November 2001
WDW Bits and Bites

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 30, 2001, Issue #110 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Deb Addresses ALL EARS® Readers Questions about Visiting WDW during Cutbacks

Now that Disney has significantly cut back hours -- or, as they say, instituted "Fall Hours" -- my email box is filled with messages like, "I can't believe they took away Surprise Mornings! Is there anything to see? Is it still worth going to WDW?"

One email in particular, though, really gave me pause. Mary Boles writes, "Deb, I have heard all the latest news of rides closing, shorter park hours, and even the cancellation of Early Entry days. My husband and I have a big trip planned for December and are disappointed with the news and worried that the parks won't seem as 'magical' with all these cutbacks. Please let us, your loyal weekly readers, know if this is true. Is the shrinking economy also shrinking the magic of the Happiest Place on Earth?"

So to Mary and everyone reading ALL EARS®, I can tell you unequivocally that the Magic of Disney is still alive and well at the resorts and theme parks. Were there changes? Yes! Is Animal Kingdom down to an 8-hour day? Yes. Have the entertainment schedules been scaled back? Yes. In spite of all that, I had a wonderful time last weekend.

I don't think I have ever seen the Cast Members more friendly, caring and accommodating as I did this trip. I was quite surprised at that, especially since so many have had their hours (make that their paychecks) reduced. I witnessed Cast Members spreading the pixie dust to guests many times, at least as often as I have on numerous other trips.

Now, before you think that perhaps I am too under Tinker Bell's spell, I want you to know that I made a concerted effort to talk to folks when I was waiting for parades or in line somewhere. I met people from all over the United States and Europe. The only complaint that I heard was about there being no advance announcement of the end of Surprise Mornings. And I could totally relate. I know for me, and for many others, this put a major crimp in their touring plans.

My experiences regarding crowd levels almost seemed like two different trips, though. For instance, the crowds on Thursday, Friday morning and Sunday were low to moderate. However, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday it seemed as though lots of locals and weekend visitors had come to Disney.

Thursday afternoon, Epcot's Food and Wine Festival was not very crowded. The longest line we waited in at a food booth was two or three people long. We were able to enjoy ourselves and the festivities. During the same hours on Saturday, however, the park was packed. Lines at the Food and Wine booths had as many as 15-20 people. What a difference!!! (Festival food prices can be found at: http://allears.net/tp/ep/fw2001_pr.htm

Most attractions I saw at Magic Kingdom on Friday morning were walk-ons. In the course of the morning, we were able to ride Aladdin's Magic Carpets three times, Dumbo twice and several other Fantasyland rides all before 11:30. The streets of Frontierland were nearly abandoned during the opening hours.

I was underwhelmed by the new resort Character Caravan. Neither hotel I stayed at (Caribbean Beach and Animal Kingdom Lodge) informed me about the new program when I checked in, but I made sure to see the Caravan when it stopped at Animal Kingdom Lodge. A bus pulled up about 8:10 a.m. with a loudspeaker and music. An announcement was made (to the few of us standing outside) that the characters had come "to say hello as you start your day!" Out of the bus, one at a time, came Baloo, Timon and Rafiki. They headed into the lobby and posed for photos and autographs with very short waits. They were there from 8:10 to 8:40 and were supposed to come out again from 9:10 to 9:40. You can find photos on WDWIG at: http://allears.net/acc/charcrvn.htm

I attended Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party on Friday and Sunday nights. Again, a huge difference in crowds. The Friday night party, which sold out around noon that day, was very, very crowded, especially in the Frontierland and Liberty Square areas. Lines were very long, especially at the Haunted Mansion, where folks were backed up into Liberty Square.

By contrast, on Sunday night, the crowds were very manageable. We were able to walk onto the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and get to see a number of the characters. We had fun at both parties, but the crowd difference the second night made it a most wonderful time. In fact, we wandered into Cosmic Ray's to find a Halloween disco set up, Michael Jackson's Thriller blasting through the speakers, and New Age Goofy and Buzz Lightyear, dancing to the music, right with their fans! It was worth the price of admission just to watch them.

And for those of you attending Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on October 31 (which is sold out), there is one item not mentioned on the Guide Map: Donald's Pumpkin Patch, located behind the Christmas Shop in Liberty Square. Donald makes special appearances there throughout the evening. By the way, you do still receive a small plastic bag for candy when entering the park (although I noticed significantly fewer Cast Members giving out candy this year).

Main Street was transformed into an eery sight with dark green and orange lights, pumpkins in the windows and shadows of witches and bats moving to and fro.

The Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Parade is at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; each proceeded by a ride from the Headless Horseman! There are three smaller children's parades (I saw Minnie leading one of them), and fireworks are at 9:15 (including a special perimeter firework display). The Boo-to-You Parades (for the little ones) are at 7:30, 9:30 and 10:15 in Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

The Halloween River Boat Ride with strolling musicians and characters, was packed both nights, so I was unable to get on and, unfortunately, can't report about it. I'll have lots of photos online in the Friday WDWIG.com update!

So, all things considered, is it worth going to WDW at this time?

Well, you may have to plan for the trip a little differently than you're used to. And you may have to be more flexible and creative than normal. But the bottom line is, the Magic is alive and well! Head on down to WDW and enjoy yourself.

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Here are some of the other questions ALL EARS® readers sent in to Deb last week:

Dan from Ohio asks: I am interested to learn if on-site transportation is running normally? Should I expect a longer wait getting from my resort to the theme parks and vice versa? Also are they still starting approximately two hours before a park opens? As you know this is important because if you have an early Priority Seating for a Character Breakfast you want to make sure you allow enough time.

