Wednesday
Apr062011

Random Disney Tips

This is all of the stuff that fit nowhere yet everywhere at the same time when I was trying to think of Disney World things that make our annual trip better. (P.S. This is the very last mention of Disney World I'll make. For now. Promise.) So . . . uh . . . randomness.

Random Disney Tip #1: Hidden Mickeys are the bomb. I don't care if saying that makes me sound like I should grab a cane and some Metamucil, I like  searching high and low for the hidden Mickeys.

For the blissfully oblivious, hidden Mickeys are exactly what they sound like--there are Mickeys hidden all over the place at Disney World. The twisted minds that design the rides and such are really quite excellent at making something that should be obvious blend in really well. In other words, some of them are REALLY FREAKIN HARD to find.

And I love it.

There is no better way to make a line not quite so painful than to spend your time trying to find Mickey. Rides that I should be sick of by now are fresh and new each time because I'm looking for the damn rat. When Alexis starts impersonating Goofy on speed, I can focus her attention on trying to find a Mickey no matter where we are. When she is a little bit older, I plan to make it a contest to see who can find the most of them each day. And, yes, I will cheat. I'm not above that.

Random Disney Tip #2: There's plenty of debate about whether it's better to stay on property or at Downtown Disney or in Kissimmee (you pretty much have to research and see which is the best fit for you), there isn't much debate that if you are going to Disney World with a group large enough to need two hotel rooms, you may very well save money by renting a condo. We have used this company and ended up happy with the decision.

(Side note: If you stay on property, the Dining Plan is a very good idea. It's confusing as all heck, though. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions as you are booking and while you are there. The Cast Members are used to it.)

Random Disney Tip #3: The best time to visit Disney World is October. The weather is usually good and the parks are fairly empty. One word of warning, though--there WILL be some major attraction that is closed every October. If you've got your heart set on a particular attraction, it's worth researching to be sure it's not scheduled to be shut down.

Random Disney Tip #4: Pay attention to the details. They are what makes Disney amazing, in my opinion. For example, stand in a spot in the Magic Kingdom. Look all around. Can you see a trash can? Of course you can. Now try another spot. And another. And another. I bet you can't find a place where there is not a trash can within your line of vision. That's no mistake.

Some other little details that fascinate me include:

-- There are no mirrors above the sinks in most restrooms. It seems people move faster when they aren't primping and staring at themselves.

-- Try to figure out why you seldom see anyone emptying a trash can in the Magic Kingdom and yet you rarely (if ever) see an overflowing trash can.

-- Look for a newspaper and some gum. Good luck.

-- If it happens to rain while you are at Disney World, watch how quickly rain gear magically appears all over the place.

-- I'll be the first to admit that a lot of the food at Disney World pretty much sucks, but sit and watch just how many people flow through a line in five minutes. It's mind-blowing when you start thinking about the scale of it all. For example, there are reports that Disney World sells 10 million hamburgers each year.

-- When you're walking around the Magic Kingdom, you're on the 2nd floor of the complex. If you look around, you'll be able to find the entrances that Cast Members use to go down to the 1st floor, but only if you look hard.

-- Lotso really does smell like strawberries. AND HE IS EVIL.

Random Disney Tip #5: If you have a moment where you feel overwhelmed by everything, consider the fact that it's like that every day. When I worked at Mickey's Character Shop, 35,000 people shopped there daily. They collectively spent $1,000,000. EACH WEEK. It's always nuts.

Because it's always nuts, you can be certain that whatever your situation, you aren't all that special. Someone else has already used that line, tried that scam, or worked that angle. You should absolutely say something if a situation comes up that needs to be addressed, just know that trying to work the system is likely to end in failure. It's up to you to make sure you have the time of your life.

 

Random Disney Tip #6: The rules that exist at Disney World exist for a reason. So, for example, don't try to cheat the height requirements on rides. The Cast Members aren't trying to be jerks when they turn your kid away. It's truly not safe for someone that size to be on that ride.

