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November 21, 2014

Bustronome: A New Way to See Paris

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

Tourists in Paris have a plethora of ways of seeing the sites of the city, including bicycles, tricycles and Velibs, buses, cars -- including driving your own Maserati sports car or sitting in the uncomfortable back seat of a Citroen CV -- Segways, rickshaws and mini-trains. In this crowded field comes a new refreshing way to see the Paris in a luxury bus like no other before. 

bustronomeBustronome is a custom-built bus that serves multi-course gourmet lunches and dinners while touring the highlights of Paris. 

We were a little curious about how a tour like this worked so we chose the night tour, which started at 7:45 pm on Ave. Kleber right off the Place Etoile/Charles DeGaulle. Standing almost three stories high the big, shiny bus awaited us. We were escorted to the second floor, where tables were set with fine china. In the center of each table was a Lucite structure to hold the glassware, so we were relieved that we wouldn’t have red wine spilling on our laps. We were immediately offered a glass of Champagne and relaxed before the bus took off, taking in the 360-degree view of the Arc de Triomphe from the glass-wrapped terrace around us.

The bus departed at 7:55 pm and slowly circulated the streets, touring the Champs Elysees, Trocadero, the Eiffel Tower (timed on the hour so we were able to see the glitter lights sparkle), the Champs de Mars, the Opera Garnier, Musée d’Orsay, the Grand Palais, the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame. A lavish six-course meal was served during the almost three-hour tour. The winter menu by chef Vincent Thiesse consisted of smaller plates, including a porcini mushroom custard, a sea scallop carpaccio garnished with grapefruit and pistachio, turbot fillet with a pumpkin and safran sauce, roasted veal with potatoes, Cabecou -- a soft goat cheese from the Midi-Pyrenees -- and a pineapple and passion fruit cheesecake. The bus moved at a leisurely pace so that it never felt bumpy, even though the glassware rattled somewhat on the cobblestone streets. 

Another thoughtful feature of the service was instead of having the historical information about the sites blaring through the speakers, on the back of the menu was a map of the different points of interest. You were given an electronic pointer so you could tap on each spot of the map and it would automatically dispense the history through a speaker in the pointer. 

Bustronome is available seven days a week and offers two-hour lunch tours from 12 pm to 2 pm for 95 euros per person with drinks, including Champagne, wine, and coffee or tea, or 65 euros without. Dinner service is two and a half hours from 7:45 pm to 10:15 pm for 125 euros per person with drinks or 85 euros without. The good news is Bustronome can prepare a vegan menu and can also do private or customized tours. 

Bustronome is a luxurious an unhurried way to experience the splendors of Paris. 

Visit www.bustronome.com

November 19, 2014

Just Back: Delano Las Vegas' Bathhouse Spa

delano batthouse spa

Recently I got a chance to visit the newly renovated and renamed Delano Las Vegas, where I got to swing by the Bathhouse Spa. And even in a city famous for its indulgences, this spa has some noteworthy perks.

The Treatments

The Bathhouse Spa's new menu uses locally sourced ingredients, including cacti and wildflowers, as well as other elements from the desert. For example, immune-boosting "Milk and Honey" treatments feature edible raw bee pollen from the Mohave region.

I would have loved to try one of the Global Journeys, a series of treatments reflecting traditional rituals from regions where Morgans Hotel Group has hotels, including Asia, India, Europe and a "Taste from the Islands." Each "journey," which can run for as long as four-and-a-half hours, incorporates a holistic menu of treatments and ends with a cup of tea paired from the region for which the journey is named.

But since time was limited, I opted for the 50-minute Desert Stone massage, which used hot stones and two local oils for a sense of place. My therapist, Sudo, had wonderfully deft hands and did a terrific job soothing all the tense muscles--even focusing on my neck when I said it was particularly sore. 

For a seasonal treatment, visitors can try the warm apple cider massage (which we hear increases circulation and soothes muscles) or a pumpkin spice facial. There's also a Plum Pie Pedicure that uses a plum-spice foot scrub and a whipped body cream.

