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August 7, 2011

My New Happy Place…A Cabana on Castaway Cay

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

We’ve all had those days…we’re busy with the kids, we’re stuck in endless meetings, trapped in rush hour traffic. It’s times like this that we need to go to our happy place. For me it’s often thoughts of upcoming trips to Walt Disney World. Sometimes I find myself thinking of a whirl on Expedition Everest with my kids or sitting at Boma enjoying a great meal with friends or perhaps just people watching on Main Street USA….each of those thoughts allow me to escape for just a moment.

But now I have a new happy place.

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A few months ago I had the privilege of escaping for a three-day cruise on the Disney Wonder. This, in itself, was a terrific break from a New England weather, but during the cruise I got to experience something so relaxing, so wonderful that it takes its place among my all time happiest Disney memories. I got to spend the day in a private cabana on Disney’s Castaway Cay.

I was treated to this wonderful experience by Beci Mahnken, owner of MEI Travel, who was checking out this relatively new offering by Disney so that she could assess whether or not it was something that she should offer to her clients.

Before leaving the ship, I met Beci in her cabin, where she had received info about our day. It came in the form of an adorable pop-up, miniature cabana, which turned out to be a a very close copy of the one we’d be using for the day.


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After debarking, we took a tram to Serenity Bay, the adult only beach on Castaway Cay. This was my third Disney cruise and on a previous cruise I had snuck away to this quiet beach for a massage on a beach-side cabana, so I knew that I was in for a treat, but was unprepared for how wonderful and pampered we’d be. There was a check-in area for activities at Serenity Bay...so we checked in and waited to see what this experience brought us.


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We were greeted by Gladstone, a Disney Cruise cast member who debarked with us for the day make sure that we had all of our needs met and felt pampered.


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Though our cabana was relatively close to the tram area and the beginning of a beach, Gladstone insisted that he drive us to the cabana, where we found a warm welcome.


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He then spend a few minutes introducing us to the amenities that come along with the cabana including a fruit bowl, a refrigerator filled with soft drinks, and a basket of snacks, all of which are replenished during the day by the Disney cast member.


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Gladstone also pointed out that there were two pitchers of drinks in the refrigerator. He let us make our choices before heading off for the morning.


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The main part of the cabana is covered and there are chairs, a small table, a basket of magazines, and a curtained changing area. There was also a basket filled with sun lotion (which was very convenient for me, since I’d forgotten mine).


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The deck part of the cabana is also covered by an awning and is surrounded by beach plants and shrubbery, so that people in the cabanas have some privacy from the people who are on the beach. The views were spectacular. The ocean was clear blue and the beach was pristine.


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Next to the cabana was a hammock strung between two palm trees (yes, this is my idea of paradise), along with tubes and rafts for us to use in the water. There was a “cold snap” in the Caribbean and it was “only” 70F, which was a bit cold for swimming, and I turned out to be the lone person in our party up for taking a dip (heck, the ocean temps that I’m used to in New England make you feet feel numb after about a minute, so it was really nice swimming in December, even though it was a bit cold).


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There was a buzzer-type thing in the cabana for us to call Gladstone if we needed anything at all. We saw him a few times during the day when he showed up to take us to the lunch area, he brought a waiter from the bar in case we wanted to order drinks, and he assisted us in renting bikes for the morning (which was included with the cabana rental). Gladstone was an example of Disney Cruise service at its finest: he was friendly, helpful, and so willing to help that he teasingly chastised us for choosing to walk back to the cabana after lunch.

I can truly say that I spent one of the most relaxing days of my life…the sun, the ocean, time with friends, no electronics (which for me, Gadget Girl, was a HUGE thing…but I loved it). We just sat, napped, chatted and then more of the same.

Renters have the cabana from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. That's when Gladstone met us, brought us back to the beginning of Serenity Bay, where we took another tram back to the ship.

The experience is a bit pricey ($499 per day) but I can honestly say this was one of the most relaxing and pampered days.

So now you can see why I have a new happy place... the next time I’m stuck in a traffic jam or dealing with some particularly nasty New England weather, I’ll be daydreaming about my cabana day on Castaway Cay.

And if you happen to indulge in this experience and get the little cabana that we used, you might see fingernail marks on the door where they had to drag me out of this little paradise!



June 14, 2011

Oh, My Aching Feet! Travel Around Walt Disney World from a Different Perspective

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

As part of Team AllEars, I can tell you that I’m part of a group of people who love our gadgets and data collection, in addition to running. Lots of us use different gear to track our training progress including running watches, GPS apps on our phones, and satellite running watches. They are all great tools for collecting data and analyzing our progress.

During a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I thought it might be fun to spend a few days collecting data about how far we traveled during the day. We all know that any visit to WDW involves a lot of walking (my frequent blisters are evidence of this)…so I wondered how far my son Liam and I would travel during some of our days at the parks.

Each day we arrived, I turned on the watch and let it run during the day, recording our walking and, when the satellite was available indoors, some of our riding for the day. When I got home I uploaded the info onto my computer and, with the help of Google maps, found an interesting “story” of what our days were like.

One the day we spent about 12 hours at the Magic Kingdom, the GPS indicates that we “traveled” over 18 miles! Now when I say “travel,” that doesn’t mean that we walked the whole way…One the right you can see that we were in Tomorrowland, “traveling” on Space Mountain and on the Carousel of Progress (traveling on attractions was included in our overall mileage). I found it interesting that the GPS picked up the two times that we road the Jungle Cruise, that we were technically “outside” of the guest area in the separate building where part of Pirates of the Caribbean is housed, and the fact that we realllllly love Splash Mountain.

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For another day at Animal Kingdom, it was also clear what our favorite attraction is there….

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Did you guess it? Yup! Expedition Everest…over and over again!

Another day at Future World showed that we really didn’t plan our time well…we were walking everywhere with no apparent goal. Sometimes that's nice to do at WDW.

