Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tips for Visiting WDW

Over the years, I've been asked about some tips for going to Disney. Every time I'm asked, I look for this one email that I remember writing. Every time, I can't seem to find the darn thing. So, I'll post my notes here so that I don't lose them for the umpteenth time.

  • Lodging 
    • Absolutely positively STAY ON PROPERTY. If there was one suggestion I would give noobs, this would be it. 
      1. First and foremost, you're now immersed in the "magic" 24/7. While you're checking in, they're playing Disney music. When you're at the pool, there are those little Disney touches abound. It's a big plus in my book. 
      2. You get access to the "Extra Magic Hours". These differ day by day, but typically a park or two will either open a few hours early or close a few hours later for resort guests only. Some of my fondest memories have come during these less crowded early/late park times. Also, if you have little ones, this can help you get in there extra early so that you can maybe sneak back to the room during lunch for a nap/bite/swim. 
      3. You get shuttled to the resorts, no rental car. The buses can sometimes be slow, but probably not as slow as you driving/parking/paying/catching the tram and repeat at night. Also, you save money on a rental car.
      4. You get the "Magical Express" - a shuttle to and from the airport where they take care of your bags (certain airlines only) from your departure city. Awesome service if you can get it, saves lugging your stuff all over creation. 
    • You have to consider how much you'll be at the room vs. cost. For us, we're in the parks all day long until they close, so we really only use the room to sleep in for the most part. So, it doesn't make sense for the cost of, say, the Wilderness Lodge, since we're only there to sleep. So we typically do the value resorts. However, the upper echelon resorts are AWESOME. 
  • Pre Planning
    • After planning your days, go to the Disney Parks website and look up the calendars for your parks. Figure out when the parades are and plan your week - write down the hours for each and figure out what days to go where (don't forget the Extra Magic Hours). For instance, if the Main Street Elecctrical parade is ONLY on Friday, you might want to do that park that day for sure  - pencil that in and then work on the rest of the week. 
    • Beware that the parks with Extra Magic Hours are typically more crowded than the other parks on those days. So, if you don't need to go there to hit a special event like a parade or fireworks show, pick a different park on that day. 
    • You can use hopper passes to jump to a park just to catch one of the parks' AMAZING night time spectaculars (DO NOT MISS!!!) only. 
      • MK - Wishes
      • Epcot - Illuminations
      • Hollywood Studios - Fantasmic (My favorite thing to do, always gets me all misty because of it's awesomeness). 
    • Bring your own stroller. You can rent them in the parks, but you still have to get there. Sure, it stinks lugging them onto/off of the bus, but I prefer it. 
  • Consider the Meal Plan, but Beware
    • The meal plan is very intriguing - you pay a certain amount and then that basically pays for your food during your trip. There are several types of dinings - counter service (you walk up and get your food), table service (you get a waiter/waitress), or snack (a bottle of water, banana). One meal plan includes a counter and a table, and a cheaper version does two counter services. 
    • There are some drawbacks to the upgraded table-service meal plan, which leads me to suggest only doing this if it's discounted or free: 
      • You spend a LOT of time eating and sitting in restaurants and NOT riding. 
      • You have to book your restaurants a few months early. 
      • You're now locked into doing a restaurant at X hours - very much limits where you have to be and in what park. 
    • Because of these drawbacks, I'd do the counter service plan, pay out of pocket for a few special counter-service meals (see below for recommendations), and only look at the deluxe table service plan if you want to spend time in restaurants, taking your time and enjoying the air conditioning. Probably not something to do with rambunctious kids. 
  • Recommended / Avoided restaurants
    • Magic Kingdom
      • I absolutely love the Pecos Bill counter service cafe. The Caesar chicken wrap and burgers are excellent and I love the theming. 
      • For table service, I highly recommend the Crystal Palace buffet. Good food, you get the characters for your kiddies, and because of the naturally lit interior, this is a killer spot for family photos. 
      • We did the Tomorrowland Noodle Hut once (asian themed), and it wasn't very good - I'd avoid it. 
    • Epcot
      • The Coral Reef has good seafood and you eat with the tank right next to you - kinda cool, but again, you're going to pay and take a long time. 
      • Canada has good steaks, but this is a bit fancy for a theme park restaurant and I'd only do this with adults. 
    • Hollywood Studios
      • The Brown Derby has the best food in the parks, IMHO. I LOVE the Cobb salad. It's a TRUE cobb with bacon, avocado, and exceptional dressing. This is pretty true to form of what they used to serve in the place's namesake back in the early 1900's. Definitely something you're NOT going to get anywhere else, highly recommended. 
      • 50's Prime Time Cafe - this place is just plain fun. It's like you stepped into Mom's kitchen straight out of the late 50's. The servers call you "scooter" or "sport", you eat at Formica tables with a TV playing classic shows, and if you don't eat your green beans, you get put in the corner. It's a great time for all, highly recommended. 
      • Sci Fi Drive In Theater - Simulates a drive in back in the 50's, complete with corny sci fi movies. Food is OK, but the atmosphere is awesome. Another highly recommended one. 
    • Animal Kingdom
      • The Flame Tree BBQ has outstanding counter service food. Be sure to walk down behind the restaurant for a jaw-dropping view of Everest. Probably the coolest seating area in any of the parks. 
      • Rainforest Cafe - Not quite Disney, but it sits right outside the park. Always good food, great atmosphere, etc. A favorite of ours. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disneyland Quote

