Category Archives: Planning

How technology can improve theme park resorts

Large theme park resorts are often quick to boast about expensive new attractions that pack-in a host of unique and advanced technology. Yet their customers experience whilst visiting the parks and staying in on-site hotels is often made less enjoyable by reluctance from the resorts to move in to the 21st century.


To be fair to many resorts, including Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, they have made huge leaps online in order to ensure every part of booking your trip is quick and easy. Guests can now book their tickets, hotel and transportation all in one place and, in some resorts, make all their dining reservations for the trip from the comfort of their own home.

But once the resorts have your money the technology-based offerings seem to come to an end, leaving guests stressed on a trip which they planned on taking in order to get some rest and relaxation.

Disneyland Paris is notorious for this. As soon as guests get to the check-in desk they are bombarded with an abundance of leaflets, tickets and key cards which allow them to take advantage of a number of services offered around the resort.

At an ideal resort the majority of this should be condensed into one key card. The technology is available to put a guest’s room key and park tickets all on one key-card, yet many resorts seem reluctant to roll out a system which would make life infinitely easier for its customers.

Many places also allow you to charge purchases to your room on the very same key-card, a godsend for visitors looking to take a trip on a water ride, yet some resorts still fail to offer this service which forces guests to either take cash or a credit card, something which may force guests to bring along a wallet or purse when they don’t really need to.

Combining all these features in to one card may come at a cost for the resorts, but it will no doubt make a guest’s trip more enjoyable and may lead to repeat visits as well as visitors spreading a positive image of the resort to friends and family – in essence free advertising.

Speaking of free advertising, social media is another thing many resorts fail to utilise, despite the fact it’s a direct route straight to the computers and mobile devices of their target market.

Most if not all theme park resorts have some kind of social media account. Walt Disney World has a Facebook page, Twitter account and shares the Disney Parks Blog with Disneyland Resort over on the West Coast.

For the most part Walt Disney World often uses its social media accounts in order to promote new attractions, link to news articles on its main website or offer helpful tips to the people who read the various accounts.

Whilst this is all well and good potential customers now expect more of large organisations on social media sites. The key word is social and theme park resorts should be ready to interact with their visitors and potential customers rather than just offering a one-way communication system as so many resorts currently do.

Answering reasonable questions from guests via services such as Twitter is a great way in which to do this. By answering specific questions a theme park resort will create an image that they care about their visitors and want to help them, an image which may persuade a consumer to chose that resort as opposed to a competitor.

Sea World Parks and Entertainment have been particularly successful in this area with their @Shamu Twitter account, which offers a host of free giveaways and interacts with followers in a non-serious manner – giving the potential customers an idea of just how fun the parks will be.

Guests should also expect a similar level of interaction once they get to the resort. A Twitter account for wait time information would be a godsend at many resorts, replacing the increasingly outdated tip boards which force guests to walk in the opposite direction from where they want to go simply in order to check the wait time at an attraction.

It may seem like a service that would be hard to keep up with but it is certainly possible, as proven by London Heathrow Airport, whose Twitter account will quickly answer any questions which one of its 66 million passengers over the course of a year may ask.

Even better would be if the parks offered a wait times application for their parks in a similar style to Lines by Touring Plans, which offers incredibly accurate wait times, park hours and other useful information directly to your mobile device.

Of course checking park hours online can be a problem if you don’t have access to the internet at your hotel, a service which is becoming increasingly common at hotels around the world but many theme park resorts have yet to catch up with their counterparts.

Many guests now carry electronic devices on vacation with them, whether that be a laptop, mobile phone or another system which has internet connectivity. Anyone who caries such a devices will tell you how much they appreciate free or cheap Wi-Fi and how tempted they will be to return to the resort if such a service is offered.

There are many more features which could be added to resorts which would make guests trip much easier, but these are some of the more basic things which guests would enjoy and, if theme park resorts value their customers, should start looking into in the near-future.

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The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010: Review

Whilst I was sat writing my last piece for The Disney Blog I was interrupted. Not by anyone else in my house, but by the mail coming in through the letterbox. It wasn’t like any usual day, this time the mail packed a punch as it hit the doormat, my first Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World had arrived.


Opening the cardboard box I found a glossy cover displaying a picture of Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, underneath it was a huge 850 pages dedicated to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. This was my first Unofficial Guide so I was interested to see what it contained, and most importantly how much it differed from the advice I give on this blog.

