Friday, August 26, 2022

Using Rider Swap at Disney World & Being Respectful towards Cast Members

On my most recent Disney Trip (2022), I finally had a chance to try out the Disney Rider Swap system.

It worked great, but a bit differently than I thought, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explain.

First a quick explanation: Rider Swap is only available for certain rides. Specifically, ones with height restrictions, when you have a family member that doesn't meet the restriction. One parent needs to stay with the smaller child, so the others can ride. Essentially, each parent gets to ride once, and the child that meets the height requirement gets to ride twice - once with each parent, while the other parent stays back to handle the child that doesn't meet the height requirement.

We were actually the perfect use case for Rider Swap - My oldest child is a little over 44 inches. This already makes him the height requirement for nearly every ride at Disney World! The only exceptions were Rock N Rollercoaster (48 inches) and a standalone driver at Tomorrowland Speedway (52 inches), although the Speedway still allows him to travel with someone.

My youngest on the other hand is just shy of 32 inches. In fact, height restrictions at Disney World start at 32 inches - meaning he was just a touch too short to go on any rides that had a height restriction.

Thankfully, the majority of rides at Disney World do not have height restrictions - so there was plenty all four of us could go on together.

We used Rider Swap three times (and an attempted fourth time that I'll explain below). This was for both Star Wars Rides in Hollywood Studios (Rise of the Resistance and Smuggler's Run), and Soarin' at Epcot.

I should point out that we only used the Lightning Lane Rider Swaps as we had reservations for all the rides we did. It is also usable for Standby waits as well.

To use Rider Swap, you need to find the "Rider Swap" cast member. I'd assumed the Cast Members that handled Lightning Lane could take of it - but that's actually (not always) the case. However, the Lightning Lane cast member can likely point you towards the Rider Swap cast member, as they did in our case.

For Rise of the Resistance, for instance, the cast member was under an umbrella a little ways away from the ride. We approached them and told them we wanted to use rider swap. The first thing they'll ask you is who is riding twice - in our case, it was a little obvious, but I'm sure they have to ask as a formality. 

They only need the Magic Band of the person who'll be riding twice - in this case, my five year old. They tap his band to a hand held unit they have (an iPhone with a fancy Magic Band reader), which gives him an extra "credit" to use the Lightning Lane. So Parent 1 and Child then tap into the Lightning Lane, and head onto the ride. Parent 2 and non-riding child wait outside the ride. When finished, Parent 2 and Child (who was credited) then taps into the ride and does it.

Since we were using Lightning Lanes, I presume that standard Lightning Lane time rules apply - that is, you still have to tap into the ride within your reservation time or grace period, for both parents (see my previous post for information on the grace period). It might give the other parent a slightly longer grace - but I can't confirm that.

Now this part is important - when approaching the Lightning Lane to ask about Rider Swap - do NOT tap your bands to the Lightning Lane tap point, and do not let your kids tap into the ride either! After you tap in, your reservation is used, and you should be heading onto the ride, not back out to get a Rider Swap credit.

Since my oldest was incredibly excited to tap his Magic Band, he tapped too early by accident into a ride we needed to use Rider Swap on. They ended up directing us over to the Rider Swap cast member anyway, who was able to fix it, but essentially she had to credit his band twice instead of the usual once since he had tapped it by accident.

As I said above, Rider Swap also works for Standby lines too, although we didn't use it this way. Now of course, each parent could just wait in the full Standby line and not use Rider Swap at all - but, that's a little tedious, especially for the poor kid waiting twice. So the intent is to help you save some time and not have to wait through the Standby line twice.

Disclaimer: This part is a bit speculative since we never did it, but based on my observation, my assumption is that you would still find the "Rider Swap" cast member and tell them you're rider swapping - at which point, they would probably ask for the Magic Band of both the child and the non-riding parent, so they can be credited with a Lightning Lane reservation. So then Parent 1 and child wait standby, finish the ride, Parent 2 and child get on quicker with a Lightning Lane. Again, I'm not sure that's how it works, but it seems reasonable. 

Another warning about Rider Swap - be sure you leave enough time for both parents to use it!

Our failed attempt at using Rider Swap happened at Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. My five year old and I had just finished Flight of Passage around 7:30pm - and Animal Kingdom closed at 8:00pm. I had gotten a Lightning Lane for Kali River for after Flight of Passage.

Now, if you remember from my previous post, I warned that it's very easy to underestimate the size of the parks. And Kali River Rapids happens to be pretty much on the polar opposite end of Animal Kingdom from Flight of Passage. 

Keep in mind, you're not allowed to run at Disney World. In fact, I even got called out by a cast member once for it on our first trip. And it makes sense - it's a busy, crowded place, and the chances of getting hurt or running into someone definitely goes up if you're running - and nobody wants that.  

That said, we booted it to Kali. We ordered both kids into the stroller and fast walked (but no running!) as much as we could to Kali.

So we hit Kali at 7:45pm and I'm already a bit skeptical this is going to happen. We tell the cast member at Lightning Lane we're going to rider swap. Now, in the case, she does have the magic iPhone, and credits my five year old's Magic Band for a second ride. We'd just done Flight of Passage, so he hops on the ride with my wife, and I wait just outside the Lightning Lane with my youngest. 

I knew it wasn't exactly a short ride, but was maintaining hope they'd finish the ride by 8:00pm.

So I'm waiting, the time ticking by. And it's soo funny to see the precision cast members have - but completely understandable in an environment as complex at Disney.

At exactly 8:00, she ropes off the ride entrance. I'm still standing back, minding my own business, but I just assume at this point I won't be able to do the ride. No biggie, even though this is our only Animal Kingdom day we had scheduled/reserved. But I've done it before, and as long as my kid got to do it - no problem.

At 8:01 - another family shows up at Lightning Lane entrance, sees the rope, and tell the cast member that they had a Lightning Lane reservation.

The cast member kindly explains that the park closed at 8:00, and as a result, they won't be allowed on the ride.

I won't go into the details, but they weren't exactly pleased. So the cast member ends up calling a manager from a phone behind the entrance, who comes over. The manager decides to let them on the ride - but with a stern warning they can't be giving cast members a hard time.

Anyway, I'm still there, minding my own business.

My wife and five year old get off the ride around 8:10 pm. My wife asks if I'm going on the ride and I say no - they closed the park at 8:00, so we're too late.

The cast member at the Lightning Lane entrance over hears this and waves me over. She says we can still go on the ride, as they can make exceptions for Rider Swap. I asked if she was sure, and she said to go ahead.

So my five year old and I boot it (again, no running!) quickly down to the ride boarding area. 

It turns out, the cast member at the ride boarding area is the same manager that had just dealt with Cranky Family.

He sees us approach and apologies, but says he can't let us on the ride as it's past park closing time. I briefly mention that we were there because of Rider Swap - but, he re-iterates that the ride is closed and that's it.

He's clearly having a bad day at this point. Would he have let us if he hadn't had to deal with Cranky Family? I have no idea. I respectfully thanked him, and led my son back out of the loading area to the Lightning Lane entrance. 