Heard this today while listening to my giant cache of Disney MP3s. Maybe one of the best quotes about Disneyland that I've ever heard: 

"Disneyland is a first, an Original. Since the day it opened in 1955, more than one million people have come here from the four corners of the earth to participate in adventures unique in all the world. Here, tomorrow is today, and yesterday is forever"

- Jack Wagner, Disneyland Audio Tour for the Blind

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Favorite Epcot Shot

This image just felt so 80's to me. I really love this giant sphere, it's look never gets old.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The World Famous Jungle Cruise

Hey all, I really apologize for being so idle (yet again), but between my new love for photography, my running out of topics/inspiration, and my 2 year old, I've not been ready to post. Sorry, but I'm a bit rusty, but here goes :) ...

During all of my trips to Walt Disney World in the 80's an the 90's, I found the Jungle Cruise to be a complete waste. I can remember my Dad getting us in line for it and me groaning about why were we wasting our time. Uninspired skippers, awful special effects, and long lines had caused a complete distaste for the attraction. I can recall every skipper sounding like a college kid that couldn't wait to get out of work and/or do something else. That all changed in 2000.

In 2000, during my Walt Disney Imagineering interview trip (blog entry here: I took my first visit to Disneyland. I was given the tour by friends of the family that had migrated west and lived very close to the park. First day, first ride: the Jungle Cruise. I can recall boarding my boat and lightly groaning to myself. Little did I know what I was in for.

For the next 8 minutes or so, I was entertained by a young girl that I swear was destined for stardom as a standup comic or acting. I remember that she just had this cool confidence and wit, and did the spiel a bit over the top, even poking fun at some of the old and tired jokes (the "Backside of water" one comes to mind). I'm sure that some of the jokes were the same ones from WDW, but they were told with such comic timing, enthusiasm, or sarcasm that I was blown away. Not all of the jokes were the same; I can definitely remember one in particular: As a kid, I watched a LOT of Merry Melodies. One gag that was repeated over and over in some of the various narrated shorts was one where they were trying to portray a vulnerable, helpless animal calling out for it's mother. The narrator would get very quiet and deliver a line, as if not trying to disturb the little critter: "let's listen as it calls out for her", followed by the shy and timid creature responding with an incredibly boisterous "HEY MA!!!!". As we entered the hippo pool, the guide repeated the exact same gag: "Let's listen out for the baby hippo as it calls out for it's mother." [Leans out of the boat] "HEY MA!" I was floored. Following that, she actually took a SHOT at the hippo charging the boat. WDW seemed to give up the pistols a looong time ago, so this was so cool to me, and I got a total rush of nostalgia as if I was back in 1982 WDW.

