October 18, 2014

Giveaway: You could WIN an Autographed Copy of The Unofficial Guide to WDW!

Sponsoring this week's giveaway is one of our very own writers, Danielle Netta! Not only has she written for us for over a year, she recently became a Disney Vacation Planner with Mickey Adventures!

Danielle is a pretty big fan of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and she recently interviewed Len Testa (co-author of the UOG) and would like to give away an autographed copy of this book to one of our readers!!

Danielle's Disney Favorites include:

Resort: Animal Kingdom Lodge, it's the first deluxe I ever stayed in and I've stayed there a few times now. I love the whole experience, the look of the thatched roof, the art, the beautiful lobby, the people, the animals and the exotic spicy smells emanating from the restaurants.

Attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean, for a number of reasons. I can remember going on this on my first trip when I was almost three and for years had a souvenir book (I will one day either find it or buy it on Ebay!) But mostly because it reminds me of my dad, it was his favorite and he wanted to retire here and be a pirate!

Restaurant: Favorite restaurant is Be Our Guest. I'm a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast and feel totally immersed in this experience. I love the way it looks, the service is outstanding and the food is delicious. However, my favorite meal is at Le Cellier, some Cheddar Cheese Soup with pretzel breadsticks and the petit filet.

Snack: I'll never turn down a Dole Whip Float.

Character: Tough question. I've always loved Mickey, because he started it all, but I have a soft spot for Donald and his temper. I also love Tink because she's a feisty little one, Stitch for his badness levels and I've grown to love Carl Frederickson from Up because he reminds me of my grandfather.

All time favorite: My favorite thing in all of WDW is the Main Street Electrical Light Parade. My father and I shared a love of this parade (I remember one trip he made us watch it TWICE!). I love the music and the floats. Even when we weren't in Disney, I'd put on the music and it would make him dance. I can never miss this parade when I'm there. It's very sentimental.

Hint: Check out the lesser-known tours available, like Behind the Seeds for some additional magic, a tour like this is only $20 for a little extra magic.

To enter for a chance at winning an autographed copy of The Unofficial Guide to WDW, simply fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Entrants much be 18 years of age or older and a resident of the United States. This giveaway begins at 12:01 a.m. (eastern) on Sunday, Oct. 19 (2014) and runs through 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25th. Good luck!!

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Spotlight on Len Testa, Touring Plans Guru

For years, I’ve been a huge fan of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (UOG) and TouringPlans.com. For those of you not familiar with these awesome resources, UOG is one of my Disney planning bibles, written by experienced researchers who give some of the best advice out there. Their counterpart website, TouringPlans.com, is a great website that not only offers customized touring plans for the parks but also a very reliable crowd calendar for every day for every park. They also have an app for use in the parks that tells you wait times for the rides from other users who are in the parks, like you! 

Who is one of the geniuses behind these magical tools? None other than Len Testa. He is not only the co-author to UOG and other guides but also the brain behind Touring Plans (his graduate thesis). (He also happens to be a co-host of the fabulous WDW Today podcast with a bunch of other great guys.) I was lucky to meet Len on a few occasions years ago at Magic Meets/Dis Meets, which were annual Disney fan gatherings in the tri-state area.

Len Testa front and center! © Touring Plans
Len’s love for Disney goes back to 1974, his first trip to WDW . His grandparents just retired to Florida and took Len and his twin sister to WDW. He remembers Adventureland vividly, especially Pirates of the Caribbean. His sister and him still recall his sister riding Star Jets with his grandmother Doris, who was scared of heights! He then visited again in the early 80s with his parents soon after Epcot open. Len even has a photo of World Showcase in the middle of the day with FOUR people walking around! He loved Epcot from his first visit, from the Cast Members speaking in their native tongues to the optimism of the attractions, in a “the future can be yours” sort of way.

So I had the chance to ask Len some questions and here are his answers!

WDW Hints: Why do so many people love UOG and use it?

Len: People use it because the advice works. You really can save four hours in line on a busy day, save money on tickets, and find decent value hotels and restaurants.

