Construction, Hub Changes, Sweet and Spicy Chicken Redux, Corn Nuggets, New FP+ Kiosks, Main Street Electrical Parade FP+ with Celebrate the Magic and Wishes – 2/28/14

by josh on March 3, 2014

We’ll head out to Magic Kingdom on the afternoon of February 28th 2k14 to see what’s up with the walls.

I’ve received a few (too many) inquiries as to why the website has not seen its usual number of nonsensical updates. The reason is I’ve been busy writing a guidebook with Dave from yourfirstvisit.net. It’s a unique take on planning a Walt Disney World vacation that basically boils down everything we’ve ever written about the theme parks into an easy to understand, actionable guide. Here’s the intro:

The following sections in this chapter consolidate thousands of theme park visits and hundreds of thousands of hours of research into an easy to understand, concise introduction that will act as the foundation for everything you’ll learn in the later chapters of this guidebook. We’ll cover each of the key components of vacation planning – deciding if the time is right, choosing how long to stay, picking dates, selecting a resort, identifying the best theme park tickets, determining whether a Dining Plan is appropriate, budgeting for your trip, and of course, maximizing your time in the theme parks.

The chapters that follow delve deeper into each subject. For example, you may find that the Dining Plan makes sense in your situation because you have two kids under the age of nine and plan to visit multiple character meals. The dining chapter includes reviews of every restaurant on property, including which characters meet at the best character meals. You may decide that a Value resort is best for your budget. But which one? The resort chapter includes in-depth reviews of every resort in a number of categories, including best pool, best food court, and best transportation. Concerned that Haunted Mansion might be too scary for Junior? Fabulous news. The attractions chapter rates every ride based on “scary factor.”

This guide is written specifically for the first time visitor, with the idea in mind that this may be your only opportunity to visit Walt Disney World. Whether that’s due to budget constraints, finite vacation time, or concern that dad isn’t going to don those Mickey Ears without a fight, the reality is that many people are planning that “once in a lifetime” vacation. This guidebook is designed specifically to cater to you, once in a lifetimers. Our only suggestion would be to budget for “The easy Guide to Your Second Walt Disney World Vacation.” You’re not going to be the first family that’s already planning the next trip by lunch. And you won’t be the last.

The majority of the content was written specifically for the book. For example, the third chapter of the book on how long to stay starts like this after a brief intro:

Most prospective guests will choose a length of stay based on budget and time constraints. Mom might only be able to get a Monday through Wednesday off work, necessitating a shorter five-day trip that begins with travel early Saturday and ends with travel late Wednesday. A budget might already be stretched thin when considering a seven-night stay at a Value resort. The good news is that you can very easily enjoy a great vacation regardless of trip length.

The bad news is that like most things, more is better. A longer trip means more relaxing, more theme park visits, more Mickey ice cream bars, and ultimately, more flexibility. More good news though – longer trips often have lower per-day costs. Most travel costs are fixed regardless of how many days are spent in Orlando. If airfare and related costs are $1500, the per-day cost on a five-day vacation is $300. On a ten-day trip, the per-day travel cost drops in half, to only $150 per day. Second, adding the fifth to tenth day on your Magic Your Way ticket is only an additional $10 per day. A four-day child base ticket costs $291 with tax. That’s $72.75 per day. An eight-day child base ticket costs $334 with tax. That’s $41.75 per day. Of course, days five through eight come with other costs like dining, souvenirs, and lodging, but one long stay is often much less expensive than two shorter stays.

If this is a once in a lifetime visit, we recommend trying to stretch your vacation dollars to eight nights, nine days. This allows for the equivalent of a full day at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, in addition to two days at Epcot and two or three full days at Magic Kingdom. The longer trip length also offers flexibility in late arrivals and early departures. You may elect to leave Epcot one afternoon at 3pm to head off to the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for afternoon tea with Alice from Alice in Wonderland. With an eight-night stay, there’s plenty of time to return to Epcot without fear of missing anything. On a four-night trip, there’s more pressure to stay in the Park and tour until the last member of the family drops. It’s either that or potentially miss out on key attractions that could be made up with a longer stay.

