Tuesday, April 26, 2011

34. eTicket WDW App

Back in January, I wrote an article about the "DIS" website.  It is one of the best all-around sources for Walt Disney World information.  A great compliment to the website is the eTicket application for the iPhone, which is run by the people at the DIS. It is a very powerful research planning tool as well as a perfect trip companion.

The first question many people may have regarding the app is "Where does the name 'eTicket' come from?"  When Walt Disney World first opened in 1971, there was a completely different ticketing system than they have today.  For much of the first decade, they used a ticket book system where each attraction required an individual ticket.  There was a very small admission price to get into the Magic Kingdom and then there were five categories of attractions, each with a different ticket value.  These attractions were labeled A, B, C, D, or E with the E ticket attractions being the largest and most popular.  Examples of these attractions were Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion.  The term E ticket attraction is still unofficially used today when describing the best that Walt Disney World has to offer.

In my opinion, the best area of the eTicket app is the map section.  It is a completely interactive series of maps that cover all of the parks as well as the resort hotels and Downtown Disney.  Each map shows you a satellite view with icons representing the attractions, restaurants, shops and even restroom locations.  When you tap on an icon you find comprehensive information including pictures.  It is fully integrated into the iPhone's gps so when you are on vacation, it actually puts "you" on the map.  This is a really handy feature, especially when you are looking for the nearest restroom!

In addition to the map section, the eTicket app also has a "browse" section that allows you to look up information in a category format as opposed to having to find it on the map.  You can get short descriptions as well as reviews of the attractions, restaurants, and shops.  Following the browse section, you will find a tab labeled "park hours."  Here you can get all of the park hours for the next 30 days, including the extra magic hours.  The fourth area of the app is the "My Itinerary" section which allows you to input specific info about your trip, such as hotel reservations and flight numbers.

The final two sections of the eTicket app are for specific groups of people.  First, the "Disboards" section is a link that takes you to the forums area of the DIS website.  This is a great place to chat with other Disney fans about all things regarding the vacation kingdom.  It is also a great place to post a question about trip planning, as you will surely find someone with the answer.  You need to register for the Disboards, but it doesn't cost anything to join.  Finally, the last area of the eTicket app is for Disney Vacation Club members.  It is a "DVC Points Calculator" that allows members to find out exactly how many points are necessary to book a specific resort on a specific date.  As a DVC member, I find this to be a handy tool.

The eTicket app is available in the iTunes store for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  The cost for each is $5.99.  I recommend the app to anyone planning a Disney vacation to either coast.  The creators of this app mapped over 3,000 locations throughout the two resorts.  It is certainly worth the $5.99 for the map sections alone!

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Friday, April 22, 2011

33. O.T.D. - 4/22/98 - Animal Kingdom Opens

Today we say happy anniversary to Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opened on April 22, 1998.  Disney is an environmentally consious company and it is no coincidence that April 22nd is also Earth Day.  Walt Disney himself was very interested in animal conservation and Animal Kingdom is themed around this philosophy.  Although there are incredible animal exhibits located throughout the seven themed areas, this park is also home to several amazing thrill rides.  Basically, Disney combined the education of a world class zoo with the entertainment and excitement of a theme park.

Animal Kingdom covers over 500 acres and is the single largest Disney theme park in the world.  It is nearly five times the size of the Magic Kingdom.  Even though Animal Kingdom is so huge, many guests consider it a "half day" park due to its relatively small number of attractions.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I would argue that to fully enjoy what this unique place has to offer, you should explore it for at least two days.  While it is true that you could ride the big attractions in four or five hours, there is so much more to see.  The wonder of this park comes from taking in the natural surroundings and interesting stories that are so prevalent throughout each area.  Don't get me wrong, Everest and Dinosaur are two fantastic thrill rides, but they are only a small part of what makes Animal Kingdom one of the most popular theme parks in the world.

When the Disney company started designing Animal Kingdom, they wanted to be very different from a traditional zoo.  As a matter of fact, shortly after opening the park they advertised it using the fictional word "nahtazu" which is pronounced "not a zoo."  They wanted guests to realize that Animal Kingdom was not anything like typical zoos that are found throughout the country.  One of the unique ways that the Disney Imagineers accomplished this feat was through their creation of incredible natural habitats for the animals.  There are areas where you would swear that you are dangerously close to large, meat eating beasts, but through the magic of Disney (and a little modern technology), you are completely safe from the apparent danger.  To the best of my knowledge, there still have been no guests eaten by a lion, gorilla or hippo!

