Before I dig into Early Theme Park Entry, a few quick thoughts about Magical Express. Ultimately, Magical Express was not for me. I did use the service a couple of times for very short (about 48 hour) trips, however. I appreciated the convenience of not having to worry about my transportation but found some of its details frustrating. I disliked the amount of time it took for me to arrive at my resort (which was never the first stop), or that I had to be back at my resort 3 hours before my flight to catch the return bus (instead of leaving directly from a park, Disney Springs, etc…) That said, for the trips I used, it made sense. I was traveling solo while Elyssa was working photography jobs, and my biggest concerns were minimizing some expenses on the trip and was making sure I made my flight. (For the various issue I had with Magical Express, I did have confidence that if I made my bus, Disney would do whatever was necessary to get me home, even if there was an issue with the bus or something else unforeseen.) On trips where I wanted to maximize my time in the parks, however, I would simply rent a car. That allowed me to get from the airport to my destination (hotel, Disney Springs, or park) much faster. For example, one time, Elyssa and I were flying down to go to After Hours at the Magic Kingdom, and our flight was severely delayed. In our rental car, we could drive straight to the Magic Kingdom, and we ended up getting to the Magic Kingdom just as the event was starting. If we had been taking Magical Express, that would have been impossible (setting aside some kind of “hacks” like taking a bus to the Floridian, etc… which may or may not have worked.) There are negatives to car rentals, though, especially now that Disney charges parking. People are going to have some decisions to make regarding car rentals v ride-share v other options in getting from MCO to Disney World, and they all have cost/convenience trade-offs that might not align with people’s values as much as Magical Express. I am bummed for those people.
On the other hand, replacing Extra Magic Hours with Early Park Entry has the potential to have a significant impact on our touring, especially for trips where we stay off-site. For example, a typical day for us might start with some Tonga Toast at 7:30 am before heading over to the Magic Kingdom for a 9:00 am opening. We would probably arrive at the tapstiles around 8:30-8:40 am, stroll down Main Street, and then post up around the entrance to Adventureland to watch the Welcome Show. After Mickey opened the park, we would then head over to catch one of the first boats for the Jungle Cruise. Now, with Early Park Entry, if we are offsite guests, all onsite guests would have a 30-minute head start of getting into the park. This change has the potential to eliminate quick rope drop rides on things like Jungle Cruise, Flight of Passage, or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway if you’re staying offsite. On a recent Disney Dish episode, Len Testa estimated that this 30-minute delay to getting into the park would result in at least an extra 1 hour of waiting. We’ll have to see how things play out, but I imagine he’s not that far off, and that is a major bummer for us. (It will also be a bummer if there is no general extension of park hours later into the night, as we will definitely miss those 1am nights in the Magic Kingdom.)
It seems likely that Early Park Entry will increase the importance of Fastpass+ (if that comes back, or whatever it is replaced with) for offsite guests looking to avoid long waits and it might end up otherwise changing our touring strategy. For example, if we know we cannot get in at rope drop at Animal Kingdom since we are staying offsite, maybe we plan to have a later breakfast at Ale & Compass and then head into Epcot for the AM / early PM before heading over to Animal Kingdom at night, including trying to get in line for Flight of Passage right about park close. Again, these things will have to be evaluated once the new procedures go into effect, but it seems likely that Elyssa and I will have even more of an incentive to stay onsite as a result of this change. In the end, I guess that is exactly what Disney wants.
Disney World has been a significant part of Elyssa’s and my life. From our engagement, honeymoon, and, of course, the discovery of her brain tumor, quite a few of our major milestones have either involved or taken place at Disney World. After the parks were closed for four-months as a result of the pandemic, I had hoped that Disney World’s reopening would again be a milestone. Specifically, I hoped that the opening of Disney World would signify that things were a little more “normal.” After these two weeks, I am not yet sure if I feel that way.
With any luck, Elyssa and I will visit Disney World in the next month or so. I know there are differing opinions about whether or not the parks should have opened. I do not intend to get into that debate. Disney World is open, and we may visit in the semi-near future. To prepare for that visit, I have been reading a lot (all?) of the coverage of the reopening. Here are some highlights of that coverage, along with some of my thoughts about them and the reopening.
The biggest change, however, was the announcement of the new Disney World Park Pass system. This system requires Disney World guests to pre-select a single park for each day of their visit (no park hopping is allowed during this phase of the reopening) in order to ensure that the parks do not exceed their limited capacity on a given day. Each park gets a limited number of Park Passes per day, and the passes are broken up between resort guests, regular guests, and AP holders.
Initial Reopening Reports
Originally, Elyssa and I had a trip booked that would have put us at Disney World for reopening weekend. After some discussion, we decided we were going to wait and watch how things played out from afar. Though we have only been following other people’s coverage, it looks like the reopening experience went pretty smoothly
Here is a sample of the reopening reports that I read and found interesting:
Planning a Disney World trip this year will be a very different process from the process that has evolved over the past few years. This new process involves planning a trip based on visiting only one park per day, with no Fastpass+, and with limited capacity at restaurants. After only a couple of weeks, the recommendations for putting together the best version of this type of plan appear to be still in flux. Thankfully, the usual suspects have been putting together resources to help figure things out, including Disney World itself:
After selecting your lodging, the first major step in planning your trip is to secure your Park Pass reservations. Josh over at easyWDW has a comprehensive guide on how to use the Park Pass system. You should pay attention to all the details in the guide, but the main thing to keep in mind is that reservations for Disney’s Hollywood Studios seem to go the quickest (in fact, AP holders cannot get a reservation through all of August). There are different theories about why this is true, but I believe it is likely a combination of The Studios having two of the newest, headliner attractions (Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway), along with The Studios having a limited possible capacity due to the inability to run live shows (Indiana Jones, Beauty and the Beast, etc…) that are normally places to “hold” people when they are not in line for other attractions. Whatever the reason, though, Hollywood Studios is the toughest park reservation to get and you should factor that into your planning.