Unfortunately, he's a bit, ahem, distraught at this point, as he believed he was going to going to get to ride it with me too. I tried to explain to him that it's only fair, as we we're late, and the cast members are tired after a long day, and deserve to go home to see their families. It goes over about as well as logic usually does with a five year old.

We walk past the entrance cast member, and I tell her thanks for trying, but they wouldn't let us on. At this point, she got a really confused look on her face, and headed back to the small phone she'd used earlier. I have no idea what she said though - I didn't want to cause any trouble, so I loaded up the kids on the stroller and we headed towards the park exit, my five year crying at this point. Anyway, he got over it, and we ended up going back to the hotel.

I can only imagine what the cast member was thinking as we left - "Seriously, you let those jerks on, but not the family that was here in time and waited patiently?" But I have no idea, haha.

Anyway, the moral of the story is if you are planning to do Rider Swap, make sure you get there with plenty of time before park close for both parents to do the ride!

And, please, pleeease, always be respectful towards cast members! Follow their directions, and while it's okay to ask for something, always respect their decision! You might end up not only ruining the cast member's day, but someone else's you didn't even know existed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Canadian in Disney World - Guide 2022

Hello and welcome!

This post contains some of my personal notes for visiting Disney World in Orlando Florida. I have visited Disney World three times, in 2016, 2018 and 2022. They are largely written from a Canadian perspective, but certainly may be applicable to many folks visiting from different parts of the world.

This post assumes that you are new to Disney World, or have little knowledge of it. Some of this stuff you might already know - but hopefully you will also find something useful. 

Let's start with the basics and go from there.

Disney World consists of four theme parks, two water parks, and a bunch of other things you can do. 

The main theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

It's definitely hard to do a single park in a day. You would need to set some strong priorities. The only park we managed to complete in a day was Animal Kingdom, and we still didn't do everything, just everything we wanted too. Thankfully, it's rare that you want to do everything at every park anyway. Not everything appeals to every demographic.

Most parks usually take at least two days to do, and that's even with Genie+. The reason is because busy rides fill up quickly, and there are least two of those per park. It's easy to underestimate the size of each park - they're huge! It will take some time just to walk between each park "sub area" and between each ride in each "sub area". If you're a morning person, and staying on property, you can get into each park a half hour early. There'll be a special entry line for you. I would recommend doing this and hitting one of the busy rides first (they call this 'rope drop').

Each park is broken up into multiple sections. For example Magic Kingdom has Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Storybook Circus, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Frontier Land, and Adventure Land. That’s roughly the order of the lands counter clockwise from the castle (Main Street USA being the “6” O’Clock position).

Each unique land is themed, and can have any number of rides, attractions, or restaurants. For example, Tomorrowland has Buzz Lightyear/Space Mountain, Fantasyland has Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Frontierland has Splash Mountain, Adventureland has Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.

First and foremost thing you should do is download the My Disney Experience app on an Android or iPhone, and log in using your Disney Account. If you don’t have a Disney account, make one, and make sure it’s linked to your hotel and theme park tickets.

Don’t forget about reservations! Since COVID, it’s not enough to just have a theme park ticket. You must also reserve each park you want to visit on any particular day. Otherwise, you'll be turned away, regardless of if you have an entry ticket.

If you purchase Park Hopper, you can go to another park after 2PM.  There are buses that go directly between the parks. You don’t have to go back to your hotel first. These buses start at 1:30pm. There are a few exceptions where they are no buses, but it's because there's another way to get directly between parks (monorail or boat).

A lot of your decisions will be based on if you purchase, and how much you use, the paid Genie+ service. 

I would recommend purchasing it and using it as much as you can. Each ride has a “Standby” line that you wait in to get onto the attraction. These can be anywhere from ten minutes for less popular rides (like Dumbo) to 30-45 minutes for things like Pirates or Splash Mountain, and really long (like 90 minutes or more) for something like Seven Dwarves Mine Train.

Genie+ will allow you use the “Lightning Lane” for each attraction. In general, you’ll only wait about 10 minutes to get on each ride if you use Lightning Lane. But you have to book your ride window for each ride, and you can only book one at a time. Again, using the Disney App, you can look at the next soonest ride time that you are interested in, and it will tell you when your “start” time is that you can get on the Lightning Lane.

These are one hour timeslots, however typically you can enter the Lightning Lane five minutes early or up to fifteen minutes late (grace period). In fact, I tapped into a few rides just after the fifteen minute limit and it still let me through. If it doesn’t, you can ask a cast member (general term for any Disney park employee) and explain and they may (or may not) be graceful and let you in anyway. Always be respectful of their decision! But always just try it first, even if you’re passed your time.

In the Lightning Lanes, there are two tap points that look like Mickey faces. That’s how you get into a Lightning Lane. Sometimes you have to tap again closer to the ride. If you have a magic band, you tap that, otherwise use the tap entry card they give you (it works the same way).

Not all rides have Lightning Lanes. The carousal for instance, does not. 

Secondly, some rides have Lightning Lanes that must be purchased separately and are NOT included in Genie+. For me, it was still worth it to buy the individual Lightning Lanes (anywhere from 10-15 dollars each per rider) but it’s up to you. Make sure you look up the lists for each park in advance. As of August 2022, there is only one ride per park with an individual Lightning Lane purchase:

MK - Seven Dwarves Mine Train

EP - Guardians of the Galaxy

HS - Rise of the Resistance

AK - Flight of Passage

If you’re going the “Full Genie+” route (using it as much as possible, like we did), be prepared to constantly be crisscrossing the parks to get to your next ride. For instance, your first ride might be in Tomorrowland, but your second in Frontierland on the opposite side of the park. The maps in the app help a lot. Also, the maps on the app will tell you the current standby time for each ride.

If you decide to use Genie+ less (or not at all), and are willing to brave the standby lines, you can stay more local. For example, spend one day (or part of a day) in Tomorrowland/Storybook circus, and another in Adventureland/Frontierland, etc.

I still preferred the walking and minimal wait times with Genie+.

You can book your Genie+ reservations starting at 7AM and make sure you do this. Basically you need to be ready with your selections just before 7AM so you can pick the first at 7AM. You can actually pick these far in advance, even months before the trip. Just use the Disney App and select "change day".

Some fill up really quickly (Splash Mountain), others (like Pirates) have plenty of availability throughout the day. You can book your next reservation as soon as you tap into the Lightning Lane ride. I highly recommend this. If you happen to book a later Lightning Lane, you can book another within two hours of booking your previous one, or two hours after park open.

Before you leave Canada, you can get some Disney Giftcards. Get the reloadable gift cards and put like $500 on each one. Use the giftcard over a credit card when you can (buying food, merchandise, lightning lanes, etc) and it can save you a few dollars over transaction fees. They are phenomenal for mobile food ordering, as you can't currently charge that to your room. 

If you charge things to your room (via Magic Band, or I presume tap card), you can apply gift cards to your room balance. But you must do this before the day you check out, otherwise your credit card will be charged. Prior to that, your card will be authorized, but not charged. Go to an ATM for your bank that supports it, and take out some USD for emergencies and usage outside of Disney. Usage of luggage trolley at Orlando Airport will cost you $6, cash only.

