Saturday, January 12, 2008

Devoted To Disney

Beth writes:

Let's just say that Martin and Diane Summerfold can get a little obsessed. When they were younger, the Middle Island couple traveled the states together to catch 512 concerts by the Grateful Dead. "I'm still paying for meals we ate in 1968," Diane jokes.

But about 20 years ago, the Summerfolds ditched the Dead and switched to Disney World, a place where a couple of Deadheads could smile, laugh and blubber like babies at the sight of Tinkerbell and Mary Poppins. To date, they've taken 83 vacations to Disney World.

"I can't tell you how magical it is," Diane, 58, says. "Disney is truly there to separate you from your money. But I tell you, I've never smiled so much when giving away my money."

Disneyphiles, as the entertainment company calls them, are people like the Summerfolds who can't get enough of Orlando's Magic Kingdom and other theme parks. They are the people who know the difference between Adventureland and Frontierland. The people who know the meaning of Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.) The people who probably even know which animated chipmunk is Chip and which is Dale (hint: the latter has a red nose.)

Most importantly, they are the people to turn to when planning a Disney vacation. Why? Because Disneyphiles hold the keys to the castle: They have developed strategies to avoid long lines for rides; compiled lists of the best restaurants; and gathered scoop on where Disney characters hangout for autograph hounds. In short, they seemingly have Disney know-how in their DNA.

Number of visitors to Orlando down in 2006, new report says

Jason Garcia writes:

International visitors are particularly important because they tend to stay longer and spend more money on their vacations. The report said they accounted for 17 percent of all visitor spending in Orlando during 2006, even though they made up just 6 percent of all visitors.

There were a few bright spots in the 2006 report: The number of business travelers rose 1.9 percent to 10.5 million. Visitors from Canada jumped 5.5 percent to 693,000.

Courtenay said planners think visitor totals will come in higher when this year's results are tallied, based in part on more-encouraging reports of hotel-room rentals and tourist-tax collections in 2007.

The theme parks have likewise reported more upbeat results this year. A SeaWorld Orlando spokeswoman said SeaWorld has already set annual attendance records even though the busy holidays aren't yet complete. Disney executives have also said their U.S. parks have drawn record crowds.

A spokesman for Universal Orlando said its parks saw double-digit attendance increases during the third-quarter of 2007.

"Our holiday season is off to a very good start," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder added, "and we're excited about the future."

Christmas Vacation Time

The Orlando Sentinel writes:

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation show that December has been the worst month for airline delays in each of the past four years. Last December, for instance, more than one out of every four flights -- 26 percent in all -- arrived at least 15 minutes late. Another one out of every 33 flights was canceled.

Snowstorms in the Northeast and Midwest contributed to 34 canceled flights at OIA last Sunday alone.

Still, the crowds might not be as big as they could be this year thanks to $3-a-gallon gasoline and rising airfares. AAA says airfares, for instance, are averaging 16 percent more than they were a year ago.

That's part of the reason AAA's prediction of 8.9 million airline travelers is down 0.3 percent from a year ago, though its prediction for travel by car is up 0.9 percent. The agency's prediction of 639,000 air travelers in Florida is also slightly below last year's 650,000 total.

"Airfares averaging 16 percent more than last Christmas means that bargains may be hard to find for those looking to fly to their destinations," AAA President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Darbelnet said.

Local officials are more optimistic. OIA, for instance, projects a 2.1 percent increase in overall holiday traffic this year.


Vital crowds

The holidays are vital to Central Florida's tourism industry in general and its theme parks in particular -- a point on the calendar when they count on some of their biggest crowds and when they annually stage additional shows, stay open later and run all of their attractions, even the ones they don't open the rest of the year.

December crowds can get so thick that Walt Disney World is forced to close the gates, or at least the parking lots, at some of its theme parks, particularly Magic Kingdom. That happened three times between Christmas and Dec. 29 last year. On one of those days, Dec. 28, the gates to Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom and the parking lot to Disney-MGM Studios all were closed for at least a couple of hours.

