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March 1, 2012

One More Disney Day Opening Ceremony

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It's been a hectic 18 hours so far here at Walt Disney World's "One More Disney Day" Leap Day celebration -- 24 hours of Magic Kingdom fun! I admit, I haven't been in the park the entire time -- we were up at 4 a.m. to be here before 5:30 a.m. for this morning's opening ceremony and by 2 p.m. or so I definitely needed a little break. We went back into the park tonight to see the Magic, Memories and You show and the midnight showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade, and we'll be popping back in in the wee hours to see the day-long event wind down at 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

Just to give you an idea of how the day started out though, here's a video of the morning's opening ceremony -- we'll have lots more photos in the next day or two! And if you're a night owl like me, be sure to follow our late night tweets on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AllEarsNet


March 4, 2012

Recap: One More Disney Day

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So now that the 24 hours of One More Disney Day have passed, and I've had the chance to catch up on my missed sleep, I thought I'd share some of my favorite photos and impressions of the experience.

Deb Wills and I got up around 4 a.m. the morning of February 29, Leap Day, to begin our "One More Disney Day" adventure. We really had not planned to spend all 24 hours in the park, but we knew we HAD to be there for opening and closing, and figured we'd pop in periodically throughout the day to see how things were progressing.

Deb had booked a room for us at Bay Lake Tower so that we could walk over to the Magic Kingdom easily, but our plans to park there early in the morning were foiled by the crowds already backing up at the guard gate at 5 a.m. I got out of the car and walked over to the park, leaving Deb to deal with parking.

Though I'd been in Magic Kingdom after midnight several times in the past (remember the old E-Ride Nights?), I'd never been there so early before! It was extremely foggy -- I mean, so foggy it was the lead story on the news -- and it gave the whole area a very spooky atmosphere. The place seemed deserted, which was surprising to me. I had been expecting a huge crowd for the opening.


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As I approached the entrance, though, THERE were the people! Hundreds pressing in around the turnstiles -- that's what I'd been expecting.


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As we entered the turnstiles, we received a special set of One More Disney Day Mouse Ears and a commemorative button. (Thanks, Mike Scopa, for being our model.)


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We huddled around the Mickey Floral display in front of the train station to await the 6 a.m. kick-off. From where I stood, I could just barely see Mickey and Minnie, in their pajamas, as they greeted their fans.


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I already shared my video of the opening ceremony HERE. Sorry for all the Mouse Ears and tops of people's heads in the video -- but that's generally your view when you're as short as I am (5'1")!

After the opening -- which really wasn't that different from the Magic Kingdom's opening ceremony on any other given day -- we all shuffled into the park to see what 24 hours of Magic Kingdom madness had in store for us. As you can see, Main Street was thick with people.


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We noticed that the line for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom registration at the Firehouse was almost instantly out the door -- and it pretty much stayed that way all day. There were numerous characters out and about and lines forming for them right away, as well. In fact, the wait for the Princesses in Town Square Theater shot to 20 minutes within a half-hour of the park opening.

As we made our way up Main Street, we stopped and asked people where they were visiting from, and if they had made the trip to Walt Disney World expressly for the "One More Disney Day" event. Interestingly, to us at least, nearly everyone we spoke to that early was a local -- the furthest journey anyone had made was a two-hour drive. As the day wore on, though, we encountered quite a few folks who had come from further afield, and many of those HAD come just for Leap Day.

As we reached the Hub around sunrise (7 a.m.-ish), the fog had cleared a bit and the day was brightening, but there was no chance of snapping a shot of the sun coming up over the castle as we had hoped. It was still beautiful, though.


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From there, we just meandered around the park, checking wait times and riding a few rides when we could. We also spent some time watching the progress on the New Fantasyland.


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We held an AllEars.Net meet at Pinocchio Village Haus at 9:30, and we were so thrilled at the turnout. Several of our readers came from out of state just for One More Disney Day -- we met people from all over, including North Carolina, New York, and Virginia (that I can remember -- sorry, if I forgot anyone!). Thanks so much to all who came out to say hello!


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After the meet, I walked around the park with a friend and we were able to ride Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and several other rides, all with short waits of 15 minutes or less. While definitely not empty, the Magic Kingdom was not what I'd call over-crowded at all at that point. In fact, the longest lines I saw continued to be those at the character meet-and-greets, like Tinker Bell's Magical Nook (25 minutes 1 p.m.) and at the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom portals. It seems that many people had come for the opening ceremony, then had quickly left again -- probably to return later in the day.

