Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What's New at Disney's Animal Kingdom

     Hello world! I just got back from my most recent trip to Walt Disney World. While I was ill for nearly the length of the trip, I did manage to enjoy some of the magic, and capture some things that have changed since the last time I was there. I will be publishing a series of photos and thoughts regarding my reactions to what is new at the World.
     I want to start with Disney's Animal Kingdom. While this post won't include a lot of text (as I haven't truly digested all that I saw), I will share photos here. Many of these photos are of the new Harambe Market area in Africa, and some are just fun.

     This first photo is an example of something Disney has done really well in the Animal Kingdom. Their storytelling for each attraction has spread beyond the waiting queue and the ride. This poster is in the Harambe Market, and makes reference to Kilimanjaro Safaris. The authenticity of the story of the attraction is held strong by the fact that the ride isn't treated as anything but a real safari until you exit the confines of the entire park. While you're in the Animal Kingdom, the safari is a safari, and not a ride.

     The 'Hemingwey Bookshop' sign is a charming touch in Harambe Market, pointing to the sometimes funny mix of Western and African culture. The slight spelling mistakes point to an innocence that exists in African culture and its interpretation of American literature. The juxtaposition between the intensity and violence of Hemingway's writing and the poor English acts as a metaphor for us, pointing out that while art is trans-cultural, it is interpreted differently based on region (extra fun, the name 'Hemingway' is spelled using the more African spelling for the 'way' sound: 'wey').
     I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse into some new details at the Animal Kingdom! There will be more soon!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Skip the Lines! Well... Minimize Them

     You and I both know that the hardest part of a vacation at Walt Disney World is waiting in line. While I love making arguments that some time waiting in line is a good thing, and that waiting in line can actually be an educational and magical experience, it is no fun to spend a portion of your day smelling the sweaty guy in front of you. With the introduction of MyMagic+, it has become even harder to find times when you can just walk on to rides without Fastpasses. While Fastpass has really changed the game, it is still possible to use strategy to your advantage.

There is no better example of a long line than that of Soarin' in Epcot

Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:
  1. Go early! Or late! You could employ this tactic a few different ways. First of all, getting to your park of choice for rope drop is a great way to get on to your favorite headliner without waiting in line. At Animal Kingdom, you can walk through the front gate and onto Expedition Everest a couple of times without waiting in much of a line. Additionally, you will want to take advantage of parks that are open later. I'm not talking about Extra Magic Hours (yet). The Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are often open later than the other parks, and this makes for a great time to ride some attractions. If the Magic Kingdom closes at 11 pm, and you go to the Park at 9:30, you very well may find yourself in a fairly empty park. 
  2. Extra Magic Lines! When I go to the World, I seldom if ever go to the park that opens early for Extra Magic Hours. The reason for this is, said park, nearly as soon as that opening hour ends, will be significantly more crowded than any of the other parks for the remainder of the day. Unless you want to just spend one hour at that park in the early morn', skip the early magic hours. Hit the other park for rope drop.
  3. Front of Park Syndrome! This is how it works: When Epcot opens at 9, a good portion of the crowd running through the gate sees that big shiny ball in front of them, and MUST ride it at that moment. While Spaceship Earth is a great ride, it is by no means a headliner. Consequently, after a couple of hours of long lines, Spaceship Earth will become very rideable by 11:30 am, when World Showcase opens and people filter to the rest of the park. The same happens on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom, Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios, and all sorts of other attractions. At rope drop, head for the back of the park!
  4. Use Crowd Forecasts! There are a few different groups that work to forecast crowds for every day that Walt Disney World is open. There are slow and heavy times of year, as well as best and worst parks to visit on each day of that year. A few I use are undercover tourist and touring plans
  5. Skip the Middle! Each day, there is a several hour period when you don't want to be at the park. For me, it's between 1 pm and 4 pm. At this time, the crowds are the worst, the sun is beating down, and times are not good. You know what you can do during this time? Leave! This is the key reason I always suggest saving up extra money and staying on property. The ability to skip this time of the day at the park and relax at your hotel will change the way you see Disney vacations. I promise. Do it.
  6. When it Rains, It's Your Time! Here is the thing about Florida: most of the year is rainy season. For the majority of the warm months, it will pour down rain from the heavens for 30 minutes at 1 pm to 1:30 pm, and then it will be warm again. When the rains come down, the parks tend to empty out. If you are lucky enough to find a rain storm that lasts an hour, you will have a really intimate time! So when it rains, stick around!
None of these tips are hard and fast, but they all help! Use strategy and don't just assume that you'll be able to enjoy the parks whenever you want. There is subtle and quiet magic to discover for those who plan correctly.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 ways Planning a Disney Vacation has Changed

I'm back! After a recent career change and the ensuing training time and such, I have finally found myself with enough time to write to you all. Here is my first post in a while:

     Disney World is not exactly what it used to be. Back in the day, park admission was a dollar, you got a book of tickets to ride the rides, and you could walk into almost any restaurant or onto any ride without thinking about it. Nowadays, things are a bit different. Even since the last time I planned a major family WDW vacation, several things have changed. In this post, I will briefly inform you of what you should keep in mind.


  1. You can't walk into restaurants any more. I know. It's a hard fact of life now in Walt Disney World. But let's move past the tears and rage and just accept the fact that the world loves Walt Disney World also. Everyone wants to eat at these great places. As a result, make sure that you make your dining reservations well in advance of when you plan to use them. If you want to eat at the hot spots like Cinderella's Royal Table and Le Cellier Steakhouse, you'd better be on the phone at 7 a.m. 180 days in advance. 
  2. You can't walk on to Space Mountain any more. This one is a complex one for me. In my opinion, there are still plenty of strategies that one can employ in order to avoid the lines for your favorite attractions. Coming up I will post more on how to avoid lines at the World. However, make sure you are planning well using your MyMagic+ system to reserve your ride times.
  3. You can't see it all! Ever! My friends ask me constantly, "You've been there so many times... doesn't it get old?" My response is always a laugh. I respond by saying that I will never do it all. Every single time I go back I find new things that have been there for years that I have never done. Unlike Disneyland and the WDW of yore, you cannot go there with the idea that you will see it all. You just won't.
  4. Booking Moderate is quite luxurious. Unlike many of the memories I have as a child would dictate, Disney's moderate resorts are more than you might think. I like to think of it this way: Behind the luxury resorts is detail, history, and 'over the top'-ness. With the moderate resorts, you are getting that Disney touch of storytelling, quality, and romance, just without the deep history and enormous lobbies. In addition, you can save a lot of money. I particularly encourage the Port Orleans Resorts.
  5. The Characters are popular dudes! Keep this in mind while you're planning your trip. I remember as a child walking around the parks, running into characters, and having a simple and magical interaction with them based on the fact that we ran into each other. This doesn't really happen any more. If you want to meet Mickey, you really need to get a Fastpass. Keep this in mind while making your plans. Don't assume that junior will be a breeze to please.
My favorite place in the world has changed a lot. It's easy to get angry about it. I encourage everyone to keep positive, and change with it. They know what they're doing down there. 

Thank you so much for reading!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

4 Walt Disney World Attractions that Exemplify Imagineering-ness

     Disney is constantly inventing, tweaking, and plussing their parks. The entire Imagineering department of the company is dedicated to nothing but adding new facets to the Disney theme park experience. There is a spirit among these people that is always moving, re-imagining, and somehow never at rest. Imagineering never really pats itself on the back. Today, I want to share the four attractions that I think show the true heart of Imagineering in Walt Disney World. My criteria are as follows: The attraction must give the guest more than they were expecting. It must break new ground in some way. It must be a powerful positive experience for the guest.

