Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Land of Disrepair

Just read the excellent blog over at Mice Chat. I came to the site from some questions about the updating of the parks at Disney World.

I was there just a few weeks ago and rode Everest at Animal Kingdom and was still dismayed to see the Yeti just sitting there. Although I love this attraction anyways, I hate to see what should be the most amazing animatronic in any of the parks just sitting idle on a pedestal. What bothers me more, is that no one else seems to notice, playing into what I am sure is the park managements fears/designs that it is better to keep the attraction running with mostly happy guests, especially during the peak visit season, than to shut it down and fix it.

Of course, this summer has been a season of upping the face of the parks. Along Main Street, one by one, each of the stores received new paint and facelifts. In fact, across the face of many buildings in the Magic Kingdom, tarps went up as painting and maintenance continued. However, these are relatively low budget touch ups compared with the mechanically strained problems in the parks. Although my second home is the Haunted Mansion, the new additions are fantastic and would be even better if they could keep the Doom Buggies moving. It seems that at least once a visit, HM goes down for an hour or so. Splash Mountain may have managed to put on seat belts, but at least once a visit, I spy animatronics that just sit there not animated. I don't have to remind people about the in operation of the cave in room on Big Thunder or how the theme elements in Pirates keep getting scaled back farther and farther from the boats. (Are too many guests getting out?)

Then when we get some real opportunities for updates, it seems that Disney goes cheap or worse, they make attractions worse than they were before. Space Mountain was down for quite a while, and myself and others really hoped that it would reopen with a ride that was at least as exciting as what guests are treated to at Disneyland. And although the new projection system is nice, and some of the new theme elements are pretty. I find the line que games are the only real update and to be honest, being a fastpass ride, I never wait to play these video games. They didn't even update the exit que, and if anything is screaming for an update that would be it. Moreover, it opened without the sound effects that were supposed to be a part of the new ride. And when they got added, it seemed more an afterthought. I love the soundtrack on Disneyland's Space Mountain and the fact that its pumped right into the ride cars make it even more thematic.

I won't go into how I feel about the Spaceship Earth refurb, or how the Living Seas with Nemo compares with the Little Nemo attraction at Disneyland. Also, we never go to the Laugh Floor, it's a poor attraction and the ride que is one of the worst excuses for poor guest treatment in any of the rides. Stitch's Great Escape gets worse every refurb and many elements don't record a hit in Buzz Lightyear's ride.

Yet, the Walt Disney World resort continues to enjoy some of the largest crowds in history even with park admission prices edging upwards to $100. They have broken ground on the new Art of Animation resort, they are building a new housing development for high rollers, new Villa style Vacation Club resorts seem to open every year and Bay Lake Towers is now seeing guests. The new Fantasy Land expansion is in the middle of its construction, and the newly announced Avatar land at Animal Kingdom is definitely piquing my interest. Star Tours 2.0 is now open and is great. Watching them save and move the huge tree from the Seven Acre Woods playground to the entrance of Winnie the Pooh, continues to remind me of the parks attention to details.

I just wish Disney's attention to detail was applied to everything in the parks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

ProTip 8 - Hollywood Studios entrance

Sometimes its not the big things about being at Disney World that make the trip great. Sometimes its the little things. Getting there early and prepared makes the day great, but its not enough. Having a good ADR at the restaurant you love timed perfectly to beat the heat on a scorching day also isn't everything. Although I could go on and on, about big deal items, people under estimate the absolute beauty of a good entry. All of the parks have their opening event. Magic Kingdom has all the face and fur characters arrive on Casey Jr. and then come out for some dancing and song. Epcot picts a family of the day after we meet and great the fab four, they then rocket off to their favorite ride with fast passes for the day. Hollywood Studios "films" the opening of the park, while Animal Kingdom has us get ready to go camping.

However, what I really love is a good park entrance. We have a stroller still. Our kid doesn't really need it, but we like having a home base (a place to keep our stuff, hold our drinks, and hang our bags). To have a good park entrance, takes planning and coordination between your entire group. You have to negotiate bathrooms, which can be tough considering when you have to arrive to be there at opening. You have to know where to enter and where you're going. There are so many things that you could worry about, and knowing your kids will make or break the entrance.

But a perfect entrance is golden. To get that perfect entrance requires a conflux of multiple factors, but boils down to knowing what your goals are for the day. So today, I will discuss the perfect entrance to Hollywood Studios.