The Spa 

The Bathhouse has 12 treatment rooms on two levels, as well as several pre- and post-therapy spaces that are worth arriving early or staying late to enjoy. Much of the lighting comes from the floor, creating plenty of shadows and easing eyestrain. (It's nice to not have lights glaring right into your eyes.) The single-sex lounge has snacks and drinks (including coffee--a blessing for early-morning treatments), as well as several plunge pools. (Good to know: The pools are clothing-optional.) The steam room is especially soothing, with eucalyptus-scented steam and low lighting for a very relaxing atmosphere. Next time I'm there, I'll explore the sauna and plunge pools properly--it's definitely worth spending an extra hour just to take advantage of all the perks

Agents can make reservations for Bathhouse Spa by calling 877-632-9636. Day passes for the Spa are available to all Delano Las Vegas and MGM Resorts International hotel guests. 

October 27, 2014

Opening and Reopening of Two Major Art Institutions: Fondation Louis Vuitton and Musee Picasso

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

Fall 2014 in Paris has been abuzz with anticipation of an opening of a new major art institution and a long awaited re-opening of a favorite Paris museum. 

Bernard Arnault, CEO of Louis Vuitton, and one of the richest men in France with an estimated fortune of $60 billion, spent 13 years realizing his dream of opening a private museum in Paris. Arnault chose world-famous American architect, Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain and the Walt Disney Opera House in Los Angeles, to fulfill his vision of the Fondation Louis Vuitton

The striking building located in the peaceful Bois de Boulogne Park on the outskirts of Paris has 12 architectural sails with 3,600 glass panels, nicknamed “the iceberg”. Gehry took inspiration for the design from the Grand Palais, the massive glass structure from the 1900 Paris Worlds Fair. It took 100 engineers and 3,000 workers to complete the complicated and complex design. The inside contains 13,000 square feet of exhibition space with 11 galleries. The galleries will mostly feature works borrowed from Arnault’s highly regarded and extensive private collection. The final estimated cost of the project was 143 million euros. 

The building of the museum came with controversy as many local residents protested that it would remove precious green space from the pristine parkland. Although it is a private museum, it was donated to the city for 50 years. 

After five years and extensive delays, the Picasso museum has reopened its doors. Originally launched in 1985 in a then-abandoned and dilapidated former 17th century palace once owned by salt tax collector, the museum became a big tourist attraction and helped transform the run down Marais area into one of the most desirable areas of the city. 

After Picasso’s death in 1973, the family donated over 5,000 works to the state in lieu of paying inheritance taxes. 

The reopening on October 25 was timed for Picasso’s birthday and President Hollande was present at the festivities. 

The renovation cost 52 million euros and the museum has now tripled its exhibition space by moving the offices and administration to an alternate building. It houses the largest collection in the world of Picasso’s work. 
 
Fondation Louis Vuitton
8 Ave. du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, 75116 
Open everyday except Tuesday 
Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday 12PM-7PM
Friday till 11PM
Saturday & Sunday 11AM-8PM
http://www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/en.html

Musee Picasso 
5 Rue de Thorigny, 75003
Open Tuesday to Friday 11:30AM-6PM, Saturday & Sunday 9:30AM-6PM 
http://www.museepicassoparis.fr/en/

Posted in: France , Sight-seeing

October 07, 2014

On Site: Two Unique Group Activities in Las Vegas

Dig This Las Vegas

I'm on location in Las Vegas, and had the chance to try two decidedly unique group activities here for those who like to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. (Well, a little dirty.)

Dig This is, so I've heard, the country's first heavy-equipment playground. You know how some medicines warn against operating heavy machinery after using? This is what they're talking about.

Visitors can, after a quick introduction (and a breathalyzer test--they're not kidding about those medicines!) hop into a bulldozer or excavator to dig holes and push dirt around in a yard. (It's a great teambuilding activity, and companies like Google and Facebook have reportedly stopped by to run machines around the yard.) The drivers are connected via headset to an instructor at all times, so no worries about not knowing how to stop this crazy thing or running into another operator's space.

The excavators were especially popular, and two other attendees and I practiced picking up basketballs and dropping them into tires to show off our newly learned dexterity. (It's amazing that a machine capable of digging into hard-packed earth can be so precise and gentle that it can be used for a basketball game.)

