Disney Travel AFTER the Holidays

Check out this Disney travel blog post that I wrote for The Magic For Less Travel blog. If you are looking for a great time to visit Walt Disney World, consider waiting until after the holiday season is over. There are lots of advantages to traveling then as long as you keep a few things in mind.

Interested in visiting the Mouse and Florida? Contact me for a free, no obligations travel quote for your Disney vacation!

http://www.themagicforless.com/tmflblog/2015/01/joy-visiting-walt-disney-world-holidays/

Disney Travel after the Holidays

Round Up: Blog Posts on Disney Travel UPDATED

Posts On Disney Travel UPDATED

When I relaunched RadioCarla.com last May, my plan was to start blogging about Disney (especially Disney travel) a bit more here. But, I’ve been lucky enough to get several opportunities to blog about Disney travel on other blogs so I decided to share them here.

Last year, I started a five part series on Disney travel for the Family Friendly Cincinnati blog. Under the heading “Mouse Magic for the Queen City”, the first two parts were published last year and the final three will be posted soon. I’ll add the links when they become available. have been added now.

Guest Post: Planning a Disney Family Vacation – When to Go?

Guest Post: Planning a Disney Vacation – Best Ways to Get There

Guest Post: Deciding Where to Stay at Disney World, Part 3

Guest Post: Tips for Dining at Disney World, Part 4

Guest Post: Tips For What to Do at Disney World, Part 5

I’ve also written three blog posts for The Mouse For Less web site. A online Disney community that was originally called Disney Dollarless, it’s been my home community since 2001 and I’ve met so many great people there.

A Walt Disney World Trip… Without Any Attractions!

Surprises at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Traveling Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line on Oxygen

Most recently, I wrote a blog post for The Magic For Less Travel blog. TMFLT is the travel agency that I have worked for and I’ve been there over ten years now. I was very excited to be able to share my experience of sailing on the Disney Fantasy over the Christmas holidays this past year.

Celebrating Christmas on the Disney Fantasy

Finally, my main blogging time is spent blogging about better beer in the Cincinnati area. But some of our most popular pages on the web site are actually about beer at the various Disney travel locations. This past Tuesday as one of our regular Traveling Tuesday posts, I wrote a post talked about those pages and discussed bringing your own liquor (including better beer) on a Disney Cruise Line ship.

Traveling Tuesday: Beer and Disney

I can definitely see more Disney travel posts from me here on RadioCarla.com. You never know when the Disney muse will strike me! If you would like a free, no-obligations quote, just contact me at carla@themagicforless.com and I can help you plan YOUR magical Disney vacation.

— Carla

Walking: In Water

So, today’s update is a bit of a good news, bad news thing.

Good news – I made it to the pool five times last week for a total of 255 minutes of water aerobics and 2,397 calories burned. (Thank you SparkPeople for doing those calculations for me!)

Bad news – In order to not re-injure my heel before my Disneyland trip, I’m going to have to put my walking regimen on hold until I get back.

The reality is that I really wasn’t ready to start a walking program like Ease Into 5K yet. I was just too out of shape. As Tom said at the pool this morning, I needed an Ease into an Ease Into 5K program. And that’s exactly what the water aerobics is for me. It’s the exercise I like the best and it’s the one I keep doing once I get back in the rhythm. And, to be honest, I burn more calories in the water than I do walking.

Once I get back from Disneyland, I’ll probably re-start the Ease Into 5K program. I do like it very much. I just wasn’t ready for it.

— Carla

Off to a Walking Start (Sort of)

If you remember, back in 2009 (when I was thinner and in better shape), I started training to walk the Flying Pig Half Marathon. A chest cold ended up ending my journey that year, but I did like the experience. I just couldn’t get my butt off the couch to do it.

Flash forward to about ten days ago. While sitting on the balcony of our studio room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas, I got an email that I had been waiting for. I was accepted to attend the EarMarked Agent Education Program at Disneyland. I had done the program back in 2005, but a lot had changed at Disneyland since then and I needed to brush up on Disneyland and Southern California in order to help clients wanting to visit there. And I was excited to be rooming with one of my colleagues from The Magic For Less Travel.

Then, I saw the reminder in the email: “Special note: We will be walking a lot; please wear comfortable shoes!” Oh, yeah… There was a lot of walking last time. But I weigh more than I did then and haven’t been going to the pool much lately. Time to do something about that!

For years now, I’ve been collecting walking apps on first my iPod and then my iPhone. I had them neatly organized in a folder, but I had never used them. Today, I finally did and here’s what I discovered:

1) I decided to go with the Ease into 5K app from BlueFin Software. To be truthful, it had been on my iPod/iPhone the longest and felt like I should take them in order.