First, never take the tram. Its a trap and a sucker bet. The tram is for tourists. This is especially true at HS. First the tram makes you break down your stroller and your gear to board. You then have to set all that stuff back up. Pointless. At HS, there is a secondary security spot located near the will call window. If you walk you cross the street shortly before the tram stop and you can use this security stop. There is seldom anyone there and you won't be at the back of the crowds trying to set up your stroller and rushing to the gates. After security hit the bathrooms. Why not, there are right there and also empty. Now as you get to the the ticket lines, you are going to be waiting for a bit, now is the time to get out the sunscreen and get everyone covered. Then make a plan. You need everyone to have their tickets, but you also want to split up. Only one of you is going to Toy Story Mania (unless you are going to try the trifecta and get both fast passes and enter the que - don't do this) to get fast passes. So as you approach the gates, have your plan ready, get everyone through the turnstyles and collect the tickets.

If you are the designated FP fetcher, you worm your way to the front of the HS holding pen (where the movie is to be filmed). You want to be all the way to the right or dead center. This is to split around the film cart and stay near the head of the pack as the cast members walk you quickly but steadily towards the FP que. You are going to need to stay to the right so you can be in the FP line. This is critical, the FP line will be crowded and people will act crazy and pushy to get in the line. Be ready to be patient. When the line forms up make a quick estimate of how long you will be and text it to the rest of your party (which should be heading towards either Tower of Terror or Rockin Roller-coaster).

They can hit the bathroom if needed, but be prepared to hurry right back so that you can actually begin your day. Your FP for Toy Story dictates when the next round fo FP's will be ready, but you should be able to walk onto either RR or ToT. By the time you are done with the first ride you can get another round of FP's and have a great start to the day. If things go well you will be holding FP's for the best rides in the park and day will still be early! Aaahhhh a good entrance, I love it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This might be the very first time that I have to say that I'm very disappointed in myself and my attention to the parks this summer. Normally we spend two to three days at the parks each week. This summer, was tough though, it was really crowded and really hot. Not only that, but the special features available at the parks just weren't as compelling as I had expected.

Every year, we make it a point to see the Independence Day Fireworks on or near July 4th. This year was no exception. We were also able to get amazing seats for the new Magic Memories and Me castle display, which was fantastic! We made it to Hollywood Studios to finally see the new Star Tours 2.0 which was simply amazing! Not only that, we got a chance to see the Cars 2 models introduced during the Stunt Show Spectacular! Finally, we took a bunch of extra kids on a trip to EPCOT for what turned out to be a fun day, with too many children who weren't our own.

However, the summer wasn't our normal play time. Being teachers, we often use our summers to do something that many other people can't do. We make it our goal to visit every couple of days. We have visiting the parks down to a science. We can get into and out of the park for gas money only. People might call us cheap, but we on the other hand, we probably make it to the park 12 to 18 times during the summer. If we ate at the park and bought some drinks each time we went, we'd be into each trip for better than $100 bucks a time. That takes us up to a couple grand for day trips. That's just not in the cards for us. So by making the trips cheap, we get to enjoy the parks all summer long without breaking the bank.

Yet, this summer didn't come together for us. We just couldn't get to the park as often as we wanted. We even skipped our little secret day (Night of Joy). There are a number of reasons. The first, it was one of the hottest summers we've endured here in Florida. It wasn't the hottest on record, but throughout July we had very little rain and that usually brings down the temperatures. Next, it was very crowded this summer. If you hit the Crowd Calendar at you will find that there wasn't hardly a day when the parks weren't at capacity. Lastly, we were very discouraged to find that we couldn't upgrade out passes to premium halfway between our renewal period without paying for the entire difference in cost. Since half the year was over, it just didn't seem right. We wanted to add the water parks, but not for such a unbelievably bad price.

So, as the weather cools, Food and Wine approaches, and the crowds slip away. You will find my family and I back at the parks for what I'm sure will be an amazing fall at the parks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I hate it

Ok, this was a great blog, until my last post, so here is the next wave of blogging. I have put together my schedule for the season. Being that I live just an hour or so away from the magic, we often make it our business to be there for important events.

First, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Magic Kingdom is coming and I just gotta be there. The opening of the Food and Wine at EPCOT is coming up, and I just gotta be there. Halloween is coming up and I hear they have a party there, and I just gotta be there. Of course, the Christmas holiday is on its way, and as you probably can guess, I just gotta be there!

So I just put the finishing touches on a couple of reservations for the year. We have our Food and Wine reservations all sewn up. We have planned our weekend at the parks to enjoy the holidays. We might try and squeeze in Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, during Food and Wine.

Ahh, and as the end of the year approaches, we also have our Walt Disney World's Marathon Weekend after the new year. So much is coming up and I can't wait to be at the parks. So as you can imagine, I have got lots to share, and I intend to get back to sharing!