  1. Haunted Mansion: For this one, I could have chosen Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, or a series of other attractions. They all possess the same intangible quality that has turned them into cult-ish sensations in Disney Parks. In the Haunted Mansion, Disney could have simply created some scary rooms and a couple ghost figures and called it good. However, they chose to create ground-breaking illusions by contracting special-effects experts in their field, hire professional musicians and song-writers to create the original and catchy score, bring in fantastic voice actors to be your ghost hosts, and write and stick to a story that is continuous throughout the entire attraction. You want to see Disney Imagineering at its most classic? Ride the Haunted Mansion.
  2. Expedition Everest: I have to explain this one a bit. Many of you will notice that Expedition Everest is the same story and principle of Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland Park. However, Expedition Everest is a massive improvement on that ride. Disney could have built a Matterhorn ride in Disney World. It would have been incredibly popular! However, they instead sent a huge team of researchers to Nepal, built the most complicated Animatronic figure every created for the new Yeti, and to a "t" recreated a Nepalese village at the base of Mount Everest. Further? They made a ride that is smooth, thrilling, tells a story, and goes backward and forward. This is a masterpiece. In Disneyland, Walt created the first steel-roller coaster ever. In Walt Disney World, the Imagineers took that concept and turned it into something spectacular and newly innovative.

  3. Kilimanjaro Safaris Disney's Safari ride is unique. Sure there are other rides that you can go on which will show you animals from a vehicle. They're everywhere. Disney here took that idea and plussed it over and over until they made something fantastic. What is so ground-breaking here? Well, when you go through the ride, it seems like all of the animals exist in the same area. It feels like you are simply travelling through an open-area, and like one animal could go where it wants. You can't see a bit of the enclosure. However, Disney has expertly hidden walls, wires, and other little tricks which keep the lions away from the giraffe. In addition, there is a story here. The animals are actors in the story in which you are a part. There is a point to this ride: poaching is wrong because the animals of Africa are worth protecting. Disney is standing for something.
  4. Tower of Terror: For the sake of this article, I am referring to the Hollywood Studios version in Florida. You'll see why. In the Tower of Terror, Disney took two ideas and combined them. First, they took the story of a haunted hotel, full of detail and hidden story elements. It is a perfect, beautiful, absorbent aesthetic experience. To this, they added an up-and-down style thrill ride. With the combination of these two elements, they created a thrilling, exciting, beautiful, story-based attraction. The real kicks here are the surprises. Guests go on expecting to get into an elevator and go up and down real' fast. However, once you get up to the right floor, you start moving... forward. you move through a vortex of hotel/twilight zone space, and are shocked when you suddenly find yourself in an elevator shaft being dropped or lifted in random sequence. This attraction is a perfect example of Disney doing much more than guests are expecting. 
     Which attractions would you have chosen for this article? 
     Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Reasons to Stay at Disney's Beach Club Resort

     There is some debate among Disney fans as to the most "convenient" of the Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World. You could argue for the Resorts along the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, The ones right next to Disney Springs, or even the Swan and Dolphin for being half-way between two parks. My money, however, goes to The Beach Club. Now, I have to say that I am extremely biased when it comes to this decision. The Beach Club is my favorite hotel on property, and it isn't really all that close. I won't give it all away right out of the gate though. Here are my five reasons you are missing out if you don't stay at the Beach Club:

  1. Convenience: Ok, I'm going here right away. The convenience of the Beach Club cannot be overstated. In fact, there is no other hotel on property that is so close to a park (not to mention that Epcot is the best park). In some rooms at the Beach Club, you can walk out the door and into Epcot in four minutes. The only thing keeping you from Epcot is a perfectly quiet, quaint, beautiful walk next to the Crescent Lake Canal and alongside France, through the beautiful and private International Gateway. No matter where you stay at the Beach Club, you are in very easy walking distance to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can also stroll over to the Boardwalk for some entertainment, across to the Swan and Dolphin for a nice meal, or out onto the beach to enjoy the sun. In short, there is no beating the location here.
  2. The Pool: Once again, this hotel wins the pool contest, leaving all others in the dust. Stormalong Bay, as it's called, features the longest and fastest water slide in the resort pools, which stretches from an abandoned pirate ship on the beach, across the walking path, through the rock-work, and back into the resort. It has a sand bottom, with little sinking sections that will make you feel like you're never going to get out. It has a whirlpool to swim against, a pool-side beach for making sandcastles, several secluded and hidden hot tubs, a children's area, and tons of pool-side chairs, refreshments, seats, umbrellas, and space. You can also play pool volleyball and other games at certain times during the day. This pool is worth staying at this resort all by itself. Check it out.
  3. Beaches and Cream: Do you often feel like a hot dog and milk-shake while you're on your vacation? This little soda shop, taken directly from Miami in the 1950's, will bring you to ice cream and eats heaven. The hot dogs and burgers are amazing. The sundaes are all great (No Way Jose being my favorite). The atmosphere and juke-box and waiters will all make your day. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, try the Kitchen Sink. Think they're joking? The sundae comes in an actual kitchen sink, and features every type of ice cream they sell, an entire can of whipped cream, cookies, brownies, cake, sprinkles, caramel, fudge, and everything... including the kitchen sink.
  4. General Aesthetic: Being at this resort is one of those things in my life that truly relaxes me. Combine the Victorian beach theme of the Grand Floridian, and add some blues and more intimacy and seclusion, and you have the feel of this place. The lobby, rooms, pool, walkways, hallways, and staff all take you to a sunny place of knickers, ragtime, beach balls, and faint shades of pink and blue. Come here and just soak it in. You will not want to leave.
  5. What's Nearby: I know, I already talked about how close the Beach Club is to Epcot. Here, however, I am referring to its location as being in the center of all the fun, but also in a dimly lit and warm corner of Walt Disney World. The Epcot Resort Area is different from the others in that it isn't the first place most people think of in Walt Disney World. After a day at Epcot, come walk along the Boardwalk and see some magicians. It will be lively, but not loud. Watch some amazing pianists at JellyRolls. It will be charming, but not overly-intoxicated or trashy. Check out the giant fountains at the Dolphin, and walk along the side of the lake. And after all of this fun, walk back to the Beach Club. Listen to the soft music playing, crickets chirping, and hear the rest of the people still over at the Boardwalk, lights flashing and crowds cheering. You, however, sit by the warmly lit and sleepy pool. The windmills slowly turn in the breeze, and you retire to await your next morning at whatever park you want to visit.

     So have I sold you? What's your favorite part of the Beach Club? Follow and join the discussion!

-William Tollefson

Friday, February 13, 2015

Walt Disney World Speedway to Close

     Disney announced recently that it would be closing its on-property racing track, which has played host to several events and attractions over the years, to make room for improved transportation. It is not known exactly what will replace the track, but it could be a parking lot, bus maintenance station, or other kind of hub for transportation. It looks to me most likely that it will make way for an expansion of the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
     The speedway opened in 1996, and immediately hosted several important Indy Car Racing events, which were hugely successful. Around 2000, it stopped hosting races, and was used as a location for Walt Disney World experiences. The two most notable of these were the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and the Exotic Driving Experience. The Richard Petty Driving Experience gave guests the experience of driving NASCAR-type autos at high speeds around the track with the assistance of a professional. The latter Exotic car experience gave guests the opportunity to drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis around the track.

