Helpful Smartphone Apps

Posted On December 9, 2013

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You may want some of these free apps on your smartphone before we go:

  • MyDisneyExperience: wait times, manage your dining, hotel, and fastpass+ reservations (log in required)
  • Lines: wait times, touring plans, menus (log in required)
  • Undercover Tourist Disney: wait times
  • Undercover Tourist Universal: wait times for Universal
  • Google drive (so I can share planning spreadsheets with your phone)
  • Camera app of your choice
  • EasyWDW mobile wait times

So, What’s New?

Posted On January 27, 2013

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Disney World is always changing, and there have been some changes even since our 2011 visit (and more at Universal Orlando since our 2007?-ish visit). Here’s a list of what is new and what’s still in the pipeline. To make it easy to see what’s really changed, I’ve bolded new rides.

New to Disney World:

  • NextGen: MyMagic+ and FastPass+ (see my earlier post for more information)
  • Photopass+ (ride photos now included!)
  • Celebrate the Magic (Magic Kingdom–castle projection show that replaces The Magic, The Memories, and You)
  • Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (Magic Kingdom–interactive game)
  • A Pirate’s Adventure (Adventureland–interactive game)
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle (New Fantasyland–a fancy meet and greet)
  • Be Our Guest (New Fantasyland–hybrid counter service lunch and table service dinner restaurant)
  • Gaston’s Tavern (New Fantasyland–counter service restaurant featuring the pork shank, close cousin to the turkey leg)
  • Under the Sea (New Fantasyland–omnimover dark ride about the Little Mermaid cloned from DCA)
  • Dumbo 2.0 (Storybook Circus–now with 2 spinners and an interactive queue)
  • Casey Jr. Splash and Soak (Storybook Circus–water play area)
  • Meet Daisy Fortuna, the Mysterious Donaldo, the Great Goofini, and Minnie Magnifique (Storybook Circus)
  • Test Track 2.0 (Epcot–Test Track re-done with a virtual design theme; you can now design your own car)
  • Monsieur Paul (France Pavilion–replaces Bistro de Paris)
  • France Bakery (France Pavilion–expanded)
  • Tutto Italia (Italy Pavilion–renovated and refurbished)
  • Tutto Gusto (Italy Pavilion–new wine bar)
  • Phineas and Ferb adventure (World Showcase–replaces Kim Possible game)
  • The Adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (DHS–walk through with projections that replaces Narnia walk through)
  • Disney Jr. Stage Show (DHS–updated to keep TV characters fresh)
  • Wilderness Explorers Game (AK–interactive game)
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris (AK–zebras added and poacher storyline completely removed)
  • Lockers at Kali River Rapids (AK–I’m really excited about this, actually)
  • Mickey and Minnie move out of their Camp at AK to the former location of the Beastly Bazaar (read: your wait to meet them is now air-conditioned).
  • Rapunzel-themed bathrooms on the site of the old Fantasyland Skyway Station
  • Big Thunder Mountain interactive queue (MK–apparently you’re rushed through this part, but it has some nice effects)

New to Universal Orlando:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Wizarding World of Harry Potter–thrill ride)
  • Dragon Challenge (WWoHP–re-themed duelling dragons coaster)
  • Flight of the Hippogriff (WWoHP–re-themed kiddie coaster)
  • Ollivander’s (WWoHP–choose a wand show)
  • 3 Broomsticks (WWoHP–counter service breakfast)
  • Despicable Me (US–3-D simulator replacing Jimmy Neutron’s Blast)
  • Rip Ride Rocket (US–Roller coaster with a pick-your-own soundtrack option)
  • Simpsons Ride (US–simulator replacing Back to the Future)
  • Cinematic Spectacular (US–nighttime lights show)

Upcoming in Walt Disney World:

  • Princess Fairytale Hall (2013–Fantasyland–Meet and Greets with princesses replacing Snow White’s Scary Adventures)
  • Peter Pan interactive queue (now under construction–the old Peter Pan bathrooms are closed as of 3/8)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean interactive queue
  • Seven Dwarves Mine Train (2014–New Fantasyland–Coaster with cars that swing)
  • Refurbished Epcot Character Spot
  • Spice Road Table (small plates and drinks restaurant in Morocco right on the World Showcase lagoon)
  • Festival of the Lion King (moving to Africa in preparation for Avatarland–construction walls are up)
  • Disney Springs (2016–refurbishment of Downtown Disney to include two parking garages, possibly direct I-4 access, many more retail and dining locations; I’ll believe it when I see vertical construction)
  • Starbucks coffee at Main Street Bakery and Fountainview Cafe
  • New restrooms between US and Japan pavilions
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade (Spring 2014)–new daytime parade for the Magic Kingdom