After a late lunch at Columbia Harbour House (love that Lighthouse Sandwich!), I decided to leave the park myself for a break -- and possibly a nap. On my way out, I passed the Main Street Bakery, where they were showcasing special One More Disney Day treats.


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And as I left, I snapped a shot of the nearly abandoned turnstiles, which had been the scene of so much activity just nine hours earlier.


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When I returned later in the evening, after watching Wishes from the California Grill (where we had an absolutely amazing meal!), that same location was again buzzing with people entering for the evening.


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There was a serious exodus of people after the 10 p.m. parade, and walking up Main Street was like swimming upstream. Still, the park was by no means empty. In fact, I think it was even more crowded than it had been early in the morning. Characters were still out in force, and there was plenty of live entertainment to keep everyone not riding the rides occupied.

After watching the 11 p.m. showing of "The Magic, The Memories and You", we wandered around to see what rides were still available. Posted wait times for most rides had climbed -- 20 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean (though it looked longer), 50 minutes for Space Mountain. Even "it's a small world" had a 15-minute wait, but we made sure that we didn't miss that!


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There was another showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade at midnight, but there didn't seem to be the wave of people leaving afterward as there had been earlier.


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Shortly before 4 a.m., I returned to a few of the spots I had photographed earlier, just for comparison's sake.

The turnstiles:

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Looking down on Main Street from the train station:

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The Main Street vehicles were all parked neatly around Town Square, and it was fun to be able to climb aboard and try them out. The kids (young and old alike) were loving it.


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I was surprised at how many people were still in the parks at 4 a.m., and even more surprised at the number of children still going strong. I really had thought crowds would dwindle in these wee hours, but I was proven wrong.


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We ran into a family on Pirates of the Caribbean who had just been in the park since the evening before and the daughter, about 8 or so, was urging her parents to take her to Universal after they were "done" at the Magic Kingdom! Ah, youth...

The energy emanating from the dance party in front of the castle was irresistible, and as I walked toward the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It! floats that were stationed around the Hub, I noted that many of the participants here were twentysomethings who were clearly spending, if not the entire 24 hours, then at least all of the wee hours in the park. I thought this was a great idea for those die-hards. The enthusiastic DJ, high-energy music and familiar dances -- the hokey-pokey, a conga line -- were just the ticket to jolt you awake if you were feeling drowsy, and the characters joined in the fun.


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Dancing in the streets! on Twitpic

CLICK THE IMAGE FOR THE VIDEO!


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Even though there were still plenty of people in the park, lines at the attractions were practically nonexistent by 5 a.m. I guess maybe everyone had had their fill of rides by then. A number of rides had closed by that time, but we walked right on to popular attractions like Snow White's Scary Adventures and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I mean, when can an adult ever spend time playing in the queue at Pooh? There are normally so many kids running around, you couldn't even if you wanted to.


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We also took a spin on the Carrousel, and walked right on to the Speedway -- that never happens!


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But, somewhat surprisingly, there were STILL lines at the portals for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game!


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Shortly before 6 a.m., we realized that One More Disney Day was drawing to a close, so we made our way to the front of the castle. The DJ wrapped up his dance party and the floats paraded down Main Street as he signed off, thanking everyone for spending One More Disney Day in the Magic Kingdom. The remaining park-goers waited, as I did, for something to signal the end of the event. But there was... nothing. It was all rather anti-climactic. No fireworks, no big HUZZAH... The regular Main Street atmosphere music (tunes from The Music Man) began playing. It was over, and I must admit, it was a bit of a let-down. All that hoopla for what amounted to little more than a slightly enhanced regular park day.

As I stood there talking to some friends about whether my trip the World for this event had been worth it, the lights around us gradually went down, and the music started for the "Kiss Goodnight", the little send-off that often ends the day in the park. And so I think that's an appropriate way for me to conclude my "One More Disney Day" report.


March 16, 2012

It's Easy Being Green... at Raglan Road

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Well, it's nearly St. Patrick's Day, and even though I'm not Irish (a little bit of Welsh and English,
yes, but Irish, no) I have always observed the holiday. I wear green, including my little shamrock earrings, and sometimes even cook up a good corned beef and cabbage dinner.

But, according to the lovely people at Raglan Road Irish Pub, located at Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island, I've been doing it wrong -- and they are going to be showing me, and anyone else who will listen, how to do it RIGHT this year.

