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Fodor's editor seeking Disney tips

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Feb 29th, 2008, 02:53 PM
  #1
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Fodor's editor seeking Disney tips

Hi all -- I'm editing the next edition of the Fodorís Walt Disney World guide, and after spending last week at some of the Orlando parks with my family, I came back wanting to include more of your comments in the book. While I went into this trip with good advice from my writers, Iím now more convinced than ever that behind every ride or show or situation at these parks is yet another tip waiting to be discovered.

I would love to know which rides and attractions you liked best and what tips you might have about them, based on recent visits to any of the following:

--- the Walt Disney World parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom);
--- the Disney water parks (Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach);
--- the Universal Orlando parks (Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios);
--- SeaWorld;
--- Discovery Cove;

Last week was our third time in Orlando as a family and our first with our youngest child (I've got daughters 8 and 5 and a boy, 18 months). This time around we only got to Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and SeaWorld.

Here are my family's favorite things from last week:

--Soarin' (The Land, Epcot). We Fast Passed this one (itís almost a given that youíll have to unless you line up for it shortly after rope drop) but the twist was that when we returned at our designated FP time, I got a Rider Switch ticket from one of the attendants. This permitted me to ride with the girls while my wife watched the baby, and as I exited the ride she gave me the baby, I gave her the girls, and she was able to walk into the Fast Pass line with the ticket and the girls and ride with them. The rider switch trick is unofficially known at Disney as Baby Swap (Universalís version is called Baby Exchange) but no matter what you call it, it always pays to ask the attendants if rider switches are available for any given ride. In this case, Soariní lives up to its hype and your kids will love doing it twice.

--Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom). We liked that each person on the ride had a job --- my 5-year old controlled the spinning and my 8-year old and I shot at the targets. The targeting wasn't that hard and the spinning wasn't so jerky that you'd regret having breakfast (though for good measure we kept the baby off it). Before 11am there was no line, so I was able to ride with the girls once and my wife took them immediately after. At 11:01, it seemed, a huge line materialized.

--Playhouse Disney (Animation Courtyard, Disney's Hollywood Studios). They just retooled and reopened this one with characters from current Disney Channel shows. My 18-month old got so excited I thought his eyeballs would explode. Too bad he won't remember it. Get on line at least 20 minutes before to get a good place (youíll be sitting on a carpeted floor) near the stage.

--Epcot Character Spot (Innoventions West building, Epcot). My daughters were really into the autograph book signings this time and IMHO (which didn't count in this and most other cases) wasted a lot of time lining up for individual characters. At this location, we waited on one line for about 20 minutes and within the next ten minutes got passed to five different characters for hugs and autographs. If you've done time in line for a single character you know this averages out pretty well.

--Blue Horizons (SeaWorld). We had blown this one off the last couple trips but the mix of dolphin tricks and circus acts was a nice combo that all three kids (and the adults) liked just as much as the Shamu show. For Blue Horizons we showed up after it started and still saw fine from our perch up in the bleachers.

I thank you in advance for any recommendations and tips you have along these lines, and I will do my best to get as many of them as I can into the book. Iím also going back to the parks in November, so I personally appreciate all the good tips I can get!

Thanks,
Paul
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Feb 29th, 2008, 05:18 PM
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Paul, did you do the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor (Tomorrowland, MK)? Very funny and seemed to appeal to younger kids and adults.

My tip for Animal Kingdom would be to do the Safari ride as early in the morning as possible. The animals are much more active early in the day, and if you want to see a good variety, then earlier is better.

Sea World is the favorite park of many of us who live in Central Florida - it's a lovely park with nowhere near the lines of Disney or Universal, and makes for a very pleasant, relaxing day.

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Feb 29th, 2008, 06:52 PM
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Sounds like you had a great trip!
I love DW and have been 3 times. I even proposed to my wife at Epcot. I did it just as you enter the park. The great thing about doing it there was the photographers Disney set out there. They took tons of photos and even gave us some free copies when we went to pick them up. Now we have wonderful pictures to remind us how we love DW and each other.
The biggest tip I can give anyone going to Disney is have a plan for the day for each park. Arrive at the park BEFORE opening time and and have a plan for the first several hours. Mornings are slowest at the parks so this is crucial to avoid wait times. I havent waited longer than 20 minutes to ride anything in 3 trips to Disney!
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Feb 29th, 2008, 06:58 PM
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My husband and I went to Disney this past December. I probably wouldn't do that time again as I didn't like the crowds, but it was great to see Disney all "done up" for the Holidays.

