Disneyland 60th Anniversary Preview

Disney finally announced what’s in store for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary, and the “Diamond Celebration” looks to be quite substantial, with a new parade, new fireworks, re-Imagining of attractions, and more, all beginning May 22, 2015. We thought it would be fun to take a look at what’s coming, speculate a bit, and offer some commentary on the prospects of the celebration as a whole.

As with all of our posts, we strive not to regurgitate press releases or parrot info that’s widely available, and with countless other blogs and Disney’s own PR department covering the ‘just the facts’ info that has thus far been made available, we aren’t going to fixate on that too much. Instead, this is basically us opining on the announcement and the potential of each offering.

First, I have to say I’m absolutely stoked about Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary. I had just gotten back into Disney during the Disneyland 50th Anniversary with a visit to Walt Disney World, but hadn’t yet visited Disneyland at that time, so I didn’t get to truly experience the festivities (save for the “New Magic Imported From…” at Walt Disney World as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth) there.

I’m very much an “Anniversary Person” and the anniversaries I’ve experienced for Walt Disney World’s 40th and EPCOT Center’s 30th on those specific days have been fun, but lacking in terms of what I think they should have been. The last ‘big’ Disney anniversary I experienced in person was Walt Disney World’s 25th Anniversary, and I was only 11 at the time, and don’t remember a ton of it, besides the merchandise my parents bought. I also remember the Cinderella Castle Cake, which I loved as a kid. (Sorry, hope I don’t get my Fan-Card revoked for that!)

Anyways, let’s take a look at what we know is coming, along with some things that are likely coming… (more…)

Country Bear Vacation Jamboree Tribute


Country Bear Vacation Hoedown was the summer overlay to Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World and Disneyland that has been retired, and a similar show, Vacation Jamboree, is the current summer overlay at Tokyo Disneyland. As a huge Country Bear Jamboree fan, I figured I owed it to other fans of the attraction by offering a photo tribute to the attraction via photos I recently took at Vacation Jamboree. I previously covered Country Bear Christmas/Jingle Bell Jamboree, so this is also a good counterpart to that post.

Since the United States versions mostly disappeared before the era of digital photography and not many great photos exist of the show online, I figured my contribution to the Country Bear ’cause’ would be photographically. Plenty of Disney bloggers before me have focused on the history and frankly, many of them do those types of posts considerably better than me. Rather than regurgitating what they have written, I’ll start by offering some limited thoughts on the significance of Country Bear Jamboree, then by linking to articles from other sources, finishing with my own “trip report” style thoughts on the experience of Country Bear Vacation Jamboree at Tokyo Disneyland mixed with photos from the show.

I’ve said this ad nauseam on this blog, but it bears repeating since so many people misunderstand Country Bear Jamboree: this is Disney at its best: a mix of quirkiness, wry humor, charming characters, and even edginess. It’s not simply a bunch of bears with a folksy twang singing country music. It’s an intelligent show that simultaneously pays tribute to and satirizes country music and southern culture. If you’re interested in Disney history, and want to read more than just a cursory explanation of why Country Bear Jamboree is so well-done, I highly recommend this incredibly nuanced series on Passport2Dreams examining Country Bear Jamboree. Suffice to say, my “Disney respect” for someone hinges in large part based upon how they feel about Country Bear Jamboree. It’s my litmus test for Disney fandom. 

Aside from that Passport2Dreams article, there are a handful of others that are necessary reading for all Country Bear Jamboree fans and critics (so, everyone!). First, there’s this piece detailing how Marc Davis supposedly thought that Disney should have left the original alone. (I disagree. I think both Country Bear overlays are tonally in keeping with the original, and Mr. Davis’ opinion is likely skewed by his lack of involvement with the overlays, and a sense of ownership in the original.) Second, there’s this historical information about Country Bear Vacation Hoedown on Yesterland. Third, some interesting concept art for an aborted Sky Crown at Mineral King project involving the Country Bears that never came to fruition. Fourth, some audio from Bear Country and beyond that includes Vacation Hoedown. Fourth, here’s the full script to Vacation Hoedown, in case you want to reenact it with your friends. Finally, this 2001 farewell to Vacation Hoedown at Disneyland. I assume there are no fewer than 2,105 other scholarly pieces on Country Bear Jamboree out there, so if you know of any others, please feel free to share links in the comments below.

