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Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
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Mike Scopa

Tip Update

A fresh look at some changes

Friday, October 1, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

It was been awhile since I've shared some observations on the fine art of planning and enjoying a trip to Walt Disney World. Change is ever constant with Walt Disney World and there's never a bad time to review or discuss some things that just may make your trip planning experience as painless as possible and help make your trip that much more enjoyable.

In this session, I hope to share some helpful thoughts and tips that I have picked up over my recent trips to Orlando.

Faxes and room requests

In the past, the Walt Disney World Resort was receptive to guests faxing their respective resort and making special room requests. I myself would fax my resort at the proper time, exactly four days before arriving. The fax would start off very complimentary to the resort and then follow with my request. In some cases the request would involve a specific building, specific floor, specific view, or even a specified range of room numbers.

Unfortunately, some of the resorts have discontinued this practice of taking requests over the last few years. All is not lost, however. If you wish to make specific room requests, my suggestion is to do so at the time of your booking. The resort you are booking with will receive this information along with your reservation. I have tried this and it seems to work. After all, first-come, first-served.

Security measures

I have noticed a heightened level of security within the WDW resort. This has not always been consistent but over the last year it has been taken to a new level. Be prepared to flash your driver's license several times when visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.

Here are some instances when you can expect to be asked to show photo ID:

  • Driving up to your resort for the first time. If there is a guard, you may be asked for your ID.
  • Checking into your resort.
  • Activating your Annual Pass voucher
  • Driving into a monorail resort for dinner.
  • Buying Annual Passholder merchandise (in theme park camera shops).
  • Picking up packages you have had delivered to your resort.
  • Charging to your room via your room key.

These measures are to protect you. I, for one, welcome them. Last December I spent several days at the Polynesian Resort. One night upon returning from a visit to Downtown Disney I could not find a parking spot. Most of the cars in the lot did not have parking permits. That evening I had a discussion with the hotel manager on protecting the rights of the paying resort guests.

They listened. Last month I met friends at Ohana's Restaurant at the Polynesian, and was asked for a photo ID at the guard shack. I didn't mind. Be sure to keep your photo handy.

Priority Seating

Not much has changed except that your reservation number these days will be your home phone number, including your area code. I believe this practice started as more and more guests were using their cell phones to call Disney Dining at 1-407-W-Disney (1-407-934-7639) to make priority seating.

Also, priority seating rules are not consistent across the board. Be sure to take note as to when you should show up at your restaurant. Times may vary from 5 minutes to as much as 15 minutes ahead of your reserved time.

California Grill observation deck

Recently, some friends asked me to check on the apparent change in policy regarding the California Grill observation deck. This area is popular for watching the nighttime fireworks (Wishes!) from the Magic Kingdom. However, it appears that you must now be a patron of the California Grill restaurant to be allowed on this deck.

Also, if you dine at the California Grill, you must check in at the desk at the top of the first set of escalators. After checking in you will be escorted to the restaurant.

I agree with this new policy. I feel that the restaurant patrons should have the privilege of using the observation deck.

Disney bus service

I have made it a point to talk to as many guests as possible regarding the Disney Transportation system, specifically the buses. In many cases compliments have been lacking… more so than I would have thought.

One family who had stayed at the Yacht and Beach Club had mentioned that it took them an hour to get from their resort to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Others have also complained that it takes too long to get from one location to another.

The reason? Simply that some of the bus routes have been combined, which has resulted in the elimination of a point-to-point journey. Obviously if you add some stops, that also means adding time.

Schedules and routes sometimes change so often that the bus drivers can be very cautious when giving directions. Last year I recall a bus driver at the Ticket and transportation Center shying away from giving guests instructions on where to catch a bus for Downtown Disney. The driver was fairly sure that he was right but added the caveat that the route may have changed.

Huh?

In the past when I checked into a resort, I received a bus route brochure. I asked for one in August… none available.

My point here is to advise those of you who depend on Disney transportation to plan on giving yourself ample time to get to your destination, regardless of the time of day.

Magic Kingdom

Let's briefly talk about Wishes! This nighttime spectacular requires portions of Fantasyland to be cleared of guests. This is due to some low-level fireworks that are set off on the rooftops of the dark rides. You won't enjoy Fantasyland attractions while this fireworks show takes place… nor will you be allowed to go back to Fantasyland after the show.

You can watch Wishes from Tomorrowland, Frontierland, and Adventure land.


Fireworks exploding over Cinderella's Castle during "Wishes." Photo by Mike Scopa.

Both the Carousel of Progress and Timekeeper are on spotty schedules. Regardless of what your park guide and times guide says, you should invest time and walk over to these attractions to find out if they are operating on that particular day. These two attractions seem to share the same status… uncertain.

If you had heard about the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion Fastpass tickets being unlinked, you had heard right. You could get a Fastpass for the Haunted Mansion and immediately walk over to the Jungle Cruise and get a Fastpass for that attraction as well. Two active Fastpass tickets... what a deal.

That deal is history. This summer, those two attractions became linked into the network.

Some attractions are not always operating when the park opens. Country Bear Jamboree and Tom Sawyer Island are at least two attractions that most days do not open until mid-morning. Again, check your guide and stroll over to these attractions to double-check. Schedules and times are always “subject to change.”

Oh… when “it's a small world” reopens next year, we may see a change. The rumor is that the old entrance will now be the exit and the old exit will now be the entrance. We'll see. Also, if you will be using a stroller, you may find yourself parking your stroller at the old Skyway to Tomorrowland station next to “small world.”

