Archive for the ‘Disney Detours’ Category

Disney Detours – Epcot Character Spot

August 29, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests can meet all of Disney’s “fab five” at a great character experience in Epcot’s Future World.

By Blake

Originally posted August 29, 2009.

Many guests have experienced the “stampede” of people that hurry to popular attractions at opening time in the Disney parks. In the case of Epcot, the crowd is split between heading left for Mission: SPACE and Test Track, or heading right for Soarin’. When these massive crowds make their way to those long-line attractions, several other experiences just as entertaining are still open, but often get overlooked in the midst of the crowds. One of these satisfying experiences is the Epcot Character Spot.

Located in Innoventions Plaza (just before you enter the right breezeway that heads to Imagination!, The Land, and The Seas), Epcot Character Spot opened in May, 2007, as a replacement of Epcot Character Connection (which opened in November, 2005). Basically the Character Spot is the same setup as the Character Connection, just with fancier backgrounds and lighting.

Minnie is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests queue up in one line to meet five Disney characters (though each character is met separately). Usually the lineup includes Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald (Disney’s “fab five”). That’s quite a spectacular group of characters! Here, they’re all dressed in their “traditional” outfits: Mickey in his coattails and bowtie, Minnie in her red polka-dotted dress, Goofy in his classic orange-and-blue attire and green hat, Pluto in his orange collar, and Donald in his signature blue sailor outfit. The Character Spot is an even greater experience if you head to it right at park opening, when there will hardly be a line.

Goofy is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

If you do happen to visit at a time when there’s a bit of a wait, don’t fear! Several television screens are positioned throughout the queue and play classic Disney cartoon shorts (similar to the setup of the Judge’s Tent over in the Magic Kingdom). Even better, Disney fans will enjoy reading the fascinating trivia facts about the selected cartoons that appear in the right-hand sidebar of the TV screen.

When you’re finally to the front of the line and it’s time to mingle with your Disney friends, the fun really starts. Each character is patient, and is glad to pose for pictures and sign autographs, as well as offer some special one-on-one interaction. For a more memorable meet & greet, ask each character a question specific to their personality. (For instance, ask Pluto if he’s found any tasty bones lately.) Characters also love it when guests draw them special pictures.

Pluto gets down on his paws to greet a guest at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

As with many other character experiences around Walt Disney World, Disney PhotoPass photographers are on hand at the Character Spot to snap plenty of pictures, and character handlers are also available if you’d like them to get a family shot with your own camera.

After you’ve met all of the main characters, make sure to check in the hallway to your left before dashing out the door. Sometimes (but not always), there is a “bonus” character available for meet & greets there. Don’t count on anyone being there, but it never hurts to check.

If you’ve already met the fab five before, would just rather not meet them at all, or enjoy seeing characters meet with guests, the Epcot Character Spot has another unique feature. A large glass window lets guests outside view the goings-on inside. They can sit on a shaded bench and relax while they enjoy the playful antics of the characters. Sometimes the characters will even come up to the window and interact with guests sitting outside.

Overall, the Epcot Character Spot is one of Walt Disney World’s best character experiences. Guests meet five of Disney’s most popular characters while waiting in one line, which is often very short first thing in the morning. However, if there is a line, classic Disney cartoon shorts keep the waiting guests entertained. Additionally, it’s helpful to have all of the “fab five” in one location to prevent having to track each of them down individually. If you happen to meet them before heading to Epcot, then honestly there probably won’t be a reason to stop by the Character Spot for you, but at least peek in the window. But if you do head on inside, please make sure to show Donald anything you have that has Mickey Mouse on it.

Donald Duck waves to guests at the Epcot Character Spot. In his mind, he’s always #1! Image belongs to Blake’s family.

By Blake; posted August 29, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Five: Dining

August 21, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Planning out a Disney vacation filled with bargain meals.

By Blake

Originally posted August 21, 2009.

Eating at Walt Disney World can often be a hassle. There’s the Disney Dining Plan to consider, reservations to make months in advance, and dozens of eateries to choose from within Disney’s property.

So, how do you budget your food while at Walt Disney World? If you watch your money, it can be easier than you might think.

First of all, let’s go ahead and get the Disney Dining Plan out of the way. The DDP is an optional program that, for one solid price a day (which usually begins in the $45 range), includes one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, and one snack per person, per day. (That’s the basic DDP – other options just get more expensive from there.) Although the DDP is a bargain if you’re already planning on eating at one table-service restaurant a day, it’s not that great of a value if you’re intending to stick to counter-service venues. When the DDP is offered for free (which is generally in the fall), it’s an entire different story. Definitely go for it if it’s free, but otherwise if you’re conscious about where your money is going, don’t use it.

Going without any table-service restaurants in Walt Disney World can be tough, and usually during my family’s trips we do tend to squeeze in a few sit-down meals. I really do enjoy them, but they get a bit expensive to be eating at one EVERY day of vacation. Generally during a week-long stay, my family dines at three table-service restaurants over the course of our trip.