As, for my experience, like any proud Country Bear Jamboree fan and completionist, I was excited to see Country Bear Vacation Jamboree in Tokyo Disneyland just so I had seen every show… (more…)

Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots

epcot-fireworks-map copy

This post highlights the best viewing spots for the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Here we will provide some general tips about the best locations, and point out the best of these on a map of World Showcase. I’ve watched and photographed IllumiNations way too many times (actually, you can never see IllumiNations too many times–it’s by far the best nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World) and can say that not all viewing spots for Illuminations were created equally.

Unfortunately, unlike my Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Spots post which contained an easy to follow map with color coded areas of good, bad, and okay spots from which to watch Wishes!, the same really isn’t possible for Epcot. This is because within a span of 10 feet, you might have both an awesome and awful viewing spot, due to trees, food carts, or other obstructions.

Instead of a color-coded map that won’t really be helpful, for this post I’m going to instead highlight my 5 favorite spots, along with some alternatives to those spots, and general discussions about choosing a spot for watching IllumiNations. Choosing a prime location for IllumiNations is actually easier said than done, as certain variables, such as the direction of the wind and where there might be IllumiNations dessert parties or private events that eliminate potential viewings areas as options for regular park guests change often.

Before choosing a spot for IllumiNations on a particular day, determine which way the wind is blowing. There are all sorts of scientific ways for doing this (and there’s probably an app for it), but it should be as simple feeling the wind blow on you. If it’s intense enough that you can feel the wind, you will want to avoid anywhere that will be down-wind of the center of the fireworks in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon. The show can produce a lot of smoke, and if you’re down-wind of that, you may not see much of the second half of the show. Most nights it’s not windy enough for this to be a problem, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

The first thing you should do when arriving at any potential viewing spot is to survey the area above and around you to see if there are any torches, light poles, or trees blocking your view of the Lagoon. If so, and you still have the time to find a different spot, do so.

If you didn't blink for 103 seconds, this is what Illuminations would look like to you. I don't recommend not blinking for 103 seconds. This fireworks photo was shot with a neutral density filter.More on neutral density filters: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/neutral-density-filter-reviews-buying-guide/

Along the same lines, but easier said than done, look towards the middle of World Showcase Lagoon to determine whether you can see to the middle, or if your view is blocked by a little island of trees. There are a couple of these that can impact views of the Earth Globe barge during the show.

The good news is that, obstructions and weather aside, since IllumiNations takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, if you pick a spot that can see the center of the Lagoon, you will be able to see IllumiNations. It isn’t like Wishes in this regard, as some spots that have good views of Cinderella Castle actually are poor views of the fireworks due to perspective distortion. There’s no perspective distortion here. The bad news is that IllumiNations doesn’t just take place high in the air…it also has low-level fireworks and a globe display, meaning you really will want a “front row” spot along the rails around World Showcase Lagoon.

That pretty much covers the basics, now let’s take a look at my favorite specific spots… (more…)

Bistrot Chez Remy Review

Bistrot Chez Rémy is a new table service restaurant in the Streets of Paris Ratatouille mini-land at the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris known as La Place de Rémy. Serving traditional French cuisine, this is modeled after the restaurant that Remy opens in the Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille, and the premise of the restaurant is that guests shrink down to the size of rats and are served in a larger than life environment where champagne corks, silverware, jam jar lids, and other “kitchen stuff” are all integrated into the restaurant.

I haven’t reviewed many restaurants from Disneyland Resort Paris, but those I have reviewed haven’t been exactly favorable. On our first visit to Paris, after a few disappointing and overpriced meals, we opted to eat most of our remaining meals in the Disney Village at Earl of Sandwich. I might have done the same thing this time around but for the fact that this was a popular new restaurant, so I thought things might be different. Plus, it looked sort of cool, and anything that could redeem the maligned Walt Disney Studios Park in my eyes was probably a good thing.

I’m glad I gave it a try, because it ended up being a bright spot in terms of Disneyland Resort Paris dining. Before we get to the meal itself, let’s take a look at the decor… (more…)

Guide to FastPass+ at Disney World

This guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World is a primer for using the new ride reservation system, the best FastPass+ selection, and tips on what to get for minimizing wait times, and a whole host of other things. As FastPass+ has been available in its current form for over a year now, this guide has been a long time in the making, but now that the dust has finally settled, so to speak, and FastPass+ and the rest of MyMagic+ (see our MyMagic+ FAQ post to fully understand this large Walt Disney World vacation planning program) is out of test-mode and is finished with its early growing pains, we felt it was time to finally offer a detailed guide for using FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.