My tip would be that if you can stay at Animal Kingdom lodge take the Safari offered through the hotel. One you had to be concierge level but the other I think just a guest at the Lodge.

They were fantastic!! Great insider information into the care of the animals and up close and personal interaction. The morning safari is through the Animal Kingdom park safari ride and is before park opens and they are just letting the animals out and they are very active.

The afternoon also includes a meal at Jiko (which was out of this world) and also takes you through the safari areas within the lodge grounds. The guides are animal keepers there and were great!

These were my Christmas present and I had such a wonderful time.
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Feb 29th, 2008, 07:22 PM
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Hi Paul! Nice to have another editor hanging around this site!

We absolutely love Disney and especially Disney World. My first trip was when Epcot first opened, and we have made many trips since.

Our tastes have evolved over the years. At first we'd take the kids and enjoy Fantasyland, the characters, etc. This was waaaay before all the character autograph signings they have these days.

Nowadays, it's just me and the hubby, and Epcot is our favorite hangout.

Are you only interested in rides and attractions? Don't do much of the rides anymore. Oh sure, we always go on Thunder Mountain, love the thrill of the ride, but nowadays it's much more casual and at a slower pace than when we had kids.

My favorite time is when the Christmas decorations first come up, right after Thanksgiving. I LOVE the Candlelight Processional, have done the dinner package in the past, and we love listening to the Christmas storytellers in the different countries.

The decorations and music during the holidays are spectacular. Have you ever seen the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights at MGM? Unbelievably beautiful. This year it was the best ever. The streets were ablaze with color. I could send you pictures if you'd like to see.

Also, we like taking "hotel tours" of the Grand Floridian and the Beach Club, with their life-size gingerbread houses and a carousel. There are signs that show the ingredients list; 52 tons of flour, 800 cups of sugar, 42 dozen eggs, or something like that.

We also love the Mariachi Cobre at Mexico. We have become friends with a number of the band members. They're really good if you ever get the chance to see them.

The Animal Kingdom is our newest favorite. I could spend hours on the Asian and African jungle walks. Besides the gorillas, bats, and colorful birds, did you know that the hippopotamus (who always seems sleeping and hidden underneath the water) takes an afternoon "marathon run" round and round every afternoon around 3:30? Yep, he suddenly wakes up, and literally starts swimming laps, up and down thru the water. Great photo op!

I'm still a sucker when it comes to having my photo taken with Dopey. There's just something about that guy that gets to me.

I'd better stop. I could go on and on and on....

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Feb 29th, 2008, 07:27 PM
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321, I am sorry now that I missed the Laugh Floor. I overheard a guy on his cellphone telling a buddy about it but I was trying to balance a tray of french-fry laden meals at the time and it didn't register for long; I'll definitely put it on my list for November, even if I have to sneak back on my own....I adore SeaWorld also. Even back when we had just one kid I appreciated how managable it was.

panhandle, the Epcot proposal sounds really charming: how did you set that up -- did a park rep coordinate with you having the photogs on hand?

lindsyb, you make me want to see more of Animal Kingdom. It's always the one that gets cut from our agenda when time is limited, and there's a lot about that park that's underhyped.

Thanks of course for the tips! Any my thanks again to all else who take the time to chime in.
Paul
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Feb 29th, 2008, 07:35 PM
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swisshiker, your post crossed with mine, so I wanted to add my thanks to you as well. I'm primarily interested in rides and attractions but it's special moments and times of year---as you and lindsyb commented on---that I like knowing about, too; unfortunately I haven't yet seen the Spectacle of Lights.

It's great that you and yours are going to the parks sans kids. It gives me something to look forward to!
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Feb 29th, 2008, 08:01 PM
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My 4 yr old really likes the Land at Epcot (next to Soarin). It was easy going and they got to learn about hydroponics etc. I think that is a little known ride for the youngins and people tend to skip it but she truely enjoys seeing all the cool veggies they grow.

Also, Seaworld is opening Aquatica either today or tomorrow. That should be something you should hit next time and review.
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Feb 29th, 2008, 08:02 PM
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My wife and I made the rounds of the four Disney parks last month after a business trip.

