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Category: Disney Survival Guide (page 1 of 3)

Staying Hydrated at the Magic Kingdom

Water is your friend!

Keeping cool and hydrated while visiting Central Florida is important anytime of the year, but especially during the hot and crowded summer months. While soda abounds at the Magic Kingdom, it isn’t always the smartest choice when the weather turns blistering. So, grab your sunglasses, your hat and your sunscreen as we look at some simply ways to stay hydrated.

Ask for Free Water
Any quick service stand or snack cart that sells fountain soda will be able to give you a free cup of water. All you have to do is ask! They will also wet down bandannas and small hand towels to help keep you cool. If the heat gets overwhelming, don’t hesitate to stop a cast member. They can direct you to the First Aid station near the Crystal Palace.

Fruit, Fruit and More Fruit!





Even thought the Nutella Waffle with Fruit might seem a little much on a hot day, it still offers a generous helping of blueberries, bananas and strawberries. You can find bananas, oranges and apples all over the Magic Kingdom at various snack locations but two spots standout for their variety.

Fantasyland

  • Cheshire Cafe – fresh fruit, lemonade, slushies and Smart Water.

Liberty Square

  • Liberty Square Market – apple slices, oranges,  bananas, grapes, green apples, mixed fruit, pineapple spear, watermelon and carrot/celery sticks.

Water Misters and Sunscreen…Oh, My!


Everyone has seen those carts parked everywhere selling the spray bottles with the fans on top. You know, the ones that spray the cooling mist of water?
Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the misting fans cause more sunburns than you would think! The water droplets magnify the intensity of the sun and the mist keeps the sunscreen from being as effective. We always recommend that you take a hat of some sort…and that you reapply sunscreen throughout the day.

As a reminder, it takes about 30 minutes for sunscreen to be effective. Applying it and then going into direct sunlight is better than no sunscreen, but it is still not as effective.

Citrus Swirls
Don’t forget to enjoy the reborn Citrus Swirl at the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland. This creamy and refreshing orange and vanilla treat is a perfect snack on a really hot day. Or course, you are in danger of getting brain freeze as you try to finish the treat before it melts.

How do you stay cool and refreshed at the magic Kingdom?

Charging Your Phone at Disney Parks

Most of us have experienced that sinking feeling when your smartphone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) has beeped its last, sad beep and powered down. There are a few places in the parks where you can plug in; we like the reliably empty Tomorrowland Terrace with its great view of the castle and passersby.  We’re not exactly sure about Disney’s official policy regarding on-the-go charges, so just know that they might ask you to stop. And while it’s a nice perch for people watching, it also takes valuable time away from touring the parks, so obviously, this plan is not ideal for you theme park commandos.

More covertly, you can almost always find a power outlet in the restrooms by the Baby Change area, but do you really want to be the person standing in the bathroom by the baby change table while the world passes you by and gives you funny looks?

Me, neither.

My solution is to carry my own power with me. Now, before you think this is going to turn into a self-help survey about making today the best day ever…

When I visit the parks, I make sure to have one or two rechargeable battery packs on hand. If you get into an area of the parks or resorts that has a poor signal, then your battery is going to die even quicker.

I’ve used two different brands and they can bring a phone back up to about an 80% charge within two hours. You can still use the phone while they charge. A great time to charge the phone is during a meal, unless of course you’re one of those people who spend your entire meal talking on the phone.

I’ve used both of these rechargeable batteries and they’re fantastic. You just have to remember to charge them each night, along with your phone, camera batteries, camcorder…etc.

  • Energizer XP2000 Universal Rechargeable Power Pack – it comes with 6 tips to match most phones and recharges in a few hours.
  • Duracell Powerhouse USB Charger – it has a standard USB out, so you can use your own charger cable.
I also recommend the Monster-To-Go Travel Power Strip. It offers four grounded plugs and it is small enough to fit in a backpack and take to the parks. That way, you can share an outlet with other low-power Disney fans. It’s also a great power strip to have in your hotel room when you need to recharge four devices every night!

