RideMax Roulette at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tomorrow!

Tiger at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I’m headed to Animal Kingdom tomorrow, April 10th, to test a half-day RideMax plan. You can follow along for live updates from the park:

I’m calling this “RideMax Roulette,” because rather than using a predetermined list of attractions, I decided to plug in a (mostly) random list of shows and attractions into RideMax, then created my half-day plan from there.

I say it was “mostly” random simply because I knew in advance that I wanted to visit both of the trails — Pangani and Maharajah Jungle Trek — and I also wanted to see the Lion King show. (Sorry, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit through the 40-minute-ish Finding Nemo show, and I didn’t want to get soaked on Kali with my DSLR in hand, so I omitted these from the list of possible attractions.)

After adding my three “must-do” attractions to the list, I used a random number generator to come up with five others, and I was left with the following list of eight attractions altogether:

  • Dinosaur (twice)
  • Expedition Everest
  • Festival of the Lion King
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
  • Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
  • TriceraTop Spin

I know this may seem like a pretty wimpy attempt, given that the plan doesn’t include the Safari, but hey, it is what it is. I think it’s also good for me to test RideMax plans that include non-obvious ride selections, as it has sometimes helped me to see and/or fix problems that might come up with various ride choices.

Given this list of attractions, I decided to use FP+ for at least Dinosaur and Expedition Everest. I would normally use the other FP+ for either the Safari or Kali River Rapids, but since neither of these are in my list, I’m using the third FP+ slot for It’s Tough to be a Bug! (Yeah!)

After crunching on this list of attractions, here is what RideMax came up with. Remember, RideMax’s goal is to minimize BOTH waiting AND walking time:

Disney's Animal Kingdom RideMax Plan

Notice the large-ish block of “free time starting just before 9:00am. I think I’m going to use this to go see DiVine near the park entrance.

After creating this plan, I went into Disney’s “My Disney Experience” application and reserved my FP+ time slots to correspond with the times shown in green on the plan. (And yes, I realize that I most likely won’t need those Dinosaur and ITTBAB FP+ tickets that early in the day. If this were a full-day plan, you’d likely see those FP+ slots set up for later in the day.)

I’ll keep you updated on Facebook and Twitter as I progress through the morning. Feel free to comment there or below as I go!

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Disneyland and Walt Disney World Spring Break 2015 — Four Tips to Reduce Your Wait

Here we go again — it’s the time of year when people start planning that spring break trip to the theme parks. Whether you plan to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, here are four tips that can help you avoid the crowds and have a successful, fun vacation:

  • Arrive early, well before the park opens for the day
  • Buy your tickets in advance
  • Have a game plan
  • Choose the “right” park for your visit date

Let’s elaborate on these in more detail.

Tip #1: Arrive Early, Before the Park Opens for the Day

When visiting Disney’s theme parks during crowded seasons of the year especially, it’s important to be at the front gates well before the park opens for the day.

Consider the two pictures below, taken a couple of years ago at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-8f7jvBt/0/X2/i-8f7jvBt-X2.jpg

Now, compare this to following picture taken two hours later:

Magic Kingdom Spring Break -- Mid-morning

Arriving early gives you access to the shorter lines right after the park opens, as you can imagine. But another huge advantage of arriving early is that it helps you get the most out of the FastPass-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World, and the FastPass (FP) system at Disneyland.

At Walt Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use (with no paper FPs in use at all anymore), arriving early allows you to use your FP+ reservations earlier in the day, opening up the possibility of obtaining more FP+ slots once you’ve used your first three.

At Disneyland, arriving early is even more critical for efficient FastPass (FP) use. For those who aren’t aware, after you obtain your first FP ticket, you can’t obtain another one until either two hours have elapsed, or until the “ride window” for that first FP ticket has arrived, whichever comes first. Early in the day, those FP windows can be as close as 40 minutes away from the time at which you obtained the FP ticket, allowing you to get your next FP ticket 40 minutes after the first. Contrast this with later in the day, when the return windows for some of the more popular attractions can stretch out to several hours away instead, forcing you to wait the full two hours before you can get your next FP ticket.

The other significant thing to note about the Disneyland FP tickets is that they can “sell out” by midday for some rides (depending on crowd levels), so arriving early helps you to not get “locked out” entirely from getting FPs for certain attractions.

