February 22nd, 2015

February 2015 Trip Reports: Hollywood Studios

We got to Hollywood Studios two separate days this trip. The first day we didn't have a fast pass for Midway Mania and did not arrive early enough to get on it before the line built; the second day we visited, we rode it once at park open and once on a fp. I continue to believe this is the Best Ride Ever. Or at least really, really close.

We did Tower of Terror on the first day we visited, but skipped it the second day. A. finds it terrifying so we only go on it if she asks, because I'm not willing to run a trembling kid through the line on anything other than her own initiative. If she _wants_ to scare the crap out of herself, that's all on her.

We rode the Great Movie Ride twice. Because A. bought a Classic Minnie (in black and white) plush toy at the Tower gift shop, she wanted to know why it was grey and white and black. I explained about black and white movies. We stopped into One Man's Dream and looked around and she got to see some black and white film. She also noticed black and white film in the Great Movie Ride. We also talked a little about how animated films used to be made vs. now. She later repeated these explanations with reasonably good fidelity to her grandmother, which may or may not have impressed grandma but impressed the hell out of me. Do Not Have Adult Conversations Around This Kid Any More, I guess, is the lesson here. It is not safe to rely upon her social skills/expressive language level of development to let you get away with it safely anymore.

A. is finally old enough to really enjoy riding Star Tours so I got to ride it over a half dozen times. Wooot!

My husband and I had a disagreement about how many possible ride combinations there were. I had heard/read that there were about 50. He seemed to think there were a lot more. Wikipedia says I'm right.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Tours%E2%80%94The_Adventures_Continue

"There are eleven random segments of the film (two opening segments, three primary destination segments, three hologram message segments, and three ending destination segments). When combined, they allow 54 different possible ride experiences."

Okay. So have I seen all the components yet? No! At least, I don't remember ever seeing the Admiral Ackbar message (altho I'm now thinking that maybe I did on a previous trip -- my memory is imperfect at best).

I have seen both openers. I've seen all three post-opener segments (Hoth, pod race, Wookie planet). I've seen all three post-message segments (Coruscant, Naboo, incomplete Death Star).

So while I certainly have not ridden it enough times to see all possible combinations, I think if there is a segment I'm missing, it's the Admiral Ackbar message -- and I may have seen that on a previous trip. I saw all the other pieces on this trip.

Pizza Planet continues to make an allergy pizza with soy cheese for me (yay!) including replacing the caesar salad with a garden salad with italian dressing. I really should find out whether Pizzafari will do that, because it would expand the food options for me at AK -- altho I prefer Yak & Yeti Local Foods anyway so it hardly matters.

February 2015 Trip Reports: Jet Blue

We were originally scheduled to fly down to Orlando on Sunday, Feb 15. However, that was going to have a blizzard with gusts up to 50 mph at Logan so on Thursday I panicked and rescheduled on the web to Monday the 16th while waiting on hold to talk to a Real Person who eventually undid that and got me on a Friday the 13th flight. The original flight had extra leg room and I paid a second time for extra leg room on the no-change-fee switch online to Monday; the person on the phone said they would refund me both of those sets of extra leg room. This is important for later in the story.

Next problem: we needed a place to stay the nights of the 13th and 14th. Miraculously, I got a 1 bedroom (on the first floor -- 7111 -- right next to the lobby, which you would think would be loud but they soundproofed that thing so hard it is the quietest room I've stayed in at BLT) on points for the 13th. I was able to book a room on the 14th floor of Hilton Bonnet Creek (which is their allergy floor, and believe me, if you are staying there, try to get a room on that floor. The air quality is amazingly good) for the 14th, which was crap, but all I could get (my mother-in-law and her brother live in the Villages but were unavailable by phone as I was frantically arranging all this; DVC had nothing and at the time, I wasn't getting anything through the main line at WDW).

On Valentine's Day, I spent some more time on the phone with the main WDW lodging line and got a room at Caribbean Beach. So my husband and son went over there and A. and I stayed at Bonnet Creek. That got us to our regularly scheduled vacation at BLT.

Upon our return, however, problems arose! We were unable to checkin for our flight until the morning of the flight, and there was a discrepancy between what the website said our seats were and what the mobile devices said. When R. went to checkin the bags at the airline desk, they were able to print boarding passes and they showed the messed up seats scattered all over the plane that the mobiles had said. Yikes!