This weekend, Raglan Road is celebrating St. Patrick's Day in a big way.The invitingly cozy pub, accented with warm woods, leaded glass windows and Irish memorabilia, including photos of Irish icons like sir Bob Geldof, will be buzzing with live bands playing authentic Irish music, Irish dancing, and genuine Irish cuisine.


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To launch the weekend, Raglan Road's Master Chef Kevin Dundon hosted a four-course lunch and culinary demonstration that featured cuisine representative of the Emerald Isle, including a traditional loin of bacon with cabbage. Having garnered many accolades over the course of his career for his high standards and inventive take on Irish fare, Dundon, who has cooked for the Queen of England and many other celebrities, is a bit of a personality himself. Handsome and charming, with the gentlest of Irish brogues, Chef Dundon worked his culinary magic while entertaining a full restaurant with little anecdotes about St. Patrick's Day celebrations and the four dishes themselves.


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I was lucky enough to be invited to the luncheon by the restaurant, and had a front row seat to all the preparations.

Chef Dundon began with an appetizer of hickory-smoked Irish salmon, served on a bed of buttered leeks in a mead cream reduction. Not being a fan of things "smoked", I was dubious about this course, until I realized that Chef Dundon's idea of "a little bit of butter" -- that is, a lot -- matches my own. The smokiness of the salmon was so subtle that the freshness of the fish shined through. It was enhanced by the buttery goodness of the mead-sweetened sauce and the delicate flavor the leeks was the perfect compliment to the dish. I nearly licked the plate!


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Our second course was an "espresso" of tomato and gin soup, so called due to the intensity of the tomato (or "to-MAH-to" if you're Chef Dundon) flavor. After again adding "a little bit of butter," Chef Dundon explained that he doesn't use flour in any of his soups or sauces -- he relies on reduction to thicken and concentrate the flavors. No one needed to have worried that this soup would lack taste, however. Served over a dollop of creme fraiche (no, this lunch wasn't for weight watchers!), the flavor of tomato fairly burst in your mouth with each sip. Once again, societal niceties kept me from licking the bowl. That doesn't mean I didn't want to!

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These first two courses were paired with a chardonnay from Acacia. The creaminess of the wine perfectly suited the buttery courses, and it had just the right touch of acidity.

For the main course, Chef Dundon prepared a loin of traditional Irish bacon with Irish Mist glaze on a bed of colcannon potato with a parsley cream sauce and raisin cider jus. The term "bacon" in this case, though, is a little misleading -- it's more an uncured ham, carefully scored so that the flavor of the Irish Mist (a whiskey liqueur) can soak in. So if the Irish actually eat ham on St. Paddy's Day, why do we here in the U.S. celebrate with corned beef? It's what was available to the Irish immigrants who arrived in this country decades ago, according Chef Dundon. He, though, is an advocate of reverting to the "proper" dish, and attempted to sway all of us to his way of thinking with the succulent version of Irish bacon that he served up. I think he succeeded.



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We were served a pinot noir from Acacia to accompany this course. Amy, the wine represenative from Coastal Wine and Spirits, called the full-bodied pinot the perfect pairing for the main course. Not being much of a pinot fan, I wasn't expecting much, but to my surprise, the wine complimented the course beautifully.

We concluded the meal with a jam jar filled with rhubarb jelly topped with a light, creamy panna cotta. Chef Dundon accented the dessert with a buttery, shamrock shaped cookie, to provide some crunch. This was the only course I didn't finish, and not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I was too stuffed already with so much Irish goodness I had no room.


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If I had had any preconceived notions that Irish cuisine was going to be boring and bland meat and potatoes, or the everyday corned beef and cabbage, they were clearly banished by this point. This year, I will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day in an entirely different (and hopefully more authentic!) way.


You can't make it to Raglan Road this weekend for St. Patrick's Day? Don't despair! The luck of the Irish will still be with you if head over on June 20, the pub's "Midsummer Night Feast." They'll be celebrating with an equally delicious-sounding menu: picnic basket of assorted pates and jams; champagne splashed raspberry sorbet; stuffed suckling pig with vegetables and a Pimm's knickerbocker glory for dessert! (Pimm's is a fruity British liqueur -- notice how most of Chef Dundon's recipes include some sort of alcohol? Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

And for another taste of Ireland, it sounds like Chef Dundon has been cooking up a special
Raglan Road signature dinner menu for this fall's Food and Wine Festival. Called "an Ode to the Classics," it starts with Coquille St. Jacques and end with Cherries Jubilee. (Subject to change, of course -- October is still six months away.)