Thank you so much for reading!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Animal Kingdom's new Night Show: Rivers of Light Construction Update

     Disney announced fairly recently that it would be bringing a new "night-time spectacular" to its Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World. This park has been dying for a reason to stay open until after dark, and this is one of many reasons the mouse is giving us to spend our evenings with the animals. The others obviously are related to the coming land of Pandora. I recently was able to gather a couple photos of the construction for Rivers of Light. It will take place on the lagoon between Asia, Dinoland USA, and Discovery Island. Here are the pictures: (click to enlarge)

     There are a few things we can gather here. First, these pictures are taken from the bridge leading from Asia to Dinoland. The construction on the far side of the lake, therefore, is that of building and extending a viewing area for the show, which will be on the lagoon. We don't know yet whether there will be seating (like Fantasmic!), or if it will be a standing show, (like World of Color at Disney's California Adventure).
     Second, we see that there are things afoot under the water. I am guessing that Disney is building all sorts of wonderful magic machines to put under the water. We also know that there are plans to include lights on the Tree of Life, as well as fountain and laser effects. One might guess that Disney's new projection system (now used on Cinderella Castle for different night-time shows) could have a huge impact on this show.
     It is exciting thinking about what Disney is up to! I'll keep you updated.

Thank you for reading! Like, subscribe, or follow for updates!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Small Treasure in Walt Disney World: The Calliope

     One of my favorite things to do in Walt Disney World is to run around in search of places and items with historical significance. These little treats are littered everywhere around Disney property, and only require you to do a little research. This time, I want to talk about the calliope at Tri-Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness Resort.
     Fort Wilderness is a monster. It has a bus and boat system to get you there, and a bus system to get you from the resort to anywhere else in the resort. It's big. However, it is well worth the effort to visit the Tri-Circle D Ranch (named aptly for the tri-circled emblem of the Disney company). If you wander your way around the Ranch, you will first see many of the horses Disney uses on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom, as well as some famous animals from shows and movies. But this time I want to focus on the giant musical instrument/parade float/train car that you will find in one of the buildings. Here it is:

     This is a calliope, or a pipe organ played by moving the vehicle. It functions similarly to an old player-piano, with sheets of metal and holes and pins. This calliope holds significant historical value for Disney. Created in 1907, it was used initially in England as part of a circus. Later, Walt saw the calliope outside a small amusement park in Los Angeles in the 1940's and purchased it "as is" from the owner. Once fixed up, it joined several other calliopes to form part of Disneyland's Mickey Mouse Club parade upon the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It served briefly there, and then functioned mostly as decoration.
     Eventually, with no further for so many calliopes, Walt donated all of them to museums in 1962, except for this one. The dragon calliope since has appeared in a few Disney movies, and in 1981 was moved to Walt Disney World to be part of the tenth birthday celebration of the Florida park. Since then, the calliope has served in a few parades, and rolled down Main Street as recently as 2013. 
     The calliope today acts mostly as a connection to Walt himself. It inspired him and his daughters in their dream of building a park where families could go together. In disrepair, they bought it and made it something beautiful for Disneyland. And one might say that Walt's vision came to life in his parks. 
     Want to see a fun homage to this very calliope in Disneyland? Check out the second car on the Casey Jr. Train ride next time you're there. It was modeled after this very instrument:

Thank you so much for reading! Follow and subscribe for more!


Saturday, January 31, 2015

5 Ways to be a Courteous Guest at Walt Disney World

     We have all been on vacation at some point in our lives, trying to relax with our families and friends, when the unintentional carelessness, ignorance, or lack of knowledge of another person we don't know intrudes on our own experience. It could be a group being too loud, someone cutting you off in some way, stealing your place in line, screaming children in places they shouldn't be, or a number of other things. In this post I want to talk about some things we can all do to minimize the number of times we are the person committing such heinous atrocities, as well as ways we can help our fellow guests have an amazing trip. Remember, there are families all around you at Walt Disney World who are spending their entire life savings to take their loved ones on this experience. We all owe it to these families to make sure their trip is magical.

  1. Don't walk abreast too often or in groups too large. The paths in Walt Disney World are made wide so that many people can get where they need to be, and not so that all of your friends can walk side-by-side at a slow walk. I am a huge fan of walking slowly through the parks, but don't make a line that people can't get through. 
  2. Don't take your babies to California Grill. Or, at least, don't take them at 10:30 at night if you know they will be screaming the entire meal. I don't just mean California Grill, either. This goes for Jiko, Citricos, Be our Guest, Le Cellier, Coral Reef, or any other romantic fine-dining establishment. The World is a place for kids, but adults need these eateries to go and have their time. Disney World isn't just for little kids, and Disney puts a lot of work into making these restaurants beautiful and unique. Disney also offers kids clubs and connections to babysitting services so you and your honey can go eat finely without bring the baby.
  3. Be careful with kids on shoulders. I have visited World of Color at California Adventure several times only to be blocked completely at the last minute by a dad who lifts up junior on his shoulders so he can see. There are ways to make sure your child can see the fireworks shows without making them 8 feat tall. This blocks out most of the show for everyone behind you, and can ruin the single most important part of a day at the park: the goodnight spectacular. In a similar vein, holding your giant ipad above your head can block and distract from the show. Enjoy the amazing things that are happening in front of you!!
  4. Watch where you're going! With the evolution of society heading toward every single person having a smart phone, there are more and more guests walking around staring down at their phones. First of all, be present where you are! Watch for the beauty and detail around you! Second, you very well may trip over a four-year-old in front of you, or walk into someone huge and scary (like Gaston).
  5. Talk to Strangers. Parents always teach you not to talk to strangers. I learned at a young age that Walt Disney World is the place I can break that rule. When you stroll down Main Street, greet the people who are walking by. In Epcot, meet the people from around the world who love to talk to inquisitive guests! When you shop, ask the cast members what their favorite items are. Find some pin traders and ask them what the hottest pins are today. When you see a family laughing at their photo on space mountain, laugh with them! One of my favorite things about Walt Disney World is the mood. Almost everyone here buys into the idea that we are all united in celebrating the place we love. Meet new people and share your happiness with them! Chances are you will improve their day and they could improve yours!
Thank you so much for reading,
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 5 Best Ride Queues in Walt Disney World

     Walt Disney World was built to be a place where the company fixed some of the mistakes it made in Disneyland. One of those mistakes, and a notable one at that, was the size of the property. Disneyland ended up being so small that the area available on which to build limited the creativity of the Imagineers. One of the ways to clearly see this is the difference in queue lines between Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Walt Disney World allows enough space for the design and story of the ride to truly consume you. You enter into a place at many attractions in which you cannot see anything from the outside world. I will concede that Disneyland's attractions also do a magnificent job with storytelling and immersion, given the space that they have, but the World has really mastered this art. The following are my favorite examples of Disney absorbing you into the attraction and story long before you ever get on the vehicle or enter the show.  I did limit my choices to rides, because shows often have a pre-show, putting them into a category all their own. 

