? – Picture from Serenity

 

(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).

Proudly displaying the Happily Ever After Button - Picture from Serenity
Proudly displaying the Happily Ever After Button – Picture from Serenity

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.

How's that Grey Stuff taste? - Picture from Serenity
How’s that Grey Stuff taste? – Picture from Serenity

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?)

Best Ride or Bested Ride? - Picture from Serenity
Best Ride or Bested Ride? – Picture from Serenity

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:

  1. My iPhone 6s + Smart Battery Case (those parks eat battery life!)
  2. My Anker 10,000 battery pack (see point #1)
  3. Disney’s official app (a must for trip planning, fast pass reservations, and dining) (EDITOR’S NOTE: My Disney Experience)
  4. Offline Google Maps caches of the resort property (to save on data and battery)
  5. Heads Up! (Still the best line-waiting iPhone app.)
  6. 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.

Wrap Up

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.)

One of the many services offered at the Animal Kingdom - Picture from Serenity
One of the many services offered at the Animal Kingdom – Picture from Serenity
Disney Selfies are the Best Selfies - Picture from Serenity
Disney Selfies are the Best Selfies – Picture from Serenity

 

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!.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – James Rosemergy

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

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

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

What are your earliest Disney World memories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up

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

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

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

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Howie from Maryland

Today’s Rope Drop [dot] Net interview is with everyone’s favorite Internet trollpersonality, Howie from Maryland (known to some people as “Howie Berman.”) I think I first “met” Howie during one of the Mighty Men of Mouse listener drafts, but our “friendship” grew on Twitter (where Howie is master of Photoshop.)

If you follow Howie on Twitter, you know that he recently completed an epic trip to Disney World. This interview, however, covers his recent trip to Disneyland, including his thoughts how it differs from Disney World, and a little on why every Disney World veteran should visit it.

 

Howie from Maryland (picture via Howie)
Howie from Maryland (picture via Howie)

 

Two quick notes: First, Howie also did an interview, live from Disneyland, on the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast about this trip. I try to cover different ground than that interview, but I recommend that you give it a listen to get a fuller picture of Howie’s adventures. Second, as always, my questions are presented in bold with Howie’s answers following. I have made minor edits for readability, but have made every effort to not impact the content of the answers

How did you prepare for your Disneyland trip? Was it different than what you would do to prepare for a trip to Disney World?

This trip really fell into my lap. I had known about a work event that could potentially bring me to Anaheim in early October, but didn’t commit until July or so. It was the perfect scenario from a cost and scheduling standpoint. The sponsor of the event paid for my flight and accommodations, and even threw in a 1-day park hopper ticket (I was also able to purchase additional days at a considerable discount). My work commitments were primarily in the morning and early afternoon, so I was free to tour the parks from about 2pm local time until closing (which was sometimes as late as midnight). I would have 3-4 partial days in the parks.

Cozy Cone Motel (picture via Howie)
Cozy Cone Motel (picture via Howie)

The prospect of going to Disneyland was a big deal to me (and a daunting one). I had last been to Disneyland in 1999 while living in Los Angeles as a single, childless 23 year old. At that time, there was Disneyland Park and the Disneyland Hotel. No California Adventure. No Cars Land. No Grand Californian Hotel. No Downtown Disney. I was clearly going to be out of my comfort zone.

The first thing I did was add the Disneyland option to my existing Touringplans subscription. I needed to get back to basics and familiarize myself with the current attractions at both parks so I could prioritize, determine which days would be best for each park, and develop solid “half-day” touring plans that would fit my work schedule. I also discovered the DisGeek podcast (thanks to the Earvengers and Mighty Men of Mouse podcasts), which was a great primer for my trip.