I called and got an earlier Disney's Magical Express coach to the airport so we'd have more time to try to resolve this thing. Once there, it took a loooooong time and three different people to figure out what had happened. And here is what we think happened. When the refunds for the Monday flight and the Sunday flight were done, the computer system thought that one of those applied to the Saturday return flight, so our seats, while reserved, weren't fully paid for and we lost them. Gaaah! They got us into two sets of two seats, none with extra space, so I'll have to call JetBlue again after I check my credit card website to see what has been refunded and charged so they can give me more back if necessary.

I don't know what the moral here is. I do not in any way regret moving the flight to Friday the 13th. We had a blast the whole trip and it didn't even feel too long for me, altho I was ready to go home after 8 days in the parks and November for the next trip seems like a completely reasonable amount of time to wait to go back. Our originally scheduled flight on Sunday was canceled by Saturday afternoon, and I think (but don't know for sure) that the Monday departure would have been delayed, plus it was quite late in the afternoon anyway and would have caused us to miss our reservation at Chef Mickey's. It's hard to know whether I should have just been patient and waited for the agent on the phone or booked that Monday seat while I was waiting. I think next time, I'll be patient -- but I may also take that weather forecast more seriously and rebook a day earlier. I wasn't taking it seriously because the snow totals didn't look that bad. I forgot about wind.

Finally, I _could_ blame myself for getting the refunded extra leg room, because that is what caused the problem on the return leg (along with the Monday reschedule that was undone). I may delay asking for refunds until after a trip is complete, to avoid running into this situation.

In the end, however, it wasn't really that big a deal. R. was way more stressed about it than I was. I was convinced that JetBlue would give us, worst case scenario, two pairs of seats, because (a) JetBlue doesn't overbook, ever and (b) they have never yet left something to the flight crew to deal with, unlike every other airline I've flown.

I've been flying exclusively JetBlue for years (with the exception of things like flying to the Netherlands), and I buy plane tickets for other people and always try to put them on JetBlue unless they really object (or, in one case, the Alaska nonstop is the only available nonstop on that pair of cities). Nothing about this situation has changed my opinion. While it was regrettable that the seats got messed up on the return, I am so happy with how hard they worked to get me on an earlier flight, and to correct the seating problem when we asked them to, that if anything, I am even more of a fan of JetBlue than I was before.

Administrivia: more trip reports coming, possibly in the past

As you may have noticed, I backdated the Kona Cafe trip report; the date is the date we ate there. I may be doing that with some of the other trip reports (so I'll be posting trip reports _after_ this but they may wind up with dates _before_ this). I have this plan to start assembling Flickr, my personal website, LJ, FB and other online crap into One Gigantic Timeline, and I feel like connecting trip reports to the date of the activity might be helpful. I am not usually very organized about trip reports -- that is, I don't try to be comprehensive. I mention the stuff that I'm thinking about and just let everything else slide. But if you have questions or want more detail on a particular topic, and it's something I did, post requests in the comments.

Trip Report: My Disney Experience review

"My Disney Experience" is a website, a tablet app and a smartphone app. It is available on ... many platforms. In conjunction with Disney hotels now using RFID door locks, and the RFID ticketing system, you can manage your Disney vacay soup to nuts: you can use your Magic Band to get on the coach to go to your hotel, use early check in on the website to enable you to go straight to your room, get into the room using your Magic Band (they sent you it complimentary in the mail before your vacation), find your bags that were delivered separately, head out to the parks and go right in (assuming you have purchased and attached tickets or passes -- and you can buy tickets on your mobile device through the app), buy popcorn with your Magic Band, sail through FastPass lines with reservations you made 2 months in advance for popular attractions like Midway Mania or Space Mountain. You _can't_ (yet -- see date of posting if you're thinking, but you can! Because I bet you will be able to someday) use it to get on the coach back to the airport at the end of your trip. You can make and track and cancel dining reservations through any of the versions of My Disney Experience. You can view menus for most dining locations (whether they take reservations or not) as well. The menu information is still limited, so if you're looking for allergy info, you may be SOL.

