Disney Makes More Magic

By Kate Appleton
November 15, 2006
What to expect from the Year of a Million Dreams

The folks at Disney recently hosted a razzle-dazzle press event at New York's Palace Theater to launch their Year of a Million Dreams, actually a 15-month bonanza of new attractions and giveaways. Actors took the stage hoisting giant puppets from Finding Nemo--the Musical, premiering in Orlando this January. Puppeteer Michael Curry (The Lion King) and Tony Award-winning composer Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) are among the show's all-star team.

Nemo fans will also be able to climb aboard "clamobiles" for Epcot's ride The Seas With Nemo and Friends. It creates the sensation of traveling through a coral reef that is home to the animated characters Dory and Marlin as well as actual fish.

Not to be outdone, the Magic Kingdom has come up with a live show, Dream Along With Mickey, as well as the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club. The movie's one-eyed hero will do stand-up comedy and incorporate the best jokes text-messaged in by audience members.

A good part of the dream fulfillment will come from Disney's giveaway, running through December 31, 2007. Enter to win a Disney Vacation Club membership, tickets to after-hours park events, a set of mouse ears, or even a trip around the world as grand marshall in Disney parades (disneyparks.com/rules).

The catch is that one of the niftiest prizes can't be won through the giveaway: nearly every day, a lucky visitor at Walt Disney World will be tapped by staffers to spend that night at Cinderella's Castle. Its Royal Suite, overlooking the Magic Kingdom, has two canopied queen beds and a wood-paneled parlor with stained-glass windows. A group of up to five people will dine at Cinderella's Royal Table, pose for photos with Cinderella, and get a VIP viewing of either SpectroMagic or the Wishes fireworks show.

Similarly, at California's Disneyland, visitors will be chosen at random to spend the night in the new Mickey Mouse Penthouse. The park is putting the finishing touches on an underwater ride, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and has whipped up a rock and roll soundtrack for its California Screamin' attraction. For 16 weeks this spring, the classic Space Mountain rides at both parks will be rockin', too.

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    Catch a Star: Celebrity Maps

