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July 15, 2017

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Preview, Part 2

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The 22nd Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is running 75 days this year, starting on August 31 and carrying on until November 13. Booking for the festival's premium experiences starts on July 20 (or July 18 for certain guests). This weekend saw not one but two previews for this culinary extravaganza -- the Media Preview, followed by annual Tables in Wonderland-hosted preview event.

Lucky me, I was able to attend both! Here's my recap of what I learned at the Tables in Wonderland event. (You can find my thoughts on the media preview HERE.)

First things first -- something all of you who plan to visit during the festival this year should know. While booking for the special dining experiences (Party for the Senses, Signature Dining, culinary demos/beverage seminars, etc.) opens to the general public at 7 a.m. (Eastern) on July 20, EARLY BOOKING opens for select "affinity" groups on July 18! On that date Annual Passholders, Golden Oak Residents, Tables in Wonderland Members, and DVC members can book ALL events starting at 9 a.m. (Eastern). In addition, the above-mentioned groups can receive a $2 discount on beverage seminars and culinary demonstrations for Monday through Thursday only. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378) to book these events. (Also, some events may be booked online at epcotfoodfestival.com.)

Among the other important news items that were announced at this preview, Marianne Hunnel, content development manager for the Food and Wine Festival, revealed that changes were being made to the grand tasting events known as Party for the Senses. This year, Hunnel said, the decor for the parties, which are held in the World Showplace in Epcot, will be updated. In addition, there will be seating for everyone, not just those who pay extra for the premium seating areas. There will be five of these parties over the course of the festival, with two themed evenings: on September 23, chefs from Disney Springs restaurants will be featured, while on October 21, chefs from the Disney Parks will be in the spotlight. The other party dates are October 7 and 14, and November 11.

Signature dining experiences once again extend into the Disney resort hotels, with several returning favorites, such as the Trader Sam's Grog Grotto event. There are also a number of special luncheons and dinners at restaurants around the World, from in-park locations like Tiffins to Morimoto Asia and STK at Disney Springs.

Unfortunately, no additional information was available for the culinary demonstrations, beverage seminars, or Mix It, Make It, Celebrat It! workshops -- that is, we still don't know which chef or winemaker will be appearing on which dates or times. We hope that info becomes available soon, since early booking is just a few days away!

The expanded duration of the festival means that the number of Eat to the Beat Concerts has been increased, too. This year, there will be 11 new acts performing, and a total of 32 acts altogether, a figure that entertainment coordinator Stacey Simmons called "the most ever." Newcomers to the festival include country singer Lauren Alaina, the Hooters, 10,000 Maniacs and personal favorites American Authors (you have to love their song, "Best Day of My Life") and '80s legends Squeeze. (Yes, you will find me as close to the front row as I can get during their shows!)

Notable for its absence this year is the Chase Lounge, which for the past few years has provided an appreciated respite for Disney Chase Visa and Debit Card holders. Also missing this year was any mention of the popular Tasting Sampler package, which allowed you to buy eight sample "coupons" in advance to use at will. Last year's Rockin' Burger Block Party and the Yelloween events are also not on the schedule.

But of course there is more about the food! Culinary director Gregg Hannon said that there will be about 39 new menu items at the marketplaces, in fact. There were quite a few more samples at the Tables in Wonderland preview than I'd had at the media preview, and I made sure I found my way to all of them. To wit:

Seafood Salad with shrimp, bay scallops and mussels will be found in the Spain marketplace.

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The Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip with brown bread was oh so good -- so good that you wanted to drink it like a soup! (And I may or may not have been guilty of that...)

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The Chocolate Picante from the Flavors from Fire marketplace is a very rich, dark chocolate mousse with cayenne pepper, chili powder and raspberry dust. Way better than I expected it to be.

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Also from that marketplace, the Sweet Pancake with Spicy Chipotle Chicken Sausage and Onion Jam, with Maple Butter Syrup, was a mixed bag. Loved the chicken sausage -- it had just enough kick, and its savoriness contrasted well with the sweet syrup. The pancake, however, was heavy and rather flavorless.

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I liked the Banana-Almond Soft-Serve Sundae with berries and crunchy chocolate oats well enough. You'll find in the new Almond Orchard marketplace (sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds).

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It may not photograph that well, but I really enjoyed the Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew with vegan yogurt and quinoa. The entire dish is vegan, I believe, and though it's billed as "spicy" I felt it had just the amount of heat to make it interesting.

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A real surprise was the Pomegranate Beer, made by the same folks (Schoffenhofer Hefeweizen) who brought you the popular grapefruit beer you'll find in Epcot's Germany pavilion (and elsewhere, I'm sure). The pretty pink beverage was light and refreshing, even to this non-beer drinker.

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It's hard to make some drinks look interesting in photos, but for the sake of comprehensiveness, I will tell you that I also tried the Cucumber and Lemon-Lime "Hard" Water (5% alcohol), the Black Raspberry Mead (ick), the Liberated Pinot Noir (meh), the Sparkling Pineapple Wine, the New Zealand Frozen Wine Cocktail (with Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc), and the refreshing RGB: Citrus Apple Freeze, which will be part of the Light Lab (see Part 1 of this blog) and is supposed to turn colors from Red to Green to Blue (RGB, get it?) depending on the lighting.