For more details about the Midsummer Night Feast, or any of the events happening at Raglan Road this weekend, call the restaurant at 407-938-0300 or visit raglanroad.com. You can also make reservations for Raglan Road through Disney Dining at 407-WDW-DINE.

Read more about the St. Patrick's Day happenings at Raglan Road and Pleasure Island HERE.


March 23, 2012

Mombasa Marketplace Wine Stop at Animal Kingdom

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Did you know that there's a corner in Animal Kingdom's Mombasa Marketplace that houses a small display of South African wines? No, neither did I! But there is.

The other day, I had a few hours before my flight back home, so Deb Wills and I decided to pay a visit to Animal Kingdom. As we entered the park, we noticed an intriguing sign.

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Wine tasting? In Animal Kingdom? While I wouldn't bat an eye if you told me this was over at Animal Kingdom Lodge, or even in Epcot, for some reason it never occurred to me that Animal Kingdom could host such an activity.

We wandered over to Mombasa Marketplace, which is located in Africa, directly across from the Tusker House restaurant, and found this attractive little set-up, immediately to our left as we entered.


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Not being much of a shopper, I can't tell you the last time I was in the Marketplace, so I'm not sure how long the wine nook has been there. But I have to say that finding it was a most pleasant surprise.

Most of the South African wines available are from Fairview, the family-owned wine and cheese business that produces its eponymous Fairview label, as well as the labels Goats Do Roam and La Capra. Sauvignon blanc, viognier, and chardonnay are among the varietals represented, along with several blends (both red and white) and a Goats Do Roam rose. Also on offer are several selections from Spice Route Wines, including a chenin blanc and red blend pinotage. Luckily for us, they also were serving a favorite we discovered at Kidani Village's Sanaa restaurant several months ago, the red blend Chakalaka.

According to Jim Killam, North Florida Sales Manager for Vineyard Brands, the shop features many of the wines you'll find offered over at the Animal Kingdom Lodge's restaurants in a spot that sees a little more traffic. Killam says the tasting event is something they host in that location only a few times a year, as it's a bit expensive to fly the winemakers up from South Africa.


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On this particular Sunday, however, Fairview's winemaker Anthony de Jager (pictured below) was on hand to sign bottles and oversee the tasting. The two or three-oz. samples being poured ranged from $2.75 to $5.25 (for the full-bodied Chakalaka). Based on Killam's recommendation, Deb tried the Spice Route pinotage, and found it to have a fruity aroma, somewhat tannic but not overly so. I had the Chakalaka, which didn't disappoint -- dark cherry and fruit flavors with an oh-so-slight oakiness, just as I remembered it.


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Even though they don't hold these tastings that frequently, the opportunity to try these wines in such a novel setting made for a nice change of pace. And now that I know they are there, I just might be tempted to duck into the Mombasa Marketplace to pick up a bottle every now and then.

UPDATE 3/28/12: Just obtained the pricing for the wines for sale in the shop. The following are the retail prices:

-- Goats do Roam Red, White & Rose' $11.95
-- La Capra Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Shiraz & Pinotage $14.95
-- Fairview Sauvignon Blanc $16.95
-- Fairview Pinotage $15.95
-- Fairview Viognier $21.95
-- Spice Route Chenin Blanc $18.95
-- Spice Route Pinotage $21.95
-- Spice Route 'Chakalaka' $25.95

Fantasy Preview Cruise, Day 1

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Wow, what an exhausting and exciting Day 1 of the three-night Disney Fantasy preview cruise has been.

Because tomorrow is our day at sea, and I'm not at all confident that we'll have internet available to us, I thought I'd give you all a few highlights of the day and share some photos.

If you're familiar with the Disney Dream, the Fantasy's sister, you'll already know what a beautiful ship she is. I was impressed all over again at not only the size, but the grandeur of this ship -- from the sweeping staircases to the twinkling crystal chandeliers, everything about the Fantasy is BIG.


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We ate lunch at the buffet in the Enchanted Garden, which to the best of my memory, is identical to the restaurant of the same name on the Disney Dream.


