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April 2012 Archives

April 3, 2012

Disney Fantasy Merchandise - Inaugural and Otherwise

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I didn't get the chance to do a lot of shopping while I was on the Disney Fantasy preview cruise last week, but I did pay a visit or two to some of the shops just to see what special merchandise they might have.

As they did last year for the Dream, they've designated Inaugural Sailings merchandise that will be on sale throughout 2012 and into 2013.

AllEars.Net's Laura Gilbreath, who is on the Fantasy's maiden sailing as I write this, posted this photo of some of the inaugural merchandise the other day. I'm sure she and Deb Wills (who is also on the Fantasy right now) will have more merchandise pictures when they return. But as you can see, there are photo albums, pins, shirts, jackets, tote bags, cups -- a really wide range of merchandise that has the Fantasy's Inaugural Sailing logo.


This 24K gold ornament cost $40.

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The poolside bar on Deck 11 was selling a special commemorative Coca Cola bottle.

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There were lots of Disney Cruise Line Dooney & Bourke bags, in all shapes and sizes. This style cost $175.


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I was pleasantly surprised to see some special merchandise branded with O'Gills, the Irish pub found in the Fantasy's Europa area. The t-shirt was $24.95.

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They also have the wine bottle-shaped pepper mills that they're using in the restaurants for sale. They're by Peugeot, and they're $84.95! Ouch!


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They had loads of beautiful costumes for little girls in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, but the shops also had an assortment. These retailed at $64.95.


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And there was buccaneer merchandise a'plenty for those who wanted to "get their pirate on."


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I noticed that Deb Wills posted on Twitter a photo of the t-shirt she had pre-ordered boasting the Fantasy's Maiden Voyage, so I thought I'd add that here, too.


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After taking a quick look through all the shops, I decided I wanted to get something for myself. I was very tempted by this shirt, which echoed the peacock theme prevalent throughout much of the ship's decor.


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But in the end I bought this one -- loved the peacock blue color. (It was $31.95, by the way.)


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Hope that gives you just a taste of what's "in store" for you when you go shopping on the Disney Fantasy!


DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the The Walt 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.

April 25, 2012

Summer to Remember: Resort Showcase Day 1

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Well, here I am back in Walt Disney World for a few days, for what's become an annual event in recent years -- the Resort Showcase, during which Disney shines a spotlight on everything that's new and exciting all around its parks and resort hotels, here in Florida and even worldwide.

This year's theme for the showcase is Summer to Remember, and so tonight's kick-off featured a quintessential summer activity -- the backyard barbecue. But not just any backyard barbecue. No, this evening we (a fairly large group of media and guests) visited Mickey's Backyard BBQ, which is held seasonally at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. (NOTE: This does NOT mean that Disney World has changed the BBQ to a Phineas and Ferb theme. This was a one-time special BBQ staged for this media event. The BBQ is still Mickey's Backyard BBQ.)

The evening was taken over by a couple characters whose stars are shining brightly right now in the Disney universe -- none other than Phineas and Ferb, of the Disney Channel's wildly popular animated comedy-musical TV series that bears their names.

When we arrived at Fort Wilderness, we were directed to the pavilion, which usually hosts the character barbecue. Mini-blimps advertising Doofenschmirtz, the evil nemesis of Phineas and Ferb, marked the way, although he was nowhere to be found.


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I'd not ever been to the pavilion before, so I was interested in seeing the set-up, even though it was specially decorated for the night's event, rather than with its usual Mickey motif. A DJ spun current pop songs, including some well-known to viewers of the Phineas and Ferb show. There was even a trailer decorated to look like Perry the Platypus, the boys' sidekick who frequently turns into Agent P, a mysterious spy-like creature who battles the evil Doofenschmirtz.


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Special guests for the evening were the creators of Phineas and Ferb, Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, along with the voice of Phineas, Vincent Martella.


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For those not familiar with the show, it follows the adventures of two boys as they fill their days of summer vacation. In the grand tradition of other cartoon series like Bugs Bunny and Looney Toons, Phineas and Ferb is entertaining on many levels -- innocent enough to appeal to children, but sophisticated in ways that speak to older viewers. The show has caught on so much that last year a "play and greet" experience featuring the duo debuted in Disney's Hollywood Studios. They also lead a dance party over on the West Coast at the Disneyland Resort. More recently, it was announced that the characters will take over the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure game in Epcot this summer.

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After our traditional barbecue dinner of hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, baked beans, coleslaw and more, everyone had the chance to visit with Phineas and Ferb, as well as speak with their creators.


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Povenmire and Marsh told us a bit about how they were approached by Disney to bring their characters to the parks, and adapt what they do for the Kim Possible activity. Like their TV show, they said that the primary audience for the new game will be 6 to 12 years old, although they pointed out that nearly half of their viewers were older than 18. They even teased that they had had the chance to try the new game a little already themselves. But rather than reveal any specifics, they asked Martella to share some of the dialog he'd been recording for the new adventures, and he readily obliged.

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"Ferb, it's me again, will you pick up?" Martella laughed, slipping into his alter ego's voice easily. But none of the men could give us a date for when the new show would debut for the rest of us beyond "sometime this summer."