  1. Expedition Everest: At the foot of the mountain, before you head up to meet the Yeti, you first must learn about the legend. In this queue, Imagineers will transport you in and out of buildings and temples in an old Nepalese town. As you walk outside, you will see statues of gods and yetis and offerings to them. You will see beautiful gardens and authentic decoration. Inside you will see displayed evidence of the Yeti, and many many newspaper articles and real (and imagineered) accounts of encounters with the snowman. Take this line slowly and appreciate the work that was put in here. It will make the ride much more meaningful. 
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean: In the Walt Disney World incarnation of this ride, you enter a pirate fort, under a tower, and first step into the dungeon. The air is dank and the light is low. Cannon balls and swords line the walls. You can peer in through iron-barred windows and see the skeletal inmates of the prison (watch for a game of cards). You'll meet a parrot, and can interact with props from the ride. This attraction is worth it just for the queue. The entire area of Pirates of the Caribbean is perfectly to theme, and is full of jokes from the movies, as well as countless treasures that show you just how far into pirate territory you have ventured. Perhaps too far?
  3. The Tower of Terror: Maybe I have an affinity for eerie queue areas? The queue for the Tower of Terror is an absolute treasure. Whether it is sunny or hazy, stepping into the hotel garden at the entrance to this attraction will make you feel like the mist is closing in on you. The chipping cement and constantly dying plants create the perfect quiet and ominous imminence. The silence is broken only by the screams of those who are going before you (whom you cannot see at this point). After the garden, you enter the lobby of the hotel, which resembles perfectly an elegant hotel from the 1930's (and clearly it hasn't been dusted since then). Read every sign in this line if you want to catch the jokes and hidden treasures. Look for statues that talk to you, or signs that tell you the story of the hotel. This line is marvelous, and I would wait in it all day.
  4. Jungle Cruise: Here we return to the Magic Kingdom for a good ol' Jungle Cruise. Most guests waiting in line here do not appreciate the genius that is all over the walls and beneath and above you. This is mostly because the queue is completely outdoors, and it is often real hot. My solution? Go at night! It is often empty and you can stroll at your own pace. The fire-lit attraction and queue make it even better! Watch for name gags, signs that tell the tale of the boat tours before you, and endless jokes. The audio you hear playing is an hour-long loop that features authentic olde music and a radio host who will make you smile. It all follows the story wonderfully.
  5. The Haunted Mansion: I thought I would conclude at the Magic Kingdom, just across town in Liberty Square. The Haunted Mansion is a true classic, and features Disney fun and creativity at its finest. This fun starts long before you board the ride. Outside, you wait beside a graveyard covered in headstones with fun phrases, all of which are mementos to past Imagineers who have had a large impact on the parks. Inside, you have a fun interaction and introduction to the story, and then walk down a hall lined with shelves of books. Are the busts on the wall watching only you? Pay attention to all the illusions and tricks here. It is often just walked by. Enjoy!
    I always say to slow down and watch for all of the hard work that imagineers put into their parks! This includes the queues. These are not the only five that are magnificent. What are your favorite?

Thank you so much for reading

-William Tollefson (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Disney and the Age of Acquisition

     I would like to take one post and dedicate it to an opinion I have that is coupled with a fear about the Disney company. As Disney grows and becomes even more of a monolith, it is facing several temptations as a company, and I feel that it is falling victim to many of them. This post is not intended to denounce or show any reduction in my love of Walt Disney World, but just to be a reminder that we all need to hold Disney accountable for what it is doing.
     Let's go back, first of all, to the roots of the parks. At Epcot, an innovative and new idea about practical solutions to world problems arises from a dream of Walt Disney. While this theme park titled "Epcot" is not at all what Walt had planned, the park did stay true to its theme. It was a place where corporations shared new ideas, and Disney was a part of it. It was a Disney original. It was about teamwork. The attractions in early Epcot included two Disney original characters created and imagined by Disney exclusively for use at that specific park: Figment and Dreamfinder. Each land was new and exciting, and the shows and rides showed hope for progress, and were Disney at heart.
     In 1989, the Disney MGM Studios opened so that guests could be part of the movie making process. While this didn't go particularly according to plan, the park did play host to some films with which Disney either cooperated, or created in-house. And at the center of it all was the animation studio that created real Disney movies in front of you.
     In 1998, Disney opened a theme park that had never been done before. It took its experience with designing rides, shows, and exhibits with unparalleled storytelling, and applied it to the world of live animals! Animal rights activists, critics, and much of the world said it was going to be a zoo, and that it would flop because theme park and animal don't go together. However, through Disney's innovation and creativity, as well as their striving for excellence, they created a theme park that has changed the lives of many who have visited.
     And let's not forget the Magic Kingdom. In 1971, Walt's Floridian Disneyland opened and graced the East Coast with its complete immersion and magnificent scale and beauty. No theme park of this magnitude had been built before. Funded by Walt's faith in Mary Poppins, the Magic Kingdom defied expectations and became the Vacation Capital of the World that it was supposed to be.
     All of this, one will notice, began with originality, creativity, risk, excellence, and imagination. These traits, I'm fearing, are slowly being lost in the Disney company. I fear that as a reaction to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter across town, Disney has grasped at outside sources and thrown obscene amounts of money (5.5 Billion for Star Wars) so that it could stay afloat and promote worlds and stories that already exist outside the company. In an effort to expand and make more and more millions each year, they seem to be trending toward simply acquiring stories rather than telling them and writing them. I use as examples their purchases of Star Wars and Marvel in the last few years. I, for the life of me, cannot decide how sci-fi space movies (with the word WAR right in the title!) and huge muscled punching shooting fighting gun-obsessed strong men physically punching each other for two hours on the big screen reflect the ideals of Disney.
     I have memories of Disney telling me to wish upon a star when I was a child. That spirit has never left me. I challenge all of us to pressure Disney to stay true to that spirit of gentle and beautiful wishes coming true, rather than violent (though often awesome) movies being bought and sold under their name so they can make more money off of them.

     Again, these are my opinions, and I hope they don't offend any of you. I LOVE Star Wars, and Marvel has its place. I just don't want them anywhere near my Cinderella Castle at night beneath the fireworks and uplifting music. I want them far away from my someday 4 year-old daughter who will learn just like me that wishes do come true, and not from shooting all the bad guys with guns, or having the biggest muscles.

Thanks for reading my rant!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

5 Reasons to Stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

     Perhaps you've heard about Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Maybe you have visited to see what all the hullabaloo is about. I trust that you weren't disappointed. Disney created an incredible thing when it built this resort, which could be a vacation destination all its own. I want to preface this article by saying that I have visited both sections of the resort: Kidani Village and Jambo House. I will refer to only things at Jambo House for the purposes of this article because I believe that every aspect of it is better. Kidani Village is also a wonderful place, but Jambo House has everything Kidani Village has, and more. Here are my 5 reasons that I think you need to stay at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge on your next trip:

  1. Boma lies along the stream of water that runs from the massive lobby down toward Uzima Pool. What you'll find here is a buffet-style restaurant that features a combination of authentic African fare and fun food that artistically displays African themes. For example, you will find "fufu" (an African sweet potato dish that will blow you away) as well as famous little domes of chocolate mousse painted like Zebras. The waiters are wonderful, the location is romantic and beautiful (and loud), the smells will get you excited before you see the place itself, and the food will make you wonder how you lived before eating here.
  2. Live Animals roam the savannas that wrap around and completely envelope the resort building. These animals include Zebra, Giraffe, and Ostrich, as well as animals much less known such as Kudu, Bongo, Gemsbok, and other antelope, with a highlight being the great Eland, the largest antelope in the world. Walking around the resort, there are various windows, balconies, offshoots, and walkways that allow you to see the savanna. Be sure to visit Arusha Rock, which juts out from the end of the lobby, as well as the viewing area from the pool.
  3. The Cast Members that work at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are welcoming and delightful, and many of them are from Africa. In a similar way to Epcot, Disney hires patrons from other countries to come and represent their homeland in Walt Disney World. You will find men and women from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and all over Africa standing around the resort waiting to talk to you. A highlight that I always make sure to enjoy is the nightly Africa talk. In a small seating area next to the lobby, one of the African ambassadors will give an intimate presentation on their home country and its politics, animals, culture, and reasons why they love their homeland. They love answering questions, and will enlighten you profoundly. 
  4. The Lobby at Jambo House is in itself a reason to stay at the lodge. When you walk in through the sliding doors and through the breezeway, you look forward toward a massive room made of dark carved woods, and an authentically African-thatched roof. Hallways, a fire pit, stairways, rock work, waterfalls, and separate rooms shoot off from the large central seating area. Dimly lit side areas and inviting paths toward adventure are broken by the only natural light in the room coming from the expansive window opposite you. Vines have made their way up this window, and you can see plants and trees and rocks outside that hint at the savanna. Do not take this moment lightly. Pause and plan which paths you want to explore.
  5. The Rooms at the resort are beautifully decorated with dark browns and yellows and African art. The real highlight, however, is waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. I have been known to, since I was a pretty small child, wake up at 5 am and watch the sun rise over the savanna, and the animals marching into their feeding areas. It is so perfectly quiet and awe-inspiring to see these animals doing their daily routines. If you can, stay in a room with a savanna view. If you do, spend time at the room on the balcony taking it in.
     Even if the Lodge is above your budget, do take time to visit. It is a unique and amazing experience independent of the rest of Disney World. All of the Disney magic is there, plus a piece of Africa that you can't see or feel or smell anywhere else.