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So, that's about all we know about the 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival for now. For more details on the signature dining events and other dining experiences, be sure to check out our collection of Food and Wine Festival pages, and don't miss our reviews from last year to get an idea of what to expect.

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival General Info

Marketplace Menus for 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Special Ticketed Food and Wine Festival Events

Culinary Demos, Beverage Seminars, Mix It Make It!

2017 Eat to the Beat Concerts Announced!

The Chew Returns to Food and Wine Festival; Launches Sweepstakes






July 14, 2017

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Preview, Part 1

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The 22nd Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is running an unprecedented 75 days this year, starting on August 31 and carrying on until November 13. Booking for the festival's premium experiences starts on July 20 (or July 18 for a few events for certain guests). This weekend sees not one but two previews for this culinary extravaganza -- today was the first, the Media Preview, followed by tomorrow's annual Tables in Wonderland-hosted preview event.

Lucky me, I get to attend both!

I thought I'd share a little of what I learned so far with you -- highlights of what's new, along with photos and other details. Later, after the Tables in Wonderland preview, I'll fill you in on the rest of the currently available information.

Our presentation, which was held in World Showplace, began with remarks from Melissa Valiquette, vice president of Epcot, and Epcot's Executive Chef and culinary director Gregg Hannon.

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As they both remarked, this year not only marks the 22nd annual Food and Wine Festival, but coincides with Epcot's 35th anniversary (on October 1). In observance of that, the number 35 comes into play in several ways -- there will be, for example, 35 global marketplaces scattered around Epcot's World Showcase and into Future World. There will also be an exhibit in The Odyssey dedicated to the theme park's 35th that will run the entire length of the festival. By the way, food items in the Odyssey, which houses the Craft Beer marketplace, will be throwbacks to the early days of Epcot. Look for some old favorites to resurface.

Of course the main focus of the festival is the food and beverages!

Based on the sampling of items we were treated to, I have to say I'm really excited about what's new this year. First of all, there are three global marketplaces returning after absences of from the festival for seven or eight years: India, Thailand and Spain. As a big fan of all three cuisines, I can't wait to try everything these food booths will offer. There are also a number of brand new marketplaces, some of which offer dishes that were available at previous festivals (like the returning Nueske's bacon mac and cheese), along with first-time selections.

I sampled a few things already:

From the NEW marketplaces, many of which are "inspired" by ABC's "The Chew", the lifestyle show whose hosts will once again be attending the festival in early October:

Active Eats: This new marketplace features small plates that are designed to boost and sustain your energy level. I had the chance to try the Sweet Avocado Crema with strawberries, yellow cake and a yummy tortilla streusel.

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Coastal Eats: If you're a seafood lover, this will perhaps be your first destination at the festival. I tried the Seared Scallops with roasted corn and butterbean succotash, and chipotle butter sauce. I'm a huge scallop fan, and while I thought this dish was very good, it seemed to be missing something. Or maybe my tongue was already burned out from the curry and spices I'd already had with other samples. I'll definitely have to give this one another try.

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Flavors from Fire: This marketplace will spotlight foods that have been touched by flame. The item on offer was Smoked Corned Beef with crispy potatoes, pickled onions and blonde ale beer fondue.

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The Light Lab: The festival is attempting to be a bit more "family friendly" this year with a number of new activities. (Look for the "smiling strawberry" icon on this year's festival guide maps to find them!) One of these is the Light Lab, which will feature products, both edible and not, that will glow in the dark.

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In this little exhibit at the preview, a bartender was demonstrating the beverage T=C2 (squared), which was vanilla tonic water poured over cotton candy. Yes, it was was sweet as it sounds! Also, this beverage shifts colors depending on where you -- in the dark room it appears to be green. Take it out into the light and it's red! This little science experiment is sure to entertain young and old alike. You can see my short Instagram video of it here:

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Some of the other tasty treats I tried:

From Spain: the savory Charcuterie in a Cone, with Spanish meats, cheeses and olives and the Sweet Olive Oil Cake with powdered sugar and lemon curd. Loved the charcuterie, loved the cake (would be great with a cup of coffee!), but the lemon curd not so much.

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From Thailand: the Red Hot Spicy Thai Curry Beef with rice had a nice kick to it, was one of my favorite "bites" from this preview.

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From India: Madras Red Curry with Roasted Cauliflower, Baby Carrots, Chickpeas and basmati rice was another favorite of mine. This vegetarian option wasn't as spicy hot as I was anticipating, but it just burst with flavor.

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The popular Hawaii marketplace is returning with a dish that is, surprisingly, truly representative of the Hawaiian culture: Teriyaki-glazed SPAM Hash with pototes, peppers, onions and spicy mayo! It seems that the Aloha State loves its tinned meat and now you can try it in an innovatively prepared way:

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The Cheese Studios is also returning, and it has really changed up its trio of cheesy comestibles. There's a profiterole (cream puff) topped with Boursin garlic and herbs cheese and apricot jam; a slightly tangy smoked salmon pinwheel with Boursin shallot and chive cheese; and a strawberry macaron with Boursin pepper cheese. I can't help myself, I love the cheesey goodness!

