Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Attractions: Soarin'

 This past weekend I visited Epcot with some family members.  They had not been in many years so it was great to be able to experience some of the newer attractions with them.   The first thing we did was head over to Soarin' to get a Fast Pass,  Soarin' is probably my favorite attraction in all of Walt Disney World and I couldn't wait to do it with them.
 Soarin' is a simulated hang glider tour across California that takes you over such places as The Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, San Diego and many more.  The ride vehicle consists of three sets of rows and once you've been fastened with your sealt belt, the rows are lifted into the air in front of a giant screen giving the impression that you are really soaring over California.  The feeling is incredible.
 Soarin' is definitley thrilling, but I wouldn't really call it a "thrill" ride in the sense that it is an "extreme ride".  Soarin' can be enjoyed by the whole family, adults and children alike (you must be at least 40").  This is the only attraction at WDW that I've experienced where the whole audience applauds at the end, it's that good!
 In addition to being in the air in front of the screen, there are other added effects which enhance the ride experience.  Wind effects really make it feel like you are flying through the air. Scent machines add the smell of evergreens, orange bloosoms and sea breeze to some of the different scenes.
 One last feature of Soarin' that I love is the musical score by Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith.  It is a remarkable piece that really adds to the overall attraction.  I like the score so much that I bought one of the CD's that it appears on that are for sale throughout WDW.  If you plan on visiting Epcot, we highly recomend that you check out Soarin'.  This is a very popular attraction so a Fast Pass is a must.  Plan on getting your Fast Pass as soon as you enter the park so you are sure to get on, otherwise the standby line is usually about 70-90 minutes long.
We really hope you enjoy Soarin' as much as we do.  Have a great flight!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Magical Moments: A Little College Program Life (Guest Post)

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to work for Disney?  Or, if the college intern program was all you might imagine it to be?  Well, thanks to Nikki Bechtel - who has penned the second guest post for DLuminations - you too can get a brief glimpse into the college intern program and just a few of the personal and professional growth benefits it provides so many lucky participants.  So, without further ado, I pass the conch (Lord of the Flies reference) to Nikki.

By the time I was 18, I had been to Walt Disney World more times than I could count and secretly dreamed of working at the most magical place on Earth. So, when casting calls for the Disney College Program were posted around campus at the University of Southern Indiana, I needed no one to convince me to interview. I had decided to live at home when I started college, so the thought of leaving home for the first time to work at Disney? Well, that was magical in itself. Still, I thought I would interview and they would politely tell me that I was not what they were looking for. When I received the invitation a few weeks later to be a part of the College Program, I was beyond thrilled! Soon, I packed up my bags and headed south.

Upon my arrival, I learned the three principles of the experience- Living, Learning and Earning. They were very quick to tell us that there would not be much earning, but we would have the opportunity to experience Disney in a way that we never could as a guest. As for the living, I had roommates for the first time. We were quite an eclectic bunch of girls; we hailed from the New York City borough of Queens, Mississippi, Michigan, Indiana, upstate New York and Indonesia. It was truly not an ideal situation, as we were in a very small 3- bedroom apartment, but at least we had two bathrooms. The learning part of the semester started almost right away, as we had to juggle work, responsibilities in the apartment and a social life; all of us for the first time. I am happy to say that almost 15 years later, I am in touch with all but one of my roommates!
I was placed at the newly opened Animal Kingdom as an attractions hostess. In August of 1998, the park had been open a mere five months, and it was both exciting and intimidating to work in Disney’s newest masterpiece. The real kicker was that I don’t like animals. I think even then I was being prepared for what laid down the road for my life- but I’ll get to that part. Suddenly, I was a cast member, stopping at Wardrobe for my costume, going “backstage” for lunch and breaks...all the (Disney) world is a stage, as Shakespeare would sort of say. Animal Kingdom turned out to be an amazing experience, despite my initial reservations. I had never really met people who were different from me in every sense of the word: from background to religion to lifestyles. I spent a semester in a very different place than my fairly conservative, Baptist background. It was a change that I desperately needed, even with (and especially because of) the personal challenges that came with daily interactions with many who simply did not believe the way I did. I love thinking back on what Animal Kingdom looked like that semester; everything was brand-new and had that “I’ve just been planted” look, even though it was a beautiful park. It is even more so now, whether you are an animal or landscape lover, or really just enjoy the magic Disney creates.