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Later, when we returned back to our room, we found that Agent P had apparently stopped by. He left us his signature fedora, as well as a pin lanyard, with a mission to find the perfect pin.


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I just might do that, as we continue on our exploration of what's new and what's next around this resort.


April 26, 2012

Summer to Remember: Resort Showcase Day 2

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Day 2 of the Summer to Remember Resort Showcase here at Walt Disney World was a busy one.

The day started early with a bus ride over to the convention center at the Yacht Club for a nice buffet breakfast.

Following the eggs, sausage and pancakes, we were treated to a panel discussion led by one of my celebrity idols, Samantha Brown, host of many a Travel Channel special on the Disney Parks, Cruise Line and Aulani. The panel, which also consisted of Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president, global marketing for Disney Parks and Resorts, Dan Lazar, president of market research firm Chatter, Inc., and Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of several books on parenting, focused on the "state of the American family vacation."


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The panelists discussed the merits of family vacations, and Lazar, whose company has recently conducted a study on such trends, talked about how our busy lifestyles can result in life becoming a "forgettable blur". Newman in particular stressed the importance of families vacationing together, and emphasized how even a bad vacation memory can become part of a family's "lore," and eventually be something that bonds the family in a good way. I know, I know, cynics among you may say that of COURSE Disney wants families to vacation, AND wants them to spend their vacation dollars at Disney -- but speaking from personal experience, I think the underlying message of the panel was valid. Vacations do serve to tie family members together in a special way and provide important lessons to the children.

After the panel discussion, the panelists were available for brief one-on-one interviews. As someone who is something of a travel enthusiast, I've followed Samantha Brown's adventures over the years, and was excited to have the chance to speak to her, however quickly. We only had a minute -- literally -- so I simply asked her what she found most challenging about covering the Disney Parks for her television shows. Below is a short video of her reply.



After the busy morning, I had a little free time to stop and smell the roses -- so where else should I go but to enjoy some time at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. It was great to see so many of the plantings in full bloom. I normally visit the festival during its first weekend, before everything has really filled in.


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A quick bite to eat and one trip on Soarin' later, I headed back to my room to get ready for the afternoon's big event -- a sneak peek at the new Art of Animation Resort, due to open on May 31.

I'm not going to lie -- I was anxious to see this place, after all I've been hearing about it for the past year or so. I was not disappointed. From the black and white sketches that gradually give way to full color images in the lobby, to the bold, bright colors of the Finding Nemo wing, to the desert-inspired Cars section, the resort is a masterpiece of Disney's famous attention to detail. I'll let some of my photos speak for themselves.


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Deb Wills also put a few short videos of the resort online:






After checking out as much as we were allowed to at Art of Animation, we returned to Epcot. Disney had arranged for dinner for all the media in our group at the various restaurants around World Showcase -- I was assigned to Biergarten, which was great since I haven't eaten there for a few years. The items on the buffet had not changed much, and the food was good -- and how can you not enjoy the oompah band (especially the saw player!)?

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Closing out the night was a viewing of IllumiNations from the World Showase Plaza. IllumiNations is just about my favorite thing in Walt Disney World, so any day that ends with that, is a good day indeed. Back at it again, tomorrow, for the "what's new, what's next?" presentation.


April 30, 2012

Summer to Remember: Resort Showcase Day 3

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Sorry for the delay in finishing this report on the Summer to Remember Resort Showcase -- time got away from me and I had to catch up on a few things once I got back home. Without further delay then: the final full day of the event:

The day started early with a special breakfast and What's New/What's Next? presentation by Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, U.S. and France. Deb Wills attended this event alone, while I stayed behind to update the website and work on some other things. As you may know by now, there were several relatively important announcements to come out of the presentation:

-- details about the redesign of Test Track in Epcot. Deb Wills interviewed a cast member working on the project and has more details on it HERE.

-- a better timeline about the opening of the next phase of Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland. For more details, click HERE.

-- details on the summer version of the castle projection show, The Magic The Memories and You!, which will include Phineas and Ferb and is set to debut on May 25. For the official press release and an artist's rendering, click HERE.

Following the presentation, the media was able to participate in a sort of information "expo", with stations featuring a variety of Imagineers and other cast members available to discuss the upcoming developments at Disney Parks. Deb Wills will have more video and details from the expo, including more on the Fantasyland construction, in the coming days.

In the afternoon, we headed over to Animal Kingdom to meet up with team members Jason (of disneygeek.com) and Kristin Ford for a special character lunch at Tusker House.

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On our way, we paused to check on the Discovery Trails and It's a Tough to Be a Bug -- in case you hadn't heard, earlier in the week a 5 lb. branch fell from the Tree of Life! No one was injured, but the attraction and the surrounding trails were closed immediately while the tree undergoes some "refurbishment." According to cast members in the area, the 3D show is still closed, as are the trails, but they will hopefully reopen soon.

I also had a close encounter with Dug, from the Disney-Pixar film UP! I hadn't seen him in the park before, though I had read that he was around. Squirrel!