The big surprise to us was how much we enjoyed Animal Kingdom (probably because it was all new to us, with not so much repeats of rides from Disneyland). We really enjoyed the theming of the various areas. The Everest coaster was quite good, the intensity reminded me of the Dland Space Mountain the year if first opened, before they slowed it down. The Dinoland area was also a pleasant surprise. The only real dud seemed to be the train out to the petting area; just not much going on there (might have been more interesting if there was something going on in the vet center). We thought our lunch at Yak and Yeti was the best of our meals.



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Feb 29th, 2008, 09:32 PM
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Paul regarding the photographers...we used the ones that take your picture in the front of the park.( This was pre Photopass)
Speaking of Photopass for those who haven't used it before its alot of fun. Here is the link for http://www.disneyphotopass.com/

Ditto those who liked Sea World! Its much more relaxing than Disney. We also love Islands of Adventure (Spiderman is my favorite ride in Orlando)



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Feb 29th, 2008, 09:36 PM
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Swisshiker-
There are some great videos on youtube of this years Osbourne lights. They were really stunning. There are also some great videos of the Castle lighting Ceremony this year.
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Mar 1st, 2008, 04:50 AM
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Surprisingly, my favorite MK ride is Splash Mountain. It is not just a terror roller coaster (which I love too) but the theming and little things to look for in each "scene" are wonderful and fun for all ages.

If you don't want to get wet, be sure to bring a long a poncho. You can usually get these from "dollar stores" - 2 or 3 for $1. Just slip it on before you ride. When some visitors get off of the ride, they just hand them off to someone else in the queue.

If you want to be "brave", just plan a bit of what you will wear that day. I avoided cotton and was completely dry in a couple of hours, even in December.

Enjoy-la!
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Mar 1st, 2008, 06:00 AM
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We just got back from a day at Epcot and a day at Magic Kingdom with our teens for our vacation week. I have to admit, I was a bit cynical about going during vacation week, but we had a blast! It was crowded, but they do know how to handle it. Due to a late flight, we didn't get to Epcot until noon.

Tip: If you arrive late, get Fast Passes right away for the popular attractions. Look at the bottom of the pass and see when you are eligible to do your next Fast Pass.
If a member of your party is not needing Fast Pass, you can use their ticket and not wait the two hours to get the next Fast Pass.

Epcot Tip: Soarin' is not to be missed! I was worried about height issues (not helped by the many warnings as you enter the ride), and I spoke with a few staff members. It turned out to be one of my favorite attractions! The chair feels very solid and secure so you really could shut your eyes and as one of the staff members said, "it's like sitting on a porch rocker."

The whole family enjoyed the classics at Magic Kingdom as well - such as the Haunted Mansion (teens love all three of the "mountain" rides- Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain).

Our vegetarian daughter had no problem anywhere finding something to eat (they have come a long way!) I believe the park map includes information on veggie options now.

This year we reserved early for an amazing dinner at the California Grill at the Contemporary. We offset the cost of the meal by skipping the usual souvenirs and snacks (hey, they add up!) We even brought our own ponchos into the parks (and used them one of the days). I don't know if I'd recommend California Grill for families with younger children, but we found it to be a memorable experience with our teenagers.

Tip: Go early and ask for a window seat so you can watch the sunset over the lagoon (depending on the time of year).
This also allows you to go back into the park after dinner when it is much less crowded.

Tip: The California Grill allows customers to return to the observation deck to watch the fireworks. Although we chose not to do this because we went on more rides after dinner, it would be a great option if you had time.

Tip: Inside the park, you can get great fireworks photos by resting your camera on a railing.

We had just a couple pictures taken through Photopass. It's a great concept. We were happy with the photos, but they arrived yesterday all wrinkled. They send them in flimsy envelopes, not the typical photo mailers. I emailed them asking for new photos...hopefully they will be on top of that.

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Mar 1st, 2008, 08:16 AM
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We did one day at MK and two days at Sea World during President's week and all the usual advice applied.
Go early is the most important advice and hit the big rides at rope drop.
We rode Splash Mountain 3 times in succession with no lines, picked up a FP for it on the way out (return in an hour) and skipped across to Thunder Mountain Railroad for a couple of bone shaking rounds (definitely felt the bone rattling turns more in the front row than when we sat mid way back in the train!).
Still no lines at Splash Mountain so we went on again while sending our teenage son to get fast passes for Space Mountain.