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I didn't get to try many of the alcoholic offerings -- I was working, after all -- but I did manage a few sips of the new Passport 35 Triple Chocolate Milk Stout from the Florida Beer Company. The aroma of chocolate was obvious, and softened the strong stout -- I think it will be a hit.

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In addition, there was a good overview of the new festival-themed merchandise that will be available. Here's a quick run-through:

I was able to get prices on most of the items mentioned in the video, as well:

The large Dooney & Bourke bags: $318
The Passholder D&B bag: $308
Crossbody D&B bag: $178
D&B WAllet $158

For the Figment fans, and I know there are lots of you out there:

The adorable Figment ear hat is $24.99.
The new Figment-inspired MagicBand, which has an exclusive theme designed by Dooney & Bourke, is $48.
The Figment t-shirts are $29.99.
Apron: $26.99
Mitt $14.99
Ornament $19.99
Mug: $17.99
Pin: $14.99

As for the Taste Your Way around the World shirts, both men's and women's are $29.99. The design is slightly different for both shirts. New this year, the festival is offering the women's shirts in a few different styles. One is a more fitted shirt, which comes in sizes Small to Extra Large. There are also shirts available in a "curvier" style, in sizes 1X, 2X and 3X.

There's also a new lightweight "hoodie", which features the festival logo on the front and the names of the countries of World Showcase down the sleeves. This was $42.99 and even though it's billed as a "men's" item, is definitely something both genders could (and I'm sure WILL) wear.

Chef Gregg told me that Saturday's Tables in Wonderland preview will have some additional offerings that the media preview didn't offer, so I'm really looking forward to see what else is new. Also, I'm expecting that the TiW event will provide more details about the premium dining experiences that will be on offer, as well as information on booking, packages and more.

So stay tuned for part 2 of my Food and Wine Festival Preview, coming later this weekend!





June 19, 2017

A Little Preview of the Copper Creek Waterside Cabins

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We're now just about a month out from the grand opening of the new Copper Creek Villas & Cabins, the 14th Disney Vacation Club development -- and the second at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. While I like the Wilderness Lodge itself well enough, it's never been my favorite resort at Walt Disney World. I must say, though, after touring the new Copper Creek waterside cabins a few weeks ago, I'm very excited to see these new additions to the DVC open their doors.

Situated on the shore of Bay Lake, the 26 new cabins (sometimes referred to as the "Cascade Cabins") continue and build on the Lodge's overall theme of the Pacific Northwest. When the original Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge were renamed to Boulder Ridge Villas, the idea was to reflect the late-19th century railroad hotels of the American West’s national parks region, with elements that also connected to Walt Disney's love of trains. The new Copper Creek Villas and Cabins expand on that theme, and are also inspired by the legendary mining and railroad history of the Pacific Northwest. The cabins in particular are meant to represent the lakeside homes of the railroad workers.

Deb Wills had a chance to speak with Imagineer Mitch Mioelli, project manager of Copper Creek, a few months ago after a hard-hat tour of the area while under construction and he shared some of resort's back story here:

The two-bedroom cabins accommodate eight, with a master bedroom with king bed, a second bedroom with a queen bed, and a pull-out sofa in the living area that sleeps two. There is also a single (bunk-size) pull-down bed in the queen bedroom and a twin-size sleeper chair in the living room.

The decor of the cabins is what initially caught my attention. While the original lodge is very rustic and dark with heavy wooden touches and a dark, heavy color scheme to match, the cabins are light, bright, and feel very spacious. This is all achieved using natural products -- granite, stone and wood are all very much present, yet they are used in such a way to create what I felt was a "contemporary rustic" atmosphere.

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The moderately open floor plan and subdued blue and light gray colors employed are largely responsible for the bright, airy feeling.

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Light granite countertops are reflected in the shiny stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, which flows seamlessly into the cozy living area. The focal point of this space is the stone hearth and gas fireplace, topped with a rough-hewn log mantel. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in copious amounts of sunshine, and afford scenic views of Bay Lake, which is just steps away.

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Out on the screened-in, wrap-around porch you'll find a gated hot tub as well as a picnic table overlooking the lake, along with a pleasant surprise. There's a special seating area around the corner, so that you can enjoy that gorgeous living room fireplace from the other side! That's right, it's a two-sided fireplace! I could just imagine sitting out there on a cool night (Florida does sometimes get them!), sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or perhaps something stronger, at the end of long park day.

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The bedrooms are equally bright and full of little surprising touches. For one thing, there is so much storage here -- much more than I've seen in other DVC units recently. I'm thinking specifically of the similar waterside Bora Bora Bungalows that opened at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort a few years ago. There are elevated platform beds, which allow for luggage storage underneath, as well as full-sized nightstands and dressers with lots of drawers. The second bedroom has a cushioned window seat, with even more drawer space underneath.