Disney executives have expressed optimism that Christmas season attendance this year could be even better. The same is true at SeaWorld Orlando, which has added the Polar Express Experience ride for the holidays, and at Universal Orlando, which has added the Grinch Who Stole Christmas musical at Islands of Adventure and expanded its Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios.

In Orlando, the hustle-bustle of seasonal travel brings smiles and sighs

The Orlando Sentinel writes:

But hordes of arriving tourists could mean chaos on Central Florida's highways and jetways.

Officials at Orlando International Airport are bracing for some of the heaviest days of the year, led by Jan. 2, when nearly 110,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport.

Only the Saturday before Thanksgiving was more crowded this holiday season, according to airport estimates.

But two other big days are just around the corner: Friday, when nearly 106,000 travelers are expected, and Saturday, when more than 109,000 travelers should be there. The airport handles about 98,000 passengers on an average day.

Taken as a whole, November and December are actually much quieter months at the airport than those in the spring and summer, because spring-break and summer vacations give families ample time for trips to the theme parks. But airport officials say the holidays are more intense in that so much of the travel is focused on a few days.

"There is a crush around specific dates," OIA spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said. "There are busier peak days."

Complicating matters at this time of year are winter storms up North, which can wreak havoc with airlines' already packed flight schedules.

Generosity lets ailing youngsters have Christmas to remember

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

The Hwangs were among more than 100 families who were guests at a giant Christmas party at Give Kids the World, a charity that treats children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to theme-park vacations. This is the first year that the nonprofit, which is 21 years old, has thrown a holiday party on such a large scale.

The shindig, which included a magician, a deejay, a juggler, face-painting and a visit from Santa, was a gift from Dr. Phillips-area residents Ed and Maritza Gonzalez, who donated the catering, entertainment and gifts.

"We were looking for an organization to give back," said Ed Gonzalez, 46, a businessman. "We've been blessed over the years."

The party was one more way that Give Kids the World offers families a respite from the often-overwhelming routine of caring for a gravely or terminally ill child.

Jeanette Parker of Orlando stays at home to care for her youngest daughter, Ruth, 5, who has a heart defect, epilepsy and autism and is not toilet-trained. There's little time -- or money -- for a vacation. On Christmas, though, Parker, her husband, Leonard, and their three daughters, including Ruth, got a break.

Monday Mouse Watch : Changes to Disney Dining Plan infuriate WDW guests

Jim Hill writes:

There are many things that one might expect to hear at a full-service eatery at the Walt Disney World Resort. An attentive server asking a guest if they can get them another Coke. Or an anxious parent -- as they clutch their camera -- asking when's Mickey going to come through the restaurant again.

But what you don't expect to hear is a patron swearing at the top of their lungs at a WDW restaurant manager over something they just found on their bill.

Yet over the past seven days, this scene has been repeatedly at Disney World eateries. With Security having to be called in several cases in order to deal with these irate customers. All because these WDW visitors are furious with the changes that have recently been made to the Disney Dining Plan.

"And what's the Disney Dining Plan?," you ask. Much like Disney's Magical Express Transportation, it is yet another of the Mouse's ingenious schemes to keep WDW guests (more importantly, their wallets) on property. Preventing them from wandering on down the road and then spending their dough at the SeaWorld Adventure Park or the Universal Orlando Resort.

Florida resorts and cruises offer romance for Valentine's Day

Georgina writes:

A Caribbean cruise offers endless horizons, the to-and-fro motion of the sea, abundant food and activities and entertainment. Celebrity Cruises; Constellation sails from Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 8 and 29 on10-night voyages to such idylls as St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. You can opt for a stateroom with private veranda to toast the sunset at sea with your love. Rates for veranda cabins run about $259 per person per night including meals onboard and entertainment. Visit www.celebritycruises.com.

If you and your loved one would like to be catered to by a butler during your Caribbean voyage, try Azamara Quest's 14-night Caribbean cruise departing on Feb. 16 from Miami to such idylls as St. John, Dominica, St. Vincent, Tobago, St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Turks & Caicos. Fares for a veranda cabin start at $249 per person, per night, including food and entertainment on board. Visit www.azamaracruises.com.

