Tear Down That Sorcerer’s Hat!


Note: This post was originally published two years ago as an editorial concerning why the Sorcerer’s Hat should be removed as part of the rumored overhaul of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Two years later, that overhaul still remains a strong rumor, but there has been confirmation that the Sorcerer’s Hat finally will be removed in early 2015. As such, we thought it appropriate to republish this post. It’s as timely now as it was in 2012. 

With a lot of rumors that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is set for a massive overhaul and expansion presently floating around, I thought it would be a good time to weigh in. No, not on the substance of what will be added specifically. I don’t pretend to have any “insider” information, although I am hopeful that Kathy Mangum’s relocation to Florida means something other than Cars Land coming to Florida (my preference would be for it to remain exclusive to Disney California Adventure so that park can have its own unique draw). I’m referring to something far more important–something that needs to be removed as part of any overhaul at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Big Sorcerer Hat (also known as the BAH–I’ll let you mull over that acronym in your head). Over the years, the number of people who like the Big Sorcerer Hat exactly where it stands has surprised me. To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with the Big Sorcerer Hat, I just think it’s not thematically appropriate for its present location in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and should be removed on that basis.

For years, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre had acted as a thematically appropriate “weenie” at the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards (not necessarily the park’s main icon–by most accounts Earful Tower was meant to be that) drawing guests down Hollywood Boulevard, which was themed, unsurprisingly, to various design styles of old Hollywood. Grauman’s itself similarly represented old Hollywood, being a re-creation of one of the most iconic theaters in Hollywood. It similarly fit the theme of Sunset Boulevard and transitioned nicely into the surrounding area. While the architecture down the Boulevards might seem like a random mish-mash, it is far from that. In fact, close inspection reveals that the Imagineers went to painstaking lengths to model the buildings after period locations in Hollywood. All of these buildings are representative of an idealized old Hollywood (“the Hollywood that never was and will always be”), and create a clear visual motif and theme to this portion of the park. (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: Disneyland Halloween

I’m back with the second installment of “Scenes from Disney Parks,” with a set of new photos that I recently shot during the start of Halloween Time at Disneyland. Every photo in this set is from Disneyland and features Halloween as a motif (be it prominent or in the background, etc.).

Disneyland is always a gorgeous park, but I especially like how it looks during Halloween Time at night, when it has a slightly ominous vibe in Frontierland and Main Street has some of my favorite flowers of the year. Seasonal decorations are very well done at Disneyland, and I love how they make familiar scenes “new” with changes in color schemes or by incorporating elements of the holidays into existing displays.

Halloween Time at Disneyland still doesn’t top Christmas at Disneyland for me, but it is a beautiful time to visit. If you want to know more about what to expect when visiting this time of year, check out our Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland.

As for these photos, after each photo I’ll share some technical stuff like which lens I used for the photo. All photos in this post were captured with my Nikon D600. (Unfortunately, I had to send in my Nikon D810 DSLR for repair before this trip, so it was out of commission). You can click on each photo to view it larger in my gallery and to see EXIF data on it. Hopefully other photographers out there find this info useful.

If you’re a casual reader not interested in photo jargon, hopefully you still enjoy this new set of photos from Halloween Time at Disneyland!

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B Resort – Downtown Disney Hotel Review

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B Resort & Spa is a hotel located in Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney Area. This review covers my recent stay at the newly-opened hotel, featuring photos of rooms and hotel amenities. A little too large and standardized to be described accurately as a boutique hotel, B Resort is like a mix of boutique and trendy, minimalist hotels. The hotel recently reopened after an extensive top to bottom overhaul, and more or less looks brand new.

This is apparent as soon as you step foot in the lobby, which conveys both a minimalist and luxurious tone. This is where the hotel really shines. The walls are a crisp white, which looks striking juxtaposed against blue accents and other features of the area. Here, there are also lounge-ish areas with comfortable chairs and large, touch-screen kiosks where guests can access a variety of information (including the ability to print boarding passes). Next to these lounges is American Q, where the smell of smoked meats beckons carnivores inside. There’s also a small display of artwork hanging on the walls in this area, which is promised to be rotated out, gallery style.

This entire main entrance area of the hotel looks really nice and is very ambitious. It’s a common area with a lot to see and do, and that is just plain enjoyable. It didn’t feel at all chaotic with arrivals and departures, instead more like a place where people (many of them well-dressed and looking like they were ready for a night on the town) were hanging out and mingling. I’ve noticed this type of atmosphere in other hotels at which we’ve stayed, but this was a first for a hotel at Walt Disney World.