Speaking of food, it's very expensive at Disney! Budget at minimum $100/day for two adults and two kids. We did a grocery order from Walmart delivered to our hotel. It saved some money on snacks, etc. We bought two 32-bottle Aquafina cases and pretty much went though it all. We probably went through 8 bottles per day. But buying a single bottle in the park is $3.50! That said, I’ve been told you can request free ice water, but never did it as we preferred the bottled water – some folks think their tap water tastes funny.

Bring stainless steel water bottles to keep it cold, however, keep in mind this will get you flagged by the metal detector each time you enter the park. However a security guard did eventually tell us we could just put the bottles in the stroller and they would see them, and not need them to go through the detector.

Speaking of getting into a park, you’ll need to go through Disney security first. If you have a stroller, they’ll wave you through a little easier, but you still have to go through the metal detector. If it doesn’t go off, you’re good, otherwise you need to walk to the side for a bag search. Again it was pretty quick and painless each time. Then you’ll need to get in line to enter the park. They are usually all the same length and do not take long to get through, even if they seem long. You need to tap your magic band (or card) then provide your fingerprint. Make sure you use the same finger every time! If you fail three times, they have to reset your fingerprint and take your picture to prevent fraud.

My five year old had some trouble with the fingerprints, so they programmed his magic band to my finger, and we used my finger each time, which made it easier.

We bought Disney cooling towels also to help with the heat which were nice. Get them wet and keep rewetting them throughout the day. You can then flick them periodically in the air and drape it on your head or shoulders to stay cool. We also had two “mickey fans” for the kids, but the batteries don’t last long. Like a day. Stroller services will swap out the batteries for free if you ask, but you have to wait in line and it takes a while. I would have preferred to have had my own batteries and a screw driver.

Be prepared for lots of rain. While it will often be hot and sunny most of the day, be prepared for it to rain heavily for about 2-3 hours per day, and often with huge thunderstorms. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast (Google "Orlando Weather" is fine), it’s usually pretty accurate. Summer is the worst for rain - there is much less rain in the winter/spring/fall. 

Ponchos are your friend. Buy some in Canada before you go and take them with you. Even Dollarstore ones are fine (that’s what we use). A poncho in Disney will cost you $24!  Also bring extra sneakers, as the poncho won’t save your feet. So it’s good to have a backup pair. We made frequent use of the hotel blow dryer to dry our shoes. Make sure they are good, very comfortable shoes as you’ll easily be walking 15000 – 20000 steps per day.

Even if you have your own vehicle, I would recommend leaving it parked at the hotel if you are staying on Disney property and using Disney Transport.

Unfortunately, you have to pay for parking at the hotels now (I think it used to be free) and I think you have to pay for parking at the parks too. So leave the car at the hotel and use Disney transport, which is free, and goes (almost) everywhere on Disney property. If it's an on-property hotel, it will have a bus section out front. One for each park, and one for Disney Springs.

Disney Springs doesn’t need a park ticket, it’s basically a huge outdoor shopping mall. You’ll also find a bowling alley, hot air balloon that you can pay to ride in, Cirque du Soliel and a movie theater there too! 

It’s nice to walk around, but if you’re only there for short for time, entirely optional.

I’ll talk a bit about the other parks. Epcot is the “big ball” park, which is actually a ride called Spaceship Earth. This ride is super busy in the morning (long line) since everyone hits it first, then completely dead in the afternoon (you can pretty much just walk on via the Standby line). Or use a Lightning Lane.

Epcot is broken up into two large sections, “Future World” and “World Showcase”. Future World itself is broken up into two sections, Left Future World and Right Future World (they would be left and right as you enter Epcot, facing the Big Ball).

Left Future World has the more “thrilling” rides like Mission Space, Test Track, and Guardians.

Right Future World is more relaxed but still fun. It has Figment, Nemo, and Soarin’.

Note that Epcot is under construction right now (as of Aug 2022), so there’s a big closed off area smack dab in the middle you have to walk around. Normally both halves are connected by a big open space.

The World Showcase is connected to Future World via a bridge and World Showcase is huuuuge. It’s broken up into 11 “major” countries. Mexico starts on the left, and Canada is on the right. During the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, there are at least a dozen smaller countries that are just kiosks. If your kid is interested, you can do “Kidcot” – a small station at each pavilion where you can collect cards for each country and get a postcard at the end.

Each country (called a ‘pavilion’) usually has restaurant (sometimes two, sit down and quick service), a giftshop, and some sort of cultural information or show. Only three countries have rides – Mexico (Donald duck boat ride), Norway (Frozen) and France (Ratatouille). All are worth doing! Frozen and Ratatouille fill up fast and have long waits. Lightning Lane them if you can. I’ve never seen the Mexico ride more than a few minute wait – it doesn’t even have a Lightning Lane.

It takes like an hour just to walk around the World Showcase, and more depending on how much time you want to spend in each pavilion.

There is currently no standby line for Guardians. You need to either buy a Lightning Lane (like I did) or get into a “Virutal Queue”. The virtual queue’s start a 7 AM and 1PM and fill up in minutes. It should tell you when you can come to get in line for the actual ride. A cast member told us there’s a “secret” queue at 6PM too that you can try, although we bought the Lightning Lanes, so didn't try this.

Note that if you use the gondola to get to Epcot, it actually takes you to the World Showcase, not Future World (like if you take the bus). We never rode in the gondola’s (always used the bus). The buses are air conditioned. The gondola’s are not.

Hollywood Studios is the next park. It’s actually really close to Epcot (at least by vehicle). In fact you can walk between them, but I think it’s like a twenty minute walk.

You can’t take the gondola’s between them directly (you have to transfer at a hotel). However, there is a boat you can take between them, which is really fun. Like the gondola, it’ll take you to the World Showcase, not Future World. The part of the World Showcase where the Gondola/Boat come off is called the "International Gateway"

Hollywood Studios isn’t quite as sectioned as the other parks. Like Magic Kingdom, there’s sort of a big road that runs down the center. To the right off the main road is another long road which leads you  to Rock N Rollercoaster (staring Aerosmith), the Tower or Terror and Lightning MacQueen Racing Academy (I don’t know exactly what this is, we never did it).

Still going on the main road, you take another right to the Disney Junior section and Star Wars Launch Bay (NOT Galaxy’s Edge). Launch Bay is the “old” Star Wars area before they built Galaxy’s Edge. It still houses the Star Wars Character Meets though (BB8, Chewy and Darth Vader).

Two roads on the left merge together near a lagoon and will lead you towards the Frozen musical, more restaurants (The SciFi Diner is really cool!) and shops, and towards Galaxy’s Edge, the real “Star Wars” themed area.

In the center of Hollywood Studios is the Chinese Theatre. This is where Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway is. It’s an awesome ride!