Thanks so much for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Two Rides We Know are Coming to Pandora

     It has been a couple years since Disney announced that it would be building a land themed after James Cameron's world from Avatar. The opening has been scheduled for 2017, and details are very slowly coming out as to what will be featured in this new land. We can count on atmosphere, decoration, "floating islands", food, rides, and long lines. In the realm of rides, Disney has confirmed the plans to open two specific rides: a boat-style ride and a flying ride on the back of a Banshee. Here is what we know:

     The boat ride will be a slower ride. It will be dark at times, which will give Disney a chance to show off their technological breakthroughs for the land. Imagineers have hinted at an abundance of "bio-luminescent" plant life around your boat. They have also confirmed that there will be small drops on the ride, but made it sound like this would be a relatively tame ride, as compared to the other ride coming to the land. I would guess that your boat will be floating along peacefully in Pandora, on a tour of the land, when a corporation looking to harvest minerals interrupts you and tries to ruin your adventure. Just a guess.
     The second ride that Disney has confirmed is a flying simulation in which guests ride atop Banshees. Joe Rohde of Expedition Everest Imagineering fame has commented that the ride will borrow some technology from Soarin' over at Epcot, but will also bring in new and innovative "ground breaking" technology. He also said it will be a much more thrilling experience than Soarin'. My guess is that Disney is going to use similar technology to that used in The Adventures of Spiderman and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey over at Islands of Adventure. However, I'm sure Disney would never admit this. I am also sure that Disney's storytelling ability will push this attraction well beyond either of those previously mentioned in overall quality.
     Another thing that should be mentioned is the testing of technology for flying creatures that fly independently in the sky. Disney has surprised guests a few times in the sky of the Magic Kingdom by shining a light on a dragon that flies by itself and breathes fire. I could see this working very well with Banshees flying in the skies of Pandora. Here is a link to the video that Disney has released of the dragon technology. That, of course, is speculation. I think Disney is doing exciting things here!

Thanks so much for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Things to do with Dad at Walt Disney World

     Many of us grew up making powerful memories with our dads. Some of the best times of my own life have been spent doing nothing of any particular importance within the context of paternal care. Walt Disney World offers endless opportunities for dads and their kids to get away from work, school, or even the rest of the family for some good fatherly time. Here are my ideas for the very best places for you kids to take your dads on your next trip (or vice versa perhaps).
  1. Crescent Lake next to Disney's Yacht, Beach Clubs and Boardwalk Resorts is a perfect place to connect with dad. You can rent a rat racer boat together from the dock over by the Yacht Club and explore between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. At night, you can walk over by the Boardwalk and catch a magician doing his tricks, each with some popcorn in hand. For a small fee, you can rent a cycle trolly and ride it around the entire lake! They come complete with four seats, bells, and a cloth cover to keep you dry! A day on this lake is the perfect place for some fatherly time.
  2. World Showcase at Epcot is my favorite place in the world (lower case). While the Showcase is perfect to explore with anyone at all, the aspect that I connect most with dad time is meeting people from other countries. Most of the individuals that work at each pavilion around World Showcase Lagoon are citizens of the country they are representing. This means they speak the language, know the culture, and actually grew up there. They very often love talking to you about the country they love, and are an incredible wealth of knowledge and understanding of a place you probably know nothing about. Dads, take this opportunity to approach good and kind strangers with your kids, and teach them about how other cultures are different from our own, and that this is a good thing! 
  3. Disney Springs Marketplace (formerly known as Downtown Disney) is the perfect place to geek out with your dad. Have you ever heard of pin trading? Some of my fondest memories are that of buying a pin or two with dad from the giant pin station at the Market, and looking around at the pins possessed by the unbelievably dedicated collectors who spend their time standing and talking to people about pins. These people don't work for Disney, but often use all of their free time in the parks and at pin stands talking to other guests! They are often wonderful to kids, and will sometimes offer them treasures they will never forget. This makes for great adventures with dad.
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is its own vacation. With the art, architecture, African cast members, wild animals, African dining, lobby, pool (I could go on ad infinitum), etc., featured here, you could easily spend several days being immersed in Disney's Africa. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to run around the Resort with a checklist in hand of all animals featured on the property. Disney, however, was smart and didn't put all the animals together all through the savanna. The Gemsbok is in some places, and not others. There are Bongos, but they hide in the bushes only next to the pool. I won't spoil all of it! Go run around with dad and see if you can find them all!
  5. Disney's Electrical Water Pageant is a tradition from opening day. it is a series of barges that float around the Seven Seas Lagoon outside the Magic Kingdom after dark, and often after park closing. They were designed so that children who are sleepy and ready to sleep can look out their hotel room windows for one last bit of magic before they snooze off to dreamland. The floats are bright, beautiful, and pretty magical. The music is cheesy and catchy, but it is an intimate and charming kiss goodnight from Walt Disney World. If you stay along the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon, do wake up your young one just to see this. They will wonder the next day if that time dad woke them up to see those lights on the water really happened, or if it was a dream.
     This post is dedicated to my dad, on his birthday. Happy birthday dad. I love you.

Thank you so much for reading! Subscribe and follow for more!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two Homages to Past Attractions hidden in Walt Disney World

     As is the way of things, attractions at Walt Disney World are always coming and going. They become outdated, are no longer popular, or simply need to go to make way for something bigger and better. When this happens, Disney does not just forget about what was there before. Disney will often remove an attraction from one of its theme parks and leave a copy of that attraction in another park. Just that has happened to Walt Disney World in the demise of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
     Disney Parks are famous for their constant and clever hidden attributions to the origins and history of their parks. When you see a name on something in Walt Disney World, there is a very high chance that behind that name or label or title is a story. Nothing is there for no reason. One example, which I wrote about here, is the decoration of windows along Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. In this post, however, I will tell you about two hidden homages to extinct and beloved attractions: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
     Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was an opening day attraction at Disneyland and in Walt Disney World in 1955 and 1971, respectively. It was based on Disney's 1949 film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The Magic Kingdom incarnation of the ride closed in 1998 and was replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. However, there is a wonderful little homage to the former attraction in the new ride there. On the ride, observant guests will notice a picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to the property to Owl of Winnie the Pooh fame.
     Another attraction that has not been forgotten in Walt Disney World is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 20,000 Leagues opened in 1959 in Disneyland during a major expansion along with Matterhorn Bobsleds. The 20,000 Leagues in Walt Disney World opened in 1971, and closed in 1994 due to the fact that it didn't handle crowds well, and was expensive to run. In the New Fantasyland expansion of 2013, Disney added several attractions, including the new Journey of the Little Mermaid. This attraction lies roughly on top of where the lagoon for 20,000 Leagues was. In the queue for the Mermaid attraction, Imagineers carved into the face of the rock one of the submarines from the former ride. 
     Keep your eyes out for Disney referencing former attractions and shows in their new construction. This is all part of Disney's obsession with storytelling that is constantly adding incredible depth to their parks.

