Beta Mouse – A New Walt Disney World Podcast

5 02 2010

There’s plenty of great Disney podcasts around, primarily ones which focus on park news and vacation planning. However there’s now an all-new podcast on the scene with a totally unique focus.


BetaMouse is based on technology related to Disney Parks and Resorts and is hosted by Touring Plans developer Henry Work.

Being a technology geek and a huge fan of Disney Parks & Resorts I’m really looking forward to seeing where the podcast goes, and based on the panelists who will feature on the show I’m sure it’s going to be packed with quality content.

The first episode of the podcast is based on features the panel would like to see added and removed from disneyworld.com. It’s a great listen so tune in!

To listen to the first episode of the podcast visit the BetaMouse website

M. Owen

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Walt Disney World Vacation Planning

2 01 2010

As we wave goodbye to 2009 many will be planning their vacations to come in 2010 and even 2011. With the economy still in a bad state those looking to plan a vacation over the next two years may be wanting to watch their spending a little more than usual. Here’s a quick guide to planning a successful vacation, with advice for before and during your trip.

The first thing to mention is that it’s not just the tourists looking at their financials for the coming year or so. The various firms in Orlando’s tourism industry are also constantly checking their back pockets, trying to find out where they can save and where there’s room to bring in more revenue. This can work to the advantage of a visitor, who will have a host of discounts on offer to them, from cheap motel deals on the 192 to discounted Walt Disney World tickets most of the high-cost parts of a trip will be discounted somewhere, it’s just a case of where to find the offers that will save you money.

Before anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World in 2010 even considers looking up prices they should first set themselves a budget. Far too many people spend too much on things they don’t really need on vacation and a strict budget can cut down on some of the impulse buys vacationers make. When setting your budget you must take into consideration how much you can save as borrowing to fund vacations isn’t advisable, nor is it needed if you plan far enough in advance to save enough to cover costs. Robert Niles over at ThemeParkInsider.com create a great step-by-step guide to planning a vacation and my particular favourite sections are those where he gives advice on budgeting and saving in advance. Be sure to check them out.

The most expensive part of many peoples vacation is their accommodation. Thankfully for visitors the current economic crisis coupled with the huge number of hotels in the Orlando area has made prices very competitive in recent years, to the point where some motels will advertise prices as low as $18 per room per night. One thing to take into account when wanting to watch the Pennies is what quality accommodation you want to stay in. Do you really need to be in a Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort when you will spend most of your time out of the room anyway? Do you really need a vacation home when there’s only two of you? Ensuring you don’t book more than what you need will save a considerable amount. Hotels.com offers great deals on hotels outside Walt Disney World and discounts change often, so be sure to keep checking rates. Mouse Savers have a great list of all the discounts at Walt Disney World hotels so those wanting to stay on-site should look for deals there.

Visitors travelling long distances to get to Orlando often use air travel in order to get to Central Florida. Whilst this is essential for international visitors it may work out considerably cheaper for domestic travellers to drive. Although driving can take a lot longer than flying it allows for visitors to experience some other destinations on route to Orlando and in a way the journey becomes a vacation in itself. Of course time constraints will play their part and most long distance visitors will go with air travel, meaning making the right choice of airline and airports is integral. Sky Scanner offers a great, easy to use, search engine for finding cheap flights, making it simple to find a great deal on airfares, be sure to use Sky Scanner or a similar search tool when looking for flights. Visitors to Florida usually chose to fly into Orlando International or Orlando Sanford. Whilst cheaper flights are often found going to Sanford those who have booked on-site accommodation at Walt Disney World can only take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International.

Guests staying on-site at Walt Disney World have to make a choice, either pay for car rental or take advantage of Magical Express and use Disney’s Transportation System to get to destinations within Walt Disney World. Whilst using the transportation system will save money it can often be less reliable than renting a car and also restricts you with regards to getting to destinations off-site such as Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. Off-site guests may wish to rent-a-car simply to make it easier for themselves, however a number of hotels in the Orlando area (mainly the cheaper ones) do offer free or low-cost shuttle services to various attractions including Walt Disney World and other major theme parks in the area. RentalCars.com offers a search system similar to Sky Scanner which allows you to find the cheapest rental car deals, helping you save money if you do chose to rent-a-car.

