Disney World: Be idolized
Start honing those high notes. This Valentine's Day, at the new American Idol Experience attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios near Orlando, anyone can be the star of the show. Competitors audition before a panel of Disney casting directors for a chance to perform on a replica American Idol stage in one of seven daily shows. The top crooner from each round then heads for hair and makeup—and an evening finale judged by an audience of their theme-park peers. The victor's prize: a future tryout for the TV show's next season. 407/934-7639, disneyworld.com/idol, park day pass from $63. —Jennifer Wilson, from the upcoming print edition of BT
Disney: Wait times still high, despite the recession
After the New York Times published a story titled "With Attendance Off, Disney Is Dealing (Discounts)," a reader wrote a letter to the editor, making this important point:Having just come back from Disney World for the third time since November, I can tell you the decrease in attendance is a myth. On each of my trips, wait times reached 150 minutes on the popular rides with all the "fast passes" gone shortly after the park's opening. Given the large influx of South Americans I noted, me thinks the mouse is crying "wolf." — Stan Pruszynski We've been hearing the same thing anecdotally: Disney theme parks remain crowded. So don't go taking the family there and expect that the recession will mean shorter lines, especially for the most desirable rides. Discounts will draw visitors from both here and abroad. I suspect the same thing will be said about Cedar Point and other theme parks nationwide as they ramp up business later this year. EARLIER Disney: Free admission on your birthday
"Affordable" probably isn't the first word you'd use to describe dining at Disney World, but there are deals on dining to be had that don't fall into the "mega-splurge" category. Use our insider tips below for navigating the park's food scene without emptying your wallet, including how to choose the right restaurants, dine at the right times, and scoop up special offers that few park-goers know about. Make Your Character Meal a Morning Experience Every visitor, no matter the age, loves dining with their favorite Disney characters. Book your character experience for breakfast for an easy way to save. In fact, breakfast is the cheapest time of day to eat at Disney World Orlando. At destinations like Winnie the Pooh and Friends at Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom) and Donald Duck's Safari Breakfast (Animal Kingdom), you can have the same memory-making experience while saving 35 percent per person. Plus, the food at both of these buffets is considered top notch, so fill up! Bonus savings: You can eat light at lunchtime. Bring Your Own Snacks and Water The tasty Disney treats are going to tempt you (those Mickey-shaped ice cream bars in particular), but park munchies can add up quickly. Pack a few snacks like granola bars, fruit gummies, and crackers to keep you and the kids satisfied. Go ahead and splurge on a few Disney-themed snacks, such as the unique pineapple-flavored soft serve Dole Whip dessert (served only at Disney and the Dole processing plant in Hawaii), but buying multiple bites throughout your day gets pricey. Same goes for paying $3 per bottle of water. Bring a refillable water bottle instead. Collapsible bottles are easy to pack, saving you money and space. Reserve a Full-Service Restaurant for Lunch Full-service, sit-down restaurants are some of the best Disney World dining experiences, but they're not cheap. Instead of doing a Disney dinner, reserve your meal for lunch. Not only will you be able to save about 20 percent compared with the evening, the restaurant will be less crowded, too. Plus, it's easier to get a reservation for lunch, which allows for greater flexibility for your day at the park. Full-service favorites like Be Our Guest Restaurant, Storybook Character Dining at Askerhaus Royal Banquet Hall, and Cinderella's Royal Table are excellent lunch options. World Showcase restaurants at Epcot such as San Angel Inn Restaurante and Tutto Italia Ristorante also offer better deals at lunch. Eat at Downtown Disney Deal alert! Downtown Disney will grant you the biggest savings on food. Hop in your car or take one of the Disney World buses, and you'll arrive in less than 15 minutes. Earl of Sandwich and Wolfgang Puck Express are two top picks for delicious food at a reasonable prices. Relatively new to the scene are Downtown Disney food trucks, so keep them in mind too. Order Smart It's a little-known secret: Adults can order from the kids' menu at quick-service restaurants. Many times, the meals are virtually the same as regular options, so don't think you'll be stuck with chicken fingers and grilled cheese. Another favorite money-saving option is ordering a large platter to share. Tangierine Café (Epcot) and Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kingdom) are two cafés with shareable-sized meals. Most counter-service meals have side items included in the price. But if you don't want (or don't need) the extra cost and calories of those French fries, simply ask for the entrée-only price. At most places, they'll be able to accommodate your request.
Whose Disney World is it?
A few months ago, while waiting in an hour-plus line with our three young sons on the Toy Story Mania! ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, my wife and I looked around and wondered, Why are four out of five people in this line adults? I think a lot of people would have assumed the majority of Disney visitors would—and perhaps should—be kids. Recently, when a Budget Travel blog post asked readers to submit questions about Disney, I was surprised at the number of people wanting information about how to enjoy the resort without children. Several readers give the impression that the Magic Kingdom and its sister parks would be even more magical if there were fewer kids. Based on how big the crowds are at Disney, there's certainly an argument that the place just ain't big enough for both groups—i.e., folks with and without kids.
Disney unveils faux Obama on the Fourth of July
Call it Faux-bama. Or perhaps Robobama. After a long renovation, the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom reopens this Saturday, July 4, and inside is a new guest: an Audio-Animatronic version of President Barack Obama. The statue moves and talks, with words that President Obama himself recorded at the White House earlier this year. With the cooperation of White House staffers, Disney even incorporated Obama's sense of fashion and style, including the selection of watch and accessories on the figure. One photo, in the Orlando Sentinel, shows the Obama-bot with a serious, determined face and two hands extended slightly, palms facing up. The expression and body language seems to be saying, "What are you gonna do?" or perhaps "Slap me ten!" With the unveiling, Disney will have on display life-sized animated figures of every U.S. president. Lincoln's gives the entire Gettysburg Address. The Audio-Animatronic Bill Clinton poses with his fist raised, thumb slightly up in his famed "I feel your pain" position. Read more about Disney World in the July/August issue's Ask Trip Coach.