If time and budget don’t allow, a shorter trip can be perfectly enjoyable, particularly if you’re already planning a trip further down the road. A vacation with a four year old is quite different than a similar trip with a ten year old. While Junior might be all about a Cinderella and Prince Charming dinner at the age of four, it’s much more likely that the same child at ten will be all about Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest with no interest in meeting “Cinderella.” Two trips spread out over the years offer an opportunity to enjoy two potentially different experiences, while also spreading out hefty costs. It also affords a great opportunity to purchase two of our guidebooks, which is pretty fantastic in and of itself.


New reviews of every restaurant on property to get a quick idea about what to expect:

Hollywood & Vine – Character Meal for Breakfast and Lunch – Echo Lake to the left of 50’s Prime Time Café

  • Breakfast: 8am-10:55am: $30 for adults, $17 for kids ages 3-9
  • Lunch: 11am-2:25pm: $35 for adults and $19 for kids
  • Dinner: 3:30pm through 30 minutes before close- no characters: $40 for adults and $21 for children. Pricing may vary depending on season.

Featuring Doc McStuffins, Sofia the First, Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Handy Manny for Play ‘n Dine breakfast and lunch, this character meal is squarely aimed at kids who are invited to join the characters for singing, dancing, and parading throughout the meal. Food is best at breakfast, which includes all the usual suspects like Mickey waffles, bacon, and made-to-order omelets. Lunch and dinner bring specialties like Pastrami Rubbed Porkloin, Beer Braised Boneless Beef Short Ribs, and Lobster & Shrimp Mac n’ Cheese that all sound better than they taste. Visit this extremely loud buffet only for breakfast or lunch with kids excited about meeting the characters as food quality is decidedly average. The expensive, characterless dinner is best skipped unless it’s in conjunction with the Fantasmic Dining Package.

Teppan Edo – Japan above Mitsukoshi Department Store

Japanese Steakhouse. 12pm-Park Close; DDP; Lunch/Dinner Appetizers: $4-$10; Sushi: $10-$16 Entrées: $18-$32. Kids: $9-$14. Does not accept Tables in Wonderland; 10% AP Lunch Monday-Friday.

This Japanese Steakhouse seats guests around eight-person hibachi grills in one of six contemporary, windowless dining rooms. Parties with fewer than eight will most likely be seated with other parties. Food is prepared at each grill by Japanese chefs, who interact with guests and put on a small show while cooking. Steak, chicken, shrimp, swordfish, vegetables, and other entrees are consistently under-seasoned, but the accompanying dips aid flavor. All meals arrive alongside rice and yakisoba. Kids are usually enamored by the friendly chefs as meals are created before their eyes. Service is sweet and attentive.

And ride reviews:

Expedition Everest.
Ranking: Don’t miss. EMH: Morning. FP+: Yes – High priority. Type: Roller coaster. Requirements: 44” or taller. Scary Factor: Medium-High. Guests plummet down an 80 foot drop at speeds up to 50 miles per hour in the dark, but it could be worse. What to Expect: Interesting artifacts in the queue create the back story of a mysterious beast that resides in the sacred mountains. Riders board (two per row) a train that traverses high speed twists, turns, and drops before a final confrontation with the Yeti. Can We Handle It? If you enjoyed Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, or any other “big coaster,” you shouldn’t have a problem with Expedition Everest. It is more intense than Space Mountain, but not so intense that the younger crowd won’t be jumping up and down begging to ride. Some motion sickness risk, but no loops or inversions. Little jostling or jerkiness. When To Go: At park open, in the final hour of operation, or with FastPass+. . Expect to Wait: 35 to 60 minutes in the afternoon. Length: 3 minutes. Where to Sit: The first row provides the best view, but the last provides the wildest ride. There really isn’t a bad seat on the train. Single Rider Line: Yes, to the right of standby entrance.

