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October 5, 2015

2015 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise and Special Packages

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Even though I am, admittedly, not much of a shopper, I do like to poke around the shops during the special events at Epcot. Last week found me nosing around the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival's Festival Center shop and the other Festival Shops scattered around the theme park's World Showcase to see what new, unusual and festival-specific merchandise was available.

One of the first things that caught my eye was this adorable Figment plush ($14.95)

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I know everyone loves Figment, and it turns out that Figment is the star of the festival character merchandise this year, along with Mickey of course. He is featured on all sorts of things...

This t-shirt ($24.95)...

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(You can also get the same shirt with sparkles for $32.95.)

Chef's toque ($19.95), apron ($26.95) and potholder ($12.95) ...

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You'll find a lot of non-character merchandise that marks the festival's 20th anniversary, too. I especially liked this giant-sized coffee mug ($14.95), which just MIGHT hold enough caffeine to get me started in the morning:

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I also thought these logo trash can salt and pepper shakers ($9.95) were too cute!

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And of course there's the requisite t-shirts ($27.95):

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Caps...

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And assorted glassware (shot glasses, etc.) and other drinking vessels, including this fancy, dishwasher-safe, insulated tumbler that keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot ($24.95):

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If you're looking for something new without the festival logo, you might want to go for the "Brews" line of merchandise. I think this line was started last year, but this year the items are really eye-catching, particularly this cap with a built-in bottle opener for those who never want to be caught unprepared ($24.95):

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Of course, there are t-shirts to go with it ($27.95)...

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Each year, the festival publishes a cookbook with the recipes from the menu items found in the Festival Marketplaces. This year's book is a real item to treasure, though -- it's a lovely hardbound book ($24.95), with a history of the festival over the past two decades. It's going on my cookbook shelf, for sure!

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If you'd like to carry your own utensils with you, the festival has thought of that, too -- the shops offer a branded plastic knife, fork and spoon set in a convenient container ($14.95).

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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the festival poster ($24.95, or $209.95 signed and framed). I apologize for the glare, but no matter where I went, it was a problem:

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And of course there are Limited Edition festival pins -- this one is $14.95:

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Speaking of pins, you have the chance to get some fun pins if you play the new Remy's Hide and Squeak scavenger hunt. Buy a map at the shop at the World Showcase Plaza for $9.95 then look for hidden Remy's around the International Marketplaces, affixing the appropriate sticker to the map when you spot him. Return the map, and receive your choice of one of eight different Remy pins. (Of course, party-poopers like me who don't have the time or desire to find the hidden Remys can pick up their pin when they purchase the game map!)

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I had the chance to speak with Ashley Taylor of Park Event Operations about the merchandise and some of the festival's special packages, too. You can see our little chat here:

Hope this helps you decide what you're going to be spending your festival souvenir dollars on!

Happy shopping!

October 10, 2015

Epcot Food and Wine Festival's Tasting Sampler Package

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New this year at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the Festival Tasting Sampler package, which includes:

-- 8 entitlements for food or beverage of your choice (with a few exceptions) at the Food and Wine Festival International Marketplaces.

-- priority seating at the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat concert at America Gardens Theatre on the day for which the package is purchased.

-- a limited release 20th Anniversary Food and Wine pin that comes in three colors.

These packages cost $59 per person (total $62.85 including tax) and DO NOT include admission to Epcot.

Because this was a new offering, I wanted to be sure to try it out, so I purchased the package in advance on one of the first days it was available for sale back in late July. I was able to order it in the same way that I booked reservations for my other Food and Wine Festival events, by calling 407-WDW-FEST. At the time it was not available for purchase online, but I see that it is now. You can order the package just as you would book a Walt Disney World Dining reservation at disneyworld.com/dining.

Booking the package was the easy part. More difficult was obtaining the physical credential for the package on the day I wanted to use it, the first Saturday of the festival. Perhaps I should have known that the finer points of distributing the package wouldn't have been worked out by the event's second official day, which was a very busy Saturday to boot.

I headed to the Festival Center that morning, but when I got there, the question became WHERE in the Festival Center could I pick up the package? After asking four cast members and a lot of confusion, I discovered that I needed to go to the right of the Intermissions Cafe, to the shop tucked in the back, where cookbooks and artwork are on display. (After you enter the Festival Center, walk down the ramp to the right and at the bottom, make a hard right. That's the space I'm talking about.)