In addition to the animal attractions and thrill rides, Animal Kingdom is currently host to two broadway quality shows.  Festival of the Lion King takes place in a unique theater where guests are seated in four sections that surround the "arena" style stage.  It is a high energy show featuring singing, dancing and acrobatics and it is certainly not to be missed.  The other Animal Kingdom production that is a must see is "Finding Nemo - The Musical."  This emotional rendition of the blockbuster Pixar film is performed with live actors singing the parts of each character while manipulating giant puppets.  When I first heard that they were going to turn Nemo into a musical, I was quite skeptical.  However, in my opinion, this is one of the best shows that Walt Disney World has ever produced.

It is hard to believe that Animal Kingdom has been open for 13 years.  It seems like yesterday that I was looking at the construction site from the top of the gigantic water slide over at Blizzard Beach.  Although most of the parks' original attractions still exist, it has come a long way in a little over a decade.  With the addition of several new shows, great new restaurants and one of the best roller coasters in the world, Animal Kingdom continues to get better and better.  The next time you find yourself rushing through this park to hit all the big rides, slow down and take in the details and hidden treasures that are all around you.  I promise you won't be sorry!

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

32. "Disney World Park Hours" App

Sometimes the simplest apps can be the most useful.  This is definitely the case with the "Disney World Park Hours" app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  There are plenty of websites and other sources for Walt Disney World park hours, but this app is probably the quickest and easiest way to get this information.  There are two versions available in the iTunes App Store, one for $0.99 and the other one free.  I use the free version and really don't think there is much of a difference.

This is the second app I'm reviewing by VersaEdge Software.  Earlier this year I posted an article about their Disney World Dining app which is also very impressive.  The Disney World Park Hours app provides you with six months of operating hours from the four major parks as well as the two water parks.  In addition to the normal park hours, you will also see which of the parks has "Extra Magic Hours" for any given day.

Another nice feature of the Disney World Park Hours app is the "Park Event Times" for each park.  You simply choose the date you are looking for and tap on the name of the park you are interested in.  You will get a list of showtimes for all of the major shows, parades, and fireworks displays.  This definitely comes in handy when deciding how you are going to tour the parks while on your vacation.  It can also help when making your dining reservations.

There is really nothing fancy about the Disney World Park Hours app.  It doesn't even require you to be online to view the information, except when downloading an update.  It is simply a great way to quickly see park hours and showtimes.  If you have a portable device that allows you to purchase stuff from the iTunes App store, I highly recommend adding this app to your collection.

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

31. Hidden Mickey Guy.com

Hidden Mickey Guy.com is the definitive, "unofficial" source for Hidden Mickeys. Some of you are probably saying, "What's a Hidden Mickey?"  A Hidden Mickey is a representation or likeness of Mickey Mouse that has been inserted into an attraction or other location on Disney property.  They are usually created by Imagineers or designers during initial construction and are sometimes very difficult to spot.  The most common "classic" hidden Mickeys consist of three circles representing his head and adjoining round ears.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and more than 800 can be found all around the Walt Disney World resort.

The Walt Disney Company has never published a complete list of all of the "known" Hidden Mickeys, but an author and Disney World enthusiast named Steve Barrett is certainly an expert on the subject.  He has written several Disney related books including "Hidden Mickeys, A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets."  Along with this book, he has created and hosts HiddenMickeyGuy.com.  Steve does a wonderful job at maintaining a catalog of Hidden Mickeys on the site.  They are from Walt Disney World as well as from other Disney Parks around the world.  He even features Hidden Mickeys from the Disney Cruise Line as well as from Disney movies.  In addition to detailed descriptions, Steve also provides pictures of most of the Hidden Mickeys on the website.

Steve explains the history of the Hidden Mickey on his site.  He says that they started appearing in the late 1980's in Epcot as an inside joke among the Imagineers.  When Epcot was being built, Disney management felt that the characters only belonged in the Magic Kingdom.  The Imagineers didn't agree and began placing Hidden Mickeys into Epcot.  Because of the their popularity, Imagineers are now encouraged to place Hidden Mickeys in new construction.
Hidden Mickeys in the rug at the Beach Club Resort
Occasionally spotting a Hidden Mickey in Walt Disney World is alot of fun, but actually using the Hidden Mickeys Field Guide and website can add a whole other dimension to your vacation. On a recent trip I found myself looking at HiddenMickeyGuy.com on my iPhone while waiting in most of the queues. In keeping up with modern technology, Steve now has an actual Hidden Mickey's Guide app that is available for the iPhone.  It is a challenge to see how many Hidden Mickeys you can spot on each attraction.  Some are rather obvious while there are others that actually require the flash of your camera to see!  An example of this is the cuckoo clock located in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Hidden Mickey on the door of the cuckoo clock
New Hidden Mickeys often pop up around Disney World during refurbishments as well as when something new is built.  There is a section on the website to submit a Hidden Mickey if you think you have discovered one.  Steve will evaluate it and often ask the website visitors to vote on whether they think it was "purposely" put there by the Imagineers.  He may actually include your discovery in the next edition of his book. If you are looking for a great new way to enjoy the magic of Walt Disney World, I highly suggest visiting HiddenMickeyGuy.com. It is also a good idea to pick up one of Steve's Hidden Mickeys Field Guides prior to your next vacation.  You can purchase them right from his website.