On my next trip to Disneyland a few years later, I was definitely not disappointed and I made sure I rode it about 4 times. Each skipper had a unique take on the spiel and delivered beautifully. One skipper did his spiel very slow and deliberate, with lots of sarcasm and fantastic timing like a Steven Wright. Another skipper did this hilarious over-the-top laugh a la Jerry Lewis after every joke. Every one was hysterical and had what I can best describe as an "edge", where they added just enough sarcasm and had some fun at their audience's expense, but didn't cross over into being insulting like I've witnessed at Universal Studios.

Since those trips, I've done the WDW JC many more times, and I've very rarely been impressed. The Disneyland version is far superior. I don't know what they're putting in the skipper drinking water out there, but their skippers are unreal.

Anyways, I posted a list of the Jungle Cruise jokes that I could find here: Enjoy!

If you liked this post, then I'm Kurt and this is the WWODP site. If you didn't, my name is Phillis and this is MSNBC.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doing the Parks By Yourself

Phew, it's been a while since I posted something. I apologize, but having a 9 month old really takes up a lot of my time. It's worth every second, though.

In reading my Google Reader collection of Disney blogs, I came across an article on Passport and Dreams, Old and New and came across this article: with the following quote:
The theme parks are meant for people; anybody who has experienced the cold and unique desolation of a Magic Kingdom with no patrons in the wee hours of the morning understands fully how the entire operation's illusion of warmth and vitality depends on the prescence of music, spectators, employees.
This blog entry intrigued me because I've been lucky enough to take a few trips to the park by myself.

In 1999, a coworker of mine was sent to Orlando on a business trip. This gave me the idea to do the same. So, I talked my boss into sending me down to a conference that was sort of similar to my job. This was to be my first time in the parks by myself. Prior to this, I was only used to traveling through the parks with 10 or so family members. This time, I wouldn't have to stop after every ride to eat or use the restroom, I wouldn't have to suffer through any of the kiddie rides. I'd have my recorder with me - I could stop and pause anywhere to record the great atmosphere music that is played.

The very first day, I went to the Magic Kingdom. I can picture the park in my mind as if it was yesterday. I strolled down Main Street, taking it all in and enjoying the brilliant sunshine. I can vividly remember stopping at the hub and taking a seat to simply people watch for quite some time. Another benefit of going alone - you can take time to wait, whereas a big group always seems to be on the move and you're constantly stressed to keep everyone together and happy. The first day was fantastic and I remember being so excited to be getting this entire trip for "free".

However, as the week went on, the excitement began to wear off, and I became very lonely. Watching all of the happy families around me made me go way out my way to try to strike up conversations with perfect strangers just to have someone to talk to. Towards the end of the week, I was desperate to have someone to interact with and actually tagged along with a couple of high school girls who had struck up a conversation with me to see Fantasmic. Yeah, it was a bit odd, but I was going crazy being by myself.

I had a second opportunity to visit the park by myself last year. I was attending another conference in Orlando and had some time to spend at the parks, as most of my courses were over by 5 PM. Much like the first trip, the first few times were fantastic as I was fired up to be there, but as I got towards the end of the trip, I felt uncomfortable being by myself.

Looking back on my trips by myself, they were both fun and lonely. It was something that every park enthusiast should experience in small amounts. It really gives you time to take in the atmosphere of the parks... almost too much time for thinking and reminiscing about family trips from the past.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


So, I just got a new filter for Adobe Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, at the recommendation of my online buddy Jeff. It's amazing. Check out some of these shots, post Topaz-ed:

Friday, January 2, 2009

Disney's Influence on Video Games

Note: Both of the games I mention here are NOT for children. Additionally, I suggest clicking on the pictures for the full res versions to see what I mean. Because of the hideous Blogger formatting, I had to shrink the picture sizes down :(

Over the past year I've become an avid Xbox 360 gamer. Two of my all-time favorite games are Bioshock and Fallout 3. While playing both of them, I've been noticing a very similar theming to Disney Studios' Hollywood boulevard.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bioshock, it is a game about destroyed beauty. It takes place in a city named Rapture which was built under the sea, but is now rotting and leaking. Rapture is bathed in art deco detail, down to the carpet, wallpaper, archways, etc. What was a finely crafted paradise years ago, it is slowly being retaken by the ocean when you arrive.

