Thursday, September 30, 2004

RideMax Software

I'm going to try posting this again. Yesterday, I had a few minutes left of my lunch hour and quickly typed up a post about RideMax software. At the very moment I clicked the "Publish" button, some of the guys in my building started monkeying with the network while trying to install a wireless router and I lost the entire post.

RideMax is a ride planning software tool that helps you save time waiting in line at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. A 3-month subscription is $12.95, while a one-year subscription is $19.95. RideMax allows you to specify the attractions you wish to ride during your visit, then uses a sophisticated scheduling algorithm to order your attractions so that the amount of time you spend in line is minimized.

Using historical wait time statistics for each attraction as a foundation, RideMax analyzes millions of different ride sequences in order to create a minimum-wait-time itinerary. This schedule is tailored to the expected crowd patterns on the day of your visit, for the attractions you want to ride!

Generally, data for a certain time period is available 2 to 4 weeks in advance. I didn't realize this when I purchased my subscription (my fault, as it is clearly stated on their website), so I was a little disappointment that data for our trip in October was not yet posted. However, it ended up being posted a least a month before we were scheduled to leave so I was able to try it out.

Even though we are not visiting during the peak season and the lines shouldn't be a problem, it was fun to play with and see what the program would come up with. After entering all all our favorite rides at the Disneyland Park, was were suprised to see that it sent us to Fantasyland first to ride Dumbo. This goes against our natural inclination which is to immediately race over to the marquee attractions, such as Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones or Big Thunder Railroad, as soon as the park opens. But it does make perfect sense. Dumbo is a low capacity ride where only 8 people can ride at a time, while Splash Mountain is continually loading people. Plus, by using the FastPass system, there really isn't any reason to wait in the long, standby line. So as much as it goes against the grain, heading over to Fantasyland first thing in the morning and riding all the rides there does make sense.

We plan to develop plans for a couple of the days during our visit, one for Disneyland and one for Disney California's Adventure and give them a try.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

We Have Priority Seating Reservations

As part of our ongoing effort to make this the best Disney trip ever, we've made priority seating reservations at several special Disney restaurants. Here's what we'll be doing:

Monday, our first full day at Disneyland, we have lunch reservations at the Blue Bayou restaurant in New Orleans Square. We hope to get there earlier enough to be able to sit right by the water and watch people on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction as we eat our Monte Cristo sandwiches.

Tuesday, we have reservations at Ariel's Grotto for lunch. This is considered a character dining experience. Aside from Ariel, I'm not sure which characters actually host this meal, but we'll find out. I have doubts that this will be something we'll want to do each time we go, but you never know.

Tuesday evening we have tickets for the new Mysteries, Myths and Legends tour that I described in an earlier post.

Wednesday, we have breakfast reservations at the Carnation Cafe on Main Street for 9:30 AM. This is before the actually opening of the park so we may even be through with breakfast before the actual rope drop. I have heard that the Mickey Mouse waffles are excellent.

Thursday, we don't have anything special planned. We will most likely spend the day at Disney's California Adventure park and may eat at the Taste Pilots' Grill. No reservations are required for this eatery. Our group ate there last year, but my son was sick and had gone back to the room to rest so he missed out. I had a really great bbq chicken sandwich and the fries were excellent.

Friday, we have dinner reservations at The Trattoria Restaurant, which serves Italian style food. Our reservations are for 7:50 PM and were purposely made that late so that we could view the Disney Electrical Parade while we eat dinner. Hopefully, we'll get there early enough to be seated right next to the wall overlooking the parade. I have heard that if you're further away from the wall it is difficult to see the whole parade.