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I also love the decor choices that were made, with artwork that simulates a cross-section of an old tree for example, and lamps with rough-cut chunks of stone as their bases. There was even a highly lacquered, actual cross-section hunk of a tree trunk as wall art hung in the entry way. Exposed wooden beams and iron rails accent the rooms, with butcher block and other wooden finishes throughout the kitchen area.

Ken Potrock, SVP and GM Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney, excitedly agreed with me when I spoke to him about how beautiful I found the cabins. "I love the decor in these cabins and the villas, too," he said. "I really love the colors and I love all the natural elements -- the woods, the stone, all those touches."

"I also love the design of these villas and the cabins," Potrock continued. "Our members told us what they wanted and how they used these spaces and we really listened, from storage space to seating in the living areas. They told us they don't want any old hotel, they want themed hotels. I think with Copper Creek especially we've succeeded in meeting their needs AND their wants."

You can take a short video tour of the Copper Creek Cabins here (along with some sneak peeks of the other Copper Creek Villas and Geyser Point Bar and Grill):

The Copper Creek Cascade Cabins will open on July 17, 2017, along with the rest of the Copper Creek Villas, and are available to rent starting at 87 points per night, or at $1,835 per night (plus tax!) for non-DVC members. (Which means someone wealthy has to adopt me so that I can stay there sometime!)






April 17, 2017

A Trip to the Lost and Found

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I've been visiting Walt Disney World for the better part of 25 years, and I really thought I had seen it all -- ridden every ride, seen every show, stayed at every resort. But during a recent trip, I discovered an area of the World that I had never been to before. The Lost and Found.

Flash back to a few weeks ago. It was a lovely spring morning in Orlando, and I was so happy to be starting Day 3 of a non-working, get-away weekend at Walt Disney World with my husband.

"Uh oh." I heard him say, as he was looking through his wallet. "I think I lost my credit card."

Ugh. I think we all know that sinking feeling, right? After taking a few minutes to mentally retrace his steps, he determined he must have left it the previous evening at the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge, where we'd had a drink before going inside the restaurant for dinner.

I looked at the time -- not even 9 a.m. I didn't think anyone would be at the restaurant yet, but thought it might be worth trying to call over there. I knew that lost items would eventually be sent to the central Lost and Found location, but because each of the parks has its own Lost and Found at Guest Relations, I hoped that maybe they still had the card there. There was no answer when we called the restaurant's direct line, so we headed over to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Once there, we split up -- my husband went to the restaurant while I waited in line at Guest Relations. After a few minutes, he rejoined me, empty-handed. When I got to the front of the line a cast member told me we were too late -- all lost items had already been sent on to Central Lost and Found. In fact, they were probably sent after park closing the night before. She gave me their card and told me to call them some time after 1 p.m.

Which of course we did. At the stroke of 1 o'clock my husband called and gave his info to the cast member. After a few tense moments while the cast member looked around, I saw a smile spread over my husband's face. The wayward card had been found! The cast member told my husband to come over no later than 7 p.m. that night to retrieve the card at the Central Lost and Found location at the Transportation and Ticket Center.

Secure in the knowledge that our credit card was secure, we were able to enjoy the rest of the day, soaking up the sunshine and the glorious Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. By the time 5 o'clock rolled around, my husband was anxious to pick up his card.

"I'll go, you don't have to come," he told me. That's when I realized I had no idea where he was going beyond "over to the TTC." "Are you kidding?" I replied. "In the name of Research, I MUST see the Lost and Found center!"

We took the monorail over to the TTC, but weren't sure exactly where to go from there. If there was a sign, we didn't see it, and the card we had said only "on the east side" of the TTC. Which way was east?

We walked toward the trams to the parking lots and looked right, then left.

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Aha! Over to the left, my husband spied a sign.

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We followed the arrow, and a short distance ahead of us we saw it -- Central Lost and Found.

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It's a quiet location, as you might guess -- not a lot of activity over there, and there also didn't seem to be an overabundance of staff. There was a family ahead of us, hoping against hope to find their teenage son's prescription sunglasses that he'd left... well, somewhere. No luck, but they filled out a form hopefully so that they could be contacted if the glasses turned up.

As they left, my husband told the cast member that he was there to claim his credit card and that he'd been told it was in Vault 24. The cast member disappeared to locate the mysterious "vault," which gave me the chance to look around the room.

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Very utilitarian, but with cute Disney touches and a spacious, if not plush, waiting area.

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Finally, the cast member returned, had my husband show his ID and then sign for the reclaimed article.

So our story had a very happy ending, and I got to explore a previously unknown corner of Walt Disney World, making my knowledge of the Most Magical Place on Earth more nearly complete.

If you discover that you've lost something while vacationing in Walt Disney World, here are a few tips.

-- Try to pinpoint where you lost the item, as best you can. Also try to recall when you last saw the item, or when you think you may have lost it.

-- If you need to file a lost article form, provide as much detail about the item that you can. There are hundreds caps, cameras and pairs of sunglasses lost each week in the World -- the more detail you can provide the better able Lost and Found cast will be able to pair you with your recovered item.