All You Ever Wanted To Know ( Or Not!) About Love Bugs

Don’t worry, they’re not really this big.
 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you’ve visited Disney World in late spring, or in late summer to early fall, you may have come across hundreds of flying insects that seem to have two heads, and not known what they were. Indeed, it seems every year questions arise from visitors in the parks and on Disney message boards about these bugs and if they should be concerned about them.

Allow me to clear up the confusion and tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the Plecia nearctica, more commonly referred to as the “love bug”, and why you have no reason to fear them.

A popular rumor says that the love bug was the result of a scientific experiment created by the University of Florida in an effort to control the mosquito population that went horribly wrong. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth (I’m thinking a Florida State University graduate started that rumor). The bugs originated from Central America and over the course of the 20th century, have spread steadily over many southern states, including Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. 


Annually, you’ll see two major flights of these bugs in Florida – once in the spring that happens between late April and May, and again in late summer, somewhere between August and October. The love bugs stick around for about 4-5 weeks, and in my experience, weather can have a major impact. When it’s been very dry, as it has been this year, the number of insects is far less then when the weather has been rainy. 

A swarm of love bugs at a Walt Disney World bus stop in 2006.







Love bugs are not double headed, as many believe, instead, they are just often seen joined together in flight. And yes, they are connected so that they can, ahem, “reproduce.” As an aside, unfortunately for the male love bug, after reproduction takes place, the female will eat him from the inside out in order to provide nutrition for the new larvae. Fellas, let that be a lesson to always treat your woman right. And, should I be reincarnated, please let me come back as a duck at the Magic Kingdom and not as a love bug. 


Despite their often large number and constant presence (they are attracted to light colors, and since many guests wear lighter colors in hot weather, this explains part of the attraction), the bugs do not sting or bite and are completely harmless to humans. There is not, however, currently any type of insect repellent that appears to keep them away. 


One thing they are harmful to, however, is cars. Besides light colors, the bugs are also attracted to exhaust fumes, so it’s common to find them on busy roadways. Of course, insects and vehicles traveling at a high speed don’t mix, resulting in an awful mess on your car. And, the high acidity in their bodies can damage your car’s paint job. So, if you are driving your own vehicle down to Disney World during love bug season, you’ll want to take the time to clean the bumper frequently. While you can buy sprays that are supposed to make it easier to clean up, all you really need is soap, water and elbow grease. A dryer sheet also works well at removing some of the mess. 

Bottom line, while the love bugs are a minor nuisance, they in no way will hurt you, and you shouldn’t let it keep you from enjoying your trip. I’d still take a day full of love bugs over a day at work or school! 