If you are someone who wants to simply be at Disney World, and is less concerned about any particular attractions, Disney’s decision to—essentially—start Food & Wine now has made EPCOT a particularly interesting option. EPCOT gives guests a chance to walk around, in the open air, and enjoy something that is normally reserved for the fall season. Of course, being at EPCOT also does involve being outside in the Florida sun during July and August, but—if your main goal is to be in Disney World, while staying outside and generally away from people—Epcot might be worth a look.
The lack of any Fastpass+ system give the potential for spontaneity on the day you are actually visiting a park, especially with the overall lower wait times. Personally, I thought Disney would implement a broader virtual queue system, but—to date—the only virtual queue is for Rise of the Resistance. The lack of any virtual queuing allows you to roam the parks more freely and otherwise evaluate wait times dynamically throughout the day. One thing to keep in mind, Disney shuts down its attractions about every 2 hours to clean them thoroughly. This cleaning-related delay does cause a longer wait (and may result in a visibly longer line), but reports are that things move pretty quickly once the ride re-opens.
There is a lot new about planning a Disney World vacation during 2020, and I anticipate the advice will continue to evolve over the next couple of weeks. If you want singular resources right now about planning your trip, I suggest you check out these guides from easyWDW and Blog Mickey
Predictions for how the Summer will Play Out
Early predictions are that there might not be a lot of demand at Disney World this summer. I agree with these predictions. For me, the most significant indicator of continuing low crowds is that Disney is offering large merchandise and hotel discounts through at least Mid-August and sometimes into September. Discounts of this kind are an indicator that Disney has looked at its upcoming bookings and determined that it needs to do something to try and convince people to book a vacation. With the nature of this pandemic, however, I am not sure if there is any financial incentive that will persuade some people to travel to Central Florida in 2020.
Summary and Final Thoughts
A lot has changed since mid-March, when Elyssa and I sat in an auditorium with Bob Iger and Bob Chapek. Mr. Iger explained that Disney had weathered uncertainty before, but I am confident that he did not anticipate that Disney’s crown jewel theme park would be closed for four months (and that its original theme park would have no re-opening date even announced for that same period.) Now that the parks are open, I am starting to feel the pull to get back down there and visit. My expectations are tempered due to the necessary limitations that Disney has put on visits as a result of COVID-19. However, I am hopeful that there is still enough “Disney” left in the experience that I will be able to enjoy being back at Disney World, even while everything else goes on. Ultimately, I think I am just going to have to see for myself whether the Disney magic really is back.
NOTE: The following is a little outside of the normal realm of content here at *Rope Drop [dot] Net. Since every Disney site seems to be blindly reporting the news about Disney’s streaming service, however, I felt a little context was in order.
With all of those moves by technology companies into the content creation and ownership space, is it any wonder that earlier today, Disney—a long term content creator and owner—announced that by 2019 it would stop distributing its movies via Netflix and start its own streaming service. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see the clear trend of content creation and content delivery converging. Since Disney, unlike the tech companies discussed above, already has the content library (and the ability to produce new content), it needs to develop the technical side of things. That’s why the biggest news out of Disney’s announcement is probably its acquisition (for a cool $1.58 billion) of a majority interest in BAM Tech, one of the leading providers of video streaming on the web. Disney is now poised to use technology it owns to deliver its content (including ESPN content) directly to its consumers, without having to deal with some kind of technological middle man. After all, if Netflix, Apple, and Amazon are going to position themselves as silos of content delivered by their own respective technologies, shouldn’t Disney position itself to do the same thing?
Of course, the proliferation of streaming services with their own content silos might not be the best end game for consumers. Discussion has already started online as to how many streaming services we will need to subscribe to in order to watch the various content we’re interested in. With Disney throwing its hat in the ring today, my answer to that questions is: 1 more service than I thought I had to subscribe to yesterday.
I feel like I’m in the distinct minority as to James Cameron’s Avatar. I didn’t hate it, and I actually kind of enjoy watching it. Elyssa, on the other hand, thinks it’s terrible (mostly because she says that you never relate to any of the characters.) However, as for Disney’s take on the planet at the heart of Avatar, Pandora, I think Elyssa and I both agree that Disney knocked it out of the park. In other words, the Imagineers did Cameron’s concept justice.
The two major attractions in Pandora are Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. If you are walking into Pandora as you read this and are trying to decide if a 50 minute wait is worth it for Flight of Passage, the answer is yes. Go get in line and you can read the rest as you walk through the queue (you’ll probably want to pay attention to all the detail in the queue though.) For everyone else, below are some more in-depth thoughts.
At the outset, we’ll note that we’re aware of the reviews that focus on operational issues making it hard for people to ride the headliner attractions, etc. Among other things, there were issues with people being able to fit in the Flight of Passage ride vehicle were a concern. When we visited a few weeks after the official opening day, that particular operational issue seemed to have been smoothed out . And, from what we’ve heard, the day-to-day operations continue to improve.