When you think about how much has changed in the area of “travel advice” over the past 15 years, between the Web, on-demand print and e-books, it’s kind of remarkable that the Guide is still one of the best-selling travel books in the world. And I think that’s due to our commitment to embrace change and technology. We started the website in 2001, and we’re updating it literally every day. And we recently started updating the Kindle edition of the Unofficial Guide every month for free, so readers will always have current information.

I also think that people like the book because parts of it are funny. It’d be a tough read to get through 850 pages of information otherwise. I’m still trying to get a David Lee Roth quote into the book though.

WDW Hints: Why should people use Touring Plans?

Len: Because we help avoid long waits in line. The touring plans we have in the book are great, but there’s a limit to what a printed guide can do. With the Touring Plans app (Lines), we can update your park itinerary every few minutes, based on what’s actually happening in the parks. That’s a tremendous advantage over printed touring plans.

The app is also useful if something unexpected occurs in the park. Maybe your family really wants to ride Haunted Mansion a second time. Or everyone decides they just need an ice cream right now, no matter what the touring plan says. If you had a printed touring plan, you’d have to figure out how to adapt it based on whatever just happened. But with our app, you just click a button and the rest of your day is rescheduled from that moment on.

WDW Hints: What do you think of the new Fast Pass system/My Magic+?

Len: Well, I understand why Disney did it. One problem with the legacy Fastpass system was that people who slept in and got to the parks late, often couldn’t get Fastpasses for certain rides, such as Toy Story Mania. And many of these people were staying at Disney resorts. So they’re paying top dollar to stay on site, and couldn’t get Fastpasses for the rides they wanted. That’s not a great way to satisfy your highest-spending customers. Fastpass+ changes that, and it’s probably the feature I use most often. I do think that some of the restrictions, like not being able to reserve Fastpasses in two parks in advance, is more of a comment on how the system was designed, not on the concept of Fastpass+ itself.

I don’t really have an opinion on Magic Bands. Their primary benefit seems to be in automatically linking on-board ride photos to your account. And I’d be really surprised if Disney doesn’t track everyone’s movements in the park for future analysis and marketing. Other than that, MBs don’t provide much more functionality than RFID-enabled passes. (*Update: After this article was written, Len informed me that someone had sent him a link to a patent application The Walt Disney Company had recently submitted. The patent application was about Disney using data on people’s movement in the park to predict where they are going next! )

WDW Hints: What attraction do you hit up first in each park?

Len: It depends on what everyone else wants to do. If I’m taking a first-time visitor, we’re usually following a touring plan, so I do whatever Lines says I should do. If it’s my family, I’ll do whatever they want to do. Just this year I waited 4 ½ hours to see Anna and Elsa in Disneyland, and another 90 minutes (with a Fastpass+!) in World, because my daughter Hannah really wanted to see them.

Len also answered our standard WDW Hints questions!
Favorite attractions: The MK’s three mountains; Spaceship Earth, Sum of All Thrills, and the Morocco pavilion in Epcot; I really like the Great Movie Ride in the Studios, as old as it is, but it’s time for something new there. Wilderness Explorers in the Animal Kingdom is a lot of fun, and the wildlife trails are great.

Favorite show: Mulch, Sweat and Shears and the Streetmosphere performers, both at the Studios. Live performances are hard, and the Studios’ performers pull it off so well.

Favorite parade/nighttime spectacular: IllumiNations is my absolute favorite – I like the music, I like the fireworks and I love the fact that the show designers decided not to have Disney characters in it. The Christmas tag with Walter Cronkite is just amazing. It’s my holiday tradition to watch that with Mike Scopa (a fellow WDW Today podcaster).

I have fond memories of SpectroMagic, because it was the first nighttime parade my daughter saw. I like the MSEP soundtrack a lot too.

Favorite Restaurant: I really like lunch at Be Our Guest. The Croque Monsieur is tasty. I also like the tuna niçoise salad. Tangierine Café at Morocco is good, too. Also Flame Tree Barbecue and Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. Oh, and Min and Bill’s at the Studios. Mmmmmm….pretzel rolls.