Due to heavy discounts offered on resort-stays the Walt Disney World Dining Plan has become increasingly popular, making it hard to get reservations at many of the restaurants on=property. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance and it’s important to ensure you book as early as possible in order to make sure you get the table you want at the time you want. Dining reservations can be made online by visiting the dining reservations page on the official Walt Disney World website or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World also has a comprehensive list of WDW restaurants as well as how far in advance reservations need to be made.

Booking tickets for the various parks in Central Florida can also be an expensive business, with many guests spending far too much than they need to. The important thing many people seem to forget is not to book tickets that you wont use to the extent they could be. For example just because you’re going on vacation for two weeks doesn’t mean you’re going to need a Disney 14-day Ultimate Pass. If you only want to visit the WDW parks once or twice and plan on seeing other visitor attractions in the area then only book a seven-day ticket as it saves a considerable amount. Another consideration that needs to be made is if you’re going to visit Universal Studios, Island’s of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa. If you plan to visit all of these parks it may be worth considering purchasing an Orlando FlexTicket. One small piece of advice. the cheap merchandise stores that litter the 192 and I-Drive often advertise cheap Disney tickets, avoid them at all costs as some tickets may not be valid and you’re not going to get a refund.

With all the major costs covered all you need to worry about now is the vacation itself. Budgeting whilst on vacation is one of the hardest things to do, the natural tendency is to let go and not worry about money whilst relaxing on holiday. Although this may leave you completely stress free while on vacation it’s going to leave you feeling the pinch when you get back. One tip I really like is to set yourself a budget for each day of your vacation. If you know you’re going to do something that costs a lot allocate a budget that represents that, the same goes if you won’t be spending too much. Setting a fixed average budget for each day usually doesn’t work as most people tend to spend more or less each day, leading to them not knowing exactly how much they’ve spent at the end of a vacation. Adjusting your budget to fit around your financial needs each day is usually the best option. I also enjoy Robert Niles’ tip on Theme Park Insider about setting children an allowance for each day.

The financials are just one aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation. Allocating time while visiting the various theme parks Central Florida has to offer is key. Many would say the best way to allocate your time at is to create touring plans for each of the parks you plan to visit. Many websites offer great touring plans for all of the parks, but I find the best touring plans are found in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and on its site TouringPlans.com. TouringPlans.com allow users to create custom touring plans as well as see crowd levels for each day of their trip, allowing for highly detailed planning.

When at the parks following a touring plan  can save you up to four hours a day, however unexpected events can often increase wait times and have a major impact on plans. Using Lines, the mobile application from TouringPlans.com, can help in the park as it provides up-to-date wait times that are often more accurate than those posted outside of attractions. Lines also shows Fastpass distribution times as well as showing crowd levels for the day and the best parks to visit. Note that Lines can only be used by those with mobile internet access, Lines is currently free but may soon be offered only to premium subscribers to TouringPlans.com.

I’m not going to give all my tips for visiting theme parks, as most of the basics can already be found on my blog and on various other websites around the net. However, one final tip I will offer is for those visiting the parks with children, especially impatient ones. Waiting in lines at Disney is considerably better than in other amusement parks as the lines have detailed features that fit the attractions theme, however, even this cannot keep children happy in 40 minute + lines. For this reason I recommend the Disney Queue Line Survival Guide, a great book which offers hundreds of ways in which to keep the whole family entertained while waiting in line.

I hope you found this quick guide helpful.

M. Owen





Walt Disney World at Christmas – some tips

3 12 2009

Walt Disney World is at its busiest over the Christmas period, however this doesn’t mean your visit should be less enjoyable. The holiday season brings out the best in the parks and hotels, which are decorated beautifully in order to help you get in the Christmas mood. It is important to be prepared for your trip, knowing what to do and what to avoid in order to have a stress free vacation.

I visited Walt Disney World last Christmas and whilst crowds weren’t as high as in past years due to the economic crisis there was still high attendance at all the parks everyday of my visit. In order to avoid the parks I firstly followed a touring plan. Using a good touring plan is integral to ensuring you get around all the attractions you want with minimal waits. My personal favourite touring plans are those provided in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and those at Theme Park Insider. Whilst following a touring plan can seem a bit of a chore its worthwhile as the time you’ll save waiting in line is considerable. If you don’t want to follow a touring plan then ensure you arrive at the park early in order to avoid the bigger crowds.