Swan and Dolphin are two monumental hotels in Orlando, near Epcot, that boast "entertainment architecture" with gigantic icons of swans and dolphins. Guests can walk to Epcot with its international pavilions and superb restaurants. Among the gourmet restaurants on the Swan and Dolphin property is the one of chef Todd English with delectable steaks, fish and seafood.

The luxurious Swan and Dolphin offer the Mandara Spa by Elemis, an oasis with exotic treatments and a meditation garden. Other resort amenities include five pools, including a three-acre tropical-themed with waterfall and a beach with white sands. Visit www.swandolphin.com.

The South Seas Plantation on Captiva Island re-opened last year after a $140 million renovation. This 330-acre resort (more than half is a natural reserve) offers a variety of lodging options including tropical-d├ęcor hotel rooms and condos. Pastimes include spectacular sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, shelling, golf and dining on seafood in the new Harbourside Bar & Grill –don't miss the crab cakes! Visit www.southseas.com

The Song of the Sea on Sanibel has as its backyard the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel has only 30 rooms, each one with a private porch and they serve breakfast alfresco in a patio with flowers and a fountain. Activities include bike rides (bike rental is free), shelling and water sports. Visit www.sanibelcollection.com.

Advance bookings give hoteliers reason to smile, at least for now

Christopher Boyd writes:

The hotel industry has grown accustomed to uncertainty. In 2001, it learned how terrorist attacks hundreds of miles away could turn a boom into a near bust. And a series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 made many would-be travelers reluctant to plan Florida vacations during the summer and early fall.

Finally, a dramatic increase in fuel costs has led to unending speculation about a tipping point -- the threshold price at which consumers will balk at taking long-distance vacations.

With more than 116,000 rooms, Central Florida is the nation's second-largest hotel market. And its growing supply of vacation-home rentals and time shares provides travelers with a huge assortment of lodging alternatives.

Hotel occupancy rose during the final months of 2007, even as room rates continued to climb. Although no single factor explains the increase, a boost in promotional funds last year for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau is generally considered important.

Momentum, marketing are key for parks -- with few new waves

Scott Powers writes:

Milman said those parks and the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau have developed successful marketing strategies for instilling confidence in tourists about the consistent value, safety and security of Orlando vacations -- and that should give the parks a buffer against travelers' concerns about gas prices and the economy.

Also, the weak U.S. dollar is encouraging American tourists to stay stateside while attracting more international visitors. Recent additions of international air service into Orlando are another hopeful sign, he said.

"These trends would probably enhance attendance in our local theme parks and attractions in the future," Milman said.

Disney World, which has extended its successful "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion into 2008, had strong advance bookings during its fiscal first quarter (which just ended), a trend it expects to continue.

"While these factors [gas prices and consumer confidence] could certainly impact our 2008 results, thus far our businesses remain strong and we have not seen indications of a downturn," Tom Staggs, Walt Disney Co.'s chief financial officer, said during a November conference call about corporate earnings.

Universal Studios' The Simpsons ride and Disney's Hollywood Studios' Toy Story Mania ride are the only two major attractions scheduled to open this year in one of Orlando's major theme parks.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Walt Disney World: Where to Stay

Teresa writes:

Disney resorts come in three price groups: Deluxe, Moderate, and Value.

Moderate Resorts such as Riverside-Port Orleans give a lot for your money, and have huge grounds with on-site fun, such as kayaking, playgrounds, etc. Always plan to spend a day just enjoying your resort.

The Value Resorts are a bargain. Rooms are smaller and there are fewer pools than at the Moderates; but the Value properties are colorful, cheerful, and fun, often cost less than $90/night, and offer all the perks of a Disney resort.

The Deluxe Resorts-- such as Grand Floridian or Animal Kingdom Lodge-- have beautiful grounds, multiple pools, fine dining, kids' club, spa, Concierge level, and more.