Tip #2: Buy Your Tickets In Advance

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World especially, it’s critical that you buy your tickets well in advance of your trip.

Disney allows you to make your FP+ reservations 60 days in advance if you’re staying onsite in a Disney hotel, and 30 days in advance if you’re staying offsite. And FP+ reservations for popular attractions and time slots can sell out very early, so it’s important to secure those FP+ reservations as far in advance of your trip as you can.

The catch here is that you have to have your actual tickets in hand before you can make those FP+ reservations. Once you have your ticket numbers, you can create an account on Walt Disney World’s My Disney Experience website and “link” these tickets to your account. Once that’s done, you can make your actual FP+ reservations.

Note that if you’re using RideMax to create and optimize your itineraries, the RideMax plan will tell you when it thinks it’s best to actually use those FP+ tickets. So the idea is that once you have your RideMax plans created, you then go into My Disney Experience and adjust your FP+ reservations to match the times shown on your RideMax plans.

The point is that the earlier you make your FP+ reservations, the more likely it is that you can get the time slots you want (or which your RideMax plan specifies). So buying your tickets in advance is critical.

For Disneyland visitors, the same “buy tickets early” advice applies, but it’s not nearly as important as it is for WDW guests. If you buy your Disneyland tickets in advance, it can save you some hassle the first morning of your visit, since you won’t have to wait in line at one of the ticket counters. You can also get access to one of Disneyland’s Magic Morning hours if you’re purchasing a 3-day or higher ticket online. This in itself can be a huge advantage if you wish to take advantage of Magic Morning.

Tip #3: Have a Basic Game Plan

OK, you probably figured this was coming, since I earn my living from the RideMax planning tool. But even if the detailed planning that RideMax allows isn’t quite your thing, you’ll still benefit greatly by mapping out at least a partial game plan in advance of your trip. Give at least give some thought to which attractions you want to start your day with, and then go from there.

Visiting your attractions in an efficient order can literally make or break your day, especially when the park is crowded, so I’d advise spending at least a few minutes before your trip thinking this through. This will help keep you from wandering around the park with your head buried in the park map trying to figure this out on the fly later.

Tip #4: Choose the “Right” Park for Your Visit Date

Radiator Springs Racers

In addition to arriving early, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you choose the “right” park for your visit date.

The example photo above shows absolutely nobody in front of me as I made my way to Radiator Springs Racers. The catch is that for most guests, this is only possible on certain days of the week.

The reason for this is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some an “early entry” program for their hotel guests, which gives these guests access to one of the parks one hour early on specific days of the week. For example, Disney hotel guests are normally allowed early entry to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

If you’re not staying at a Disney-owned hotel and still want to get a jump on the crowds by arriving early, the best way to do this is to simply avoid the park hosting early entry on the day of you visit, and go to another park instead. For example, the picture above was taken on a Tuesday, when Disneyland, and NOT DCA, was hosting early entry. Had I gone straight to Radiator Springs Racers when the park opened to the public on a Monday instead, I would have found a large line for this attraction right at opening time. (And do yourself a favor and steer clear of Peter Pan on an early entry day at Disneyland, unless you have early access yourself!)

You’ll see a similar scene play out at Walt Disney World, which normally hosts “Extra Magic Hours” at one of its theme parks each morning as well. (Walt Disney World RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Walt Disney World website for the early entry schedule also.)

So, do yourself a favor this spring break and avoid the crowds by arriving early, buying your tickets in advance, having a game plan, and choosing the right park for your visit date. I think you’ll be glad you did!

Are you planning a spring break visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear your comments below!

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Beating the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Crowds at Park Opening. Festival of the Lion King Opens in New Harambe Theater.

Magic Kingdom - Seven Dwarfs Mine Train CrowdsAs you can see in the image above, Disney is now using a new “follow the rope” procedure when they open the Magic Kingdom in the morning. This is used to help prevent guests from running to the very popular new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, as well as to the Anna and Elsa meet and greet.

I visited the Magic Kingdom yesterday, and followed pretty closely behind the Cast Members leading the way, as the picture above — and the one right below — shows.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Park Opening

What may not be obvious from these pictures, is the HUGE crowds following behind. I somehow managed to hold my camera over my head, pointing backwards, and caught the following amazing sight (click on any image for a larger view):

Magic Kingdom Crowds

With most of these folks attempting to get to these new attractions, you can see how important it is to both arrive early and to know what you’re doing once you get there. The first one is up to you, and if you’re a RideMax subscriber, we’ve added an in-plan tip (our longest one yet) to help with the second one.