A major aspect of going to Walt Disney World at Christmas is what you’re going to do on the big day. As with all holidays Walt Disney World offers a host of options to help you pass December 25th, whether you’re on a budget or willing to splash out for that extra special holiday celebration. Preparation  is integral if you’re planning on doing something on Christmas Day, especially when it comes to dinning. As you may be able to guess everyone wants to be at the restaurants on-site over the holiday period, so there’s no chance you’re going to be able to walk into any of the better on site restaurants without an advance reservation. Advanced dining reservations can be made 180-days out and for Christmas you’ll have to be ready on the phone in the morning to call 407-939-3463 (001-407-939-3463 UK).

It’s important to note that both Illuminations at Epcot and Wishes at Magic Kingdom have special Christmas versions that are shown during the holiday season. Whilst Illuminations only has a holiday section added to the end Wishes, or Holiday Wishes, has a whole new show which is an absolute must for those visiting Walt Disney world over the holiday season. As both shows are only featured over the holiday season it’s important to ensure that you get into the position you want to see the show from 45 minutes to an hour before the show starts, even longer in the few days building up to Christmas. To find out show times on the day of your visit pick up a Times Guide when you enter the park, these can be found alongside park maps around the entrance to all of the four theme parks.

I’ve always said that a car is not integral to a Central Florida vacation, especially not when you’re staying on-site at Walt Disney World. However, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year and the Disney Transportation System is pushed to the limit. If you don’t want to wait hours for shuttles to get back to your resort when the park kicks out, especially after a show, it may be best for you to consider a car rental. This should especially be considered for those with young children. After the night shows at Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios kick out there a rush for the shuttles and there’s a chance your child can get lost, something no parent wants. This can be avoided at the Magic Kingdom to a certain extent as the park doesn’t always close after Holiday Wishes, meaning you can tour the park with pretty low crowds and wait for the shuttle stops to calm down.

My final point is one which is important to parents visiting at this time of year. Ensure that your child knows where to meet if they get split from the group. It’s already traumatic enough for parent and child getting split up without the added problem of not knowing where to go. Set a meeting point when you get to the park that’s specific. For example don’t just say ‘at the Sorcerers Hat’ as this is a relatively large area that gets very crowded on busy days, especially when American Idol Experience kicks out. Make sure that the place you chose isn’t too crowded and is easy to find.

Happy Holidays

M. Owen





Lines- The New Wait Times Application From TouringPlans.com: Review

18 11 2009

Ever wondered what the wait time was for Big Thunder Mountain whilst you were waiting in-line at Soarin’? Have you ever pondered if there’s any Fastpasses left at Toy Story Midway Mania at Noon? Well, if so then ‘Lines’, the new mobile application from the people at TouringPlans.com, is for you.

Lines provides real-time updates on all the wait times at Walt Disney World, not only this but it also tells you what attractions have Fastpasses left and what attractions don’t, keeping your time wandering to the tip boards and attractions entrances to a minimum, which can be vital when following a touring plan and try to avoid long-waits at popular attractions.

Not only this but Lines also does something similar systems don’t, it tells you the actual wait time. What I mean by this is that the posted wait time at attractions usually aren’t completely correct, meaning you may be waiting for a longer or shorter period of time than what Disney has posted on the board. Don’t ask me how its predicted, but from other peoples experiences using the application I’ve heard that the ‘actual wait time’ is correct to within a few minutes, again, helping you plan what to do next and what to skip in order to fully enjoy your day.

Lines also gives park hours and highlights which parks have Extra Magic Hours and how long for. Extra Magic Hours are something everyone must take into account when trying to plan their day at Walt Disney World and it’s very useful to have them at the touch of a button on your phone, rather than having to ask at the front desk or grab a list containing the times.

Crowd estimations are also included in the application, allowing guests to see how crowded the parks will be on the day of their trip. Not only this but the application also informs you of which parks to avoid and which parks to visit on any given day, again helping you plan to cut your time waiting in line at the more crowded parks of the day.

Combining this with the touring plans provided in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World will ensure that you have a greatly enjoyable day in the park, keeping wait times to a minimum and enjoyment to a maximum. The best part of all, it’s free, at least for now anyway. Any member of TouringPlans.com (basic or premium) can access Lines until December. After this time Lines may only be available to Premium members, making the $4.48 I paid with my Unofficial Guide discount seem even more of a bargain.