Walt Disney World: Where to Stay

Teresa writes:

Besides the free Magical Express airport shuttle and free Disney bus system (described above), Disney World gives a bunch of goodies to its resort guests.

  • guests at Disney Resorts are entitled to Extra Magic Hours: every day you can beat the crowds at one theme park by entering an hour early, or staying for later evening hours. Also, the very fun water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, offer morning Extra Magic Hour too.
  • if the theme parks are over-crowded, Disney resort guests are never turned away
  • you don't have to schlep the stuff you buy: purchases in the parks can be delivered to your resort
  • Disney Resort guests can buy the Dining Option that can be added to the Magic Your Way base tickets for admission to the theme parks. The Dining Option has generally been considered a good deal.

Walt Disney World: Where to Stay

Teresa writes:

Disney's Magical Express gives guests a free (at least for now) shuttle to their Disney World resort, plus luggage delivery.

When guests arrive at the airport, they head to a special welcome desk and board a "Disney's Magical Express" bus to their resort. The service remains free, indefinitely.

Guests don't even need to pick up their luggage: before their trip, special Disney luggage tags are mailed out; the tagged luggage is picked up at the airport and delivered to guests' rooms.

Also: for many major airlines, guests can check in for their return flight right in the lobby of their Disney resort. Boarding passes are issued; bags are checked; guests can enjoy the Resort until it's time to board the Magical Express bus to the airport.

You Don't Have To Be Rich

Beth Haworth writes:

On a late Spring afternoon, two families departed for Disney World. They were very much alike, these two families.

Both had two children, both had middle class incomes, and both lived in the same neighborhood.

Both families took the same flight to Disney World. Both stayed at the same luxury 5-Star Disney World resort.

Both families attended the same shows and events, and ate at the same restaurants.

Both families spent the same amount of time at Disney World, and returned home on the same flight.

But there was a difference….

One family spent $5,500 for their Disney World vacation. The other spent $2,700.

What made the difference?

Hi – I’m Beth Haworth. If you're like me, you probably insist on getting the most you possibly can for your money.

I’ve written a guide to the best tips, tricks and savings available for a Disney Vacation. Strategies that can literally save you hundreds – if not thousands of dollars.

You see – I’m not only a best selling travel author – I was also a Disney Cast Member. And let me tell you – those were some of the best times of my life. I learned a lot – but I also kept my eyes open.






I watched hundreds of families needlessly throwing their money away because they didn't know any better way. If only they had known what I know!

And that’s how my “Ultimate Disney World Savings Guide” eBook was born.

It’s everything I've learned and discovered in making a Disney Vacation an affordable and magical experience.

You can have a Disney World vacation every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as the family who spends 2, 3, or even 4 times as much money!

Walt Disney World: Where to Stay

Teresa writes:

On-property or off-property? That's a Big Question for anyone heading to Walt Disney World. A number of factors are covered in the pages below, including:

  • convenience in getting to your resort, and to the parks
  • perks such as "Extra Magic Hours"
  • ambiance and fun
  • budget issues - lodgings
  • budget issues - meals
Each factor entails some pros and cons about staying at a Disney World resort. Meanwhile, several Orlando properties try hard to beat the Mouse in terms of convenience, economy, or on-site fun.

To add to the mix: only guests staying at a Disney World resort can purchase the "Dining Option" with their "Magic Your Way" base ticket -- read more, below.

Tips for Disney World Vacations - in the theme parks

Teresa writes:

1. For parents with kids too small to ride a ride: Use the "baby swap" (which is really an "adult swap".) First, parents and kid(s) all line-up together; Parent A rides first with any older kids, while Parent B stays to one side with baby or under-height kids; once the ride is over, the parents change places, and again one parent rides while the other one waits.

2. Pick your park according to "Extra Magic Hour". Which park will you go to today? Keep in mind that, every day, one of the four theme parks opens early for Disney World resort guests only. Either rush to the early opening yourself, (if you're staying "in the World"), or avoid that park for most of the day.

3. Get to the theme parks early. This advice is especially important for Disney's water parks (which are packed by noon) and Animal Kingdom (which closes early.)