Except for the days when you might have a breakfast reservation (like a character meal), plan on eating some breakfast brought from home. Although it’s certainly the most important meal of the day, when you add it up it’s a whole lot cheaper to bring some snacky breakfast foods along with you than to purchase breakfast every day in Disney. Peanuts, protein bars, muffins, and crackers are ideal for eating in your resort room or taking on the go to eat later in the parks.

So, you have your food to eat for breakfast at your resort, but what are you going to drink? Disney resorts sell refillable mugs, which are a great value whether you plan on being at your resort a lot or not. With a refillable mug, guests can help themselves to unlimited free refills for any drink at their resort’s “beverage island” through the end of their Disney vacation. The mugs sell for about $14 and have a special Disney design on them featuring favorite characters.

Although refillable mugs are only valid for free refills in your resort, once you get to the parks, there’s another super value for your drinks. In fact, it’s such a value that’s it’s free! Guests that head to any counter-service eatery in the Disney parks can ask for a complimentary cup (not bottle) of water. It sure does beat spending $3-$4 per person to get a soda (save that for your refillable mug when you get back to your resort). If a given eatery for some reason cannot supply you with water, Cast Members there can at least give you cups of ice that you can fill up with water at the nearest drinking fountain. Simply drinking free water can save a hoopla of money when you look at the big picture!

It can be easy to come back from a vacation and wonder where all of the money went to. An efficient way to save a little (or a lot) more cash is to give each member of your family their own specific food envelope. Since breakfast won’t be included in the envelope (because you’re bringing breakfast from home), $20 is a fair amount to put in each person’s envelope per day of the trip. That’s (give or take) enough money for two counter-service meals and a snack. This system worked terrifically on my family’s last trip to Disney, especially for the children in the group. Since they felt like they were spending their own money, they were very more conscious about where it went!

Instead of giving everyone their entire week’s supply of food money at once, give each person was given $20 for their envelope at the beginning of each day. If you hav money left over in your envelope at the end of the day, add to the next day’s eating money (but NOT to spending money). Additionally, on the days you have a table-service meal planned, look at that meal’s pricing ahead of time and give that meal its own specific envelope with the family total in it (instead of taking the money from everyone’s individual envelope). Keep in mind that reservations for table-service meals can be made 180 days in advance (in place October 27, 2009).

Even when it’s budgeted like that, $20 for food can be gone fast if you don’t pay close attention. Typically an adult meal at a counter-service restaurant starts at around $8-$9. If you’re running low on your daily food money and still have a meal left, try a kid’s meal for a surprisingly terrific value. For $4.99 (plus tax), a kid’s meal includes a main food (which is usually chicken tenders, macaroni, pizza, or something similar), two sides (carrot sticks, grapes, a cookie, or applesauce), and a drink (1% milk, a small soda, chocolate milk, a juice box, or a small bottled water). That’s quite the deal! Even better, most of the time you won’t notice that you’re eating a child-sized meal. Although the pizza is considerably smaller than an adult’s size, most of the other options are very reasonably sized. Additionally, go for the healthier sides when they’re offered. It’s probably one of the only healthy foods you’ll have during your vacation!

To change things up a little bit from the typical fast-food menu, try eating at one of the counter-service dining spots in one of Epcot’s World Showcase countries or Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom. Some of the best values that are likely to please any member of the family include Pinocchio Village Haus at Magic Kingdom, Electric Umbrella in Epcot’s Future World, Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom.

Visit Epcot for some unique foods at each of World Showcase’s countries. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Where snacks are concerned, the cheapest options are at the small snack stands that are found in many locations throughout Walt Disney World. These are home to one of the Disney standards, Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. They also sell delicious chocolate-covered frozen bananas and other desserts.

However, there are some other wonderful (though slightly more pricey) snacks that you might want to set aside some of your daily food money for. The Magic Kingdom is home to some of the best snacks in all of Walt Disney World, including the crowd favorite Dole Whip, a tasty ice cream-like snack at Adventureland’s Aloha Isle. (Try the swirl for a vanilla/pineapple combo that’s excellent to enjoy on the adjacent shaded benches or in the nearby canopy area.) Another Magic Kingdom favorite snack is the ice cream cookie sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square, consisting of two scoops of vanilla ice cream placed in-between two huge chocolate-chip cookies – it’s fantastic! (Try to enjoy your Dole Whip or ice cream cookie sandwich at night or in the shade – they melt fast in the sun!) At Epcot, each country has special snacks in World Showcase. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some delicious deserts like caramel apples can be found in Starring Rolls Café just after turning onto Sunset Blvd. from Hollywood Blvd.

Even without the Disney Dining Plan, if you take the time to plan out where your money is going, bring some food from home to eat for breakfast, purchase a refillable mug to use at your resort, ask for free cups of water in the parks, and set aside each family member their own food money envelope, dining at Walt Disney World can indeed be budgeted and reasonable. I would advise future Disney guests to visit AllEars.net’s excellent selection of Disney menus to get an idea of where you might like to dine during your vacation. Find some eateries that will please your family and keep a close eye on your money. And enjoy your Dole Whip!

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By Blake; posted August 21, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Four: Purchasing Tickets

July 27, 2009
Image © Disney.

Analyzing Walt Disney World ticket packages when you’re watching your money.

By Blake

Originally posted July 27, 2009.