It’s not obvious, but you have to walk “behind” the Chinese Theatre (to the right) to get to Toy Story Land. That has Toy Story Mania (a shooting ride), Slinky Dog Dash (a roller coaster) and Alien Swirling Saucers. Walking through Toy Story Land will lead you directly into Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, which is where you’ll find Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance. Lightning Lanes (as part of Genie+) seemed easy to get for Smugglers Run. You’ll want to buy a Lightning Lane for Rise (or wait Standby).

Galaxy’s Edge is mostly broken up into the two ride areas, a huge marketplace, and food/drink establishments (where you can get the Blue Milk – try it! I won't spoil what it tastes like).

If you walk all the way through Galaxy’s Edge, it’ll take you back to the road to the left of the Chinese Theatre. 

Pro-Tip: If you need to take a break and sit for a bit, the ride exit of the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run is quite nice. There's a large exit tunnel where folks come out of the ride, and while you can't sit directly inside the tunnel, there is a (small) sitting area immediately outside the tunnel. The area is nicely shaded, and if you're lucky enough to find a space there, you'll enjoy blasts of air conditioning from the ride exit itself.

Finally Animal Kingdom. Like Magic Kingdom, it is broken up into a bunch of sub-sections.

You enter the park via the “Oasis”. Continue through to “Discovery Island” which is the Hub of the whole park. Clockwise from Discovery Island is Pandora (Avatar – Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey), Africa (Safari, Festival of the Lion King), Asia (Everest, Kali River Rapids), then Dinoland USA (Boneyard, Dinosaur ride, Triceratops Spin).

I think the Oasis also connects via bridge directly to Pandora, bypassing Discovery Island, given its popularity.

Everest is my probably favorite ride in all of Disney World (followed by Mission Space in Epcot, and Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios).

The Safari is also awesome and a must do. The animals can be more active in the morning and at dusk, but you can still see a lot any time of day. There are also walking trails you can do all around Animal Kingdom to see even more animals.

Three out of four parks have Firework shows every night. Magic Kingdom fireworks are the best. I hear Epcot’s are really good too, but we missed them this trip. We saw them in 2016 and 2018, but they have a new show now. Hollywood Studios has the shortest show from what I’m told. Animal Kingdom never did fireworks (the animals don’t like them). They used to have a really cool “water show” instead, but it’s been gone since COVID. They do have brief “kite” shows in the same area currently a few times throughout the day.

We wanted to beat the crowds to the buses, so we left just before the fireworks each day, and the buses were pretty empty. If you wait until after the fireworks, they are pretty packed with standing room only.

Also the hotel food courts will be really busy in the morning and just after park close too. We used Mobile Ordering (through the Disney app) a lot, both at the hotel and the parks. At the hotel, we often used mobile ordering and ate in our room.

The buses run really frequently in the morning and at park close. They are less frequent during the day and you may have to wait a bit if you want to go back to your hotel mid-day.

When we were there, Magic Kingdom also currently has two firework shows, 9PM and 11PM. We only did the 9PM show once, and because we had tickets to the dessert party (so we didn’t have to stand with the crowd). It was worth it. We did one or two more late rides after the fireworks and left around 10:30 – again beating the crowds of the second fireworks show. However I think the 11PM show might be gone since we got back (online hours says it closes now at 10pm).

What else? There are two water parks. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. We only did Typhoon once, back in 2016. It was fun, but not necessarily a huge draw for us. We would like to try Blizzard Beach but it was closed for refurbishment both times we went back (2018 and 2022).

There is some other stuff you can do like ESPN World of Sports (if you are into sports) and some Mini Golf courses. I don’t think you can reach these by Disney bus though and need your own vehicle. You can get “Minnievans” (yes, they are vans decorated like Minnie Mouse), that you can use Lyft to order and rent. We never did it.

There is also one McDonald’s on Disney Property, but again, you need your own vehicle to get to it (or perhaps use Uber Eats or something).

One thing that annoys me a little is places to wash your hands can be a bit far from where you actually eat. We had tons of hand sanitizer and used it constantly, after every ride and before eating. There are hand sanitizer stations, but they can be a little harder to find than I would like. We wore masks when we could (but it was hot), but very few others wore masks, which of course makes them less effective. So your mileage may vary. I bought insurance through a travel agency before we left in case we a) got severely ill or b) got trapped down there with COVID and couldn’t cross the border back until recovery. The insurance I had handled both cases, but I can’t tell you how good it was, as we didn’t need to use it.

Epcot and Magic Kingdom are also connected via Monorail, and a separate Monorail runs on a loop between Magic Kingdom and its resorts. There's also the Ticket Center which is where you connect on the Monorail to Epcot.

Using the Disney App, you don't actually have to "plan your day". You can go directly to the Tip Board which will just show you all the rides and Lightning Lane times, and can book it directly. Using the plan your day can help you order and prioritize though. This is also how you would select a Lightning Lane at another park if hopping, but be warned - a recent change makes sure you can't select a Lightning Lane at another park until a 2PM or later time is available.

Another thing I'll mention is Memory Maker. You pay $169 for it in advance for $199 while there. I think you have to buy at least three days in advance to get the reduced price.

Basically, there are Disney photographers scattered everywhere through the parks. You just scan your band/pass and they'll do a little photoshoot with you. Sometimes they do "magic shots" which add something into the image.

It also includes all of your character meet photos and ride photos. Well worth it in my opinion, especially if you like photos like I do.

For characters, you can always use your own phone if you want instead. The cast members attending the characters will happily snap a few shots for you with your phone. And you can take your own photos/selfies of the park etc, just no magic shots.

It's really good for the ride photos though.

If you have a magic band, rides should automatically pick up your photos, but it doesn't always work. 

With a card, you probably have to tap it at the spot after the ride. Sometimes I tapped anyway

You won't have a magic band unless you buy one. They are generally $25 I think. But you can buy a limited selection at a reduced price before you go (up to ten days before).

They also have Magic Band+ now, which is nice because they are rechargeable and have some extra functionality. I don't have a Magic Band+ though.

Without a Magic Band, you'll just get an NFC tap card. With the magic band, it's also NFC enabled, but also has some low power Bluetooth tracking so it can tell automatically when and where you are on the ride.

But it's not perfect like I said. Some rides seem better than others. Buzz Lightyear seemed bad for tracking. But Seven Dwarves/Splash Mountain seemed better.

When I ordered my Disney package through their site (tickets + hotel, etc). It gave me the option to buy magic bands at a reduced rate.

Magic bands actually used to be free if you stayed on Disney property, but sadly they discontinued that since COVID.

I then picked them up when I checked in at the hotel.

But otherwise you can buy them at many gift stores and they have a wider selection.

Let's talk a bit more about how to use Genie+/Lightning Lane. There are generally three scenarios.

Scenario 1) - Sequential Lightning Lane Entries

Let's say it's 7AM and you book your first lightning lane, Winnie the Pooh, for 9:05 AM.

You then have a 1 hour window to use that Lightning Lane (9:05 - 10:05 am). But there is at least a twenty minute grace period for that Lightning Lane, so you can actually Tap into your Lightning Lane as early as 9:00 AM or as late as 10:20 AM.

You don't need to finish the ride to book the next. As soon as you Tap in, while still waiting in the Lightning Lane line, immediately get onto your phone and book your next. Often, it will be available immediately as soon as you finish the current ride.