2) iCloud on iOS devices is evil. Even though I had indicated which playlist I wanted to use with Ease Into 5K, the walking app couldn’t find it because it was “in the cloud.” I ended up fixing this problem by turning off both iCloud and iTunes Match on my iPhone.

3) Somehow, about half way through my Week 1, Day 1 workout, I did something that turned off the Ease into 5K app. I didn’t figure it out for a whole since I was just getting the prompts every 60 or 90 seconds. I’m moving my iPhone to a case with a cover that my iPod was in and hopefully that (and having music) will help with that. Rats! It doesn’t fit. I’ll see how the regular case works tomorrow.

I’m glad to say that my current workout clothes worked fine with the exception of my shoes. I wore my most broken in pair of New Balance shoes (my tan ones), but the shoe laces have a tendency to come untied. They did so twice on my short walk today. My white New Balance shoes are the least broken in, but at least the shoe laces stay tied. I’ll be switching to them tomorrow.

So, there it is… a start. Hopefully, with this being the summer semester at school and my lighter workload semester, I can continue. It felt good to start and, hopefully, it will continue that way. Less than five weeks until Disneyland!

— Carla

Re-Launching RadioCarla.com

When Posterous announced it was shutting down on April 30, 2013 (thanks a lot, Twitter!), it gave me reason to think about what I wanted to do with my personal blog RadioCarla.com. It had started on Blogger and was more sports related (How about that win for the Cubs last night?) over there. When I moved it to Posterous, it became more generalized, but vague. I also shared lots of comic strips (I love comic strips).

The one thing I knew was that I wanted to switch to WordPress. Tom and I discussed it and then he installed it (and also moved his personal blog CrankyBear.Net to WP – Its re-launch is coming later). We also both decided to use the Responsive theme since we were using for the Rivertown Brewing web site and plan to move Hoperatives to it too.

We had gotten a back up of our Posterous sites, but soon discovered that there was some major clean up work to do after importing the back up. All images were there, but were not in the proper format so each had to be fixed one by one to show up correctly. There was also some extra HTML tags that needed to be removed. Personally, I decided to remove any post that was just a comic with no real commentary. That cut my posts from 162 to 61. (I told you I love comic strips.)

Design elements were next. Since the idea behind the Responsive theme is that your blog works on any browser (desktop, tablet or phone), I knew I wanted to keep the design very clean. The radio clip art came from http://openclipart.org/ (part of Creative Commons) and the background image is from a free Twitter background web site whose name I forget. I originally used it with my CinStateCarla Twitter account and decided it was too good not to be used more. And thank God for Google Fonts. They make such a big difference.

But what to blog about? As I was creating categories for my past posts, a theme of sorts began to evolve. I’ve been writing about the things I love: blogging, Cincinnati/NKY, comics, Disney (especially Disney Parks), craft beer, sports, teaching, technology, theater and travel. And so I’m going to continue that, but bump it up a notch. I’m also going to throw in some recipes and reviews and maybe something else. That’s the joy of a re-launch. You don’t know exactly where you’re going, but you kind of have an idea of the direction. As I was tweaking everything yesterday, I jokingly told Tom and some of my friends that I was going to add the tag line “Fat, Fifty and FUN!” I ended up not using it, but I still think it sums up my direction. So onward! And enjoy!

–Carla

Review: Lines from TouringPlans.com

A while back, I wrote about the Disney Parks / Verizon Mobile Magic app which was released in November of 2009. This application gives you wait times and FastPass information for Disney Parks attractions plus all the show times, times for character meet & greets, games to play while waiting in queues and more. But you had to have a non-smart phone (aka not a Blackberry, iPhone or Droid) and you had to be on Verizon. In addition, a 180 day license costs $9.99.

Well, the folks at the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and TouringPlans.com have come up with their own version on this idea called simply “Lines.” Free during the beta testing period, Lines will be included with a Premium Access subscription to Touring Plans. Unlike the Mobile Magic, Lines is actually a mobile web site which means it works with smart phones. So far, Lines works on the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Palm Pre. I tested Lines on a Motorola Droid, HTC Eris, Blackberry Curve and an iPod Touch using WiFi access. I also checked it out on Safari (it doesn’t work on other non-mobile web browsers). All but one of the screenshots below came from a Droid and are from December 5, 2009.