Call 702-222-4344 and ask for Dave, Mark or Junior when booking. (They're great instructors.)

Once we were good and dusty (and quite proud of ourselves for playing basketball with a 15-ton excavator), we headed over to the Cosmopolitan, one of the newer resorts, which has a great range of high-end restaurants.

Jaleo is an authentic Spanish restaurant with a massive paella grill in the middle of the room, where diners can watch their to-order rice dishes be prepared from scratch. Even better, they can participate (with advanced reservations) and make their own paella while sipping sangria and sampling tapas. (The dish takes a little less than an hour to make, and the guests can be as involved--or uninvolved--as they like in the process.)

While preparing the dish, we learned about Spanish cuisine and about how head chef Jose Andres combines traditional cooking styles with local Southwestern produce. (As many ingredients as possible are locally sourced, and nothing is pre-made, including the chicken stock.)  And the final product is simply fantastic.

Tip: While the cocktail is not traditionally Spanish, Jaleo makes some of the best gin-and-tonics I've ever tasted. Be sure to order one.

Bonus: This is one of the few restaurants I've seen in the U.S. with a traditional genuine jamon iberico (traditional Spanish style of cured ham) available for sampling.

Contact Robert Jarrett (robert.jarrett@cosmopolitanlasvegas.com) for reservations and with any questions. 

Today, we're off to explore the Downtown area and the Fremont Street Experience. Stay tuned!

September 22, 2014

Best Bargain Lunches in Paris Under 25 Euros

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

We know dining in Paris can be expensive and the top starred restaurants command a 300-400 euro price tag per person for dinner. We have gathered a list of some of our favorite bargain restaurants that serve excellent two and three course lunches for less than 25 euros per person, half the price of one appetizer at a star restaurant. You’ll discover that dining well in Paris doesn’t have to break the bank. 

RELATED: A Quick Guide to Types of Parisian Eating Establishments

Le ReminetLe Reminet 

Located on charming street in the Latin Quarter close to the Seine, Le Reminet tops our list of the best bargain lunch in Paris. For a mere 14.90 euros you can indulge in a three-course lunch with more than ample portions. You are given two choices for each course with appetizer offering a salad or soup, main course offering a fish or meat and a dessert or cheese course. We sampled a piquant sweet potato soup spiced with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg to start with followed by a plump chicken breast cooked in its own juices served with fettuccine. For dessert we split a lovely plate of Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, and chevre cheese with salad and a scrumptious cream puff stuffed with vanilla pastry cream. 

The atmospheric interior has crystal chandeliers, deep plum walls, velvet banquettes, and gold gilt mirrors. 

Le Reminet
3 rue des Grands Degres, 75005
Open everyday 12PM-3pm, 
14.90 pre-fix is only served Monday to Friday
Reservations recommended 01 44 07 
http://www.lereminet.com/

Le Bar A Huitres

Le Bar A Huitres

Seafood and oyster lovers will revel in the freshest, mostly local caught fish at Le Bar a Hutires. Outside, waiters are preparing the famous raw seafood platters by piling oysters, clams, lobsters and crabs on silver platters with crushed ice. 

The Parisian Lunch menu at 26 euros per person is offered Monday to Saturday and includes an extensive list for the starter and main course. Appetizers include classic French fish soup, grilled sardines, 6 Grand Cru oysters, escargot, and for the main course, Mussels in white wine sauce, Label Rouge Scottish salmon, North Atlantic cod, and for non-seafood eaters, Steak Tartare. Dessert is a mini-three-course affair, the Coffee Plaisir, with a cup of espresso, chocolate mousse, and a cat’s tongue butter cookie.  It’s a luxurious dining experience with fine white china and table linens, and crystal wine glasses. 

Le Bar A Huitres has four locations in Paris. 