Scenario 2) - Stacking Lightning Lane Entries

Let's say it's 7AM and you book your first lightning lane, Splash Mountain, for 3:05 PM.

You can't book any more lightning lanes right away. But 2 hours after Park Open (11 AM in this case), you can book another Lightning Lane for  whenever (e.g. Winnie the Pooh at 11:05 AM). Same grace period rules apply. Then, two hours after that booking ( 1:05 PM, you can book another lightning lane immediately, say Pirates, for 1:10 PM. But your Splash Mountain one is still active. Then, once you tap into Splash Mountain, you go sequentially again like in Scenario 1 (or book later and keep stacking).

Scenario 3) - Individual Lightning Lane Entry

You buy these separately, and don't even need to have Genie+ for them.

Starting at 7AM, you go onto the Disney App, and buy an Individual Lightning Lane entry. Let's say you buy Seven Dwarves for Magic Kingdom at 11:05 AM.

You then go into Genie+ on the app, and book for first regular Lightning Lane. Let's say Winnie the Pooh again for 9:30 AM.

Same as before, once you tap into Winnie, book the next while still in line for Winnie.

Individual Lightning Lane booking do not affect your Genie+ booking. They are completely separate and overlapping. Just make sure if you have two booked in the same 1 hr time period, that you have time to do both of them.

Some folks try to 'stack' their Lightning Lanes even more. Book popular rides for late in the evening, then keep booking rides later in the evening as you hit the two-hour rebook window. Use standby or do other activities during the day. Then you can redeem a bunch of Lightning Lane's in the evening. We didn't personally do this though. 

Here are some notes on staying fed and hydrated in the parks.

We had two main backpacks, a small one and a larger one. The smaller one was exclusively dedicated to our water bottles - my wife and I had two large stainless steel water bottles (Thermoflasks from Costco) that held about 1.5 L each. We would easily drink them by about 3PM and need to refill them, so I'd say we drank at least 2L of water per day. We ended up having to purchase water at the parks more than I would have liked to refill them them, which was costly, or you can try asking for free ice water at the outdoor food kiosks. If we happened to go back to the hotel midday, we could refill from our (cheaper) bottles we bought from Walmart. The kids also had two stainless steel water bottles, but they were smaller, about 0.5 L. We either refilled them from our larger bottles or purchased bottles.

The second backpack was primarily our baby bag / snack bag. So we had diapers, wipes, our change pad, and a separate Ziploc bag (large) filled with snacks like granola bars, fishy crackers, Ritz crackers, etc. These were a must, as when our kids seemed cranky, usually giving them some snacks made them feel better. It also held our ponchos. 

Even for older kids, having a stroller is awesome. You are walking 15000-20000 steps per day - your kids WILL get tired! Having a stroller is nice to cart them around place to place when they are two tired to walk.

Strollers also have one other huuuge benefit - you can store your backpacks in them when you go on rides! There is stroller parking near almost every ride in designated sections (note you'll also see a lot of signs that say "no stroller parking" - don't park there! Official parking will be close by). Otherwise, you'll need to take your backpacks on rides with you, which is a bit cumbersome but doable, or use the locker rentals at the front of the park, which costs money and you have to walk all the way back to the entrance when you need it. The stroller option is by far the most convenient, again, even just to store stuff. If you're going to try to just have one backpack, and don't need baby stuff, you just need water bottles and snacks, probably. Of course, there's also the possibility something will go "missing", but we never had it happen to us and it doesn't seem too common.

My wife also had a fanny pack that she carried everywhere with the more important stuff in it, even onto rides. It had a wallet with money, our IDs, health cards, etc. It also had her phone. We left our passports at the hotel locked in our suitcase though. I kept my phone in my pocket generally.

What to do when it rains?

There are a few options. Option 1 is to pretty much just ignore it and do whatever you want anyway. With a few exceptions, even outdoor rides don't close because it's raining. Often it's just a light rain you can deal with. It's helpful to have a poncho though - in that case, just keep doing what you want to do, get wet and enjoy it! It's soooo hot that often the rain will cool things down and actually feel nice. 

We also had a rain cover for our stroller, which we put on if we thought it was going to rain while heading into a ride. Also, the kids could easily ride in the stroller with the rain cover on, so it doubled as a "poncho" for them (they also had dedicated ponchos).

Most (not all) of the rides are indoors. So if you're on a ride, or heading to a ride, and it rains, no big deal. Just put on your poncho to walk between rides, take it off, fold it up (you might need to shake it off a little), and hold it while on the ride. I once did Expedition Everest while it was thunder and lightning.

Also, there are stores EVERYWHERE. Literally. In fact, Main Street USA is actually just two large stores (left and right) with multiple exits and entrances. So when it starts to rain, you can easily duck into a store (or between several stores) to wait it out, and browse the merchandise. I honestly think they count on this encouraging you to buy things, heh. Do keep in mind though that the stores will get a little crowded when this happens.

Same with food - if it's raining, and you're hungry, it's often a good time to go get lunch!

Different parks also have big indoor play areas you can wait out in too. Magic Kingdom has a Dumbo Play area. Epcot has a bunch, there's a play area in Spaceship Earth, near Mission Space, Test Track, Figment, Nemo, etc. Animal Kingdom has the Boneyard in Dinoland USA, although that is outdoors.

If you are preparing for an extended rain period (like 4-5 hours) and don't want to deal with it at the park, you can always go back to the hotel. This is a good strategy for taking a rest anyway. You can watch TV/movies at the hotel, have some down time, etc. Then once the rain dies down, head back to the parks!

I bought four physical Disney Gift Cards from Shoppers Drug Mart (and/or Superstore) and loaded them up there. I've never tried an e-gift card, I assume it would work the same. I registered them all on Disney Gift Card website, so I could check the balance. Only annoying thing is it will show the balance in CDN, but of course everything charges you in USD. Weirdly, I managed to the get USD amount by starting a mobile food order in the app, adding my gift card as payment, then cancelling the food order. It will show you the amount in USD when you add it. Maybe there's an easier way to get the USD amount from the site, I just couldn't find it.

Bus rides to and from the parks are actually pretty short, especially depending on the time of day. If you are heading to the park early in the morning, they probably run at least every ten minutes. Sometimes one bus will be right behind another. Each hotel has a sign out front that will show you the next bus time. Sometimes they'll show it like 1/2 hour away, and it comes in ten minutes.

However, if you wait to go to the parks much later (like 10 AM or thereafter), it definitely could take up to 30 minutes for the bus to come. This really only happened to us once though. And since every hotel has a giftshop near the buses, you can go browse that while you wait.

Same with the evenings, near closing time, there are lots of busses and rarely much of a wait. It's just the "midday" traffic things slow down.

Having your own car probably doesn't save much time if you are staying on property. The parking lots for the cars aren't super close to the parks themselves, so you have to get parked (you also have to go through parking gates which had small lines every time we drove past them in the bus), then walk to the park itself, which is a decent walk. They used to have trams before COVID to take you between the parking lot and the park, but I'm not sure if they still do. In Magic Kingdom, I believe you have to take the Monorail (or maybe the ferry?) to get from the parking lot to the park.