Upcoming in Universal Orlando:

  • Transformers (Summer 2013–ride; gift shop open as of 3/5)
  • Gringotts Bank Coaster (2014/5? US–coaster, replacing Jaws)
  • Hogwarts Express (2014/5? US & IoA–train ride that connects the parks)
  • Simpsons land (Summer 2013–new food options; a spinner)

Rumored for Disney World:

  • Avatarland (2015? AK–this project has been announced, but no specifics; I’ll move it to upcoming when they break ground)
  • Cars Land (?? DHS)
  • Expansion of Pixar Place (?? DHS)
  • Starbucks coffee in DHS and AK

Rumored for Universal Orlando:

  • Jurassic Park Expansion (2014? to coincide with Jurassic Park 4?)
  • Kidzone refurbishment

Limited Time Magic Promotion

Posted On January 13, 2013

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The 2013 Disney promotion is “Limited Time Magic” (which may be an attempt to capitalize on the success of the 24-hour “One More Disney Day” events on both coasts). I’ll keep track of the events here:

Announced in Advance:

  • Unleash the Villains, Friday September 13. DHS will have special villains meets and will be open till 1 am (the 13th hour).

Rumored:

Walt Disney World:

  • “Teen Beach Movie”–Dance Party: May 24-September 11. A daily dance party at Typhoon Lagoon. Once again, I wonder why Disney thinks dance parties are so exciting.
  • Long-Lost Friends redux: vote for a second round of Long Lost friends to appear at the Magic Kingdom:
    • Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar (at the last long lost friends week)
    • Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John (at the last long lost friends week)
    • Fifer Pig, Fiddler Pig, Practical Pig, and the Big Bad Wolf (at the last long lost friends week)
    • Clarice, Chip, and Dale (Chip and Dale aren’t so long lost at all…)
    • Wendell, Liver Lips, Shaker, and Big Al (saw at One More Disney Day, Feb 29 2012, in California)
    • Chicken Little and Abby Mallard
    • Brer Bear, Brer Fox, and Brer Rabbit (saw Brer Rabbit in Animal Kingdom in Dec. 2011)
    • Flik and Princess Atta
    • June and Leo from Little Einsteins
    • Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and the Queen of Hearts
    • Dr. Facilier and Louis the Alligator
    • Penguins from Mary Poppins (saw in March 2010)
    • Suzy and Perla (saw on one of our first trips)
  • Monsters University Homecomings: June 14 through end of summer. A dance party with Mike and Sulley in Hollywood Studios.
  • Merida joins the Disney Princesses: May 11. There will be a special ceremony, and special merchandise available for purchase.
  • ¡Fiesta! Cinco De Mayo Celebration: May 5 to May 11 at Mexico Pavilion in Epcot. Meet all three Caballeros, see special performances by Mariachi Cobre, buy Cinco de Mayo ear hats (although if they’re the ones pictured as available at Disneyland, they’re just the regular Mexico world showcase ear hats), and enjoy food at the pavilion’s two restaurants.
  • Star Wars Day: May 4 (could it be any other day?). Extra Jedi Training Academy sessions (where adults can participate alongside their children), Star Wars characters on hand to meet guests, an evening dance party, and a special Symphony in the Stars fireworks. On the one hand, this sounds awesome. I would totally consider going to this event. On the other hand, it’s not all that different from Star Wars Weekends (fewer celebrity appearances, less merchandise), so it’s a little like a Star Wars weekend preview event.