The last time I met Dave, he was staying in a 2-bedroom suite at the Villas at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. By himself. Paying cash. So he could update readers on what it’s like to actually stay there. Considering the cash price is well over $1,000 a night, this seemed somewhat insane to me. I didn’t tell him. Okay I did tell him.

The good news is that readers receive all of his expertise on the resorts, including full diagrams of what to expect from each room type. Choosing a resort is one of the most important (and expensive) choices any guest makes and the book clearly outlines the differences among them.

We also have a unique way of keeping book owners up to date with all  of the changes to MyMagic+ and FastPass+ as they come down the pipeline.

The goal is really to make a fun, informative, accessible planning tool for prospective guests. While it’s cleverly marketed to the first time visitor, the majority of the content will help return visitors as well. We’re pretty excited about it. The lawyers say that I can’t promise the book will look good on any bookshelf. But it will look good on almost any bookshelf, in addition to making any table look very distinguished. And you guys know I don’t throw around the word “very.”

Okay, back to the walls at hand. The ferry boats have seen some modifications, including moving the seating back so there’s more room to stand. It’s always smarter to head up to the second level because very few Americans are willing to walk up stairs and it’s far less crowded.

Speaking of ferries, Disney is purportedly building a second dock at the Ticket and Transportation Center to at least make it feel like transit times are faster.

How do we know it’s time to show our #DisneySide if there’s no banner?

Remember a few months ago when there were basically no walls and scrims anywhere around Magic Kingdom? Yeah….get used to them again.

FastPass+ woes are easing a bit at Magic Kingdom, at least in terms of kiosk waits.

You may remember this past post on where the best FastPass+ kiosks are located. It actually recommended this one in Town Square Theater just inside the entrance, which seems a bit counter-intuitive since it’s right inside the entrance and theoretically the first one guests pass. But as you can see, it’s 4:15pm and there are at least eight cast members working and nobody in line.

There was a bit of confusion when I mentioned guests without MagicBands couldn’t use this area, also located in Town Square Theater. These are merely iPads with no ticket/MagicBand scanners attached – I guess aimed at on-site guests and those with MagicBands that don’t have the My Disney Experience app. Almost all of the other locations have iPads with scanners attached, in addition to the actual kiosks themselves that all have scanners. If you don’t have the app and have MagicBands and find Town Square Theater convenient, this is your best choice as all of a dozen people visit over the course of the day.

Your neighborhood crane continues removing the Castle Dream Lights at a pace of approximately 4.7 lights per day from the hours of 11:30pm – 7pm. That leaves a 4.5 hour window for the nighttime entertainment. This is expected to continue through the end of March.

Walls remain outside Casey’s Corner, though the quick service did reopen a couple weeks ago.

The big news is the removal of the bleachers and the addition of much needed seating.

The stench of sort-of-beef hot dogs, chili, and I don’t even want to think about what else is enough to cause me to stick my Barbecue Slaw Dog in my pockets and head elsewhere. But more indoor seating is certainly welcome, particularly in the summer heat and rain. Amusingly, they stuck the garbage cans right next to the narrow entrance/exit door, causing backups and frustration.

Disney has begun opening up The Hub area in front of Cinderella Castle by removing planters and widening walkways.

Disney Parks Blog ran a post detailing many of the changes, along with this video that kind of shows what they’re talking about.

The current hub.

The rendering of the new hub. You’ll notice that there will basically be a second ring around the current hub, providing additional pathways and Wishes viewing areas. Towards the bottom, you’ll notice that part of the Castle moat is filled in. In the rendering, the old swan boat dock and rose garden are eliminated. It’s hard to say whether that will come to fruition or it’s merely an artistic oversight in a hastily crafted video.

Much of the moat has already been drained.

Bridge into Liberty Square.

Just enough water for a reflection of the crane.