As far as Flight of Passage goes, it’s already one of our favorite rides at Disney World. We rode it 5 times over a three-day weekend, and opted to wait about 50 minutes to get that last ride in. The various “Soarin’ on steriods” takes are actually a decent way to describe the experience. It’s a ride that makes you feel like you’re flying, but the ride vehicle and its restraints allow for some far more exhilarating moments than Soarin’ provides. I won’t spoil any of the ride itself (I’m sure you can find that if you want it), but I’ll say it’s definitely worth doing, and probably worth waiting for 70+ minutes if that’s the only way you’ll get to ride it.
Thankfully, if you are forced to endure a long wait, the queue for the ride moves you through a good variety of environments: the initial outdoor section gives you excellent views of Pandora; the indoor cave tells the history of the Na’vi in wall art; indoor bioluminescence abounds; there’s a laboratory that includes interesting experiments; and, of course, this guy hangs out in the queue:
Overall, Flight of Passage is a headliner attraction that everyone (who doesn’t mind a little bit of a thrill) should try. Frankly, I just don’t understand people who say they had no connection to the ride because they didn’t care much for Avatar going in. Even someone like Elyssa, who has no love lost for James Cameron’s film, thought the attraction was fantastic. (Quick note: I’d follow Disney advice and empty your pockets during the ride. I rode once with my wallet still in my shorts and feared the whole time it was going to fall.)
The Na’vi River Journey is the second attraction in Pandora, and, for better or worse, it is a relaxing BOATRIDE through a bioluminescent environment and it features a showcase of the most advanced animatronics that Disney has ever revealed. If you’re the type to nit-pick about the lack of a defined “story” for an attraction, here’s your chance. The ride is simply a pleasant journey through a cool forest that uses the whole gamut of theme park ride technologies to transport you to another word. As you might guess from that, I enjoyed it. I might not wait 60 minutes for it, but 20-30 is probably fair.
Here are a couple of pictures to give you a flavor for what you’ll see. On a moving boat in the dark, my camera was taxed to get a decent result. Consequently, these pictures might not do justice to how pretty the ride is:
There have been (garbage) articles that claim the pictures of Pandora do the land “too much justice.” Aside from how asinine that concept is, the idea that photographic wizards are somehow making this place look better in still capture form than it looks when you’re actually visiting is ridiculous. During both day and night (and, yes, it does really look quite different at night), the landscaping, plant life (both living and “imagineered”), and overall environment are fantastic. I would argue that these pictures don’t capture it enough:
At present, the newness of Pandora means it’s pretty much always crowded. These crowd levels can make it a little tougher to just “enjoy” your surroundings in the land. As time goes on, however, and crowds stabilize to “normal” levels, I can imagine night time strolls through Pandora are going to be a great way to end a day at Animal Kingdom. (I have a feeling that we’re going to end a lot of future nights at Disney World by having a drink at Nomad, strolling through Pandora, and then watching some Tree of Life Awakenings.)
While visiting Pandora, we, of course, had to try the food. We tried Satu’li Canteen’s custom bowls, the Cheeseburger pods, and the Chocolate Cake dessert. Personally, I think the bowls are going to be a nice change-of-pace option for me going forward. The chicken was quite good and all the ingredients seemed a step up from standard quick service options. The cheeseburger pods were also tasty (Yes, they taste like McDonald’s cheeseburgers), even if I wish the pod-to-meat ratio didn’t so heavily favor the pod. Elyssa gave a thumbs up to the Chocolate Cake, with a surprisingly crunch cookie layer, but it’s tough to get her to give any chocolate item a thumbs down. Personally, I might pass on getting it again, but if you’re in the mood for a bitter chocolate something, you could do worse. (Elyssa’s note: it wasn’t bitter – it was just not milk chocolate)
As you would probably expect from something new at Disney World, people want to experience Pandora. That means, the usual advice applies: get there early, stay really late, and/or try to get Fastpass+ reservations for the primary attractions (NOTE: You can only get 1 of the Pandora attractions for your initial 3 selections. I’d try to get Flight of Passage because of its higher demand and wait times.) Josh over at easyWDW has outlined a number of strategies concerning timing, including arriving about an hour and fifteen minutes before the park open (on non-EMH days.) If you’re planning to visit, I suggest reviewing Josh’s posts in-depth.
Elyssa and I had a great bit of success taking advantage of the morning extra magic hour (7:00am opening on a Saturday when the park opens at 8:00am.) We arrived about 6:10am via our own car, which got us there before any of the resort buses. (I’d recommend driving yourself or getting an Uber instead of using a resort bus. Being ahead of that crowd can be a huge help.) That put us about 2 parties back at the tapstiles. They let us into the park about 6:40am, where they scanned our Magic Bands again to make sure that we were entitled to EMH access, and then held us at the Tree of Life until about 6:50am. At that point, they began walking us to Pandora and, for almost everyone, Flight of Passage. We briskly walked through the Flight of Passage queue and were part of what felt like the first group to ride for the day. We then headed over to Na’vi River Journey and, essentially, walked onto that. We then exited Pandora, and had time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris twice before our 9:20 Tusker House ADR. It was a fantastic morning.
We also tried the evening extra magic hours, but had a little less success with them. It seemed like most people went to the earlier showing of Rivers of Light and then headed over to Pandora after that. This mean waits of 90+ minutes for Flight of Passage right when EMH started (though, the end of FP+ return could make that go quicker.) If we were willing to stick around until later in the night, we might be able to get a lower wait. We actually found, however, that riding around 9 (while people were occupied with Rivers of Light) actually worked out better for us, but, based on Josh’s wait time chart, that might have just been an anomaly in the standard wait pattern.
