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August 24, 2017

Updates to My Disney Experience

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Have you opened your My Disney Experience App lately? I hadn't for a few days, but when I did this morning -- lo and behold! I was greeted with a number of enhancements that will make the app even more useful than it already was.

One of the new notifications told me that I am now able to renew my annual pass right there using the app.

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Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that for... well, for 356 days, the app tells me, as you can see in the screenshot below. (Although I'm not sure about that math...)

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Did it always tell you the days remaining, by the way? I've never noticed that before. Am I that unobservant? Don't answer that -- rhetorical question.

Anyhow... I also see that I can now keep track of my Disney Resort Hotel purchases.

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I have to say that this is a really good addition. I'm not really a shopper, but once you tie your credit card to your MDE account, that darn MagicBand makes it so easy to spend money. "Yeah, I'm a bit hungry -- I need a snack." Touch the MagicBand to a touchpoint and BOOP! Mickey ice cream bar! "I could go for a cold drink." BOOP! Frozen margarita! "Oh, that's a cute t-shirt!" BOOP! Nifty new t-shirt with a matching one for hubby to go with it. Yeah, it's a good idea for me to have those numbers right there in front of me on the app, reminding me to rein it in a bit.

Finally, and most useful for those of you on the Disney Dining Plan, you can track your DDP usage. The screen clearly shows how many credits you have "spent", and how many you still have available. As you can see, the app will even track how many refillable mugs you have in use.

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Probably most importantly, you can quickly determine how many snack credits you have yet to use. This can really help you maximize the Dining Plan. No more panicking on your last day because you suddenly discover that you have to use six snack credits before you leave Disney property in an hour, or you lose them. And best of all, no need to collect crumpled paper receipts in your purse or pocket like a packrat, just so you can keep track of your so-called "entitlements." Just a flip through the app and you know what's what. Knowledge is power!

These latest updates, combined with the recent expansion of the Mobile Food and Beverage Order function, really make the app a handy tool before and DURING your vacation, and I'm looking forward to trying them out on my next Disney vacation, which is in... let's see what the app says.

34 DAYS! Hurray! See you then!






April 17, 2017

A Trip to the Lost and Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






April 5, 2017

Express Transportation at Walt Disney World Theme Parks

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

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

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

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

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So here's how it works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





December 15, 2015

The Ganachery Opens at Disney Springs

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by Linda Eckwerth
AllEars Team Member

The Ganachery, a new shop that showcases hand-crafted chocolate, opened at 10:30 a.m. today, December 15, in Walt Disney World's Disney Springs.

Just about everyone loves chocolate, and that was apparent from the crowds this store's opening drew! Lines of people waiting to enter were long throughout the morning, but after about a 35-minute wait I managed to get in and take a few photos of -- and sampled! -- some of the amazing chocolate that's being made on site.

I was greeted at the door by a cast member, who was handing out tiny free samples. (I was told that a cast member would probably be stationed outside at least through the holidays to help with the crowds.)

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The tiny shop, which only holds about 20 people at a time, is designed to resemble an old-time drug store. Copper pots and pans dangle from the ceiling, and the decor is all dark woods, antique-looking photographs, and little bottles and mortars and pestles.

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And of course... chocolate. Lots and lots of it!

You can watch some of the magic being made behind a glass partition.

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The head chocolatier here is Amanda, who came to The Ganachery from Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Many of the chocolates have unique flavors, and they hand out a guide so that you can keep track of what you're tasting. Also, if you have allergies or other special dietary concerns, there is a book with all ingredients listed.

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I tried to get a photo of all the different products available, but with all the people swarming around, it wasn't easy.

They were making "chocolate enrobed stollen," a holiday specialty, while I was there. They cost $12.

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Chocolate bars like these below cost $8 each.

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Chocolate pops were $5 each.

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Tubes of "crispy chocolate pearls" were also $5 each.

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And individual samples like these below were $3 a piece. But the more you buy, the more you save: six pieces for $15; nine pieces for $21; a box of 12 pieces, $27.

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Currently, The Ganachery, which is owned and operated by Disney, is a one-of-a-kind shop, but if the idea catches on, who knows? Additional outlets could be opened elsewhere in the resort, and even in Disneyland!


September 30, 2015

Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise

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Starting Monday, October 5, you can see the Magic Kingdom's Wishes fireworks in a whole new way -- on Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise.

The cruise, which sets sail from the Transportation and Ticket Center ferry dock, is on the General Joe Potter ferry, and makes a circuit around the Seven Seas Lagoon while guests nosh on an assortment of sweets treats. The cruise comes to a halt in front of the Magic Kingdom, affording a perfect view of the Wishes fireworks, then returns to the dock.

I had the opportunity to take this new cruise last week in advance of its official start date, so I thought I'd share some photos and video.

As I said, the cruise starts at the Ferry Dock at the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you check in with a Disney cast member.

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Your boarding time varies according to when Wishes will be performed that night. The evening of my cruise, Wishes was going to start at 9 p.m. We had to check in at 7:45 for an 8 p.m. sail time. For 10 p.m. Wishes, everything shifts an hour later.

After checking in, you're welcomed with a glass of sparkling cider or champagne in a glowing plastic flute.

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About an hour before the fireworks, you board the General Joe Potter, named for the Disney legend who developed the canals and underground utilities that made the operation of Walt Disney World possible. There are only about 150 guests sailing with you, so boarding wasn't rushed, nor was there a crush of people -- a nice change after a day in the crowded theme parks.

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As you board you're given a menu and a souvenir plate that's notched to hold your beverage, which definitely comes in handy. Beverage stations along the walls are stocked with coffee, ice water and soft drinks, while at the far end are stations with alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, and two versions of a spiked pink lemonade, one with prosecco, the other with vodka.