The scene outside Tomorrowland is not quite as pretty.

With much of the water drained, the poor ducks cling to a corner underneath Tomorrowland Terrace where there’s still a bit of a puddle.

Even less attractive, the egrets have easy pickings as they feed on the dying fish stuck out of water.

It’s not so bad if you don’t look down.

Trash at the bottom of the moat includes Mountain Dew cans, a lot of cups and lids, parade debris, several canes, a few pairs of glasses, and a lot of other junk.

Some umbrellas.

Work is expected to take 18 months.

Sleepy Hollow Inn’s Waffle Sandwiches are a cult favorite.

$7.19 buys you one of these Sweet and Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. I’m not sure the size of the thing is evident, but it’s a ton of food – a freshly pressed waffle, arugula, a thick piece of chicken breaded and tossed in a sweet chili sauce, and a spicy slaw. I wouldn’t characterize it as particularly spicy, but it is one of the better, more unique entrees at Magic Kingdom and a great value for the money.

Scrims up in Adventureland.

One of two newly built, permanent FastPass+ kiosk locations sits to the left of the entrance to Jungle Cruise. If you’re headed to Tinker Bell, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, or another stop in Adventureland or Frontierland first thing, it would be a good stop if you need to make FP+ reservations.

The other new, permanent location is located at the old Buzz Lightyear FASTPASS machines.

This is across from another permanent location at Stitch’s Great Escape. With the number of people headed through Tomorrowland at rope drop and throughout the morning, the extra capacity is apparently required.

The Fantasyland location has gotten more robust.

There’s an expanded section closer to Mickey’s PhilharMagic entrance. It’s about a dozen kiosks and another dozen cast members with iPads/scanners.

More walls in front of Enchanted Tiki Room.

Golden Oak Outpost is serving spicy chicken sandwiches.

In addition to something called “Corn Nuggets Dusted with Powdered Sugar.”

$3.99 buys you a dozen of these suckers, lightly battered and fried.

I think my camera is still covered in powdered sugar. These are pretty delicious – sort of a fried macaroni and cheese ball with corn instead. We were warned that they were “basically a dessert” when we ordered and they are indeed a touch sweet. Very good and another good value.

Splash Mountain’s refurbishment continues with less scaffolding than last time and some water flowing down there where the logs are located. It’s scheduled to reopen March 22nd.

Friday the 28th was significantly busier than predicted, helped by the poor weather the day before. The website would remind you that Magic Kingdom is going to be busy the day after heavy rain, real or predicted by the weatherperson. This doesn’t bode well for the spring break season.

The temporary FastPass+ kiosk location inside Heritage House was actually closed.

Pathway expansion continues in Liberty Square where Disney hopes wider paths will aid movement during parades. Considering I got stuck in Frontierland during the Electrical Parade just a couple weeks ago, it’s a welcome addition.

Work is being finalized on the Mine Train.

Walls on the Enchanted Tales side of New Fantasyland came down a couple weeks ago.

A train with weights in each seat was cycling for several hours.

The track is surprisingly close to the path with just a wall and a few feet separating guests from wild mine cars flying by.

The cars are nearly silent as they whiz around the track.

It’s a little strange looking in one direction and seeing three separate intellectual properties, in addition to Storybook Circus tents in the background. One wonders if we’ll ever see another attraction that isn’t backed by a strong property like Avatar(?) or Star Wars. The days of new Test Tracks and Soarins are probably over. Consider how little Soarin’ merchandise sells compared to something like Cars.

A Third Reich-ish Triton statue sits in front of the Disney Vacation Club kiosk across from Ariel’s Grotto. One supposes it points to the number of points you should buy. Higher.

With some sort of fake media event scheduled at the end of the month, Mine Train soft openings can’t be far off.