  • Party for the Planet: April 22 to 28. Dance party and special merchandise in Animal Kingdom.
  • Go Vintage at the Disney Truck Stop: April 8 to April 14. The Disney Truck Stop merchandise truck (apparently like a food truck, but selling merchandise) will be parked on the West side of Downtown Disney and selling limited edition Disney Truck Stop t-shirts. Note to Disney: this is not amusingly meta. It’s lazy thinking.
  • Monstrous Summer: April 5 to June 13. Savings on hotel rooms for selected summer dates. There will be a Monsters University tie-in (as of yet, unspecified).
  • Living Captain Hook Topiary: April 5. Now why can’t we have more things like this?
  • Spring Break in the City Dance Party: April 3 to April 6. A DJ will host a dance party on the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios from early afternoon through the evening. I guess this is an attempt to deal with Spring Break crowds (interesting that this entertainment ends just before they take away the Disney Channel Rocks and Pixar Parades on April 7), but I’m not sure I understand the appeal of dance parties in a theme park (still).
  • Spring Trolley Show on Main Street USA: March 3 to May 12. The Main Street Trolley show (which has been running three times a day since 2004) is switching over from its winter to spring costumes. There might be some new songs (the old lineup was a medley that is called “Welcome” on the Four Parks, One World CD) but this “limited time magic” is basically neither new nor unexpected. Edited to add: there was a special “fall” show that debuted last fall, too.
  • Superbowl Parade: February 1-3 pre-parade with Goofy playing football and Chip and Dale as refs. February 4: Superbowl MVP. February 1-9 “Soup”-er bowls of soup at Cosmic Rays. The characters in the parade are cool (although not all that exciting). The Superbowl MVP comes every year–another instance of Limited Time repackaging–see many events at Disneyland!
  • Long Lost Friends Week: Meet rare characters in the Magic Kingdom including the Three Little Pigs (Fifer, Fiddler, and Practical) and the Big Bad Wolf; Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar; Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, Prince John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham; Scrooge McDuck and Professor Ludwig Von Drake; Pinocchio, Gepetto, and Jiminy Cricket. January 21-27. These characters are more exciting than last week’s although we met many of the Robin Hood ones (Friar Tuck, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and King John) in 1991. These characters will not sign autographs, but you do get autograph cards (pre-signed). See Kenny the Pirate’s blog for details on where and when they meet.
  • Winter Wonderland: Special characters and snow in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion. This could be a chance to meet rare characters or familiar characters in rare costumes. January 14-20 (meets 10:30-2:10 and 3:05-5:45). The characters were Donald, Daisy, Chip, and Dale in snowy weather costumes (plaid coat and hat for Donald, red snowflake dress for Daisy, red and green vests and scarves for Chip and Dale).
  • A week of the Bling in the New Year Dance Party: Entertainment on the Tomorrowland stage, and a character dance party, running every night from December 30 to January 5. I can’t say that the dance parties (a perennial feature of the Halloween and Christmas Parties as well) have ever seemed all that appealing to me.