In summary, your best bet is probably to get there early and then also try to get a FP+ for Flights of Passage. Not shocking advice, I know, but, it bears repeating.
As far as the swatting of Potter goes, I’ve been to Diagon Alley, and I prefer Pandora. I think Len Testa best summed it up when he talked about how he prefers nature to a cityscape and Pandora is actually “better nature than actual nature” as far as immersion goes. Also, much like Elyssa has no connection to Avatar, I have no connection to Harry Potter. I’ve seen the movies a couple of times, never read the books, and, for better or worse, am kind of shrug emoji about all of it. Elyssa, on the other hand, is a huge Harry Potter fan, but still had a hard time deciding which immersive land she liked better. In the end, her connection to the word of Harry Potter wins out, but for something to have even been that close shows just how great Joe Rohde and his team did. (Elyssa note: no, but seriously, I frakking LOVE Harry Potter and walking into Diagon and Hogsmeade makes me cry, so this is a big deal.)
Regardless of which land you think is “better”, Diagon Alley, and now, Pandora, seem to be the pinnacle of this generation of theme park design and execution. Pandora is an immersive environment that rewards repeat visits with its intricate detail, quality food offerings, and enjoyable attractions. Until Star Wars Land opens with its new concept of “memory”(i.e., it knowing your history within the land), Pandora is pretty much the best of what theme parks have to offer.
John and I are done with our trip down to WDW for the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend, and I am the one putting together this Quick Hits post because John is driving (and blogging while driving is probably not that safe).
Here are some of the “new to us” items:
The Dress Shoppe @ Cherry Tree Lane. IT IS THE BEST AND I WANT ALL THE DRESSES! They aren’t free though, so I only bought one. I got the Small World pattern and love it. I tried a bunch of them on and they’re all really cute. I wish they’d had the Orange Bird one in stock. Cast Members said they’d been told much more stock would be coming in summer. Hopefully Disney recognizes the demand and we get even more patterns and styles.
BB-8 Meet & Greet. Droid please. He’s really cute and we thought this was a positive experience. One thing that’s different about the BB meet is you’re the only ones in the room with him; at most character meets, there’s a family or two behind you watching/waiting their turn. They brought us in to him alone. He’s a nicely attentive droid too – even though he doesn’t roll around, his head swivels and you can see him looking around based on where voices are coming from. The chirps are the cutest.
The Polite Pig. MEH. As North Carolinians, we have pretty high expectations for BBQ/southern food, so it’s a bit of a tough sell. The fast casual concept of ordering and then sitting down might be nice if they figure it out. When we went, they had clearly not ironed out the wrinkles in that system. When we initially got in the main line, which was pretty long and didn’t seem to be moving quickly, the CM handing out menus told us we could sit/order at the bar if we didn’t want to stand in line. So we went to the bar, where the lone bartender was clearly overwhelmed (both sides of the bar were almost at capacity). It took almost 10 minutes for us to even get water, but we stuck it out and ordered. I got mac & cheese and John got the brisket sandwich. John liked his sandwich okay. My mac & cheese just made me wish we’d gone to Homecomin. We both agreed that if we’d just gone to the bar at Homecomin, we could’ve gotten a better tasting meal in about the same amount of time though at a slightly higher cost. I don’t think we’ll really need to go here again, but it would be okay if sitting at the Homecomin bar is not an option for you.
Geyser Point. Beautiful views, not so beautiful food/service. When we sat, it took a while for a waitress to even acknowledge us. She gave us drink menus and seemed mad when we asked about food. Apparently, you are supposed to go over to the quick service counter (not clearly visible from the Geyser Point entrance) to get anything aside from 3-4 appetizer type things. Given that there’s a giant menu at the Geyser Point entrance showing all the options from the quick service counter, I’m sure lots of people walk in expecting those options. Yet, when we asked about them she huffed and acted like it was a giant hassle, so we just ordered drinks. John ended up just going over to the quick service counter to order some food. The food you get is definitely Disney quick service. That doesn’t mean it’s gross, but it’s replacement level. The food from Territory Lounge is much better. The views at Geyser Point are really pretty though, so I can see us getting some stuff from Territory to go and posting up at Geyser Point to eat it and enjoy their drink menu. *Note that you can only get food discounts (like AP) if you order directly from the quick service counter.
Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. What we had of the new menu was good – John had the King Triton breakfast calzone and enjoyed it. I had the Tower of Pancakes, which were thick and fluffy. Each table gets a skillet of breakfast pastries when they sit, and the pastries are themed to Rapunzel & Ariel (the two princesses you meet). Character interactions were solid. Flynn Ryder comes out first, then Rapunzel, Eric, and finally Ariel. While each character meets tables individually, the two couples do dance around the restaurant a little together, so if you’re in a good position, you could get a photo of Rapunzel with Flynn and Ariel with Eric, they just don’t come to your table together. Overall, the breakfast was fun, but it was a little bit of a bummer, because we really liked the old Trattoria breakfast. It was a great option to fuel before heading into International Gateway at World Showcase opening. Now, the breakfast is more expensive (because of the characters) and some of our favorite menu options are gone. We may end up at the Bon Voyage breakfast again, but not as often as we went to the old Trattoria breakfast.