To sum it up, it’s paperback perfection. The book covers every aspect of Walt Disney World with up-to-date information. The dedicated team behind the book have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to bring together a huge collection of data which will ensure that everyone who buys a copy of the book will enjoy their time at Walt Disney World and do everything the right way.

The main thing I like about the book is it gives options. There’s not just one rating for an attraction, there’s ratings for different demographics in the same way as there’s multiple touring plans for each park to meet the needs of all visitors, rather than just one time saving plan as many other guides offer. Another great feature is that the book doesn’t just cover Walt Disney World. There’s hotel reviews from outside of the resort, as well as attraction guides for other parks in the Orlando area. This isn’t just a Disney World guide, it’s an essential guide to all things Orlando.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously either, when reading you don’t feel like you’re reading a reference book it feels like you’re reading a good novel, not because it’s fictional, but because it’s entertaining as a guide book should be to ensure you read up on all the facts you’ll need. On a similar note it’s also critical of Walt Disney World, it doesn’t paint the overly- fantastic picture that some guides do, it tells you the truth about everything from the quality of an attraction to the quality of the bedding at one of the resort hotels.

There is some downsides to the book, for a start it is huge. As far as the information goes that’s not a bad thing by any means, it covers everything brilliantly. However it does mean that you’ll have to carry it round in the parks with you unless your willing to write down everything you need to remember when on your visit, which can be inconvenient. This problem can be avoided though if your willing to splash that little extra for the pocket-sized condensed guide to ensure you’re never without one of the fantastic touring plans.

As I mentioned before, this is my first Unofficial Guide. Up until now I’ve relied on my own findings at Disney World in order to plan my trips but from now on I won’t be going to Walt Disney World without a copy of the unofficial guide, even a huge Walt Disney World fanatic myself will learn something new from this all-in-one guide, making it well worth the price.

M. Owen

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Lines – The new wait times application from TouringPlans.com: Review

Ever wondered what the wait time was for Big Thunder Mountain whilst you were waiting in-line at Soarin’? Have you ever pondered if there’s any Fastpasses left at Toy Story Midway Mania at Noon? Well, if so then ‘Lines’, the new mobile application from the people at TouringPlans.com, is for you.


Lines provides real-time updates on all the wait times at Walt Disney World, not only this but it also tells you what attractions have Fastpasses left and what attractions don’t, keeping your time wandering to the tip boards and attractions entrances to a minimum, which can be vital when following a touring plan and try to avoid long-waits at popular attractions.

Not only this but Lines also does something similar systems don’t, it tells you the actual wait time. What I mean by this is that the posted wait time at attractions usually aren’t completely correct, meaning you may be waiting for a longer or shorter period of time than what Disney has posted on the board. Don’t ask me how its predicted, but from other peoples experiences using the application I’ve heard that the ‘actual wait time’ is correct to within a few minutes, again, helping you plan what to do next and what to skip in order to fully enjoy your day.

Lines also gives park hours and highlights which parks have Extra Magic Hours and how long for. Extra Magic Hours are something everyone must take into account when trying to plan their day at Walt Disney World and it’s very useful to have them at the touch of a button on your phone, rather than having to ask at the front desk or grab a list containing the times.

Crowd estimations are also included in the application, allowing guests to see how crowded the parks will be on the day of their trip. Not only this but the application also informs you of which parks to avoid and which parks to visit on any given day, again helping you plan to cut your time waiting in line at the more crowded parks of the day.

Combining this with the touring plans provided in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World will ensure that you have a greatly enjoyable day in the park, keeping wait times to a minimum and enjoyment to a maximum. The best part of all, it’s free, at least for now anyway. Any member of TouringPlans.com (basic or premium) can access Lines until December. After this time Lines may only be available to Premium members, making the $4.48 I paid with my Unofficial Guide discount seem even more of a bargain.

I’d strongly suggest having this application to hand on your next visit to Walt Disney World. Lines is worth the price of a subscription by itself, let alone all the other great features available to members on TouringPlans.com

Try Lines for yourself now at http://m.touringplans.com/

M. Owen

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Disneyland Paris – Hotel Santa Fe or Hotel Cheyenne?

