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June 7, 2015

Trip Planning – More Important Than Ever

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I have been to Walt Disney World so many times that we no longer feel compelled to rush around and try to do it all! We take our time, we savour the experience! Over the years we've picked up some "insider knowledge" from other Disney addicts and we've learned a bit through our own mistakes. Our friends often ask us for advice before they visit our happy place.

What do we tell them? Plan ahead!

Experts in real estate will tell you that the three most important factors in assessing a property are Location, Location, Location. The three most important steps to ensure an enjoyable Disney vacation are Planning, Planning, Planning!

We often sit and chuckle after we check in for dinner at some of the nicer Walt Disney World restaurants. As we wait to be seated there is an endless stream of exasperated guests who hope to find a table service restaurant with available seating at the last minute. Many guests don't understand that the most popular Disney restaurants are fully booked months in advance!

A long time friend of Carol's asked her, "I want to take my niece to Disney and I think we'll go at Christmas. Any suggestions?" Carol was quick to reply, "Don't even think about going at Christmas, it will be too crowded."

Crowded Christmas

"How crowded?" the friend asked? "Imagine the entire population of Toronto trying to fit into your local Legion Hall." They didn't go at Christmas!

There was a wonderful article on planning in the Disney Magazine about a decade ago, in Spring 2004. It was written by Kim Wright Wiley who was a Contributing Editor at Disney Magazine and continues to author many books about Disney vacation planning. The article looks at planning primarily for those who've never been to Walt Disney World, then adds a second section for Disney veterans and a final chapter for Disneyland.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 30

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 31

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 32

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 33

I've included scans of the 2004 article above and below. Click on the images to see a larger version which is easier to read. There's some very good information there!

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 34

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 35

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 36

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 85

So what has changed in the intervening decade? It has only been 11 years, but technology has changed the booking and reservation process in a very big way. You no longer have to use a telephone; it can all be done on your computer, tablet or smart phone using the My Disney Experience system. You had better study up on a few new concepts such as Disney's Magical Express, MagicBands and FastPass+ which did not exist in 2004 when the article was written!

New Technology

Is planning still important? Yes, it's still important to plan, in fact, it's more vital than ever before.

The parks are busier now than they were just a decade ago. Since that article appeared Disney has opened Saratoga Springs Resort (2004), Animal Kingdom Villas (2007), Bay Lake Tower (2009), Art of Animation Resort (2012), The Villas at Grand Floridian (2013) and the Polynesian Villas (2015). These resorts add up to almost 5,000 new guest rooms and suites. While the hotel capacity grew there were no significant expansions to the theme parks; the result is longer lines and busier parks.

The low seasons are nowhere near as low as they used to be! There could be 10,000 to 20,000 people in those new guest rooms and some of them might be standing in front of you as you wait to ride Peter Pan's Flight or buy a hot dog at Casey's!

Many of the booking "windows" have changed as well. For example, you can now book your Disney hotel room up to 499 days from your departure. Our friend (and AllEars.net Photo Blogger) Scott Thomas has developed a handy tool to help you calculate those oh-so-important dates. You can find Scott's online Planning Strategy Calculator HERE.

Planning Strategy Calculator

Magical Gatherings have changed too. They're now called Disney Group Getaways. If your group will occupy 10 or more rooms in a Disney resort you might qualify for some special treatment! Look for details HERE.

If you're looking for a place to get up-to-date information to help you formulate your plans, look no further than the AllEars.net planning page HERE. It's updated regularly with the latest information available . . . and it's free!

AllEars Newsletter Logo

If you haven't already subscribed to the AllEars.net Weekly Newsletter, you should subscribe now. It is delivered FREE each week to more than 140,000 subscribers who share an interest in all things Disney. The newsletter is a great information source. There's always a feature article and there are often valuable tips from other AllEars.net readers. Subscribe HERE.

There are a number of other resources available to help in your planning. Check your local book store or search on Amazon for planning guides by Disney Vacation experts such as Birnbaum, PassPorter, The Unofficial Guide and many others. Find the Amazon link HERE.

Do I have any planning tips for you?
Nope, I don't . . . Carol does all of the planning for us. BUT I do have a few suggestions for you:
• Don’t plan every minute of every day. Leave some “down-time”, time to kick back and relax or time to do something spontaneous.
• At the end of your vacation think back to the thing you enjoyed most, then go do it again. Savour the experience a second time!
Act silly! Wear a funny hat, dance in the rain, sing as though no one can hear you. That’s what Walt Disney wanted you to do!
• If you’re a frequent Walt Disney World visitor, try to do something new and different each trip. Take an archery lesson, a backstage tour, go fishing or take a romantic moonlit ride in a horse-drawn carriage. There’s an almost endless list of things to do there!