The iOS phone app is a hybrid design. Some of the functions are accessed from the default screen with a menu bar across the top with icons and words which you can scroll right to left. Other functions are access from what one of my web design friends calls (somewhat contemptuously) "the burger": three short horizontal lines stacked on top of each other. The menus available via the burger or via the website menu labeled "My Disney Experience" (in Disney Font), are similar but not identical. For example, on iOS mobile devices, you will find "My Plans" whereas on the website the closed equivalent is "My Itinerary". The website shows three days, separated by location. The mobile device version shows only one day, and organizes by time. All happily munge together your information with your friends and family's plans, which can make for quite epic confusion; I suspect some of this is modifiable via Profile selection, but that is buried enough that I just suffered through it.

On the iPad version of the app, under "Explore" (first menu segment under the burger), the options are "Park Hours Wait Times FastPass+ Things To Do Characters Today Dining". The iPhone version of the app does not have "Characters Today" or "Things To Do".

The default screen on the tablet is a swipable set of beautiful photo screens, one per park with park hours. The default screen on the phone is My Plans.

If you have a fast pass that is for a ride or attraction which is unavailable for some or all of the period of the fast pass and that prevents you from using it (generically: if the ride is down the first fifteen minutes of your hours), you will receive a replacement fast pass for that ride and a group of other rides deemed of comparable value. If your fast pass wasn't for Mine Train, for example, you won't get a fast pass for Mine Train. I don't know the exact algorithm; maybe you can find it somewhere else. In any event, you will receive an email to your My Disney Experience registered email, and you will also see the description of that FastPass change under My Plans/My Itinerary. You will also receive an entry in "My Notifications".

There are a few spots in the parks where wi-fi coverage is limited or non-existent. As your device attempts to switch from wi-fi to wi-fi, it will run your battery down. You can often see people in the park along a hallway to the strooms or similar, plugged in and recharging.

Obviously, wi-fi service is subject to greater demand than it was engineered for. When the park is busy, wi-fi service can become erratic. Because the My Disney Experience web 2.0 layer is built _on top of_ many existing legacy computer systems (dining reservations systems, hotel reservation systems, etc.), an outage or high demand on the underlying systems can result in excessive waiting times for information to load.

When the parks are busy, fast passes for many rides may all disburse relatively early. As in, Mine Train and Anna and Elsa meet and greet are often booked 60 days in advance by people staying on property. By the time you _can_ book (30 days if you have ticket media but are staying off property -- or worse), you are booking from a highly reduced universe.

Fast Passes have a lot of underlying rules that can result in error messages indicating a conflict that prevents an available Fast Pass from being issued. If you get one of these, good fucking luck. They are all a little cryptic, and quite often even if you do go find a Cast Member to research it for you, you may or may not ever understand what went wrong.

If you buy MemoryMaker, none of your friends and family need to buy it also, as long as you (or the person who bought it) is willing to transfer the downloaded .zip files along.

The website and the mobile apps are undergoing constant revision. When we first used the app, for example, the Copy fast pass function was nominally there, but never, ever, ever worked. On the second trip, it worked fine, every time. By the third trip, we were running into fast passes that were so exhausted that they wouldn't copy for that reason -- and wouldn't really _tell you_ that that was the reason why. Sometimes, Cast Members can override that. But not always.

There are park maps in the app. You can display the wait times on the map, which is nice. But as near as I can tell, you can't get directions from the app. I can't find any obvious way to delete entries from "My Notifications".

I'm a little unclear on exactly who gets freebie Magic Bands mailed to them, however, if you have someone join you mid-stay, they can't get a freebie even at the front desk, the way you can if you lose yours. But they aren't that expensive to buy. There are decorative things you can attach to your band as well (either slip onto the band or sit poked into the holes that allow the band to close). If you buy a bunch of bands, or visit numerous times and receive them by mail, they tend to build up in your account. You can deactivate and reactivate them via the app. Somewhat disturbingly, if you have shared planning with friends and family, you may find that you have the ability to deactivate other people's cards (like, your friends' kids' cards). Don't be mean.

In your profile, you can add Affiliations. The purpose given is "to receive special offers, other benefits or renewal reminders". If you want DVC to show up, you have to use the same email address for DVC as you do for the My Disney Experience app.

If there is a way to look at your MemoryMaker/PhotoPass/ride photos via the app, I haven't found it yet.