It’s pretty simple to break up the Disneyland Paris hotels into four distinct categories, much like you can with the hotels at Walt Disney World. Firstly there’s the Value Resorts, Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne and Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe.  Then there’s the Moderate Resorts, Disney’s Newport Bay Club and Disney’s Sequoia Lodge. The most expensive options are the Deluxe Resorts, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hotel New York. Finally there’s Davy Crockett Ranch, which can be put into its own category due to the activities it offers.

Disney's Hotel Santa Fe

Although Disney doesn’t place the hotels into categories like this officially it is an easy way to work out the quality of the hotels on-property and compare them to those hotels you may be used to at Walt Disney World. During my last two trips to Disneyland Resort Paris I’ve stayed in the two Value Resorts, Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne (February ’08) and Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe (August 09) and I thought it would be a good idea to compare both in order to help readers decide which hotel is the best option when on a budget.

Price

I’ll start off by talking about price, simply because it’s the easiest to discuss. There’s really no difference between the price of both hotels, many times when I’ve been planning a trip the prices have been identical. Every now and again prices at Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe may be a little cheaper than the Cheyenne but this is only by £10-£20 per person which when compared to the price of a two or three night stay is minimal, although it is something to take into consideration if you do see price differentials when booking.

Rooms

The rooms at both hotels are very similar, both sleep four people, have an en-suite bathroom, television and a fan in the centre of the room for those hotter days and nights. The main difference comes with the types of beds. Rooms in the Hotel Santa Fe have two double beds whereas the Cheyenne has a double bed and bunk bed that sleeps two. If you’re travelling as a party with two adults and one child either may be fine, in fact the Hotel Cheyenne may be easier as the kids wont have to share, however, if there’s two couples sharing a room or people who may not be able to climb to the top bunk the better option may be the Santa Fe.

Another think to take  note of is that the Cheyenne has two-story buildings only, whereas the Santa Fe has some three and four story buildings. The four story buildings do have elevators but it’s always a good idea to consider that the elevators may be out of order at some point during your stay. Of course this shouldn’t be a problem as you can always request a ground-floor room if there is someone in your party who may not be able to walk up multiple flights of stairs. On the same subject many of the two-story buildings don’t have elevators, so I’d always suggest requesting a ground floor room if there is any trouble with members of your party going up stairs.

Proximity to the parks

This is one of the big aspects in the decision making process for me. Both parks are a fair distance from the parks. Walking from the gates of Disneyland Park up to the lobby of the Hotel Cheyenne will most likely take you around 15 minutes minimum if walking at a fast pace. The Santa Fe on the other hand may take 10 to 15 minutes longer to walk to the lobby from Disneyland Park. Whilst both hotels seem to be very close to each other when stood along the ‘Rio Grande’ the far end of the Hotel Santa Fe is pretty far from the river that separates the two resorts, meaning it can be a long walk to your room at the Santa Fe, especially when carrying bags when checking-in.

Both parks do however offer shuttle services, although you will have to wait for a shuttle and may be behind a considerable line at peak times, although I never witnessed large lines at either of the hotels shuttle stops. My use of the shuttle service is a good way to illustrate my point about the proximity to the park, during my stay at the Cheyenne I used the shuttle services once, whereas during my stay at the Hotel Santa Fe I’d use the shuttle service near enough every time I went to or came from the parks, which isn’t too nice on a hot and crowded day.

Disney's Hotel Cheyenne

Service

I had two different experiences checking in at the Value Resorts. The check-in at the Hotel Cheyenne was quick and simple. It was around 25 minutes from walking into the hotel lobby to dropping my bags off in my room and heading out to the parks. The Hotel Santa Fe took a lot longer. There was snaked lines at check-in which took around 15 minutes to get through and the whole process seemed to take a lot longer. Add onto this the longer walk to the room and it took me a lot longer to get from check-in to the parks.

As you’d expect both hotels met the expected level of service that Disney has long provided at all of its resorts. Staff were friendly and always willing to help with anything we needed. This isn’t something you’re going to have to worry about when choosing between the two hotels as both offer exceptional levels of customer service. That’s the ‘Disney difference’ as they say.

Amenities

Both offer very similar amenities to each other. Both come with complimentary (though basic) continental breakfast. Both have counter-service food available as well as a dinner and lunch buffet that takes place at set times. Both have fully-stocked bars.