Actually, B Resort & Spa seems like a bit of an outlier for Walt Disney World hotels in a number of ways, both good and bad… (more…)

Chefs de France Review

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Les Chefs de France is a table service restaurant in Epcot’s France pavilion at Walt Disney World. This review covers the dinner menu at Les Chefs de France, and includes photos from one of our meals at the restaurant. Chefs de France participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a one credit table service meal, and accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount for lunch only. If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, it is an exceptional pick for dinner because of several pricey entrees, making it one of the top restaurants for maximizing your bang for buck on the Dining Plan.

How do you say “meh” in French? Well, my French is a bit rusty, but I’m thinking it’s something along the lines of les chefs de france. We’ve been to Chefs de France a couple of times in recent years, and both times the experience was roughly the same. Overpriced, so-so food and alright ambiance together culminating in a restaurant that is sort of French. It’s not that Chefs de France is a bad restaurant. It’s really not.

Like about half of the World Showcase, it’s just an ‘okay’ experience. You might walk away having had a pretty decent meal, but it’s probably nothing that will knock your socks off, and it’s not the kind of highly authentic experience that will make you ‘lose yourself’ in the theming of the World Showcase. I think Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles and certainly the former Bistro de Paris really succeeded in these regards and are/were two of the gems of not just Epcot, but the entirety of Walt Disney World. Given that, I’m not sure if with Les Chefs de France it’s just my bad luck, or if it just is an okay restaurant.

So what’s the deal with Les Chefs de France? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: Week 1

Welcome to a new, possibly recurring photo-sharing post here on DisneyTouristBlog! Back when I started this blog, photos were a key component, with “photo of the day” posts being the most common posts here. Over time, I noticed that those photo of the day posts weren’t popular compared to the meatier, text-driven posts. This was both surprising and unsurprising: my photography is probably what brought a majority of readers here when the blog started, but most people probably don’t want to read a full blog post about a single photo.

Photos remain a key component of the blog, but mostly now in that they are sprinkled in throughout posts on particular trip planning topics and in photography reviews. After receiving messages from readers asking where I “found” a particular photo and “who took it?” I thought it might be time to get back to my roots and highlight some photography here on the blog. I do take photos of more than just cupcakes and corn dogs, and I feel like there’s something wrong with the fact that I often find myself editing photos of random food and hotel rooms right after trips, while the “good” shots gather dust.

The idea with this new series of posts is to highlight some of my recent, new photos from a particular Disney destination in a single post. Doing a single post with several photos means less hassle for you seeing multiple photos in a single post instead of a single photo of the day post, and allows me to share some photos that aren’t necessarily “home runs” in themselves, but work well to round out a set of other shots. This also helps encourage me to make editing my more artistic photos a priority.

After each photo I’ll try to share a few thoughts on the photo, as well as some technical stuff like which lens I used for the photo. All photos in this post were captured with my Nikon D810 DSLR–check out my full Nikon D810 Review for more details about the camera. I also have more sample photos from the D810 here. You can click on each photo to view it larger in my gallery and to see EXIF data on it.

Hopefully casual readers enjoy seeing new sets of photos, and hopefully the photographers find my technical info useful. My goal is to do this about once per week as long as I have enough new photos to do it, and as long as you all find it interesting. Oh, and to answer those reader questions…I found the photos on my memory cards and I took them. ;)

Let’s kick this off by taking a look at some of my late-summer, early-fall photos from Walt Disney World… (more…)

Festival of Fantasy Parade Tips & Photos

Festival of Fantasy Parade is the newest Magic Kingdom parade that debuted with New Fantasyland’s opening at Walt Disney World. This post has viewing tips plus photos of the new parade, and my quick review.

Honestly, when the Festival of Fantasy Parade was announced, I wasn’t all that excited. I thought it was a good idea to tie-in with the conclusion of the New Fantasyland expansion, but other than that, I wasn’t all that enthused. At the time, I often said I was “not a daytime parade person,” an opinion that was largely the result of not having been particularly enamored with any daytime Magic Kingdom parade since I was a kid in the mid-1990s. Also as a result of that, I didn’t make a huge effort to see the Festival of Fantasy Parade following its debut on our Memorial Day Walt Disney World trip.

With that said, I really enjoyed the Festival of Fantasy Parade. Actually, I downright loved it. Unlike almost every Magic Kingdom parade in recent memory, this parade actually feels ambitious, and large in scale and scope. The parade floats are all large, detailed and have a lot of substance to them. The float that has captured everyone’s attention is the steampunk-esque Maleficent float, and this is understandable because it breathes fire, but the Brave, Tangled, Peter Pan, and Monstro floats don’t garner nearly as much attention, despite being quite well done.