Throughout the semester, I worked a lot of long hours (though being at Animal Kingdom had its built-in benefits as it’s typically the first park to close) and also had the added perks of enjoying Disney in very unique ways. I was privileged to be part of the “soft opening” of Test Track, when only cast members and other invited guests ride. My first Test Track ride occurred at about 1 in the morning, and it was well worth the late night. Every Sunday, we would go swing dancing at The Boardwalk, and on our days off we very often took advantage of free entrance to all of the parks. On one occasion, a roommate and I went to the (then MGM) Studios explicitly to ride the Tower of Terror 13 times. I am proud to say we did it, and that day turned out to be one of my favorite memories from the semester. That Christmas, all of my shopping was done in the parks and it was a bit of a fairytale life for a while. All of the cares of my “real world” were put on hold for a few months of bliss.

This is not all to say that there were not moments during which I wanted to fly back home, because there were. For the first time in my life, I had become great friends with a young man who was openly homosexual. I was strongly disliked by a co-worker because I didn’t share her lifestyle, and didn’t pretend like I agreed with all of her choices. Those relationships challenged my beliefs in a way that sweet, safe, Southern Indiana never had before. I had a roommate who cleaned out a box of ice cream sandwiches every week and was upset that she was seriously overweight. I had to clean (REALLY clean) a kitchen for the first time in my life. I lived in an apartment complex just for College Program students that was on overdrive for parties and promiscuity, two things with which I was not comfortable. But I wouldn’t give back that semester for anything. It was my first taste of independence, and I loved it. Upon my return, I transferred universities almost immediately and finished my degree away from home at a school that allowed me to have a “real”-whatever that is- college experience.  

Now, I think that semester paved the way for many of my adult decisions, from big and serious to small and fun. After graduation, I actually moved to Florida to teach, and stayed for 6 years. I had always been the daughter that everyone thought would come back home. As it turns out, in my tenth year teaching this fall, none of them have happened in Indiana. With my own children, I love Disney even more than I think I did as a kid, and I have sucked my husband in with me. In 2007, I was able to see him experience Disney for the first time, and it was incredible. However, he has nicknamed me “The Magic Killer” because he sometimes tells me that I know just enough of the secrets to be dangerous. When we visit with our family (December will be my then 5-year-old daughter’s 6th trip), Animal Kingdom is always our first stop. As we wander the beautiful pathways that look nothing like they did in the fall of 1998, I can still see myself along the bridges as a 19-year-old with no clue what her grown-up life would look like. Turns out, with a little Disney magic, it’s pretty great.
Nikki with husband Josh and daughters Aiva and Millie

If you would like to submit a guest post, please select the “Actively Contribute” button at the top of the page (located just below the DLuminations Header).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Attractions: The Art of Plussing (Star Tours, Spaceship Earth, TTA)

             This week’s installment for our series on “Plussing” looks at three different attractions throughout the WDW parks as we attempt to determine if “plussing” is always a positive.  Maybe you can notice the loose theme relating to all three attractions.

Star Tours:  This is the most recent and well publicized attraction to be updated.  The Tour to Endor has been replaced by a host of 54 possible 3D destinations that carry you throughout the entire Star Wars saga.  Alas, Rex (voiced by Pee-Wee Herman) has been replaced by C3PO as the pilot and many portions of the queue have been updated as well.  Though the ride itself has undergone significant changes, there are some very interesting surprises to be found in the queue.  In fact, these changes almost make the queue the first part of a 2-part attraction.  Most notably, the addition of the luggage check droid, which is almost as fun as the ride itself.  Look for a lot of little surprises in this protion of the queue.  Want a real challenge?  Find the homage to the original version found in the queue.  Can you guess what it is?  (Hint: Look for REX, your original pilot)  Click the link here to catch a glimpse at this recent addition.
 Spaceship Earth:  Housed in that large “golf ball” (or geodesic sphere), Spaceship Earth carries us on a tour of advancements in human communication.  One of the most controversial changes to the attraction occurred in 2000, when a 25-story magic wand held by Mickey’s hand was erected next to the geodesic sphere.  This horrific addition (my personal feeling) remained until 2010.  Other than the changes in narration from Vic Perrin to Walter Cronkite, Jeremy Irons and now Judi Dench, the biggest and possibly most enjoyable change came when the new interactive, touch screen ending was added in 2007.  Though I must admit that I can still hear the echos of "Tomorrow’s Child” ringing in my ears.