How to: Beat the Summer Heat

Summertime…and the living is easy
I know it’s not even spring yet, but I can’t help but look forward to summer at Walt Disney World. It’s been a very warm winter here in Central Florida so far. Aside from a scattering of days that were quite cold (and yes, it can get cold here), we’ve experienced consistent temperatures in the upper 70’s and low 80’s . There’s also been very little rain. Having such a warm winter makes me think that we could be in for a very dry, hot summer though.
Summer of course also happens to be a time of year when lots of people visit Disney World. After all, the kids are out of school, the parks  stay open later, and it’s traditionally the period people think of when you talk about taking a vacation. If you’re one of those people, here’s some tips on how to survive summer at the parks.
 Dress appropriately
Average highs during June – August are in the low 90’s, but an average humidity around 60% during the same period can cause the heat index (or what a person’s perception of the temperature is) to be much higher, so it’s not usual to feel like it’s more like 98 degrees (or more!) out. This should go without saying, but now is not the time to wear all black clothing and combat boots, while lugging around a backpack so large it comes with its own Sherpa. Light colored clothing, shorts, and t-shirts is the way to go. And don’t forget to wear a hat and sunglasses. This goes for kids, too. Ditch the combat boots, and the flip flops (they won’t give you enough support as you walk through the park, plus you’re just asking for a wicked sunburn on the tops of your feet). And ditch the huge backpacks, too. I’m not saying don’t carry one, but visitors tend to overpack for the parks. Before you head out the door, ask yourself “Will I really need this in the parks today?” If the answer is no, or probably not, leave it behind. Trust me, by early afternoon, you’ll be thanking me.
Sure it’s a nice hat, but I don’t think it’s going to protect you from the sun….
 Use sunscreen
This is another must. I know, lots of people go on vacation and want to get “a little color” to show off when they get home. The trouble is, it doesn’t take long to go from a little color to a bad burn in the Florida sunshine, and you don’t want to be in pain on your vacation after waiting months for your trip to arrive. Use something strong, with at least an SPF of 50 for the best protection, and don’t forget your ears and behind your neck. The goal is to shield your skin, not saute it, so skip the cocoa butter. Parents, make sure your kids wear it too, even if they’re like me as a kid and scrunch up their face and yell as soon as you try to touch them with it. If you’re going to be swimming or at a water park, take the time to reapply it more often than you normally would. Remember that the sun’s rays reflect off the water, so you will burn faster.
Stay hydrated
Aside from all the walking you’re going to be doing, the heat will really take its toll on you, and you’re going to sweat – a lot – so drink plenty of fluids. Ideally, you want to drink water, and not caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, since those will actually dehydrate you more quickly. You can even get a cup of ice water from all counter service locations free of charge, though, to be honest, the water isn’t always that great. Consider getting some bottled water to keep in your room, and keeping it chilled in your in room fridge if you have one, or an ice bucket. 
This isn’t exactly what I meant by “stay hydrated.”
Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours
Whether you use them in the morning, in the evening, or both, these can be a lifesaver during the summer. Roughly 70% of all park visitors don’t take advantage of the morning EMH, so if you’re a morning person and can get to the parks, go! Not only will it be cooler before the heat of midday starts to set in, but you’ll get a lot accomplished in the early morning. And if you’re a night owl, you’ll love summer and the late park hours -imagine being able to stay in the Magic Kingdom until 2 or 3 a.m!   So if your group has the ability to stay out later,  you might relax during the day and hit up the parks at night. Not only will the temperature outside be much more comfortable, but experiencing attractions like Jungle Cruise, Tower of Terror, Test Track or Expedition Everest at night is really different.
Night time is a great time to be in the parks! 


Leave the parks
Regardless of how you tour, you should plan on taking a break during the midday. From about 1-4 p.m., the sun will be at its hottest. It’s no surprise that the hot weather makes people cranky and they start to snap at one another. Don’t let this be you. Go back to your room for a few hours, and take a siesta, or swim in the pool. Then maybe have a nice dinner and head back to a park for the evening. An even better idea? Take a day off from the parks (about midway through your trip) and spend it relaxing poolside, or by visiting one of the water parks. I guarantee you’ll feel better the next day!
Doesn’t that pool look inviting? If the scary clown doesn’t eat you, I mean.

Use Fastpass and a touring plan
No one likes waiting in line for things, and that’s especially true when it feels like it’s 95 degrees out and you’re baking in the sun. Make sure you use Fastpass for the popular attractions whenever you can, and if you aren’t using a touring plan, get one. I can  tell you from experience, they work very well, and can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend in line. 
Better get a Fastpass, or be prepared to wait to ride!
Go for the “cool” attractions
No, I don’t mean cool as in awesome. Do kids even say awesome anymore? I feel old. I mean attractions like Philharmagic, Haunted Mansion, Muppet Vision, It’s Tough to be a Bug, and yes, even the Hall of Presidents. They’re large, air conditioned attractions where you can get out of the sun for a bit. Plus, you can sit down in them, and you can probably even take a long nap without anyone bothering you in that last one. Another good place to come in from out of the heat? The shops. Suddenly, paying $28 for a t-shirt seems reasonable if it means not having to go back outside for 10 minutes.
Bring a poncho
 Summertime in Florida means rain (well, usually). Typically, these storms happen in the afternoon and although they are impressive, strong storms, with thunder and lightning, and can often deliver several inches of rain in a short period of time, they also don’t tend to stick around. Here’s a tip, too -they’ll be lots of people who will leave the parks once it starts to rain; chances are though by the time they get back to their resort, the rain will already be on its way out, so use this time to shop, eat a snack, or experience an indoor attraction. You may just find a much more empty park to enjoy when the sun comes back out.
Serious downpours are part of summer!
What are some of your favorite ways to stay cool in summer at Disney? 