The buses will drop you off very close to the park entrance, with minimal walking. Magic Kingdom is the closest - the bus drop you off very close to the entrance. With Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (the worst), the busses are further away, but still not a long walk and I think still closer than the parking lot. So while I can't say for sure, I feel like the bus wait time offsets the car transit time, at least in most cases.

Fun fact about the busses - the more "expensive" hotels get the closest buses and the "cheaper" hotels are far away, haha. This is true at every single park. Not significant difference mind you, but it's funny.

We exclusively used Magic Bands, but they now have Magic Mobile - using your phone like a Magic Band or tap card. I never tried Magic Mobile but I imagine it works much the same way. For photos, as long as all the bands are linked on the same count (perhaps with mobile too?) only one needs to tap and the photo gets associated with your account. Occasionally I made sure I tapped a photo if I wasn't certain my kid tapped it properly though.

One last note about coming back to Canada. You must, absolutely and with no exceptions, use the ArriveCan app to get back into Canada. We were warned about this by our airline at the Airport. 

You should start this process before you even leave Canada to go the US. Create your ArriveCan account, put in all of your traveller information, and upload your proof of COVID vaccine. You can put multiple travellers on the same account (including adults).

Before you check-in at the airport for your return flight (I did it the night before), you'll need to login to the ArriveCan application on your phone, using the credentials you created before you left. You'll need to create an "entry receipt" which includes answering a health questionnaire for each traveller. You need to show this at Canadian customs when returning to Canada - you might have had to show the airline too (I can't remember for certain). 

The app tended to sign me out a lot more than I would have liked - so please make sure you have your credentials memorized so you can easily log back in.

That's it for now! I may update this post from time to time if I think or things, or a result of questions I may get asked. If it's a large enough question/response, I may create a new post. 

I hope you found this informative and have a great time on your own visit to Disney World!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The case for NES and SNES Classic Switch Cartridges

The Switch isn't the only "new" Nintendo console selling out in stores these days.

There has recently been a huge resurgence of retro Nintendo gaming with the NES Classic Edition and SNES Classic Edition.

And why shouldn't there be? Retro gaming is great! While there have been a few issues with the Classic Editions (short cords, anyone?), the response to them has been a phenomenal success.

The biggest issue seems to be getting them into people's hands. I visit gaming stores (and department stores with gaming sections) on a regular basis, and I've never seen either of these consoles in stock. 

My only hands on experience to date with either console was with a friend who brought over his NES Mini for an afternoon of game play (coincidentally my first experience with a Switch as well). 

There is a simple solution to the lack of availability to the classic consoles - release them as Switch cartridges! Basically, take the games and put them on a Switch cartridge, while maintaining the same "classic" UI and feel. The price of the cartridges could be roughly the same, or a little cheaper, than the the classic consoles themselves. Of course, I would also expect an eShop release of the cartridges as well.

This would also solve the wired/wireless controller issue, as the Joy Cons should work for playing both NES and SNES games (and there's two of them - the right number of players!). Pro Controller/Paired Joy Cons would work as well.

There could even be an official adapter for using Classic Controllers into the USB connection, if you really wanted to.

The right way to do the Switch Virtual Console?

Other than some vague references to the Switch online service including some sort of retro "game of the month", we've heard virtually nothing regarding the Switch Virtual Console service.

Release the NES and SNES Classic Editions as Switch cartridges provides one other huge advantage - online access. The NES and SNES Classic Editions are designed for simplicity - no Internet connection, which also means no official way to add additional games.

But the NES and SNES Classic Editions as a release on Switch could offer one thing the physical consoles cannot - downloadable content! Ergo, download the NES Classic Edition for the Switch, then be able to purchase other games than the originally included set as DLC. 

While I personally hoped Nintendo would allow for consolidation of a Virtual Console collection (e.g. buy once, play on any supported device), that clearly never happened, resulting in having to repurchase Virtual Console games for different devices - something few people would find appealing. 

While I don't really relish the idea of buying Super Mario Bros 3 for the umpteenth time, I would strongly consider buying a Switch game with SMB3 included, if it included the other 29 games from the NES Classic. Same goes for the SNES Classic. The "rewind" feature from the SNES Classic could even be ported back to the NES Classic. This could be the right way to do Virtual Console on the Switch, as opposed to repeating the Wii/WiiU/3DS formula. Make the VC optional via purchase of a cartridge which includes a base number of great classic games. 

Wouldn't it negatively impact Classic Edition sales?

I seriously doubt it. There are many people who simply have no interest in a Switch, and only want to play classic games. As we know, the production of the Classic Editions are limited due to competition with the Switch for manufacturing. Even if the Classic Editions were released as Switch games, any new release of the Classic Consoles themselves would almost certainly still sell out, while making the games available to a much wider demographic. As I said, the cartridges would likely be a similar price point to the Classic Editions themselves, which wouldn't result in a loss of profit.

Although there is one other factor to consider: future Classic Editions. I've seen much speculation that the next Classic Edition will not be a N64 Mini, but rather, a re-released Gameboy Classic Edition. While I cannot say for certain, I agree this seems like a strong possibility.

There could be fear that, if the NES/SNES Classic Editions were released on Switch cartridges, they may impact the sale of future classic editions, be it a Gameboy/N64/Gamecube Classic, what have you, as people will eventually expect Switch versions of them as well. But once again, I find it unlikely that enough people would hold off on buying them that we would see hardware for the limited-edition Classic consoles stuck in stores. But as such, it may simply be prudent for Nintendo to wait for the possible supply of Classic Editions to be exhausted before bringing the games to Switch/etc (if they ever do).

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Future of 2D Mario on the Switch

Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game, though ever since the first New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, Nintendo finally realized they had to keep up with the 2D Mario games as well to make fans happy - and make lots of money for themselves.

If you asked me to pick my favorite Mario game of all time, there's only one answer - Super Mario Bros. 3 (yes, Super Mario World is close second!). I could pick that game up tomorrow, play it for the thousandth time, and still get a smile on my face when I race into the sky on maximum P Power. A lot of fans simply enjoy the simplicity a 2D Mario brings, while others find 3D games a bit too difficult to navigate.

I was thrilled when Nintendo rebooted 2D Mario, and picked up New Super Mario Bros Wii on launch day (I didn't have a DS at the time, though I now own both NSMB1 and NSMB2). I enjoyed every minute of that game (well, expect maybe the "Save Toad" levels - they were dumb). Of course, I followed it up with New Super Mario Bros Wii U (fun, if a bit repetitive) and Super Luigi U (it's like Donkey Kong Country Returns on steroids).

But sadly, some of the latter games just didn't fill me with the same fun-level as games like SMB3 or NSMBW did. When the 2D games started dying out originally, they switched to 3D to reinvent the franchise (and keep up with technology). Then, the 2D games came back with a renaissance, including updated graphics and new game play mechanics. But the original New Super Mario Bros for the DS came out in 2006 and has largely followed the same formula since. Almost 12 years later, I feel like it's time for a new renaissance!