    Loads of famous folks live--and eat, drink, shop, and play--in New York City and Los Angeles, which makes celebrity-spotting an easy travel bonus. You just need to know where to look. New York City Barneys New York 660 Madison Ave. 212/826-8900, barneys.com Whether browsing the trendy togs or snacking at in-store Fred's cafe (Mark's Madison Salad, $23), Halle Berry, Katie Holmes, Chloë Sevigny, and other fashion-forward bold-facers flock to Barneys's Madison Ave. flagship store. Central Park Fifth Ave. and 90th St. 212/360-3444, centralpark.com Buy a pretzel ($2) from a cart, grab a bench near Engineer's Gate, and watch as runners descend from the reservoir loop, a favorite route of Nicole Kidman, Madonna, and other stars with carbs to burn. The City Bakery 3 W. 18th St. 212/366-1414, thecitybakery.com What Benjamin Bratt, Harrison Ford, and Susan Sarandon order at The City Bakery remains a mystery, but the odds are that admitted chocoholic Jimmy Fallon is after the hot chocolate served with a homemade marshmallow ($4.50). Jeffrey New York 449 W. 14th St. 212/206-1272, jeffreynewyork.com Jeffrey, a compact department store of cutting-edge styles, anchors the downtown shopping circuit of deep-pocketed fashionistas such as Hilary Duff, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Jennifer Lopez. Even the lipsticks are spendy (Nars, from $23). Madison Square Garden Seventh Ave. between W. 31st St. and W. 33rd St. 212/307-1000, thegarden.com Score cheap b-ball seats (from $10) and train your binoculars courtside. Tyra Banks and Rosie O'Donnell are fans of the WNBA's Liberty, while Beyoncé Knowles, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the ever-present Spike Lee follow the NBA's Knicks. Pop Burger 58-60 Ninth Ave. 212/414-8686, popburger.com Style setters such as Gisele Bündchen and the Williams sisters crowd this Meatpacking District café-lounge, which is open until 5 A.M. on weekends, for the perfect late-night nibble: mini-burgers ($5 for two) and fries ($3.25). Sant Ambroeus 259 W. Fourth St. 212/604-9254, santambroeus.com Folks both famous (Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker) and fashionable (Helena Christensen, Michael Kors) who live in the 'hood rely on this West Village café for Italian treats (biscotti assortment, $7) and coffee (cappuccino, $4.50). The Spotted Pig 314 W. 11th St. 212/620-0393, thespottedpig.com The concept? Pub (Brooklyn Lager, $7) with good grub (Roquefort burger and frites, $15) and a hefty side of stars: Russell Crowe, Billy Crudup, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay-Z, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, and Natalie Portman, to name a few. Starbucks 13-25 Astor Pl. 212/982-3563, starbucks.com The East Village outpost of the omnipresent coffee chain is where Ashley Olsen sometimes fuels up before class at nearby New York University, as does her dropout twin sister, Mary-Kate. Matt Damon is also a regular. Venti sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte ($4.40). Tenjune 26 Little W. 12th St. 646/624-2410, tenjunenyc.com Lounge of the nanosecond, Tenjune is tucked below STK steakhouse and packed with booths in which Penélope Cruz, P. Diddy, Janet Jackson, Nick Lachey, and Kanye West have snuggled (though not all together). Tenjune Toast vodka-and-champagne cocktail ($14). Los Angeles Chateau Marmont 8221 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood 23/656-1010, chateaumarmont.com A list of who hasn't graced the Chateau would be shorter. Lunch on the patio (wild salmon with sautéed veggies, $25) and keep your peeps peeled for Colin, Leo, Keanu, Jude, and Justin--and the ghosts of John Belushi, James Dean, and Jim Morrison. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf 7915 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 323/851-8392, coffeebean.com Ground zero of online celebrity gossip, this java joint is the "office" of blogger Perez Hilton. Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, Lindsay Lohan, and Parker Posey have all popped up in Hilton's workspace, and later in his column. Ice Blended Mocha ($3.60). Dan Tana's 9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood 310/275-9444, dantanasrestaurant.com The Italian dishes (spaghetti with meat sauce, $22) are old-school delicious, but it's the dim lights and private booths that keep Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, and Jerry Seinfeld coming back. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie even ended their feud here. Fred Segal 8100 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood 323/655-3734 Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, and other designers hang on the racks, while everyone from Cameron Diaz to Arnold Schwarzenegger browses the expensive and irresistible offerings at this amalgam of chic boutiques. Cosabella lingerie from $16. Hyde Lounge 8029 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood 323/656-4933 Scenesters like Lance Bass, Jared Leto, and Lindsay Lohan put this lounge on the map--and in the tabloids, thanks to Paris Hilton and Shanna Moakler's well-publicized brawl. Dress sexy, arrive early, and be prepared to wait; Hyde only fits 100. Drinks from $11. Kitson 115 S. Robertson Blvd. 310/859-2652, shopkitson.com Glamour gals Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez love the trendy clothes here. Harajuku coin purse, $12.95. Laurel Canyon Dog Park 8260 Mulholland Dr., Studio City 818/769-4415, laparks.org You might not recognize Buckley, Obie, or Sidi, but you know their respective owners: Justin Timberlake, Annette Bening, and Orlando Bloom, all of whom have let the dogs out at this popular pooch playground. Paradise Cove Beach Café, Malibu 28128 W. Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu 310/457-2503, paradisecovemalibu.com Gain entree to the tony Malibu shoreline with breakfast at Paradise Cove Beach Café (huevos con tortillas, $8.95). Then stroll along the Pacific surf, a favorite outing for Brad and Angelina (and Maddox), as well as the often-shirtless Matthew McConaughey. Petit Trésor 634 1/2 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles 310/659-3970, petittresor.com Featuring teeny togs and pimped-out cribs, Petit Trésor is the unofficial outfitter of Hollywood's baby boomlet. Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Tori Spelling shop here for their own and others' offspring. Kaloo newborn-size teddy bear booties ($24). Saks Fifth Avenue 9600 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills 310/275-4211, saks.com Site of Winona Ryder's shoplifting bust, the Beverly Hills Saks also attracts starlets willing to pay, including Courteney Cox Arquette, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Hilary Swank. Ryder pinched Donna Karan socks ($80). Whole Foods Market 11737 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood 310/826-4433, wholefoodsmarket.com Paparazzi stalk the Brentwood Whole Foods parking lot to snap Marcia Cross, Jeremy Piven, Nick Lachey, and Reese Witherspoon loading up on groceries. Be sure to pick up this season's hottest handbag: a green store-logo tote made of recycled plastic ($1.99).