Disney’s Childrens Activity Centers: The Sandcastle Club at Yacht and Beach Club.

The kids clubs at Walt Disney World are a great way to give yourself a little bit of grown up time during a busy vacation. Maybe you want a quiet dinner at a more upscale restaurant or just want to go on some rides the kids are too young for?  Whatever the reason, Disney’s kids’ clubs are a great way to carve out a little bit of time for  yourself. 

We’ve used the Neverland Club before and it was a huge hit, but in December we were staying at Boardwalk and planning on eating at Yacht Club, so we wanted something a little closer, so chose the Sandcastle Club in the Yacht and Beach Club Resort. Beach Club was a quick fifteen minute walk (or you can take one of the Friend Ships) from our resort. To get to the Sandcastle Club, just go into the main lobby of Beach Club and go down the long hallway to your right; it’s on your right, just past the shops.

Children ages three to twelve are welcome in the clubs (the sign above is an older sign).  Operating hours are 4:30 to midnight. You’ll need to pay for a two-hour minimum stay, but you can pick your child up earlier if you wish. You do not need to be a guest of the resort or even a guest of Disney World property to use the clubs. There is an $11.50 per hour fee per child which includes dinner if the child will be staying during that time period.  Unfortunately, there is no discount for multiple children.
We dropped our children off and they immediately started playing with all the games and toys. There’s a big main room with tables, games, and activity centers. There’s also a small room off to the side (well within view of the main desk) set up like a small house.  The kids were able to choose their meals from a list containing kid-friendly food: pizza, macaroni and cheese, nuggets. They always enjoy picking items from their own “menu” and always report back that they enjoyed the food. After they ordered their meal, they went off to play and we headed over to Yachtsman Steakhouse.
Besides games and toys, cast members conduct organized activities such as arts and crafts:  Our daughter presented us with several sparkly drawings when we picked her up.  Cast members are trained to make sure that all children are included in the fun and games and that no one feels left out. If you have a shy child or a child with special needs, make sure you inform the cast members when you drop your son or daughter off. The rooms are clean, the equipment is new, and the staff is friendly. I’m a worrier by nature, but I felt comfortable leaving the kids there.
To me, the only downside  is the cost. With three kids, I paid $34.50 an hour. Times that by 2.5 hours and for that amount, I could have hired a babysitting service like Kids Nite Out for four hours. A sitter service would have come to the resort room and when I got back (if history is any indication) they would have been snug in their beds asleep. But with the kids clubs, I have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re being entertained without watching television, that there are multiple adults watching them, and they’re being given dinner.  So, it’s definitely a trade off between cost and peace of mind. I still like using a sitter service and will continue to do so, but now that my kids are older and can stay out a little later, the kids clubs are a treat. 
Our kids love going to the kids clubs and they always ask if they’re going each trip. They get to play with new toys, eat fun food, and meet other kids, but they also get a break from the hubbub of the parks. Yes, we’re all there for a family vacation and the parks are our focus, but it’s nice for the kids to get a break from the parks one night and enjoy the more quiet atmosphere.   And let’s not forget, parents deserve a quiet date night once in a while.

Should You Add Charging Privileges to Your Key to the World Card?

