Personal technology has created a revolution in the way we work, play and communicate with each other when we are at work, home and on vacation. This is the first in a series of looks at what is available specifically in terms of personal technology usage in the parks. (Note for purposes of this series I will be dealing with Apple iOS products such as various flavors of iPhone and iPad. Please leave comments on application to other devices such as Android or Windows devices if you use one of them instead.)
I think that it is appropriate to spend some time discussing a philosophy of the use of personal tech while we are enjoying WDW. Let me state from the outset that I am a tech geek both by schooling and desire. I never met a technology that I didn’t love and have been an early adopter for many years including many variants that failed. (Beta video tapes, quadraphonic sound vinyl records, laserdisc players, Sony Minidiscs to name just a few. I plan to donate them all to the Smithsonian in my will…lol). Even so, I hate to see families where the younger kids are staring at Kid Icarus or Pokemon on their Nintendo 3DS while the teenagers are texting their BFFs all the while mom and dad are staring at the Park Map or Times Guide trying to figure out where to go or what show to see next, only to find the wait time is an hour when they get there.
What is wrong with that picture? Well, we have the kids totally disconnected from their families and the whole experience that is a Disney vacation. Next, we have frustrated parents who could use some help in planning their time in the Parks to have a much more enjoyable experience for the whole family. Fortunately, as the saying goes, there’s an app for that.
First let’s look at some non-Disney specific apps that may help to solve the disconnected kid problem. You can start by giving each kid a task that involves the use of some aspect of personal technology. For example instead of playing with the 3DS, give them the task of taking photos of the family, attractions etc. You can start with a simple digital camera and explain that they are creating a story of the family’s trip to The World. Later at home they can create a digital album on the computer or a printed book of the trip. Older siblings can assist with this and make it a project for all of the kids. They can also select some of the photos to create a calendar for the next year. Each month can explore aspects of the trip and help relive the memories for the future.
If your kids have a cell phone, they can take the photos with the phone and do as suggested above or use the photos in real time while in the Park. They could post individual photos on Facebook or create a Facebook photo album. One of them may want the responsibility of doing a check-in at each attraction either with Facebook or an app like foursquare or tagging people in photos. For a kid who has a creative bent, they can experiment with instagram and post photos they they have worked on. Similar opportunities are available with Twitter and google+. One note: if you do not like advertising that you are away from home for security reasons, be sure to check the security settings for the account where you are posting the information/photos so that only your friends can see them since presumably they know you are at Disney (and probably jealous as well).
If you are new to the Parks or just need a refresher on what is there, several of the more popular guides such as Birnbaum’s Official Guide, PassPorter’s Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide – Walt Disney World are all available electronically either as e-books or downloadable pdf files. These can be placed on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. I personally find them easier to read and use on a larger format such as an iPad Mini but any of the platforms can be made to work. The kids can use them to learn about the upcoming attraction they are in the queue for or look at the menu for a table service or counter serve restaurant for example. Parents can judge the suitability of an attraction for a very young child or get some idea of the pricing at a restaurant.
If you are a foodie and are interested in more information about what is available at a given restaurant and a review of it, I strongly recommend you subscribe to the Disney Food Blog. They have a wealth of info available on their website to give you a jump start on planning at home and their modestly priced downloadable e-books are a wealth of info you can carry on your portable device into the parks. They have both general WDW restaurant info as well as specialized books on the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, EPCOT Snack Treats, and Holiday Treats among others.
In future posts I plan to cover both Disney and third party applications available for use in the Parks. I will attempt to give you unbiased advice on the use and usefulness (or lack thereof) of an app.