Now originally, I had planned to bring my family with me, but it wasn’t in the cards. While I was bummed about not being able to share this adventure my wife and kids, I thought to myself, “You may never get an opportunity like this again, so make it count.” No kids. No debates about what to do to next. Just enjoy the moment. I had to see Toad again (it still kills me that this isn’t available in WDW). I needed to lay eyes on Cars Land. I had to see if the digital projection version of Soarin’ really was that much better than it’s Orlando counterpart. Oh, and I was going to get my hands on paper fastpasses again. Personally, I don’t have anything against FP+, but the nostalgia of the old system was calling my name.

If I was planning a trip to WDW (which I’m actually doing right now), I’d be making dining reservations at 180 days out, booking fastpasses in the middle of the night, maybe booking a tour, and doing a lot of detail work that would make the average vacationer’s head spin. This was going to be totally different. ADRs? I didn’t make one. Snacking was my strategy for this trip — less time eating, more time exploring and getting after it. I didn’t have to worry about FP+. I was really going back to basics.

What were your first thoughts upon arriving at Disneyland (especially after not having visited in over 16 years)?

The minute I was dropped off at the Anaheim Hilton, I noticed immediately that the area had changed considerably since I had last been there. I didn’t recognize it at all (and that was a good thing from what I had remembered of Harbor Avenue.) It was a harbinger of things to come.

I quickly checked in, changed, grabbed a few “essentials”, and made the 1/2 mile or so walk to Disneyland Park to meet up with Wes James, a guy I had never met in person, in a park I hadn’t stepped foot in in more than 16 years. Wes and I had been communicating over Twitter for the weeks leading up to this trip. We decided to do the Mickey’s Halloween Party that night. It made sense for me. For $60, it bought me 8 hours in the park on a relatively low crowd day. I could get into the park at 3:00 pm (three hours before the official start time of the party), and orient myself before Wes showed up.

Armed with a bullet-proof touring plan, I took the left off Harbor and made my way toward the gates. The first two things I noticed along the walk toward bag check were the entrance loop music (Muppets was playing) and a gorgeous view of Space Mountain to my right. I made my way through bag check, hung a right, and was stopped dead in my tracks by the entrance to Disneyland. I was excited. Really excited. I snapped a few photos of the entrance, with its oversized pumpkin decorations, and made my way inside.

Disneyland Entrance (picture via Howie)
Disneyland Entrance (picture via Howie)

Normally, when I go on a WDW trip with my family, we have a pretty good plan in place when it comes to touring. With a 5 and 3 year old, there’s often compromise. We love experiencing meet-and-greets, character meals, and shows as a family. No time for that this go around. Snacks and attractions. That was my mantra and I was sticking to it.

One problem, though. Once I started walking down Main Street, my plan was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in freaking Disneyland…by myself! And I was completely disoriented, so disoriented that my first attraction in 16 years was a trip on the Disneyland Railroad from the Tomorrowland Station…back to Main Street. Clearly, this was going to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.

Based on your “live from the park” appearance on the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, it sounds like you did end up getting back to the “snacks and attractions” mantra. How did you make the transition from your unexpected Main Street return to riding Mr. Toad, Splash, and Alice?

Before my eventful trip on the Disneyland Railroad, I had connected with Wes and we were going to meet up at Splash. Mid-train trip, I had second thoughts. I really wanted Toad to be my first real attraction (obviously, I wasn’t counting the RR trip), so I got off at Main Street, called Wes back with the change of plans and made a bee line for Fantasyland. I waited for a couple minutes outside Toad until Wes showed up. When he did, we bro hugged, exchanged gifts (we’re good like that), and headed in. In the queue, Wes reminded me that he had made Cafe Orleans reservations, but we decided not to use them so we could maximize our party time.

When we exited Toad, we decided to hit a few more dark rides in Fantasyland–Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Pinocchio’s Journey (which might be my second favorite of the classic DL dark rides), and Alice. Fantasyland was starting to get a little busier at this point, so we headed toward New Orleans Square with the intention of riding Pirates. The ride went down while we were in line, so we headed to Splash in Critter Country. I was really interested to see how it compared to the WDW version after all these years. It was also time to get into my Halloween costume.