Thanks for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Sorcerer's Hat Comes Down Tomorrow. Why Was it There, Anyway?

     Disney announced earlier this year that 2015 would bring the removal of the Sorcerer Mickey hat that has  long adorned the end of Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It has functioned as a pin station, a hub of different shows and events, and a merchandise shop. Many don't know, however, that the hat came for a reason, served a function, and will now leave for a reason.
     In 2001, Disney World celebrated (17 months of) its "100 Years of Magic" promotion, counting 100 years since the birth of Walt Disney. The World brought in several attractions from around the rest of the Disney world to accompany this celebration. These included Soarin' from Disney's California Adventure and the Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show from Disneyland Paris. Along with the celebration in Florida came a name and sponsorship change in the then called Disney MGM Studios. Disney no longer had a partnership with MGM, and was working on retooling the park so as not to infringe on legal rights of MGM. One of the issues that came up at this time was the Chinese Theater at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. Since the Park's opening in 1989, the Theater had been the dubbed "weenie" of the park. It was all over signs, advertisements, postcards, trash cans, and everything they sold at the Studios. Those of you with better memories will remember that Disney very suddenly removed that facade from all of its merchandise, and stuck a giant sorcerer hat in front of the Theater. This happened as a deal between Disney and MGM, in response to a claim by MGM that Disney remove the theater from the park completely, because it owned the original Chinese Theater in California. As a compromise, Disney essentially covered up the Theater, and removed it from all of its merchandise and signs.
     Thirteen years later, Disney will tomorrow remove the Sorcerer's hat, and allow the theater to once again shine as the center Hollywood Studios. This change comes in front of major upheavals coming to the Studios, and is a sign that Disney is not completely abandoning its roots in its Studios park. What changed between Disney and MGM you ask? The new deal between Disney and Turner Classic Movies allowed Disney to upgrade the Great Movie Ride, and purchase the rights to the beautiful building that was once so iconic in the park. However you feel about the hat, big and exciting things are happening here!

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Quiet Corners to Complete your Date Night

     Walt Disney World is truly a romantic place. The lights, music, people, mood, positive atmosphere, and old world feel of it all lend themselves to the perfect date night. However, a problem that you may encounter on your night out is that of other people... and lots of them. Walt Disney World is getting more and more crowded, and it is getting increasingly difficult to find a moment to share between you and your date. In this post, I want to give you a few ideas about where you can take your date to have just a moment to yourselves. I will keep them within the theme parks, because you will not have a problem finding a place if you have a hotel room (duh). There are many more than this, but here are some of my favorites!

  1. In the French Pavilion at Epcot, there is a small street that veers off to the left of the main square. While this used to be a much better spot to have a moment of relaxation, before the addition of a major counter-service restaurant in the back, it is still very romantic and quaint if you go when that restaurant is closed. The alley is decorated with French shops and signs, facades and art. In addition, there is nothing more romantic than sharing an ice cream cone and watching the rushing passers-by. Check when the restaurant will be closed, and make your plan for that time. You won't regret it
  2. At the UK Pavilion in Epcot, follow the path next to the cottage when entering from the International Gateway, and you will find yourself in a quiet garden square behind the buildings. There are paths, flowers, and wonderful buildings to look at. This garden is often completely empty during the day, and is often wonderfully shaded by the trees. The music, plants, and seclusion will whisk you away to a land of English Royalty and the elevated lifestyle that you deserve.
  3. Streets of America, over at Hollywood Studios, are rich with detail and attention, although they are oft-ignored. This, however, will work to your advantage if you are looking for places to have a romantic walk. Save for the holiday season, these streets are usually bare at night, and are dimly lit and will give you the feel of walking city streets at night by yourselves, with the addition of Disney enhanced reality. Take advantage of these streets while you still can! Big changes are coming to the Studios, and this area could be gone before you know it.
  4. The Walt Disney World Railroad, which circumnavigates the Magic Kingdom throughout the day, is a classic attraction that suffers because it is not a thrill ride. However, it is a beautiful and quaint tour of the Magic Kingdom, with a charming and informative narration that will brighten your evening. On a day in the off-season, the train will be nearly empty when it runs at night, and you and your date can enjoy a private tour around the Kingdom. What is more romantic than that? These steam engines are full of history, and are a staple of the Disney company. Go enjoy them!
  5. The Oasis, over at the Animal Kingdom, is a treat at night. If you find yourself lucky enough to be at the Animal Kingdom past dark, do not rush out with your date. Even if the park is closed, take your time meandering over the bridge from Discovery Island, and stop at the Oasis. Listen to the waterfalls and streams, and enjoy the seclusion under the trees and in the plants. The Oasis is dimly lit at night, and has a magical feel to it. The Tree of Life is also beautifully lit at night, and is visible from the back of the Oasis.

     Do your research before you go on your date! There are many many places to escape the crowds and enjoy having a section of a Disney Park to yourselves. Happy dating!

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Animal Kingdom's Coming Night-time Spectacular: Rivers of Light

     Since its inception, Disney's Animal Kingdom has been the only park in Walt Disney World without a night-time show. In previous articles, I have written about how night-time spectaculars at the World are arguably the most important facet of the parks. The shows are inspirational, thought-provoking, tear-jerking, and bring together the themes of everything you learned and experienced throughout the day. Therefore, I have long advocated for the Animal Kingdom as a half-day park. While the attractions are incredible, the shows beautiful, and the music and atmosphere unique and wonderful, the park has lacked a uniting event to tie together all of the threads of a day at the park. It has lacked a reason to stay and spend time there. However, all that is about to change.
     Disney recently announced officially, and began construction on, a night-time show that will be in the realm of World of Color (at Disney's California Adventure) and Fantasmic!. However, the show will have its own identity, and will feature all new effects and elements that Disney has never done before. Below is the concept art that Disney has released to raise excitement about the coming show:

     Some have responded with skepticism about the show, saying that there was a reason there has never been a show. Animal Kingdom has always closed early because the animals in the park need to sleep. Also, a show with bright lights and loud sounds might disturb the animals. However, Disney officials have responded by saying that while the animals are on the savanna and in the exhibits during the day, they go inside to their enclosures at night and are well away from the front of the park. They also say that the show will be suited perfectly for the park that hosts it, implying that the show will be designed to accommodate nearby sleepy animals.  
     This show coincides with the scheduled opening of the Pandora at the Animal Kingdom. Disney is hoping that with these two additions, they will be able to create a reason to visit the park at night, and therefore keep it open longer. The show after dark, as well as the beautifully lit night-time area of Pandora should create plenty of draw to the park at night. One will also notice that the two lands toward the front of the park (Dinoland U.S.A. and Pandora) could both remain open after dark with no fear of disturbing animals. Maybe this was the plan all along...?
     The show will take place on the lake between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. Construction walls are up around the Tree of Life, as well as around this lake. It is expected that the land around the lake will be expanded, and that trees and other view-obstructing structures will be removed, so as to make a viable viewing promenade. Cranes are up around the Tree of Life, with cherry-pickers being seen next to the tree at night. This leads me to think that the show will include lights and effects on the tree itself. Disney has said that the show will debut some time in 2016, which is interestingly before the scheduled opening of Pandora. Exciting things are afoot! 