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We had a little time to kill, and as we passed by Mombasa Marketplace I noticed that there was a henna artist doing tattoos. I'd been wanting to get one for a while, so on a whim decided that this was the day. After flipping through the book of designs, I decided on one that represents the characteristic "Kind." The artist was so adept that within five minutes I was sporting some lovely new "ink", enhanced by a sprinkling of glittery pixie dust... watch for a blog on the experience soon!


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I'd eaten at the character breakfast at Tusker House shortly after it had converted from a counter service restaurant, but had never dined there for lunch, so this was a new experience for me. Even though our lunch was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., the place was pandemonium. Long lines, cranky kids melting down -- it just didn't seem to be the most efficient way to handle the crowds. After waiting to be admitted, then waiting to get our photo taken with Donald, we were finally seated at about 10 minutes to 2.

The inside of Tusker House is largely unchanged from how I remember it -- it still has the cool decor, with African touches. And the food is still very good. Many of the dishes are very similar to what you might find in Boma, the buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge -- Malay curry chicken, hummus, couscous, tabouleh, that sort of thing, all very tasty.


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The characters appearing at this lunch are Daisy, Mickey, and Goofy, all in safari attire. Because it was the end of the lunch period, we had a little more time with them than usual. Daisy in particular spent more than a few minutes with us, striking multiple poses.


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Read more about the Tusker House lunch in Kristin Ford's blog HERE.

It was 3 p.m. by the time we finished our "lunch" -- nearly time for our next event, over at Port Orleans Riverside. But we did take some time to watch the Street Party that had just begun outside the restaurant, featuring the Tam Tam Drummers and Bourudika.


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Over at Port Orleans, we found -- surprise! -- more food waiting for us. This time, it was in the form of a delightful Pirate Punch and Princess Tea Party on the lawn of the resort's Magnolia Bend section. Sweet and savory scones, an assortment of finger sandwiches and fresh fruit were beautifully displayed with table decor befitting the pirate and royal themes of Disney's storybook rooms. A wandering jazz band provided entertainment as the lovely Princess Tiana, from the film The Princess and The Frog, greeted guests.


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Several of the new Royal Rooms were open, so I wandered in to have a peek. I had seen the model for the rooms at last year's Resort Showcase and was interested to see how or if they had changed. There seemed to be only minor changes, most noticeably in the magical headboards, but it was still a treat to see the rooms in their finished state.


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The rooms definitely are beautiful, representing upscale improvements over Disney's other moderate resorts -- queen-sized beds, plusher fabrics, throw pillows -- and are rich in backstory and detail. I love spotting items that were "left behind" by visiting princesses -- such as the Magic Carpet from Aladdin's Princess Jasmine, and the footstool left by Beauty and the Beast's Belle. All 512 Royal Rooms are now finished, although I learned that the room renovations for the Alligator Bayou section of the resort are not yet completed. When done, those rooms will still have their rustic theme, but the trundle beds will have all been replaced by new Murphy beds that pull out from the walls.

As an added treat, a cast member even pointed out a very hard-to-spot Hidden Mickey in the table for me.


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(You can read more about the Royal Rooms at Port Orleans Riverside and see more photos in Kristin Ford's blog HERE.)


When our visit to the Royal Rooms was over, we (and by that I mean the media group as a whole) were taken over to Downtown Disney, where we were invited to experience the shopping and entertainment district on our own, after being treated to dinner at one of its 10 restaurants. AllEars.Net had been assigned to Rainforest Cafe, a spot I hadn't visited in years.

Currently under renovation (they're working on the big volcano outside, among other things), the restaurant is still operating -- and from all the hustle and bustle I would say that their refurbishment process is not hindering business. Noisy, with the sounds of wild animals and a periodic thunderstorm, the restaurant was exactly as I had remembered it. The extensive menu features burgers and other sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes and other entrees, as well as a long beverage list. Prices are moderate to high, but food is plentiful, and the atmosphere is definitely Disney-like, with all the animatronic creatures surrounding you.

After an overwhelming platter of assorted appetizers was brought to the table, I then tried to make my way through the Mediterranean pasta, with olives, feta cheese and asparagus. It was very good, but I didn't get too far -- I'd still not had the chance to digest lunch and afternoon tea!


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Our entrees were followed by chants of "Vol-Ca-Noooo!" as servers brought these chocolate exploding desserts -- triangles of rich, moist brownies were arranged to form a volcano around mounds of vanilla ice cream, topped by whipped cream and silvery streamers simulating lava and fire shooting from the peak.


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I really had no room, but managed to at least sample a bit of the chocolatey goodness. If you are looking for casual dining with a very American menu and plentiful portions, the Rainforest Cafe might be for you. If, however, you want a quiet, relaxed dining experience... well, you might want to look elsewhere!

Dinner was the end of the Resort Showcase for me. The only remaining event was a discussion with the Disney Moms Panel the following morning that I was unable to attend -- it was going home day.

But I'll be writing more about some of the things I experienced and learned at the Resort Showcase over the next few weeks -- I'll certainly be looking forward to visiting Walt Disney World again soon, for its Summer to Remember!


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About April 2012

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

March 2012 is the previous archive.

May 2012 is the next archive.

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