Open daily for lunch. 
http://www.lebarahuitres.com/uk/index.php

Pierre Sang 

If you want to hang with the hipsters, head to Pierre Sang Boyer in the trendy Oberkampf area. No reservations are taken, so diners start lining up at 11:45 to snare a spot at the counter-seating-only restaurant for lunch. Song has adapted the latest food concept in Paris, the surprise menu: diners are not offered a choice of dishes, only a single dish for each course, and the twist is they are only told what they ate after the dish is served. The chef is sympathetic to food allergies and restrictions, so you can make your request known before you order. The menu changes daily, so even if you return to the restaurant, you will never eat the same dish twice. 

Song is Korean and has worked in restaurants in France and England before he opened his Paris location, combining east and west flavors together in a creative manor. 

A two-course lunch is 20 euros and three courses 25 euros. For adventurous eaters only, picky eaters stay home. 

55 rue Oberkampf, 75011 
Open Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 12PM to 2PM 
http://pierresangboyer.com/en/

Assanabel 

France has a large Lebanese population and the two countries have close ties. Authentic Lebanese restaurants are in most areas in the city and we discovered a terrific one in the St. Germain area. Assanabel offers a full range of Lebanese delights but their specialty is the mezze plate, a smattering of different appetizers served on one platter. We shared the mezze platter for 37 euros for two people and the hot and cold appetizers included hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, lemon marinated chicken wings, an assortment of savory pastries, and falafel.

The lunch was satisfying and delicious and there was no need for a main course. A tray of almonds soaked in water, pickled turnips, and green olives and a silver dish with thin flatbread and pita bread was served before the meal. Dessert was a platter of fresh cut refreshing watermelon, perfect for cutting the spicy aftertaste of the lunch. 

38 rue Jacob, 75006 
Tel. 01 42 96 89 85
Lunch is served 7 days a week

Posted in: France , Restaurants

August 21, 2014

Inside the Five-Star Molitor Pool and Hotel

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

Nestled in a quiet upscale residential area next to the Bois de Boulogne Park and the Roland Garros Tennis Center is the latest five-star concept hotel in Paris, The Molitor

molitor pool

The focal point and basis of the new hotel is the Molitor Pool, a legendary Art Deco pool built in 1929. It became one of the most beloved pools of Paris till 1989 when it was closed by the city but ironically designated as an historical monument. Graffiti artists had their way with the pool and created elaborate works of art. 

The pool has a rich history behind it: Olympic winner and star of the Tarzan films, Johnny Weissmuller inaugurated the pool along with being a lifeguard. It was also the site for the debut of the bikini in 1946, designed by Louis Reard. In the book and film Life of Pi, the main character Patel is named Pi after Piscine Molitor. 

RELATED: Ice Cream Shops in Paris

molitor

In August 2007, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe accepted bids from three companies for the renovation of the pool. The Accor Hotel Group won the bid and proceeded to completely rebuild the pool and added a luxury hotel, spa and pool club. 

The hotel and rebuilt pool opened in May, and is one of the more unique hotel properties in Paris. It’s a resort paradise far enough away from the commercial center, but still only a 15-minute taxi ride. There are now two pools, the outdoor heated one measuring 150 ft. long, and the indoor one measuring 108 ft. 

molitor

The 104 rooms and 20 suites, managed by the MGallery, from the signature collection of Accor Group, are luxuriously minimalist, decorated in tasteful soft shades of white and gray. Interior designer and architect Philippe Nuel has sumptuously appointed the restaurant, bar, and lobby lounge areas with an eclectic mix of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern furniture. A room divider of milk glass panels was salvaged from the famed former department store Le Samaritane and beautiful reproductions of the original Art Deco stained glass panels are from 1929 and have depictions of bathers and sail boats. 

In the spirit of the former graffiti that covered the pool before it was rebuilt, the hotel has a commitment to forward and display the work of street artists, with a reception room on the lower level featuring murals painted by various street artists.

Yannick Alleno, one of the most sought after chefs in Paris, who was the head chef at the Le Meurice Hotel, created the menu for the indoor and poolside restaurant. A rooftop terrace has also has a restaurant, lounge, and garden area with a panoramic view of the city.

The facility has a Clarins Spa and state of the art gym. There is limited membership available to the spa, pool and gym for residents but one can also obtain a day pass for 180 euros. 

The motto of the hotel is Pool, Art, Life! A perfect description. 