There’s a gift-shop at both hotels so you can chose from a limited selection of products that you may have seen during your visit to the two parks or the Disney Village. Disney Hotel Santa Fe does can boast having an arcade whilst the Cheyenne can’t. However, the Hotel Cheyenne does have a playground as well as pony rides. This may mean that the Cheyenne is more suited to younger children whilst older children may find more to do at the Santa Fe. Let’s not forget though that there’s two of the worlds best theme parks on your doorstep, why would you kids want to spend time in the arcade or playground?

Theme

It wouldn’t be a theme park blog if I didn’t discuss theme. For me the Hotel Cheyenne wins this hands down. All of the buildings at the Cheyenne have highly themed exteriors, even if they are a little lacing inside. All buildings look like realistic Western buildings and some, dare I say it, wouldn’t look out of place in Frontierland. If either one of these hotels is going to capture the imagination of your kids, it’s the Cheyenne.

The Santa Fe does have a theme, though you wouldn’t really be able to guess. All the buildings look very bland externally and the whole place just looks a tad run down (of course they’re not, but it’s just the way the place looks). It’s worth noting this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, as the hotels are near enough identical inside, but it’s worth noting that the Santa Fe isn’t much to look at, especially in comparison to it’s theme rich counterpart over the river.

Conclusion

Where would I stay? Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne. The location is a lot better than the Santa Fe and the whole place is more visually appealing. That’s not to say that the Santa Fe is a bad hotel, in fact I really enjoyed my stay there. It’s just that I think the Hotel Cheyenne offers a little more and with little to no difference between the price of the two hotels I’d much prefer to stay in the Hotel Cheyenne.

If you agree or disagree with me feel free to mention it in the comments section.

M. Owen

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A Quick Guide to Walt Disney World Vacation Planning

As we wave goodbye to 2009 many will be planning their vacations to come in 2010 and even 2011. With the economy still in a bad state those looking to plan a vacation over the next two years may be wanting to watch their spending a little more than usual. Here’s a quick guide to planning a successful vacation, with advice for before and during your trip.


The first thing to mention is that it’s not just the tourists looking at their financials for the coming year or so. The various firms in Orlando’s tourism industry are also constantly checking their back pockets, trying to find out where they can save and where there’s room to bring in more revenue. This can work to the advantage of a visitor, who will have a host of discounts on offer to them, from cheap motel deals on the 192 to discounted Walt Disney World tickets most of the high-cost parts of a trip will be discounted somewhere, it’s just a case of where to find the offers that will save you money.

Before anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World in 2010 even considers looking up prices they should first set themselves a budget. Far too many people spend too much on things they don’t really need on vacation and a strict budget can cut down on some of the impulse buys vacationers make. When setting your budget you must take into consideration how much you can save as borrowing to fund vacations isn’t advisable, nor is it needed if you plan far enough in advance to save enough to cover costs. Robert Niles over at ThemeParkInsider.com create a great step-by-step guide to planning a vacation and my particular favourite sections are those where he gives advice on budgeting and saving in advance. Be sure to check them out.

The most expensive part of many peoples vacation is their accommodation. Thankfully for visitors the current economic crisis coupled with the huge number of hotels in the Orlando area has made prices very competitive in recent years, to the point where some motels will advertise prices as low as $18 per room per night. One thing to take into account when wanting to watch the Pennies is what quality accommodation you want to stay in. Do you really need to be in a Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort when you will spend most of your time out of the room anyway? Do you really need a vacation home when there’s only two of you? Ensuring you don’t book more than what you need will save a considerable amount. Hotels.com offers great deals on hotels outside Walt Disney World and discounts change often, so be sure to keep checking rates. Mouse Savers have a great list of all the discounts at Walt Disney World hotels so those wanting to stay on-site should look for deals there.

Visitors travelling long distances to get to Orlando often use air travel in order to get to Central Florida. Whilst this is essential for international visitors it may work out considerably cheaper for domestic travellers to drive. Although driving can take a lot longer than flying it allows for visitors to experience some other destinations on route to Orlando and in a way the journey becomes a vacation in itself. Of course time constraints will play their part and most long distance visitors will go with air travel, meaning making the right choice of airline and airports is integral. Sky Scanner offers a great, easy to use, search engine for finding cheap flights, making it simple to find a great deal on airfares, be sure to use Sky Scanner or a similar search tool when looking for flights. Visitors to Florida usually chose to fly into Orlando International or Orlando Sanford. Whilst cheaper flights are often found going to Sanford those who have booked on-site accommodation at Walt Disney World can only take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International.