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

30. Theme Parks in 3D

When we use the term "modern technology" we are typically talking about something from the last two to five years.  Today I am going to be featuring a great new way to experience Walt Disney World that debuted in the last two weeks.  There are many websites that display great pictures of the vacation kingdom, but now there is one that actually has theme park photos in 3D!  I am speaking of Insidethemagic.net.
It should come as no surprise that Ricky Brigante is the first to feature 3D theme park pictures on a website.  He is obviously a big fan of modern technology and is the creator of the first Orlando based Walt Disney World and theme park podcast, which I wrote about in my very first blog article.  In addition to his weekly Inside the Magic podcast, Ricky provides us with current theme park news through Twitter and Facebook.  If you are a smart phone user, it is your duty as a Disney World fan to follow him on twitter.com/insidethemagic.  It seems like anytime there is a change or update to a Central Florida theme park, Ricky is there to cover it.   However, he has really outdone himself this time with the addition of amazing 3D photos to his website.

3D photography is not a new concept.  There have been 3D movies made as far back as the 1950's.  However, the availability of this technology in an affordable consumer product has been limited until recently.  On March 27, 2011, the Nintendo company debuted an updated version of their widely popular DS portable game system. This new device, the Nintendo 3DS, is capable of producing 3D effects without the need for any special glasses.  An equally impressive feature of the 3DS is the ability to actually take 3D photographs with its built in camera.  Ricky Brigante must have been one of the very first Floridians to own a 3DS as he was posting 3D pictures to his website as early as March 31st!

While the concept of looking at 3D pictures on a handheld device without using special glasses is intriguing, most of us didn't run out to purchase a Nintendo 3DS at $250.  Thankfully, Ricky figured out a way to post the theme park pictures in several different formats.  In addition to downloading them for the 3DS, we can also view them in the standard "red/blue" format right on our computers.  As soon as I saw these pictures were posted at InsidetheMagic.net, I grabbed an old cardboard pair of 3D glasses and started viewing.  To say that I was impressed would be an understatement!

As of this writing, there are over 160 3D pictures available on InsidetheMagic.net.  They can be found by clicking the "3D PICS" link at the top of that site or by visiting ThemeParksin3D.com to go directly to the page.  Also on this page you will find a link to order a decent pair of 3D glasses for about $5.00 from Amazon.com.  I ordered mine and had them in under a week.  They sure beat using the cardboard ones that typically come in video games or magazines.

As soon as I saw the first batch of 3D pictures that Ricky posted on his site, I instantly knew that I would be writing an article on this topic.  I look forward to the Inside the Magic podcast every week and certainly enjoy the info that he provides on Twitter and Facebook.  If you are a fan of Disney World or any of the Central Florida theme parks, I highly recommend you check out InsidetheMagic.net. From the podcast to the high quality videos to the great new 3D photos, Ricky does a fantastic job of keeping us connected to our favorite vacation spot in a very informative and entertaining way.

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

29. O.T.D. - 4/7/06 - Expedition Everest Opens

Today we say happy 5th birthday to Expedition Everest, one of the most unique and amazing roller coasters in the world.  This attraction celebrated its grand opening on April 7, 2006 in the Asia section of Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Bob Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company presided over the opening ceremony and the first official riders were six young stars of the Disney Channel original movie, "High School Musical." Just like most new rides at Disney World, many guests were able to experience "soft openings" that started as early as January of 2006.

Expedition Everest is a technological marvel that is nearly 200 feet tall.  At 320 feet above sea level, it is actually the second tallest summit in the state of Florida.  Not only does the train themed coaster reach speeds of 50 mph down an 80 foot drop, but it also travels backwards through the inside of the dark mountain at over 30 mph.  Now 30 mph may not sound too scary, but it is actually faster than Space Mountain!