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It was a fun exercise for us to track what we did and review what we had done. We might try it again and pack lots of extra BandAids for the dozens of blisters I got (but every one was worth it).

January 6, 2009

Tales of a Reluctant Runner: Part 3: Training Completed

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Every Sunday for the past two years I’ve had a ritual – I play tennis with two close friends for two hours early in the morning. I absolutely love this time and, even though I’ve been training for the Disney Half Marathon for the past year, I have never given this up.

As we were walking off the court today, I said, “Well, guys, this time next week I’ll either be in the hospital or I’ll have my medal.” We all laughed, but I thought to myself, “I’ll be fine. I WILL have my medal from Disney.”

Friday marked the last of my long runs, a ten-mile run at my local Y (weather here has not been cooperative, so I had to make do with the indoor track). I will probably do one more 2-3 mile run this week, but my coaches tell me that I need to scale back and allow my body to rest and prepare for the race.

I can’t believe that I’m done…during the past several months I’ve spent hours and hours running, thinking about running, thinking about what gear works for me. I’ve had aches and pains, I’ve noticed my body getting stronger and my stamina building. I’ve had hours of conversations about training, diet, strategy, and I’ve seen the race map and even got a tour of the race route when I was at MouseFest (after running in New Hampshire, it looked blissfully flat!).

I’ve had the support of my family, who had to lose me to yet another activity. I’ve had two terrific coaches, who have checked with me daily, offering advice about how to get around various obstacles such as weather, minor injuries, and working around a busy schedule. I’ve also had the support of my wonderful friends who have been there with an encouraging word and I’ve even had the support of many All Ears readers, whose emails have meant the world to me.

So…when I was leaving that tennis court today, I came to the realization that I’ve put in the hard work and I’m ready to tackle my 13.1 miles. I do so with a bit of trepidation, but lots of enthusiasm and confidence. I know the hard work all these months will pay off.

What’s left to think about? Well, when I was at MouseFest, I had the pleasure of meeting Melanie, her sister Julie, and their very nice mom. These Colorado ladies were kind enough to share their Disney running experiences (and their hopes to run more Disney races).

This family was so special and full of enthusiasm, they really touched me… and yesterday I was fortunate enough to find a note from Melanie in my email box.

She reminded me about something that I’d forgotten that I need to do….She said, “…for a few minutes (or maybe even a few hours) try to be a little selfish. Try to soak in your accomplishment. Be proud, you have worked hard for this and you deserve the elation you will feel when you cross the finish line. It is the most amazing feeling in the world. I have said repeatedly that I wish I could bottle my feelings at the end of the race because you will feel like you can accomplish anything (and you just did)!

Thanks, Melanie. I will be sure to take that time to soak it all in. I am proud…of this journey…that I didn’t give up, and that I’m ready to go. Mostly, though, this experience has reminded me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful support network in my life.

Good luck to all of my follow runners! Looking forward to seeing you there at the finish line!

Signed,
The Not-So Reluctant Runner
Michelle

December 26, 2008

Musings From A Newly-Dubbed MouseFest Veteran

Musings From A Newly-Dubbed MouseFest Veteran

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

[cue fanfare]

I’d like to make an announcement. I am now a MouseFest veteran. After three years, I finally feel like I have to chops to give myself this title. Am I allowed to give myself this title? I’m not really sure. There may, in fact, be some sort of a MouseFest Committee that approves these sorts of things, but in lieu of presenting my case to such a committee, I will leave it up to you, dear reader. I will make my case as I describe my trip and allow you to decide if I’ve moved from newbie to veteran status.

Fact #1: Arrived Early

In years past, I arrived at MouseFest on the day everything was getting started. Bad move. It was like getting sucked into a whirlwind and I never really caught my breath. This year, however, I decided to arrive a day before things actually got started.

Early Wednesday morning I met my AEN buddy Mike Scopa at the airport and headed off to Orlando very early. (Mike and I make up the New Hampshire Bureau of AllEars). This was a good chance to compare schedules, chat, and for me to hear about the 107 meets that Mike was hosting (okay, it may have been more like 8, but it was making me exhausted just hearing about all that was on that guy’s plate!).

After we got to Orlando and checked into our respective resorts, we headed to Downtown Disney to meet Mike Newell (MouseWorld Radio and WDW Today podcast) and some other friends for a very relaxing, though noisy, lunch at a new restaurant that we all wanted to try, T-Rex.

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Overall, I was underwhelmed by the restaurant, which template is largely based on The Rainforest Café: from the store on the outside to the podium where you check in, there are a lot of similarities. The theming has some interesting elements including a very large, animatronic octopus, an ice room, and a periodic meteor storm, but there are a few things other things that detract from the experience. As I mentioned, it was also very loud and not a good place to chat with friends, but also, it was pretty expensive (my salad was $13.99 and it was okay, but not worth that money).

Fact #2: Spent Time With Old Friends, Made New Friends

The first year I went to MouseFest, I knew almost no one. As with any new experience, it was sort of a risk to go there, but I did go and had a nice time. I met up with a few people and left with the notion that it would be a good idea to get more involved in the Disney community: listen to more podcasts, read more of the writers, and join some of the Disney online boards so that I could get to know a few more people who had the same passion for Disney that I did.

Year two of MouseFest I was lucky enough to know a lot more people before I got there, but I also spent time with some MouseFest veterans, who introduced me to even more new experiences.

For year three, I found that I was approaching my planning in a new way: with my friends in mind. We spent months making plans, emailing schedules, planning ADRs. This year I knew that, rather only than run from meet, I wanted to make spending time with friends a big part of my experience. So I did.

I met some old friends, including Masayo from Japan, and delighted when several people came up to her, knew her name, and asked to have their photos taken with her. Masayo’s generosity, enthusiasm, and love of all things Disney are legendary.