By now, people who have listened to the podcast know what your halloween costume was, but can you give a little more background on how you came up with that idea? Did Wes know that you were planning to do that?

THE Splash Mountain Picture (image via Howie)
THE Splash Mountain Picture (image via Howie)

I had originally planned to dress like Lou Mongello, but I didn’t want to pay for teeth whitening strips. When Wes and I firmed up our Halloween Party plans, I thought it would be fun to recreate the Dutch-Lou meet moment from the summer, but it ended up just being me dressing as Dutch when I couldn’t get Wes to take the plunge. (We did, however, recreate the Josh and Dutch moment on Splash from that same trip). (photo attached)

I found a $5 green visor on Amazon and an even cheaper wig at a local party store. I packed a dark blue polo in my suitcase, and I was in business. I didn’t wear the costume into the park. I did the unveil in the Splash queue for full effect. The wig was itchy. I don’t know how Dutch does it.

Based on what you’ve said here and the podcast, it sounds like you had quite the time at Disneyland. Is there anything you wish you’d known about Disneyland going in? What would you tell people who are Disney World “experts” that are preparing for their first trip to Disneyland?

Don’t let the relative “smallness” of Disneyland fool you. You are still going to walk a ton, so make sure you plan just like you would for Disneyworld–wear comfortable shoes, drink lots of water, etc. While it was super convenient being able to bounce from Disneyland to DCA to Downtown Disney, that convenience ends up making you walk more, in my opinion. Disneyland allows for “park hopping” in the truest sense of the term.

The life changing mud pie (picture via Howie)
The life changing mud pie (picture via Howie)

Try lots of food. Have a snacking mentality. Disneyland offers, in my opinion, some snacks and treats that are far superior to their Disneyworld counterparts–tiger tails and skewers at Bengal BBQ, mud pies at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land, and pumpkin beignets in New Orleans Square (for Halloween, of course) were some of my favorites. I ate zero sit down meals and regret nothing.

My trip to Disneyland also taught me to value solo touring. I know people feel weird sometimes getting on a ride by themselves (ask Russ Shuttlesworth), but I really embraced it. It was the first time I can remember that I got to see a Disney Park on my terms. I got to call the shots. I got to experience a ton in a short period of time because of that. If you’re faced with the opportunity to visit by yourself and feel little weird, don’t. Own it. I did, and loved every minute of it.

I do want to thank Wesley James for meeting up with me that first night in Disneyland. He really helped set the tone for an awesome experience, and it was great to meet him in person and learn from him all about his “home park.” Wes is a stand up guy and someone I’m happy to call a friend. I hope we get another chance to tour the parks together in the not so distant future.

Can we go back now? (picture via Howie)
Can we go back now? (picture via Howie)

Wrap Up

A major thank you to Howie for taking time out of his day to talk with me about Disneyland. If this interview has taught me anything it’s (1) go to Disneyland, and (2) hang out with Wes while you’re there.

If you enjoy hearing Howie’s musings on Disney (and other things), give him a follow on Twitter @HoCoHowie. To finish things off, here are some more of Howie’s pictures from Radiator Springs Racers:

Ready to Ride (picture via Howie)
Ready to Ride (picture via Howie)
On the Road Again (pictures via Howie)
On the Road Again (pictures via Howie)
I can't wait to get on the road again (picture via Howie)
I can’t wait to get on the road again (picture via Howie)

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 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of Ken’s interview, Ken’s knowledge of Orlando runs quite deep. In this part of the interview, Ken shows off that knowledge by delving into the “Orlando decade” of the 1990s. Let’s get right to it:

You talk about the 1990’s as not just the “Disney Decade” but as the “Orlando Decade”. Have you observed similar, wide spread growth over the past 10–15 years?

The 1990s were a very special time for Orlando. It wasn’t just the growth but the evolution of a small town into a global epicenter of entertainment. The 1990s growth slowed down dramatically post–9/11 and then all but stopped during the Great Recession. The 2000s growth was crazy but, unlike the 1990s growth, many of the plans never saw the light of day. I honestly felt very uncomfortable during the Recession, it was scary not seeing cranes in the skyline. It was odd passing empty fields that remained that way for seemingly years. It was very different.