Disneyland:

  • Lone Ranger food offerings: from June 21. Root beer floats in Lone Ranger boot mugs and “Masked Ranger Favorite” burgers with cheese, bacon, and onions at the Golden Horseshoe.
  • Meet Mr. Incredible and Frozone for Father’s Day: June 10-16 in DCA.
  • Opa! Greece Celebration: May 25 and 26. Food offerings, entertainment, and characters. Note these days are *not* being billed as Limited Time Magic, but they seem to be exactly what Limited Time Magic was designed to do, so I’m listing them here anyway.
  • Glow with the Magical Show: May 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19. Special reserved seating for those wearing the Glow with the Show ear hats, which will coordinate with the Magical fireworks.
  • Cinco de Mayo: from May 5. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a “limited edition” ear hat (direct from Epcot’s Mexico pavilion).
  • May the 4th/Revenge of the 5th: Disneyland’s version of Star Wars Day looks heavier on the merchandise and lighter on everything else, at least at first glance.
  • Take Iron Man for a Test Drive exhibit: from April 13 in Innoventions. Digitally “suit up” in an iron man suit and take a movie poster home. Cute idea. I can’t blame TDO for not bringing this one to Orlando, as they don’t have theme-park rights for the Marvel characters east of the Mississippi.
  • Long Lost Friends Week: April 8-14. The characters will meet at Big Thunder Ranch and include Esmerelda, Clopin, Frollo, the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Pocahontas, John Smith, Meeko, Governor Ratcliffe, Scrooge McDuck, Ludwig von Drake, Jane, Turk, Mushu, Ping (Mulan disguised as a soldier), Lilo, Stitch, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. All of these characters meet with appropriate backgrounds, and Disneyland got 26 friends (as opposed to Walt Disney World’s 16). It looks like the Disneyland event will have classic retired food items paired with this promotion (such as Monte Cristo strips).
  • Vote for which Long Lost Friends visit: March 15-21. Once again, the Disneyland offering beats the WDW offering because DL guests actually get to vote on which friends will visit. Choices are: [Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Prince John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham], [The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf], [Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio, Geppetto, J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon], [Scrooge McDuck and Ludwig VonDrake], [larabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar], [Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox], [Ping and Mushu], [Flik and Princess Atta], [Tweedledee & Tweedledum, Alice, Mad Hatter and Queen of Hearts], [Clarice, Chip ‘n’ Dale], [Jane and Turk], [Jack Sparrow and Angelica], [Merlin], [Esmerelda, Clopin, and Frollo], [Lilo and Stitch], [Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee], [Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather], [Pocahontas, John Smith, Meeko and Governor Ratcliffe], or [Little Einsteins].
  • Oz Exhibit in WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney: March 1-March 9. See costumes and artwork inspired by the new film.
  • Extra Magic Hours and Peter Pan Screening: February 27–five screenings of Peter Pan (to celebrate the Blu-ray/DVD release) and 2 extra hours to enjoy Fantasyland–annual passholders only.
  • Sneak Peek of Oz the Great and Powerful: Showing in the Muppetvision 3-D theater from February 16 to March 31 with special 4-D effects. I suspect the success of this offering will depend on how well the sneak peek is edited to fit a theme-park-appropriate running time. The idea of seeing parts of the movie in advance and with special effects is really cool, especially for a movie that I’m hoping will be good!
  • Lunar New Year Celebration: February 8-11 in DCA. This celebration includes specially dressed characters, unique food offerings, and special entertainment. Another one of last year’s events repackaged (although it has also moved across the Esplanade–from Disneyland to DCA). Screenings of Mulan for AP holders February 11 and 12.
  • Extended DCA hours: Thursdays in February, for AP holders only.
  • Ticket Promotion: for visits between January 7 and March 11, 2013, a three-day park hopper costs $220 (instead of $250) if you buy it ahead of time (and before February 27). Last year they ran a similar promotion, but the same ticket only cost $200 (you are getting Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, which weren’t finished at this time last year). $30 is $30, but this is another little promotion that’s happened before and been repackaged under the “Limited Time Magic” banner.
  • Bayou Bash and Mardi Gras: Meet Princess Tiana and Louis the Alligator, enjoy jazz music and street performances, and eat Cajun cuisine in New Orleans Square on weekends between January 18 and February 12. It’s worth noting that this event was also held last year (so while it’s a neat offering, it’s also an old offering re-labeled rather than something new developed for the promotion).
  • A Salute to the Golden Horseshoe: Probably the coolest limited time magic offering so far, a tribute show that pays homage to the Disneyland classic (featuring Wally Boag and Betty Taylor). If I lived closer to California, I’d definitely try to attend this show (and reports are, it’s been mobbed). Runs Thursdays through Mondays January 10 to February 4. AP holders can book a dinner package for about $35 that includes a souvenir mug and a CD of the old show. 
  • Three Kings Day Celebration: Live performances, specially costumed characters, unique food, and activities. This event also happened in 2012, but apparently it’s been enhanced.

Both:

  • Fourth of July Week: 1-7 July will be celebrated with red, white, and blue fireworks, Cinderella’s Castle, and merchandise all week long. The 2-day special edition of the Wishes fireworks (usually July 3 to test and July 4) will be extended all week. There will be a special tag on Illuminations and fireworks in DHS on July 4. Patriotic characters will appear in Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. The Voices of Liberty have their annual July 4 special show. And there will be lots of opportunities to spend money!
  • 24-hour Party to kick off Monstrous Summer: May 24-25 at Disneyland, California Adventure, and Magic Kingdom. Special food and merchandise available. This event was a lot of fun for Leap Day last year. Probably a smart move to extend it to DCA as well.
  • Disney Fairies Week: April 15-21. Meet Tinker Bell with many of her friends, including Fawn, Iridessa, Rosetta, Silvermist, Vidia, and Terrance at Pixie Hollow in Disneyland and Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook in the Magic Kingdom.
  • Spring Fling Easter Celebrations: March 25-March 31. Meet Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny. Easter bunny pre-parade segment in MK and Easter bunny dance party in DL. Egg hunts in Epcot and DCA.
  • Egg Hunt in Epcot and DCA: March 18-March 24. Buy a park map and find hidden Easter eggs themed to Disney characters. As you find an egg, mark it on the map, and then, once you’ve found them all, return to Elias & Co. or Port of Entry for a surprise. The egg hunt part is cool, but I’m not so enthralled with the idea of spending $4.95/map to participate. It seems a little cheap to me. As it turns out, the prize was a double vinylmation keychain set. They normally retail for $12.95–but there are also reports of them being on sale for 3 for $9.99 at Orlando area Disney outlets (once again, a limited time magic promotion seeking to get rid of excess inventory).
  • MousekeEars Sale: available from March 8 for a limited time, you can buy 2 MouskeEar hats for $15.00 (normally they’re $12.95 each) at retail locations in Disneyland and Walt Disney World and on the Disney Store online site. MousekeEars are ear hats sized for dolls and small pets (based on a picture posted on the Disney Parks Blog, they don’t even fit well on infants). I am a huge ear hat fan, but I think manufacturing them in this size is inane. They appeared sometime last year (fall, I think), and according to posters on Lines (the chat application of Touringplans.com) they are already on clearance at some regional Disney stores. The cynical part of me suspects the idea behind the sale and the Limited Time Magic promotion is for Disney to get rid of the existing stock of one of its worse ideas.
  • 2014 Logo Revealed: March 1 – March 8. It’s the Mary-Blair-esque castle design. Not as bad as the other two, which, upon further reflection, I realize may have been put in just to ensure the castle design was picked. Still lame.
  • Wickedly Beautiful cosmetics (the first limited edition of Disney’s new Beautifully Disney cosmetic line) are available for a limited time only, March 1 to March 31. Even more blatant merchandising.
  • The Original Boy Band Week: February 25 to March 3. The Dapper Dans will add 1990s Boy Band classics to their repertoire. This promotion is one of the ones originally promised–and at the time was one of the most mocked and denigrated ideas. I’m intrigued by the idea.
  • President’s Day Week: The Voices of Liberty will perform a special Hail to the Chief set with quotations from great presidents interspersed with song. Appearing at the America Gardens Theater in Epcot from February 18-24 and at the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland February 18, 19, 22, 23, and 24 in Disneyland. I think this is an awesome idea for this promotion. Wish I were there!
  • True Love Week: February 11-17. Special decorations in the parks (Magic Kingdom and Disneyland–including an evening blushing pink, red, and white lights package for the castle), meet and greets with princes and princesses together (usually only offered during hard-ticket parties), special merchandise, and romantic, candlelit dinner-for-two packages at select restaurants. Screenings of Lady and the Tramp for AP holders at DL only.
  • Limited Time Magic wallpaper available from the Disney Parks Blog: available from January 31 for a limited time. Better than the “do our work for us” “surprise” that closes later today, but probably not the magic that most visitors to WDW or DL were hoping for this week. The Disney Parks Blog regularly releases promotional wallpaper to promote celebrate various events and locations (MVMCP, MNSSHP, new Fantasyland, Aulani).
  • Pick the 2014 Logo: January 25-31. There are three logo options (two are hideous and the third is almost as bad). This may be a limited time option, but you don’t even have to be in the parks to be part of it (all voting is through the internet) and they won’t announce the winner till late 2013. I get that they don’t want to do something every week, but this just feels like the merchandising department is having the internet do their work and marketing research for them. Lame.
  • Year of the Ear: Blatant merchandising–and this assessment is coming from someone who loves ear hats. I might add that the five couture hats featured on the Disney Parks Blog for January were (per commenters on the blog) all available to the public as early as last fall–so it’s not even like these hats are particularly limited in their editions. January–Couture Hats. February–Headband Hats. March–MousekeEars (these also have been available for some time, and according to some commentators on Touring Plans’s Lines app, are on clearance at various regional Disney stores! They may be “limited” because Disney realized that they were a bad idea and don’t plan on making more after they get rid of the ones they have….). April–Strawberry ear hats in WDW (Flower and Garden Festival tie-in) and Cone hats in DCA. 