 TTA:  The biggest change with this attraction seems to be the name.  It is amazing how many fans refuse to accept the name change that took place in 1994.  Also known as the Blue Line, TTA, Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, Tomorrowland’s Super-Skyway, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, this attraction is still referred to by many fans as the WEDWay PeopleMover.  As for this author, I refer to the attraction as the TTA; but regardless of what you may call it, I love this attraction.  A slow troll through Tomorrowland’s skyway, this attraction not only allows a moment to relax, but provides some of the most unique views offered in WDW – including a glimpse at how Walt originally envisioned EPCOT.  I often imagine Walt himself riding on the TTA, beaming with pride at what he created. 


Let us know what you think.  Have the changes to these attractions been positive?  Who offered the best narration of Spaceship Earth?  What do you call the TTA?  Out of all the possible tours, where would you like to travel on your Star Tour?  Add your comments below.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Resorts - Booking DVC Vacations without being a DVC Member (Guest Post)

We are pleased to announce our first Guest Post on DLuminations.  Many thanks to Lori Reynolds who penned this great advice on how to take advantage of DVC perks without being a DVC member.  If you would like to contribute by submitting a post of your own, please click the “Actively Contribute” tab below the header at the top of the page.  Now, on to Lori’s advice…

Disney calls their Vacation Club the best kept secret on Disney property. However, there is still one magical Disney secret still available to help everyone experience Disney Vacation Club (DVC) amenities without having to purchase a Vacation Club property. The DVC runs off of a point system, owners purchase so many points to help book their vacations on property and at partnership sites around the world. Points are given annually and can be banked to help owners build up towards larger international trips; however points do have an expiration date on them. Therefore, owners have two years to use points or they will lose them. Disney gave the owners one additional option, an option that helps the rest of us hear one of the most magical statements on all the Disney property, "Welcome Home!"  Owners can share or specifically rent their points to someone else.

Renting DVC points can be accomplished two different ways. The first is using a third party broker. The price is a little higher than doing the work yourself, but they handle all the work and you are able to book the room quickly. Dave's Point Rental is a great example of a third party broker. However, we love doing the work ourselves. Using the "DIS" board, owners list the points they have available, how much they want for their points and when they expire. Renting the points yourself requires a series of emails back and forth between you and the owner but it will save you money. Once you email an owner your interest in their points, and give them your dates and desired DVC resort, the owner will call Disney and check availability. They respond back giving you the option to rent their points and book the room, or walk away. The owner usually has a simple contract to protect both parties, which offers great piece of mind!  The reservations are in your name as well.
We recently purchased points for a 4-night stay at the Boardwalk Villas. Look at how we did:

Regular rate for a deluxe property at Disney world: Boardwalk Villas is $345 a night. We selected the Boardwalk Villas Studio room. The description of this room incorporates view of resort grounds, pools, canals courtyards or even the boardwalk. The room includes a queen size bed, a double size sleeper sofa, bathroom and a mini kitchen. The private balcony is wonderful! Even with all this…$345 is a lot of money to pay for one night. If we booked through Disney World directly, we would have paid, at a minimum of 4 nights $1380 plus tax.

I always look for the lowest per point price offered. I was able to find someone renting his or her points for $9 a point. The weekly point rental for the Boardwalk Villas was 15 points a night. Our 4-night stay was a total of 60 points. 60 points times $9 = $540 total for our stay!!
How awesome! Once you check in, you receive all the rights and privileges of a vacation club owner! Lunch discounts, shopping discounts, free valet parking if needed, and more!!

I am not sure if anyone can beat this deal!  That almost beats the price of a value resort!!!

Have you used a Broker to purchase DVC points?  If so, who have you used? Or, who do you recommend?   Have you purchased DVC points as Lori has outlined above?  If so, what was the best deal you found?  We look forward to hearing from you and remember, if you would like to submit a post, please find out how by selecting the “Actively Contribute” button under the DLuminations header near the top of the page.