4. Take a break in the afternoon .

Walt Disney World Vacations

Teresa writes:

With four major theme parks -- Magic Kingdom (bigger in itself than California's Disneyland), Epcot, MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom-- a Walt Disney World vacation can be complex and costly: all the more reason to plan carefully to make sure you have the best possible time.

Below are tips to help you have a great Disney World Vacation, once you're in the parks.

But first, before you get there...

Tips for Disney World Vacations - planning stages

  • be sure to understand ticket purchase. See Magic Your Way: park admissions are sold as a base ticket plus options.
  • consider which itineraries suit your kids' ages. The Disney World site helps you find fun for Preschoolers, Big Kids, Teens, etc.
  • check out age and height requirements for attractions: you don't want your child to look forward to a ride he/she can't go on!

Disneyland Vacations (around the world)

Teresa writes:

Disneyland California has the original "Magic Kingdom" classic theme park that reappears in other Disney resorts. See below for tips about planning all aspects of a trip to Disneyland California. Also: Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong Disneylands.

1. Disneyland California

The original Disneyland, in Anaheim California, has The Magic Kingdom theme park that's also a cornerstone of Walt Disney World in Orlando, and of other Disneylands around the World. In addition, Disneyland California has Disney's California Adventure, a 55-acre theme park. Find lots of tips about visiting.

2. Tokyo Disneyland and Paris Disneyland (Euro-Disney)

Tokyo Disneyland was the first international Disney theme park resort, established in 1983, and has been one of the highest-volume theme parks in the world. Paris Disneyland -- also known as Euro-Disney-- got off to a slow start in 1990, but is a top tourist destination now.

Planning a Family Gathering at Walt Disney World

Teresa writes:

Disney has developed a bunch of online tools to make your family reunion planning easier; plus, groups can enjoy some special entertainment experiences. Head to the Disney site and search for "Magical Gatherings."

A free downloadable tool helps you plan a group vacation by:

• sending e-mail invitations
• chatting online
• polling your group
• creating group itineraries

You can also order a free Vacation Planning Kit, with video and more.

If you have a group of 8 or more, you're classified as a "Grand Gathering" and more services and even special vacation features -- such as special safaris, or character breakfasts-- are available (for an extra charge). Note that only kids age 3 and up count in your tally of 8 or more. Find out more online, or call (407) WDW-MAGIC.

Read more about Magical Gatherings at the Walt Disney World site. Family cruises are a popular multi-generational vacation too, and Disney cruises are top of the line; read about Disney Cruises and see photos.

Family Gatherings at Disney World

Teresa writes:

More and more families are traveling together: whether it's a trip with extended family, or friendly families sharing a getaway, or a grand family reunion.

Especially in the case of a big reunion, planning the vacation can be a nightmare of logistics, plus huge pressure deciding where to go. Disney want to de-stress this mess, with online planning tools plus special entertainment options for "Magical Gatherings" and "Grand Gatherings" (--groups of eight or more.)

Choosing Disney World for a Family Gathering
Millions of people of all ages and interests have a great time at Walt Disney World; even a cultural snob can enjoy country-hopping and exotic dining at Epcot. Also, there's no need to agonizingly wonder whether Cousin Billy will like this beach resort in Mexico, or that Colorado ski trip: it's very likely that Cousin Billy has already visited Disney World, and knows exactly whether he likes it or not. Not to mention that Cousin Billy's little kids will be thrilled to see Pooh Bear.

''30 Rock'': Just Say Noel

From EW:

We've known that about the black Donaghy clan since last season. Jack's cousin is a corrupt basketball official, his siblings are either drunkards or con men, and his mother, Colleen (Elaine Stritch), is a shrew. So it's about time Liz Lemon introduced us to her red-sweater family: dad Dick (Buck Henry), mom Margaret (Anita Gillette), and mentally stunted brother Mitch (Andy Richter). Golly-gee, they're swell. Almost sickeningly so. Jack, who prides himself on knowing every possible angle, was initially baffled by their good humor. He mistook Margaret's compliment of Liz for sarcastic taunting, and when they showered him with praise — Dick said Jack resembled an Arrow shirt model — his unsure response was ''Why don't we cut the charade and you two tell me what exactly you want from me.'' But eventually their relentless geniality won him over, and before long, he was sharing muffins and contemplating Disney vacations with the Lemons.