When you check into your Disney resort, you’ll be given the option of having your credit or debit card added to your room key (known as your Key to the World card or KTTW), but should you do it?  Here’s what adding your card offers:

  • Convenience.  Your tickets,* money, dining plan credits, and room key are all on one card. 
  • When you pay your server at a sit-down restaurant, he can easily add your tip to the card. If you’re on the dining plan and you use your debit card (to pay for the tip and extras like appetizers and items not on the plan) and your room key, there’s an extra step and figuring out the tip can be a little more complicated.
  • Ease at check-out. When I buy snacks, I often use a snack credit for a more expensive item and pay out of pocket for the drink. If my debit card is attached to my KTTW card, I only have to make one purchase. If I’m using a debit for my drink and a snack credit for my cupcake (excuse me, I mean fresh veggies) I have to do two transactions.

It seems like a no-brainer, but the problem is that adding your debit or credit card to your KTTW card can make it very difficult to track what you’ve spent, especially given that it’s so easy to just whip that card out–it’s not like it’s real money, after all!  If you’re like most people, you probably keep check your bank account even while you’re on vacation, but it’s not as easy to access the charges that go on your KTTW card; you’ll need to go down to the concierge desk.  This gets even more complicated if more than one person on your reservation has charging privileges.  

Finally, and this is probably my biggest complaint, the bill that Disney gives you when you check out is even more difficult to decipher when you’ve got dozens of charges added to it. What? I don’t even remember buying anything at Goofy’s Candy Kitchen!  I couldn’t have spent $75 in Tattooine Traders!

Last trip we didn’t add the card and it got a bit complicated at times, but at the same time, I loved getting the bill at the end of my trip with only one charge–the room. I also felt like it was a lot easier to keep track of what I spent that day. Sure I could have walked down to concierge each night and gotten a printout or I could have kept every single receipt, but it was so much easier to just check my bank account at the end of the day.  Because of this, and despite the advantages, I probably won’t be adding charging privileges on my cards anymore. What about you? What do you think is easier?

Update:  Reader Kim M. has this great tip: Add cash at concierge and then use your card the way you normally would. At the end of your trip, excess money will be refunded. You can add up to $500 per day. Thanks Kim!

*Some park tickets can’t be added to your room key. If you purchase separately, ask if Concierge can help you add them.

Children Under Three are Free! Here are the rules!

Free stuff! Cause for celebration!

Here are the basic facts regarding children under three years of age in Disney parks and resorts:

  • Kids under three get into the parks for free. Documentation of your child’s age is not required however, cast members sometimes ask children their ages.  If your child turns 3 during the trip, he does not need a ticket as his age is based on the first day of vacation.
  • Kids under three eat free at buffets with paying adults. 
  • Under-threes are not required to be on the dining plan for your group.
  • The first child under the age of three does not count against the room occupancy requirement.  Additional children will count, however.  For example, value resorts sleep four.  A family of five may stay in a value if one of the children is under age three.  But, a family of six may not stay in one value room, even if two of their children are under three because one of those children will count with regard to the room occupancy limit.

Have a 3-year old who’s a big eater?  If you’re going during free dining, you might consider adding your not-quite-three-year old to the reservation as a paying guest. While you’ll pay for her park ticket, you won’t have to worry about having to buy her meals out of pocket.

Reader Email: What to do on your last day?

The “volcano” pool at the Poly.

This email comes from Lee, who asks:

We’re going to WDW in February for our first trip as a family and our first stay on site. We’ll be there for at the Polynesian. Our flights leave Orlando at 3:00 pm. What do you recommend for a half day? I know that we have to be on Magical Express three hours before our flights leave.

Thanks for reading and for your question.   There’s so many fun things you can do with just a morning.  Since your trip is seven days long, I’m going to assume you have at least a 6-day ticket.  Adding another day would only cost a few more dollars and give you some extra time in the parks. Since you’re at the Poly, consider checking out of your room at around 7:30 or 8:00; go as early as possible, as many other guests will have the same idea.  You can leave all your luggage, including your carry-ons, at Bell Services; make sure they know which bags you want to take on the plane with you and which you want to have checked.  Then head over to the Magic Kingdom. If you want to get into the park a little early, consider scheduling an early morning breakfast at the Crystal Palace before the park opens. That would give you some time to take pictures before the crowds come in, eat a good meal, and spend a few hours visiting the attractions.