Seasonal Events not billed as Limited Time Magic (…yet):

  • Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot (March – May)
  • Animal Kingdom’s 15th Anniversary Celebration (April 22): special opening ceremony, special artwork to buy, limited edition merchandise, special food and drink offerings, and “Party for the Planet”
  • Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios (May and June)
  • Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot (September – November)
  • Halloween at the Magic Kingdom (MNSSHP, September – November)
  • Christmas Festivities (Candlelight Processional, MVMCP, Osborne Lights)

My take on the Limited Time Magic promotion: Some parts of this promotion feel very lazy. Others are really cool. I think the long-lost characters week and the return of the Golden Horseshoe Revue are both awesome ideas and if I lived closer to one of the parks, I would have made an effort to see those events. Other events (like a lot of repackaged Disneyland events) would be neat to see if I already had a trip planned at that time. In fact, the nicest way of thinking of those repackaged events is that Limited Time Magic is a way to give what the park already does well or offers specially a nice amount of attention. But other ideas (like having fans pick the 2014 logo, or offering “unique” ear hats that have been on sale for months) really scream “we had this idea, and we could afford to (or budgeted to) do neat and new things for about 25% of the time, and we realized that we had events that we were planning already that could count as ‘limited time magic’ for about 50% of the time, so now we’re stuck with that other 25% of the time to come up with something on no money…” I’m not necessarily opposed to merchandising–even limited edition stuff (I love my One More Disney Day sweatshirt)–but it needs to be really cool and legitimately limited (or not limited, but then don’t say that it is). I doubt there will be great/new events around Christmas (they already do a lot, and they don’t need to lure people into the parks then), but we’ll see as we get closer, I’m sure. At the end of the year, I’ll do a full update. HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Return of the Golden Horseshoe Revue (Disneyland, January)
  • Long Lost Friends Week (WDW, January; Disneyland, April)
  • Voices of Liberty Presidential Show (Disneyland and WDW, February)

LOWLIGHTS:

  • Pick the 2014 logo
  • Buy a limited edition merchandise truck t-shirt

Helpful Planning Sites

Posted On January 9, 2013

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Some sites you may want to check out as we prepare for our trip:

  • MyDisneyExperience: Make an account and manage our trip here–one stop shopping for hotel, dining, (and eventually Fastpass+) reservations. (Mobile app available)
  • Disney Parks Blog: Information on Disney parks happenings, including the 2013 promotion Limited Time Magic & lots of product/merchandise updates.
  • Touringplans.com: Crowd calendar and touring plans. (Mobile app available)
  • Undercover Tourist: Discounted tickets and crowd calendar (including Universal). (Mobile app available)
  • EasyWDW: Orlando local (Josh) blogging mostly about Disney–great for touring plans, crowds, current updates, and non-nonsense reports (read: snark).
  • Disney Tourist Blog: Self-proclaimed photography and Disney nut (Tom) blogging about Disney tourism and photography. Lots of helpful guides to various aspects of Disney, also good restaurant reviews.
  • AllEars: Disney news
  • Mousesavers: Disney savings
  • The DISBoards: Disney message boards
  • WDWMagic: Disney news/message boards
  • Kenny The Pirate: Focuses on how and where to meet characters.
  • WDW Planning School: Trip planning tips
  • Ultimate Disney Christmas Guide: By Tom Bricker (Disney Tourist Blog)

Changes are coming to Fastpass…

Posted On January 9, 2013

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As you may be aware, Walt Disney World has been upgrading its infrastructure to offer theme park goers a next generation experience. Small changes such as enforcement of fastpass return times and new RFID readers appearing in parks and a variety of trials have apparently given way to rollout of the program–called MyMagic+–which features a MyDisneyExperience smartphone app, MagicBands, and the latest iteration of the fastpass program, Fastpass+. I have been closely monitoring these changes–and while we don’t know everything yet, I’ve summarized what we do know, linked to several sites with more information, and will continue to update this post as we see how Fastpass+ works in practice.