Note when Space Mountain closes for 'technical difficulties' it might mean someone has vomited on the ride. They clean it up fairly quickly but they are then very lenient on Fast Pass holders regarding the time of their return. We couldn't ride at our designated return time as it was temporarily out of action so we came back 4 hours later.

I didn't ride Space Mountain but my 10 year old daughter wanted to use my FP for a second ride and they allowed her big brother to accompany her (just ask!).

Our most successful tips for Magic Kingdom were to use FPass extensively. We got new ones as soon as we could and probably had 9 or 10 during our long day. We also found that while a few Disney employees were rigid over the return times for FP most were not and barely glanced at the time slot allowing us in early or late.

We were told that Disney is refining the FP system and it's likely there will be tiered Fast Passes so that Disney Resort guests have a higher priority.

We got some great photos on the Peter Pan ride. I rode in a boat in front of my son and husband and took photos while on the ride of them flying over London.

To meet characters without long lines I recommend the character dining. We ate lunch at the Crystal Palace with Pooh and friends and the food was excellent, much fresher and of higher quality compared to our visit to the same place 5 years ago. It's a buffet so I found the cost reasonable bearing in mind we were traveling with an insatiable teenage boy.
The characters approach your table for hugs and photos in an attractive setting which is much more relaxed than lining up to meet and greet the characters.

Another good spot to meet characters is behind the castle in MK. Just outside the shop Tinkerbell's Treasures is an area where characters rotate throughout the day for photos. The lines seemed pretty short here and there was no wait for a photo and hug with the Fairy Godmother on our visit.

We also rode on the tea cups ride with Alice and the Mad Hatter!

Monster's Inc Laugh Floor was a hoot especially as the woman next to me was included in part of the show.

Sea World is just not as crowded as Disney but they recommend you show up for shows 30 min in advance although it's not necessary to get a seat in most cases.
We did find that the mime guy that entertained the audience before the sealion and otter show was fantastic. The show itself is excellent too!

Our tip for Sea World is if you wish to feed the animals spend a little time listening to the experts. To feed the stingrays you have to hold the fish pointing up between you fingers (so you hand is flat and the fish is sticking up at 90 degrees to your hand). You then allow the stingrays to glide over your hand and take the fish. So many kids and adults were having a hard time getting the stingrays to take the fish because they weren't using the right technique.

We also enjoyed feeding the sealions as the animals really seemed to appreciate the fish and would happily 'bark' or flap a flipper to 'ask' for more! This feeding zone was also far less busy than the dolphin feeding area.

Our favorite ride Journey to Atlantis was not busy on both mornings we visited (we rarely had to line up and if we did it was for less than 5 minutes). We rode this ride at least 10 times over our 2 day visit. For small kids or anyone that does not want to ride there is a bridge to watch from where for 25c they can try to soak their parents, siblings or any stranger if they wish!

This trip we went for 3 full days in the parks and couldn't have kept up the pace for any longer but we'll probably go again next year for another short intense fix!
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Mar 1st, 2008, 08:36 AM
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Oh dear lord....

I could write for hours on this.
My wife, MIL and their extended family spent a week there during the 1st week of December last year.

My 1st general tip would be to go that time and ONLY that time if you wish to maximize park time while capturing the Disney essence of the season. If staring at 100's of thousands of lights (especially at The Osbourne Family of Lights) at the time of year doesn't put you in the mood than the very last place you should ever go to is WDW.

We road Expedition Everest at AK for th 1st time and can safely sau that this attraction was quickly vaulted into our top 3. The other 2 are Fantasmic and Soarin (rode that twice).

My tip for Fantasmic would be to do the early show and NOT do it as part of the dinner package. You may wait a few minutes longer in line and on the bleachers but you will have much better seating. We were dead center 5 rows from the railing on the clearest night we could have asked for.