-- Call before you decide to make the trip over to Central Lost and Found, to save yourself a wasted journey. Items lost in the parks the previous day are generally delivered to Lost and Found by 1 p.m.

In general, these are Disney's policies on retaining lost items:

Every Walt Disney World theme park and water park has a lost and found in its Guest Relations office. Most items are kept there for a day.

If you realize later that you've lost something, you'll need to contact Central Lost and Found at 407-824-4245. As I said above, Central Lost and Found is physically located at the Transportation and Ticket Center and is open seven days a week, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. They can also be reached by mail if you need to contact them once you get home at PO Box 10000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000. Lost and Found keeps valuable items (wallets, purses, credit cards, prescription glasses and cameras) for 90 days. Items of lesser value (sunglasses, hats, toys and clothes) are only held for 30 days.

If you lost an item at a Disney Resort Hotel, it will be turned in to the hotel's Lobby Concierge.

If you've lost something on a Walt Disney World Bus, it will be turned in to the nearest Guest Relations location at a theme park and then delivered to the Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center within 24 hours.

If you lost something on the Monorails or Magic Kingdom Watercraft, it will be kept on board until the end of the day and then turned in to Lost and Found at the Transportation & Ticket Center.

If you lost something at Disney Springs, it will be turned in to Guest Relations at the Welcome Center in Town Center. After three days, it will be delivered to Lost and Found at the Transportation & Ticket Center.

If you lost something at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex it will be turned in to, and will be kept at, Guest Services there.

And if you lost something on Disney's Magical Express, and it's been lost for less than 30 minutes, contact 866-599-0951. If the item has been lost for more than 30 minutes, you'll have to contact Mears Transportation Group at 407-423-5566.

Let's hope you never have to pay a visit to Central Lost and Found, but, life being what it is, you just may have to some day. No one really WANTS to go there (except someone like me!), but it's nice to know that it IS there if you need it, it's easy to get to, and is very efficiently run.






April 5, 2017

Express Transportation at Walt Disney World Theme Parks

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When I first heard about Walt Disney World's new Express Transportation service a few months ago, I was a bit skeptical.

Sure, it sounded good on paper -- travel from theme park to theme park, bypassing main park entrance check-ins and long waits for standard bus transportation, or having to drive and park yourself -- but would people really be willing to PAY for this service?

I finally had the chance to try it out myself and I have to admit I'm a skeptic no more.

When the service was first launched earlier this year, it cost $15 for a single day, or $24 for up to seven consecutive days. One sign that the service has caught on and that people ARE willing to pay? The price has already jumped in just a few short months, to $19/$29 respectively.

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So here's how it works:

You can purchase this service at Guest Relations or at the actual Express Transportation check-in area in each of the parks. To be eligible to purchase, though, you must have a valid WDW ticket that has the Park Hopper option. This includes Annual Passes. Note that there are no discounts for children ages 3-9, but children under 3 are free.

Once you've paid up, the option is added to your My Disney Experience account, so that all cast members need to do is scan your MagicBand or RF card before you board.

You check in for the bus service at one of the four Express Transportation locations. As of this writing they are:

-- In Magic Kingdom: near the exit of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland

-- In Epcot: on the east side of Spaceship Earth (actually on your left as you're coming in from the park's main entrance)

-- In Disney's Hollywood Studios: in what they call "Coaster Courtyard," which is behind the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, near the Sunset Showcase

-- In Disney's Animal Kingdom: along the side of the Dawa Bar in Africa (the path that leads down to Festival of the Lion King) NOTE: On the flyer, the location is given as in front of Kilimanjaro Safari, but it had moved to the Dawa Bar location as of my visit last week.

When you check in, tell the cast member which park you are hopping to, and they'll let you know when the next departure is. Each park has its own bus, and they run about every 30 minutes.

A few minutes before departure, a cast member will usher you backstage (remember, no photos allowed in backstage areas!) and you will board the WDW bus to your next park. I had thought perhaps it would be a mini-van or smaller shuttle bus, but nope, it's a regular, full-size bus. On one trip, there were only four other passengers besides me; on another there were eight of us in total.

The bus takes you to your destination and you are greeted by another cast member who guides you through the backstage area and out into the park. No waiting for a bus or the tram to the parking lot, or wandering around looking for your car in the simmering Orlando heat. No driving to and from theme parks. And best of all you completely bypass security bag-checks and long lines at the turnstiles.

What a timesaver! Especially during peak seasons, like this past week with its spring break crowds! My trip from the Studios to Epcot took 17 minutes, from the time I boarded until the time I was walking under Spaceship Earth. I was lucky that I didn't have long to wait for a bus, but even the next day when I was traveling from Animal Kingdom, I only had to wait about 10 minutes before the next bus to Epcot. I felt that it saved me a lot of time and trouble -- plus I had a few minutes to snack on a Mickey pretzel while I waited.

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The Express Transportation service starts at 10 a.m. and is supposed to run until the parks close. One of the days I was using it however, I saw this sign, noting that the service ended at 8 p.m. that evening. Be sure to check the closing time if you're planning to use it to shuttle between the parks later at night.