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Disney's Beastly Kingdom: What Could Have Been

     Happy New Year! I'm back from my holiday vacation and ready to talk some more Disney World! Today I want to share a bit about a land at Disney's Animal Kingdom. This land, however, was never built. Though Disney broke ground recently on an Avatar themed land at the Animal Kingdom, the original intent of the Imagineers was to build an area of the park that focused on mythical creatures such as dragons, unicorns, and the like. This would have given the park two lands based on real continents (Africa and Asia), and two lands based on Animals you can't see anywhere else (Dinosaurs and mythical creatures). The parallelism here is a nice image.
     In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with three lands available to the public: Africa, Dinoland U.S.A, and Camp Minnie Mickey. Asia wasn't ready for opening day, and Camp Minnie Mickey was always intended to be a place holder for the soon-to-come "beastly kingdom". In the opening of the park, the dragons and unicorns played as important a role in the signage and suspense for the future as did elephants and tigers. To this day, the Animal Kingdom features a "unicorn" section in its parking lot, a dragon on its insignia, and a few other hints for what was to come.
     The most important remnants from the planned kingdom lie along the banks of the Discovery River, which flows around Discovery Island. Many fans will remember that at one point, guests could ride boats on a tour on this river, and get some beautiful views from the park. One important facet of this tour was a mysterious encounter with a rock formation outside of Camp Minnie Mickey. As the boat floated by the rocks, which seemed to be shaped like a dragon (or is it your imagination?), sounds of monsters could be heard from inside, and fire would be shot out of the mouth of the dragon! This was intended to be a little teaser for the land that was soon to open in the park. If you cross the bride to Camp Minnie-Mickey today, you can still see this rock formation in the distance, though Disney tries to hide it now.
      As the Animal Kingdom grew and aged, the beastly kingdom made less sense. Guests wanted more contact with real animals, and imagineers worried about the impact that fantasy-themed rides would have on the animals. The Festival of the Lion King quickly became the park's most successful show, and was planted firmly in Camp Minnie Mickey. Protesters also made sure Disney heard how much they didn't appreciate comparing real animals to fantasy ones. We will see how people respond to the new Avatar-themed land. For now, it is fun to think about what could have been. We will also see how much of this land ends up coming to fruition with some Avatar attractions as vehicles, rather than Disney-original themes.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Saving While Eating in Walt Disney World

     While there are many many ways to be smart and save money at Walt Disney World, some of the costs are just large. Hotels, in general, are expensive. Park tickets are the base of your spending, and are always expensive. Likewise, eating in Walt Disney World is expensive. The key things to keep in mind while planning how you will eat while on your vacation are as follows:

  • Eat at places that maximize the experience you have, and your value for the dollar spent. Disney World dining is incredible, if you do your homework and spend in the right places. Read before you go!
  • Don't spend extra money on food you can get anywhere, and food that will not give you the truly cherish-able experience that Disney World should be.

My five tips for dining at the World center around these two themes. In general, you have to start by facing the fact that it will cost money to go to Walt Disney World, and that your dining budget is part of the money you save for your experience. Once you have that idea down, here is my advice:
  1. Bring food! There are grocery stores near Walt Disney World. No one is stopping you from taking a quick trip to these places, stocking up on bars and shakes and coffee and even sandwiches. Disney will never remind you of this, but you can and should eat your own food for several of your meals. I recommend one special breakfast brunch for your trip, and then eating your own breakfast in the room for the rest of the time. You could save hundreds of dollars! In addition, Disney does not mind you bringing food into their parks. Replace several of your meals out on adventures with your own food! You will be healthier, thinner, and you don't have to buy all of your meals at Disney prices (which are often interstellar). 
  2. Tables in Wonderland is Disney's dining membership club.... sort of. I say "club" because it is only available to annual passholders, Florida residents, and Disney Vacation Club members. For annual passholders, the card is $100. This card is usable at almost any restaurant on property, and saves you 20% on all dining, including alcohol. So, if you plan on spending $500 on food for your family (which you probably should bet on), you will save money with this card. You could save hundreds of dollars. More details about this card here
  3. Disney Dining Plan... for Free? This one is a littler harder to come by, but could save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Most years, around September, Disney offers "free dining" to those staying at select Deluxe Resorts on property. This plan, at its most basic level, allows you to enjoy one snack, one counter service meal, and one sit-down experience per day. If you receive this plan for your stay, you could very very easily purchase no food on your vacation, and dine very well. With your dining points, you can enjoy some of Disney's finest restaurants for free.
  4. Share Your Food. So, assume you have either purchased or received for free the Disney Dining Plan. You now have one "point" per day to use on sit-down eating. One way to truly maximize this plan is to share. You will find that the portions of Disney dining are often... immense. You can go to many restaurants on property, order off of the set menu, and be perfectly satisfied with half of the food you receive. You can order the food for one person, thus only spending one "point". There are a few disclaimers I should put here. While Disney does allow this, they will never encourage it. You will also have to check beforehand to see which places will serve you enough food for two people. Additionally, you cannot use this trick at buffet-style venues, which are often some of the best on property. lastly, I have to say that the Disney dining plan is far too much food for me, and I do not eat lightly!
  5. Spend Little, Experience it all. Fifth and finally, my advice would be to maximize your dollar by buying small amounts of food at the most expensive places. For example, you and your date could go to the California Grill (pictured above), watch the fireworks, and have an unbelievable night, for only the cost of two glasses of wine and a plate of sushi. This could run you as little as $35, and could be an unforgettable night. You could then go back to your hotel, and buy a sandwich in the gift shop, or share a salad next to the pool. You don't have to spend all of your dining money at the restaurant to have the experience. And that experience is really what the dining is about. 
     I hope these are helpful tips! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below, and I will do the best I can to answer. 

Thank you sincerely for reading, 


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walt Disney World had an on-site Airport!

     Some of my favorite tidbits about Walt Disney World are those that never really happened the way they were supposed to. For example, I've written about a couple of hotels that never quite came to fruition: the Venetian and the Asian (click to read about them). In this post, however, I want to talk about a little historical tidbit that did happen, but only for a short period of time.
     You're taking the monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom on a lovely afternoon . As you approach the Transportation and Ticket Center, you look to the right, and notice a large open area of concrete with trucks and other transport on it, behind the fleeting trees. For just a moment, you just caught a glimpse of a fascinating piece of Disney history: Lake Buena Vista STOL airport. While this air strip is used for parking and transport today, it once served as a functional airstrip. Yes, airplanes could be seen daily flying over and next to Cinderella Castle:


     STOL airport opened in 1971, along with the Walt Disney World resort. It went along with the theme of Walt Disney World: an all-inclusive vacation destination, where guests would stay for many days, and never run out of entertainment and activities. With this airport, guests could fly right in, and not have to worry about their transportation from Orlando. They would just jump off of their long flight, and back onto a short flight direct to the Magic Kingdom! Sounds great, right?
     It was great for a few years. However, as the Kingdom grew in popularity, the flights got more and more frequent, and the airport quickly outgrew its infrastructural capabilities. Pilots began complaining that the air strip was not long enough. The port never really had a hangar, so only four planes could be at the strip at a time. In 1975, with the growth of the World following the end of the oil crisis, the airport became impractical, and was closed until a time when it could be renovated to handle the crowds. However, in 1982, with the construction of the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, the air strip lost any hope of opening again. The rail was simply too close to the air strip to ever allow planes near it again.
     And so, all we are left with is a fun glimpse through the trees to wonder what it must have been like to fly directly into Walt Disney World.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Is Frozen Too Present in Walt Disney World?

