Aug 02

Website Review: Your First Visit

Having been to Walt Disney World several times I’m often asked about planning trips there, and often by people who haven’t been there in a long time, sometimes long enough to be considered a first time visitor.  Then I heard about this website – Your First Visit

YourFirstVisit.net is for first time visitors who may not be going back to Disney World, EVER.  The site has a very specific clientele, but might be interesting to more frequent visitors, they’ll rethink what they thought they knew about Disney World.

The site offers a 12 step plan for planning their trip, starting with when to go and then moving on to: how long, how old/tall your children should be, where to stay, how much to budget, when plans need to be firm, eating at disney world, how to spend your time, what to do when, families and special circumstances, and more resources.

This site is designed for people who haven’t been before and may never go again so their criteria is different then many offer to their own friends.  When choosing a time of year they take into account: weather, crowds, refurbishment of rides, and special events.  And although they do recommend the 3 weeks after Thanksgiving (a favorite of mine too), they do offer other suggestions if you can’t do that.  

For restaurants several of the choices are places you might only visit on a special trip, yet their itinerary is full of these ideas. At first I thought it was odd, but then realized character meals, and dinner shows are always fun and unique. If I was only going there once, yes, I would suggest doing several of these for the full experience. 

Some of those suggestions may be different from what more frequent visitors might choose, because they have different concerns than someone on a first and only visit.  What I like though is that this makes you rethink all the things you thought you knew. Maybe you wont change your favorite week, but you might rethink some of the restaurants you choose.  Or maybe you’ll add some new ideas to your Disney World Bucket List.

Jun 05

More Holiday Storytellers

In 2011 I had my first Disney World Christmas experience, and one of the treats of the season are the Storytellers Around the World.  In 2011 I saw about half of them and when I returned this past December I saw a few more.  This is a review of the news ones I experienced.  I will give one disclaimer though.  I had gotten sick at the end of this trip and was at my best when I saw some of these.

I did revisit the Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings) in Mexico and La Befana in Italy.  Los Tres Magos seemed to be the same as the year before, still not my favorite, but still very good.  La Befana also seemed good, but not quite as good as I remembered from the year before, but I was feeling pretty sick at that time and I had just seen another really good one that day too.

Germany – Helga
With a name like Helga I expected an older woman, but I was wrong, Helga is a pretty young woman and this was a nice story.  Here we learned about the tradition of Christmas Trees and the first Nutcracker.  Even with German heritage I didn’t think this was the best one, but it’s a bit more contemporary then many of the others.  I think it did have the best setting though,  at least in terms of atmosphere.

The American Adventure – Hanukkah
This show has the best setting, it’s inside.  No dealing with hot or cold or sun in your eyes.  As for the show, it was just ok. The woman was nice and the story had an intimate feel to it.  But, I grew up with a lot of Jews around me and I felt like I knew more about Hanaukkah then I learned here. I suspect if you’ve had little contact with Jews this would be more interesting.  I did think it was a nice touch that the story teller played with dreidel with the kids after.

France – Pere Noel
Pere Noel tells the story of Christmas in France through a letter from a girl.  It’s a sweet story about believing in Pere Noel and santa figures.  But Pere Noel is too skinny!

Canada – Nowell
Nowell is a lumberjack, what?  How can you make all those gifts if your cutting down trees.  Or maybe you need the wood for all those toys?  I don’t know. But this was another good story, reminds me a lot of how Christmas in the US, as much as it’s the same for many, it can also be quite different depending on your heritage.

Norway – Sigrid and Christmas Gnome, Julenissen
This was my absolute favorite and you can tell the word is out, this story had the largest crowd of all the ones I have seen.  Sigrid tells the story of Julenissen, which she doesn’t believe.  Julenissen is a gnome who plays tricks on boys and girls.  And so Julenissen plays tricks on Sigrid, but since she doesn’t believe in him she doesn’t understand what is going on. It’s quite entertaining.

Even though Christmas is 6 months away, it is time to start planning your trips there!

May 15

One Year with Disney World

When I took my trip to Disney World in December 2011 I decided to get an annual pass.  The plan was to see if I could find some good deals on trips in 2012 and hop on a plane and go.  The plan worked in some ways and not in others, but it was still a good year.

I never really found good deals, but I had some vacation time and took several shorter trips.  Actually, one of my trips was not only not a “good deal” but included expensive hotels and plane tickets, but was a great experience.

My first trip was with my sister and her two kids.  It was a fun trip, but the 4 of us in one Polynesian hotel room was a bit much for me at times.  As usually happens with kids, the trip revolved around them, we went on lots of rides, and I loved the Polynesian.