 

          

As you can see above, the log in screen reminds you that Lines is still in beta and also gives you links to sign up if you need to plus help if you have trouble logging in. Once you’re logged in, you see the four parks with their hours and EMH (if applicable) listed. At the bottom, there’s the Touring Plans crowd estimate along with best park to visit and park to avoid recommendations. Like the wait times, this information is based on the Unofficial Guide’s and TouringPlans.com’s years of data collection related to Disney park crowds. The design isn’t as graphics intensive as Mobile Magic, but that means it loads quickly and has a nice, clean design.

After selecting a park (in this case, the Magic Kingdom), you get a list of all of the attractions in that park. On this page, the wait times are listed along with the FastPass return time if that attraction has FP. You also choose to view the attractions in different arrangements (see below). Your navigation buttons are at the top: Parks returns you (naturally) to the listing of the four major theme parks and + Time lets you add a wait time to one of the attractions. If you submit a time via this link, you then get a drop down menu to select the attraction you want to update.

Notice the warning that wait time estimates may be off during the beta process, but they will only get more accurate as more people use Lines and update wait times (see below). Also notice that text is black while wait times are blue and alerts are red. A simple design choice, but it makes the information more easy to comprehend at a glance.

A simple feature that I appreciated is the date and time stamp at the top of the screen. It made me feel more secure in the accuracy of the information being provided. Of course, having done some date/time stamp coding myself, I fully realize that the date and time are not necessarily related to the database calls for the wait times, but it still made me feel better.

 

          

When you select a particular attraction, you (naturally) get more detailed information about that attraction. The comparison between the posted wait time and the actual wait time is good information to have. Whether there is a single rider line is also indicated here. Below the estimates are the forecasts of the standby waits at different times throughout the day, the peak standby time and when the FastPasses will be gone by. As the program states, “the standby forecasts are actual waits,” but “all estimates/forecasts are unofficial.”

          

Part of the strength of the Lines program is that users can improve the data by inputting actual wait times while they are at the parks. The screen above on the left gives users some notes and tips about submitting wait times. The screen on the right is the actual screen for submitting wait times and/or FastPass information. I think the on-screen hints on what should be submitted when has got to be a big help getting more accurate data submitted.

                    

So let’s say you want to view the attractions in a different way rather than alphabetically for the whole park. Scroll down and you can change the viewing mode from Alpha to Time (longest to shortest wait) or to Land. In the example above, we chose the Land viewing option and then selected Frontierland.

There were a couple of issues with Lines that I ran into while testing it. First of all, I could never get it to render correctly on my Verizon Blackberry Curve 8330. Instead of looking sleek and stylish like it did on the Lines Blackberry page, it was clunky text like you see on the right. I doublechecked that I had the latest OS from my Blackberry, but never got anything but this.

Second, I didn’t like that show times are handled by linking users to Steve Soares’ Walt Disney World Live Entertainment web site. His site is great, but it’s not really optimized for mobile browsers. This was especially true on the iPod Touch where the navigation buttons at the top were cut off. This made them hard to read at times. Also, the link is for the main page of Steve’s site no matter which park you are “in” when you hit the link. If I click the link for Fantasmic, I would at least like to be taken to the section of WDW Live Entertainment for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Finally, when I’m viewing the attractions in the Time viewing mode, I would like the option of listing them from shortest to longest wait time as well as the default longest to shortest option. Maybe a simple button that lets you toggle back and forth between these two options?

[UPDATE: Since I posted this review, several of these issues have been resolved.  Turns out that on most Blackberry smart phone (including my Curve), the default for the web browser that comes with the phone is for it to not support style sheets.  To fix this, open the browser.  Then, bring up the options screen, go to Options > Browser Configuration , then select Support Style Sheets. Finally, Save Options. 

On the other two issues, Henry from Touring Plans already changed the links so you go to the correct part of WDW Live Entertainment for the park you are interested in and the toggle between longest to shortest and shortest to longest is coming!]

 

All in all, Lines is a really nice program and the price is definitely better than the Disney Parks / Verizon Mobile Magic app. I’m hoping the problems I experienced on my Blackberry Curve will be fixed before our January 31st trip or else my husband is going to be the chief Lines checker on his Droid! Lines is a solid program for both the first time Walt Disney World visitor and the veteran annual passholder on their monthly trip. Enjoy!

Review: Disney Parks / Verizon Mobile Magic App

[NOTE: This app was discontinued in December of 2013 with the roll out of the My Disney Experience app.]

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, you know what one of the more important places to check when arriving at a Disney park is the tip board to see the wait times for your favorite attractions:

Now, imagine being able to have that information plus all the show times, times for character meet & greets, games to play while waiting in queues and more in the palm of your hand.