Henry was destined to play Mr. Lemon. After all, the Oscar-nominated writer was the inaugural member of SNL's ''Five-Timer's Club,'' and Tina Fey shares a similar comic DNA. Ditto for Richter, who played the defective 40-year-old bro psychologically frozen in 1985 by a traumatic teenage ski accident. Not even Cerie's ''filthy Christmas miracle'' could snap him out of his haze when she responded positively to his pickup line: ''Do you like Wham!? Because I'm kind of like the George Michael of my school.'' The gifted comic deserves his own show — oh wait, he had one. Andy Barker, P.I. was fresh and funny, but NBC axed it after six episodes last spring. Try not to think too hard about that when you're pulling lint from your navel during Clash of the Choirs or American Gladiators.

Canadian Resident Chosen as Panellist for First-Ever Walt Disney World Moms Panel

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL, Jan. 11 /CNW/ - When British Columbia resident
Brigitta Noer tells other moms she can navigate "the park," she is not
referring to a local playground in Nanoose Bay - but rather is using an
"insider" term in reference to the 40-square-mile Walt Disney World property
in central Florida. And based on her knowledge, Noer has been selected as a
Disney Parks vacation planning expert for the first-ever Walt Disney World
Moms Panel, which launched online this week at www.disneyworldmoms.com. Noer
joins 11 other park-savvy parents to lead the online forum and help families
plan their Disney vacations.
Following an intensive review of 10,000 submissions that asked for
park-going tips, an internal selection committee chose Noer as one of 12
panellists for the inaugural online Walt Disney World Moms Panel. A global
traveler who has lived in places as distant as Germany and as close as Florida
and who has traveled to Africa and many tropical islands, Noer has personal
interests that reach much further than her airline miles. They include
horseback riding, skiing and working with animals. Having regularly visited
Walt Disney World as a young girl with her parents and brother, Noer continues
the family tradition with her 7-year-old daughter, often traveling with her to
Disney World for weeks at a time. Noer also finds these long stays keep her
up-to-date on all things new and exciting.
Noer will share insider tips, reliable strategies and tools as well as
personal success stories with other families who visit
www.disneyworldmoms.com. The Walt Disney World Moms Panel site also allows
guests to pose specific questions and have them answered independently by any
one of the 12 panellists.
"With so much to see and do, I am excited to share my tips with others on
Walt Disney World and how to plan the best vacation possible," Noer said. "In
doing so, it will also give me a chance to relive all of my magical Disney
World memories through the years - and create new ones in the meantime."
Whether it's traveling to Walt Disney World Resort on a budget or
deciding which restaurant best suits your family, the Moms Panel is designed
to help make planning a vacation to Walt Disney World easier than ever.
"As more and more parents look to the Internet for advice, this online
forum led by real park-savvy parents will serve as an effective way for guests
to ask specific questions about visiting the Walt Disney World Resort," said
Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World.
Families interested in taking a Disney vacation can log on to the Walt
Disney World Moms Panel site at www.disneyworldmoms.com for a wealth of
helpful planning information, expert tips and advice from its diverse group of
panellists.

About the Disney World Moms Panel

Launching in January 2008, the Walt Disney World Moms Panel is an online
forum where guests can get insider tips and insights for vacationing at Walt
Disney World from real moms who have mastered the art of planning a Walt
Disney World vacation. The Walt Disney World Moms Panel consists of 12 real
parents selected to share their vast knowledge of the resort and personal
secrets of success with other families who are considering a trip to Walt
Disney World in Florida. Guests can pose questions and have them answered by
the panellists, as well as gain access to other valuable park insights and
vacation planning tools for booking a Walt Disney World vacation. For more
information and profiles on the panel, visit www.disneyworldmoms.com.