The lines at the registers seemed to stretch for miles, but then, amidst the confusion, I noticed yet another line of people, way off to the side. At the front of THAT line was a single cast member with an iPad and an armful of lanyards. I overheard her explaining the Sampler Package to the woman standing in front of her. At last, I had found where I needed to be.

While I waited in that cramped space, I realized that many, if not most, of the people in line in front of me had not even purchased the package yet. As they each took their turn with the cast member at the head of the line, she patiently explained the package to them, took their payment and then gave them their lanyard credential and pin. Eventually, another cast member came along and the line moved a little more quickly. Finally it was my turn. Because I had prepaid, my transaction was quick. I heard an abbreviated version of the cast member's spiel and signed the iPad with my finger to indicate I had received my credential and pin.

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They say the pin comes in three colors, but I wasn't offered a choice -- this seemed to be the only color available.

Altogether, the pick-up experience took way longer than it should have, especially since I had paid for the package in advance. Seems to me things could have been expedited considerably if they had had a specific check-in line for those who already had paid.

Once I had the credential in hand, I took a minute to look it over. It was a rectangular plastic card on a lanyard with a soft, wide strap. Those of you who recall Disney's "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion from almost 10 years ago might notice that the credential resembles the "Dream Fastpass" randomly given out to visitors, allowing them Fastpass privileges on a number of attractions throughout a particular theme park.

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Around two sides of the card were eight tabs (four on each side), perforated for easy removal. Each one of these tabs is good for one food or beverage item at the 30 or so International Marketplaces found around World Showcase and, for the first time this year, in Future World. (There are certain exceptions; I'll outline them below.)

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Along the bottom of the card was another tab, marked with the day's date, to be used to gain entry into the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat Concert at the America Gardens Theatre.

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On the back of the card are chefs' suggested pairings of the various foods and beverages and at the bottom there are the terms, conditions, and exceptions that apply to the package. When they say fine print, they mean it. Even with glasses it was hard to read!

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So what does it say? Well, it tells you a few important things.

-- The Eat to the Beat concert coupon can only be used at the 6:45 p.m. show on the day you bought the package for.

-- The food and beverage coupons, however, can be used any time from the day you buy the package to the end of the festival on November 16, 2015.

-- The coupons are nonrefundable and nontransferable, however.

-- The coupons are good for almost all of the food and beverage items at the International Marketplaces with the following exclusions: beers larger than 6 oz.; the tasting "flights," such as the wine flights and the beer flights; champagne; and the Artist's Palette, found at the Wine and Cheese Studio.

When you consider how many options that leaves you, that's really not bad, especially when you take into account that many of the more expensive alcoholic beverages are included. You can maximize the sampler's value by choosing some of the most expensive items at the marketplaces. If, for example, you were to use the coupons for the La Passion Martini Slush in France ($9.95), the lobster roll at Hops & Barley ($7.95), the Le Cellier filet in Canada ($7.50) and the tzatziki martini in Greece ($8.00), you've already "spent" more than $30 (half the package's cost)... and you still have four more coupons to use.

And, by the way, using the coupons is as easy as can be, and really expedites your time in line -- I think paying for your items using the credential is even easier than using the nifty little festival gift cards, or your MagicBand. You simply place your order, present your credential, and the cast member breaks off the coupon tab or tabs needed to "pay" for your purchase.

The final component of the package is the priority seating for the Eat to the Beat concert. This can really come in handy on a crazy weekend night, when the crowd levels are at their highest.
When you're given your credential, you're told to arrive at the America Gardens Theatre about 30 minutes prior to the 6:45 show.

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The line is on the Japan side of the theater, right next to the line for folks with the special Eat to the Beat Dining package. It's clearly marked -- if you can see the sign in the midst of the crowds of people milling about! Present your credential as you enter the seating area, and the cast member will break off the bottom coupon.

Performing the night I was there was former American Idol David Cook. Coming up are even more familiar names, like Hanson, Boys II Men, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chaka Khan.

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All in all, I really felt the Tasting Sampler was a worthwhile purchase -- essentially, you're pre-paying for your marketplace items, plus you get a nice collectible pin and special seating for the show thrown in for good measure. If they can iron out the kinks with the package pick-up process (and, who knows, maybe by now, two weeks into the festival, they have), then I would recommend it without any reservations.