Looking at some shots of Hollywood Boulevard, there are a lot of architectural similarities. Check out this shot of a Disney Studios' shop and the Tower of Terror and compare that with a shot from one of Bioshock's undersea tunnels. The architecture is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. You can see how the two share certain elements of the art deco style, in their own spoiled way. There was just something about that grandiose 40's style that is gorgeous. Both have that reassuring retro feel to them that everything is sunny and positive, but there is really something sinister at play.

Going even further than architecture, Fallout and the Studios use a similar visual style on their billboards, with the fonts and lettering. There's one particular billboard in Fallout that seems as if it crept out of the 50's Prime Time Cafe and into the digital wasteland that Fallout showcases. The billboard mentioned shows a very idyllic scene with a family and the white picket fence, but being in ruins, it also adds to that feeling of despair. The boards in Disney studios aren't dilapidated, but are very similar.

In addition to the visual elements, the two also have the same soundtrack. In Bioshock, the music is all old 40's tunes - especially the Ink Spots - as well as a bunch of old scratchy tunes that sound like they're being played from your grandmother's record player. As you walk through the city of Rapture, the music seems to seep out of various spots - never taking front stage, but always being present. This is very similar to the Tower of Terror queue, where you can hear that same haunting music (albeit with some added echo for ghostly effect) as you proceed up the ramp to the hotel's mouth. In Fallout 3, the music is taken from the same genre. This includes a song that would've been perfect for the Jungle Cruise (also a period-based attraction), Civilization by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters (listen -
Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I don't want to leave the congo, oh no no no no no noooo
fantastic stuff.

Once inside Rapture and the Tower of Terror, the interiors are very much alike. Both contain very tiny details such as the crown molding, light fixture style, archways, and color palate. Both contain a lot of deep reds and browns that give that feeling of affluence.

I'm not saying that the the creators of Bioshock and Fallout stole their style from Disney Studios and Sunset Boulevard, but maybe they took a trip to Florida and were inspired by the Disney version of spoiled beauty.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Disney Park Goer

I've been a bit idle lately, and with good reason. On October 24th, my son, Carson Jacob Miller was born. Being a father has been a wonderful experience... December 2010 is our next trip to the parks and I can't wait to take him!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Disney's Free Advertising

If I like something, I'm typically very passionate about it. The parks are no exception. Since I'm such a fan, I find myself pitching the Disney parks to many of the people that I meet from day to day. Likewise, I'm always trying to tell everyone that they have to go to the parks some time in their life. My parents have gone all over the tropics and they still contend that their favorite vacation is WDW. I feel that there's something for everyone there. For instance, if you're a fan of great food, there are the great Epcot restaurants such as Le Cellier and Italy (not sure what the new name is). If you like Broadway shows, there's Finding Nemo in the Animal Kingdom and Beauty and the Beast in Disney Studios. If you like architecture, you have to love the Magic Kingdom 'dissolves' from one land to another and Epcot's World Showcase. If you're into kiddie rides, movies (especially 3D), golf, night life, fireworks, etc. there's something for you. Typically, as I talk about the parks, these varied things get me excited.

However, there's always the odd person who you pitch the park to who comes back shrugging their shoulders when you ask them how it was, or saying that they hated it. When I hear that, I nearly take offense: "What do you mean, you didn't like it???" There are a few reasons that I commonly get as to why people didn't enjoy their Disney experience.