Monday, September 27, 2004

First Visit to the Blue Bayou Restaurant

On the first day of our Disney trip in March 2003, my son and I ate at the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square for the very first time. I'm not sure why we never did this before. Maybe because there was always a big line of people waiting to be seated. Maybe we thought it would be too expensive. This trip we decided to go for it. We joined the long line and waited patiently for our turn. I believe we waited in line for about 30 minutes before reaching the head of the line. We had hoped to be seated near the water so that we could watch the people on the Pirates of the Carribbean but instead we were seated right about as far away from the water as possible, very near the entrance to the restaurant. Even so, the atmosphere was very nice. We both ordered the Monte Cristo sandwich (the Blue Bayou speciality) and a mint julep. Our server was very nice and the service itself was quick, without making us feel rushed. The sandwich was excellent and was served with a side of pasta salad which was also very good. My son loved the mint julep, but I didn't really care for it. It was very sweet and the mint flavor was quite strong. I'm glad that I tried it though. The cost of the sandwich was around $12 or $13 which seemed like a lot at the time, but by the end of the week seemed quite reasonable considering the price of everything else in the Park. We decided to make lunch at the Blue Bayou a tradition from now on and plan to make priority seating reservations in the future so that we can sit by the water.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Mysteries, Myths and Legends Tour

This morning I called the Disneyland Resort and purchased the last two spots on the new tour called, "Mysteries, Myths, and Legends" for our second full day at the resort. This 2-1/2 hour tour begins at the Tower of Terror attraction in Disney's California Adventure right at the park closing time of 6:00 PM. The Cast Member who took my reservation was very friendly and mentioned that they've been swamped with calls about this tour as this is the first day they are taking reservations. She's worked for Disney for three years and loves her job.

Here's the description of the tour:

Wait until dark and then step into the shadows on this eerie expedition through the Disneyland® Resort. Discover hidden secrets, stories and legends that only few have heard before as you explore the underbelly of Disneyland® park and Disney's California Adventure™ park.
  • Be a part of the fictional storyline your Host weaves.
  • Discover valuable tips and suggestions to make the most of your visit.
  • Experience three thrilling rides: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™, Indiana Jones™ Adventure and Haunted Mansion.
  • Board the Disneyland Railroad for a classic Disney journey.
  • Receive an exclusive tour tag and pin (or "glow" item).

The cost is $25 per person.

I'm really excited about this. I've never been on a Disney Tour before. My only concern is that I've never ridden the Tower of Terror ride before and I'm not sure if my fear of heights will be a factor in riding this ride. Since it's part of the tour and I won't want to embarrass myself in front of the other members of the tour, I'll probably just grit my teeth and hope I survive.

Howard Johnson Plaza Anaheim

Within a day or two of booking our vacation package we started having second thoughts about it. We started hearing about all the refurbishment going on in preparation for the 50th anniversary celebration in 2005. Some of our very favorite rides were scheduled to be unavailable during our visit. Space Mountain was closed until November 2005, the Matterhorn would be closed until November 2004, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed indefinitely pending the results of the investigation into the latest crash. Plus, the castle is completely covered in tarps and are some of the shops on Main Street. It just seemed like a lot of money to spend when the park is not at it's best. So we decided to stay off site this year and then next year stay at the Disneyland Hotel during the 50th celebration.

At first, I thought we would return to the Anaheim Plaza, which was certainly an okay place to stay. Before making reservations, I happened to notice that the Howard Johnson Plaza Anaheim was listed as one of the preferred hotels on the website. This site is an excellent resource for all the special deals and offers that are available. I also read the hotel reviews on the MousePlanet website and Howard Johnson Plaza Anaheim was at the top of the list. Plus, it was frequently mentioned on the MousePad message boards as a great place to stay. One of the biggest selling points was the complimentary high speed internet access in each room. I checked Expedia and the rate was $69 per night which was a reasonable price. Then I checked the HoJo's website for the AAA rate and was quoted $63 per night. Finally, I clicked the link on the MouseSavers site and received the special MouseSavers rate of $58. I immediately booked two rooms. After a few days I cancelled the two Disneyland Hotel reservations. We both felt immensely better about staying off site and planned to use some of the savings to do some special things like eating at some of the nicer restaurants in the park and maybe taking a tour.

Disneyland Hotel - Part Two

Even though we have reservations at the Disneyland Hotel, I still continue to check for lower rates. Around the first part of August I see that booking a vacation package through the Walt Disney Travel Company is actually less expensive than purchasing each component separately. Plus they include some extra goodies like a souvenier photo, priority seating at some shows, a pin and the most coveted item, the official Walt Disney Travel Company lanyard. Last year, we were quite envious of those who were sporting this nifty lanyard and the plastic holder that provided an excellent place to store your fastpasses.