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After lunch, I explored all the kids' areas on the ship. The "it's a small world" nursery was essentially the same as the nursery on the Dream, a very cozy place for the littlest voyagers (3 months to 3 years old). The Oceaneer's Club and Lab were also very similar to those on the Dream, but I really did enjoy Andy's Room there, featuring a grumpy looking Mr. Potato Head.


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I also made sure to check out the Edge, the area specially designed for "tweens" agse 10-14, and the Vibe, for older teens 14-17. I have to admit, I so enjoyed the "vibe" of the latter, that I almost didn't want to leave... but they told me that being a teenager at heart didn't count, so I out had to go! But look how cool it is:


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After our muster drill, we went up on deck to watch the Sail Away Party. Disney's Karl Holz was on hand to toast us as we finally set sail.


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Our dinner tonight was at the Animator's Palate, which I had really been looking forward to. If you've
read about the new technology in play here, you'll know that diners are asked to create their own character, which is then magically transformed into a cartoon before your eyes. I don't want to give up too many spoilers here, but I will say that it was an absolutely delightful presentation. I'm no artist, I guarantee you, but you can see my little red creation on the right here:


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So cute, really. And the food was pretty good, to boot. In fact, I had both of the vegetarian dishes (slight ordering mix-up -- the waitstaff is still working out the kinks!) and they were outstanding. Worth special mention was the Farro Stew, which also featured hazelnuts, green beans and radish, and a hint of lemon juice.


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We closed out the evening with a viewing of Wishes, a brand new show. Sorry no photos allowed.

Well, seems like it's taking longer and longer to load photos, and I keep getting disconnected and error messages, so I'm going to publish this now and hope you can see it. If you want to see more photos, you can take a look at those I posted earlier today to my Twitter account HERE. And be sure to follow Deb Wills and me, and the AllEars.Net Twitter acounts -- we'll be posting more whenever we're able to:

@AllEarsDeb = http://twitter.com/AllEarsDeb
@dcdeb_allears = http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears
@AllEarsNet = http://twitter.com/AllEarsNet

I promise you that we have lots more photos and facts to share in the coming days, if the internet gods smile on us and keep us connected. Otherwise, it'll have to be after we're home! Ciao for now!

March 28, 2012

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

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We know a lot of you are wondering what's so special about Disney's newest cruise ship, the Fantasy -- what's new about it, and what makes it different from its sister ship, the Disney Dream? Deb Wills and I will be writing about those differences for the next several days, as we try to recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

One of the things that is totally new for the Disney Cruise Line is the addition of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a special beauty salon that transforms little girls into elegant princesses. Extremely popular on land, at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the installation of the Boutique on the Fantasy is sure to prove a perfect fit.

As you approach the Boutique, which is located on Deck 5 Midship, you'll note that there are medallions on the exterior wall depicting a variety of Disney Princesses and Princes.


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Like its landlubber counterpart, the Boutique is a very regally appointed setting, with rich-looking marble floors and lots of pretty pink and glittery gold accents. It's staffed by Fairy Godmothers-in-Training, who will beautify little princesses with new hairdos, shiny nails, and elegant makeup.


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There are plenty of princess gowns, shoes, wands, tiaras, and other royal accountrements for purchase. And if you'd rather emulate your favorite mice, there are costumes for Princess Minnie, First Mate Minnie, and even Captain Mickey Mouse.

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The Boutique offers a variety of packages, some similar to those offered on land, others exclusive to the Fantasy.

Coach: choice of one hairstyle, shimmering makeup, face gem, cinch sack, and princess sash. Cost = $54.95

Crown: all elements of Coach PLUS nail polish. Cost = $59.95

Castle: all elements of Crown PLUS your choice of costume and coordinating wand, tiara, and shoes. Cost = $184.95

The Fantasy (exclusive to the Disney Fantasy): all elements of Crown PLUS tutu, sparkly t-shirt, and head band. Cost = $119.95

Under the Sea (exclusive to the Disney Fantasy): This package turns a little girl into a Little Mermaid, and includes a choice of swimsuit and cover-up, vibrant sun block application, Del Sol floral clip that changes colors in the sun, necklace, and nail polish. Cost = $99.95

And if you want to go all out, the Boutique offers the Royal Sea Package, which it says is "dedicated to every true Princess who ever dreamed her sneakers were glass slippers, and to girls who believe it's better to twirl than to walk, sing than talk and that everything goes better with sparkles!" The deluxe Royal Sea package comes complete with a Princess Royal Rolling Trunk created exclusively for the package, and also includes three makeover experiences: 1 Castle, 1 Under the Sea, and 1 Pirate package, PLUS a boutique frame with a photo of the Fairy Godmother, PLUS a special invitation with a glass slipper ribbon necklace, and a keepsake glass slipper from Cinderella's helpers. Cost for this deluxe package = $595.