The Magic Kingdom before the park opens. 
Plan an early breakfast to enjoy the park this empty.

If you’re not interested in going into the parks, you can always enjoy your resort’s pool, nap in a hammock on the beach, or do a character meal in one of the nearby resorts.  You could also head over to Downtown Disney to do a little more shopping. Don’t do anything that’s too hard to accomplish. A character meal at a resort that you can only reach by taxi is too stressful this early in the morning and attempting to do too much in the parks will just tire you out.  This is the time to slow down and regroup.  Wherever you decide to go, unless it’s a quick monorail ride back to your resort, give yourself an hour to get back, pick up your luggage, and head over to the Magical Express stop. 

A hammock at the Poly with a view of the Grand Floridian.

I usually try to schedule my flights for early afternoon so I can have a little time to wind down and say good-bye.  Going into the parks for a few quick rides, a leisurely breakfast, or just a walk around the resort is a nice way to cap off your vacation.  You might even get some ideas for your next trip.

A Good Hat.

Princess Beatrice’s wedding hat:  This won’t do.

Every now and then I find something I love to use in the parks.  This post is about one of them.

Chances are if you spend much time in a  Disney park during the warmer months, you’ll need a good hat.  Unfortunately, a good hat is harder to find than you might think. This is particularly true for women, the focus of this post–men can throw on a baseball cap and look just fine, but many women don’t care for them.  First, you want something flattering and you want something that you can toss into your luggage or even fold up into your handbag when you’re not using it.  After all, it’s not a lot of fun to carry a big hat around when you’re on a ride.  Finally, you want something that is inexpensive, because if you lose it (and you just might), it can be easily replaced.

I don’t have a  “hat head,” which is to say I’m  not one of those people who put on a hat and is instantly transformed into someone more glamorous than they are, but one thing I’ve found is that almost any hat will get compliments.  This is probably because, let’s be honest, how often do you see a woman in a hat? Not that often. And that’s too bad because a good hat can give you a lot of relief from the sun and look cute as well.

I’m really pale, so sunblock alone doesn’t keep me from burning. I find that a hat helps tremendously and it also makes me feel cooler. It took a while before I found a hat that worked well for me in the parks, however.  I learned pretty quickly that this style was just not going to happen:

I see a lot of people wearing these, and they work great, but I looked pretty ridiculous in it and while truthfully I probably don’t care how I look on day three of 95-degree weather, I care enough on days one and two to pass.

I see a lot of big straw hats in the parks too:

This hat retails for $290. Seriously.
This was my first choice as they look great on almost anyone, but the downside to a straw hat is that they can’t stand up to the abuse you’re going to heap on them during a normal Disney park day: Sweat, sunblock, and water, to say the least of occasionally being sat on or otherwise crushed.

Sadly, because I don’t have a hat head, this look doesn’t work either:

Although it would be great, wouldn’t it? Still, not very practical for the parks.  Let’s move on.

What I finally settled on was something a little in between:  A durable hat with enough structure that it held its shape but was still easy to pack and care for, and just as importantly, was flattering on my non-hat head:

This hat by Scala is under $30 and you can find it at places like Amazon and even on Ebay.  What I liked about this hat is that the brim was wide but not so wide that it got in everyone’s way.  I could also just throw it in the washer after a day or two and it came out fine.  It has a drawstring that adjusts, so it fits most sizes, even my “big-headed friend,” as she refers to herself.  Plus, it comes in every color imaginable.  I know this hat isn’t the most fashionable hat, but I get tons of compliments every time I wear it, regardless of the color. 
 
One last thing:  Find your “good hat” before your trip. You can buy hats at Disney, just as you can sunglasses, and in recent years the selection has gotten really good, but you’ll pay a lot more for it.

Hobson’s Choice and the Dilemma of Toy Story Midway Mania.