The new Disney Parks / Verizon Mobile Magic app promises all of that plus the convenience of having it on your cell phone. According to the press release sent out on November 11th, the Mobile Magic application “transforms Verizon Wireless phones into electronic tour guides to navigate Disney Parks.” With the use of Verizon’s Location Based Services (LBS), the Mobile Magic app recognizes which park you are in and directs you to attractions, dining locations and shops that are near your location.

The Mobile Magic app is not the first time Disney Parks and Verizon have teamed up on a project. The very popular Disney’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure makes use of “Kimmunicators” to send Epcot guests on an “ultra interactive quest” in one of the seven countries at the World Showcase.

          

After signing up at a Kim Possible kiosk (above on the left), you get a Fast Pass that tells you what time to report to the Kim Possible kiosk in the country you are assigned. You are given a Kimmunicator (really a Verizon cell phone that been modified – above right) and sent off on your adventure.

Both the Kim Possible Adventure app and the Mobile Magic app are BREW apps. BREW stands for Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless and is a development platform created by Qualcomm (Wikipedia). Most phones that run BREW apps are not smart phones. This is part of the reason why this first version of Mobile Magic will only run on certain non-smart phones.1 According to the Disney Parks Blog post that announced the release of this app, the “list of Verizon Wireless phones that Mobile Magic will be available on is expected to grow to include ‘touch’ handsets and smartphones in the upcoming weeks.”

In early November, Tom and I attended a Gadget Happy Hour that Verizon hosted in Cincinnati to showcase some of their new offerings like the Droid, the Android Eris and the Blackberry Storm 2. I had been following the announcements about Mobile Magic closely since we are Verizon customers and had a Walt Disney World trip planned for November 8-14. I asked about the MM app and Laura from Verizon said she would look into it. On November 11th (the day it was officially released), I was notified that I would be getting a phone with the app installed to try out in the parks. Since I currently have a Blackberry Curve and Tom just got a Motorola Droid, they had to send me a compatitible phone to try out the Mobile Magic app.

The phone didn’t arrived until after lunch our last full day at WDW so I didn’t get much time to play with the app in the parks. My first challenge was dealing with an unfamiliar non-smart phone. I’ve been using a Blackberry or my iPod Touch for so long, it took a while to make friends with the LG Glance and get the settings how I wanted them. I also needed to turn on the Location Based Services for Mobile Magic to really work in the parks. You can try out the app for free for one day or purchase a 180 day license for $9.99.

After the app is installed, it takes several clicks to start Mobile Magic: MENU > Media Center > Browse & Download > DisneyParks Mobile Magic. And that doesn’t include the three clicks it takes to unlock the phone if it is locked. I was expecting a separate area for applications, but never found one. After launching the app, you see the splash screen and then the location screen. You also have the option of setting the location manually when you are in the parks. This option isn’t available outside the parks.2

          

If you are not on Disney property, you are given a menu of possible locations headed by the question, “Where would you like to explore?” This lists includes all four theme parks, both water parks, Downtown Disney, Wide World of Sports, Dining Guide and Disney Resorts. After selecting one of the theme parks, your options are Today’s Events, Attractions, Characters, Search, Transportation, Games, My Favorites, Shopping, Guest Services and Dining. Choosing the Attractions area gives you a list of all of the attractions in that park plus it zooms in on the selected attraction on the guide map shown at the top of the screen. Scroll down to choose another attraction and the map moves to show that attraction’s location in the park. Also, when you select an attraction, it will show you the exact wait time and the FastPass return time if you are in that park. If you are not in that park, the wait time is more vague (“See now”, “Moderate” and so on) and the FastPass info is just whether they are available, limited or not at all.

If you click on one of the attractions, you get more information. The image to the right is an example of this. (You can click on this image to see a larger version of this image.) You can see a photo of the attraction at the top plus the wait time and FastPass return time is listed again. Below this, the description which gives you the minimum height requirement for this attraction (if there is one), any safety notices and then a description of the attraction. You can also scroll to see about any accessibility issues, get help finding the attraction and/or mark it as a favorite.