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I got to know some friends a bit better. One person who comes to mind is fellow AEN staffer Fred Block. I knew Fred a little bit from MouseFests past and from Magic Meets, but there I always see him race from place to place on a Segway. Fred and I are gadget lovers and got to have fun conversations about that, but on Monday we both participated in the recording of the WDW Today podcast Sip and Snack episode.

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Basically, the idea is to choose one drink or snack as you travel around each of the countries at EPCOT. After spending several hours with Fred, I’ve decided that he is one of the most hysterically funny people I’ve ever met and I think he should have his own sitcom: The Fred Block Show. Watching him eat marzipan in Germany was just priceless (although I’m still not convinced that Fred actually knows what marzipan is even now).

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I also got to meet some new friends, people who I will look for when I attend future MouseFests. Two people who quickly come to mind are Colin and Elisabeth from Georgia, who were spending their 5th anniversary at WDW and attending their first MouseFest. They brought so much enthusiasm to every meet that we went to that it was a pleasure to watch them enjoying themselves.

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Through the kindness of Deb Wills, I was able to offer Colin and Elisabeth a “wish,” tickets to attend an AllEars Illuminations dessert party. As we stood there and watched the show together, I found myself looking forward to meeting up with these friendly WDW fans again.

Fact #3: Took Time to Relax

I’m not going to pretend that I got all of that much sleep at MouseFest – that is one MF skill that I’ve yet to master. However, I did take time during the week to do some really relaxing and fun things, away from the regular meets and meetings that I attended. First, I took the time to look at the holiday decorations at the different resorts. One afternoon I spent some quiet time at the Yacht Club, looking that the toy train set with a Disney touch.
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Although I wasn’t staying at DVC resort during this trip, I did take about 30 minutes sitting by Storm-Along Bay at our home resort, Beach Club. It was wonderful, quiet, “me” time and I decided that sitting by this pool is is one of my “happy places” at WDW.

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Finally, the most relaxing time of all during the week was courtesy of Deb Wills, who spoiled the AEN staff with a delicious dinner at the Gaylord Palms. While spending several hours chatting with friends was relaxing in itself, we were further spoiled with a visit to Ice. We live with lots of ice in the northeast, but never saw anything like this. I highly recommend this experience.

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Fact #4: Tried New Things

I always try to do some new things when I’m at WDW. Even with all my trips, I’ve yet to experience everything there is to do. In addition to attending several new meets, I tried out a few other new things. During the Sip and Snack, an AEN colleague recommended that I try the green tea ice cream in China. Here’s my reaction.
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If you're unsure of what that face means, it means "not my cup of tea." (Pun intended). Thanks for that, Mr. Scopa.

It was also my first time trying the Illuminations Dessert party, a few other new restaurants, and it was my first time co-hosting an AEN meet at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which was a lot of fun and a huge honor.

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So, dear reader….I will leave the verdict to you. Am I now a MouseFest veteran? I think so.

Regardless of your vote, I hope to meet you there next year.

November 25, 2008

Running Disney With Gadgets

Running Disney With Gadgets By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Among my friends, I have a bit of a reputation for loving electronic gadgets….in fact, I have earned the nickname Gadget Gal because I really do enjoying playing with my technology toys.

I was happy to find that there are many ways to connect my love of gadgets with my preparation for the Disney Half Marathon. In fact, I have found several things that have made my training more organized and my running more fun.

Web Gadget: Map My Run

MapMyRun (www.mapmyrun.com) is a wonderful website that helps runners with journaling workouts, figuring out pace, and even number of calories burned. The most interesting tool on the website, is the feature that allows you to find out how far you’ve run by “drawing” your route on a map.

In addition to calculating your distance (I, for one, like to know if I’ve run 3.2 versus 3.5 miles!), it also allows you to save your runs and share them with friends. The best part is that, although, you need to provide a username and password, but MapMyRun is free. Because you have a free account, you can save your runs and view your progress.

iPhone Gadget: iMapMyRun

I’m a die-hard iPhone owner and recently discovered a new, free application for the iPhone that is related to MapMyRun – it’s called iMapMyRun (available at the iTunes Store in the Applications section). When you got out to run you can bring your iPhone with you and turn on iMapMyRun which uses the iPhone’s GPS features to pick up satellites which tracks your time, current speed, average speed, as well as your route.

When you return from your run you can save it and it will upload it to your MapMyRun account, as well as show you a map of where you ran. There is even a feature to allow you to post your running route on your Twitter account (Twitter is free “micro blog” social networking tool). I use this constantly now in my training and when I return from my run, I still find my gadget-loveself saying, “This is so cool!” It is cool, but it’s very useful.

Music Gadget: Your MP3 Player Plus iTunes

The final gadget that is indispensable is my Disney running list on my MP3 player (which, for me, is integrated into my iPhone).

Over the years I’ve collected many Disney songs that a fun and inspirational….and just keep me moving over those long distances. Some of the songs on my playlist include: Will and Elizabeth (Pirates of the Carribean), Go the Distance (Hercules), Colonel Hathi’s March (Jungle Book), Just Can’t Wait to Be King (Lion King), Under the Sea (Little Mermaid), Grim Grinning Ghosts (Bare Nake Ladies), Go With the Flow (Finding Nemo: The Musical), Jalan Kopo (pre-show music for EPCOT’s Illuminations), and, of course, the Mickey Mouse March.

You can share your list of running songs by building publishing a playlist on iTunes for free. You can view some of my Disney Running Playlist and download songs at: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewIMix?id=296681342

Gadget Holders

Now you’re probably envisioning me running with gadgets strapped all over me, that isn’t the case. There are many device holders available on the market into which your phone or MP3 player can fit safely. With mine, the nylon case straps comfortably around your arm with Velcro and stays snug during running.