Children must be between the ages of 3 and 12 to take advantage of the Boutique's services -- no adults, I was told, because after you reach a certain age you are no longer a princess... you are a Queen!
I guess that's the nicest way anyone has ever told me I was too old for something!

A unique aspect of the Fantasy's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is that it even transforms itself! Every sailing has a designated Pirate Night, and on these days, the Boutique magically becomes The Pirates League, the place to go to "get your pirate on!"

Here, Disney's attention to detail really shines. On Pirate Day, burlap sacks bearing the Pirates League logo and the Jolly Roger cover the pretty salon chairs, and the sparkly princess outfits are replaced by buccaneer garb. Fairy Godmothers-in-Training become Pirate Lasses... and Lads! (But beware of the Jack Sparrow sound-alike there -- he'll propose marriage to any female who happens by! The scoundrel!)


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Nearly every trace of "princess-ness" is erased -- even those medallions on the exterior of the Boutique that I mentioned before show pirates instead of princesses!


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The basic pirate makeover costs $34.95, and will give you your own special pirate look and name. You'll also learn how to swashbuckle, and the Official Pirate League Oath. The First Mate package for boys also includes a bandanna, scars, fake teeth, eyepatch, and sword. For girls, the Empress package has shimmering makeup, face gem, nail polish, earring, eye patch, and sword. If you want to add a special pirate costume to either package, you'll pay $99.95.

Unlike the princess makeover, anyone over the age of 3 can be a pirate. Our time on the Fantasy was short, so we didn't have the chance to try it out, but AllEars.Net's Deb Wills is planning a Pirate Makeover for herself next week when she's sailing on the ship's Maiden Voyage -- so stay tuned!

Reservations for both Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirates League are strongly recommended -- and if these makeovers become as popular on the ship as they are in the theme parks, you will need them! You can make reservations online before you sail at www.disneycruise.com. Click "Planning Center" and choose "My Cruise Activities." Once on the ship, visit the Boutique in person or call ext. 9438. (NOTE: A $10 cancellation fee will be charged for all no-shows or cancellations with 24 hours of appointment.)

DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

March 30, 2012

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Animation Magic

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Curious as to what's so special about Disney's newest cruise ship, the Fantasy? Deb Wills and I have been sharing what we found to be the major differences between the Fantasy and its sister ship the Disney Dream over the last week, as we recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

While every ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet has a restaurant called Animator's Palate, the "show" performed during dinner varies. The restaurant on the classic ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, simply features a change in the decor and atmosphere during the course of the meal. Everything starts off in black and white -- the paintings on the walls, even the servers' attire -- but ends in an explosion of color. On the Disney Dream, diners are treated to an interactive conversation with Crush, the sea turtle featured in the film Finding Nemo, using technology similar to that of the Epcot attraction "Turtle Talk with Crush."

The Disney Fantasy also offers an evening with Crush, but more importantly it is the home of an all-new, technically ingenius show called "Animation Magic."

The basic premise of the show is fairly straightforward: diners draw their own character on a placemat provided to them, and then through "Animation Magic" that character is brought to life on screens scattered around the restaurant.

Now, you can read that description and think you have a reasonably clear understanding of what is going to happen. But the truth is you have no idea how absolutely delightful this show is until you see it for yourself.

I don't want to spoil the fun too much for you, so you won't find any video of the actual show here. But I will share a few stills, along with a few personal observations.

The decor of the restaurant really sets the tone for what you are about to see. Details like preliminary sketches for many of your favorite cartoons, and the Pixar lamp Luxo, adorn the walls. The table settings are based on artists' tools, and even the lenticular menu is animated.


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Your server and your placemat provide very basic, easy-to-understand instructions about how to draw your character.


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Don't worry if you think you have limited artistic talent. I barely know which end of the pencil to hold, yet was able to come up with something usable. (See below.) The key thing to remember is to not draw on the blue outlines when creating your character. You're only given a choice of one color of marker (although that may change in the future) to help speed the drawing process along, then your placemat is collected and you enjoy your dinner.