The rest of the trips I took that year ended up being about experiences more then about rides.

On one trip I actually decided to ride the rides that no one talks about, the ones you can’t ride with other people because they want to go on the good rides.  It wasn’t one of my better plans, but now I have a list of rides I never need to go on again.

Another trip was all about the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Fantasyland.  While I did do some other things, having already been 3 times in less then a year, I didn’t feel the need to do much more then that. There’s no line for the new Little Mermaid ride, better ride it lots before the lines grow! I can ride Peter Pan, Space Mountain and shop another time!

Tour a resort, who has time for that? When you go 5 times in 12 months, you have time to tour an interesting resort (Art of Animation), you probably even have time to tour a boring one (as though they exist).

The biggest thing I got out of these 5 trips was that every one I had a slightly different goal, explore a resort, experience a new party or event, ride new rides.  The goal was not to see as much as possible in as short a period of time as possible. With that, I got to spend time with the charming lesser known things, instead of on lines. I got to experience the whole of Walt Disney World.

After that year though, I did get a little bored.  The average attractions that you might do because you don’t get to do them often, they lost there thrill. You run out of new experiences to have, or at least the list gets shorter. So yes, the thrill wore off a bit, but the ability to relax on a Disney vacation started to exist, and I really never thought that was possible.

A lot of people asked when I was going back, or commented that I wouldn’t be able to give it up.  But I have no plans of going this year.  While it would be easy to go back, the desire to explore something new is stronger.  I’ll be back there, but it might not be until 2015, GASP! But I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it with an annual pass again.

Apr 03

Getting Sick at Disney World

On my December 2012 trip to Disney World I got to have a new experience, getting sick.  Even better, I got to see this from two different angles.

First, my sister gets arthritis in her ankle.  Second, I got a virus.

My sister has had trouble with arthritis in her ankle since a few Disney World trips ago.  She was preparing for a day at the Animal Kingdom and was in too much pain to go and instead went to Urgent Care.  On this trip it was less dramatic.  Her ankle had started to bother her after 2 days, she got information on the Urgent Care and we decided to go in the afternoon.  Too bad she missed one major bit of information, you can schedule an appt. We ended up waiting for 3 hours for a 15 minute appointment.

So here’s the info you need for Urgent Care at Disney World.  Centra Care is the Urgent Care centers in the area. There are 4 in the area of Disney World and they offer shuttle service to and from Disney World, just check with security or your resort front desk and they can make the arrangements for you.  If you’re sick and need to see the doctor, but don’t need to go NOW, you can schedule an appointment.  I got the impression that they often have waits, but 3 hours isn’t the norm.

Here is what Centra Care treats: Broken bones, cuts & scratches, coughs, cold, flu, sore throats, ear infections, stomachaches, fevers, pneumonia, vomiting, diarrhea, sinus infections, asthma, allergies, rashes, headaches, back pain and much more….

While they can fill the prescriptions that they write, not all of them have a wide variety of medications on hand.  If you are visiting the world and know you need heavy duty medication then you should mention that when picking a location (if you have a choice).  The location (off property near Animal Kingdom) we went to had the medication my sister needed, but there was also a Wal Mart across the street.  There is another location near Crossroads (main entrance to The World) and I know there are pharmacies there too, so there is a work around, but depending on what is wrong, it’s far from ideal.

As for me my virus was less dramatic.  Too bad it started to set in later in the day AFTER my sister and I had already been to Centra Care.  It started with some mild nausea (fried chicken might not have been my best idea) and exhaustion, pretty typical cold like symptoms.  Of course that night we went to a special viewing of the Osborne Lights.  I really wanted to have fun there, and I tried for my sister. But I was miserable.

The rest of the 2 days after that was kinda similar.  Take medication and feel ok, then get knocked on my ass at night while at an Illuminations Dessert Party and the airport.  I considered telling my sister to go off on her own one day, but felt bad, and I was afraid she wouldn’t want to go on her own.  So I kept going, it is Disney after all.  It probably wasn’t my best move.  I’m not sure if I had a virus to start with, or if I over did it in those 2 and a half days, but by the time I got home I was at the wanting to die stage…

I’m not sure what the answer to that dilemma is.  Although I felt crappy for a night and a day, buy the time I realized it was possibly more then a cold I was already on the way home.  But I did make use of the store at Pop Century and bought whatever cold medicine they had.  I would suggest that if you’re picky about medicine or feel you might be getting a cold before you leave, then it’s worth it to bring medicine from home.  The on-property stores don’t have a large selection.