When Super Mario Maker came out, I (quite possibly literally) leaped with joy. Hey, it was only a game I waited two decades for. While it turned out I was rather sucky at making levels myself, the level-creating community was where the game really shined. Sure, a lot of levels are terrible, and others are way too insanely difficult, but you can also find a lot of quality levels that keep the 2D Mario gaming spirit alive.

What I'd like to see in 2D Mario on the Switch

So far, the Switch has been all about reinvention. 3D Super Mario returned to an open world design, and Zelda created one of the best and most expansive open world games to date. I'm also patiently waiting for the announcement of Luigi's Mansion 3 for the Switch, hoping it too will return to an open world format.

I think it might finally be time to mess with the traditional 2D Mario format. Yes, we've already seen some of this in the Paper Mario games (Super Paper Mario was pretty great), but those are less mainstream games. The time may have come for a mainstream, open world, 2D Mario.

Could this even work? Would it be like some giant level, or would it be Metroidvania style? I'm a big Metroidvania fan myself (and kind of wish Samus Returns had been a Switch release, instead of 3DS), so my instincts for an open world 2D Mario would trend towards that genre. But I'm open for anything that breaks the formula. Here are some ideas to get them started!

  • Game starts out as a standard 1-1 “Grass world" with a flagpole at the end, complete with the usual enemies and temporary power ups.
  • Upon hitting the flagpole, a “bad-guy” cut scene happens ("Well gee Mario, it's so easy to defeat us when all you have to do is hit a flagpole!" - me, in a horrible Baby Bowser voice), the world gets “expanded”, Mario is stripped of all his power ups, and the player is now able to walk "past" the flagpole.
  • The player than keeps going past the flagpole, eventually finding a warp pipe to “Underground world".
  • Eventually the underground world meets back up with Grass world and you are able to traverse back to the area you started.
  • Different open-areas would be themed off of standard Mario worlds - Grass World, Underground World, Ice World, Water World, Desert World, Sky World, all of which would interconnect in various ways.
  • Mario would get his power ups back throughout the game based on standard Mario-powers - e.g. Fire Flower, Ice Flower, Racoon tail. Mushroom could allow Mario to grow or shrink in size at will (a la Morph ball). A Dash power allows Mario to run faster. Cappy should be included as well. At this point, maybe some abilities would be permanent and equipable, e.g. maybe Goomba’s shoe allows you to jump higher. Beating a boss may be required to get a power up, which would sometimes allow access to new areas.
  • Different suits could also allow Mario to get to new areas. E.g. In Water-world, Mario could only skim the surface until finding the Frog suit, allowing full access underwater.
  • Warp pipes would allow quick access to different areas of the map, once they are unlocked.
  • Game would still gave bosses, minibosses, etc, although with a more Mario-theme. Mario would also need a different hitpoint, possibly similar to the 2D games.

Maybe some power ups are permanent - like Cappy or a higher jump - while others remain ephemeral, like Fire or Ice Flower. I'm sure the smarter-than-me game designers could come up with a 2D Mario game that was true to the genre, but still retaining a unique Mario-esque feel. It would definitely put a smile on my face.

Super Mario Maker 2?

Does this mean I think there's no room on the Switch for a standard, ax-smashing, flag-pole riding, 2D Mario adventure? Absolutely not! I think Nintendo was right on target with Super Mario Maker, and there will absolutely be a Switch version at some point. That's how I'd like to see standard 2D levels evolve on the Switch.

There are many aspects of 2D Mario levels missing from the original game. Personally, I really miss slopes, and vertical levels. But I think there are plenty of "new" elements that would warrant creating a proper Super Mario Maker 2, as opposed to simply a port like was done for the 3DS. Not to mention 2D game mechanics that don't even exist yet (Cappy?) that could be added to the game. They could even add "super-size" levels, akin to some of the open world mechanics I mentioned above.

Another key missing feature - over worlds! Give people the ability to make over worlds and "link" courses together? Secret exits even! Then allow the publishing of course packs. You could basically build entire new 2D Mario Games with the engine, and the fans would be in control.

Besides, Nintendo already makes and publishes special courses for the original Super Mario Maker - imagine they published entire course packs of levels. DLC? Why not! Make a Super Mario Maker 2 eShop and allow for purchase of additional, official course packs, based on the engine.

I admit the Super Mario Maker experience would be a bit different on the Switch, without having dual screens. Again, I'm sure the smarter-than-me game designers would be able to make it a good experience using the Joy Cons, or maybe even simply undocking the Switch to create levels. The Super Mario Maker 2 case could even come bundled with a capacitive stylus to facilitate creation of games on the Switch touchscreen. Maybe we'll need to wait for the wirelessly-docked Switch I suspect will come eventually, but I certainly hope not!

Whether or not this fan's advice will be taken, I cannot say. We may simply end up with New Super Mario Bros Switch, though I feel such a sequel would be a bit lackluster compared to the precedent that has been set for the Switch thus far. 

On the other hand, I'd still totally buy it :). 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

Hi all!

Are you digging the Nintendo Switch yet? Or still just a curious observer?

I got my Switch back in August of 2017, starting out with Breath of the Wild, Mario vs Rabbids and Sonic Mania :). With a recent influx of games received over the holidays, my collection now includes Super Mario Odyssey, Rime, Just Dance 2018, Cave Story+ and Axiom Verge.

Since I've always been a Nintendo fan, the Switch is unsurprisingly my favorite console to date. It's very similar to what I imagined the successor to the Wii U would be, a smaller version of the Wii U Gamepad, which could also act as a dedicated console.

The Joy Cons were a wonderful surprised, as I didn't expect them at all. The Wii Remote redefined the gaming controller, and the Joy Cons have refined the concept to near perfection with a slimmed down design, analog sticks instead of D Pads, and amazing haptic feedback. Playing Just Dance on the Switch with the Joy Cons is much nicer than the clunkier Wii Remotes, with excellent motion tracking (though I do also long for a controller-less design, a la the now discontinued Kinect) and the ability to use both Joy Cons at once (even if not for songs).

Likewise, the Pro Controller is great to use when you want a more classic feel.

Multi-cartridge support?

While the eShop is great, I'm always a fan of physical cartridges over eShop versions of the game. While I bought Sonic Mania digitally, since I didn't see any evidence of a physical release, I specifically waited for Axion Verge on the cartridge since I knew one was coming. I may also end up buying Blossom Tales digitally, though I'll still wait for a bit in the hopes of a physical release. 

It would be nice to have the convenience of eShop games, but being able to retain the cartridge form factor. While this would have been prohibitive with optical media, the Switch's cartridge form factor allows a unique opportunity. While the Switch in "portable mode" makes sense to have a single cartridge, I'd love to see an attachment that connects to the dock allowing us to load multiple cartridges as once, so that you can easily switch between games on different cartridges. This makes perfect sense in a home console, and the USB ports on the Switch Dock would make the connections easy. A separate dock could also be sold which would have the multiple cartridge ports built-in.

A 2DS Player?