We were fortunate enough to be seated directly in front of a screen -- we were almost a little TOO close -- so we had a front-row view of the gorgeous animated sequences from classic and current Disney (and Pixar) films that played out during our appetizers and main courses. I noticed that the cartoons began with scenes of gathering food, like the ants from "It's a Bug's Life" harvesting for the winter. Eventually the scenes graduated to preparing food, and finally eating and celebrating with food. (I felt a little smug when an Imagineer confirmed what I had discovered on my own!) The collection of clips shown is a treat in itself, especially for someone of my generation. Many snippets are from classic Disney cartoons that are seldom seen these days, including Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and the ORIGINAL Winnie-the-Pooh.


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Periodically throughout dinner, Sorcerer Mickey appears on-screen to tease you with what's ahead. Finally, sometime after you're through with your entree, maybe already starting on dessert, the main event begins with Lumiere, the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast, inviting everyone to "Be Our Guest."

I can't explain to you the excitement that rippled through the room as adults and children alike began to spot their drawings tripping across the screens before their eyes. Squeals of "There's mine! There's mine!" and a rumble of laughter filled the room. I confess, when I spotted my lame attempt at drawing dancing among the other figures, I couldn't help shouting out as well.

This is my masterpiece (you can see why I'm a writer and not an artist by trade!):


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And here's what it looked like once animated for the big screen:


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The show progresses for several minutes, and you wish it would go on longer. It is so cleverly done -- and just when you think it can't get any better, familiar Disney characters are interspersed with the audience's hand-drawn ones, adding another level of excitement. The show concludes with rolling credits, listing the names of all the evening's artist-diners.


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Truly, this was an unexpected highlight of the Fantasy cruise for me. I only wish I could have seen the show again -- I think the repeatability factor for this one is very high.

And oh, by the way, my dinner was exceptionally good this evening, too, but I'll have more on that when I get around to writing about the Fantasy's food.


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I had the opportunity to speak at length with Imagineer Bob Zalk, who is Senior Show Producer for the new Animation Magic presentation. He told me of the numerous challenges the Imagineers faced in bringing this new show to life, from deciding what sort of placemat should be used to designing entertainment that would not interfere with the service of a meal.

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It was no surprise to me that he called this one of the coolest projects he'd ever worked on. Again, as I said earlier, no video spoilers of the actual Animation Magic show here --in my opinion, it is really something magical that you should experience in person for yourself.


DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Europa

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This is another in AllEars.Net's blog series examining what makes the new Disney Fantasy different from its sister ship, the Disney Dream. Deb Wills and I have been writing about those differences this week, as we recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

One of my favorite spots on the new ship is the adult nightclub area. Not that I am any kind of lounge lizard -- it's just that it was a really cool, well thought-ought place.

On the Dream, the adult nightspot area is called The District. I didn't really have the chance to spend much time there when I sailed the Dream preview cruise last year. In fact, aside from the champagne bar, Pink, and the changing scenery in the Skyline Lounge, I don't remember much about The District at all.

On the Fantasy, though, the nightclub area is themed around various cities of Europe. I've traveled to a number of European capitals, and really enjoy exploring the "Old World," so when I read about this, I thought it would be right up my alley. Oh yeah, I was right.

Dubbed Europa, the area features a central location, La Piazza, that acts as a hub (or the central square), with four other clubs branching off: O'Gills, a sports-bar/Irish pub; The Tube, a London-themed dance club with an electrified dance floor; Ooh La La, a boudoir-inspired Parisian champagne bar; and the Skyline lounge, which, like its Disney Dream counterpart, sports a cityscape backdrop that changes every 10 or so minutes.

The Europa theme hits you from the moment you step off the elevator at Deck 4 Aft.

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La Piazza

If you enter Europa from this direction, the first spot you'll encounter is La Piazza, which features Italian accents like Venetian masks from Carnevale, and Vespa motor bikes, and elaborate glasswork you might find in Venice's neighbor, Murano.

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La Piazza is brightly lit, with lots of seating and a very well-stocked bar patterned after an old-fashioned carousel. It's clearly meant as a hub for all the night-life activity -- it has the feeling of a central gathering spot, much like the squares you'll find in European cities, and sometimes features a live combo, which just adds to its vitality.

The Tube

Leading out of La Piazza is a curving pathway with images of the face of Big Ben and other familiar British icons projected onto the walls. You hit a button, a door swings open, and you find yourself immersed in the sights and sounds of London.