Do you have any stories of getting sick on vacation?  What’s the biggest issue?

Mar 13

Pop Century Resort

 Back in December I stayed at Pop Century Resort.  Before the Art of Animation this was the most popular Value Resort at Walt Disney World.  I should give my frame of reference before I checked into Pop.  I had stayed at All Star Sports several years ago and since then stayed at a Boardwalk 1 bedroom Villa, Port Orleans French Quarter, Polynesian, Art of Animation family suite and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I had gotten a bit spoiled.  I was also with my sister who had only stayed at the Polynesian, which didn’t help with my frame of mind.  I had booked this room when I was planning on going by myself and when my sister decided to come I did offer to upgrade to a better resort, she said this was fine.

When we arrived at the hotel my sister was shocked to see that the resort was “motel” style.  I was like duh, but then realized that having only stayed at the Poly and only really seeing other Deluxe Resorts this probably wasn’t obvious.  It of course meant she hadn’t listened to me talking about other resorts with much attention.

Anyway, I’m not sure she’s gotten over the shock of the “motel” style, but I think the lobby impressed her more then she was expecting.  Although we were able to check in, we were not able to get into our room.  This was the first time this has happened to me and although it’s a bit of a pain, I thought Disney did a good job of notifying us when our room was ready and the room number so we wouldn’t have to go back to the check in desk.

When we returned to the resort it was dark and my sister was still not feeling the motel style with the big giant windows that everyone walks by.  While I guess they’re good for light, they are a little weird too since I can’t imagine leaving the blinds open.

When we walked into the room I think we were both surprised by how small it was, the space was well laid out, but the room was small.

Aside from the small aspect the room was highly functional.  There were 2 full sized beds, a flat screen TV, coffee maker, table with 2 chairs, 1 sink that was separate from the shower/toilet.  In the sink area there was also a bar for hanging clothes, a safe and a shelf for storage.  There was also a dresser with 3 drawers so there was plenty of storage for 2 people.  I have to say the room might have been small but I”m pretty sure the shower/toilet area was bigger then the one at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which I thought was interesting.  But don’t get excited, I only noticed because I had been at AKL 2 weeks earlier and was taking note of such things.

One complaint I’ve had about several Disney resorts and I had here too is poor lighting, why is it so hard to make a well lit hotel room?  As for the room themeing, I thought it was weak.  I expected something in the theme of the years I was in (50’s) instead it seemed there was one generic Disney design with Mickeys’ on it.  I wonder if this is an area where they might improve the resort during the next refurbishment.

We didn’t spend too much time in the common areas of the resort.  Actually, I had planned to take a walk around the resort, but when I got sick half way through the trip I was lucky I got out of bed, I certainly wasn’t going to walk around the resort.  And after being at Art of Animation I understood the layout of the resort anyway.  The main pool area was large with lots of seating and a bar like area.  We didn’t get to go to the pool, we were way too busy on this trip, but it seemed pretty typical of a Value Resort.

The food court was great though.  It was pretty typical for a value resort, but I could tell that before the Art of Animation, this was probably the best food court on property.  We mostly ate breakfast here, which offered pretty much anything you might want in some way – waffles, pancakes, breakfast burritos, or eggs.  Nothing exotic, but all the basics.  For lunch and dinner they had the usual stuff: burgers, salads, pasta, pizza and some special items.  There is also an ice cream station.  I didn’t try the Twinkies Tiramisu or the tie-dye cheesecake, I’ll leave that up to you!

Overall I liked the resort, there were no giraffes or views of the Magic Kingdom, but it certainly offers all the necessities at a low price.  When I stayed at All Star Sports for a week I felt like it was too long in such a small room, on this trip I was only there for 5 nights and was barely in the room so it was fine.  But if you’re a larger family or staying on a long trip you should keep in mind that the rooms are small and it could get a little tense after a few days.

Has anyone else stayed at Pop Century, what did you think?

Feb 08

Podcast Recommendation: Disney Dish

The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill is a podcast that’s been around for about a year and a half.  It obviously features Jim Hill, but also Len Testa of the Unofficial Guide and TouringPlans.com.

In this series of podcasts they explore the history of the parks. All the history.  From the original idea of Walt to the current attempts to upgrade areas of the parks to the ideas that imaginears are exploring for the future of the parks.  Muppets, Cars Land, Marvel, Star Wars and films being created?  Yes, they’re all mentioned at some point.

Although the podcast starts out in Disney World, they do have a whole series on Disneyland too.  Maybe one day they’ll make it to one of the parks outside the US too.