In January I took a vow not to eat at a Disney sit-down restaurant in 2014. So far so good. I really don’t miss it, and it saves a ton of money. Outside the parks, I like Jiko a lot. And while it’s easy to say Victoria & Albert’s – because the food really is special – I’m equally amazed by the waitstaff there. Their knowledge of the menu, heck, of where the plates and bowls come from, is just astounding. It has to be one of the hardest jobs in Walt Disney World. Talking to the staff there is as much fun as the food.

Favorite Snack: If tequila doesn’t count as a snack, then I don’t have an answer for you. I really like La Cava de Tequila. The staff knows so much about tequila and how to taste it. I learn something every time I go.

Favorite resort: The Polynesian. Thank goodness Disney will never change it.

What attraction/parade/show do you miss that no longer exists? Horizons. Monster Sound Stage. The original Journey to Imagination. The original Living Seas movie. Timekeeper.

Best “Hint” for WDW? Spend an hour in planning each day. Get there early. Take naps. Wear sunscreen and comfortable shoes. Pack half as many clothes and twice the money.

An extra special thanks to Len for this fun interview! Be sure to check out TouringPlans.com!

And an extra special thanks to Danielle for interviewing Len Testa! Be sure to come back next week, as we'll be giving away a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

October 14, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Navigating Hard Ticket Events at WDW

I love attending special events at Disney. However, I have learned from experience that they can be crowded and difficult to navigate. Here are some tips that will help you plan for a hard ticket event, such as Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

1. Plan to enter the park early. Your ticket indicates what time the party begins, but Disney typically let's guests into the park before the official start time. Check online as your date approaches for an early entry time. Going early also allows you to get a few rides in or grab dinner before the event begins.

2. Prioritize. Go in knowing that it is likely you will not get to everything since these parties only last a few hours. Pick which shows, character meets and rides are "must-dos." Disney often posts show times and meet and greet locations online before the event, so be sure to plan accordingly so you don't leave disappointed.

3. Take advantage of short waits for rides. Since many people go straight to meet characters or attend special events, this leaves many attractions with minimal wait times.

4. Buy your tickets early. The parties tend to sell out. Also remember that as you get closer to the holiday (Halloween or Christmas), the events become busier. This is true for events held on the weekends, too.

5. Attend Character meets early in the evening. Character meets, especially with characters who are not regularly in the parks, tend to have longer lines. If meeting these characters is important to your family, make sure to get in line early (even before the scheduled meet time).

6. Watch the parade. Disney puts on special not-to-be-missed parades for these events. Arrive early to ensure a good seat.

7. Fireworks. Disney puts on specially-themed fireworks displays. These are often the most extravagant fireworks and definitely not to be missed.

8. Enjoy yourself! The most important part of these special events is to create lifelong memories.


October 11, 2014

Giveaway: Disney-themed Halloween Prize Pack

This week's giveaway is sponsored by Megan Harms, a Disney Vacation Planner with Mickey Adventures! And she's got a TREAT for you! She's giving away a Disney Halloween Prize Pack which includes: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad DVD, Hocus Pocus DVD, Toy Story of Terror DVD, a Disney Pumpkin Carving Kit, a Disney Villains 100-piece puzzle, and a Disney Halloween Party Sticker Book!!! (All pictured below!!)

Get to Know Megan!
We asked Megan what a few of her Disney favorites are, here's what she answered!

Resort – The Contemporary Resort is where I stayed as a child, and the Mary Blair mural inside is a Disney icon for me. The Contemporary evokes many Disney memories from my childhood, so it would have to be a favorite. Currently, I’m in love with the Art of Animation resort and all of the attention to detail in its design.

Attraction – My favorite ride would have to be Peter Pan’s Flight and my favorite show is definitely Finding Nemo – The Musical.

Character – Too many to pick just one! Belle, Flynn Rider, and Peter Pan rise to the top.