They say that only a limited number of packages are available each day, although I'm not sure enough people know about this yet for it to be selling out. Still, if you want to give it a try, it might be worth the effort to book it in advance.

If you use the Tasting Sampler, or attend any of the Food and Wine Festival events, we urge you to visit our Rate and Review section and share your thoughts there, so you can help others plan their vacations!

And if you've already "tasted your way around the World," don't forget to take our poll and rate the foods and beverages you sampled.

October 12, 2015

Hulk in Paradise

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by Erin Blackwell
AllEars® Team Member

Hulk! You hear the name and you immediately get a mental image: big, fierce, muscles out to everywhere, green --

Ooo, we were doing so good until that last word. The big guy we’re talking about this time is Hulk Hogan, a professional wrestler and actor, including being the lead for the short-lived show, Thunder in Paradise. And that is what this is about, because Thunder filmed in Walt Disney World.

I don’t just mean in the then-Disney-MGM Studios’ soundstages, far from the public eye. No, the show filmed at numerous spots right out in the open, such as the Grand Floridian beach and the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot. Disney even built a water tank in the Studios for close-up scenes and undersea shots; they pointed it out to you during The Studio Backlot Tour.

Let’s back up.

My husband and I were going through television channels on a lazy day when we saw the Grand Floridian on the screen. We stopped (of course we stopped), thinking we had found a Walt Disney World special. Then Hulk Hogan walked up the beach and we got really confused. That’s too good to change the channel: we had to find out why Hulk Hogan was at the Grand Floridian. And so, we discovered the Thunder in Paradise reruns on TNT.

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Here’s a summary if you’ve never seen the show: Ex-Navy Seal Randolph J. "Hurricane" Spencer (Hulk Hogan) and Martin "Bru" Brubaker (Chris Lemmon, son of the late, great actor Jack Lemmon) work as mercenaries. They travel around the world on their futuristic boat "Thunder". Spencer is also a widower and raising his daughter Jessica (Ashley Gorrell). Add Kelly LaRue (Carol Alt), who owns and manages the beach bar, "Scuttlebutt Bar N' Grill", and Jessica’s uncle, Edward Whitaker (the late, wonderful Patrick Macnee), who owns the beach resort (played by The Grand Floridian) where Spencer and Brubaker live. (Patrick Macnee passed away the day before I wrote this. Oh, Mr. Steed, we will miss you. One person reading this will realize I started with naming one Avengers character and now spoke of another, whole different Avengers character. If I wasn’t happily married, I would wed the person who got this reference. As it is, I tip my bowler to you.)

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Hogan described the show as "Baywatch" with action/adventure.

If you’re a Thunder in Paradise fan for Hulk Hogan and for the show itself, then this article probably isn’t for you because I’m focusing on the Walt Disney World angle. But please contact us and give us your input for your fellow fans. We’d love to hear from you!

As I just said, I’m looking at why others became viewers. My husband and I watched it because our inner Disney Geeks loved picking out what Walt Disney World location they were using.
AllEars.Net has a weekly game under the Photo Blog called “Where in the World Photo Fun”. Created by former team member Barrie Brewer, it’s a photo trivia game where players guess where a picture thumbnail is in Walt Disney World.

For us, Thunder in Paradise was a TV version of “Where in the World”. Here’s an imagined sample conversation between such fans, once they discovered they are both Walt Disney World lovers.

Person 1: Hey, have you ever seen that Hulk Hogan show?
Person 2: The one in Disney World? Yeah!
Person 1: Did you see the one where they ran through Morocco and then turned into the fez store --
Person 2: And they were inside the Treasure Room in the Adventurers Club! And the one inside the Indiana Jones stunt show!
Person 1: You know what else I like?
Both: The boat!

Besides the above locations, other Disney World spots were: Fort Wilderness, Old Key West, Epcot’s Future World, as well as other World Showcase locations. I saw an episode that looked like they used the aquarium at the then-Living Seas, but after checking photos of the attraction during the production year, it’s clearly not and must be the water tank at the Disney-MGM Studios. They also used a few non-Disney locations, but that was rare. And as I already mentioned, you saw the Grand Floridian every week, since its beach served as the Thunder family home as well as LaRue’s beach bar, with the Polynesian in the background.