Molitor Hotel and Pool 
8 Ave. de la Porte Molitor, 75016
http://www.mltr.fr/en

July 28, 2014

Ice Cream Shops in Paris

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

It’s summertime in Paris and what better way to beat the heat than to enjoy the extravagant, delicious, and sophisticated ice cream the city has to offer. 

RELATED: Excursions Outside of Paris: Cooking Classes at Chateau de la Barbee in Loire Valley

Here are some of our favorites. 

pierre hermePierre Herme

Master macaron maker Pierre Herme branched out a few years ago to produce a line of ice creams and sorbets. Of course the specialty of the house is whipped ice cream with mini-macarons floating on the top. Traditional flavors include Tahitian vanilla, lemon, and Brazilian coffee, and if you have a more exotic palate, go for the Mogador, milk chocolate, passion fruit, and pineapple, Isaphan, litchi, rose, and raspberry, or the Celeste, rhubarb, strawberry and passion fruit. If you’re feeling nostalgic and miss the old fashioned Good Humor ice cream sandwiches, Pierre Herme has an updated version, the glamorous Miss Gla Gla. Packaged in an elegant shiny silver box, two layers of delicate macarons are filled with pistachio and raspberry sorbet, and fresh mint and red berry sorbet, among other flavors. 

Pierre Herme expands on his deliciousness this summer by having his ice cream creations served on the lovely, enchanting terrace of the Raffles Royal Monceau Hotel

72 rue Bonaparte, 75006 
Open seven days 10AM to 7PM 

Raffles Royal Monceau Hotel
37 Ave. Hoche, 75008 

berthillon

Berthillon 

The most popular and beloved ice cream in Paris, Berthillon has become a classic, must do/must taste when visiting the Ile St. Louis. Since 1954, Berthillon has been scooping out freshly made, all natural ice creams and sorbets (no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or stabilizers) to millions of loyal fans that patiently wait on long lines to savor the legendary taste. The original shop has a takeout window serving cones and cups but also has a tea salon offering ice cream sundaes, pastries, hot chocolate, and ice cream cakes. If you like more unusual flavors try lavender, foie gras, praline, lemon, and coriander, or chestnut, or stick to the heavenly salted butter caramel. Berthillon is also available at other shops and cafes all over the city. 

29-31 rue Saint Louis en L’ile, 75004 
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10AM to 6PM 

amorinoAmorino 

If you’re hankering for gelato instead ice cream, Amorino is the premier gelato brand of Paris. Started 12 years ago by two best friends, they aimed to bring the freshest and most authentic Italian gelato to Paris. Their hand packed cones are artfully shaped into layers resembling rose petals. Other products include granitas, crepes, milkshakes, hot waffles, gelato cakes, macarons, chocolates, and foccacina, sweet brioche filled with gelato. There are 23 Amorino locations in Paris. 

http://www.amorino.com/en/

 

Posted in: France , Restaurants

June 26, 2014

Excursions Outside of Paris: Cooking Classes at Chateau de la Barbee in Loire Valley

Less than two-hours from Paris is a magical land filled with fairy-tale chateaus, quaint medieval villages, and some of the finest wines in France. The Loire Valley has always been a magnet for visitors and a great way to experience it is by staying in an authentic chateau and learning French cooking.

Mary Pochez, a southern California ex-pat has lived in France for over 30 years. After living the in fast lane of Paris for 25 years, she and her French husband Xavier were looking for a quieter life in the countryside and moved permanently to Xavier’s family owned chateau in the Loire, where they had spent many weekends and summers. Chateau de la Barbee has been in Xavier’s family since 1790 and the sprawling estate is over 1200 acres with a working farm, private chapel, and authentic orangerie. Located at kilometer 101, Chateau de la Barbee is on the Voie de la Liberte, "Liberty Way," which is the road that General Patton and the Allied forces took on their lightning campaign from Normandy into Paris.

Mary learned the art of traditional French cooking and the proper way to entertain by her mother-in-law, who was a countess. After preparing extravagant dinner parties and lunches for hundreds of guests over the years, she decided to share her knowledge and love of French cooking with outside guests.