Movie – Tangled (I never thought anything would surpass Beauty and the Beast.)

Restaurant/Meal – I love Oktoberfest in Germany as well as Be Our Guest. For quick service, nothing beats the Lighthouse Sandwich at Columbia Harbour House.

Snack – I absolutely love the Iced Coffee Float at Sleepy Hollow. It’s nice to get one and sit in view of the castle to just relax, any time of the day. It’s one of my happy spots! Also, I love Disney history and anything vintage Disney World. I’m a nerd for Imagineering plans and design concepts, and I even decorated my nursery with a vintage WDW theme.

Hint – The Hall of Presidents is a great place for a sleepy toddler to take a nap. If it’s not crowded, you can sit and watch the show a few times in a row if need be. My daughter has taken quite a few good naps in there! We’ve watched it 3 times in a row while she slept and covered her ears when the cannons fired so they wouldn’t wake her up. Pick a back row on the aisle so that the new audience can easily cross over you, and you are set!

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning this great Disney Prize Pack! Giveaway begins Sunday, October 12 (2014) at 12:01 a.m. (eastern) and ends Saturday, October 18 at 11:59 p.m. Open to residents of the United States. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.

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October 10, 2014

Movie Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Barf on your shirt… Pee on the floor... Dirty diapers spilling down the stair case. Yep - all part of a bad day. (And a classy way to begin a movie review.) But this isn't just a "bad day" it's a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day! And that's just the tip of the iceberg for Alexander and his family!

On October 6, I had the privilege of seeing an advanced screening of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and we all enjoyed the movie very much! There were many laughable moments, the movie moved at a great pace - no slow moments, and it's truly a film that's fun for the whole family!

Alexander is a middle child who feels his life is full of bad moments, but he knows how to push through. However, he tires of seeing his family always lucking out. For his birthday, he wishes his family would know what it's like to be in his shoes. His wish comes true as he watches his family's day unfold with mishap after mishap. Alexander uses the day to remind his family that not everything's going to go your way, and you have to focus on the positive events.

The PG rating was likely given for the two 'words' I caught in the movie - both being body parts. One of these 'words' you can catch in the trailer above, the other being the male private part - said 3 times within the van scene. Unnecessary.

Overall the movie was very funny, enjoyable, and thankfully the language went over my kids head. I'd certainly recommend seeing it! If the language concerns you, I'd suggest waiting until it's released on DVD so you may mute out those moments.

Thanks to Disney and the Owens Group for allowing my family and I to view the complimentary screening in advance!

October 4, 2014

Giveaway: WDW Magazine 2015 Calendar and a $50 Disney Gift Card!!

Check out these beauties!!  2015 Wall Calendars created by WDW Magazine and they're sure to please any Walt Disney World fan!!

We've got a few of these calendars in our possession and they are top quality! Very sturdy pages (the corners won't curl when they're hung up!), vibrant colors, and the date squares give ample room to write your appointments or celebrations in… (but being a Disney fan - I feel as though I'd taint the calendar if I put any sort of markings on it! lol!) 

If you don't win a calendar (or would like additional calendars), these calendars can be purchased directly from WDW Magazine or from Amazon!

You can try to win a WDW Magazine Calendar, right here, right now! Along with a $50 Disney Gift Card provided by several of our friends from Mickey Adventures!!

Simply use the Rafflecopter form below to enter for a chance at winning a WDW Magazine Calendar and $50 Disney Gift Card!! This giveaway begins Sunday, Oct 5 (2014) at 12:01 a.m. (eastern) and ends at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Oct 11. Open to residents of the USA and Canada - must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Good luck!!

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Disclaimer: An Amazon affiliate link is provided within this blog post. Clicking on the link does not adjust the price for you, but does allow us to earn back a few cents in order to continue bringing you great WDW hints!

September 27, 2014

Giveaway: $25 Disney Gift Card + Frozen or Mickey Mouse Calendar (Your Choice!)