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When I researched this article (that’s right, I actually did research!), I found the scene shown in the graphic above. My heart froze seeing what looked like the Grand 1 yacht exploding. Think about it: The GRAND 1! Clearly they wouldn’t do it; the effects would be safely behind it or it was a whole different boat. In fact, the one pictured doesn’t look like the yacht used in the past 10 years, but when I checked the 52’ Sea Ray yachts of that time, it could be it. Probably not though.

Still freaked me out when I saw it. Imagine if it had been the Grand 1: you have the specialty cruise booked and Disney has to call you to offer you a different one because, “Hulk Hogan is blowing up the boat that day.”

Thunder also gave different views of well-known attractions. For example, when they filmed at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, they used the back alleys you can’t see from the audience, plus unique angles on the truck, plane, and the Cairo buildings. It even gave you close-ups of the stuntmen who play the villains. You still knew where you were, but you got a “backlot tour” view of the attraction. The same episode used the roofs at the Morocco Pavilion; when have you ever thought about the upper levels of those buildings?

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By the way, I would have done ‘pay per view’ for the episode in the Adventurers Club Treasure Room if they had let some of its actors play their roles in that scene. Come on: Samantha and Hathaway discussing the place? Hodges discussing the treasures in the room? How about sneaking in a “We climb the highest mountains, just to get a better view. We plumb the deepest oceans, 'cause we're daring through and through!" The Adventurers were (and are) professional actors with impressive resumes and they have done other Disney spots, such as “Top 7 Must See” features. I would buy that episode on DVD too for them. I might be the only one who would, but my statement still stands.

My husband and I never saw them film the show while we were in Walt Disney World; I’m surprised that we didn’t even know about it.

Maybe some of you did see it in production; you saw them bring in camels, parrots, and other touches to Morocco, or you were on Pleasure Island when they were setting up the Adventurers Club scene. (I heard a rumor that you can hear the Friendship boats sounding their horns when Thunder filmed in Morocco once.) It had to be tough at times for guests though, because attractions and shows couldn’t run while they were being used for filming. For example, the monorail couldn’t go through while they used the Polynesian and the Floridian. So thank you to everyone who had a piece of their vacation delayed while Thunder in Paradise filmed, because your sacrifice brought magic to me at home in such a different, fun way. Hopefully you enjoyed seeing a television show in production to make up for not seeing what you intended to that day.

We didn’t sit down to watch Thunder each week, but if we were home and channel flipping, we’d remember and put it on. It lasted one season (plus its initial straight-to-DVD movie before it moved to TV and Disney). It also got an interactive movie (video game) from Phillips CD in 2007.

I wish I could have ridden in the Thunder boat. Imagine them adding it to the watercraft rentals once the show was cancelled. A few people think the Sea Raycers are too fast for some to handle; this one would come with a rider in the rental agreement: “Please don’t kill yourself or other guests.”

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If the show had been a hit, maybe they would have had a specialty cruise like the pontoon boats or the Grand 1. Maybe we’d have a Thunder in Paradise Experience. You would ride in the boat with the provided captain dressed like a mercenary (for extra, you could drive the boat), you would dock at the old Discovery Island, run around finding clues and fighting bad guys. When you finished, back you went on the Thunder to land at the Grand Floridian where you celebrated an adventure well done at the Scuttlebutt Bar N' Grill.

Just kidding. But I might have finally seen it being filmed or at least come out of whatever cave I was living in and heard about the show.

So, to Thunder in Paradise, Walt Disney World fans thank you. We’re so glad Orlando beat out Tampa as a location or playing “Ha! That’s the Polynesian!” would never have happened. Plus, credit where credit is due. The show brought millions of dollars to Orlando since they used local people for the work (and spent money for housing for the small percentage of non-Orlando workers) and used local vendors for all they needed.

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Thunder in Paradise still has a fanbase online. Google it to hear what they have to say and to learn more about the show. I already asked that fans of the show please write in with your thoughts. Now I’m asking that if you ever saw an episode being filmed or if you watched it the way I did, let’s hear from you too!

If you haven’t seen the show and would like to, for itself or to play “I know where they are in Disney World," a select few episodes were released on DVD by Lionsgate. The “Thunder in Paradise Collection” can be found online and in some stores. Netflix and Hulu don’t carry it, but I have seen it on a free video site, although it’s not the clarity of a DVD.



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About October 2015

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in October 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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