Safety First

It’s certainly fun to have gadgets, but safety has to come first. I make sure that even when I’m listening to music, the volume is low enough that I can hear cars, pedestrians, or other runners.

During many races (Disney included), you’re not permitted to use MP3 players because of the number of runners. I might miss my gadgets, but they have been very helpful for training and getting ready for my half marathon. And anyway, I know the sights and sounds of Walt Disney World will allow be all I need to keep me moving to the finish line.

July 29, 2008

Review of Tales From the Laughing Place Magazine

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean


When it comes to magazines, the rule of thumb in our family is to stick to the Three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle. We’ve tried to reduce the number of magazine subscriptions we receive each month. When we’re through with an issue we try to hand it off to a neighbor who might be interested in the topic. When our pile of magazines starts to resemble a skyscraper and is in danger of crushing a small pet should it topple, then we haul it off to recycling.

I’m sharing background info so you can understand my reaction when I asked a friend to borrow some copies of Tales from the Laughing Place so that I could do a review. I was not a subscriber, so I thought this would be a great way to look at several issues at once.

Her response? “Sure, but please send them back when you’re done….because I save them.”

“What?” Thought I. “Why would someone want to hang on to a magazine?”

As soon as the envelope arrived, I could quickly understand why these magazines were treasured. Tales From the Laughing Place isn’t so much a magazine as it is a collector’s item for anyone who loves Disney.

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Each issue is devoted to a specific topic related to Disney parks all over the world. Past topics have included a focus on The Happiest Celebration on Earth, an in-depth look at Hong Kong Disneyland, and a retrospective on twenty-five years of EPCOT in celebration of its anniversary last year.

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I found the EPCOT issue particularly interesting and difficult to put down. In the space of a few minutes, I read an interview with Marty Sklar about the development of EPCOT and learned about the design considerations of Figment’s eyes.

I knew that the geodesic dome was a design of Buckminster Fuller, but found that the name Spaceship Earth was also his (based on his publication Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth which was published in the 1960s). Finally, in an article about how the O’ Canada film was updated, I was intrigued to learn how the producers used “green screen” technology to build scenes around Martin Short.

Anyone who has a deep fascination with all things Disney will appreciate the time taken to develop these articles. The editors and writers often reach back and choose stories about the history of the attractions to help readers understand the next steps Disney is taking in park development. Each article I read was well researched, clearly explained, and interesting enough to warrant rereading.

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Tales from the Laughing Place is published four times per year and subscriptions cost $36. That seems a bit pricey for so few issues, however, I used to work in the publishing business and the first thing I noticed about this magazine is that it’s made with the “good paper,” that expensive, high-gloss paper that makes it seems more like a book than a magazine.

The layout of the magazine is more than eye-catching – it is stunning. From the choice of fonts to the way each page has been carefully crafted made me look forward seeing the way the pages were constructed nearly as much as the content.

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Many of the park photographs are from unconventional angles and I found myself trying to figure out where each photo was taken, wondering why I hadn’t noticed some of these things, and looking forward to taking a closer look the next time I am in the parks.

So, as I carefully pack up the issues that I borrowed and prepare them to be sent back to my friend, I should mention that in the course of writing this review of Tales from the Laughing Place, I became a subscriber. Old issues of this publication will end up on my bookshelf among my Disney books and not in the recycling bin. And I won’t even pass the issues on to a friend (unless they promise to return them, of course).


You can subscribe or find past issues of Tales from the Laughing Place by visiting http://www.talesfromthelaughingplace.com.

Check out my other Disney Magazine Review:

Orlando Attractions Magazine

May 10, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Getaway: Part 2

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Beautiful weather was a welcome theme for this entire weekend, after traveling from New Hampshire, where it is still struggling to get out of the 50s. This May weekend was in Orlando absolutely beautiful with temperatures in the mid-80s and abundant sunshine for nearly the entire time I was there. This provided a terrific backdrop for my second full day at the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT.

I spent the first part of the day on my own, taking my time and carefully checking out the special exhibits and plants that were highlighted in Future World. I got the chance to speak with two beekeepers, whose booth was located in Future World East, between the Mousegear store and Mission Space. They brought two living hives, samples of honey, and were very willing to talk about the bee-plant relationship, as well as what is involved in keeping hives.

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Next I made my way over to Minnie’s Butterfly Garden (Can you see a theme here? I'm a science teacher and love learning about bugs!).

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Sandwiched between two amazing butterfly topiaries, this popular attraction is back with an array of local butterflies including zebra longwings, orange julias, and painted ladies.

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It was fairly crowded (with lots of enthusiastic photographers getting shots of these interesting creatures on their native plants. Here’s a photo I took of a common buckeye.

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Later in the morning I was joined by my friend, Pat, who had never seen the Flower and Garden Festival. I visit Walt Disney World frequently, but one of the things that I really enjoy is introducing my friends and family to new things that they haven’t seen before. Pat was thrilled with all that she saw and kept saying, “I can’t believe that I never knew this was here!”

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At lunchtime we made our way over to Garden Town, former home to the Wonders of Life Pavilion. (I met up with a cast member friend who said that, although they’ve been opening the Wonders of Life for five weeks a year during the past several years, now it is officially closed for good – or, as we like to say in the Disney fan world – it has become an “extinct attraction”).

For Flower and Garden, they’ve converted this space into sort of an exposition of things related to plants and growing. There are two spaces for lectures and demonstrations (I caught a horticulturist talking about garden irrigation and walked by a group learning about proper ways to plant trees), there is a little garden store, and there is a wonderful 20-minute film which shows behind the scenes footage of how the Disney team of horticulturists prepare for this event.

Pat and I then ventured to the Garden Town Café for lunch. This was a perfect spot for a few reasons. First, it seems that not many people know about this café….so it was not crowded at all. Second, there were some great food choices. We had salads with edible greens and flowers and both agreed that it was really yummy (and I definitely felt as if I’d had my vitamins for the day after eating that).