The Tomorrowland Stage is gone. I know it's still listed on the Guide Map but it's gone for now… trust me.

Epcot

The bottom of Spaceship Earth, the Global Neighborhood area, is still dark. It seems odd to be exiting a Walt Disney World attraction, from one of the resort icons no less, and find myself in an empty dark room.

The Wonders of Life Pavilion is said to open seasonally. I don't remember the last time it was open as there have been rumors of sponsorship problems. Do not count on being able to visit this pavilion… if it is open while you are there, however, I would take advantage of that rarity.

Here is a suggestion that may never have occurred to you. If you are pressed for time and want to combine a trip to Epcot with a bit of resort hopping, why not spend the morning in Epcot, then via the International Gateway between France and The United Kingdom pavilions, walk or take a boat to Boardwalk, the Beach & Yacht Club, or the Swan and Dolphin hotels?

This is a great option that many guests may not be aware of. It's very convenient if you intended to eat or shop at one of these resorts.

You can always return to Epcot for the evening and enjoy Illuminations.

Here's a little bit of trivia that was shown me last month. If you shop in Mouse Gear, check out the decor of the store. There is a particular spot in this store that is the home for a very recognized object from a much-loved attraction.

So who will be the first to drop me a note to tell me what that object could be?

The next time you visit Ellen's Universe of Energy, stand to the left of the cast member who is working the microphone. The doors will open and you will be the first to get through. This ride is much more enjoyable when you sit in the first row.

I'm always asked where to stand for Illuminations. Well, I feel that any location around the World Showcase works… you just need to be early. One thing to keep in mind is that the area between Canada and United Kingdom usually gets the excess smoke from the fireworks.

Disney-MGM Studios

First, let's talk about the Fantasmic dinner package. This package is great for those who do not like to stand in line or wait over an hour before a show. It basically allows you to saunter into the Hollywood Hills Theater about 20 minutes before show time.


Mickey Mouse shooting sparks during Fantasmic! Photo by Mike Scopa.

If you sign up for the package, you agree that everyone in your party will order an entrée from the menu from whichever participating restaurant you elect to dine for that evening.

In return you are given a special voucher that allows you to enter the theater from a different point much closer to show time. You will sit on the right side of the theater.

I've taken advantage of it many times. This past August however I tried something different.

On the night I planned to attend Fantasmic I did not do the dinner package. Instead, I entered the theater about 45 minutes before show time, and still ended up with a very good seat.

A few days later I did the dinner package with the intention of attending the second or late show. When I informed my server of this I was told that the vouchers are given out only for the early performance. She said that there was no need for vouchers for the late performance.

I ended up getting in line on Sunset Blvd for this show. The line was the length of the entire boulevard. I still had decent seats but it was a bit close as I almost missed the start of the show… be advised.

If you are a big fan of the backlot tour, my condolences. The new stunt show has wiped out Residential Street and dwarfs Catastrophe Canyon. Unless you love Catastrophe Canyon, you may want to skip the Backlot Tour.

I get the feeling that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Play It! may be on its way out. For the last two years I have observed CMs out along Mickey Ave. handing out Fastpass tickets for this attraction. It has not been playing to full houses so one gets the feeling that it may be dropping in popularity. [Don't forget that the California version also recently closed shop.]

Every time I happen to be in MGM with friends, I take them over to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular area and have them tug on the rope in the well to the left of the entrance. Next time you're in MGM, try it.

Finally, that ABC Theater, former home of Superstar Television and Doug Live, although empty, does serve a purpose. The steps are a great place to watch the Stars and Motorcars Parade. You are elevated and under cover. And since there is no place for guests to sit across from you, all the characters have to look at your side of the street.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

I can't figure out Disney's Animal Kingdom. I don't think I'm alone. This theme park has dropped in popularity and is not enjoying the type of attendance numbers seen during its first two years of operation.

The park is especially light with crowds in the afternoon. Apparently guests have labeled the Animal Kingdom as a half-day park.

On my last visit I tested out the advice regarding where to watch Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade. If you watch this parade near the Tamu Tamu refreshments and across from the Dawa Bar, you will see it go past you not once but twice.

The Festival of The Lion King is now in an air conditioned theater. I've attended the first and last performance of the day and have found that the air conditioning effects are much more noticeable in the afternoon than in the morning. This is something to keep in mind for those hot summer days.

Future considerations

I expect that once Stitch's Great Escape opens in the Magic Kingdom it will be added to the E-Ride Night attraction list. Over the last year this list has gone through a change. I would hope and expect the eventual list to include Stitch's Great Escape, Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, Mickey's Philharmagic, Peter Pan's Flight, Winnie the Pooh, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Haunted Mansion.


Construction wall for Stitch's Great Escape. Photo by Mike Scopa.

I can't help but wonder how long that African Outpost will last in Epcot's World Showcase. After all, doesn't Disney's Animal Kingdom give you a feel for Africa? Could we see the Outpost replaced by a Spain pavilion?

MGM's approaching the 15-year-itch and you can see movement towards bringing new life to the park. What was previously known as the New York Street area is taking on a new look. This new look and the new stunt show will put some life into that portion of the park.

There's a lot riding on Expedition Everest. Will this thrill ride bring back the crowds? It may. The Animal Kingdom needs to shake its label as just a half-day park.

Next time

In our next session we will pay tribute to the one year anniversary to Wishes, the Magic Kingdom's nighttime fireworks spectacular.

Class dismissed.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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