The time you spend planning will ensure that you and your family fully enjoy your Disney vacation; it's an investment that really does pay huge dividends!

June 12, 2015

Feelin’ the Force: A Review of the Star Wars Weekends Feel the Force Premium Package at Disney’s Hollywood Studios


By Alice McNutt Miller

I made plans for a quick Miller family visit to Walt Disney World over Memorial Day weekend months ago. My older daughter would be home from her second year of college, and it seemed like a good time to squeeze more out of our annual passes. When it was time to make our FastPass+ reservations, 60 days out from our arrival date, and I dug into the daily planning, I realized -- with some surprise, and a bit of consternation -- that the visit also coincided with one of the Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Argghh. That meant that an already crowded holiday weekend would be even MORE crowded. At first I thought we might want to avoid the Studios altogether, but then I decided to embrace the Force, and go all in.

Premium Package 1

We are a family of mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fans. The first Star Wars movie -- then referred to just as “Star Wars” and now more appropriately “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope” -- came out when I was in junior high school. My dad and I stood in line for hours at the old Wilma Theater in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to get in to see the movie on opening weekend. I had on a really cool t-shirt that I had bought at J.C. Penney with my hard-earned babysitting money, for what I am sure I thought was an exorbitant sum. It had a picture of Luke Skywalker on it. He was dreamy.

So how does the mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fan navigate the complications of character meet and greets, talk show FastPasses, good viewing spots for the Motorcade, how to buy the coveted Boba Fett merchandise? I did some reading up on past events, and plans for the current one, and frankly, felt a bit overwhelmed. I decided to do what I am sure many befuddled first timers would do -- splurge on a Feel the Force Premium Package! There are three levels of “experiences” offered under the various premium packages. For $69 a pop ($39 for kids aged 3-9) guests receive: access to a special viewing area for the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade (including soft drinks); reserved seating for one of the celebrity talk shows; and A reserved viewing location for the nightly Symphony in the Stars fireworks show, paired with a Star Wars-themed dessert party with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. For an additional $30/person, you can upgrade to the Deluxe Feel the Force Premium Package, which includes everything in the regular package, plus the ability to follow behind the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, provides reserved seating for all of the celebrity talk shows that day in the and offers priority access to Darth's Mall throughout the day of the package. Oh, and they will throw in “a commemorative lanyard and credential to honor your most impressive day.” Since, as I mentioned before, the Miller family is only mildly enthusiastic about Star Wars, I figured that we did not need to pay an extra $30 to see celebrities we didn’t know anything about and to have the opportunity to spend even more money on souvenirs, I decided to forgo the deluxe and stick with the regular. (And I didn’t even think about spending $499 per person for the VIP Experience. Yikes!)


Picking up the credentials.
According to my reservation information, we could pick up our credentials for the day starting at 10 a.m. at a kiosk near Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. However, while we were hanging out in the Streets of America watching Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears at about 9:30 a.m., I saw a few people with what looked like the Premium Package credentials hanging around their necks. I left my family to rock out and hoofed it over to Echo Lake to see if the kiosk was open. Sure enough, I was able to collect our lanyards and choose our Celebrity Talk Show passes. My family really wanted to see Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok from The Empire Strikes Back, Willow and various characters in the Harry Potter movies), mostly because he was the only one of the celebrities who we really knew anything about, and I was afraid that the passes would already be gone. I was lucky enough to be able to get passes for that show, and I was also given packs of autographed photos of the celebrities in attendance that weekend. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my family, Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears was just wrapping up.

Celebrity Motorcade.
As part of the Premium Package, we got access to a reserved viewing area to watch the Legends of the Force Celebrity Motorcade. We arrived a bit after access to the area was opened (we had FastPasses for Toy Story!), but about 20 minutes before the motorcade actually started. Our reservation said that water and soft drinks would be provided, and I was happy to see that full size bottles of water and Coke products were being handed out. As a special surprise, there were also Mickey Ice Cream bars, frozen strawberry bars and boxes of popcorn available, as well! We enjoyed those as we waited for the festivities to start.


Because we arrived a bit late, our view was not so great once the motorcade and show started (guests in front of us were about four deep, and of course the tall guys in the front, who had been sitting earlier, stood and pretty much blocked the view of the motorcade and the stage from my short self). We did have a better view than many regular guests, however, and the Mickey bars and bottles of water were very welcome. We enjoyed watching the Disney characters in Star Wars garb, and that weekend’s celebrities (James Arnold Taylor, Ashley Eckstein, Warwick Davis, Silas Carson, and Vanessa Marshall) arrive, and the kick off show on the stage. The Motorcade and show were a lot of fun, and we were happy to have the drinks, treats, and reserved place to watch from.