Il Mulino. This restaurant is by no means new, but we’ve never been so this is new to us. The disclaimer is that the purpose of this dinner was to have a mild, carb-y dinner before Saturday’s 10k. If it were a normal meal, we may have ordered different things. The atmosphere was nothing to write home about. It was pretty enough, but there certainly aren’t any exciting views. The wine list looked nice, but we stuck to water like good little runners. We both ordered pasta dishes – I got a linguine in a “spicy” red sauce. It was not spicy, and I probably wouldn’t order it again. John got the pappardelle dish and really liked it. I can’t see us choosing this over Tutto Italia unless we’re staying in the Swan or Dolphin and simply don’t feel like going into Epcot.
Paddlefish. Food was pretty good and a decent value. We had the lobster corn dogs from the appetizer section and those were quite tasty. Everything else was fine too, but not significantly memorable. You won’t have any trouble getting a table and it’s certainly not the type of restaurant to rush you through your meal, so I think Paddlefish is a good option if you want a longer/lazier meal at Disney Springs. If you get a window seat you can wave to the Amphicars.
Tiffins. OMNOMNOMNOMNOM. Seriously lives up to the rave reviews we’ve seen elsewhere. We were there on the Rivers of Light dining package, which means we got more food than we probably would have otherwise. The package includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert for each person. To start, I got the octopus and John got the lobster soup. John’s summation of the soup is that it was good, but he prefers traditional lobster bisque. We both really liked the octopus. I could’ve eaten 3 or 4 of those. For entrees, I had the Waygu pasta dish, which was delicious, and John got the Waygu beef and short ribs. This is one place where you don’t have to worry so much about Disney overcooking – the beef was insanely tender and tasty. We both got the chocolate dessert because chocolate. It was so good and now I’m seriously craving another one. After dinner, the waiter brought our Rivers of Light tickets along with a GLOWING LOTUS FLOWER POPCORN BUCKET. It didn’t have any popcorn in it, but it only cost $1.50 to fill it at any of the popcorn stands. The only negative from Tiffins was that our waiter told us they were out of Kungaloosh. We were both shocked since they only have 3 beers on the menu, but John audibled and got the Tempting Tigress instead. When we went to Nomad almost immediately after Tiffins, John tried ordering the Kungaloosh again and it was available. Not sure if they got a new keg in or if our waiter was misinformed/playing a cruel joke.
Rivers of Light. I tweeted this, but I seriously don’t understand how people are unimpressed with this show. It was beautiful. Even though it was kind of windy and you could see where the water screens were rippling, it was delightful. The shadows during the preshow were entrancing and the glowing animals during the show itself made me so happy. The synchronized water effects were incredible. I also really liked the cast members on the boats dancing and contributing through the shadow puppets. I do think they need to make the narration louder or put in more speakers, because there were definitely parts that were difficult to hear, but overall I really enjoyed it. John definitely will not go this far, but now that Celebrate the Magic is gone, this is my favorite nighttime show. I’m not really a fireworks fan though, so you can take that with several salt grains.
Additional thoughts from the trip:
We watched our last Wishes. Here’s hoping that Happily Ever After is a suitable replacement.
Ample Hills being open to 11:00pm is a good thing. Frankly, it should be 24 hours, because duh.
Uniqlo has awesome deals and is a great option if you forgot to pack some essential piece of clothing.
The race expo was a little underwhelming compared to prior expos, and we may post more about the race stuff.
Territory Lounge has a new spicy watermelon margarita that I loved.
There is a dumb waitress at Sanaa who kept insisting she was bringing me the bread service sauce I was requesting, even though it was clearly the Tomato-Date Jam instead of the Red Chili Sambal. So I sat there with four of the WRONG sauce until another table’s waitress noticed and brought me the RIGHT sauce, explaining that they had been mislabeled, but she could tell the difference by looking at the sauces instead of the label (AS COULD ANYONE WITH EYES). Our waitress never apologized. She’s the worst. I was right. I’m not still bitter about this or anything.
One of the reasons Elyssa and I started this site was to be able to interact more with our fellow Disney fans. This community (which the ModernMighty Men of Mouse get the entire credit for creating) has been so caring and supportive of Elyssa and me as we fought through our own problems, that we try do anything we can to return the favor. Sometimes, that means traveling to Disney World to hang out with Wes, Josh, Eric, or the FabulousGluesdells. Other times, it means pointing out when one of our friends is doing something cool. In this case, it’s friend of the site Howie from Maryland’s son, Levi, trying to win a year of his favorite italian ice and frozen custard. That’s why, Elyssa and I are asking all of you to go to this online poll and vote for our favorite ninja turtle:
You can tell that this is something we’re all united behind when even famed internet troll, Derek Burgan, has been supporting the cause.
The voting closes at Noon Eastern on April 5, 2017 (the Wednesday after this post goes up.) Vote early and vote often! (with all your approved email addresses, etc…) Good luck, Levi! You can do this!
From March 1 to May 29 this year, Epcot is hosting my favorite festival: the Flower & Garden Festival. Below is a collection of some my favorite coverage of this year’s event. Elyssa and I plan to be done there in April to see some of this stuff first hand, but–for now–we’ll point you to some other sources to show you what is going on.
As with Food & Wine, the best coverage of the individual items available at these these Kitchens comes from Josh over at easyWDW. Here are the link to his various reviews: (the NEW indicator means a new Kitchen this year, not a new review from Josh)
For more food coverage, Tessa Koten at TouringPlans has a list of her favorite items (which she labels as “family friendly”, though I don’t understand what about those items makes them such), and Robert Niles, over at Theme Park Insider has a brief write-up of some of the items he sampled.