FastPass+ Priority as written in the Cheat Sheet:
1. Enchanted Tales with Belle
2. Peter Pan’s Flight
3. Main Street Electrical Parade
4. Space Mountain
5. Splash Mountain (when high temperatures are 80+ degrees)
6. Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto
7. Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall
8. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
9. Cinderella at Princess Fairytale Hall
10. Tomorrowland Speedway
Looking over the beginning of the website’s FastPass+ prioritization list, you’ll notice Main Street Electrical Parade comes in near the top. The website’s opinion is that FastPass+ priority should be based on utility in the afternoon and evening when wait times are highest. A FP+ should save as much time and frustration as possible.

Main Street Electrical Parade can be a significant hassle to experience, particularly on Main Street when there’s a limited number of Parades scheduled during the week. The FP+ viewing location for the Electrical Parade is smack dab in the center of the Hub with the Castle as the background. The return time begins 20 minutes prior to the start of the parade and you may want to arrive about ten minutes before that to guarantee a viewing location in the front row or on the curb. I’m standing in the FP+ area about a minute before the Parade arrives and you can see how much extra room there is in here. The area is incredibly well policed with multiple cast members along the rope telling guests the section is reserved for FP+ users. Cast members then position themselves at the entrance and along the rope throughout the Parade to make sure nobody sneaks in.

FP+ basically eliminates the possibility that somebody random is going to come up two minutes before the Parade starts and push their kids in front of you, reducing much of the stress of waiting for the Parade to roll by.

Cinderella Castle provides a great backdrop. Yes, you could see the second parade in Frontierland, but a dark Country Bear Jamboree with the scent of Pecos Bill’s Chili Cheese Fries in the background is not quite the same ambiance. The FP+ area continues down toward the Castle so you could sit down right in front of it.

Just because the Electrical Parade is a high priority FP+ doesn’t mean you need to book it over another experience. The later parade (when available) sees much leaner crowds than the first due to the number of people that leave immediately after Wishes. Seeing the second Parade and using FP+ elsewhere is certainly a viable alternative, but FP+ really makes seeing the first Parade fairly painless. Something that can’t be said on the side of the curb elsewhere most nights.

The excellent Celebrate the Magic projection show usually follows about 15 minutes after the Parade passes.

The Electrical Parade FP+ area is among the best places to see the show and guests are welcome to stand in the same spot or move closer to the center of the Castle.

adela dazeem pls

Mickey, what are your thoughts on FastPass+?

While the views of the Electrical Parade and Celebrate the Magic are ideal, it’s a little close to fully enjoy Wishes.

Many of the bursts are too low and hidden by the Castle.

You’ll still be able to enjoy the larger bursts, the soundtrack, and the general “feeling” of the fireworks.

Most people will want to stay put.

If you do move for a more advantageous viewing location for Wishes, it should be immediately after the Electrical Parade passes. Follow the Parade for a moment, but continue around the Hub toward Adventureland and then back down Main Street. Spots will open up on the street as people follow the Parade into Frontierland for no reason and space opens up in the street that was once blocked off for the Parade.

One other significant change coming to this area is the addition of a more permanent backstage exit in between Tomorrowland Terrace and Plaza Restaurant. You’ll sometimes see the walkway open after Wishes to help aid congestion, but the area is basically a parking lot with the backs of the Main Street buildings. The update should see some beautification and the walkway open much more often.

Should have Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney updates later this week.

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Aristol March 3, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Welcome back Josh, I can’t wait for reading the book. We missed you. You disappearance cost me lots of steaks for Yeti:)

Erika March 3, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Great post! Excited to be planning a trip again!
My boys will miss the bleachers….maybe not great seating but novel for little boys to crunch on cracker jacks and watch cartoons….
After a wishes fail last summer….i will keep reading for the best use of fp+…
thanks Josh! Congrats on the book!

Kyle March 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Josh,

How far out from your arrival date typically would you see MSEP FP+ become available for selection?

Louise March 4, 2014 at 12:29 am

Love the website and congrats on the book. Will it be coming out on Kindle/ e-book or will it be physical copies only?