After the motorcade, we decided to skedaddle, and head back to our hotel for lunch and a rest. The park was very crowded, and we felt like we needed a break before the evening activities that were included in the package.

Celebrity Talk Show. Our favorite part of the day was probably Warwick Davis’s show, “An Ewok’s Tale.” Our credentials advised us to show up at the Theatre of the Stars between 15 and 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. We arrived about 20 minutes early, and waited with other Premium and Deluxe Premium Package holders who had tickets for the show. There was a stand-by line for folks who did not have packages, and from my observation, it looked like there were still a few empty seats, so (at least for that show) anyone who wanted to see it, was able to get in. Our reserved seats were about 7 rows back from the stage, so we had a great view. The show was very interactive, and for anyone who has never seen Davis, I would highly recommend it, if he returns for future Star Wars Weekends.


If you've never seen Warwick's An Ewok's Tale, here is a video from a previous Star Wars Weekend:

After the Talk Show, we decided to head over to the merchandise area, Darth’s Mall, to see what was on offer. Earlier in the day, the lines had been crazy long, but at this point -- about 6:30 p.m., an hour before the was to close for the day -- we did not wait at all to go into X-Wing Collectibles (art, pins, other collectibles), and waited only about 5 minutes to get into Watto’s Grotto (t-shirts, mugs, build-your-own lightsabers).

Dessert party and fireworks.
Following a lovely dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby, we headed back to the same area in front of the Event Stage for our dessert party. There were separate areas reserved for folks with the regular and Deluxe packages. Not sure if the Deluxe folks got any different dessert offerings than we did, but there was a separate area for them. We showed our credentials and found a stand up table. Soft drinks and water were again offered, as were two alcoholic drinks. My husband and I tried both of them, but weren’t really thrilled. They were colorful, but pretty gooey sweet. I would have preferred plain wine and beer. Desserts included themed cupcakes, and some sort of weird blue mousse. They were all cute and fun. The Symphony in the Stars Fireworks were amazing. The reserved viewing area was perfect.


All in all, we really enjoyed the Feel the Force Premium Package during our recent Star Wars Weekends visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we are not over the top Star Wars fans, we found the special events and character photo opportunities to be lots of fun. We also appreciated the fact that the package made our day almost completely hassle free. We did not have to stand in line or fight crowds to the see the Motorcade or get into our preferred talk show. I was also impressed by the quality of drinks, snacks and desserts on offer. With the package, we were able to maximize our time in the crowded park, and really enjoy the events. I often think that the prices charged by Disney for some of these events are excessive, but in this case, I felt like we got good value for the price paid. Until next year, may the Force be with you!


Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world (until the Shanghai Disney Resort opens!). They live in Alexandria, Virginia.

June 16, 2015

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - June 2015



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the May Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:


There were just 33 correct responses to the word search puzzle on Extinct Hollywood Studios' attractions.

The first 10 unused letters in the puzzle were either XLPLXUVWTL or XLPLXUVWRT, depending on which REX you chose.

The winner of a Mousketeer pin was Stefanie V. of Ada, MI. Thanks to everyone for playing!

This month we are going to continue looking at extinct attractions at the various Disney Parks. The fifth park we will take a look at will be Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This is WDW’s newest theme park, so there hasn’t been as much change in the landscape as with the other parks.

Here's the link to the new puzzle:


The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin: There's no need to send me the completed puzzle, just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row, IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on July 15, 2015. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog in mid-July.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.


June 21, 2015

Fishing at Walt Disney World

Gary Cruise banner

Go Fishin

Last October Carol and I were on our way from Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground to the Magic Kingdom. As we stood on the dock at the Marina waiting for the boat we were able to watch the joy a young boy experienced as he caught his first fish. Wow! He was grinning from ear to ear and his eyes were sparkling; his grandfather, standing behind the boy, was beaming too! That bass was the first of several fish he landed in the few minutes that we waited on the dock.

Fishin at the Fort

They hadn't even sailed away from the slip where the 21-foot Tracker pontoon boats moor; the Disney guide simply backed the boat up, about 20 feet, and they fished between the boat slip and the marina dock. The guide baited the hook and then demonstrated how to cast the line. After several practice casts the happy young angler was able to consistently drop his line in the shadow of the dock, where the guide had told him the fish like to hide.