First, I called the Disneyland Hotel and checked to see if there were any special offers available to reduce the cost of our already booked rooms. There were not, and in fact the rates had actually increased since I made our reservations. Next, I called the Walt Disney Travel Company and booked a package which included rooms, premium annual passes, a three-day dining package (with a character breakfast at Goofy's kitchen) and all the little extras that went along with it. Finally, we were set. Or so I thought.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Disneyland Hotel - Part One

Ever since we returned from our Disney trip in March 2003, we've been longing to return. Disneyland is a world unto itself. Once you pass through the gates its entirely possible to totally forget about the outside world and just concentrate on the magic of Disney. We began counting the days until we could return. After I realized I would receive a larger than expected tax refund, we decided to start planning our trip in earnest. This would be the year that we would stay at the Disneyland Hotel, each of us in our own room. I began to spend a lot of time surfing the AAA, Disneyland and Expedia websites pricing the various options. Should we purchase rooms only at the DLH or book one of the AAA Disney vacation packages? Should we buy a park hopper ticket or the Annual Pass? If we buy the Annual Pass, should we get the Deluxe or Premium Pass? All options were explored.

Then suddenly, prices started going up. The price for a 6-night vacation jumped up $150. The price of the Annual Pass also increased dramatically. We started to panic. Finally, we decided to make room-only reservations at the DLR because we weren't required to pay a deposit and we could cancel up to 4 days before arrival without penalty. In addition, we were encouraged to call back periodically to see if any special deals were available that might lower the price of the room. Finally, we could relax. Our rooms were secure. Now all we had to do was wait.

Anaheim Plaza Hotel

On our trip to the Disneyland Resort (DLR) in March 2003, we stayed at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel located "directly across the street" from the DLR. This term is somewhat misleading. Although the hotel is in fact located "directly across the street" from the DLR (situated across from the new Tower of Terror), it still is a long walk to the Main Entrance. Our rooms were located along the back of the hotel property which meant we had to walk through the hotel complex itself, cross the street, then along Harbor Blvd. to the pedestrian walkway leading to the Main Entrance. At the beginning of the day it didn't seem so bad, but at the end of the day it seemed to stretch into eternity and every effort was made just to put one foot ahead of the next enough times to reach the room. Once in our rooms we would collapse on our beds and hope the pain in our legs would subside long enough to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

The hotel itelf was a pleasant surprise and nicer than I expected. The lobby was clean and spacious, the grounds nicely landscaped and the pool was very large and looked extremely refreshing. There was also gift shop where you could purchase cold drinks, ice cream, snacks, etc. Here we rediscovered Cactus Cooler, a pineaple-orange flavored soda not available in the Portland area.

Our room was located on the ground floor in the building along the back of the hotel and was quite roomy with two queen beds, dresser, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, hair dryer, TV and a table with two chairs. The bathroom has a shower/tub combination and toilet in one room, with a large double-sinked vanity just outside. The beds were quite comfortable and the air conditioning worked wonderfully.

The only drawback to the room was that the remote control on the TV did not have a sleep timer! We're used to going to sleep with the TV on so that was a bit of an adjustment. Also, the hotel does not particpate in the Anaheim Resort Transportion system (ART) which would have helped cut down the amount of walking done each day. In retrospect, it would have been worth it to pay the $8 or $9 to park in the Disney Resort parking lot at least a few of the days during our visit.

It was 10 years since our last visit to Disneyland and the trip was absolutely wonderful in so many ways. We decided the only thing that would make it even more perfect, would be to stay at the Disneyland Hotel.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Disney Adventures is Up and Running!

My Disney Adventures website is now up and running! There is still much to do and I'll be continually working on it over the next month or so. The purpose of this site is to provide an outlet for my excitement over our upcoming Disney vacation in October. This is a way to pass the time until we load the last suitcase in the car and say goodbye to Portland. On the site I'll provide updates on my preparations for the trip, as well as tips, tricks, hints, etc., that I've come across during my quest for knowledge about all things Disney.

Check back frequently as the site unfolds and embrace the magic of Disney.