We spent the remainder of the day walking around World Showcase, where each country featured some special plant arrangement, spice, or fragrant flower collection. The topiaries were just spectacular. I noticed these familiar characters in Germany.

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My last morning at Walt Disney World was filled with interesting events. I decided that I could not go home without going to the Magic Kingdom (what trip to WDW would be complete without seeing the castle?). Taking advantage of my planned reservation later in the day, I parked at the Grand Floridian and took an easy monorail ride over to the Magic Kingdom. I spent quite a bit of time in Tomorrow Land and must comment that every time I’ve gone to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, I’ve really enjoyed myself. I sort of feel that I don’t want to like it – because it’s so goofy, but every show that I’ve been to has been different and really funny. I’d recommend it if you’ve never been.

Crowd levels we really high, but I decided to venture over to one of my favorites – Splash Mountain – because I had a Fast Pass. Not a good idea. Ten minutes into it, the ride broke down and we were stuck for 25 minutes. Because we stopped at a difficult to access place in the ride, our evacuation required that we climb over the back seats of several boats before being taken backstage to exit (cast members requested that we take no photos). Although this doesn’t happen often, it happens occasionally, so here is a tip for parents: make sure that your child has visited the restroom before going on a long attraction. The poor family behind me had a 5 year-old girl who had to go and that 25 minute wait was not a pleasant one for her!

On the way out of Splash Mountain, I had a bit of a celebrity sighting. Cole and Dylan Sprouse (a.k.a. Zack and Cody from the show on the Disney Channel) were walking toward Splash Mountain with a VIP guide. There were so many people in the park, they seemed to be walking around unnoticed. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera out when they passed.

The final treat for my weekend was meeting my friend for high tea at the Grand Floridian. This was a new experience for me and I was very excited. The tea is served at a small restaurant at the back of the lobby called Garden View Lounge. The tables are small, the chairs are comfy, the room is sunny, and the wait staff was excellent. Pat and I both ordered three course teas and settled in for a wonderful experience. I treated myself to a Prince Edward’s Tea (but shared the pate with my friend since I’m a vegetarian). The first course also came with sherry (a fun surprise), delicious cheese, and an assortment of berries. Later I had scones with Devonshire clotted cream, while Pat, who had ordered the Sally Lunn Tea, had beautiful strawberries and cream. It was a perfect ending to a whirlwind getaway weekend and I highly recommend high tea as a change of pace from the parks and a new experience at Walt Disney World.


You can download your own copy of the Flower and Garden Festival at: http://adisneyworld.disney.go.com/media/wdw/Images2003/languagespecific/eng/nontheme/parks/epcot/events/flowerandgarden/FlowerGarden08_lores.pdf

Take a look at menu for high tea at the Grand Floridian Garden View Lounge.

May 9, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Walt Disney World Getaway: Part 1

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Ah, the generosity of friends….and all my friends happen to know that I love Walt Disney World. So, when my dear pal Pat invited me to stay at her off-property Orlando timeshare for the weekend, I jumped at the chance. I was particularly happy because, although we usually trek down to WDW in May as a family, this spring we’d decided to postpone our family trip until later in the year….which meant that I was going to miss the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT. However, yesterday, after a very early flight from cold and dreary New Hampshire, midmorning I found myself standing in front of Spaceship Earth taking in this splendid site:

Spaceship Earth Flower and Garden Festival


The entrance area to EPCOT didn’t have its typical music, but instead featured tunes that you’d hear at a beach party….which is fitting since all of the topiaries are decked out in beach gear. Minnie had a cute bathing suit and her dear boy…..er…..mousefriend looked like this:

Mickey and the Flower and Garden Festival


I didn’t get very far into EPCOT when my friend called and invited me to Downtown Disney for lunch. (See! I told you it was whirlwind). We met at Wolfgang Puck’s for a lunch on the outside patio (something that it pretty tricky to do in New Hampshire these days).

I ordered spinach salad with pecans and gorgonzola cheese, but had asked them to take the apples out since I am allergic. The waitress assured me it would be no problem at all. After the salad arrived and I started eating it….I bit down into an apple! Luckily, I only had a slight reaction, but I made sure to tell the waitress. The chef came out to personally apologize, but I wanted to mention this because, although anyone with allergies is very careful, mistakes do happen so be sure to double check (it reminded me that I need to remember to carry my benedryl wherever I go).

As my friend Pat headed to a water park with her son, I had some time to myself before we met later for dinner. As I got into my car I had an email on my phone from a friend suggesting that there might be soft openings of Toy Story Mania at Disney Hollywood Studios. Well, I guess that made the decision of where I’d be going next! When I arrived I found out that the soft openings were just for Cast Members….and that the line was a 90 minute wait (those Cast Members love the new attractions as much as we do!). This is was the area looked like.

Toy Story Mania Entrance

You can see that it was blocked off, but there is a Pixar Studio banner, some plastic monkeys, and some army men on the roof. Looks like it is going to be a fun area….but I’ll have to wait until my next trip.

I did get to see something new…the Block Party Bash, which has just been around for about a month. The parade is a bit different from other Disney parades because there are about six or seven floats with performer and different characters and they start by moving up the street and then stopping to perform for 10 minutes….then they move to another part of the parade route and stop again. I was sitting at the second stop….and it seemed like a long wait until they got there.

The characters are from Pixar films so you’ll see Toy Story characters, the Bug’s Life crew, and the ones that stopped in front of me were from Monster’s Inc.

Boo in Block Party Bash Parade

The characters, along with dancing Cast Member friends, engage the audience in jumping, clapping, and dancing to pretty much any party song you can imagine (think YMCA and macarana). It was different and the kids around me were thrilled when they were pulled out into the street to dance. At the end of the mini performance, they shot mini rubber balls into the audience.