One of my roommates worked at Splash Mountain. Every day people would try to cheat the height requirement by rushing past the Cast Members, putting the kid in shoes that made them seem taller, having the kid wear a big hat or big hair, etc. It seemed that every time someone succeeded, they would end up with a kid with a bloody mouth because the kid would lean forward during the big fall and end up smashing their teeth against the bar.

Just cooperate if a Cast Member asks you to follow a rule. They truly do know something that you don't.

Random Disney Tip #7: Take snacks and drinks with you if it's feasible. This year we stopped at Target when we got to Orlando and spent $60 on snacks and bottled water. That saved us a ton of time and money because we didn't have to stand in line to buy a $3 bottle of water each time Alexis was thirsty.

By the way, if you ask for a cup of water at any restaurant, they'll give you one for free. If you just ask for water, they'll sell you bottled water.

Random Disney Tip #8: If you have a smart phone, find some apps. There are apps that have maps, dining information, attraction wait times, etc.

The most useful app, though, might just be Foursquare. I know that sounds weird, but I was constantly checking Foursquare when we were at Disney World. There are tons of tips loaded for just about everything.

Random Disney Tip #9: Check out all of the great websites that have tons of information about Disney World. Here are a few:

Disney Parks Blog

Mousesavers

All Ears

Touring Plans

Mouse Genius

Guide 2 WDW

Undercover Tourist (Slightly discounted park tickets. Thanks to @MarkECib for the heads up on this one.)

Random Disney Tip #10: Have fun!

Please add anything I may have missed in comments!

Tuesday
Apr052011

Disney Studios (MGM) Tips

Disney Studios, formerly and forever known as MGM Studios, is the only Disney park where you will undoubtedly be smacked in the face with the fact that Disney owns ABC. There are hints of it all over the place, which is fine, because it helps with the overall theme of the park. It's all about Hollywood magic.

There are a few great rides at Disney Studios, but mostly it's shows. Lots and lots of shows. It's a smaller park, so it's easy to cross from one side of it to the other pretty quickly. That comes in handy when you have to race from one place to another to catch that thing you just HAVE to see.

Oh, and this is the Pixar park. If you've got kids who are fans of anything Pixar, this will be a place that makes them very happy. And me. Obviously.

HS Tip #1: Hollywood Studios has weird hours, with parts of it closing earlier than others. This happens at other parks, too, but it seems more annoying at this one for some reason. Make sure to check the schedules for all of the things you hope to do.

HS Tip #2: There are a ton of shows worth catching. Some are spontaneous shows that just happen in the streets, others are things like Indiana Jones, the Jedi Training Academy, the stunt show, etc. Watch the schedules and try to plan out which ones you'll want to catch. It's really hard to get them all in one day. By the way, there is a board near the center of the park that lists the wait times for various attractions, as well as the schedule for various shows. It can be hugely helpful for to take a look at it before planning your next move.

HS Tip #3: Tower of Terror. TOWER OF TERROR. ZOMG, I love the Tower of Terror more than any other ride in all of the universe. It's basically a big drop in an elevator, but the theming of every inch of the place is absolutely amazing. I might have the script to the Twilight Zone movie that is shown in the library memorized. Possibly.

If you want to shorten your wait time at Tower of Terror a bit, move to the opposite side of the room once you enter the library. A door will open up there after the movie ends. Oh, and this is, in my opinion, a Fast Pass worthy ride.

HS Tip #4: While you're grabbing your Fast Pass for Tower of Terror, scope out the situation with Beauty and the Beast. It's very much so like a Broadway presentation and only runs a few times each day. It may be worth asking a Cast Member when should line up. At some times of the year, you might need to wait an hour. Other times, you can just walk in as it's about to start. Every seat is a good seat, but it's outdoor stadium seating. It's not exactly comfy.