Our Giveaway this week is brought to you by Ashley Bivona - a fabulous Disney Vacation Planner with Mickey Adventures! Ashley is no stranger to WDW Hints, as she wrote a great article on pleasing each child at Walt Disney World when one has special needs. Great read!

Ashley is excited to reward one of our readers with a $25 Disney Gift Card AND a choice of either a Frozen Calendar or Mickey Mouse Calendar (pictured below).



A few of Ashley's Disney Favorites include:
Resort: That's hard since we stay at a different resort every time we go. LOL. So far our favorite is Caribbean Beach.
Restaurant: ViaNapoli 
Favorite meal: Pizza at Via Napoli. 
Attraction: Splash Mountain
Show: Festival of the Lion King Favorite 
Character: Cinderella 
Favorite Hints to Share: When we want a quiet break in the MK we head to the benches outside of Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. When coming out of an attraction your stroller could have been moved, we decorate ours so it's easy to spot.

Be sure to follow Ashley on Facebook! She'd be happy to plan your next Disney Vacation!

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for a change at winning a $25 Disney Gift Card and (your choice of) Calendar! Entrants must be 18 years of age or older and a Resident of the USA. This giveaway begins Sunday, September 28 at 12:01 a.m. (eastern) and ends at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4 (2014.) Good luck!!

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September 26, 2014

How to Avoid Crowds at Disney

I recently wrote about ways to avoid stress at Disney World and discussed avoiding the crazy Disney crowds as one way to beat stress. I thought I'd explore a bit more on how to avoid crowds at Disney, because, believe it or not, it is possible!

1. Choose your dates carefully - When people ask me the best time to visit Walt Disney World, I always tell them to go when school is in session. People, understandably, visit Disney over school breaks and during the summer. So, those times are going to be jam packed with people. If you can go when school is in session, you'll be in a great position to beat the crowds.

2. Can't skip school? Still choose your dates carefully - I know not everyone can skip school for a Disney vacation. We are willing to take the kids out of school for a day or two, because as a wise teacher once told us, "don't let school get in the way of your education." I'm sure as the kids get older we won't be able to afford this luxury. If you can't miss school, try to go at the beginning or end of the summer when crowds are lighter or go over a less busy holiday weekend.

3. Avoid Extra Magic Hours - Resort guests love being able to enter the parks an hour early and love being able to stay later in the evenings. This "perk" draws in many resort guests which translates to larger crowds. We always choose a different park than the one offering Extra Magic Hours to avoid crowds.   

4. Look for special events - Events like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party close the Magic Kingdom to guests without tickets in the early evening. Guests who are not park hopping won't want to go to a park that closes at 6 or 7 p.m. if it is the only park they will be in that day. So, those days are typically a lot less crowded and a great choice for a visit.

Also, attending special events is also a great way to get on your favorite attractions with low waits. The parties have fantastic parades, dance parties and treats that pull people away from the attractions. Plus, ticketed events mean less people in the parks, so there are often smaller crowds.

5. Arrive early - We've said it 100 times. Get to the parks BEFORE they open. Give yourself time to get through security and get to the front of the line. Many of the parks open a bit earlier than their publicized time and have fun welcome shows. The main perk is that you can get a lot of touring done in the first two hours the parks are open. Crowds tend to arrive later so when they arrive, you can grab a snack or head out for a break when the parks are most busy.

6. Stay late - After a mid day break, my family always heads back to the parks for the evening. Some nights are, of course, crowded in the parks, but the waits do go down as the evening progresses.

7. Tour the Parks Counter-Clockwise - People naturally go to the right (because most are right-handed, we drive on the right-side of the road, etc.… it's an observation Walt Disney himself made - which is why the Tomorrowland walkway is twice as wide as Adventureland's walkway.) So, do what's unnatural and head to the left whenever you can! You'll find areas are less busy, especially in the mornings, when you go against those natural tendencies to go right.

Now, of course, Disney World is always going to be busy and there will always be crowds, but with some simple planning you can steer away from some of the large crowds. What's your best tip to avoid crowds at Disney?

Happy touring!