Deb answers: I relied almost exclusively on Disney transportation during my four days, which included two at Caribbean Beach and two at Animal Kingdom Lodge. I did not find it any different than any of my previous trips. The official word I received upon every query, is that the transportation will begin one hour prior to park opening.

To accommodate folks with early Priority Seatings for Character Breakfasts, there are special buses running at the resorts. They begin at 7 a.m. to bring you to Animal Kingdom (Donald's Breakfastosaurus) or Magic Kingdom for Cinderella's Royal Table. Be sure to discuss this early transportation with Guest Services at your resort the day before your PS -- they will give you a PS confirmation slip. Also, there is a "Disney Greeter" at the bus stop to assist you in traveling for the breakfast.

In order to enter the parks before opening, your name must be on the Priority Seating list for the Character Breakfast. I watched the Cast Members at Magic Kingdom carefully checking guests and lists. It would be a good idea to bring your confirmation number (or a print out from Guest Services) in case there are any problems when you get to the park. Again, this is only for Priority Seating times before the park officially opens.

Gordon Mapes writes: Do you have a sense that the end of Early Entry is permanent? We have a trip planned around July 4, 2002. Early Entry was most attractive when we were there last Christmas. Any sense it may return next summer when park attendance may pick up?

Deb says: Until the Disney resort occupancy and theme park crowd levels return to the high levels they enjoyed 6-12 months ago, I do not expect Early Entry to start again. Your guess is as good as mine if it will be utilized during Christmas week or during peak periods next year.

When you check into your Disney resort, you are now given a black and white paper that has the new "Fall Hours" for each of the parks. While no one would answer any questions about park hours for November, I wouldn't expect them to expand again unless attendance is way up. One could speculate that if even more cutbacks to wages were to occur, park hours might be shortened further still.

Linda writes: I'm so glad to hear that you will be checking out Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party! I will be attending that event next year. There will be three adults who are big kids at heart. Will you please look around and see if there are any "big kids" in costume and being silly? I need to assure my traveling companions that I won't embarrass them!

Deb responds: Yes, there were a fair number of "big kids at heart", as you put it, in costume for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. I saw a number of groups who were themed together. One group was Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, including the Prince and the Old Hag! I also saw a Dalmatian family (Mom, Dad and two little ones), many Wizard of Oz costumes, including several Tin Man adults and much more. Get dressed up and have a great time!

Kelly asks: I would like to ask if you happen to have any photos of the Headless Horseman? He rides at the beginning of the parade during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween parties.

Deb says: I tried my best during four separate parades to get the photo and only ended up with blurs. It makes for a great lead-in to the parade. If anyone has a photo of the Headless Horseman from Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, please email me at: allearsnet@yahoo.com

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How about a Disney Road Trip?

by Mike Corbo

Courtesy of www.themouseforless.com

We've been hearing a lot of this lately: "I'm not sure if my family and I are ready to fly after all that has happened lately." Well, we at DisneyDollarless have some tips for you!

While there are many free sites on the internet that help with planning your trip route such as www.mapquest.com and www.mapblast.com, these sites do not provide the details you will need to plan an 18-hour drive to Orlando.

Our members have tried a few of the programs that are available for your PC (or Mac) that help with trip planning. These have the added capabilities of pointing out hotels, dining options and other points of interest along your intended route. You can also customize your trip to include breaks every so often, how many hours you want to drive each day and what time you would like to start and stop driving in the mornings and evenings. You can even set your average driving speed and see an estimate of how much the trip will cost based on current gas prices and tolls. The program will give you a much more realistic breakdown of driving times. Programs that our readers have used are Microsoft Streets & Trips 2002 and Delorme's Street Atlas USA.

Once you have your route planned, just imagine the fun you and your kids will have in a car for 18 hours!! You can never hear that age-old phrase "Are we there yet?" enough times. Here are some tips for making the trip just a bit less tedious and more fun for the kids.

One game that we use all the time is Road Trip Bingo. There are a series of 12 bingo cards ready to download for free at http://gemini.goodyear.com/fun/bingo.html. The first person to spot and call out something on their board gets to mark it with a crayon or marker. The site also has other games that can be played in the car.

Another favorite of my family is our version of the "I'm Going on a Picnic" game. Normally played with picnic items, we choose a Disney-related theme, such as movies, characters, rides, etc. The first person says, "I'm going to Disney World and I'm going to ride on (and name a ride that begins with the letter A)." The second person repeats what the first person said and then adds their own ride using the next letter of the alphabet, and so on. Sometimes a little creativity is needed with some of the more difficult letters. Guaranteed to keep you busy for quite some time and it helps promote good memory.

It also helps to pack a few surprises to give to the kids along the way. A new toy, a new video game, coloring books and crayons, special treats to eat.

If you're up to it, leaving late at night and driving through the night may be best if you have smaller children. That way, they can sleep through most of the trip.

Cracker Barrel, a chain of restaurants and country stores located along most of the major interstates, sells books on tape (or CD) that can be returned at another location. You'll get back all you paid except for a $3 rental fee -- a great inexpensive way to entertain everyone in the family.

Another lifesaver that could keep some children occupied for the whole trip is a small TV/VCR combination, which is usually available for under $200 online. We pair ours up with a PlayStation that is plugged into a power converter. Be sure to check out your local Costco, Target or Wal-Mart for deals.

Finally, check this site with tips for driving long distance with children:

Ultimate Traveling with Kids Guide http://family.go.com/travel/activities/feature/famf48cargames/


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.