To start, a bit of background is probably in order. FastPass+ is the second generation of FastPass at Walt Disney World, with paper FastPass ride reservations (or a virtual queueing system, whatever you want to call it) first came on the scene in the late 1990s for popular attractions. The idea then was to get people out of lines and allow them to do other things while waiting for their ride reservation window (read: spending money). The original FastPass system had its strengths and weaknesses, all of which were argued ad nauseum in various corners of the internet, but it undeniably worked to the advantage of uber Disney fans who figured out various ways to leverage the system, obtaining stashes of FastPasses over the course of the day and efficiently touring the parks.

There was hence some trepidation about FastPass+ when it first went into test mode and was officially rolled out in early 2014, as those who had spent years mastering the old system would have to learn a new system, and discover ways to use it to their advantage. To add to the ire of these guests, the initial roll-out was rocky (actually, rocky would be an understatement), with many Disney fans considering FastPass+ and the whole MyMagic+ endeavor to be one of Walt Disney World’s greatest, and costliest, blunders. The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the merits of this billion-dollar plus Disney project or discuss its sordid history. Suffice to say, FastPass+ had a really rough start.

Fortunately for you (and anyone willing to expend a little effort planning), the FastPass+ system now operates smoothly for the most part, and can leveraged by guests who understand it much like the previous system could. While FastPass+ can’t be taken advantage of to the same degree as regular paper FastPass, guests who are “in the know” can still make it work to their advantage. All it takes is a little patience and spending the time to understand how FastPass+ works.

While we can’t grant you patience, we will help you understand the system in this post… (more…)

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 Guide

The 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 4 to May 17, 2015 at Walt Disney World. This guide covers our tips & tricks for experiencing the highlights of the Flower & Garden Festival, as well as what to expect from the new for 2015 offerings. Actually, as of right now, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot has changed for 2015. The “Outdoor Kitchen” food kiosks return for 2015, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more added, making this like a mini Food & Wine Festival.

Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to enjoy expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series (formerly Flower Power concert series), special programs and seminars by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Most of the offerings for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are included with theme park admission to Epcot.

Because most of the event is basically a “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge, we highly recommend it. Whether you’re a first time guest or a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, visiting during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is a great idea. Epcot is at its most beautiful during Flower & Garden Festival. (Disney often uses the #EpcotInSpring and #EpcotInBloom hashtags to promote the beauty of Flower & Garden Festival, and hashtags never lie! ;) ) Really, though, the park smells and looks wonderful, and there are a lot of unique offerings, displays, and photographic opportunities.

While Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite time to visit Epcot, the prices have skyrocketed, as have the crowds of drunks. Flower & Garden is a nice time to visit for lower crowds, and you can still enjoy some of the snacking (albeit to a lesser degree) without the headache of the crowds and lines. In general, many of these spring dates of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are great times to visit Walt Disney World (consult that guide to avoid the busy weeks).

Thinking a visit to Flower & Garden Festival might be for you? Then keep reading this guide for our ins and outs, and top picks for the festival!


1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, the shows we’d see, and the details we’d try to enjoy. This post continues our series of 1-day park itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short.

Frankly, “perfect day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios” in 2015 is sort of a misnomer. If I wanted to have a perfect day at Walt Disney World, that day would involve not going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. This is because Disney closed a slew of attractions at Hollywood Studios around the start of the fiscal year, with the rumored reasoning being to save operating costs as expensive construction began to totally overhaul the park.

This overhaul is rumored to contain a massive “Pixar Place” expansion (that may or may not include elements of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and almost certainly will include attractions akin to Toy Story Playland in Hong Kong Disneyland) and a huge Star Wars Land. Again, this is rumor, but construction is expected to begin at some point in 2015 with an announcement being made at the upcoming D23 Expo. The expansion will also include placemaking and other cosmetic and thematic changes to the park, the first of which is occurring with the removal of the giant Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Hat at the front of the park.

All of this, unfortunately, means that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is in sort of sad shape right now, and likely only get worse later this year and into next (and beyond) as the park becomes a sea of construction walls. If you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip and are dead-set on doing every park at Walt Disney World, by all means, go. You’ll still have a good time. However, if I were going to skip any park this year or thinking about devoting a day to Universal Orlando, well, Disney’s Hollywood Studios would probably get skipped. It’s not high on my “List of Places to Visit” for 2015.