There is no question that this is one of the most exciting rides in Walt Disney World, but it is so much more than just a roller coaster.  The details that the Imagineers incorporate into this six acre attraction are simply incredible.  It all starts in the queue line which is designed to look like a small Asian village that includes a museum that is dedicated to the legend of the Yeti.  Although most of us like to avoid long lines and grab a fastpass for popular attractions, I encourage you to wait in the standby line at least once.  Most of the props were brought back from actual Asian villages near the Himalayan Mountains.  This queue could almost be considered and attraction by itself.

In addition to a great queue line followed by a roller coaster that travels both forwards and backwards, there is one more engineering marvel that needs to be mentioned.  Just before the last big drop near the end of the Expedition Everest experience, the train is attacked by a 22 foot tall audio-animatronic Yeti.  To make this abominable snowman move smoothly and appear lifelike it has more power and thrust than a 747 jet engine!  The Yeti is covered in "skin" that measures 1,000 square feet, and is held in place by 250 zippers and 1,000 snaps.  Although he is only seen for a split second, the Yeti is truly a sight to behold.

Disney spared no expense in creating Expedition Everest which is the most expensive roller coaster ever built at over 100 million dollars.  It also won the 2006 Theme Park Insider Award for "World's Best New Theme Park Attraction."  Although it can handle 1,800 guests per hour, it is an attraction that should be experienced early in the morning or at the end of the day if you want to avoid the long lines.  Expedition Everest is definitely one of my favorite attractions in all of Disney World, especially at night.  It is also a favorite of our 4 year old son.  Although he is not quite brave enough (or tall enough) to ride it yet, he is in awe of this attraction.  On a recent trip, we went to Animal Kingdom one morning for the sole purpose of bringing our little man to his favorite spot.  He stood at the base of the mountain and was mesmerized watching train after train come screaming down the big drop.  I think he would have stood there all day if he didn't get hungry for some chicken fingers at Restaurantosaurus!

As I was finishing this article, I got news of some history being made on the other side of the world.  Just moments ago, Disney held its groundbreaking ceremony for Shanghai Disneyland, which will be its twelfth major theme park worldwide.  Just as he did five years ago at the grand opening of Expedition Everest, Bob Iger presided over today's ceremony in China.  Shanghai Disneyland is scheduled to open in about five years.

Have a Disneyriffic Day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!

Monday, April 4, 2011

28. AllEars.Net

There are many good "unofficial" Walt Disney World websites on the net.  I have highlighted several of them over the past few months.  Some of the sites specialize in park attractions while others focus more on vacation planning.  However, you would be hard pressed to find a resource as all-inclusive as AllEars.Net.

To say that AllEars.Net is comprehensive would be an understatement.  It includes more than 13,000 pages of information on just about everything related to Disney World, Disneyland, and the Disney Cruise Line.The site gets over 30,000 page views per day and has more than 700,000 different visitors every month. Whether you are looking for current news, attraction descriptions, or restaurant menus, AllEars.Net will have it. This site is really a one-stop shop for all of your Walt Disney World questions.

In addition to the obvious information that you would expect to find on a Disney World related website, AllEars.Net also brings us details on more specific and not so common topics. One of these that comes to mind is the section for people with special needs. There is an enormous amount of great info on everything from people with mobility issues, to autistic children, to guests with special dietary needs. The articles in this area of the site are invaluable and I always direct friends and family to AllEars.Net when they have any questions about traveling to Walt Disney World with someone with special needs.

Another great area of the site that I wanted to highlight is "accommodations." There are many places on the web to find general info on Walt Disney World resorts, but I would bet the farm that AllEars.Net has the most detailed and complete summaries of each one. There is a fact sheet available for each resort containing pages of valuable facts and figures including current rates and frequently asked questions. There are also slide shows for every resort displaying photos of the grounds, pools, and even individual rooms. In addition to pictures, most of the resorts even contain fantastic "walk through" videos for us to enjoy. If you have ANY questions about where you want to stay on your next visit to "The World" you should definitely check out this section of AllEars.Net!

AllEars.Net was created 15 years ago by Deb Wills.  She is recognized as an expert on Disney vacations including Walt Disney World, Disneyland and the Disney Cruise Line.  She is also a contributor to other unofficial Disney publications and has appeared on many different podcasts.  In addition to running one of the most popular websites on the internet, Deb actively participates in fund raising events in the fight against breast cancer, of which she is a survivor.  Although I haven't had the privilege of meeting Deb yet, it is obvious that she is a remarkable woman who is a true asset to the Disney online community.

Have a Disneyriffic day and remember to keep moving forward.  See ya real soon!