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All things considered, I think Express Transportation is a fabulous idea, and I will definitely use the service again when I'm planning a day of multi-park hopping. I think the price is a little steep for families though, since there are no discounts for children -- $76 for one day for a family of four, or $116 for a week? Ouch. On the other hand, if you have room in your budget, it does save you time and hassle, and with a couple little ones in tow, that might make the difference between a pleasant day and... well, an unpleasant one.

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Have you tried this new service? Do you think it's worth the money? Let us know in the comments below!





December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from AllEars!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS
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Mickey Mouse in the 1972 Christmas Parade at the Magic Kingdom

November 4, 2016

Morimoto Asia Dim Sum Brunch - Tasting

By Linda Eckwerth, AllEars.Net

Morimoto Asia Disney Springs Patio

Morimoto Asia, a Pan Asian restaurant located in Disney Springs, recently started a Dim Sum Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I was invited to experience some of the foods offered during the brunch, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

We tasted a variety of foods that are available on the Brunch Menu. The portion sizes you see are approximately the same size you would receive at the brunch. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the brunch price.

Morimoto Asia Brunch is served upstairs either inside or on the outdoor balcony.

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We began with a Lychee Lemon Soda, a-non alcoholic drink consisting of fresh mint leaves, lemon juice, lychee purée and soda -- a very refreshing way to start our brunch tasting.

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The Chef's selection Soup of the Day is one of the first course options. We enjoyed a hot and sour soup, which included onion, egg, vegetables and had a kick of spice.

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Next, we tasted items from the second course menu. First up, Pork Ribs steamed with black bean sauce and Chashu Pork, which is roasted.

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The ribs were bite-size, meaty and had a touch of heat. I enjoyed them.

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But I really loved the Chashu pork, which was very tender.

Next, we had a Nashi Pear Margarita, one of the two new seasonal autumn drinks on the menu.

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It is made with Maestro Dobel tequila, pear purée, lime juice, and Cointreau. This was my favorite of the three drinks we tried. It was very refreshing, went well with the spicy food and didn't have a strong tequila or alcohol taste.

The next items are also options under the second course offerings -- Fried Spicy Pork Dumplings and Xiaolong Bao.

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The crust was very light and the pork filling was full of flavor. I did not detect much spice until I added the dipping sauce.

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The Xiaolong Bao are little pillowy gems of deliciousness and my favorite item! When I cut into the Bao, there was tasty pork and broth. The dipping sauce was nice, but I preferred them without the sauce. Can you tell I really enjoyed the Xiaolong Bao?


We also had a chance to try one of the options from the brunch add-on menu, the Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles ($8).

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The Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles consisted of a spicy basil sauce, vegetables and egg. I enjoyed the balance of favors in this dish, and it was filling.

Finally it was time for dessert and the second seasonal drink for autumn, a Pumpkin Martini. The drink is made with Tito's vodka, pumpkin spice syrup, Bailey's Irish Cream, and almond milk.

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Of the three drinks we tried, this was my least favorite because I am not a pumpkin spice fan. However, the rest of the group raved about the deliciousness of this drink, and it was a big hit.

The brunch ended with a serving of Sesame Balls, which are also a second course option. These are filled with sweet azuki bean filling.

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The cost for brunch is $27 per person. For your first course you choose between the soup of the day or greens. The second course consists of your choice of three items. (If you like dessert, make one of your choices something sweet.) Additional courses are $6 each. There are several add-on courses available, and those prices vary. Reservations are recommended. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

If you are looking for something different and relaxing to do on the weekend, give this brunch a try. With the beautiful fall weather in Orlando, the outdoor balcony will be wonderful!

RELATED LINKS

BRUNCH MENU

AllEars TV Morimoto Asia Review

Morimoto Rate and Review

Our Collection of Morimoto Videos

Official Morimoto Asia Website

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Morimoto Asia for this experience but my opinions are my own.

September 24, 2016

Shop the Food and Wine Festival

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Those that know me, know that I don't care much for shopping. I know, however, that many of you DO, so I spent a few minutes during opening weekend of this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the festival shops, checking out some of the event-specific merchandise. I found lots of things that would make perfect souvenirs, or gifts for those that you had to leave at home.

Lovers of the big purple Figment will be happy to know that he has returned as a festival mascot of sorts, and he dominates much of the merchandise. You can find him on t-shirts ($24.99 regular, $29.99 v-neck)

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On mugs ($14.99), salt and pepper shakers ($9.99/ea.), aprons ($26.99), oven mitts ($14.99) and even ornaments ($19.99)...

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And of course Chef Figment is featured on one of the festival's two special event posters ($24.99).

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Figment even graces some of the special festival passholder merchandise this year, like this Passholder t-shirt ($29.99)...

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But it's not all Figment, if for some reason he's not your thing. Some of the other festival merchandise is a bit "retro", borrowing themes and motifs from Food and Wine Festivals gone by.