Agnes March 4, 2014 at 4:48 am

Just another congrats on the book – can’t wait!

Marita Cuozzo March 4, 2014 at 4:51 am

Thanks Chris I got it to work but it only reserved one fast pass for me and not the rest of my party. I called disney but they said I have to wait for checkin to resolve it. Hopefully we will be fast passing our lunch at BOG!

Kerrie March 4, 2014 at 5:29 am

Yay! Another new post. I have been going through withdrawal. Congrats on the book. 15 trips in and I’ll still buy it!

Psac March 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

I see an error with the book cover. “Josh” should be in quotes.

Candice March 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

Welcome back – congratulations on the book. I look forward to reading more. :)

mallory March 4, 2014 at 8:39 am

josh, what are your thoughts on the wishes FP+?

RebeccaMcK March 4, 2014 at 9:01 am

Haven’t read the rest of the comments but just wanted to say I hope you’ll put up a link to where we can buy the book once it’s ready (even if it’s, say, Amazon…it’ll serve as a reminder to us to go over there and order it). Great pics btw.

cjuers March 4, 2014 at 9:08 am

CONGRATS! I will be buying a copy for sure!

Goofy13 March 4, 2014 at 9:32 am

Congrats and Sign me up for a copy please! I can’t believe building a walkway is going to take 18 months. Vacation ruined. I want my money back for my MK days on our park hoppers.

JD March 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

We were at MK the same day. It was crazy busy. At one point Small World and Peter Pan were both at 60 minutes. BOG lunch was a 90 minute wait for standby (I asked. We had fastpass reservation.)

We skipped the parade and did several rides instead.

Shawn March 4, 2014 at 5:22 pm

How dare you work on something that can make you money!!! We want our free info!!!

Congrats on the future New York Times Best Seller…there better be a drinking around the world section!!!

Matthew March 4, 2014 at 5:55 pm

That’s my camera in the second drained moat shot! Just below the cane. Josh if you have the chance snag that thing for me!

Heather March 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Thanks for the post! I’ve missed them… But I look forward to buying your book, even though I’ll be taking my 10th trip this summer. It will help me pass the time until I can be there in person.

Jenn March 5, 2014 at 10:05 am

Yay!! Your back!! Wow the hub is gonna be a mess. :( any ideas what it may be like in early July?? With this affect the parade route??

RAY March 6, 2014 at 10:01 am

Hey, Josh welcome back and Good Luck on your book.

LesliePR March 7, 2014 at 9:57 am

Please please please let us know when we can pre-order the book. I’m a librarian!!! :D

TriSeb March 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Josh, can I use our CLP dinner as a credit/discount towards the purchase of a book? Just kidding… I will definitely do my part to ensure the book is a success… As long as long as the book contains plenty of the “snark” —whatever that means. Great update, as per usual, thank you

Sharon March 7, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I really am not a creeper but I was wondering why you weren’t posting as often. Good to know it was for a good cause.

Nicole March 10, 2014 at 6:38 pm

We were there that day, but didn’t arrive until 12:30pm which was 100% the problem, but it was more busy then we have ever seen it. At around 1, pirates had a 50 minute wait. Luckily we used our FastPasses and got the eff out, because we returned about 9pm right when the second MSEP was starting, and could practically walk on any ride until about 1am when they closed. Not to mention, we just walked up to the curb outside of the train station and had front row for the parade.

dusty cheatham March 16, 2014 at 6:25 am

king trition & the salute . entertainment & a history lesson @ the same time . priceless

mike March 16, 2014 at 12:28 pm

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!! Congrats on the book Josh! I hope you plan on pimping it on your site when pre-orders go up (DUH!). I’m in and would LOVE to read your thoughts without having a messy IPad or laptop involved. Even better, put it in audio book form or a podcast and I can pipe your words of wisdom RIGHT INTO MY BRAIN without having the labor through actually READING!

Seriously, congrats and looking forward to the book!

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