Four steps to a better World

Have a hassle-free Disney experience by following some advice from an expert

July 16, 2006|By TONI SALAMA | TONI SALAMA,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

1 - Work from a master plan

When we first began discussing possible trip dates, Walt Disney World expert Bruce Pecho came prepared with a homemade calendar on which he already had charted the days, times and locations of the major evening spectacles. Disney offers a themed fireworks show -- spectacle -- at each of its parks just about every night. We zeroed in on travel dates that would give us the greatest number of date and time choices for the spectacles. As a first-timer, I had no idea how grand, how much a part of the overall WDW experience these shows are. Left on my own, I might have considered them only as an afterthought, if I had considered them at all.

Pecho not only put these shows on the list, he made them the starting points for planning the entire itinerary. Once he had mapped out which spectacle to see in which park on which night, he worked backward to start fitting in dinner reservations -- another aspect of the Disney experience I would have neglected as a WDW novice. But that's exactly how Pecho arranged things so that we would be in the California Grill, at the top of Disney's 15-floor Contemporary Resort, overlooking the Magic Kingdom when the "Wishes" fireworks started at 8 p.m. Our melt-in-your-mouth filets ($35) arrived at the table a few minutes after "Wishes" concluded.

To fine-tune the seating, we arrived maybe half an hour early for our 7:50 p.m. reservation and put our names on the list with a request for a window table facing the fireworks. When our names came up, just such a table was available. If you read Page 1R, you already know what happened next.

Expert advice: Disney puts a wealth of planning information at your disposal (at disney world.disney.go.com / wdw / in dex), so that you can make the most of your trip. Use it. Before you leave home, go to the Web site to get park hours and times of parades and fireworks. And let "cast members" know if you have a request. They will do their best to accommodate your wishes if it's possible.

2 - Fine-tune each day on the spot

Pecho's master plan called for our first full day to be spent at Disney-MGM Studios, but his basic on-the-ground strategy there worked equally well at each of the other parks.

As soon as we hit the entrance, Pecho grabbed a park map for me, a Times Guide park schedule for himself, and assumed a tactical mode, the better to plot the day's course until our 4:10 p.m. dinner reservation, which was tied to the evening's 7 p.m. spectacle, "Fantasmic!," in ways I'll explain in a few paragraphs.

A glance at the Guest Information Board (each park has one, centrally located) told us that the "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!" was closed that day, so we made our way to the far end of the park and the 10:50 a.m. performance of "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show," a behind-the-explosions look at car chases, motorcycle chases and personal watercraft chases.

Why the one at 10:50? With our early dinner reservations, the stunt show's 4:30 p.m. performance was out of the question. Pecho knew from experience that seeing the 33-minute performance takes closer to 45 minutes when you allow time to exit the arena. The only other stunt-show time that day, at 1:45 p.m., would conflict with the 2:30 p.m. "Beauty and the Beast -- Live on Stage," a half-hour of highlights from the popular Broadway production at the opposite end of the park. He also wanted to arrive at "Beauty and the Beast" early enough, about 2-ish, to get good seats and also catch the unpublicized 15-minute pre-show, an a cappella act by Four For a Dollar. And of course we wanted to get one of Pecho's preferred spots -- the ledge in front of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, the end nearest ABC Sound Studio -- for the 3:30 p.m. "Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade."

With the essentials thus in place, we were able to fit in four other attractions, stop in for a snack at Starring Rolls Cafe and -- of abiding concern to me wherever I travel -- take several bathroom breaks.

We arrived a few minutes early for our 4:10 p.m. dinner reservation inside the park at The Hollywood Brown Derby. Pecho chose it because it's one of three restaurants that offer the Fantasmic! Dining Experience, a meal package ($36.99 at the Brown Derby for choice of appetizer, main course and dessert) that gets you a voucher for preferred entrance to, and therefore guaranteed seating for, "Fantasmic!," which began at 7 p.m. the night we were there. The live special-effects show, which among other things pits sorcerer's apprentice Mickey Mouse against a fire-breathing dragon, is heavily attended. Seating is limited and begins 90 minutes before showtime. So the dining package's entrance voucher assured that we could take a snail's pace at dinner and still be sure of seeing the show.

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