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!