     If you have been to Walt Disney World in the last year or so, you will have noticed an ever-growing presence of Disney's most successful movie of all time: Frozen. The film blew away all other cartoons ever made, and outsold by far all other Disney movies to date, even unseating The Lion King. With this huge success, Disney has not hesitated to place Frozen into its Theme Parks in Florida, and at a remarkable pace and volume! I want to take a moment to analyze whether or not Frozen in the parks has gone too far.
     The first casualty to the Frozen obsession was our beloved tempestuous sea-faring adventure. An imminent Frozen ride has closed that beloved attraction in Epcot, and will open in 2016. The termination of Maelstrom led to many devoted fans rioting in the streets... well... mostly the internet. I wrote a brief story about that here. A new fireworks show was added to Hollywood Studios several nights of the week, featuring mostly the left-over fireworks from the other shows. It is fun, but pales miserably in comparison to Wishes and Illuminations, and even Fantasmic!. When Elsa and Anna first came to the World, the lines at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot were immediately up to five hours long. When they moved to be included in the Magic Kingdom, the lines didn't go down much. Summers at Walt Disney World included a party at the Magic Kingdom which was Frozen themed. "A Frozen Holiday Wish" replaced the normal Wishes show at the Magic Kingdom. This year's Very Merry Christmas Party includes and focuses on the Frozen characters.
     So, what to make of this? First, I would like to point out that many, many people are extremely excited (to the point of delirium) about Frozen coming to the Parks. This survey on the Disboards shows that nearly half of people are more excited about the new Frozen ride than they are angry about Maelstrom leaving. I tend to agree with this. Maelstrom was wonderful, and was a part of my childhood. However, it was not the incredible journey or real representation of the people of Norway which it was made out to be. The argument that Disney is putting cartoons into a "real" attraction is bogus. The ride was about trolls, and was sponsored by a Norwegian Oil company. Because of this, I mourn the loss of Maelstrom, but also look forward to the story by Hans Christian Anderson making its way into the pavilion.
     Additionally, Disney World is always bringing in new things to its parks. People seem to be angry this time, because what they are bringing in is replacing many unsuccessful things (people like to root for the underdog). Nostalgics like myself are always tempted to think that the old was better, or how it ought to be. However, Disney World must keep evolving in order to stay open. The incredible shows, the unmatched level of service, and the life-changing messages do not come without Disney selling what it has to the public.
     We must always remember a few things: First, A Frozen Holiday Wish will go away, and will be replaced by a collection of Disney classics nightly in the Magic Kingdom sky. Next, Frozen will soon join the echelon of Disney movies that make up our collective cultural memory, and bring us back to childhood. Lastly, Disney World is not a museum. As the culture of the world changes, the culture of the World changes. Walt Disney World is built to be a reflection of hope back on a world that actually exists. It is part myth, and part optimistic interpretation of reality. Simply sit through Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, and you will know that Disney World is not stuck in the past, or stuck in an unreality of a false world. It is a celebration of real people, and a thus must reflect what real people see as good. Right now, Frozen is a positive message that much of the world wants to see.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Disney's Venetian Resort: What Could Have Been

     Along with the many wonderful ideas for Walt Disney World that became reality, there have been several ideas blocked by inhibiting factors, or supplanted by ideas that were even better. The story of the origins of Walt Disney World hotels is one of failures, learning, and beautiful results. In this post I want to talk about one of the ideas in Walt Disney World that was fully ready for production, and was even under construction, when it unfortunately fell through (literally).
     In the late 1960's, Disney began clearing land on the east side of the Seven Seas Lagoon, across the water bridge from the Contemporary. The Venetian was going to complement the Asian Resort, which was to be built across the lake. Here is the plan for the two resorts on the lake:

     The Venetian was going to be a series of canals and buildings to imitate Venice, Italy. It was going to possess a glass ceiling lobby to let sunlight in. The resort's central figure was to be a replica of the campanile of St. Mark's Square. The transportation boats to take guests to the Magic Kingdom would roll through the canals of the resort and take hotel guests on tours of the replica city. 
     The idea for the resort never came to fruition, for two main reasons. First, the land on that spot was determined far into the project to be unsuitable for supporting buildings. Foundation would be laid and sink into the unstable ground. One will notice that to this day, there is nothing at all built on the land between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Contemporary Resort. It is one of the few blank spaces visible in Walt Disney World. In addition, the oil crisis of 1973 put a hold on Disney's construction of all kinds, most especially hotel ground-breaking.
     The savvy reader will notice that the idea of a Venice-themed area did not disappear forever. Today's Italy pavilion at Epcot is very close to the idea of the Venetian Resort. Even the idea for canals and boat tours was seriously considered as an attraction for the Italian Pavilion. The boats on the waterfront were originally built to be part of this attraction. As they say, a good idea at Imagineering never truly dies. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My 5 Favorite Holiday Happenings at Walt Disney World

     December is here! Walt Disney World is the perfect place for the Holidays. The quaintness, diversity, and already magical atmosphere lend themselves beautifully to the traditions of Christmas and the Holidays. Come mid-November, Disney's elves are hard at work for just a couple nights, out of sight, to transform Walt Disney World into a celebration for the season. All of the resorts, all theme parks, and every other place in the World puts on a new outfit full of snow and cheer. The music playing in the parks and hotels changes to Christmas music. Disney doesn't just re-theme their lands either; they create and provide unique attractions and shows just for the Holidays. Here are my 5 favorite things to see during the Holidays at Walt Disney World:

  1. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights: sits nestled in the back of Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each year, 20,000 man hours go into the hanging of 40 miles of cable and lights onto the Streets of America. The light display was purchased from a family in Arkansas in the 1990's, and was transplanted to Disney World. Recently, the display was changed to include "dancing" lights, which are timed to music, and put on an inspiring show. The lights include reindeer, a globe, and millions of lights. It is worth park admission by itself. 
  2. Holidays Around the World: happens each December at Epcot's World Showcase. Around the lagoon, actors and speakers from each country represented at Epcot speak several times a day about the Holiday traditions of that country. The American Adventure includes Christmas music from the Voices of Liberty, and many other countries' programs include performances. Many traditions, such as Germany and the U.K., are relatively similar to what we know, but are just different enough to be interesting and informative. 
  3. Fireworks at New Years, Magic Kingdom Style: Each year, Disney goes even bigger with their fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom on New Years. Keep in mind, I mean "at the Magic Kingdom" very loosely. When I most recently saw the show, fireworks were launched from the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon, as well as from several areas in and out of the Park. I spent my evening at the Grand Floridian, and was still right in the middle of the show. If you want to see Disney pull out the stops, here is your chance. 
  4. Celebratory Edibles: at Disney's resort hotels are present and large, and will fill you with a little bit of childish wonder. At Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, the kitchen works each year to construct a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby. This monument to the holidays is a special treat, and a beautiful example of Disney pushing boundaries. At the Beach Club Resort, a carousel is constructed out of gingerbread. The carousel moves and works, and is surrounded by other food and edible art. It is another must-see. At Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, a miniature African village is made of chocolate and cookies each year. It is always different, and is located right outside of Boma. All of these sights are free to go see, and can be accessed using Disney transportation. Don't hesitate!
  5. "Peace on Earth" Tag to Illuminations: Epcot's nightly fireworks show becomes even more life-changing during the holidays. After the "regular" ending (I cringe calling it that), Walter Cronkite's voice tells of Epcot's message to the world: that of "peace on earth; good will to men". In addition to the touching words, Epcot shoots off more beautiful and loud fireworks into the sky than you dare think possible. An amazing flurry of bright bursts will take your breath away, and lights up the entire park. This is a must-see.
     What is your favorite thing to do at Walt Disney World during the Holidays? Comment below!