Sully in Block Party Bash Parade


After two trips on Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n Roller Coaster and two more on the Tower of Terror, I headed off to Boma for dinner (see previous note about the whirlwind nature of this trip). I introduced Boma to my friend last year….and now, just like me, she likes to make a visit to Boma part of every trip. Our new tradition is arriving about 45 minutes before our reservation so that we can walk around the lobby and check out the interesting artifacts and go behind the resort where you can see some African animals.

So, after a wonderful dinner at Boma….we headed back to her resort and preparation for another fun day. More to follow…

April 29, 2008

The Disney Mickey Mom’s Club

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

About a year ago something Disney popped into my email box. Well, to be honest, this happens several dozen times each day, but this was a bit different. Disney was launching something called the Disney Mom’s Panel: they would choose about 10 Disney parents, regular people who love Disney, to serve as “advice givers” to trip planners visiting the Disney site….and as reward, Disney would spring for a trip to Walt Disney World in December.

Disney Moms Panel

Did this have Michelle written all over it?! Well, my family and friends certainly thought so…they encouraged me to go for it. Sensing this was something that was going to generate an enormous response, I quickly fired off an application which consisted of telling a bit about myself, my family, and, of course, making a case for my Disney expertise.

Well…I was correct….this offer from Disney generated a gazillion responses from Disney-loving parents (in truth, it was several thousand) – the response was so overwhelming, in fact, that Disney was forced to close the application process fairly quickly. So, I submitted my application, crossed my fingers, and waited….

….and waited…and kept on waiting until early November when I found out that they had chosen some other worthy candidates, but not me. Awww. I was disappointed but quickly got over it….


A few months later I got yet another Disney email which basically said, “Hey, all of you thousands of people who didn’t make it….we want to stay in touch with you and we’re forming a club of Disney-loving parents such as yourself…and we’ll let you name the club and promise to send you lots of neat stuff…for free!”

Well, that sounded like my cup ‘o tea! Disney gave the runners up of this contest a chance to vote on the name of this new club – and the name I chose – The Mickey Mom’s Club, was the name that was eventually chosen.

I was excited, but unsure of what this meant. Would I have responsibilities? Would I need to be at my computer, at the ready for Disney planning questions that may come my way? It was all a bit nebulous.

Then it hit me: this was a stroke of Disney marketing genius!! Disney had several thousand people who were all willing to coach their friends and neighbors through planning their trip to Walt Disney World – they had, in essence, a cadre of Disney mini-mouseketeers….er…marketeers at the ready (smart move, Disney!).

Soon I started receiving emails with planning tips, desktop wallpaper, and lots of praise for being a member of the Disney Mickey Mom’s Club (I thought, “Gee, thanks, Disney, but I haven’t actually even done anything).

About two weeks ago I received a huge lavender envelope with Mickey Ears all over it. Oh, boy, was I excited and I opened it to find a bundle of really fun Disney stuff including:

- Two Disney Tinkerbell pins (one for me and one to share)
- A huge Disney Mom’s Club (DMC) magnet for my car
- A DMC “mouse pad”
- A glossy photograph and stickers of the “Fab Five”
- A Disney planning DVD
- A pocket guide to planning for WDW trips



Disney Mom's Club Kit


This is great stuff! I feel very spoiled…and, although I know I’m being rewarded for doing some Disney marketing, it doesn’t bother me. Every day I give trip and planning advice, as I suspect the other thousands of DMC members do… We love Disney and we’re happy to help our friends and family.

Tinkerbelle Pin


So, I’m happy with my DMC loot….now I could just need find a worthy recipient of that other Tinkerbell pin.


March 25, 2008

Orlando Attractions Magazine - A Review

Orlando Attractions Magazine - A Review

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

I remember the fateful day back in 2005….I received my monthly Disney Magazine and, just as I had every other month, I devoured its contents, wanting more and more Disney information …only to receive a notice a few weeks later that this issue would be the last: the magazine was abruptly closing its doors and would no longer be available.

Disney Magazine Covers


For the Disney fans who can’t get enough (and if you’re reading this, that probably includes you), it doesn’t matter what the medium: We want our Disney!

Books, Travel Channel specials, podcasts, blogs, and websites – it doesn’t matter – if it’s Disney-related – bring it on! That’s why I was so excited to see a new, Orlando-based publication spring up.

Orlando Attractions magazine, published by Ricky Brigante (of the Inside the Magic podcast) and edited by Matt Roseboom, hit the stands with its premier issue in December 2007 and, in many ways, is filling a void for fans who need more Disney…and who are also interested in learning more about the happenings in the Orlando area.

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I took a peek at the first two issues and noticed some things that I really liked, for example both issues had several reoccurring features that were interesting. The Work in Progress section gives readers a snap-shot of the status of the attractions at Disney, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other attractions in the area.

I was pleased to see a description and projected opening day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The progress of Disney Studios’ Toy Story Mania, with a photo and link to the attraction website was also described in this section.

The Photo Finds section appears as a bulletin board with fun photos and captions of happenings and special events in the area. The Restaurant Report section offers a glimpse at some of the areas new and long-standing dining experiences. The Vacation Planner is a handy three-month glimpse at special events, concerts, festivals, and special parties around the area (quite handy to browse and check off what you might want to do when you’re in the area). T

he magazine also features attraction-inspired cartoons (there is a niche for everything) called Bemusement Park, as well as some puzzles. At the accompanying website (http://www.attractionsmagazine.com/) , readers can order back-issues of the magazine, review videos and photos, and read a blog about current Orlando happenings.

Based upon the first two issues, a strength of this magazine is its in-depth feature articles.

Issue One documented EPCOT’s 25th anniversary celebration in October 2007 with construction photos and early EPCOT maps, perspectives from Disney leaders, a special merchandise overview, and park milestones. In addition, the writers recognized the extraordinary efforts of the Disney-fan community (led by Celebration 25’s Adam Roth) who attracted the attention of Disney and who worked with Disney leaders to make the event a tremendous success.