With all of that said, this post assumes moderate crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the day of your visit; actual crowds and park hours vary. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post to determine how bad crowds might actually be, or to plan your visit. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation to what to pack and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

FastPass+ is somewhat important for Disney’s Hollywood Studios (read more about FastPass+ in our MyMagic+ FAQ), especially if you want to do Toy Story Mania. The Studios uses a tiered system for FastPass+, and my top picks for each tier are as follows: Toy Story Mania (Tier A) plus Tower of Terror and Star Tours (Tier B). For the plan, we’ll assume you are able to make the recommended FastPass+ selections. At other parks, you want to make FastPass+ reservations for earlier in the day so you can get more FastPass+, but it doesn’t really matter here, as the other FastPass+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (besides Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster) are sort of worthless.

We’re also going to arbitrarily assume that you want to stay in a hotel that’s most convenient to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is also a hotel convenient to Epcot, as the hotels in the Crescent Lake Resort Area are within walking distance of both parks. If you’re spending several nights at Walt Disney World, this area may not be your priority, but if Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are your “most important” parks, and you might want a hotel in this area. My top picks here are BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club. While these are a bit pricey, the good news is that you can save money at them by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points. The Swan & Dolphin are also good options if you don’t need to use Disney’s Magical Express.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do…


Disneyland Paris 2015 Trip Planning Guide

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris. Hundreds of Disneyland Paris photos in our trip report! http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneyland-paris-2012-trip-report/

Disneyland Resort Paris is an amazing place, with several hotels, two parks, and more. This guide will cover what you need to know before heading to Disneyland Paris, along with some general travel tips for heading to Europe. It contains the most up-to-date information and advice, updated for 2015 after my most recent trip to Disneyland Paris over the Christmas season, following the opening of the popular new Ratatouille mini-land at Disneyland Resort Paris. Whether you are planning a trip to Europe and are considering a day at Disneyland Paris since it’s one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe, or if you’re a huge Disney fan who is planning an international trip solely (or mostly) for Disneyland Paris, this guide has you covered.

To start, as touched upon Disneyland Resort Paris (this refers to the entire complex, but the “Resort” is often dropped from the name. Disneyland Paris, the park, is known as both Parc Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, with most official materials dropping “Resort” from the complex’s name recently, also making it Disneyland Paris. Confusing, we know) consists of 7 official Disney-themed hotels, several partner hotels, the Disney Village entertainment and shopping district, and the two parks: Parc Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios Park. Disneyland Paris is unquestionably a place that Disney fans should visit, probably for multiple days. In our conversations, there are generally two schools of thought with regard to Disneyland Paris, and why people don’t go. The first group doesn’t go because it would mean forfeiting a trip to Walt Disney World. We’ve previously implored this group of people to visit Disneyland Resort in California, and many who have made the trek to California have reported it exceeding their expectations.

Disneyland Resort Paris is similar to Disneyland Resort in that it is not nearly as large as Walt Disney World. There simply is not as much to do at Disneyland Resort Paris as there is in Walt Disney World, so it’s a tough sell as a bona fide vacation destination in itself. The upside is that Parc Disneyland in the Paris Resort is an absolutely amazing park, much like the original Disneyland, and a park that many Disney fans could spend days exploring. In fact, in my recent Disney Theme Park Rankings post, Parc Disneyland was #5, ahead of popular parks like Disney California Adventure and Epcot, and it mostly scored so high because of its beauty.

I would rate Disneyland Paris as the most beautiful Disney theme park I’ve experienced, and while the overall resort is not as nice as the US resorts or Tokyo Disney Resort, it is a great experience. The other upside is that Paris itself is only a 30 minute train ride from Disneyland Paris, and is a place every human should experience. The city of Paris also serves as justification for those who balk at a trip to Disneyland Resort Paris for the second reason: cost.

A trip to Europe is certainly expensive, but it’s a potentially once-in-a-lifetime trip that leaves an indelible mark on a person, and a trip that’s worth saving to experience. Even Disney realizes that Paris is a selling point–whereas Walt Disney World does not encourage people to visit other places in Orlando, this year’s official Disneyland Paris trip planning video implores people that “you can’t visit Disneyland Paris without visiting Paris!

If this has you tempted to travel to Europe to see Disneyland Paris and other lasting cultural experiences, or if you were already planning a visit and want more info and tips, let’s start planning!  (more…)