On Soarin, get there early, grab a FP then head over to Test Track. For EE, get there early too, get that FP then make a beeline to Kiliminjari Safari as the animals are out in ernest.
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Mar 1st, 2008, 09:18 AM
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magic kingdom doesn't start to get crowded until 11am. up until then, big thunder railroad and splash mountain are walk-ons.

dumbo has one of the longest lines and no fast pass. if you really want to ride it, make it your first ride of the day.

small world has one of the fastest moving lines. it often seems later in the day that the boats start to pile up and you move through the end of the ride very slowly. hearing that song over and over will put many people over the edge.

the baby swap pass is the best. you have to remember to ask for it when you first enter the line and usually the employee will need to see who is remaining behind to make sure people aren't abusing it. but the ability to ride again through the fast pass line with an additional 3 people is great.
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Mar 1st, 2008, 09:43 AM
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I too could write a book. We've been too many times to count, always combining 3-4 days with the beach during spring break, the week after Easter.

WDW is not for wimps, and not for those not willing to plan ahead and plan ALOT. We're all athletic and in shape (runners, dancers etc) but 3-4 back-to-back days in the parks is a body beating. You will easily walk between 7 -15 miles a day, especially if using fast passes, zipping back and forth. Totally worth it though

Here are a few tips for MK - some are for younger kids but then aren't we ALL kids at WDW?!

-Wishes' fireworks and Tinkerbelle the gymnast: Sit on the outer edge of the Plaza restaurant, while looking at the castle. Look up to find the wire where Tink flys from the castle to the restaurant rooftop on the right and sit under or nearby. TinkerBelle - a real life person/gynast will fly down right over the top of your heads at the start of the fireworks. Regardless how many times we've been, its still really cool.

-If you don't need to see Tinkerbell fly or see the front of the castle (its always lighted and changes) while watching the fireworks, go BEHIND the castle to see the fireworks. The view is fantastic and the crowds aren't as bad.

- if staying on-site and i HIGHLY and totally recommend doing so!!!when riding the onsite busses, ask the driver if they have any of the tradeable bus cards. Also ask the monorail driver; they have cerificates and special pins. Same thing for riverboat's pilot certificate.

-Having a birthday? Stop in the Town Hall at MK and get a special button. Cast members will greet you, sometimes move you to the head of the line, our DD was given a free dessert at the Studios and free candy in the candy store.

-many cashier cast members have free stickers, fun for the kids and also photo albums

-When you walk down Main Street, take a close look at the castle. You'll notice the bricks get smaller the higher up the castle goes. The Imagineers called it the "forced perspective" technique and looks a little taller than it would if all the bricks were the same size.

-The Golden Camel in front of the Aladdin ride (Adventureland MK) is controlled by someone hidden nearby and shoots unwary guests as they walk by.

- If you see a human character, like Mary Poppins, ask them a question about their movie and they go right into character. Have your guys kiss all the female non-human hands and watch the reaction.

- Buzz Lightyear: about 15 min. before Buzz and Woody come out, the Army men arrived in their Jeep and do a preshow. They choose 8-9 guests to line up, have them shout their names and hand them weapons. Buzz and Woody made their appearance for a group photo with all of them, really fun!

- for the competitive players in your group lol - The big points in Buzz are found leaving the first room. Turn around and shoot the back of the Orange robots arm or the back of the buzz saw for 100,000 points. The car turns automatically away from these so turn back and score big!

- meals, sandwiches, entrees etc are huge around WDW and you can often split meals and save room for more snacks that way Also, the kids' meals are also big, more than plenty for both DD and myself. There's much more variety lately, again saving time and calories for junk food later

I'll post later w/ideas from the other parks.

Regardless when you go - and we always go the week after Easter - with a LOT of planning and ALWAYS fast passes, you will have a blast! We've been to countless other places throughout america and the world but there's nothing like WDW and DL
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Mar 1st, 2008, 12:06 PM
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Counting the days until we escape winter and head for 'The World' so here are a few more little tidbits you may or may not have heard:

Hollywood Studios:

-To meet The Incredibles and The Robinsons (wayyy cute!) go in the back way thru Animation, thru the gift shoppe, and into the holding area people arrive in after their tour. Voila, there they are and you can get pics. And hugs
And autographs ... if you must...

- HUGE fans of Aerosmith's Rock n Roller Coaster! But unlike most coasters, the front seat isn't the best and not worth the wait. The back is a bit too jerky for some but toward the back is sweeeeeeeet. Perfect. Perfect to the point that one year we did it 13 times in 4 days the week after Easter.