The Fort Wilderness Marina Dock

I think the folks on the dock were having almost as much fun as the boy and his grandfather. Everyone was cheering him on!

It took me back to fond memories of my childhood; I grew up in a small town on the north shore of Lake Erie. Boating and fishing were a big part of our family life and those few minutes on the Fort Wilderness dock took me back decades to happy times catching yellow perch, often pulling in two at a time, on the reef about 5 miles offshore.

Disney Fishing

It's not unusual to see people fishing in Bay Lake near Fort Wilderness, but it was a rare treat to be so close to the action. We could watch and listen as the guide worked with that boy and helped him land his first catch! It was another illustration of Disney Magic!

Here's how the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel described fishing at Walt Disney World in a September 9, 2010 article:

Lake Buena Vista - Bass guide Dave Osani offers these words of caution to those who fish the lakes at Walt Disney World for the first time:

"Warning," Osani said with a laugh. "May be habit-forming."

Osani, who has guided at Disney for 15 years, knows what he's talking about. He's seen novice anglers - men, women, boys and girls - get hooked on fishing and had experienced anglers become speechless after catching more bass and bigger bass than they'd ever caught before.

Then there were the sisters, one a veteran saltwater angler from Miami and the other from Polk County. In a four-hour trip with Osani last year, they caught 20 fish on lures.

They asked Osani if he was available to fish the following day and he guided them to 30 bass in four hours.

They came back the next day with two other members of their group. Osani guided the four anglers to 64 fish in two hours. The quartet came back the next day and caught 49 fish in two hours with Osani, including a big bass of 6 pounds, 15 ounces.

Outings like that make fishing at Disney a magical experience, both for the anglers who fish there and for guides like Osani.

"It's not always great, but a bad day here is better than a good day at most places," Osani said. "It's not uncommon to catch 40 fish in two hours."

An article in the Spring 2003 Issue of Disney Magazine provides a bit of interesting background.
Disney Magazine Spring 2003 page 41

Click on the image below to see a larger version.
Disney Magazine Spring 2003 page 40

A guest comment in 2004 gives this perspective!
Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 15

Disney offers two fishing options, the Guided Fishing Excursions described above, and Dockside Fishing.

Here is the sign listing current pricing at the Fort Wilderness Marina. Click on the image to see a larger, easier to read copy.

Fort Wilderness Marina Fishing Prices

The fishing excursions are a bit more than some vacation budgets can accommodate but dockside fishing provides some lower-cost options. At either Port Orleans Riverside or Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground you can rent a fishing pole, grab some bait and wet a line! If you bring your own poles, just buy some bait, the fishing is free!

At the Riverside resort the Fishin' Hole at Ol' Man Island is stocked with catfish, blue gill and bass. Click on the picture of the sign below to see current prices.

Riverside Fishin Hole

At Fort Wilderness you can fish along the side of any of the streams and canals that criss-cross the property or on the shore of Bay Lake or any of the ponds. You will find bluegill, gar, catfish, crappie and bass.

Shore Fishing

There is no fishing allowed from roads, bridges or docks, with the exception of a special "fishing dock" located behind the Meadow Trading Post. The fishing dock is pictured below.

Fishing dock at the Meadow

Bud M. from Cumming Georgia is pictured below holding the 5 1/2 pound bass he caught behind the Meadow Trading Post on June 3, 2015.

Bass at Meadow Trading Post

Just a few minutes later his daughter Ally landed a 3 pound bass.

Ally's Bass at Meadow Trading Post

Daughter Katie's bass was smallest, but still much better than no bass at all! Nice work Katie!

Katie's Bass

The fish were all landed using worms Bud bought at the Bike Barn. Looks like it's no coincidence that the large-mouth bass is the Official Fish of the Peach State! Thanks for sharing your pictures Bud & Sonya!

Read more about fishing, and find current prices on the official Disney site HERE or on AllEars.net HERE.

All fishing at Walt Disney World is "catch and release" so be sure to take pictures of your trophies before you let them go!

Bay Lake Bass

So, the next time you're at Walt Disney World and you decide you need some quiet time, a bit of a break from the hectic pace at the theme parks . . . why not go fishin'?

Goofy About Fishin

Head on over to Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans Riverside, grab a pole and spend a few hours pretending to be Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer . . . or maybe Ally or Katie M. from Cumming Georgia!

Doesn't that sound relaxing?

PS - Special thanks to my friend and fellow Fort Wilderness camper, Al Boeck, who endured some unusually hot weather in May to take many of the photos you see in this blog.

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About June 2015

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in June 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2015 is the previous archive.

July 2015 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.