If you’re into the history of the parks, even as a casual fan, you’ll love this podcast.

Feb 06

The Horrific Dinoland

I’ve been to Animal Kingdom a couple times, though I do skip it on many trips. I somehow always missed Dinoland though.  Now that I’ve been there, I’ll be leaving it off my list in the future.

I entered Dinoland from Asia, near Dinorama, an area that can be best described as a carnival on a bad trip. It’s loud and flashy. It seemed cool at first, but by the time I walked out of there I was already getting a headache. When I looked in from the opposite side I saw that a lot of care was taken in the themeing, but they really went overboard by making it an unbearable place to be by the parents of the children who might enjoy it.

Then of course there was the ride Dinosaur, even after looking at the map to find where the ride was I had to look again because the area was so poorly marked. And the ride was even worse. I’m pretty adventursome about rides, I’m only limited now by my getting old and my body not keeping up like it used to. I road the Indiana Jones ride last year in Disneyland which has the same ride vehicle, I loved it. This ride though was terrible. It was dark, jerky and then dinosaurs jumped out at you, it wasn’t scary, it was annoying. The best is the picture of me on the ride, I actually look irritated, as did the other people in their pictures.

Disney, perhaps this is a better area for Avatar land?

Jan 23

New To Me Disney Attractions

Sum of All Thrills design your own ride, a fighter jet, bobsled or roller coaster.  You get to pick the types of twists and turns in your ride, making it as intense or tame as you choose. I did the bobsled the first time and it was a bit tame, the second time I did the roller coaster and that was more fun.  This is a fun ride and being hidden in Innoventions it doesn’t get as crowded as it could potentially be.

Impressions de France the prettiest boring film I ever did see!  Seriously, France looked beautiful in this film, but it had no personality.  This film could be great if they added a bit of narration to make it more interesting.  Or, I could see a Soarin type of attraction here instead using similar video.

Reflections of China a circle-vision film with the highlights of China.  It has a nice vibe, historical and proud and most importantly, it made me want to visit China.  I think that makes the case that it was good.

Dinosaur  This may be the worst ride in all of Disney World.  It’s dark, jerky and annoying.  The ride vehicle for this is the same as the one for the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland, and that is a good ride.  But this ride, it was very dark, the ride jerked around, I guess to scare you, though I’m not sure because it was so dark you couldn’t see a reason for it to jerk around.  Then dinosaurs popped up and made noises.  Ok, that made sense.  The whole ride was actually irritating and the faces of the riders in the photos when you get off the ride tells the story, no one looks scared, but annoyed.

Voices of Liberty A pre-show of sorts for the American Adventure.  It’s a group of 9 men and woman singing patriotic songs.  The performance lasts 10-15 minutes and is a nice chance to relax for a few minutes.  If you can’t get a seat on a bench, sit on the floor around the circle in the middle (the signers will face the entrance to the theatre on the right).

Vision House at Innoventions in Epcot.  A 20 minute walk through of an energy efficient house.  This was interesting if you’re into energy efficiency and home design.  I had two issues with it though.  First, it was extremely cold in there, the thermostat was set for 65 degrees, not very efficient.  Second, they rambled off the names of the stuff in the house, but then didn’t even offer a place to get information about them if you were interested.  But it did help get me to think of ways to conserve.

Main Street Electrical Parade An old school parade that was brought back to replace Spectromagic.  I found the music a bit repetitive, and the look and feel a bit old.  But, it was a fun, whimsical parade.  I went to the second showing of the parade and it was much less crowded then the earlier one.

Stitches Great Escape I remember this ride from when I was a child, when it was Alien Encounter, and it’s not a fond memory.  Seriously, it’s a scary ride and not in a good way.  It’s a ride themed after a childrens character that does bad things.  I think silly bad things are fun, like the farting (Not my thing as an adult, but for little boys…), but escaping and attacking us.  Yea, scary and not in a fun way.  I’ve added this to my list of rides to never ride again.

Astro Orbiter This is one of those simple spinney rides, what could go wrong?  Well, first, the elevator smelled, then the ride vehicle was uncomfortable. Ugh, not cool.  And I thought we would at least get cool views of the park, but not really.  Most of the view was of a roof.  Another ride to skip in the future.

Liberty Square Riverboat If the boat had more seating this would be a nice ride around Tom Sawyer Island, but it doesn’t.  I did sit on my ride and I was a bit bored, which would be fine if it was a 17 minute break from a long hot day in the parks. But if you’re not guaranteed a seat on one of those days, I would rather just sit through Hall of Presidents.