HS Tip #5: I'm going to go ahead and call the Rock n Roller Coaster the best roller coaster Disney has to offer. It's a definite Fast Pass ride. You'll want to grab that Fast Pass as early in the day as possible because they will stop distributing them at some point in the day.

HS Tip #6: Toy Story Midway Mania is an evil, addictive, awesome game. The lines for it are usually stupid long, so it's worth a Fast Pass. I dream of the day when people are bored of it and we can get more than one ride on it in the same day. This is another one that you want to try to hit early because they will likely run out of Fast Passes.

HS Tip #7: Directly across from Toy Story Midway Mania is a character meet and greet area. Buzz and Woody are there, so if they are on your Must Meet list, it's a good place to catch them.

HS Tip #8: I don't know that I'd say the pizza at Pizza Planet is the greatest on earth, but I still think it's a fantastic place to grab lunch. C'mon, it's PIZZA PLANET!

HS Tip #9: Muppetvision. DO IT. Make sure to check out the store, too. There are some great Muppets things there.

HS Tip #10: Alexis is a BIG fan of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground. She'll spend an hour there without so much as glancing to see if a parent is still in the same zip code with her.

HS Tip #11: The Drew Carey Sounds Dangerous show is the dumbest show that ever was dumb. I would say it's worth it for grabbing a short, air conditioned nap (it's a sound show, so total darkness), but it's so boring that Alexis nearly revolted within a few minutes of it starting. Don't waste your time.

HS Tip #12: If you need a quick break, try the Writer's Stop instead of Drew Carey. It's a little bookstore and cafe. The coffee is decent according to Disney standards (which is to say it's still not good, but it's not bad either) and there is always great classic Disney cartoons showing on a TV there. Alexis has been known to curl up in a chair and just hang out while I destroyed a cupcake and an iced latte.

HS Tip #13: The Little Mermaid show is pretty much perfect for short people who are fans of Ariel. It's a stage show complete with air conditioning and cushy chairs. Oh, and did I mention air conditioning? Yeah. For some reason I'm a fan of air conditioning while in Orlando.

HS Tip #14: 50's Prime Time Cafe is probably my favorite of all of the Disney restaurants. I kind of love having "Mom" yell at me for having my elbows on the table while I watch episodes of I Love Lucy and munch on macaroni and cheese. By the way, there is an adult portion of macaroni and cheese available, but you won't find it on the menu. Just ask. Also, the milkshakes and desserts are pretty fantastic.

If you can't get reservations for Prime Time Cafe but want that sort of food (meatloaf, pot roast, and the like), go to the Tune In Lounge. Same menu, you'll just be stuck eating at a bar. And, yes, I said bar. The Tune In Lounge is the closest thing to a "real" bar you'll find at Disney World. It's insanely expensive for a drink there, but knock yourself out if you want.

HS Tip #15: I'm a HUGE Pixar fan, so I love, love, love the Hollywood Studios parade. It's all Pixar and pretty much every favorite is included. Grab a funnel cake from the stand near Indiana Jones and then have a seat. The parade is super short (6-9 minutes, I'd guess), so don't worry if you aren't in the most comfortable spot of all time.

HS Tip #16: It's possible to avoid some of the heat by making your way through parts of the park indoors. You can get just about all the way down Hollywood Boulevard and down half of Sunset Boulevard without setting foot in the sun.

HS Tip #17: Fantasmic is without a doubt the best of the night shows in all of Disney (Right this second, a bunch of people are twitching with eagerness to disagree--NEENER NEENER! I say it's the best. Heh.). You might need to line up early for it, but it's so worth it. It features pretty much every character you can imagine, fire, lights, fireworks, projection images, water, and all around awesome. If there are two showings, try to catch the second one. It will be a lot easier to get a seat for it.

DS Tip #18: If you stay on Disney property, Extra Magic Hours at Disney Studios really are magical.