Even though there is a growing emphasis on the Outdoor Kitchens, the original draw of the Flower & Garden Festival (and what really makes it special for me) is the wide array of topiaries that Disney puts out . As you would imagine, there is a lot of photography.
Cory Disbrow has some coverage in his signature style at the end of this post and
Josh over at easyWDW has a walk around Future World as well a detailed look at the Festival Center (which is only open from 10am to 5pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The only “issue” with Josh’s review is that it might be comprehensive enough for you to just skip the Festival Center all together.
If you’re someone who prefers to listen to your Flower & Garden coverage, then Lou has got you covered over at WDW Radio. On the other hand, if you’re someone who wants to watch some video coverage, then check out these videos from the DIS covering overall highlights:
and the more general “exploring” of the Festival:
The Disney Food Blog also has a video covering (you guessed it) the food:
As (semi-?)frequent vistors to Disney World, Elyssa and I have (also semi-?)frequent discussions about whether or not we want to buy into DVC. Since the Wilderness Lodge is my favorite Disney resort (and in Elyssa’s Top 2? 3?), we have been closely watching that resort’s new Copper Creek DVC expansion.
In terms of our bias, we are generally frugal travelers who are willing to splurge on luxury experiences that ostensibly offer value commensurate with cost. Still, we are pretty conservative when it comes to spending, so our threshold for ‘appropriate’ value for money is likely higher than most.
This, on its face, seems to align with Elyssa’s and my point of few on those items, but–despite that apparent similarity–we evaluate some of the items quite differently. For example, Tom evaluates Early Morning Magic as follows:
Early Morning Magic – No – I’ve seen a lot of people do logical contortions trying to justify the value in these, but it just isn’t there unless you approach the parks as being E-Ticket checklists, with each ride on Toy Story Mania being worth $X. In which case, you should probably just buy a used Wii and a copy of [Toy Story Mania for Wii]. What? Not the same experience as being at Walt Disney World? Exactly. There are easy ways to enjoy these attractions during a normal, leisurely day in the parks without paying a surcharge.
I can see someone not seeing a high level of value from getting to ride Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train a few times before part opening, but to just dismiss this off hand by only citing 1 attraction from the Hollywood Studios version of this experience seems disingenuous. (Also, it would be a stretch to say it is “easy” to get multiple rides on Mine Train on a given day outside of an event like this.) As friends of the site, Wes and Howie will tell you, Early Morning Magic can be a great time to ride high demand attractions with the people you love.
Tom was similarily low on Disney After Hours:
Disney After Hours – No – After an initial flop that no doubt lost Disney money, this is returning for 2017 with a lower price tag. It’s still not worth it. What makes the seasonal hard ticket parties worth the money is the ambiance and special entertainment, Disney going the extra mile for a special event. There’s nothing special about this–it’s the same thing as a normal day just with a harder cap on attendance.
“[I]t’s the same thing as a normal day just with a harder cap on attendance.” Ah, yeah? That’s exactly the point. With the caveat that maybe Disney raises that cap for this year’s version, the cap makes the experience entirely different from the experience you have in a normal day. You can walk from attraction to attraction (frequently without seeing anyone else), and walk on pretty much any attraction as well. The longest wait we had was about 5 minutes to see Mickey at Town Square just as the event was ending. The whole experience was fantastic. (And that’s not even considering the complimentary ice cream sandwiches and drinks.)
Looking back at those two events, it seems like big difference between Tom’s position and mine, is that I feel there is a lot of value in getting to ride attractions without waiting (especially high demand ones.) It also seems like I enjoy the experience of being in an “empty” (partially empty? not as heavily populated?) park more than Tom does. Yes, Disney After Hours doesn’t have the special entertainment that a holiday party might, but being able to stroll through an empty Magic Kingdom does have a distinct ambiance that I really enjoy.
I don’t always disagree with Tom’s ratings, however. For example:
Wild Africa Trek – Yes – I’ve heard nothing but unanimous praise about Wild Africa Trek from those who have done it. While the price tag has kept us from doing it, when I think about how much an experience like this would cost elsewhere (even at the the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, special experiences are pricey) it seems fair. I wouldn’t hesitate to splurge on this if it’s something that appeals to your family.
Elyssa and I have done the Wild Africa Trek, and it’s fantastic. (Here’s my old TouringPlans article on it.) I agree with Tom, and say that it’s worth trying (if you and your family are interested in at all, obviously.)
I also agree with Tom’s take on Backstage Tours:
Backstage Tours – Maybe – I think these will appeal most to those who have ‘been there, done that’ and are looking for a new perspective from which to enjoy Walt Disney World. While being backstage could ruin the illusion for some, I think seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak, can give others a greater appreciation for what takes place on stage. We’ve done a number of backstage events over the years, and have found them to be hit or miss in terms of value, but the totality of those experiences has been a deeper interest in how the parks and attractions operate.
If you’re interested in digging deeper into the history and operations of Disney World, these can be fantastic options. Of course, if someone is going on his or her first trip to Disney World (or is someone who doesn’t care about history of the parks, etc…), then these might not make as much sense.
Ultimately, the main thing to keep in mind when evaluating these types of offerings is what you value in your vacation. If you don’t particularly care about riding attractions multiple times as a result of lower crowds, maybe those “enhancements” aren’t for you. If you are more of a “foodie” and want to experience (and learn about) higher end cuisine, maybe take a look at that category of offernings. Depending on what you feel is important, you might end up with a wholly different result from Tom or me.