    A New Airfare Discounter Enters the Fray

    An ambitious new membership-based travel site is taking on airlines, online travel agencies, and travel auctions. CFares (cfares.com) claims to find the lowest prices by searching multiple sources: databases of major airlines, wholesalers, travel aggregators such as Kayak, and booking engines such as Orbitz. Register for free and you can search for flights on cFares, which will redirect you to the seller's own website to complete the transaction. However, you can get an additional discount if you become a "platinum" member for $50/year. Additionally, platinum members can name their own ticket price through a tool called cAgent, which allows you to see the airline and itinerary before you book your flight, unlike opaque bookings through sites such as Priceline. (If you're not already a platinum member, you can be upgraded at the time of purchase, and the $50 membership fee will be added to your auction purchase price.) So how does cFares stack up against its competitors? We compared membership rates versus booking directly with a major airline or online travel agency. We requested price quotes for the same dates and itineraries to make sure we were comparing apples to apples. All prices include taxes and fees, unless otherwise noted. Itinerary 1: A holiday cross-country flight We searched for flights from New York City to Seattle during the December holidays. A platinum round-trip rate of $463 per person flying nonstop on Delta and returning nonstop on Continental was $126 less than the same itinerary booked through OneTravel.com, an online travel agency. A search of JetBlue's website turned up a round-trip price of $598 per person for the same dates and a slightly different itinerary. Itinerary 2: A quick weekend getaway We searched for weekend flights from Baltimore to Miami in January 2007. A platinum round-trip rate of $100 per person flying nonstop on American was $12 less than the same itinerary booked as a gold member through CheapTickets.com. Booking directly through American's website turned up a round-trip price of $109 per person for the same dates. Itinerary 3: An international vacation We searched for flights from Denver to London Gatwick in March 2007. A platinum round-trip rate of $297 plus tax per person flying on American with one stop each way was $34 less than the exact same itinerary booked directly through American's website. The bottom line? We like cFares' wide selection and transparent pricing. Although cFares doesn't search discount airline Southwest, cFares found lower prices in every instance. There are no special restrictions on airfares, and in most cases you still rack up your frequent-flier miles if you book flights through cFares. The only "gotcha" is that while you can book fares for friends and family members, everyone must be a platinum member to receive the deepest discount. For frequent fliers, the $50 yearly membership fee will easily pay for itself in a few flights. Even if you never buy a platinum membership, you can't lose by checking cFares' prices before booking a flight on another website. Related links: Which Reward Programs Deserve Your Loyalty? Smaller Airports, Smaller Airfares How to Navigate Online Travel Auctions Simplified Airfares That Aren't

    Confessions Of... A Front-Desk Clerk

    Anne Szeker was a front-desk clerk at a hotel in Shelton, Conn., from 2002 to 2004. Nod and sympathize The front desk is where everyone comes to complain. Sometimes, there's good reason: The pool is closed; someone threw up in the elevator; your room key card has deactivated; your room hasn't been cleaned; or you've been checked in to a room that already has guests in it. And then there are instances when guests are less reasonable, like the man who cursed at me for telling him he had to pay his entire bill--including the in-room movies his children had "accidentally" ordered. No matter what the situation, my approach always remains the same. I apologize sympathetically and calmly explain things from the hotel's perspective, even when what I really want to do is drop-kick the guest out to the curb. Better than TV The employees enjoy watching--and discussing--everything that goes on in the hotel. It's like an addictive soap opera that we love to chat about. Chances are we know why you're staying with us, whether it's for a vacation, wedding, or funeral. One weekend a guest is here with his wife; the next week he's back with his mistress. Then there are the guests who come in after too many cocktails and test out pick-up lines on whoever is behind the front desk. (And no, I'm not interested in your extra room key when my shift ends.) Third-party reservations Hotel managers can't stand it when guests reserve rooms through Expedia, Priceline, or any other booking engine, because after the Internet site takes its cut, the hotel barely makes a profit on the booking. As a result, guests who reserve directly with the hotel receive far better service. When things go wrong--we've run out of rooms with king-size beds, or the hotel is overbooked because some guests extended their stay--the manager's first question is, "Do we have any Internet reservations?" The folks who reserve through discount sites are at the bottom of the food chain. What you want to do is contact us directly and request the best price. I'm shocked when guests agree to the rack rate without a peep. The hotel is usually willing to give the discounted AAA or AARP membership price, even for guests who aren't members--so long as they book through the hotel, that is. The logbook Front-desk clerks keep a log to record all the noteworthy events that happen during their shifts. If a guest gets out of line, it goes in the book. Staffers stick together--wrong one of us, wrong all of us--so you can't expect to insult one employee and receive good treatment from another. One day our pool was closed, and a guest checking in decided to rip into one of the front-desk clerks. Later, the same guest called the front desk and reported that the Internet wasn't working in his room and that there was no refrigerator. "How weird," I replied, without looking into the situation further. "I'm terribly sorry. We don't have any other rooms." The truth is I want nothing more than to make my guests' stay pleasant--as long as they're willing to make my shift pleasant. We even have the ability to discount your room rate if things really go awry. So remember to smile as you walk by the front desk. It could be helpful if you need extra pillows at 2 A.M. If you're patient and have good manners, the hotel might even be able to find the room type you reserved through a booking engine.