Add to this performers in costumes that have a lot of detail and are, in some cases, a bit darker and more interesting than the ‘fantasy fluff’ you’d expect to find in a Magic Kingdom parade, a catchy soundtrack, and a great energy, and you have a parade that’s a real winner. In terms of overall quality and appeal, I’d put Festival of Fantasy Parade up there with the parades I’ve seen at Tokyo Disneyland, and the park sets the gold standard for daytime parades.

With that said, I don’t think the Festival of Fantasy Parade is entirely perfect… (more…)

Visiting Disney World in November 2014

November is a very good month to visit Walt Disney World due to mild weather, low crowds (except Thanksgiving week), and the start of Christmas season! This month also sees the continuation of Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, another runDisney race, and the standard mix of events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Oh, and did we mention the start of the Christmas season? It’s our favorite time of year at Walt Disney World and the parks (minus Animal Kingdom) go all out for it. This post will cover what you need to know for November at Walt Disney World, and it has our latest Walt Disney World hotel-stay giveaway at the end of the post!

In terms of crowds, most of the month of November remains off-season, with low crowd levels until the week of Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving week, they spike tremendously, and this entire week through the Saturday after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World. If you can avoid this week, November is still a good month to visit for low crowds (check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year). Expect wait times to mostly be low, although you will encounter throngs of people at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (albeit fewer people than you’ll encounter closer to Christmas) and weekends at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival will be busy. Because of the lower crowd levels, you can expect park hours to have earlier closings throughout the month of November (except Thanksgiving week), but early closings and light crowds are something we’d take any day of the week over heavy crowds and extended hours.

Weather at Walt Disney World in November is unpredictable. On paper, if you just go by historical averages, November is a great month to visit. In reality, the weather you experience likely won’t be a historical average, and packing can be tricky because you might experience weather in the high 80s or you might experience a cold front with frosty mornings. Because of the potential for cold weather, our favorite Walt Disney World water park, Typhoon Lagoon, actually closes for the season at the end of October (one downside to visiting in November). We recommend packing for a wide range of weather conditions and paying close attention to the extended forecast before your trip.

I still “fondly” remember our late-November/early-December trip a few years ago when I packed all shorts and polos and we unexpectedly had lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s. Purchasing new outfits from The Emporium is neither fun nor cheap! More likely than not, you’ll have pleasant weather, but let that serve as a cautionary tale…

As a result of all of the above, November is a solid pick for visiting Walt Disney World. I know, I know…we’ve only done 3 of these monthly posts so far, and we’ve praised September, October, and now November as solid months to visit. Spoiler alert: we’re going to say the same thing about December and January, except with some caveats for both months. You’re probably wondering if we’re going to just say that about every month. No, definitely not. Just wait until we get to the spring and summer months.

Let’s take a look at what else is going on at Walt Disney World in November, and how you can make the most of your November visit…
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Liberty Tree Tavern Review

Liberty Tree Tavern, photographed with a special infrared converted camera.

Liberty Tree Tavern is a Thanksgiving-style and table service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, with a colonial American theme. By Thanksgiving-style, I mean that dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern is served family style, and the foods served in the “Patriot’s Platter” are what was consumed for the first Thanksgiving. (Didn’t know the Pilgrim’s had Coca-Cola! ;) )  Liberty Tree Tavern is a fairly popular restaurant, and a top choice for guests around the holidays who want to have a family meal for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Liberty Tree Tavern participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a one credit table service meal. It also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount. Unfortunately for guests on the Dining Plan, Liberty Tree Tavern is not a good value on the Disney Dining Plan (click to see top restaurants for maximizing your bang for buck on the Dining Plan). Not that it’s an awful value on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s just not great, thanks to its generally middle of the road menu prices. However, that does typically make it a good value when paying out of pocket!

One caveat about this review is that I’m not really sure how to approach it. It’s really more of a story than it is a proper review. Sarah and I last dined at Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner a while ago (back when it had characters!) and had an excellent time. So much fun, along with a solid meal, that I’m not sure why we hadn’t made it back in so long. Perhaps bitterness over the lack of characters.

We had reservations during our recent May trip, but we had to cancel because she wasn’t feeling well. Then, I went down for a weekend solo trip in August, and decided to eat here by myself on a whim when I saw an empty lobby and was told I could be seated within 5 minutes. My plan was to get a full meal, and then return with Sarah on a future trip so we could have enough of the menu to allow us to fully review the restaurant.

Suffice to say, after my meal here, I will not be back anytime soon. Rather than just not review it due to only trying a couple items, I thought I’d at least share the experience with an anecdotal review…. (more…)