There are Taste Your Way Around the World t-shirts (the burgundy v-neck is $32.99; there's also a gray-blue short-sleeved shirt, as well as a long-sleeved shirt and blue scoop-neck shirt [not pictured] for around $37 each)

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There are also "Taste" wine bottle ornaments ($12.99)....

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Taste Your Way Around the World housewares include Tea Towels (pair $21.99), Small Plates ($14.99), and Salt and Pepper Shakers ($9.99 each)...

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One thing I thought was a bit different, and practical, was an insulated bottle bag ($34.99)...

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Taste Your Way Around the World is also the design of another 2016 Festival Poster ($24.99):

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There's also a very useful notched plastic plate, perfect for when you're juggling multiple food and drink samples from the global marketplaces. I remember when they first introduced these plates a few years ago -- they were just $4.95. They're up to $6.99 ($7.50 including tax) now.

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If you're looking for a plain ball cap, never fear -- there's a festival cap for you ($26.99)....

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Another design you'll find on a variety of merchangise caters more to beer lovers -- "Brews Around the World." You'll find mugs ($14.99), t-shirts ($27) and caps ($29.99). (No, I don't know why they are more expensive than the other caps.)

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One item I almost always purchase is the Festival Cookbook. This year it's $24.95, and includes recipes from not only the Food and Wine Festival, but from the spring's Flower and Garden Festival as well.

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By the way, Chef Gregg Hannon and Pam Brandon, author of the Festival cookbook, will be on hand for a special signing at Showcase Plaza's Port of Entry on September 27 and 28, after a 3 p.m. cooking demonstration.

For the plush lovers, I didn't see much, but I did spy this adorable Food & Wine Festival Chef Mickey for $26.99:

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Finally, if you want to take home a bottle of wine from one of the festival events you attend, stop over at the Festival Center's wine shop. But if you want something specifically to remind you of the 2016 event, pick up a bottle of the the Festival's special label wine -- both the cabernet and the chardonnay are listed at $22 a bottle:

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You can find all of this merchandise at the Stockpot Shop in the Festival Center. Many of the same items can be found around the other festival shops around World Showcase -- there's one near Germany, one between Morocco and Japan and one near Canada. There are also merchandise kiosks on the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase, and you may find other related merchandise in the shops in World Showcase Plaza.


July 12, 2016

First Look: Art Smith's Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar

by Jack Marshall
AllEars.Net Team

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I took a stroll over to Disney Springs this morning to get a look at the new restaurant by Chef Art Smith, "Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar." I didn't get the chance to eat there yet, but I do have some "first look" photos to share.

Main Restaurant Entrance

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Shine Bar Entrance

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Chef Art Smith himself was on hand today to greet new patrons!

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Reception

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Looking into the kitchen

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Dining Areas

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Enclosed, air-conditioned patio

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Shine Bar Area

You can come into the Shine Bar and order a drink (it's a full bar) without having a meal here.

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The Shine Bar offers a limited takeout menu (they call it "grab and go"), but this food cannot be consumed on premises.

The restaurant is currently offering a Disney cast member discount, but no other discounts -- they may honor other discounts (DVC, Annual Passholder, Tables in Wonderland) in the future.

We have the current menu for Homecoming HERE.

Watch for more photos, including those of the food, coming to AllEars.Net soon!



July 2, 2016

Sneak Preview: 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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epcot food and wine festival

Tables in Wonderland held its annual “sneak preview” of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for its members this past Sunday, June 26, at World Showplace in Epcot. The festival, which will run an extra-long 62 days in this, its 21st year, begins September 14.

"Yes, we're going to need lots of stamina this year," said Michael Deardorff, Epcot Executive Chef. "This will be a 62-day sprint. We'll have to hit the ground running, but we'll be ready."

Deardorff noted that as the festival has grown "exponentially bigger and bigger" each year, the festival team has become like a machine, with all its parts in sync.

That synchronicity was apparent during the preview, as the various components came together to present a wonderful representative sampling of the new or reimagined food and beverage items that will be featured in the marketplaces (aka food booths) scattered around World Showcase and even into Future World.

Let's start with the food and beverage offerings, which obviously were the stars of the afternoon.

We were greeted at the door with a refreshing cocktail -- Spiked (with vodka!) Orange Iced Tea, which will be introduced at the Hops & Barley marketplace.

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I was eager to try as many of the new food items as I could, and I managed to hit nearly all of them. Here were the stand-outs, at least as far as my tastebuds and me were concerned:

Pork Tenderloin with Cannellini Bean Ragout and a Zinfandel Reduction, which will be found in the Wine and Dine Studio

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This was my overall favorite of the afternoon -- a tender chunk of lean pork atop the flavorful beans, with a hint of the red wine adding a little zing. There's not much else to say about this dish except Yum.

Chicken and Dumplings with mushrooms and spinach, which will be found in the returning Farm Fresh marketplace

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This was a real palate-pleaser for me, even though it's not that photogenic -- nothing really fancy, just juicy white meat with a fluffy light dumpling accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and spinach in a savory sauce.