 

I recently read that a guest was in Disney Hollywood Studios selling fastpasses to Toy Story Midway Mania? Sounds strange to sell something that’s free, right? Well, not if you know anything about this attraction whose lines have vexed park goers since it’s opening nearly three years ago.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but nothing produces greater stress in me at Disney World than rope drop at DHS, for it is there that I am faced with what can only be described, despite appearances to the contrary, as no choice at all: The need to run toward Toy Story Midway Mania and grab a fastpass or wait forever in the standby line. Following the horde, inching ahead of parents with strollers, I grab my child’s hand and squeeze through the crowd. I realize, of course, that this isn’t very good manners, but I need that fastpass and so I reason that it’s okay just this once. Despite my efforts, there’s a good hundred or so people ahead of me by the time I get to the fastpass distribution area and most of them are getting fastpasses for large groups. By the time I get mine, my return time is 11:30.

The usual strategy with headliner attractions doesn’t work here. You can’t jump in the standby line first thing in the morning, ride the attraction, and then grab a fastpass on your way out, thereby assuring yourself a second visit. This is because TSMM fastpasses run out by late morning or at best, the return time is very late in the day, ensuring you’ll spend the entire day in DHS, missing dining reservations and headliner attractions in other parks. So, if you want to ride twice, you make your choice: Ride first and gamble that there will be fastpasses left or wait for a fastpass, the value of it being something akin to gold at that moment, and then wait forever in the standby line for a second chance. If you do choose to ride twice in the morning, by the time you get out every other attraction in the park will have longer waits. And since the line just gets longer as they day wears on, waiting until the afternoon doesn’t do you any good either.

Of course, that’s the real problem.  By devoting so much of your park time to one, admittedly enjoyable, attraction, you end up forgoing shorter lines elsewhere in the park. Clearly, because the majority of guests are running toward TSMM at rope drop, there are smaller crowds on Tower of Terror and Rock and Rollercoaster, attractions that are arguably just as good. This means you can easily ride these attractions several times before the lines get longer. The downside is that you’ve set yourself up for a 60-85 minute wait on TSMM later in the day, even during slower times of the year.

Disney has attempted to make the wait for TSMM more attractive by having what I suppose could be called an interactive queue, the idea being that you are shrunk down to the size of a toy in Andy’s room, surrounded by larger, familiar objects from the movies. The problem is that while staring at large replicas of games like “Operation” or a full-size Lincoln Log house is fun for a few minutes, especially for nostalgic grown-ups, there’s little else to do:  You can’t touch anything like you can in the new Winnie the Pooh queue, nor are there any games along the way to distract you from the long line, so the whole idea behind an interactive queue is really lost.  The lines are clearly marked by red bars, to discourage exploring the toys, which has the benefit of effectively keeping all but the most rambunctious kids in check while, unfortunately, at the same time giving them something to climb. After some waiting, you find yourself inexplicably thrown into a carnival scene where Mr. Potatohead acts as a barker.

There’s some interaction with the crowd, but not on the level of say, Crush from Turtle Talk. It’s less spontaneous and seems canned. You then turn a corner and, for those who are visiting for the first time, get the shock of seeing an even longer line, this one with stairs. After waiting in a dark, uninteresting little hallway, you get your first glance of the ride.

The ultimate question is, of course, is it worth it? Truthfully, it’s one of my favorite attractions:  It’s fast-paced, bright, and remarkably entertaining, even if it does only last a few minutes. For parents with young children or those who are visiting for the first time, it’s absolutely worth arranging your DHS day so that you can enjoy it, preferably twice, even if it does make for some stress. I’m not going to speculate what Disney could have done to make this ride less of a bottleneck, but the fact that they didn’t while at the same time creating such an extraordinary experience is still surprising to me.

Oddly and most likely unintentionally (because intentionally would be too devious, right?), the way TSMM is set up has one positive side-effect: It forces you to stay in Hollywood Studios longer than you normally might and causes you see some attractions and shows you might pass by. I think this is especially beneficial in a park like DHS, which has so many low-profile treasures that are easily dismissed in favor of bright, blaring E-ticket experiences. In that respect, it’s a success, excessive wait times or not.

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