Appropriately called La Vie du Chateau, Mary is offering a three-day weekend culinary program and a six-day program.

The three-day program includes a wine and cheese party, a welcome aperitif and dinner, three cooking classes- one demonstration class and two hands on classes, and a visit to the local fresh food market in La Fleche, an historic medieval village.

For the six-day program, La Vie du Chateau offers an extended version of the three-day program which also includes a wine tour and tasting, a visiting pastry and sauce chef, lunch on the Loir river, an excursion to Angers, and a wine and food pairing class.

Both programs include staying at the chateau. 

The good news is that La Vie du Chateau will be offering classes in July and August when most culinary classes in the area are closed for summer holiday.

Guests also learn the history of the chateau, along with planning a menu, preparing a cheese platter, and wine and food pairing. The goal of La Vie du Chateau is to help you learn the basics of French cooking and master dishes you can prepare in your own home.

Visit: www.lavieduchateau.com

 

 

Posted in: culinary/cooking , Europe , France

May 23, 2014

Paris Parks and Gardens

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.

The beauty of Paris in the spring is heightened by the magnificence of the parks and gardens in bloom around the city. One of the most pleasurable activities you can experience is a stroll through one of the parks and settling yourself on a chair to enjoy. 

RELATED: Top Paris Museum Shows for Spring 2014

luxembourg gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

The quintessential Parisian park, Luxembourg Gardens is one of the most beautiful and visited parks in Paris. The original gardens were an extension of a Florentine style palace built in 1611 for Maria de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV

Situated on 55 acres in the heart of the St. Germain area of Paris, the gardens include a formal garden in the center, a pond to float toy sailboats, which are available to rent, tennis courts, a marionette theater, a carousel, pony rides for children, cafes, a gazebo for musical performances, and most unusual of all, a bee apiary. The gardens also contain a statuary of over 100 sculptures including figures of writers, artists, historical figures, and special section with the Queens of France. 

The centerpiece of the gardens is the Medici Fountain, a quiet oasis that resembles an Italian grotto featuring statues from Greek mythology. 

bagatelle gardensBagatelle Gardens

World renowned for its magnificent rosebushes with over 1,200 varieties, the Bagatelle Gardens has run an annual rose contest since 1907. Part of the largest park in Paris, the Bois de Boulogne, the Bagatelle Gardens have an adjoining neoclassical Chateau built as hunting lodge in 1720. Built on a dare and wager by Marie Antoinette, the chateau was constructed in a record time period of three months and owned by Comte d’Artois, brother of Louis XV

In later years, the chateau was acquired by the city of Paris in 1905 and the gardens were created by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, the Commissioner of Gardens for the city of Paris. 

Every June and July the chateau hosts a series of Chopin concerts. 

tuileries

The Tuileries 

One of the most beloved parks in Paris, The Tuileries was also the grounds for an historic royal palace. After the death of her husband Henry II in 1559, Catherine De Medici started to build Tuileries Palace in 1564. In 1660 under the reign of Louis XIV, Andre Le Notre, who also designed the classic gardens of Versailles, redesigned the gardens. During the Paris Commune in 1870, the palace was burned down and all that remains today are the gardens and two structures, The Orangerie, which now houses the magnificent Monet water lily paintings, and the Jeu de Paume museum of photography. 

Today The Tuileries features attractions such as restaurants and cafes, sailboat rentals, ice cream stands, sculpture gardens, and twice a year a tent is setup for Fashion Week shows. In summer the gardens host am amusement park with rides including a Ferris wheel, a Fun House, a carousel, games of chance, and cotton candy. 

May 02, 2014

On Location at Walt Disney World: Learning About MyMagic+ and MagicBands

I’m on location at the Walt Disney World Resort to learn more about some new developments here, including MyMagic+, a major new high-tech initiative from Disney that may well have a wide-reaching impact on the resort scene. 