OK, almighty Disney gurus, got anything to add?

Monday
Apr042011

Animal Kingdom Tips

I like Disney's Animal Kingdom. Love it, even. I don't know if that puts me in the minority, but it definitely gets reactions when I say it. Some people don't like it and are very vocal about that fact. I don't get what they don't like, though, so whatever. It has wild animals, a couple of fantastic rides, and lots of places to sit down and just hang out. What's not to like?

It's a fairly small park and can easily be covered in six hours or so. It also closes earlier than the other parks. Thus, I like to pair a day at Animal Kingdom with an evening at Downtown Disney. It's a perfect match.

Some tips:

AK Tip #1: There are some great opportunities for meeting characters all over Animal Kingdom. Since it's a smaller park, it's often not as busy as the others, so lines aren't as bad. Check just outside the gates in the morning, and also try Camp Minnie Mickey. The name is not a coincidence. While you're there, catch the Lion King show.

AK Tip #2: There aren't a lot of rides at Animal Kingdom, but Expedition Everest is pretty fantastic for those who like roller coasters. Get a Fast Pass for it and/or take advantage of the single rider line.

AK Tip #3: Another thing worth a Fast Pass, in my opinion, is the Kilamanjaro Safari. I personally could ride it all day long because each time you go, you wind up seeing different animals. One year that meant a giraffe literally inches from us. Other years, the truck has had to stop to let various animals cross the road. Rumor has it the animals are most active in the morning, especially when the weather is hot.

AK Tip #4: DinoLand is great for little ones. The giant jungle gym (Boneyard) is perfect for burning off some energy. Alexis also loves the little roller coaster and Tricera Top Spin (it's Dumbo minus the elephant and long lines) rides that are there. She is not, however, a fan of DINOSAUR. I think her exact words were something like, "I HATE YOU THAT WAS AWFUL I'M NEVER SPEAKING TO YOU AGAIN WAAAAAAH!" It was dark. It had dinosaurs roaring in her face. She's a chicken.

AK Tip #5: Kali River Rapids is fun, if you enjoy walking around looking like a drowned rat at Disney World. I've heard rumors that it's possible to stay dry on it, but I have yet to experience said magic. It's a good way to cool off, I guess. Just know that you will get SOAKED.

AK Tip #6: The Wildlife Express Train is a good way to just chill for a bit. As a reward, you'll find Affection Section at the other side of your ride, which is Disney's petting zoo. Alexis has spent hours and hours there just hanging with the pigs.

AK Tip #7: When Alexis was three-years old, we took her to see the 3D Bug's Life movie called It's Tough to be a Bug. She hasn't forgiven us yet. She just wasn't ready for 3D then and the buzzing and 4D elements were too much for her. We made her try it again this year and she almost liked it, but the Master of Grudges is still a little cranky about that first time. Regardless, the air conditioning in that theater is spectacular.

AK Tip #8: The parade that runs through Animal Kingdom is a short one, but it's cute. All the usual characters are there, plus a few you may not see anywhere else.

AK Tip #9: There is an almost hidden path near the Tree of Life which is great for photo opportunities. It's the last path on your right as you near Harambe Village, just before the bridge. It almost seems overgrown and off-limits, but it's not. Promise.

AK Tip #10: The Finding Nemo show is outstanding. I might be biased because that's where a little magic happened last year, but whatever. It's a great show.

AK Tip #11: Apparently the earth's rotation and tilt are such that Animal Kingdom is closer to the sun than any other part of Disney World. Seriously, people, it's hotter there than anywhere else. If you can take your own water with you (better yet, fill bottles with water and freeze them), do it. Most of the stores are not air conditioned, but there is a ton of shade to be found if you need to cool off.

AK Tip #12: I think Animal Kingdom has more little details than the other parks. Find them and marvel at them and enjoy them.

And this is where you chime in. Thoughts? Disagreements? Additions?