It’s time for another edition of Budgeting Disney, a special series walking through the steps of planning a Walt Disney World vacation in the midst of keeping a close track of where your money is going. So far we’ve looked at finding deals, deciding when to visit, and choosing a resort to stay at.

Before we delve into purchasing theme park tickets, I’d like to point out that a bargain package has just been announced. Guests visiting Walt Disney World for at least five nights/five days during October 1 through November 24, as well as November 29 through December 17, get select dining free if they book their trip by September 26. Full details can be found here. (Note: You may have heard that this package was exclusively for guests with a Disney Rewards Visa card, though that is not the case anymore!)

Free dining is back . . . again! Image © Disney.

Moving on, after picking your resort, the next issue in planning a Walt Disney World vacation is to decide is what type of ticket package to purchase. A regular, one-day theme park ticket currently costs $75. However, if you’re visiting for more than one day, the price per day gradually decreases.

A regular, standard base ticket allows guests to visit one theme park per day. You can’t switch parks in the middle of the day, but you can leave the park for a break and come back later to that same park. Honestly, if you want to spend as little money as possible, a standard base ticket is the option that you should choose.

The standard base ticket package is the least expensive WDW vacation package, and has guests visiting one theme park per day. The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is shown here. Image © Disney.

However, there are several other optional ticket choices to “splurge” on if you want. Each has their own benefits, but when you’re watching your money, you really have to ask yourself if any of the other packages are worth it.

The first option is the Park Hopper add-on, which allows guests to visit more than one theme park per day. In the past, my family has used this to perhaps spend the day at one park, and then head to another park to see some sort of nighttime show. Other times we’ve just gotten “bored” with a park and decided to hightail it over to another area of WDW. However, looking back at our last trip, I don’t think we’ll be eager to use a Park Hopper anytime soon. There was nothing wrong with the actual ticket package itself, but we were using it so much that we were rushing ourselves around from place to place and from park to park. Not only were we exhausted by the time the trip was over, but we didn’t take the time to appreciate the surroundings and the excellent atmosphere that Disney provides. Instead we were too concerned about where we were headed to next. If you don’t overuse it, the Park Hopper can be nice, but it can also stress you out at times. Consider that before you make your decision to add it on or not.

The next package to look at is the Water Park Fun & More option. It includes admission to Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park, DisneyQuest “virtual theme park” at Downtown Disney, ESPN Wide World of Sports, or golfing at Oak Trail. I’ve never visited Typhoon Lagoon, Wide World of Sports, or Oak Trail, but I have visited both Blizzard Beach and DisneyQuest. While I enjoyed both experiences very much, I don’t think they’re worth adding the Water Park Fun & More option to our vacation package EVERY trip. They might be exciting to visit every now and then, but honestly it can be difficult squeezing in time for the four theme parks during a vacation, let alone the other various activities Walt Disney World has. If you truly think you’ll want to spend a full day at a water park, play at Wide World of Sports or Oak Trail, or play some very involved virtual games at DisneyQuest during your trip, go for it. Personally more often than not, I’d rather just stick to the theme parks.

Typhoon Lagoon is one of Disney’s two water parks that guests can experience in the Water Park Fun & More package. Image © Disney.

Now we come to the “no expiration” option. Most Walt Disney World tickets will expire fourteen days after their first use, whether they’ve been maxed out or not. However, with the no expiration add-on, they’ll never go bad. Of the packages we’ve mentioned so far, I feel that this one is the most beneficial, especially if you plan on visiting Walt Disney World in the future (as in, after the trip you’re planning now).

Remember how ticket prices per day decrease for every additional day you purchase? Well, let’s say you buy tickets for ten days in the parks, but you’re only planning to stay for five days this trip. With the no expiration add-on, those five leftover unused days of tickets will still be good if you plan to visit in a few years (or, for that matter, any time in the future at all). However, you have to consider whether or not you can financially shell out that amount of money at once.

What’s more, the tickets will end up being less expensive than they would have been if you bought them in a few years, for two reasons: 1.) They’ll have decreased in price per day because you bought many of them at one time, and 2.) Disney tends to slightly raise their ticket prices about every year or so. Guests traveling during the hurricane season (late August through October) might want to seriously consider the no expiration option, as will guests that might have to go back home for some sort of emergency situation. Otherwise, only get no expiration if you’re sure you’ll be returning, and even then there’s still the issue of paying all of that money at once.

The last package that we’re going to look at is the Annual Pass. For locals, or for those that visit Walt Disney World more than once a year, an Annual Pass includes year-round visits to the parks. Regular Annual Passes cost $414 for ages three through nine and $469 for ages ten and up. The Water Park Fun & More option is also available for Annual Passes (for $528 ages three through nine and $599 ages ten and up). For guests that go to WDW often, the Annual Pass can be a great deal.

Buying Walt Disney World tickets can be puzzling, but ultimately it comes down to how much you think your family will benefit from each of the different add-on packages. If you want to spend as little money as possible, go for the standard base ticket. If you’d like to experience some of the other activities WDW has – like water parks or sports – the Water Park Fun & More add-on might be for you. If you think you’re going to be visiting WDW on a yearly basis, purchasing the no-expiration option and buying more tickets than you plan on using this time might be wise (only if you can financially support that decision, though). Lastly, if you’re a frequent guest to WDW and visit more than once a year, you might want to consider an Annual Pass. Whatever ticket package Walt Disney World guests decide on, make sure to be conscious of your money, and to fully consider whether or not each add-on will be worth it to your family.