The most visible element of MyMagic+ is the new “MagicBand,” the latest accessory everyone is wearing this spring in OrlandoReplacing several variations of paper or plastic cards and tickets (and even cash), the MagicBands can be worn like bracelets and use an RFID signal to serve as an all-purpose pass around the resort. When guests check in to their hotels, they get the bands instead of a room key. When they arrive at one of the theme parks or attractions, they tap a discrete post to enter. When they arrive at a ride, they tap again. When they shop in one of the stores or dine in one of the resort restaurants, they can tap to pay with a linked credit card. And when one of the official photographers throughout the resort snaps a photo, they will also tap the band to link the pictures to the right subject for easy downloads later. 

RELATED: Lynn Clark Named Disney's VP Travel Agency Sales and National Accounts

    
Design details: The MagicBand is adjustable and has a peel-away layer to make the band small enough to fit young children. Parents and kids who visit MyDisneyExperience.com before their trip can personalize their MagicBands by selecting one of seven colors and having names etched on the inside of the band. At the resort, guests can add accessories that are sold in shops to their bands, including plenty of bling elements. 

Security details: The MagicBand uses radio frequency technology when being used as a room key or ticket to parks or attractions. When using the bands for purchases, guests must use a PIN for added security. The bands are not GPS enabled and cannot be used for tracking. (They can, however, be used to help reunite separated children and parents.) Disney says that guests’ personal data is not stored in the MagicBand. “MagicBands and RF-enabled cards contain only a randomly assigned code that securely links to an encrypted database and associates the guest’s MagicBand or ticket with the experiences they’ve selected,” the company said in a statement, adding that “extensive measures” are in place to protect guest information—“a responsibility Disney takes very seriously.”

MyMagic+

The MagicBands are part of the launch of MyMagic+ as a multi-element platform that also includes the upgrade from Disney’s previous FastPass program to FastPass+, the My Disney Experience mobile app and website and the PhotoPass Memory Maker. 

RELATED DEAL: New B Resort in Walt Disney World Announces Introductory Offer

At a media gathering to explain the expansion and new developments, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts CEO Tom Staggs (above) called the new services “immersive, seamless and personal.” Disney has doubled its attractions in the FastPass program (including viewing areas for parades and meet & greets with characters), and the app and website will let individuals, families and friends reserve access to more areas both before departure and on-the-fly. And since all reservations are made online (whether from a computer or via the app), there is no need to get paper tickets in order to skip the line. Just show up within the designated window (generally an hour), tap and enter.

Good to know: While some attractions still have a bit of a wait time, the resort team is finding ways to make the wait less boring. At the Dumbo ride, once parents and kids check in they collect a buzzer (much like restaurants do), and the kids can play in an air-conditioned tent while the parents relax and watch them until the buzzer calls them up for the ride. (Of course, the parents can always play while the kids relax and watch. Whatever works.)

Each member of a family can make a profile on www.mydisneyexperience.com, Gary Daniels, Disney’s director of product management, explained, and can manage their itineraries and passes individually or as a group. Friends can also link their accounts and profiles to share itineraries or parts of itineraries, which will auto-update across everyone’s phone instantly. 

The Memory Maker option, which can be booked for $149 before arrival or $199 afterwards, lets guests take unlimited pictures across the resort with official photographers, letting the whole family be in the picture together. The photographer scans the wristbands after each photo session and uploads the pictures automatically. When they log in to their account, guests can order print copies of their favorite shots and download unlimited copies. 

The early response to the improvements has been positive, Staggs said, noting that since FastPass+ rolled out, it has seen a usage increase of 40 percent over the previous version.

And new additions to the program may take that number even higher. In the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest is a restaurant that is serving as a prototype for how different businesses throughout the park can work with both FastPass+ and the MagicBands. Guests not only make reservations for dining times at the restaurant, but can look over menus and select their meals before arrival. When they come in, the staff greets each guest by name and escorts them to a table, and the food arrives shortly afterwards. When they are finished, the guests pay by tapping their wristbands and can walk right out. So far, only Be Our Guest offers this option, and there is no word yet on how long the testing phase will last or if it will expand to other restaurants.

MyMagic+ and MagicBands are available to guests at Disney Resort hotels and Walt Disney World Passholders. Guests staying off-site (and who don’t have passes) will get a card to use much as they would the band, or they can purchase a wristband upon arrival and link it to their account.