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This first issue also featured an article describing the enhanced features of the Haunted Mansion, which re-opened after an extensive refurbishment this past fall.

Issue Two took an in-depth look at the development of the new Simpsons ride a Universal Studios including an interview with the executive show producer. This sneak-peek details the theming and merchandising in the area that will immerse visitors in the world of the Simpsons.

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While the magazine has a lot to offer, there is still room for improvement. In some sections the magazine layout looks and feels more like a free flyer that one might find in a road-side pamphlet stand (the higher-quality paper chosen for Issue Two was a good choice in helping the magazine distinguish itself from the freebies).

Also, because the format of the magazine combines all area attractions together and I found myself saying, “Ok, now where is this happening again? Where was this event?” Another suggestion would be to group attraction info together in their own sections or code them in some way (by color or by icon) so that readers can quickly identify where the events are taking place.

Finally, while I’m thrilled that the magazine is choosing to review some new and interesting dining experiences, I’d like the see the Restaurant Report section extended to include reviews of more menu items and suggested choices for those with special diets.

However, it would seem reasonable that any new magazine would go through some “growing pains” and this publication has the potential to fill a niche for those who want more in-depth information about the many attractions in the Orlando area.

While it doesn’t completely replace my beloved Disney Magazine, Orlando Attractions is a fun read for those of us who adore Walt Disney World, Universal, and other attractions in the area.

Here's the cover for Issue #3!

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Website: Orlando Attractions Magazine

February 1, 2008

Marathon Weekend Trip Report

All Ears® feature writer Michelle Scribner-MacLean visited Walt Disney World with her son during Marathon weekend. She shares this trip report.

Port Orleans French Quarter

It happens every time I come back from WDW. A day or two after I return, my husband looks at me and says, “You have that glimmer in your eye again….I know what you’re thinking…!” And he’s right. I’m usually starting to think about my next trip to WDW. So, with MouseFest a month behind me, I knew it was time to return.

I’m fortunate enough to have a job that is very flexible in January, as well as a friend who has an Orlando timeshare during this time of year, so making the trip in January has been something I’ve been able to do for the past several years. This trip has evolved into a time when I bring one of my kids to WDW – for some alone time together. This year I brought Evan, my 14 year old for some Mom and teen bonding. It is such a treat to visit WDW with just one kid. When we go alone I allow each of my two kids to set the agenda for the trip. They get to visit the parks they want to visit and ride the attractions they choose (as many times as they want – within reason, of course).

I peeled him out of bed so that we could make our super-early trip out of Manchester. We were running away from the cold, but also the impending snow storm that would add another 10” of snow to the nearly 40” we’ve had so far in New Hampshire. We made our way down to Orlando with ease and, before we knew it, found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom sitting down at Aloha Isle for Dole Whips by 1 p.m…..when who should come ambling by…well, who would we expect to be walking in the direction of a Dole Whip but Mike Scopa, who had just completed his running of the Disney Half Marathon. After a quick chat we headed over to the Tomorrowland Noodle Station to congratulate some of the other runners.

It was quite a rainy day – and we found ourselves running for cover more than once. The lines were moderate to long – there was about a 40 minute wait for Space Mountain.

At the advice of a good AllEars.net friend, each time I visit WDW I try to do something new, something that I’ve never tried before. This trip we opted to stay one night in a new resort. We checked in to Port Orleans French Quarter and explored. What a beautiful resort! I’m always amazed that an area that was once Florida swamp land can take on so many personalities with some Disney magic – the theming at POFQ is terrific, from lush vegetation and quaint and colorful units, with wrought iron fences – I felt like I was in the heart of a historic New Orleans neighborhood. The Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court offers stations with a wide-variety of choices and some terrific, Mardi Gras-inspired theming. Very fun. I feel like I have some more exploring to do at that resort so I will definitely stay there again.


Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court


The next day we made our way over to EPCOT and got to cheer on some of the marathoners as they made their way toward the end of the race through Future World.

When we entered the park we saw that SpaceShip Earth was open and all of the scaffolding that had been there in December when I was there for MouseFest was down. The attraction is a still officially in the “soft-opening” phase and there is a sign indicating that the grand re-opening until February (meaning that it can close at any time). Of course we jumped on! The script is very different, the animatronics are spectacular, but the ride descent part of the ride is sort of a let down (no pun intended). To me, the interactive screens doesn’t provide that Disney “WOW” that we’re accustomed to.

Spaceship Earth - Interactive Screen

After jumping on to Soarin’, we joined fellow All Ears® blogger and photographer extraordinaire, Barrie, for a quick bite to eat at Sunshine Seasons. This is one of my favorite vegetarian spots in all of WDW. There are lots of choices for kids and adults.

We had one of those rare days in the parks where we did just about everything there is to do in the park, we left no stone unturned, no attraction unvisited in EPCOT. As we rounded World Showcase at the end of the night, we ran into more friends in time for Illuminations. Perfect end to a perfect day.

The next day was Animal Kingdom…and we spent half the morning doing just one thing – riding Expedition Everest. By getting there early, using FastPass, and queuing in the Single Rider line, we ended up riding the attraction six times in a row. If that doesn’t a bond a mom and her teenage son, I don’t know what does!

We met my long-time friend Sharon and her family for lunch at Pizzafari. Sharon had just completed her first ½ marathon and raised lots of money for diabetes research. Her family was there to cheer her on – and it was their first trip to WDW, so it was really fun to listen to their perspectives on touring the parks.