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By Blake; posted July 27, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Three: Where to Stay

July 13, 2009
Image © Disney.

When on a budget, Walt Disney World’s campground or value resorts are the way to go.

By Blake

Originally posted July 13, 2009.

Welcome to another installment of Budgeting Disney, a special look at planning a Walt Disney World vacation on a strict budget. I’ve already discussed looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, and now it’s time to focus on where to stay overnight during a WDW trip.

Whether you’re watching your money or not, there’s a huge decision to be made first thing when deciding your accommodations: on-site or off-site? Walt Disney World has over 20 on-property resort hotels to choose from, all sorted into several categories based on price and extra benefits. From most-expensive to least-expensive, the groups are deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, value resorts, and the campground. I’ve got news for you – if you’re on a budget, eliminate deluxe and moderate right away so that you don’t even have the option to splurge.

So now you’re down to three choices: a Walt Disney World value resort, the campground section of WDW’s Fort Wilderness, or an off-site venue. Personally, I’ve got to go with Disney. Due to the Disney quality service constantly being displayed and the convenient (and free) transportation to all over WDW, I’d say that it’s overall worth it to stay on Disney property.

Between the campground and the value resorts, the choice should be relatively easy based on whether or not you have the necessary equipment (either tent or RV) or not. If you do, the campground might be a pleasurable experience, as you’ll be in the excellent atmosphere of Fort Wilderness. You can check out details at AllEars.net, including differences between campsites and price ranges. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness will most likely want to bring their own groceries from home or purchase groceries once they get to WDW, as (unlike the value resorts), Fort Wilderness doesn’t have a food court (though it does have a buffet restaurant).

The campground area of Fort Wilderness (as opposed to the cabin area, which is priced as a moderate Disney resort) is ideal for guests with RV’s. Image © Disney.

If you don’t have a tent or camper, or if camping isn’t your thing, then the Disney value resorts will probably please you if you’re on a budget.

To be honest, the hotel rooms themselves at Disney value resorts are just regular rooms with no special perks. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s the way to go. Value resorts are especially ideal for those that will be spending a lot of time in the parks, as opposed to those that would rather relax all day. There aren’t a lot of “extras,” but the basics are all essentially covered.

Instead of full-service restaurants, each value resort has a food court that includes several counter-service options featuring a variety of choices. Additionally, guests can also order pizza to be delivered to their room (a great bargain for large families).

Most Disney resorts (value or otherwise, though there are a few exceptions) also implement refillable mugs, another great way to save money. Guests that purchase a refillable mug get free refills at their resort’s food court throughout the duration of their stay. Guests can only refill their mug at the resort they are staying at, and the mug can only be used for that one particular vacation.

All of the value resorts have at least two pools, each with a specific theme. There are no waterslides, though several of the pools have some unique fun features to them. Additionally, each value resort has an arcade, a gift shop, and an area in the lobby to view Disney programs on a TV.

Walt Disney World has four value resorts: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century. Essentially, the room layout is the same in all four resorts and the atmosphere has the same format, as well. Since we’re budgeting, I advise booking a standard room at the lowest price possible, in this case being about $82*. The “view” from the room will most likely either be a parking lot or some bushes, but since no rooms at any of the value resorts have actual porches, you won’t be sitting out enjoying the view no matter what room you’re in. However, all of the resorts are relatively easy to navigate, so if guests desire to see something particular, a short walk is all that it will take to get there.

Disney’s All-Star Sports depicts scenes like gigantic football helmets. Image © Disney.

Each of the resorts’ rooms are housed in several separate buildings, each building surrounded by huge atmospheric characters and objects. At All-Star Sports, this includes giant sports equipment. At All-Star Music, each area is themed to a different music style, with large instruments adorning the atmosphere. At All-Star Movies, areas are themed to different Disney films, with huge versions of Disney characters found outside rooms. Lastly, Pop Century is all about the second half of the 20th century, with areas themed to each decade.

Disney’s All-Star Movies features atmosphere based on Disney movies, including 101 Dalmatians, shown here. Image © Disney.

The layout of the resorts are almost the same, the food courts have mostly the same food, and the rooms are identical at all four value resorts, so ultimately the choice comes down to your preference of theming. Pop Century does have a slight edge over the other three, though. Its grounds are slightly more expansive, it has a lovely lake at the back of the resort that makes for a great view, and it has several Disney sights that guests can view from a distance (including Wide World of Sports, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Swan and Dolphin, and Spaceship Earth). AllEars.net has a great photo gallery of each of the four value resorts, making it simple to go through and choose one that your family likes the best. (Links: All-Star Sports photos, All-Star Music photos, All-Star Movies photos, and Pop Century photos.)

Disney’s Pop Century Resort is themed to five individual decades of the 20th century, including the 50’s, shown here through Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and some disco dancers. Image © Disney.