What We Know:

  • You will get a wristband (MagicBand) which will use RFID technology to allow you to do everything from opening your hotel room door to paying for in-park purchases and from entering the parks to using fastpasses (Disney Parks Blog).
  • You must pick between using regular FP and FP+ (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • To register for FP+ you must convert your tickets to paperless tickets (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may begin registering for FP+ 60 days before your trip (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may only have one FP+ per attraction/experience per day (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may be able to FP+ more things than rides, such as shows, quick service meals (including ordering from your phone), table service meals (not sure how this interacts with/replaces the current priority seating system), character greetings, parade viewing locations, and fireworks viewing locations (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • The primary method of managing your Disney vacation will be the MyDisneyExperience website and (in parks) smartphone app. For guests who don’t have smartphones (or whose smartphone batteries have died), there will also be in-park kiosks (Disney Parks Blog).
  • There is now free wi-fi in the parks so you can use the apps without huge data charges.
  • Cast members/interactive queues will be able to interact more personally with guests (they may know names or if someone is celebrating a birthday, etc–I think you can opt out of this part, at least for children).
  • You can only make Fastpass+ reservations for one park per day (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You will need to use a PIN to pay for purchases.
  • Disney ticket booths, KTTW cards, and (as of 3/20) APs are being issued in RFID format. From March 20 for about 3 weeks, current AP holders will be able to convert their passes to RFID at the Odyssey in Epcot. No sign of Magic Bands yet.
  • It looks like FP machines are using generic paper, which may be a sign that Disney is phasing out paper FPs (i.e. that it doesn’t want to invest in individual FP paper for each attraction).

Rumors (It must be true because it’s on the internet!):

  • You will be able to book 3 FP+ in advance. 
  • AP holders will get a certain number of FP+ per quarter (20?).
  • Roll-out begins with the Boardwalk Inn (Deluxe with fewest rooms) in February (per Jim Hill).
  • Guests may have different levels of access to FP+ (either in the number you can get or in how soon you can book them) depending on where they stay (so even though the service is “free,” guests who pay more for deluxe resorts get better options).
  • This program has cost Disney between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars to implement.
  • Disney will be tracking your every move within the park (certainly possible, given the RFID devices) and will use these patterns to sell your information to corporate third parties (seems unlikely, given the current ToS) or to try to more effectively advertise/market theme park opportunities to you (seems possible to me).

What’s Still Unclear (At Least to Me):

  • Will you be able to upgrade ticket media once they’re paperless? How would such an upgrade (say from a MYW ticket to an AP) affect existing FP+ reservations?
  • Will FP+ users (who may only have been able to register for 3 FP+ in advance) be able to acquire additional FP through the MyDisneyExperience site/app in park?
  • Will regular FP still be an option?
  • Will regular FP still be a viable option for popular rides (such as TSMM, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Soarin’, Test Track, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Peter Pan)?
  • Will Photopass/Photopass+ pre-orders purchased before MyMagic+ integration be able to be loaded onto your MagicBand?
  • Will Photopass/Photopass+ be limited to one person’s band, or to a specific number of bands, or can everyone in a traveling group share one account?

My Analysis

Right now I am taking a wait-and-see approach to this news. I don’t love the idea of Disney being able to track my movements around the park so closely (although I know that Google probably has a far better idea of my movements around the internet, so…). I don’t love that Disney spent almost 2 billion dollars developing this program instead of working on new attractions (although I am sure some of the upgrades/infrastructure were necessary, it’s hard to look at MyMagic+ and get excited when Universal Orlando has recently gotten Harry Potter land + a coming expansion and the Transformers ride, Universal California is getting Harry Potter land, and Disney California Adventure just got Cars Land).  I am nervous that the new system will make it harder to ride popular fastpass rides (if you’re limited by the number of fastpasses you can get–under the old system, if you got to the park early, you could accumulate and use many fastpasses each day–and you could get fastpasses in each park you visited, if you timed it right). Fortunately, I see no need to make a final decision about how or if we’ll use the new system until late October (60 days before our late December trip), so I’m just going to continue to monitor the situation. I’ll update this post as more information becomes clear.

2/7/13 Updated Analysis:

Many of the parts of this system are probably for the best. I don’t love the idea of Disney knowing exactly what I’m doing in the parks, but it’s not like I’m going there to do things I don’t want to be caught doing (yes, Disney, you’ve got me…I love the Country Bears), and given the amount of data that big technology companies like Google and Amazon already collect (shockingly, Amazon has figured out that I love Disney music and Google has directed a number of ads for Disney World and Universal Studios my way), it’s hard to take a hard-line stance on Disney without taking a similar stance on Google and Amazon. The RFID technology, especially in relation to photopass and hotel door locks, may be really useful.