Grilled Beef Skewer with apricots, romaine and feta cheese, from The Chew Collective marketplace:

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The lightly seasoned meat is accented by the sweetness of the fruit, which in turn contrasts with the sharpness of the feta. I thought it was a nice dish, but my piece of beef was tender. A friend's was gristly and tough, so she didn't rate the plate as highly.

Seared Scallop, Truffled Celery Root Puree, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms, also to be featured in the Wine & Dine Studio

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My second favorite bite of the day. Who would ever think that a sweet, mild scallop would pair so well with the sharp, slightly bitter sprout? But it's a match made in heaven, so tasty. Chef Mike noted that to create this dish they took the scallop out of the Scotland marketplace where it had been featured for the past few years, and gave it a Napa Valley twist. A smart move, in my opinion.

Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa

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The duck was tender and perfectly pink, and the polenta creamy as promised in the menu. I didn't get much heat from the dash of salsa that topped the plate, but that was OK -- it was still a tasty morsel.

Loaded Greek "Nachos": Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, Vegan Tzatziki, from the Greece marketplace

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This was the biggest surprise for me -- honestly, I'm not sure I would have known this was a vegan dish if I hadn't been told. I'd just had real nachos the day before (the fantastic loaded nachos at the new place in Disney's Hollywood Studios Echo Lake Eats), so it was interesting to me to compare the two dishes. The pita crisps were a perfect substitute for tortilla chips and the onion, kalamata olives, lettuce, tomato were basically what you'd expect on real nachos. According to Chef Mike, the "sausage" is a Gardein product (Gardein has partnered with the festival for other vegan dishes over the years) and the "feta" is actually specially seasoned tofu. "We think it's an awesome plate. It was fun to do and it turned out great," said Chef Deardorff. I have to agree with him.

Oikos Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cake Soaked in Ouzo with Yogurt Whipped Cream and Pistachios, another item from the Greece marketplace

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This is my kind of dessert. Not too sweet, and a perfect complement to a cup of coffee. Come festival time, I can see myself taking a plate of this dense cake to an out-of-the-way spot with an espresso from one of the coffee stands to watch IllumiNations.

Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce, from the new Islands of the Caribbean marketplace

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I absolutely loved this dessert, too. Crispy light puff pastry with a not-too-sweet cream cheese filling -- it's like it was made with me in mind. The guava sauce was a little too sweet for me, but overall I thought this was a great new offering.

There were a few new items I didn't get to, most notably the Smoked Brisket & Pimento Cheese on Griddled Garlic Toast, which Chef Mike predicts could be the big favorite this year. Calling it an open-faced version of a grilled cheese sandwich, he admits that they developed this dish based on the popular smoked brisket from the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. It will be featured at the Hops & Barley marketplace, where I will eventually try it, I'm sure.

So, what was the other big news coming out of the preview?

First, you may have already heard that the cast of ABC-TV's "The Chew" (Chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, and Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz) will be returning to the festival, taping episodes October 5-7, which will then air the week of October 10-14.

Other interesting news was the announcement of several new programs that take the festival out of Epcot and into some of the resort hotels.

• Brunch with a Twist at Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

• Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at Contemporary Resort's Convention Center

• Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort

• The Secret of Flavor at Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort

We have details on these offerings, including dates and pricing, on the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

Other new aspects to the festival this year:

-- Eight new celebrity chefs will be appearing over the course of the festival: Maneet Chauhan; Elliott Farmer; Fabio Bongianni; Masaharu Morimoto; Duff Goldman; Paul Wahlburg; Graham Elliot; and Geoffrey Zakarian.

-- Making their Epcot debut, Wang Chung will be the musical group kicking off the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series this year. Other new acts confirmed include The BoDeans, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Living Colour and Delta Rae. (The full, official schedule of Eat to the Beat concerts has not yet been announced.)

-- Eat to the Beat Concert Packages, which guarantee reserved seating for the nightly concert along with a table service meal in Epcot, are now available at breakfast (either buffet or family-style) at two locations: Garden Grill and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

-- The former mixology seminars that used to take place at 6 p.m. each day in the Festival Center have morphed into a new program called "Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!" The program will be offered at 4 p.m. daily and will include other hands-on activities besides mixology, such as cake decorating and garnishing. It will also come with a heftier price tag: $49 per person.

-- The "Boot Camp" concept isn't new to the festival, but the two offerings under this umbrella are. The first, hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, is called "Exploring Wines the Mondavi Way," and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this well-known winery. The second, "Demystifying Bourbon the Jim Beam Way," will explore bourbon production through the eyes of a master distiller.

For a more in-depth description of these and all the signature and premium programs that will be available, visit the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

In fact, be sure to check out all our Food and Wine Festival pages, with photos from the preview and other details HERE.

Because this was a "sneak peek," we were warned that there may be changes or tweaks to some of these programs, so take that under advisement. But you don't have long to wait for the final, full schedule of festival offerings -- it will be online at epcotfoodfestival.com on July 11, with booking for the general public opening at 7 a.m. July 21. (Some events MAY be open for booking a few days in advance for Disney Vacation Club and Tables in Wonderland Members, Golden Oak residents, Disney Visa Cardholders and Annual Passholders. Keep checking back to AllEars.Net for updates!)



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