The limit at value resorts of amount of guests per room is four people, so families larger than that have another decision to make. They can either book two adjoining rooms, which feature a door between both rooms providing access to the other. Or, they can book a family suite, which right now is only available at All-Star Music. If guests choose the adjoining rooms and book the lowest-priced rooms possible at about $82* per night each, then the total comes out to be about $164* per night. The family suites cost about $184* per night, making the adjoining rooms a better value. You can view the photos at AllEars.net to compare the look of the family suites to those of regular rooms (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

Country music is one of the music styles represented at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Image © Disney.

If guests are on a budget but still want to be immersed in Disney enchantment throughout their Walt Disney World vacation, the Fort Wilderness campground sites or the Disney value resorts are ideal. The campground guests might have to be a little more independent for food, but for those with campers, it’s ideal. The value resorts of All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century are all great choices, and guests can choose which resort to stay at based on personal interests or hobbies. The value resorts don’t include many extra bonuses, though they’re ideal for those that will be hitting the parks often, making them a great . . . well . . . value.

*Prices are approximate and get raised during peak seasons.

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By Blake; posted July 13, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Detours – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

June 22, 2009

Image © Disney.

Disney’s Fantasyland dark ride through the Hundred Acre Wood is detailed and charming.

By Blake

Originally posted June 22, 2009.

No, I’ve never ridden Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. When it was replaced by the chubby little cubby that’s stuffed with fluff in 1999, many Toad fans weren’t happy. And despite their concerns, Imagineers pressed forward and introduced The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to Fantasyland in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Pooh is a “dark ride,” an attraction that travels guests through scenes of classic Disney movies in a relatively dark setting, with the Audio-Animatronics and backdrops colorfully lit up. Being the first completely new dark ride since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Pooh conveyed the Imagineers’ 28 years of experience with the Florida park and their ability to blend a story, characters, music, and a playful mood into an attraction in a lighthearted and fun way. They had learned from the first version of Snow White’s Scary Adventures to keep Fantasyland attractions relatively child-oriented, with less frights and more charm.

Perhaps more than any other WDW Fantasyland dark ride, Pooh has an overall appeal that all comes together due to a number of different elements of theming and extending its story beyond the ride and into the gift shop and nearby character greetings, atmosphere, and play area.

The excellent theming starts the moment guests enter the queue line. They’re immediately immersed into the world of Christopher Robin’s storybooks, illustrated through large versions of book pages scattered throughout the loading area. Guests are literally put into the story in this attraction, and the plot involves guests moving through pages of Christopher Robin’s book about Pooh and friends. Those that are unfamiliar with Pooh shouldn’t have a hard time following along with the storyline, because instead of containing a structured plot, the ride (like its film counterpart) consists of several stand-alone short stories.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction at the Magic Kingdom is based upon the film of the same name, which was released in 1977 and contains three Pooh featurettes. Image © Disney.

Once guests are loaded into their ride vehicle – a honey pot – the first scene they arrive at is a blustery day in the Hundred Acre Wood, complete with Pooh trying to use the wind to his advantage to breeze up to a bees’ nest to get a smackeral of honey. All throughout the ride, a variety of senses and special effects are used to further make guests feel like they’re right in the middle of the story. This is first instanced when the blustery day turns out to be truly windy. (The air, although indeed breezy, is surprisingly warm.)

Next up is Owl’s house, where a few infamous references to Mr. Toad can be found. After that, guests encounter Tigger, who invites everyone to bounce along with him. Again, wonderful sensory effects are implemented, this time through the movement of the ride vehicles “bouncing” up and down with Tigger.

Soon Tigger winds up telling Pooh that he had better watch out for “heffalumps and woozles,” and guests trek through Pooh’s nightmare concerning the fanciful creatures. A brilliant special effect is used as Pooh dozes off into his dream, and later guests see somewhat of a special effect of themselves, through the use of funhouse-like mirrors. Although it’s all lighthearted fun, the heffalumps and woozles sequence of the ride could potentially frighten young visitors if they’re easily scared.

Next, Pooh returns to the real world and soon finds that the Hundred Acre Wood has flooded! Again, special effects through movement are used marvelously to make the ride vehicles feel as if they’re really floating through a watery environment, even though they travel along a track. Again, some little ones might be scared by the dark environment of this scene.

Lastly, the flood recedes and it’s time to celebrate. Pooh’s friends are having a party, but where’s Pooh? He’s finally found his honey and is enjoying it immensely, as shown by his messy face.

As guests depart their ride vehicles, they enter Pooh’s Thotful Shop, a store filled with Pooh-themed merchandise. After they depart from the shop and exit outside, guests can experience other nearby Fantasyland attractions transporting riders into the worlds of Snow White, Peter Pan, and more. However, if guests still just can’t get enough of Pooh, they can walk directly across from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh into Pooh’s Playful Spot, a creatively themed play area for children ages two through five.

Pooh’s Playful Spot opened in September 2005 and is located in part of the former home of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It includes several play fixtures, including one of Pooh’s house (which features a clever 20,000 Leagues nod). Additionally, throughout the day guests can also meet characters from the Pooh stories at Pooh’s Playful Spot. The most common friends to find here are Pooh and Tigger, but others may show up, as well.