I'm disappointed that we have not yet seen any way to officially play 3DS games on a TV (in 2D mode), having to resort to very expensive hacks. Not only do I long to play several 3DS games on my TV (Luigi's Mansion, Link Between Worlds, Mario Kart 7, etc), it just feels "right" as a follow up to Nintendo's previous attachments for allowing portable games on your TV (the Super Game Boy for the SNES, and the Game Boy Player for the GameCube).

The Wii U would have seemed the perfect console to create an attachment to allow this, already having a separate touch screen that allows asymmetric game play. While I've seen some arguments that the resolution of a 3DS game (400x240) would make for poor playing on a TV, even a simple 4.5x linear scaling, or less depending on your TV's resolution, should still be playable. And the fact that DS games are available on the Wii U eShop (at 256 x 192 resolution no less) kind of nullifies that argument (though I have not personally played any). It's entirely possible the resolutions could be improved for the TV, in some way.

I suspect one reason a 3DS Adapter never materialized for the Wii U was simple due to poor sales of the console. If it had seen wider success, maybe I could finally play New Super Mario Bros 2 on my TV.

Therefore, with sales of the Switch, the natural question is whether or not we could see any way to play 3DS games on a TV, via the Switch. It would be a bit more difficult for the Switch than the Wii U, but certainly possible. I expect we could see some form of "2DS Player", as an accessory for the Switch. I imagine it would take the form of the "lower" section of the 2DS XL, which the cartridge could be inserted into, supplying the circle pads and controls, as well as the lower touch screen. This could then connect (maybe even wirelessly) to an attachment that would plug into the Switch itself, which would then render itself as the "top" screen, either in handheld or docked mode. I can only imagine a case allowing you to use it in handheld mode as the "2DS XXL" :).

There is also the question of whether or not there is business case for such a perphial. A Wii U/3DS adapter may simply have been nixed due to fear of it negatively impacting 3DS/2DS sales. There is also the factor of potentially missing the 3DS eShop on the adapter. But I personally think if set at a decent price point (< $100, less than the cost of an original 2DS), such an adapter would be a huge hit and generate a decent profit margin. Even the Game Boy Player was somewhat limited compared to the Game Boy Advance, and the same could be true of a 2DS Player - for example, perhaps the eShop capabilities wouldn't exist, requiring games on a physical cartridge only. Some people suspect the 3DS may be near its lifetime, and so it would not be crazy to wait until then to release such an adapter.

Or perhaps it's all just a crazy pipe dream, and I'll have to replace my 3DS with a 2DS XL so I can play Samus Returns on a larger screen :). 

What might we see in a Switch 2?

While the Switch is still flying off shelves, rumors are flying that Nintendo is already working on a successor. Given the rapid pace of technology, this would not surprise me in the slightest.

I doubt that the Switch successor will be a brand new concept. Like the Wii U built on top of the Wii (adding a touch screen), I suspect the Switch 2 will take the Switch concept and refine it further.

When I first heard about the Switch, one thing that really surprised me was that the dock was wired. Given the precedence set by the Wii U for wireless video transfer, I expected the Switch to connect to the TV wirelessly as well (via a "Chromecast-like" dongle). The physical dock works fine, but it is a bit cumbersome. I suspect the Switch 2 will see some sort of wireless dock feature. Using a wireless dock would also solve the missing screen issue for a 2DS Player, using the Switch itself as the lower screen, but there I go dreaming again :).

The Joy Cons could also use a bit of improvement. I find constantly sliding them on and off the respective rails, depending on what mode you want to use, a bit tiresome. Perhaps we will see Joy Cons that are a bit more self contained, but still usable in a similar way, maybe with NFC syncing and wireless charging.

4K Gaming? Maybe, but I wouldn't hold my breath. We don't even have Netflix for the Switch yet, so I won't guess on any multimedia features it may have. But for now, I'll happily keep rocking the Switch and am excited for all of the new games coming up.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Random acts of math!

Hi all,

Hope you are having a splendid Friday!

Just a quick note to let you know about a new blog started by yours truly.

Random Acts of Math is a fun little place to share some peculiar or interesting things from the world of math. I wanted some practice writing with the digitizer on my Galaxy Note Pro and thought posting some writings to a blog would be constructive and might help a few people.

Disclaimer: I'm not a math expert, nor do I have a math degree (I did take some math courses in university). Given my amature status, always consult a professional before using anything you read on this blog for something important!

What about Jay's Desktop?

It hasn't been forgotten! Jay's Desktop will still be a place for me to write about things I find interesting  ("a place for my stuff") when the mood strikes me. Think of Random Acts of Math as a "subset" of Jay's Desktop - specifically for math-related items and writing from my tablet :)


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ubuntu 12.04 Tips: Clearing out old kernels & SSD Trim


I've recently come across two Ubuntu/Linux tips that I wanted to share (and document). They are particularly import if you run Ubuntu on machine with not a lot of extra hard disk space. In my case, I have a hybrid hard drive with a 24 GB SSD partition, and a 750 GB data partition (Ubuntu is installed on the SSD partition of obvious reasons, while most of /home uses symbolic links to the data partition). Over the last year or so, I've noticed my SSD partition steadily increase is size, from about 40% to 73%. Fearing I would run out of room soon, I did some research on if this was merely from system updates and installed software, or if it was something else. I also noticed my machine seemed to be responding much more slowly then it had been when I first set it up a year ago, and tried several things to improve performance without much result. I feared this might be related to the lack of disk space on the SSD partition as well, and I was sort of right.

These tips might be application to other Linux distributions as well. As always, use at your own risk!

1) Clearing out old kernel versions

Ubuntu keeps old kernels hanging around after you install new ones via auto-update. They can take up quite a bit of room. There are some good reasons for keeping old kernels around (e.g. reverting if a kernel update breaks something). But it's unlikely you'll need all of them.

Here's a simple little command line to clear out the old ones.

sudo apt-get purge $(dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-"[0-9]*" | awk '/ii/{print $2}' | grep -ve "$(uname -r | sed -r 's/-[a-z]+//')")

It worked for me, and cleared out a good 6 GB or so of old kernel files, which made a big difference on my 24GB SSD (I went from 73% full to 45% full). I'd recommend only doing this after you've confirmed that the newest kernel works, and even then, you might want to modify it slightly to keep the second last kernel just in case.

This also made a big difference in my /boot partition, which is about 500 MB. This is in fact what led me to find this, as I'd been getting error messages upon boot about /boot being nearly full and went to investigate. After removing the extra kernels, I'm back down only 29 MB full on /boot. Nice!


2) SSD Trim

If you ever use Ubuntu on an SSD drive (as I do), your performance will slow overtime unless you periodically run the 'fstrim' command (e.g. in a daily cron job) to send SSD delete commands for removed files. I definitely noticed a drop in performance over the last year, and have been trying to diagnose why when I came across this little gem.

Since then I've started running fstrim, I've definitely noticed an improvement. The first time I ran it, it sent about 7GB worth of "deletes". They are supposed to add this in 14.04, but it's not in as of 13.10 (or 12.04, which is what I use).

Full instructions and information are in the link below. Enjoy!