First, I think some people aren't cut out for the stress and exhaustion levels, especially if they have little ones. The kids are going to get tired, the lines sometimes seem to go on forever, the rides occasionally break down, etc. Additionally, there's the added complication of dealing with people that you're not used to dealing with. You may know your uncle/aunt/friend, but when you spend your whole week with these people for the first time, by the end of the week there are guaranteed to be some ruffled feathers. A week in WDW can also be exhausting because Disney is a 24-7 assault on all 5 senses. There's the visual design of the park. Then there's the smell aspect to it - the candy smell as you walk down Main Street, the orange groves in Soarin', and the popcorn and turkey legs. I think that the park's audio is the most underrated feature. Everywhere you go throughout the park there's the atmosphere music that the regular person doesn't notice, but the Disneyphiles know and love.

Second, some people just hit that certain week in the park; my frequent visitor friends are probably familiar with this. That's the week where you just happen to hit all of the wrong attractions at the wrong times. The wait times are long, the rides are broken down, and everything just seems to go awry. Some bad luck can go into a trip where everything seems to go wrong, and some people project these accidental happenings on the park as a whole.

Third, I don't think some people appreciate the little things and the attention to detail. The parks aren't something that can be fully appreciated by jetting from attraction to attraction. There are little details abound that I'm fascinated by. I love how the hinges in Liberty Square hang awkwardly because they're copied from their cheaper leather counterparts from way back in colonial times. I love how the very tall temple in Adventureland that is also visible in Frontierland has some ox-like beasts on it because it's theming is visible from both lands and it fits in perfectly in both settings simultaneously. I love how the Expedition Everest exit queue has giant masses of telephone wires strewn about to make it seem like a remote Asian village. I love how the pavement changes under your feet, because Walt thought that people can sense the changes. I really enjoy those little things, and even after 20-some times to the parks, I still pick up on a new thing just about every time I go. Some people just don't appreciate these little touches throughout the park as they race from one place to another and they really miss out.

But critics aside, it's always nice to take someone for their first trip to the parks that really 'gets it'. I was lucky enough to spent a week in Orlando for a work conference in June of this year. During this trip, a coworker and I spent a night at the Magic Kingdom after a day of the conference. I'd like to think that my excitement was really contagious. He really enjoyed himself and before the night was over, he was pointing out little details from the park that I had never considered before.

With every trip that I take to Walt Disney World, the magic seeps out a little more each time. I think that this is due to me getting older, me listening to park music daily on UAB and Subsonic and wearing it out, and partially because of some stagnation of the parks - they're losing some of that magic due to being all about the money thanks to you-know-who. It's always nice to take first-timers to the park because they help you get that excited feeling all over again as you live vicariously through them. With my first child, a boy, due later this month, I'm sure to have plenty of Disney trip excitement in my future :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 11th

The morning of September 11th started like any other day at the parks. We were in the Animal Kingdom for the day and had just sat down to check out the Flights of Wonder show. When the show's start was 5 minutes late, there came an announcement that the show was canceled. I recall making a joke about a sick bird and something about "the show must go on". As we filed out of the attraction exit, we glanced around and saw everyone in the entire park heading towards the exit. We immediately sensed something was wrong, as there was also a certain buzz going through the crowd. The news passed through the crowd incredibly fast. I overheard someone near me talking about the planes being downed and I was also shocked to know that one of them went down near my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.

The crowd continued towards the exit, as the Disney transport buses began arriving to return visitors to their respective hotels. Near the gate, CMs were handing out free passes for the inconvenience. I quickly snatched up enough for our group as we continued towards the bus lines. Even though it was extremely hot, crowded, and with nowhere to sit, it was incredible to me how orderly the crowd was on that day. Disney did a fantastic job keeping the crowd moving. Of course, maybe that was because everyone was in shock from the news. Definitively one of the most surreal moments of my life.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we pretty much spent the rest of the day glued to the TV, watching the replays over and over again and waiting to hear all of the outcomes of the day. The following day was pretty much back to vacation, as the real impact of what had happened didn't hit us until we got home. Disney had the purse and bag checkers out the next day - it was incredible how quickly they reacted to this disaster. (Of course, I think the bag checkers are a big waste of time, but they moved quickly to install them).

Interestingly enough, on one of our next trips to WDW, Saddam Hussein was captured. Anyone want to chip in to help send me back down so that we can catch Osama :) ?