Fans of Pooh can also see him in several other places around Walt Disney World, as he is one of the few characters to have a role in all four WDW parks. Guests can dine with Pooh and friends at the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace restaurant, see Pooh in the Magic Kingdom’s afternoon parade, see Pooh solve a Super Sleuth case as part of Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and meet Pooh and friends at Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion or in Animal Kingdom’s Discovery Island.

With such a great all-around experience, it’s no wonder that many guests love The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Its large popularity often causes quite a bit of a line. Fortunately, guests have the opportunity to use Fastpass, which is very beneficial in this case. Nearby activities that can help wait off your Fastpass return time include attractions like Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Mad Tea Party (all of which do not use Fastpass), or catching a showing of Storytime with Belle in Fairytale Garden.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is nestled in the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, which is located behind Cinderella Castle. Image by Blake’s family.

Overall, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh does an excellent job at culminating together many different aspects – including the ride itself, its gift shop, and nearby play area and character meet & greet – to create an atmosphere that successfully takes guests into a well-executed story. Through clever use of sensory effects, Imagineers create an environment that immerses guests into the story wonderfully.

How do I rank The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh? (Bolded is my choice.)

  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh will most likely please: Disney Fans – Toddlers (ages 1-2) – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7)

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted June 22, 2009. Pooh clipart image and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh DVD cover image © Disney; Cinderella Castle image belongs to Blake’s family.

Directory of BlakeOnline "Disney Detours" Articles

June 20, 2009

Directory of Disney Detours articles:

General Planning:

Budgeting Disney, Part Five: Dining (posted August 21, 2009)

Budgeting Disney, Part Four: Purchasing Tickets (posted July 27, 2009)

Budgeting Disney, Part Three: Where to Stay (posted July 13, 2009)

Budgeting Disney, Part Two: When To Go (posted April 27, 2009)

Your Day Off (posted April 9, 2009)

Budgeting Disney, Part 1 1/2: Another Disney Deal (posted April 3, 2009)

Budgeting Disney, Part One: Finding Promotions (posted March 26, 2009)

Walt Disney World 30-Day Countdown! (posted January 2, 2007)

Attractions:

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (posted June 22, 2009)

Mickey’s PhilharMagic (posted July 3, 2007)

Dream Along with Mickey (posted March 9, 2007)

Character Experiences:

Epcot Character Spot (posted August 29, 2009)

REALLY In Character (posted September 15, 2007)

Compiled by Blake.

Theme Park Headlines and Disney Detours

June 19, 2009

Introducing two revamped BlakeOnline columns.

By Blake


I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that articles about the Disney parks here at BlakeOnline have become somewhat of a broad umbrella of mixed subjects, containing two very different types of articles. One of these includes vacation-planning advice, the other being news articles about the Disney parks.

To further narrow down these two varied topics, I’ve decided to divide up the park-related articles into two columns. Theme Park Headlines will not be solely the home of Disney park news, while Disney Detours will focus on vacation planning. Additionally, Disney Detours will also highlight my views about Disney park rides, restaurants, and atmosphere by providing somewhat of a review of each attraction covered.

All of the pre-existing park-related articles have been sorted into their appropriate new homes.

By Blake; posted June 19, 2009. All images © Disney.

Image © Disney.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Two: When to Go

April 28, 2009


There’s a lot you have to take into account while deciding when to visit Walt Disney World. With school schedules, Disney special events, and room rates all bouncing around, just when is the best time to take a Disney trip?

By Blake

Originally posted April 27, 2009.

Welcome to part two of a multi-volume series about how to plan an efficient Walt Disney World vacation while still watching your money. Last time I looked at some of the promotions Disney offers, which is definitely the first step any vacationer should partake in for any trip, Disney or otherwise.

Now it’s time to look at the next component of planning a Disney vacation: when to visit. Some of the deals discussed in the last article may influence a guest’s decision on when to vacation, and there are several other things that may also affect this.

The first component to look at for guests on a budget is Disney’s “value seasons.” These are weeks when the parks may not be as crowded as other times of the year, so Disney entices vacationers to visit by lowering their hotel rates slightly. They usually stick to about the same schedule every year, and 2009’s first value season took place January through mid-February, with more coming mid-August through September and early to mid December.

Disney holds several special events throughout the year annually. Some (like Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in May and June, as well as Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival in October and November) attract large crowds and are very busy times to visit for their respective parks. Other special events include the Walt Disney World Marathon in January, ESPN: The Weekend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in late February/early March, Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, Fourth of July festivities, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom in September and October, and Christmas celebrations in all four parks in November and December. (These include the popular Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Walt Disney World guests who visit from mid-November through New Year’s to experience Christmas events at all four parks.

The weather is also a major issue given Walt Disney World’s central Florida location. If you visit in November, December, January, or February, you’ll probably need a jacket in the mornings, but will be fine in a T-shirt by the afternoon. It’s relatively warm in March, April, and October. It gets hotter in May, and by the summer months of June, July, August, and going through September, it’s very hot. Plenty of sunscreen and water, as well as a healthy amount of sleep, are all musts during the hot summer months. Also during the summer, it’s likely that a brief, though large, thunderstorm will take place sometime in mid-afternoon.