I’d strongly suggest having this application to hand on your next visit to Walt Disney World. Lines is worth the price of a subscription by itself, let alone all the other great features available to members on TouringPlans.com

Try Lines for yourself now at http://m.touringplans.com/

M. Owen





Walt Disney World Gift-Card Promotion

17 10 2009

Here’s a small breakdown of the initial promotion Walt Disney World will be running on Resort stay between January and May of 2010. The promotion offers Resort guests up to a $1000 free gift card to spend on property and around the United States if they purchase a 14-night stay or more.

Resort Breakdown

The different Disney Resorts get different values of gift-cards. The lowest value gift-card is for those who stay at the value resorts and the highest value for those at the deluxe villas.
GiftCard2

There are some terms and conditions that go with this promotion. Firstly, you have to book your vacation between the October 6th 2009 and February 15th 2010. The offer only applies to books for between January 3rd 2010 and May 18th 2010, meaning you won’t be able to use this offer for New Years.

Price Breakdown

Here’s a small price breakdown of what it would cost for a stay in each type of resort during the free gift-card promotion. All stay are for 14 nights starting on February 10th, 2 adults and 2 kids. All in standard rooms, prices do not include tickets or flights. A small number of Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts come with a 20% discount on the room.

GiftCard1

I hope you found this at least slightly helpful. In my next post I’ll be looking into the new dining plan offer for the later part of 2010.

M, Owen





The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010: A Review

16 10 2009

Whilst I was sat writing my last piece for The Disney Blog I was interrupted. Not by anyone else in my house, but by the mail coming in through the letterbox. It wasn’t like any usual day, this time the mail packed a punch as it hit the doormat, my first Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World had arrived.

Opening the cardboard box I found a glossy cover displaying a picture of Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, underneath it was a huge 850 pages dedicated to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. This was my first Unofficial Guide so I was interested to see what it contained, and most importantly how much it differed from the advice I give on this blog.

To sum it up, it’s paperback perfection. The book covers every aspect of Walt Disney World with up-to-date information. The dedicated team behind the book have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to bring together a huge collection of data which will ensure that everyone who buys a copy of the book will enjoy their time at Walt Disney World and do everything the right way.

The main thing I like about the book is it gives options. There’s not just one rating for an attraction, there’s ratings for different demographics in the same way as there’s multiple touring plans for each park to meet the needs of all visitors, rather than just one time saving plan as many other guides offer. Another great feature is that the book doesn’t just cover Walt Disney World. There’s hotel reviews from outside of the resort, as well as attraction guides for other parks in the Orlando area. This isn’t just a Disney World guide, it’s an essential guide to all things Orlando.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously either, when reading you don’t feel like you’re reading a reference book it feels like you’re reading a good novel, not because it’s fictional, but because it’s entertaining as a guide book should be to ensure you read up on all the facts you’ll need. On a similar note it’s also critical of Walt Disney World, it doesn’t paint the overly- fantastic picture that some guides do, it tells you the truth about everything from the quality of an attraction to the quality of the bedding at one of the resort hotels.

There is some downsides to the book, for a start it is huge. As far as the information goes that’s not a bad thing by any means, it covers everything brilliantly. However it does mean that you’ll have to carry it round in the parks with you unless your willing to write down everything you need to remember when on your visit, which can be inconvenient. This problem can be avoided though if your willing to splash that little extra for the pocket-sized condensed guide to ensure you’re never without one of the fantastic touring plans.

As I mentioned before, this is my first Unofficial Guide. Up until now I’ve relied on my own findings at Disney World in order to plan my trips but from now on I won’t be going to Walt Disney World without a copy of the unofficial guide, even a huge Walt Disney World fanatic myself will learn something new from this all-in-one guide, making it well worth the price.

M. Owen





WDW: Thinking outside the box

12 09 2009

There comes a time in everyone’s vacation when they’re just not up for more time in the parks. It may come when the lines are getting big at noon or it may happen when guests have been waiting in lines all day and simply want a break from walking from attraction to attraction. In this blog I’ll look at some things guests can do outside of a normal day at the park.

1. Go on a tour
Disney do some great tours at Walt Disney World that are not only really interesting but also give you an inside look into how some of the most popular theme parks in the world are run. Not only this, but some Disney tours offer you unique experiences which you may never have the chance to do again. I mean it’s not everyday you ride a Segway around the World Showcase is it? Depending on the tour prices are not all that high, around the same area as the cost of one days park admission, and don’t forget there are discounts to be had for Annual Pass holders.

