Written by Russell Meyer
Published: July 24, 2005 at 9:10 PM
As if having Buzz Lightyear in every park was not enough, Disney has begun a major push to get even more Pixar characters into their theme parks. The first appearance of Finding Nemo characters began with Turtle Talk with Crush, appearing at EPCOT’s Living Seas Pavilion, soon to be followed by the inevitable clone at the Animation Building at Disney’s California Adventure. The rumors have been circling for months, but Disney has finally made it official, Nemo is swimming his way to Disneyland. As part of the official opening of Turtle Talk with Crush, Disney made a small announcement about what has been going on at the former site of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. The announcement was accompanied by new artwork on the construction walls surrounding the sub lagoon. In 2007 (yeah, that’s quite a while from now) and after the completion of the 50th Anniversary Celebration, Disney will open the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The opening date had been speculated for months, and was believed to be near the second half of the celebration, but it appears that there is going to be a lot more work done to the site than some repainting and repairing. The attraction will contain state-of-the-art 3-D digital video projection. Could this be Spiderman under water? Disney is keeping most of the details under wraps, but a construction window of two years can only mean a massive upgrade to the ride system. Despite all of the artwork around the construction site, there has not been a lot of buzz about this announcement, probably because so many people thought that this attraction would be ready by Spring 2006. However, I think that the delay can only mean good things for an attraction that had been left to rot. Disney World’s version of the attraction has already been filled in with concrete, reportedly for a Winnie The Pooh-themed play area.
Speaking of Disney World, it seems that the incredible response to Turtle Talk has prompted Disney to increase the use of the Pixar characters in the Living Seas pavilion. It appears that the pavilion will be closing in a couple of weeks, and will remain closed through November. The rumor is that the pavilion will receive a full Finding Nemo overlay, with a potential rebirth of the Sea Cab attraction. Disney has been having problems with the pavilion for quite a while, and has tried a number of different ideas with the pavilion to attempt to differentiate it from a simple aquarium. It was thought that a Little Mermaid overlay of the pavilion would be on the way near EPCOT’s 20th anniversary, but the work was never done, and the Living Seas was in decline in favor of the high thrills of TestTrack and Mission: Space. When Turtle Talk was introduced late last year, the pavilion saw a resurgence of interest, and the small attraction with the Keanu-talking sea turtle has been a major hit. Disney has not officially announced what will occur inside the pavilion during the rehab period, but it is easy to assume that the park would not close one of its most popular new attraction months after its debut if something bigger were not in store.
An Orlando Vacation Planning Guide Part 2
In one fell swoop, it’s done. It wasn’t easy, and with more than a few calls to the magical 407 area code, our vacation to Orlando in November is almost completely booked. Most of our hotel nights, theme park tickets, and airfare have all been secured for our vacation, which will begin on November 4, 2005, and end on November 13, 2005. Why are we booked already? That’s a good question.
The first part is a little complicated. Part of our Orlando vacation is being “subsidized” by NBC/Universal. My wife was lucky enough to win a contest, which afforded us roundtrip airfare, 3-nights accommodations at the Hard Rock Hotel, and two 3-day passes to the Universal parks. The promotional staff was kind enough to allow us to move our return flight to allow us an extra 6 days in Orlando to be able to see the rest of the parks. We also wanted to make sure to secure the dates that we wanted, so booking our stay on the Universal property early was important. As it stands right now, we will be flying from D.C. to Orlando (via Chicago Midway—how annoying, but free) on Friday, November 4, 2005 and staying at the Hard Rock Hotel on the Universal Orlando Resort for three nights. While being a little complicated to explain, that was actually the easy part.
The last five nights of our vacation proved to be incredibly complicated to book. Wanting to experience as much of Disney as possible (I have not stayed on Disney property since I was a kid, and my wife never has), I wanted to try to stay at a minimum of two hotels during the Disney part of our Orlando vacation. While it may seem easy to tell someone, I would like to stay at one on-site hotel for two nights and another for three nights, to actually be able to accomplish it is actually quite difficult. Another driving force behind booking our vacation so early was the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. We have attended the event twice before, and were interested in attending at least one of the special events, which require making early reservations. Like many of the character breakfasts and first-class dining establishments, the special events during the Food and Wine Festival are booked within minutes of them becoming available. This year’s events are officially available for booking on Monday, July 25, 2005. However, we caught word of an event that could be pre-reserved by Disney hotel guests. EPCOT’s “Party for the Senses” has been one of the hottest tickets during the Food and Wine Festival, and consists of a wide array of foods prepared by the best chefs from around the world accompanied by beer and wine. At a price tag of $95 per person, we are a little worried that the dinner may not be worth the high cost, but reviews of previous events show that the Party for the Senses is worth every penny.