Additionally, not only is temperature an issue to consider, but hurricanes are another story all together. About late August through early November is hurricane season, and if a hurricane strikes during your vacation, it could cause quite a problem, especially if you have a short trip. All of the parks and activities are closed when hurricanes come through, and guests must stay in their hotel rooms until they are told they can come out. However, Disney handles the situation very well. I have been in Walt Disney World during a hurricane, and not once did the power ever go out in our hotel room. A continuous loop of Disney movies was playing on the television, characters were greeting guests in the lobby, and everyone that had park tickets that would have expired for that lost day were given a one-day make-up pass that would expire in 20 years. The next day, the parks opened as usual and you would have never known a hurricane had ever taken place. You definitely don’t want a hurricane to occur during your vacation, but if you’re staying on Disney property you should be in good hands. Hurricanes are serious risks to think about, though.

Another thing to consider is whether to take children out of school. I would say high schoolers would have a significant amount of work to catch up on if they were pulled out for a vacation during the school year, middle schoolers would be “iffy” (depending on their workload), and kids under middle school should be fine (as long as you’re not away for over a week). It also depends on whether or not you think your individual child would be able to handle a few days away from school. If they were absent, would they have the work ethic to make up the assignments they missed? It basically varies based on what you think you child can handle. Also take into account when important state tests are given.

If you don’t think it would be too much trouble to take children out of school, then I’d say the very best time to visit Walt Disney World is early December. The weather is usually nice, you won’t have to worry about hurricanes, the crowd levels will be low, value season will be in session, and you’ll get to experience the magnificent Christmas festivities. If you can’t make it then, I’d visit in late January. There won’t be any special events going on, but again the weather will be nice, there are low crowds, and it’s value season. Some schools are also out for a day or two for Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

If you can’t take kids out of school, the best time to go is mid-August. Some people may think that any time schools are out of session that the parks will be equally crowded each of these times. That is not exactly the case. Crowd levels during Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and the Fourth of July are insane. Some of the parks even reach their full crowd level and stop letting guests in around the afternoon because it’s so crowded. Around Thanksgiving and June, although slightly less crowded than the aforementioned holidays, are still very crowded times to visit. Holidays also have the highest hotel rates than other times of the year. That being said, if you MUST visit Walt Disney World during a holiday, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in the evening. Sometimes the parks are open as late as 2am or 3am for Disney resort guests, and late nights are the prime hours to visit to avoid the crowds.

Again, mid-August would be ideal if you can’t take kids out of school. Although the weather will be pretty hot and no special events will be taking place, you’ll probably just avoid hurricane season (I think 2008’s first major one occurred around August 20th or so), and value season will have just started.

Hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these tips to successfully decide the best time for your family to take a trip to Walt Disney World. Remember to check part one of this series to first take a look at some of the deals Disney offers. That might help you decide when to visit, in addition to the topics discussed in this article. Whenever you decide to visit, remember that an efficient plan can ease the stress no matter when you visit, but please take the thoughts from this article into account when making your decision.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted April 27, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Disney Detours – Your Day Off

April 9, 2009

Fun, inexpensive activities to do at Walt Disney World outside of the theme parks.

By Blake

Originally posted April 9, 2009.

For financial and physical restoration reasons, guests who take a somewhat lengthy trip to Walt Disney World would be wise to plan a “day off” in the middle of their vacation. Just take a day to relax, don’t visit any theme parks, and just enjoy yourself. You’d be surprised at how many inexpensive activities Disney offers outside of their parks.

Of course there are the “biggies,” such as the two water parks, Cirque de Soleil, DisneyQuest, or renting some sort of watercraft. While I’m sure all of those are enjoyable, they’re still going to rack up price-wise and end up costing around the same (some even more) than a theme park ticket. And one of the whole points of your day off is to save money, while still having fun.

Whatever you plan to do on your day off, make it simple and don’t over-plan anything. Leave plenty of wiggle room on your schedule for unexpected diversions and try not to be in a rush when going from place to place.

I’d suggest starting the day off with a character breakfast (remember to book one that’s not in the theme parks!). Reservations are suggested for each one. One of the best times to book a character breakfast is in the last hour that the restaurant is open for breakfast, which is usually around 10:45am or 11:00am. Most of the time, the restaurants are less crowded during their last hour, so you get more one-on-one time with the characters. Not only that, but booking a late breakfast reservation will allow you to sleep later, which is necessary for resting your body and for keeping a Disney-fied attitude throughout your vacation.

Character breakfasts that are offered outside of the theme parks include:

  • Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald
  • ‘Ohana at the Polynesian Resort with Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto
  • 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort with Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger
  • Cape May Café at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort with Minnie, Goofy, and Donald
  • Garden Grove at the Swan Resort (weekends only) with Goofy and Pluto

Guests can dine with Alice, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, the Mad Hatter, and Tigger at 1900 Park Fare for breakfast at the Grand Floridian.

The cheapest of these options are ‘Ohana, 1900 Park Fare, and Cape May Café, which are all priced at $19 for adults and $11 for children ages 3-9*. A character dinner is also an option, though those are significantly more costly.

*Prices may change during peak periods.

