When people ask me how often I’ve been to Walt Disney World, I nervously chuckle and say that I’m not sure. The truth is – I’m really not sure. Disney Parks and Resorts remain my family’s favorite places to escape from it all and unplug, surrounded by the magic of Disney and time with each other. The next question is always, “Aren’t you bored by always traveling to the same place?”
Disney Parks and Resorts are actually always changing, growing, being re-imagined, making every visit a new and unique experience.
These innovations now extend beyond the parks to include Disney Interactive properties, where Disney meets the world of gaming and apps. During my recent trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, I learned about and experienced a variety of exciting updates including:
1. FastPass+ Everyone who has ever been to Disney Parks is acquainted with the Disney FastPass® Service, the system that allows guests to have their place in line held at one attraction while they enjoy other shows and attractions, returning at a specified time to enjoy the attraction with little to no wait. The newly enhanced FastPass+ system, part of MyMagic+, will take the FastPass concept to a new level, moving beyond attractions to include restaurant queues, for example. Guests will be able to manage their FastPass+ experience via their mobile phones, changing plans as needed throughout the day. My family had the opportunity to preview FastPass+, allowing us to bypass the incredibly long line to enjoy the lunchtime counter service restaurant, Be Our Guest. We used my phone to select a meal time and pre-order our food. We then arrived at the bridge to Be Our Guest to pick up a special yellow rose device, which allows guests to pay and be seated immediately upon arrival, their food brought to their table for them.
2. My Disney Experience I have always used the resources at WaltDisneyWorld.com to organize my Disney Parks, Resorts, and Dining reservations, but guests now have enhanced tools at their fingertips both online and via the My Disney Experience Mobile App. My Disney Experience allows guests to organize all of their reservations and receive the latest Disney Parks updates all in one place. Also part of MyMagic+, My Disney Experience will continue to evolve as enhanced features are rolled out. Eventually the MyMagic+ experience will all be linked in one place – the MagicBand. This wristband will act as the guest’s room key, theme park ticket, access to FastPass+ selections, PhotoPass card and optional credit card link.
3. Disney Infinity I’m excited about all of the enhanced experiences in the Disney Parks, but I have to admit that I’m especially geeking out about the arrival of Disney Infinity on August 18th. This new game experience will be available for all major game consoles, including Wii, XBOX, and PS3. Featuring some of Disney and Disney Pixar’s most loved characters including Perry the Platypus, Lightning McQueen, Buzz Lightyear, Sully, and The Incredibles, Disney Infinity puts players in the driver’s seat allowing them to pair characters who would normally never appear together and even leveling up with special Power Discs. The innovation doesn’t stop there. Players will even be able to create their own game with the Disney Infinity game designer. Disney Infinity Starter Packs will be available in August with additional characters available for purchase in blind boxes.
4. Disney Interactive’s Story App If you’re like me, your family’s memories are trapped inside devices, namely your phone. Disney’s free app, Story, would like to help families finally do something with the photos and videos stuck inside smartphones. Story takes the images that are already on your device and places them into photobooks using time and location algorithm to place images and videos properly. You are then able to remove, replace, and caption your photobooks including changing theme and layout. Once your digital storybook is complete, you can share it with friends and family right from the app. The app is currently only available for iOS, but will be available on Android and other platforms in the future.
5. A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas at Magic Kingdom Park While some families focus on the attractions or the shows or even the food at Disney Parks, my kids have always enjoyed those little extra experiences that set Disney Parks apart from other theme parks such as Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT or Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. A Pirate’s Adventure continues in this tradition of storytelling fun. Based on Pirate’s of the Caribbean, this experience is an interactive quest much like Agent P and Sorcerers, asking guests to embark on an adventure to collect “treasure” and ward off Captain Jack’s pirate enemies. Guests can join the quest in Adventureland during operating hours and will embark on one of five 20 minute long missions.
6. Princess Fairytale Hall One of the most magical aspects of any Disney Parks experience is the opportunity for children (and adults!) to meet their favorite Disney characters. With the creation of New Fantasyland, the princesses who previously resided in Mickey’s Toontown needed to find a new royal land in which to meet their subjects. Coming later this year, the Princess Fairytale Hall, located just behind Cinderella’s Castle, of course, will open to guests complete with stained glass windows, a beautiful stone facade, and all of your favorite princesses.
7. Limited Time Magic Continuing throughout 2013, Limited Time Magic in Disney Parks includes special events, entertainment, and offerings that pop up to enhance guests’ experiences. Some offerings include special movie screenings, beach parties, fireworks displays and more. Be sure to visit DisneyParks.com before your trip to find your Limited Time Magic!
8. Monster’s University at Hollywood Studios, California Adventure, and Disneyland Resort To celebrate the Monstrous Summer at Disney Parks and the opening of the new Disney Pixar film Monsters University, Disney Parks have added some monstrous features for guests. Guests visiting California Adventure will have the chance to see some of their favorite friends from the monster world in the Pixar Play Parade. You can also stroll over the Disneyland Resort to meet Mike and Sulley at the Monsters University dorms. In Florida, guests can visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios to have their picture taken with Mike and Sulley at the Monsters University Student Union on the Backlot.
9. Fantasy Faire and Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland Resort New this spring, the Fantasy Faire expansion within Disneyland Park’s Fantasyland includes a storybook village, a Rapunzel inspired Tangled Tower, and Royal Hall where guests can meet their favorite Disney Princesses. The new Fantasy Faire area also includes the Royal Theatre featuring an all-new show, Mickey’ and the Magical Map, an incredibly creative stage show telling the magical story of Mickey Mouse in the role of apprentice once again to the larger-than-life Sorcerer. This show features inventively new story-telling along with a host of favorite characters – including the rarely seen Pocahantas! – and favorite titles from the Disney songbook. The most impressive feature of the show, however, is the animated, interactive backdrop. The entire area is a must-see during your Disneyland vacation.
10. Cars Land If you have not been to California Adventure since the Cars Land expansion, you need to add a trip to Anaheim to your summer plans. This expanded area of the park looks and sounds like Radiator Springs, complete with the beautiful mountain backdrops and favorite Cars film characters. The highlight of this area of the park is the Radiator Springs Racers attraction which combines the same type of car and track as EPCOT’s Test Track attraction with the gorgeous sites and sounds of the Cars movies. From the second you step foot into Cars Land, you feel like you’ve stepped into the films.
Many of my expenses were covered during these most recent trips. All opinions are my own.