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.
One of the early interviews I conducted on this site was with Brian Perkins, who helped create a set of Disney Podcast awards. I like Brian, so I "reached out" via Twitter when this year's slate of nominees was released under the same banner he used previously. It was not really surprising when he informed me that he did not participate in this year's nomination process, since this year's slate of nomineees clearly was not up to the quality of previous years.
Let me start by saying that I appreciate anyone who is trying to spread the word about Disney podcasts, but I think there is some level of responsibility to do that well. I've tried to do that on this site, and am currently in the process of creating a new version of that directory. As part of that effort, I conducted a survey here on the site (which has more entries than the "panel of 30 people" that apparently did the listing of nominees for this year's "awards"). Though I haven't finished my updated directory, I have reviewed all the submissions, read reviews, etc… and based on my research (which is admittedly influenced by you, my readers), this list of nominees is not reflective of shows that people are currently listening to and enjoying. (In the world of Twitter-dot-COM, I referred to this nominee slate as "hot garbage". As I also said in a follow-up tweet, I am not commenting on any of the specific shows listed in the nominations, I have a problem with the composition of the nominees itself.)
Here is my biggest complaint (and why I can't take this year's awards seriously): I have a mound of data in front of me, where people listed out up to 5 of their favorite podcasts, and 3 of the 4 most popular entries ARE NOT MENTIONED ANYWHERE ON ON THIS SLATE OF NOMINEES. These shows, which clearly be included in any alleged "Best Of" listing are:
There are additional problems I have with the listing ("Modern" Men of Mouse?, Len Testa is a host on WDW Today?), but the main problem I have–as indicated by the data I described above–is that I don't think the shows listed reflect current Disney podcast listening trends. For example, shows that were popular on similar lists in previous years such as WDW Radio and WDW Today received hardly any mentions in this me survey. To me, that indicates that engaged Disney fans aren't listening to those shows as much anymore. The Disney Podcast Awards, however, do not seem to accurately reflect those trends.
Ultimately, I think this issue could be best cleared up by explaining more about the nomination process, the composition of the panel, what the criteria were for each category, etc… Until such time, however, I'm going to disregard these "awards" as things that don't actually have any value as indicators of actual show quality.
If you’re the type of person who rushes out to install the latest version of software for your iPhone or iPad that you have probably already installed iOS 10 and have started playing around with the new stickers in iMessage (technically, iMessage is branded “Messages” by Apple, but whatever…)
If you’re reading this site than the first sticker packs you’ll probably want to buy are Disney related. Since the iMessage store can be a little confusing to use to locate them, I’ve provided my favorite, below. Be careful, though, each one of these sticker packs is $1.99.
At 3am Eastern today, I–like many a technology geek–was loading and reloading the Apple Store on my existing iPhone in hopes of securing a new iPhone on next Friday’s launch day. The store was supposed to go live at 3:01am, but at 3:08am I was still getting the “check back soon” message that Apple puts up when it’s updating its store. People on Twitter were–justifiably–complaining about how frustrating things were. When I finally got into the store, I received a generic “unable to complete transaction at this time” error on 6 different attempts before my order went through on my phone (during which time I–unnecessarily–went to my computer as a backup, in case I was doing something wrong on my phone). A basic online order that should have probably been completed by 3:04am wrapped up at 3:37am.
When the process was completed, I tweeted about how much the whole experience made me long for Disney’s ADR system. I know there are differences in scale–orders of magnitude differences, probably–but, every day of the year Disney enables its ADR system at exactly 6:00am to allow thousands of people to make their 180-day reservations. Every day. I’ve gone through that process at least 25 times, sometimes making tens of reservations, and it usually works pretty well. The same goes for making new Fastpass+ selections, changing ADRs, and otherwise using My Disney Experience (these days, anyway).
Before you start sending me pictures of your Donald Duck error message (or Stitch in the rain), let me be clear: I am not saying Disney is perfect. I’ve had problems–sometimes very annoying and difficult to correct problems–using Disney’s web services, as I am sure many of you have. What I am trying to say, however, is that making web services which have to support the kind of activity that Disney and Apple receive through their websites and apps is hard. I know that from both my experience as a developer of them and as a consumer of them. Programing at this kind of scale isn’t easy–just ask Apple after last night–, but, overall, Disney does a pretty good job with it.
ASIDE (for people who care): I bought a 128GB Gold iPhone 7. I like a white screen, since it’s easier to find when I leave it on the coach or my dark furniture, and I prefer gold to silver or pink. I chose the in-store pickup option so I can get it first thing in the morning next Friday, and I bought it in the Apple Upgrade Program, since it’s kind of stupid not to.
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.)
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 – Though mildly enjoyable to play, it’s your typical, scammy “free-to-play” mobile game that is best avoided.
In a recent article at MacStories Graham Spencer dug into the top grossing apps in the iOS App Store, and found that over 65% of them were what are known as “free-to-play” games. These games use a model that involve a “free” download of the game, and then the ability to use the in-app purchase functionality of your to allow you to “enhance” your experience. Insidiously, the games are then designed in a way that you are almost constantly tempted to purchase these “enhancements”, thereby allowing the developers to rake in money from users. Sadly, Disney’s iOS offering has all the worst elements of that trend.