After your character breakfast, take some time to do some “resort hopping.” Don’t go out of your way to see any particular resort, but depending on where you ate breakfast, just explore the surrounding area. Also remember that although it is OK to visit Disney resorts, using a pool at any resort that you are not staying at is not allowed. If you ate at Cape Cay Café or the Garden Grove, take a stroll around Crescent Lake and visit the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, and the Boardwalk area. Sports fans will enjoy a visit to the ESPN Club, especially on game day. Since you just ate, you won’t be hungry for a meal, but at least pop in. You can also play tennis for free at the Swan and Dolphin, the Yacht and Beach Club, and the Boardwalk.

If you ate breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana, or 1900 Park Fare, you can do some monorail riding to visit the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort. They all have great gift shops and the theming in particular at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian is excellent. Another fun (and free) excursion is to take a round-trip monorail ride from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, and then back to the TTC. (Just don’t get off.)

Want something fun to do on your non-theme park day? Hop on the monorail!

After you’ve finished riding the monorail, head on over to the Magic Kingdom. Don’t enter the park itself, but instead take a boat to either Fort Wilderness or the Wilderness Lodge. Even during peak seasons (including spring break), Fort Wilderness is basically empty in the middle of the day, but everything there is still open. You can play tennis, basketball, volleyball, and tetherball for free, or you can visit the petting zoo. For a small cost, children can ride a pony. It’s very relaxing to sit out on one of the rustic rocking chairs outside of Pioneer Hall, especially when there aren’t many guests around.

Next, you have a few options. If you want to use the rest of you day off to relax a little more and give your body some rest, head back to your resort and take a nap. I suggest this whether you’re tired or not because if you don’t want to sleep, you can do some swimming at your resort’s pool. (Remember that you are only allowed to swim in the pools at the resort you are staying at.) If you’re coming from Fort Wilderness, take a boat to the Magic Kingdom and then a bus to your resort, and if you’re coming from the Yacht/Beach Club, Swan/Dolphin, or Boardwalk, walk or take a boat or bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then take a bus to your resort.

After your nap/swim, you have even more options. You can either chill out the rest of the day, or you could do something else.

You could see an early dinner show performance (for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue or Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, which are both are Fort Wilderness, or the Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Resort). However, those can get a bit pricey, though can be a bargain when used with the Disney Dining Plan. If you do plan to see a dinner show, you must make advanced reservations.

Or, for a more affordable rest of the day, you can go to Downtown Disney. Although some of the extra activities (like Cirque Soleil, DisneyQuest, and the Characters in Flight balloon) cost extra money to experience, admission into Downtown Disney itself is free. If you don’t plan on seeing anything extra, go to the Marketplace section of Downtown Disney. There are several great shops, and an excellent pin trading station. A great meal for a relatively inexpensive price at Downtown Disney can be found at Wolfgang Puck Express (not Wolfgang Puck Café), located near the Disney Christmas shop in the Marketplace section.

Downtown Disney Marketplace has several unique shops, including Once Upon a Toy, pictured here.

I hope you can implement some of those money-saving tips into your Walt Disney World vacation, and hopefully they’ll provide you with a day away from the theme parks that’s relaxing and not stressful, while at the same time remaining budgeted.

By Blake; posted April 9, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part 1 ½: Another Disney Deal

April 4, 2009

Another value has been announced for future Walt Disney World guests.

By Blake

Originally posted April 3, 2009. Updated July 28, 2009.

I posted last week about some of the promotions Disney has been offering their guests that really make vacationing a whole lot easier on families’ wallets. Now they’ve announced yet another great value that was originally just for Disney Visa Cardholders but has not been extended to include all guests, even if you don’t own a Disney Visa Card.

The Free Dining Plan package includes a 5 nights at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, 6 days of Walt Disney World park tickets, and lastly included for free is the Basic Disney Dining Plan. This includes 1 table-service meal, 1 counter-service meal, and 1 snack per person, per night of your vacation. Exact monetary amounts for the entire vacation will vary based on the amount of people in your family and the ages of those people, but you can check for prices here.

The Basic Disney Dining Plan consists of 1 table-service meal, 1 counter-service meal, and 1 snack per person, per night of your vacation. One of Walt Disney World’s table-service restaurants is Le Chefs de France at Epcot. In this picture, chef Paul Bocuse is shown with his grandson and Remy from Ratatouille. Diners at Le Chefs de France can meet Remy during lunch at the restaurant through September 5.

The dates pertaining to this package are August 16, 2009 – October 3, 2009. So in order for guests to have the free Dining Plan, they must vacation during that time.

***Update from July 28, 2009: Disney is now having ANOTHER great dining deal. Guests that book a 5 day/5 night stay at Walt Disney World that are visiting from October 2 through November 24, 2009, or November 29 through December 17, 2009, get select dining free if they book their trip by September 26, 2009. (Note: You may have heard that this deal was only for guests with a Disney Rewards Visa card, though that is not the case anymore!)

All in all it’s a pretty great deal, and one that I’m sure many people are glad that Disney is implementing again.

Related BlakeOnline articles:
By Blake; posted April 3, 2009; updated July 28, 2009. All images (C) Disney.