So, my major concern is the implementation of Fastpass +. I’ve read a lot on the boards where posters imply that Disney has made some of the rules that seem apparent (either from the ToS or from the video of Nick Franklin) because it’s trying to limit guests from riding headliners over and over. We don’t know what Disney is thinking, exactly. We can’t. We don’t even have great numbers on the numbers of FPs available or the percentages of guests that currently use them (there are tons of scenarios where people use estimates to prove that not everyone in the park can get a FP to one of the headliners in a day, much less all of them, so if some people regularly get FPs to all the headliners, that means that some guests never get to use them). Maybe if you can’t do all the headliners in a park in a day with reasonably short waits, you’ll plan multiple days at each park. Or maybe you’ll just plan your next vacation to center on Universal Studios (where if you stay onsite you get free, unlimited Express Pass, which is like Fastpass except you can use it whenever you want, as many times as you want, and on every attraction except for 3, 2 of which have single rider lines and where they are actively building new, exciting rides instead of dithering about Avatarland and constructing elaborately-themed, Rapunzel bathrooms).

I am not necessarily opposed to making FP more high tech. I am not necessarily opposed to paying more to play more (for example, you can already spend a fortune and take a guided VIP tour that will take you into FP lines and the back entrances of rides without FP; Universal has a pay-to-access express lines system that rewards guests for staying onsite [or for paying for 1 express pass/ride/day, with the price tied to the expected crowds]). But I am concerned about a system that rewards people who want to plan the most important rides of their vacations 60 days out (as opposed to the current system, which rewards people who are willing to get up early to experience the parks) and which requires that we spend more of our vacation tied to our phone screens (or waiting in line for a kiosk because we don’t want to pay for data, or have low battery lives, or don’t have smartphones at all). And for many families who like to include a day to revisit favorites at the end of the trip (ours included), the last-minute flexibility to incorporate new favorites may be gone.

I am also concerned about Disney’s ability to manage the IT/technical side of this project. The photopass website is currently a mess–often down and difficult to use. New Fantasyland has caused two huge technical snafus (the attempt to allow AP holders to register online for soft previews of New Fantasyland, and the opening of phone lines to take ADRs for the Be Our Guest website). The new Test Track ride has a design-your-car section of the experience (in the queue) that is supposed to change your experience in the ride–and as far as I have been able to tell, that RFID integration has NEVER worked as it was designed.

I remain confident that as this project rolls out (supposedly now at the end of this month; apparently it’s already not working as well as they had hoped, at least according to some rumors circulating around the message boards), we’ll have a clear sense of how best to deal with it before our December trip (and before we have to make hard decisions in October).

Links

It’s an Attack!

Posted On March 16, 2013

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Men in Black

 

Can’t get enough of Buzz Lightyear? Want to ride Toy Story Midway Mania over and over again? Practice your sharp shooting skills on Men in Black Alien Attack at Universal Studios–in just 41 weeks! It will be easier than ever, as we’ll have unlimited Universal Express access since we’re staying on site.

Ghostly Guests

Posted On March 13, 2013

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Tower of Terror

 

290 days until we can take a trip back to the Twilight Zone!

Something we won’t see…

Posted On March 9, 2013

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Fire House

…because this building is in California! There is also a fire house in WDW in this location (just to the right of City Hall on Main Street, USA), but the WDW one was a fire-related shop for a long time and has now been converted into headquarters for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. Notice the lamp in the window in this fire house–the second floor of this structure was Walt’s private, in-park apartment. While he was alive, the lamp was lit whenever he was in the apartment. Now it burns continuously. Only 42 weeks till we leave for our trip!

Getting ready for the Flower and Garden Festival

Posted On March 3, 2013

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American Gothic Mickey

 

Epcot’s annual Flower and Garden Festival starts next week. This homage to Grant Wood’s American Gothic in topiary form appeared at last year’s F&G festival. We’re just 300 days away from our trip!

New Trip

Posted On January 9, 2013

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I’m planning some changes to this blog as we prepare for our next Disney-Universal Christmas trip (tentatively December 28, 2013 to January 5, 2014). I’ll be blogging about some of the trip preparation/planning topics we’re coming across in addition to posting pictures to build excitement.

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