What is Emoji Blitz
When I first heard of KIMOJI, I couldn’t understand what would make the application so popular. Clearly, I was in the minority, as KIMOJI shot to the top of the iOS App Store sales chart. When it was announced that Disney was going to make its own emoji keyboard–featuring its famed icons like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy–I figured I would give a try. What I never expected was that Disney Emoji Blitz would set a new low in gamification of a simple concept. You see, instead of purchasing the Disney Emoji keyboard and getting access to the various emojis that Disney has created, the Emoji blitz requires you to “unlock” the various emojis through repeated play of a simple matching game (think of a combination of Tetris and Connect-Four, where when you end up with 3 of the same emoji next to each other, they disappear from the board and new emoji fall into place.)
On its face, the game play isn’t terrible. It’s a nice little distraction when you have a minute or two. If that’s all the game was, I might have such a problem with it. Sadly, however, it gets much, much worse.
The easiest place to start talking about the gamification of Emoji Blitz is in the “currency” system that’s in place. In the game, you have 3 different types of currency:
Hearts – These are your “lives”. You can only play the game if you have a heart. These re-generate every 10 minutes, but you can only keep five of those auto-generated hearts at once (you can, of course, buy more.)
Coins – These allow you to buy things like “boosts” to use in your game, or, most importantly, new emojis.
Gems – You trade in gems to get more hearts or coins (yep, it’s that convoluted) or to change the “challenges” the game is presenting you. Gems are what you can purchase more of with actual money via the game’s in-app purchase system.
So, why have this kind of confusing system of currency? Because, it provides a way to obfuscate what you are purchasing and how much you’re actually spending. For example, you can purchase 81 gems for $1.99. You could then use 30 of those gems to get 5 extra hearts, and 50 of those gems to 6000 coins. Of course, you need 15,000 coins to buy a new emoji, so maybe you should buy 486 gems for $9.99 and then trade 300 of those gems into 40000 coins to pick a “gold box” emoji. You then have a 1 in 20 chance of getting that Tinker Bell emoji you really want (And it’s always 1 in 20, since, SURPRISE, you might get a awarded an emoji you already have.) It’s crazy. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars trying to get the ability to insert a cute WALL-E emoji into your text messages.
If you think that’s bad, the actual game play might be worse. To incentive you to keep playing the game, there are “Missions”, which are things that you need to complete to get to the next “level”:
“Items” which are things you can collect during the course of the game play:
And daily” Challenges”, which are things you need to compete in a given day in order to get some kind of bonus:
All of these are designed to get you to want to play the game more (“Oh, I’ll just try to complete the next mission.” “Oh, I’ll just play until I can collect pirate ship.”), but the challenges are especially terrible, since, not only do you have to complete the challenges in a given day, but your playable characters can only be used once after 2 FREAKIN’ HOURS (Unless, of course, you pay to buy gems, which you can then use to “wake up” the character to play agin.) It’s such a scam.
For another perfect example of how manipulative Emoji Blitz is, take a look at that this screen shot:
In this example there’s a “rare” item on the board, but my time is expired. So what does the game offer me? A chance to use 20 gems RIGHT THEN, in order to get 10 more second to try and collect that “rare” item. If you remember from above, those 20 Gems might cost me a $2 in-app purchase. In other words, the game is trying to capitalize on the fact that I might be willing to do something extra to get this rare item and is hoping I’m caught up in the moment enough to think that paying $2 for 10 seconds of gameplay is somehow a good idea. It is such a scam.
I like emojis. I think they’re cute. I was looking forward to putting Disney emojis in my tweets and text messages. Instead of giving me that chance, however, Disney has created a “game” that has been systematically engineered to try and get you to pay as much money as possible why you pay. It’s so shameful that I would recommend that you don’t even bother downloading Disney Emoji Blitz. I’m sure you can find much better ways to spend tens (or hundreds) of dollars than trying to unlock a cute drawing of Tink’s face.
All that said, however, one thing that you should be doing at Disney World, regardless of what battery pack you use (or don’t), is using Low Power Mode on your iPhone while in the parks. (Android apparently has its own Battery Saver Mode, which might have a similar impact, but, I’ve never used Android, so I can’t confirm.)
Basically, when you’re walking around Disney World, your phone is constantly trying to deal with things that suck battery (low or non-existent network connection, you checking the time or trying to refresh FastPass+ availability, etc…). Low Power Mode helps address some of this drain by doing things like reducing background app refreshes and some of the visual effects on your phone. Though I haven’t done extensive comparisons of when my phone dies while in a given Disney Park, I can report that my phone lasts significantly longer when on Low Power Mode. In fact, I’ve even managed a near full Disney day (rope drop at the Magic Kingdom, lunch at Beaches & Cream, visit to Disney Springs, then back to Magic Kingdom for Celebrate the Magic and Wishes) without running out of battery. (Obviously, your results may vary—and I wouldn’t recommend this being your standard operating procedure—but, it’s possible.)
Should you decide to give Low Power Mode a try, turning it on is pretty simple. First, go to the settings app on your iPhone. From there, select the “Battery” option from the third grouping of choices.
On the Battery menu, you then simply turn on Low Power Mode. That’s it.
iOS is kind of aggressive about turing “off” Low Power Mode, so if you happen to plug your phone in (to a charger or battery pack), you might want to check to make sure Low Power mode remained on. (I like to turn Low Power Mode on before I unplug my phone from a charger. That seems to help the automatic shut-offs a bit.)
Hopefully, this tip helps your battery survive a little longer while visiting Disney World. Good luck!
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.
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.