OK, so we knew we wanted to pre-reserve for the Party for the Senses, and we knew we needed five nights of accommodations, it was just a matter of where we were going to stay. We examined just about every Disney resort. We knew that we did not want to stay at the Value Resorts that looked more like tacky hotels, and we knew that we could not afford to stay at the most expensive Deluxe Resorts. Since we do not have any children, and this would probably be our last Disney experience without kids, we were looking for resorts that catered more toward the romantic side. What could be more romantic than waking up and walking out onto a balcony overlooking an African Savannah? “Too expensive!” my wife proclaimed. However, in comparison to the other Deluxe Resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually the most affordable, and with an extra $90 a night, you can upgrade from a standard room to a view of one of the 3 African Savannahs. I really wanted to stay at a Deluxe Resort, and was able to convince my wife the $713.60 for two nights was worth the high price. After all, we were already getting our airfare and Universal portion of our vacation for free. We were examining the Moderate Resorts, and were trying to decide which of them would be best for us. We looked at Disney’s Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, and Coronado Springs. After reading reviews from all around the web, we found out a lot of information about these very different resorts. Caribbean Beach is getting ready to go through a complete renovation, as it is one of the oldest resorts on the Disney property not on a Monorail line, so that one was out. Both Port Orleans resorts looked inviting, but did not have the romantic atmosphere we wanted. Coronado Springs, while having some mixed reviews on Theme Park Insider, has been rated very highly around the park-going community, and the in-room high-speed internet and Wi-Fi throughout the resort was a clincher. The Internet does come at a price: $9.95 per 24 hours of continuous service to be exact, but when you need to check your e-mail, you need to check your e-mail. We may not need to use the Internet on our vacation, but having that luxury available put Coronado Springs ahead of the rest of the Moderate Resorts. As we soon found out, Coronado Springs is actually the resort that the conventioneers use, and the fewer little kids running around, the better, at least for a romantic getaway.
So it was set: we were going to spend two nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and three nights at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. We also needed to get some tickets, and the 10-day non-expiring, park hopping, plus passes were the tickets of choice. Now it was time to wheel and deal to try to find the best price for the Disney part of our vacation. What I soon found out was that booking on-line is really not much different than booking over the phone. I had pre-priced the different parts of our stay online to see if it was different than what I got through the Disney agents. After talking with a couple of different agents I found that different agents gave me different numbers. However, the one thing that was consistent was that trying to stay at two different resorts over a single vacation was going to be a big pain. Not only that, but the Party For The Senses pre-reservation was going to prove to be the most difficult part of the booking. We looked at the AAA rates and found savings of 15% for the five nights at $1063, compared to $1212 without AAA. Therefore, the choice was simple: buy the AAA membership for $100 and use it to save on the room. Easy on paper, but what we soon found out was that the Party of the Senses could not be pre-reserved unless you purchased a “Magic Your Way Vacation.” That means that AAA discounts could not apply, and that theme park tickets would have to be purchased as part of our vacation, and not separately. After calling AAA, we found out that they could not book the dining experience, so Disney was our only way to get to the party. I guess we could have tried to book the experience separately, but as many people will attest, booking dining experiences has become an art, and if you’re not skilled enough, the event you want will be sold out by the time you dial “4-0-7.” Surprisingly, AAA does not offer great discounts on complete vacations. While you can save 15% on your hotel stay, we found a savings of only 3% for the complete package.
With numbers flying through my head faster than Indy Cars, I was trying to figure out what the best deal was. The most frustrating part of the entire ordeal was that some of the Disney agents were quoting me prices with tax, while others were quoting me without tax without actually telling me whether or not the quotes included tax. There was also some confusion as to what type of passes I wanted. One agent was quoting me a price without "Plus" options, while another agent was quoting a price without "Hopping," even though I clearly stated that I wanted both options on the passes. Needless to say, what would have been a very easy transaction on the internet turned into a 3-day number-crunching ordeal, but it is finally over. So what’s the damage? Well, Mickey Mouse is going to take a couple of big bites out of our annual income with a five night vacation with 10-day non-expiring, park hopping, plus passes and two tickets to EPCOT’s Party for the Senses including a commemorative bottle of wine and Riedel wine glasses, setting us back, hold your breath…
The annoying part is that we’re in essence buying two vacations, since we’re staying at two different resorts, which requires two down payments. $200 for the Coronado Springs portion and $356 for the Animal Kingdom Lodge portion. After booking, we checked even more websites and travel agents to find that the price that we got straight from Disney was pretty close to the best possible price. The better prices, all within 5%, could not book reservations for the Party for the Senses. Hopefully the party is worth all of the trouble. We’ve started to piece together a rough itinerary, and here is what we’re looking at…
Monday—Busch Gardens Tampa
Tuesday—Sea World/Check in Animal Kingdom Lodge
Thursday—Check in Coronado Springs/Disney
Saturday—Disney/Party for the Senses
As November gets closer, and Magic Hours are released we will plan our days in more detail. But until then, our Orlando vacation is 90% planned.