-Having a birthday, anniversary, any special occasion? Tell the cast member at Beauty and the Beast. You MAY be chosen for seats upfront, a serenade and free CD. Our dd was chosen twice, very fun.

-At with many of the rides, if one of the kids wants to ride again but the parents don't - or visa versa - ask the cast member if he or she can "go around." At Test Track, they send you up a set of stairs and tell you to follow the yellow arrows. You can see the ride operator's booth and have a great view of the queing area. Then you go back downstairs, and it lets out right at the boarding area, and they put the kid - or you - straight back on (no wait) and you go outside to wait for him.

Animal Kingdom:

-If youíre at the Animal Kingdom and there's a long line to get in, go through the Rainforest Cafe. There's a park entrance at the rear of the gift shop.

- Each morning 15 minutes before the scheduled opening, go through the turn styles and head to the Tree of Life area. Characters, usually Minnie, Pluto, and Goofy arrive to welcome you! Soon Mickey appears and gets on the truck and you follow them into Harambe

-Not sure they're still doing this but worth checking: There's a kids' game you can play as you walk around the park, with four or five 'stations'. First you get a book, and as you finish each one, you get a stamp from a cast member. They also have different cards and give them to the children and the children have to find the bugs in the garden.

- If you go for an evening meal to AKL - Jiko's or Boma's - go around 5pm to see the animals. The feeding thingys are changed - filled, and it tempts the animals closer to the viewing areas.

- Conservation Station is great for littler kids, and even adutls. Early in the morning you might see an animal's surgery! They have shows during the day showing how they train the animals, tables with items about the animals and trainers there with interesting stories, especially for the fans of science and the environment. Outside is the petting area where you can brush the animals. The bird show was exceptional too for all ages, and one we've seen more recently.

- If you're into parades & seeing characters watch for Mickeyís Jamminí Jungle Parade at the END of it. If you stand near the entrance of Kili Safari you will actually see the parade twice as it starts and ends at the same spot. Stand / sit facing the Kili Safari entrance with the large double doors that the parade goes through on your left. Since its the end the characters have more time for interaction and pics.

-This one is for guys Take a WHIZ QUIZ! At Raffiki Planet Watch men's room, where all the animal faces are smiling at you. Or so i've heard lol While standing at the urinal there are a few questions about other animals' bathroom habits. You have to wash your hands to get the answers. My guys were amused :-<

EPCOT:

- The "Candy Lady" in Japan appears about three times a day and makes beautiful rice starch candy lollipos in the shape of animals that you request. She picks children AND adults and will make about 4-5 each time. Yum.

-japan also has a full array of Hello Kitty souvies, inexpensive and fun for the little girls and sometimes the not-so-little girly girls

-In Canada theres a huge "rock" at the Kodak picture spot. Before IllumiNations begins, the top of the rock opens and sound and lighting equipment comes out. Just one of the cool experiences that makes you say 'how'd they do that?'

-for the dancers / gymnasts in the family, be sure to check the pre-show in China. Beyond amazing gynasts/ tumblers. Its also not necessary to go into the show after watching.

- free coke break! Check out the Coke station, It used to be Ice Station Cool but now it's "Club Cool." If you're walking towards the world showcase from future world its on the right side of the large fountain. If you walk past the fountain you've gone too far. Sample the various kinds of coke available world wide. Some are quite tasty, others might gag you. But always fun for a quick, cool break.

- at Innoventions West at the IBM exhibit, you can email pictures of yourself. In Innoventions East you can email home a video clip you make

- If you stay on site, check out wilderness lodge, designed to resemble Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn. Having stayed at the REAL Old Faithful Inn MANY times - and LOVE it - wilderness lodge is still fun with lots to do on 'off' days from the park, kayaks, hikes, boats, fun pool etc.

I know there's more but gotta run. Looking forward to reading others' tips, too.
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Mar 1st, 2008, 12:12 PM
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PS - can you tell we're huge fans of 'wally-world'?!
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Mar 1st, 2008, 05:03 PM
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mma
 
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We love Soarin' and always ask the cast member to sit in the front row. That way you don't see dangling feet in your line of view - the cast members are always glad to oblige.
We were also told by a cast member that fastpasses can be used anytime after the "window" of return time. So you don't have to rush back within that hour if you are on another ride or having a meal. Really working those fastpasses saves a ton of time.
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