So, what’s the best tour? Well, it really does depend on what you’re looking for. IF you’re a big theme park fan and would like to know more about how the parks are run and how they were constructed then Backstage Magic is a great tour which takes an extensive and detailed look at how Walt Disney World is run, from operations to special effects. A smaller, yet just as fun tour is the Key to the Kingdom tour, which takes a look at the Magic Kingdom and it’s themed lands.

If you’re not into the backstage experience then why not take a Segway tour around Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon. This exciting ride around the world has been critically acclaimed as a must-do by theme park journalists and Disney fans worldwide. Outside of a park the Fort Wilderness Segway tour has also been given high marks, another must-do when looking for something different at Walt Disney World. Take note, the segway tours do come with certain restrictions on both age and weight.

Backstage Magic: $219 (7 hours duration)
Keys to the Kingdom: $65 (4 and a half hours duration) also requires park admission
Epcot Segway Tour: $95 (2 hours duration) also requires park admission
Fort Wilderness Segway Tour: $85  (2 hours duration)

For information on these tours simply contact Walt Disney World guest services. Also, don’t forget to ask about the many other tours and experiences Disney offer to guests.

2. Downtown Disney
Really this is quite an obvious choice on the face of it, after all it’s the biggest source of entertainment outside of the parks on Walt Disney World property, it seems though that many people forget just how much there is at Downtown Disney and seem to abandon it after the closing of Pleasure Island. Downtown Disney has a lot to offer, including some truly spectacular experiences the whole family will enjoy.

I’ll start off on the West Side with House of Blues, a great place to eat and drink with some world-class entertainment thrown in courtesy of some of the best musicians in the world. That might be a bit too much of a glowing review but House of Blues does have some great acts that really get the audience going. Even if you’re not into Blues it’s really worth visiting at least once, just for the experience.

The second thing to do at Downtown Disney is probably my favourite- Cirque Du Soleil. This show really has it all, a world-class performance in great surroundings that is sure to have something for everyone, a real treat to see and it’s something different to the nighttime spectaculars to be witnessed at the three parks in WDW. The show is a little pricey, with prices starting at $52.00 and getting as expensive as $114.00 but if your willing to splash out that little extra this show is well worth the money.

There’s plenty more things to do at Downtown Disney, from having a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants to doing some shopping, everyone will find something they like. Although you may think you’ve done it all before just give it another visit because you’ll never know when you’re going to spot something new or just something you really enjoyed the last time you visited.

3. Disney’s Broadwalk
I’m not going to go on too much about the Broadwalk, as I’ve covered a lot of what I wanted to say in the Downtown Disney section. Broadwalk is great, there’s not as much to do as in Downtown Disney but Broadwalk seems to offer a more quiet and adult atmosphere in comparison to the more child-friendly Downtown Disney. Whether you want a night on the tiles at the Atlantic Dance Hall or want to watch your favourite team the ESPN Club you won’t be disappointed with Disney’s Broadwalk, whether you are going night or day.

I only really have one dislike about the Broadwalk area and that is that it seems to have attracted those looking for a night of partying now that Pleasure Island has closed. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it adds something more to the atmosphere. It just may not be the most suitable area for children during later hours in some of the venue’s along the Broadwalk. But certainly don’t let that put you off this great area.

4. Disney’s Wide World of Sports
Wide World of Sports is great for the amateur athlete’s amongst your group. It really is a one-stop destinations for all things sport and allows you to try your hand at all different kinds of activities. From relatively standard sports to the more specialised ones Wide World of Sports has most of them covered. Not only does Wide World of Sports offer you the chance to get some exercise in whilst on your vacation it also allows you to witness some of the greatest in the world at their given sport practice/compete in front of your very eyes, at least on selected dates.

Being a sports fan I love the place and I’d recommend it to anyone who shared my passion. If you’re not into sports this may not be your idea of a day well spent when the parks are a few minutes away but just give it a try, you may find the right sport for you during your visit.

Prices for certain events are different from others at Wide World of Sports, so it’s worth checking the website (www.disneysports.com) before you visit to see what’s on at the complex whilst you are there. Don’t forget that a lot of Disney’s ‘fun run’s’ and marathons take place around the Wide World of Sports area, or at least start there, so don’t forget to look up the dates for these when planning your vacation.

There’s plenty more to do at Walt Disney World, these are just my favourites. Have a look around the internet at sides like Theme Park Insider and listen to WDW Today and other podcasts to find out about more hidden gems at Walt Disney World. If you find one you really like feel free to get in touch and I’ll try it out on my next trip.

M. Owen