Guests staying on-site at Walt Disney World have to make a choice, either pay for car rental or take advantage of Magical Express and use Disney’s Transportation System to get to destinations within Walt Disney World. Whilst using the transportation system will save money it can often be less reliable than renting a car and also restricts you with regards to getting to destinations off-site such as Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. Off-site guests may wish to rent-a-car simply to make it easier for themselves, however a number of hotels in the Orlando area (mainly the cheaper ones) do offer free or low-cost shuttle services to various attractions including Walt Disney World and other major theme parks in the area. RentalCars.com offers a search system similar to Sky Scanner which allows you to find the cheapest rental car deals, helping you save money if you do chose to rent-a-car.

Due to heavy discounts offered on resort-stays the Walt Disney World Dining Plan has become increasingly popular, making it hard to get reservations at many of the restaurants on=property. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance and it’s important to ensure you book as early as possible in order to make sure you get the table you want at the time you want. Dining reservations can be made online by visiting the dining reservations page on the official Walt Disney World website or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World also has a comprehensive list of WDW restaurants as well as how far in advance reservations need to be made.

Booking tickets for the various parks in Central Florida can also be an expensive business, with many guests spending far too much than they need to. The important thing many people seem to forget is not to book tickets that you wont use to the extent they could be. For example just because you’re going on vacation for two weeks doesn’t mean you’re going to need a Disney 14-day Ultimate Pass. If you only want to visit the WDW parks once or twice and plan on seeing other visitor attractions in the area then only book a seven-day ticket as it saves a considerable amount. Another consideration that needs to be made is if you’re going to visit Universal Studios, Island’s of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa. If you plan to visit all of these parks it may be worth considering purchasing an Orlando FlexTicket. One small piece of advice. the cheap merchandise stores that litter the 192 and I-Drive often advertise cheap Disney tickets, avoid them at all costs as some tickets may not be valid and you’re not going to get a refund.

With all the major costs covered all you need to worry about now is the vacation itself. Budgeting whilst on vacation is one of the hardest things to do, the natural tendency is to let go and not worry about money whilst relaxing on holiday. Although this may leave you completely stress free while on vacation it’s going to leave you feeling the pinch when you get back. One tip I really like is to set yourself a budget for each day of your vacation. If you know you’re going to do something that costs a lot allocate a budget that represents that, the same goes if you won’t be spending too much. Setting a fixed average budget for each day usually doesn’t work as most people tend to spend more or less each day, leading to them not knowing exactly how much they’ve spent at the end of a vacation. Adjusting your budget to fit around your financial needs each day is usually the best option. I also enjoy Robert Niles’ tip on Theme Park Insider about setting children an allowance for each day.

The financials are just one aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation. Allocating time while visiting the various theme parks Central Florida has to offer is key. Many would say the best way to allocate your time at is to create touring plans for each of the parks you plan to visit. Many websites offer great touring plans for all of the parks, but I find the best touring plans are found in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and on its site TouringPlans.com. TouringPlans.com allow users to create custom touring plans as well as see crowd levels for each day of their trip, allowing for highly detailed planning.

When at the parks following a touring plan  can save you up to four hours a day, however unexpected events can often increase wait times and have a major impact on plans. Using Lines, the mobile application from TouringPlans.com, can help in the park as it provides up-to-date wait times that are often more accurate than those posted outside of attractions. Lines also shows Fastpass distribution times as well as showing crowd levels for the day and the best parks to visit. Note that Lines can only be used by those with mobile internet access, Lines is currently free but may soon be offered only to premium subscribers to TouringPlans.com.

I’m not going to give all my tips for visiting theme parks, as most of the basics can already be found on my blog and on various other websites around the net. However, one final tip I will offer is for those visiting the parks with children, especially impatient ones. Waiting in lines at Disney is considerably better than in other amusement parks as the lines have detailed features that fit the attractions theme, however, even this cannot keep children happy in 40 minute + lines. For this reason I recommend the Disney Queue Line Survival Guide, a great book which offers hundreds of ways in which to keep the whole family entertained while waiting in line.

I hope you found this quick guide helpful.

M. Owen

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