Dazzling (Photo by Ken)
Dazzling (Photo by Ken)

I would actually say the growth we see now is more off property than on it. The 1990s (well 1989–1998) saw Disney World open 2 theme parks, 2 water parks, 11 resorts and major expansions to retail throughout the resort. Universal opened in 1989 causing major investments in that area of town. A lot of the focus during the 1990s was on the Big Three. We saw I-Drive and 192 open many hotels during that same time period but most of the focus was on Orlando coming to grips with it being a major global player. Most of the other growth in the region was new residents. By some estimates I’ve heard pre-recession Orange County saw 1,000 new residents per week move in.

The growth we see now is different because we now understand that this is a ‘big city’ and we will need to address the issues that arise (like homelessness, traffic, sustained growth, etc) in ways that big cities address them. Right now we currently have a metro population that’s comparable to Cincinnati or San Antonio but on top of the regular population we now have over a million tourists a week visit. The leaders (and residents) seemed easier to amaze in the 1990s with promises of cool buildings, new homes and increased tax bases. Now we’ve all grown up some, now we know what questions to ask and understand that not all development is good development.

I think that places like Gatorland do find it harder to exist in today’s ‘big city’ Orlando. Partly due to the increase in on-site offerings and due in part to the sophisticated tourist Orlando now attracts. The mom and pop tourist who drive in from the mid-Atlantic have given way to international tourist, tour groups and others who expect something more. When you pay thousands of dollars to fly here and stay here you expect more. That shift to flying also means a smaller percent of tourists have their own vehicles which make things like Gatorland harder to access. MCO is still the #1 car rental location in the world but even so many tourists are afraid to tackle the large, always crowded road network that has emerged around Orlando over the past 20 years.

I’m hopeful the shift to mass transit in the region will help tourist rediscover places like Park Ave, Mt Dora and downtown Kissimmee. I’m less hopeful places like Jungle Adventure can survive the shifts in demographics and travel patterns of the modern Orlando tourist. Gatorland is lucky as it sits next door to property being developed for a Phase 2 SunRail station (the Tupperware station), so while it would be a bit of a hike it will be accessible from rail transit.

Overall the growth we see now seems less magical, less over the top. Its more of in-fill, more of growth for things that are needed. I mean the Planet Hollywood building, the OCCC, the announcement to make Universal into a huge resort complex with 3 hotels and a 2nd theme park- we don’t see that type of growth today. What we see now is enhancements to the existing structures of the city. The exception to that might be Lake Nona but even that isn’t that odd when compared to things like Celebration. It’s not as ground breaking. Even UCF’s growth has become a bit common place at this point. That’s not to say any of this growth isn’t great, it’s just not a shocking as it was when it first really started to crank up. I honestly don’t know what could be announced for the area that would be as large as the developments in the 1990s. Luckily though we now know how to better sustain the growth and not completely pave over the natural environment that we were so quick to dismiss during that 1990’s growth.

Thanks again to Ken for taking time to put together such a comprehensive breakdown of Orlando’s “present.” We’ll be taking a look at Orlando’s future, tomorrow.

Once again, a "typical gator portrait" (Photo courtesy of Ken, Caption by @JoshGonz)
Once again, a “typical gator portrait” (Photo courtesy of Ken, Caption by @JoshGonz)

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.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Brian Perkins

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

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

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

How did you first get into listening to Disney podcasts?

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

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

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

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

'Ohana means Family
‘Ohana means Family

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up

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

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

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)

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Sharla Manglass

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

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

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

How did you become a Disney travel planner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any aspect of your job that surprised you?

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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

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

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

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Dutch Lombrowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have your trips always had such a strong family component?

A Dutch family selfie
A Dutch family selfie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap-up

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

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