That night, my teenager wanted some “me” time in one of his favorite Disney attractions – Disney Quest. I know that this attraction is not on the top of a lot of people’s lists, but my kids really enjoy this five-story interactive theme park and we try to visit every time we visit WDW. My son and I parted with this request from him: “Please just leave me here for five or six hours.” Although he wouldn’t exactly have his wish, this afforded me some time to meet a colleague from work at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Boma. I love Boma. It is one of my top three favorite WDW restaurants because of the variety of different foods available and because of the setting. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is just spectacular and, having spent much time in real African lodges, I can tell you with certainty that they got it right when they created this resort. My friend had never visited AKL and it was such a thrill to see her face when she first entered the resort and to hear her say how much she loved Boma, too.

The final day started with breakfast at the Polynesian’s Kona Café, where Evan experienced his first Tonga Toast, followed by a whirlwind tour was a visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Evan's Tonga Toast

While we focused on the thrill rides in the morning (hardly a surprise if you’ve followed this blog carefully from the beginning), we took the rest of the day to take in shows such as Indiana Jones and the Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show, two shows on top of a teenage boy’s To Do list at the Studios.

Later that night, we made our way back to snowy and cold New Hampshire…and the next day my husband said, “You have that glimmer in your eye again….”

January 29, 2008

Lou Mongello’s Audio Guide to Walt Disney World - A Review

Lou Mongello’s Audio Guide to Walt Disney World:
Your Portable Personal Guide to Main Street, USA

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean


Think about that first time you went to the Magic Kingdom. Remember all of the excitement as you hit Main Street, USA as you entered the Happiest Place on Earth? Perhaps you “rocketed” over to Tomorrowland to get a ride on Space Mountain. Maybe you scooted over to Adventureland to hop aboard a pirate boat? Quite possibly you were drawn right to Cinderella’s Castle to get a closer look.

Main Street


Remember the second time you visited? You were probably a bit more confident, took your time…and maybe by your third or fourth trip you felt like a pro….and started noticing all of the details that make Walt Disney World so special?

For many of us, the details are one of the many reasons we keep coming back to the Magic Kingdom. Lou Mongello, author of the Walt Disney World Trivia books, has put his love of the history and details of WDW to create The Audio Guide to Walt Disney World. The recording, which took Mongello about 18 months to write, record, and edit, can be likened to an audio guide that you rent when you go to a blockbuster museum exhibit, the type that gives you more inside information about what you’re looking at, listening to, and experiencing.

Main Street Audio Guide Cover


This on-going series, which will eventually feature each the lands of the Magic Kingdom, has high-appeal for those wanting to get the “back story” about the architecture, music, and production aspects of Main Street, USA.

Mongello had several goals in mind when producing this audio guide. “I really want to be able to both enhance the vacation experience for the Guest who is visiting the parks, as well as give people a little bit of the “magic” at home as they prepare for their next visit, or just when they need a little bit of Disney in between their visits.” In addition, this recording is an excellent resource for those visitors who are visually impaired, as Mongello’s descriptions are rich and detailed.
Production is a strength of Mongello’s, who has earned two podcast awards during the past few years. His narration is that of a seasoned tour-guide: the pacing is excellent, allowing the listener time to take in the details being presented.

Another appealing aspect of the production is the ambient noise in the background. Normally, “noise” isn’t viewed as a strength – but, as Mongello narrates, he uses “Main Street” activity and music to enhance the topic at hand. You’ll hear the Dapper Dans, horse-drawn trolleys, visitors mulling around, as well as rag-time piano players who perform outside of Casey’s. Mongello spent days just recording the background sounds that helps the listener feel as if they are really at the Magic Kingdom, strolling down Main Street – you can almost imagine Cinderella’s castle off in the distance.

“Spending 7 hours walking up and down Main Street in complete silence, or standing in one spot hoping that the kids in the family of four walking towards me weren’t about to have a loud, screaming meltdown was a pretty unique experience,” says Mongello.


From the significance of the bricks and signs as you enter Main Street, to Crystal Palace bordering Adventureland, to the hub at the center of the park, Mongello explains some truly interesting aspects of the park encountered by arriving visitors.

You learn the history and the development of many of the buildings. For example, many Disney fans know about the use of forced perspective for the buildings on Main Street, where the scale of the buildings changes on the upper stories to make the buildings appear larger than they really are), but did you know that the Exposition Hall is the only building on Main Street that was built to full scale to block the view of the Contemporary Hotel in the background?

I also learned that Main Street was actually designed to look long and majestic, with the castle in the distance as the visitor enters, but looks shorter as you look towards the train station, with your back toward the castle so that weary visitors would not be overwhelmed by the long walk back down the street after a tiring day at the park.

The names features on the windows on Main Street have long held a fascination for many visitors, but, if you’re like me, you might only know handful of names. Mongello details the backgrounds and histories of many Disney notables and legends, as well as how they each had a significant impact on the park’s design.

Main Street Windows


Among the many things I learned about these “credits” which “roll” on Main Street was that not all of them are listed on windows. There is actually a door, located at the end of Disney clothiers, which says “Open Since 1971, Magic Kingdom Casting Agency. This door, dedicated in 2005, recognizes the contributions of the thousands of Disney cast members, who are, of course, some of the most important contributors to the success of the park.

Main Street Door Honoring Cast Members


Of this project, Mongello says, “I hope to be able to open people’s eyes to the incredible detail, history and story that is present throughout the parks and resorts, introduce them to some true “hidden treasures”, and even use it as a planning tool. It was designed not only for the WDW “expert,” but for the first-time visitors as well.”

He has achieved this – and I highly recommend this audio CD for Disney-lovers of all ages. It is available for $9.99 (plus shipping).


Mongello plans to tackle Adventureland next, as well as the remainder of the lands in the Magic Kingdom. Plans for audio tours of EPCOT are also in the works in the distant future.

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About Michelle Scribner-MacLean Blogs

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in the Michelle Scribner-MacLean Blogs category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disneyland Resort is the previous category.

Reviews is the next category.

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