I did not engage in this level of analysis months ago when I first started using the apps. They were obviously broken and incomplete in many ways (and I was by no means an early adopter on this stuff -- there was a whole other mobile app before My Disney Experience). The apps and website have now stabilized well, and while I can hear in my head, imagined voices of my web design friends complaining about hybrid design and relying on "the burger", and while many of my traveling companions have complained vigorously about crashes, slow loads, confusing menus and poor display choices, the amount of time my companions are spending at concierge desks and kiosks working with Cast Members to unravel horrifying bugs with potentially expensive costs in time or money (where'd my annual pass go!!! type of thing) has fallen into what I view as way above average [ETA: for clarification, LESS TOTAL TIME] for customer service in theme parks and vacation destinations in general. I will probably continue to bring along my three ring binder with printed out _everything_, but I'll say this: I didn't even pull it out of the bag on this trip. Given another year or two, I may stop bothering.

I have a couple suggestions that I'll toss out into the ether. In addition to how nice it would be to have directions available in the app, or access to ride photos, I do recognize those are phenomenally difficult to implement and/or bandwidth taxing. But here's one that I _think_ might be do-able and might save Disney a ton of ... something or other. I'd like e-receipts to be delivered to the account. I believe that all the receipts are kept internally (because I've requested and received images for all of them from my November 2011 trip) as pictures, altho I don't know for sure that they are relying upon the pictures versus keeping prints -- when they generate a receipt for me, there's a second one that they keep as well. But if they reach a point where they can legally rely upon the digital receipt internally, and trust the process well enough to do that, I'd like the option to receive the receipt through the app as well. As it is, the primary purpose being served by my three ring binder on these trips is as a receptacle for all those pieces of paper.

ETA: I've used two other theme park apps (Hershey and Santa's Village); neither does anywhere near as much as the Disney app, altho at the time, Hershey had menu information before Disney did, IIRC.

https://media.universalorlando.com/PressRelease/detail.aspx?id=47608&ct=27752

I haven't downloaded it nor have I been to Universal Studios at all, but their app apparently _does_ provide directions. Has anyone used it? Any integration with on property hotels?

The Disney app will let you make reservations at some restaurants within the app (given a party size and time frame, it'll check a variety of restaurants defined by a filter, even). The Universal app just gives you the phone number to call for reservations. They do the same thing for making a hotel reservation, altho to be fair, I don't _think_ you can make a room reservation in the phone app via Disney, either.

Universal app has a spot where you can put a parking reminder (Section, Level, Row and notes where you parked).

I can't find a spot to buy tickets on the Universal app.

So far, all of the above is the iOS PHONE app; I haven't checked to see if they have a tablet app that does something different.

2nd click required to access the inches number on the height limit -- there's an icon on the main ride page. Why make you click through for the number? Altho future ride views will leave the ride details subsection open until you explicitly close it, so this actually is fine. ETAYA: No, it doesn't. Behaves sort of randomly.

Parking Garages coming to TTC at WDW?

The speedway is going away come June. They're going to demo the speedway in order to do some "transportation improvements".

Here's our theory. The speedway is right next to the main parking lots at TTC (ticket and transportation center, aka, the Magic Kingdom parking lot). In fact, that proximity is part of the problem with the speedway, back when they actually had races there, there was obvious conflict between people arriving and departing and parking for the duration of a race vs. going to the theme park(s). The races went away a long while ago relieving the problem. I'm unable to find any data (maybe you can do better than me?) on how many days of the year TTC is filled completely, but I bet it happens occasionally, and will happen more and more. So. Maybe extend the parking lot and the trams -- and then use that additional parking to block off some of the closer in space, then build garages. The net effect over time would be to both increase total spaces AND reduce tram travel on most days of the year (that is, you wouldn't run the tram around empty lots, and people could walk in from closely positioned garages).

Disney has started building parking garages, notably at Disney Springs. In the past, they just flat out wouldn't, and there are a lot of people who have all kinds of weird ideas about garages being ugly and evil (really, compared to acres of parking lot? That's an interesting argument! But people complained when the lots had a name switch to Heroes and Villains at the top level, and then character names for subsidiary sections, which was a pretty reality based way to ease cognitive load on visitors) and how that would somehow mess with the transition of being in your car to being at the park.

I'm inclined to believe that the logic of garages will win out in the end, despite the But Walt Didn't Want It That Way argument. Even MK at WDW is finally serving wine and beer (at Be Our Guest, IIRC), and Walt sure didn't want that. But Time Will Tell. An alternative possibility is a better location for parking buses.