 

The Today’s Events section shows you the weather for Walt Disney World and park hours for the four main theme parks. The weather section shows the current temp as well as the forecast for that day. You can scroll to the right to see the forecast for next four days too. You also need scroll left or right to see all of the park in the park hours section. Below the basic opening and closing times, the shows for that park are listed with their next show time shown. Below that is a list of special events around the parks like Festival of the Masters or the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

The Characters section is one that really impressed me. After choosing this section, you can search for character by name or look in categories like “Mickey and Friends” or “Princesses and Princes.” Let’s say your little princess is crazy for Princess Jasmine and wants to see her in Epcot. After scrolling through to find Jasmine, MobileMagic tells you that she is next scheduled to be in Morocco at 4:45 to 5:30 pm (see image on the right – it’s another one you can click to see a bigger version of it). The part that really impressed was the ability to set a reminder for this event. What a great idea! This option was available for many of the scheduled shows and events at the parks. Now, if Jasmine isn’t scheduled to appear that day or if you are not actually in the parks, Mobile Magic will show you the following message: “Hello there, Princess Jasmine has returned to the palace at the request of the Sultan. She should be returning shortly, after all, Agrabah isn’t far away (by magic carpet, of course).” Cute, huh?

 

The Games section just has two games so far. One is a simple 6-question quiz that tells you what Disney character you are. There’s also a trivia game that you can play against other teams when you are in the parks or on your own when you’re not. There are five levels that get progressively harder and, to be honest, progressively trivial (i.e. “How long is the track length for the Tomorrowland Speedway?”) They would be great for playing while waiting in a queue, but hopefully more questions and games will be added.

Dining helps you find places to eat close to you and tells you about the restaurant. Mobile Magic gives you pricing information, but not menus. The Dining Reservations area here just gives the 407-WDW-DINE number to call, though you can just click the number to call it.

The other sections are very simple so far. The Shopping section lists mainly the hours and, sometimes, a brief description of the store. Guest Services helps you find restrooms, ATM, Guest Relations, First Aid, Smoking Locations and so on. Transportation helps you get from one location to another and, if you’re leaving your car at one of the large Disney parking lots, you can set Mobile Magic to remember your parking location. Very handy!

Now, everything wasn’t perfect and there are definitely some things that need to be polished. The error message on the right is what I kept getting when I was trying to do a restaurant search while I was in the World Showcase. No matter how I changed the search parameters, I got the same error message. Now, I’ve tried this feature since I got home and it seems to be working outside the parks.

Speaking of Dining, I ran into something odd. We were staying at the Boardwalk Inn and I tried checking out the dining options there. Mobile Magic only brought up three options: Private Dining (Disneyspeak for room service), The Belle Vue Lounge (a bar) and Leaping Horse Libations (the pool bar). No matter what I did, I couldn’t get Mobile Magic to bring up the wonderful restaurants that are on the actual Boardwalk. This seemed very… well, odd to me.

Since the Today’s Events section only gives you the hours for the four main parks, some important information was missing. While we were at WDW last week, Typhoon Lagoon was closed for refurbishment. Yet, when I went to the Typhoon Lagoon section, this was never mentioned. Oops.

I couldn’t help but wonder if a first time guest would be overwhelmed by all the information, but this is definitely a great resource for an annual pass holder or anyone who goes to Walt Disney World frequently. I would definitely recommend purchasing Mobile Magic a month or so before your trip so you can familiarize yourself with how the app works so it’s easier to use on your vacation. Hopefully, Mobile Magic will be available for smart phones by the time we go back to Walt Disney World in January. If it is, I know we’ll be buying a copy.

NOTES:

1 Current list of Verizon phones that Mobile Magic will work on:
– – LG Glance (the phone I was sent)
– LG VX Chocolate
– LG Chocolate 3
– LG Decoy
– LG VX 8700
– LG Venus
– Moto Adventure
– Nokia 7205
– Samsung Renown
– Moto 325
– Samsung 540
– Samsung 550
– LG 5500
– Nokia 6205
– Moto 755
– UT Starcom 8950
– UT Starcom GC1-c711
– GZ1 – S Boulder
– Moto K1 -M
– Moto – L7c
– LG 8350
– Samsung Trance
– Moto V3m
– Moto Barrage
– Moto VU204
– LGE VX-8360
– Motorola RIZR Z6TV
– Motorola VU30 (Rapture)
– Motorola Z6c
– Samsung SCH-A990
– Samsung SCH-U620
– Samsung SCH-U900 Flipshot

Update: New Phones Added (12/21)

– LG VX 9100 – enV2
– LG VX 9200 – enV3
– LG VX 8300
– LG VX8370
– Motorola V9M
– Motorola W766 Harmony
– Motorola VE
– Samsung U640 Buddy
– Samsung SCH – U650 (Sway)
– Casio Hitachi Exilim C721

 

2 I did discover that, if you don’t log out of the Mobile Magic app, you can continue to see the exact wait times and FastPass return times for whatever park you were last in. Two days later and many states away from Walt Disney World, I was still able to see the information for the attractions in Epcot. Not terribly practical if this is also your cell phone, but it was kind of fun to play with on the long drive home.