New Lion King Theater in Africa

I also hopped over to the Animal Kingdom yesterday to check out the new Festival of the Lion King theater, which has been built in Africa, replacing the old location in Camp Minnie-Mickey. As you can see in the picture above, the standby entrance is on the left, with FP+ access on the right.

Festival of the Lion King - New Theater Location in Africa

Just to put the new location in context, this is the wide-angle view from the bridge leading into Africa. Kilimanjaro Safaris is straight ahead on the right-hand side of the picture, with the new Lion King theater on the very far left-hand side of the image.

New Lion King Theater

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, just hang a left here to get to the new theater.

New Festival of the Lion King Theater in Disney's Animal Kingdom

Here’s the view of the theater building taken from the far end, looking back toward where the previous picture was taken.

Festival of the Lion King

Festival of the Lion King

It’s the same great show as before, one I consider a “must see” attraction!

A final note is that in my observations yesterday, there is no need to use FP+ to visit the FOTLK. For the noon show, you could still get in standby by showing up just 15 minutes before showtime. Arriving a half-hour early should be a safe bet on all but the busiest days of the year.

 

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Opens May 28th! Press Preview at the Magic Kingdom

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The construction walls are down now around the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s two-day preview for the press began yesterday. Cameras and press people were everywhere.

The big announcement is that the attraction will open for all guests on May 28th, with FastPass+ reservations available beginning on that date. There could also be soft openings ahead of the 28th, but nothing official at this point.

Here are a handful of pictures taken yesterday:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
Disney wasn’t allowing any “regular” guests to ride the attraction, but every now and then you could see some of the press folks on the ride.
Mine Cars
I like the detail on the ride vehicles, but I’m not sure if these guys riding the cars could look any more excited…  🙂
Grumpy
Grumpy was playing his part well.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - Park Location
The above picture shows the location of the ride entrance which is on the far left edge of this shot. As you can see, the entrance is located just across the street from the Winnie the Pooh exit.

For those of you using RideMax, stay tuned! We expect to have this new attraction added to RideMax soon for dates beginning May 28th. We’ll use some very rough wait time estimates before it opens, and expect to refine those after we’ve had the chance to see the queue in actual operation.
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Avoiding the Wait at the New FP+ Kiosks

FP+ Kiosk

This is a short post for those planning a visit to Walt Disney World in the near future. Disneyland visitors can rest easy — at least for the time being!

After visiting both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot yesterday and looking again at the situation with the new FP+ kiosks, it’s pretty clear that your selection of which specific kiosk to visit can make a huge difference in how long you’ll have to wait at the kiosk itself, especially if you don’t arrive until after opening time and there are already crowds in the park.

Consider the line for one of the FP+ kiosks yesterday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I took this picture at the kiosk near the Tower of Terror shortly before 11:00am:

Line for FP+ Kiosk

I should note that setting up those FP+ reservations inside the park is something of a labor-intensive process for the cast members staffing the kiosks, so these folks could be standing in line for a while. (And the irony is that FP+ is supposed to help reduce the time you spend standing line.)

Now, look at the line for the kiosks near American Idol. The picture below was taken just a few minutes after the one shown above. Here you can see two very unbusy cast members, complete with FP+ tablets in hand, who without prompting from me were nice enough to pause and smile for the camera, as there wasn’t anyone in line for them to help at the moment:

FP+ Kiosk Near American Idol

As this was only about a three-minute walk from the very crowded kiosks near the Tower of Terror, it would have definitely been worth the walk for the poor folks standing in line over there.

FP+ Kiosk Near Muppets

I should also note that if you were in the back of the park, the line for the FP+ kiosks near Muppet Vision theater were also non-existent. Note the open machine on the right in the picture below.

FP+ Kiosk - No Line

Given how unevenly the lines for the kiosks are playing out so far (I saw similar disparities at Epcot), we expect to have some in-plan “tips” in RideMax soon to help steer folks to the shorter lines. In the meantime, remember that it can really pay to look around a bit before you commit to a particular FP+ kiosk.

Have you experienced FP+ yet, and if so, what did you think of the experience?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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