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When I spoke to Walt Disney Imagineering's Mike Davie, who was responsible for development of the Europa spaces, he said he was particularly proud of Europa's details, like the portals that led into each space. I have to agree -- seeing what was behind the door before upon my first entry into The Tube was definitely an "Aha!" moment for me.

I absolutely LOVED The Tube, and tip my hat to whoever was responsible for choosing the decor. Benches on one wall are upholstered to resemble British Rail and London Underground tickets -- there are even poles and straps like those you might cling onto whilst traveling on London's efficient subway system. The carpeting is dotted with British colloquialisms like "Jolly Good," and "Cheers!"


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Different seating areas feature different English themes -- one area is designated for the Crown Jewels, with shiny gold leather overstuffed seats, another has benches painted with the Union Jack. Behind the illuminated dance floor, there are old-style red telephone boxes, while the music of British artists of yesterday and today is pumped out of the DJ booth.


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I understand that once the Fantasy starts its regular seven-night sailings The Tube will also feature a live show with dancers, and a trivia game on pop culture. I could have definitely spent more time in The Tube!

Skyline Lounge

Despite how much I enjoyed the vibe of The Tube, I think that the Skyline was my favorite of the clubs on the Fantasy. As I mentioned earlier, the "gimmick" of this nightspot is the changing skyline shown on a 65-inch LCD screen behind the bar. At any given moment, you may be gazing on the serenity of a night in Paris, London, Athens, St. Petersburg, Budapest, Barcelona, or Florence. But it's not just a static image that you're seeing. Oh no. It's a video! Look closely and you'll see the taxis speeding along the street, and silhouettes of residents moving around in their apartments. Be sure to have one of the bartenders show you the little Disney touch that is hidden in every city scene -- so much fun to find. I'll start you out with one, revealed to me by bartender Adriano -- somewhere in the London scene, you'll find Mickey Mouse waving at you from one of the buildings!


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Dark and atmospheric, the Skyline Lounge has cozy corners and comfy seating that you can really sink into. The soft background music represents the city on display, and the drink menu (which changes throughout the evening) features specials with names inspired by the locales, like the gin-based "Londinium" or the "Aphrodite" from Athens. The Skyline was quieter than the other clubs, and I think that may remain the case, as I can foresee O'Gills and Ooh La La being more popular with most cruisers. Still, I enjoyed my time in the Skyline, and would have stayed there longer if I could have.


O'Gills

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Part sports bar, part Irish pub, O'Gills seems destined to become THE destination for many aboard the Disney Fantasy. With three big-screen TVs (103, 70 and 50 inches respectively) scattered around the pub, and three smaller monitors behind the bar, there are plenty of chances for visitors to catch their favorite sports match-ups. Rich leather seating areas, and gorgeous vaulted wooden ceilings, really lend an Old World feel to the pub, which, of course, has both Guinness and Murphy's Irish Stout on tap, as well as Stella Artois and a red lager draft (called, funnily enough, O'Gills) made especially for the pub.

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When I spoke to him about O'Gills, Imagineering's Davie confirmed what I had suspected: that the pub's name was taken from the 1959 Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," which featured a very young Sean Connery in one of his first major movie roles (and he SINGS in it!). You have to love the way Disney weaves little touches like that into everything it does.


Ooh La La

The final club in Europa is undoubtedly the prettiest. Inspired by the seductive look of a French boudoir, Ooh La La is home to opulent, plush chaises, velvet-tufted walls and ornate mirrors. This club is a place that beckons you to relax and indulge. Like Pink, the Disney Dream's champagne bar, Ooh La La offers a limited edition, private label champagne by Taittinger -- Ooh La La's features Jessica Rabbit from the classic film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit Roger?" on the bottle.

The nights we were aboard the Fantasy, Ooh La La seemed to be very popular, drawing big crowds eager to sip some champagne and sink into the almost decadently appointed room.


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The Restrooms

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The Restrooms? Is that another nightclub? No, seriously, I want to talk about the restrooms in Europa. In fact, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention them. Why? Because these are some of the most beautiful restrooms I have ever seen anywhere, ever. Inspired by Spanish matadors and senoritas, the restrooms are covered in gorgeous mosaics. You have to see them to believe them, so I'll let the photos speak for themselves. One other note -- this is one of the few places on the ship where I found accessible restrooms... and they were just as beautiful as their regular counterparts.

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DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

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About March 2012

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in March 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2011 is the previous archive.

April 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.