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Both high and low cocktail tables are scattered around the lower deck, the latter to accommodate children and guests in wheelchairs or ECVs. There is also a table with some desserts, and even more can be found on the upper deck.

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Tables are loaded with desserts made by and themed to the resorts and theme park that encircle your cruise route. They're a departure from the usual Disney dessert party fare, showing a bit of whimsy and imagination. You have:

"The Grand" Key Lime Tart from the Grand Floridian...

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Contemporary "Traditional with a Twist" Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake...

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Polynesian De-constructed Pineapple Upside Down Cake (that's it in the middle; sorry, didn't get a photo of it on its own)...

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"Main Street" Mickey Balloon Tarts in a variety of flavors...

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Mini "Firework" Cupcakes with a Pop...

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No Sugar Added Florida Mango Panna Cotta...

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and the showstopper -- at least it was to me: Cinderella's Sugar Slipper with Orange Financier (which is a ...

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How beautiful are those slippers? I wanted to try one on, they were so perfect. They are pure sugar, though, so while you COULD eat them, you really wouldn't want to. Such a shame.

A nice inclusion on the buffet is the Fruit, Cheese and Cracker spread, for those who may prefer a little less sugar that late at night...

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The ferry slowly cruises past the Magic Kingdom resorts for about an hour, allowing you plenty of time to take in the beauty of the illuminated grounds while sampling all the sweets. Trays are replenished frequently -- in fact, I never saw a tray less than half-full at any point during the evening. Periodically cast members circulate with other treats, such as Mickey bars and ice cream sandwiches. There's definitely no skimping and no shortage of treats on offer.

Shortly before fireworks time, the boat "weighs anchor" at the Magic Kingdom, so that you're positioned right in front of Cinderella Castle. (We noticed that we were also right in front of the new bungalows at the Polynesian Village Resort -- probably obscuring the view of the guests in those rooms.) As the show begins, I realized that the music and voices I was hearing were not coming from the park, but were being piped in via the boat's sound system so that we could hear everything perfectly.

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Once the fireworks conclude, the ferry makes a fairly speedy return to the dock. I didn't check my watch, but others said we were back at the TTC by a little after 9:30 p.m.

As you disembark, cast members offer a tart but refreshing frozen Olaf strawberry-lemonade ice pop. Certainly made me pucker, but was a nice way to cleanse the palate after all that sugar!

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The price for the cruise is $99 for adults, $69 for ages 3 to 9, including tax and gratuity. While the desserts and beverages are plentiful, I have to say I think that is a little steep, especially for children who probably shouldn't be eating $70 worth of sugary snacks right before bedtime. Having said that, though, it is a fairly exclusive event -- a limited number of guests, unlimited desserts and beverages (even alcoholic ones), and a terrific view of one of the best fireworks displays I've ever seen. As an added bonus, a cast member told me that on nights when Wishes is performed at 10 p.m., you'll also get to see the Electric Water Pageant as it makes its way around the lagoon. (We noticed it waiting to set off as we were pulling into the TTC dock.) The cruise could be a nice splurge for a birthday or anniversary, for example, or an ideal new thing-to-do for the frequent Disney-goer who has done it all before.

To give you a little more insight to the cruise, here's a video with highlights from the evening:

A few practical notes: As I mentioned earlier, the ferry can accommodate those in wheelchairs and ECVs, but only on the lower deck -- there are only stairs to the upper deck. There are, however, low cocktail tables available, and cast members are more than happy to assist with whatever is needed. Also, some of you regular ferryboat riders might be thinking, "Hey! There are no restrooms on board! That's not good." Rest easy: The General Joe Potter now has two restrooms to accommodate guests.

If you're interested the Ferryboat Wishes dessert cruise, you can make reservations by visiting DisneyWorld.com/DINE or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

(Author's Note: I was an invited media guest of Walt Disney World on this dessert cruise, but this did not affect my review. My opinions are my own.)

September 28, 2015

Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar

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There are so many changes happening at Downtown Disney -- er, Disney Springs, I should say -- that it's tough to keep up!

But I was able to get over there the other day to check out the new waterfront lounge, Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, which opened on Tuesday, September 22.

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Themed around a very minor character from the first Indiana Jones movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the new lounge quenches not just your thirst, but your thirst for movie memorabilia. The building, made to resemble an airplane hangar, is supposedly the establishment run by Indiana Jones's pilot Jock. You may remember Jock from an early scene in the film, as not only the pilot who helps Indy flee from the angry natives, but also owns pet snake Reggie.

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The lounge has a high ceiling and an airy feel, and the walls are lined with items that hark back to Jock's world-traveling, Indiana Jones-like exploits.

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There are even some sly references to other films with a Disney connection, such as Star Wars...

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And Marvel's Iron Man...

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And what about the drinks? What about the food?

Well, these items are also themed to the Indiana Jones movies, with offerings like "Good Dates," a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark's poisonous "bad dates." These are yummy sweet dates stuffed with savory goat cheese.

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Among the other offerings are also "Lao Che's Revenge" (tasty, spicy-sweet sticky chicken wings), Brody's Brats and Snack of Ra, which is a combo of several African salad and dips, naan and an Ethiopian bread. You could easily make a meal, snacking around this relatively short menu that still manages to offer something for everyone.

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The drinks sport names like "Cool-Headed Monkey" and "Bam's Barnstormer" (with its inside-out paper umbrella, known elsewhere as the "Dark and Stormy"). They are colorful and fun, even though as of the day I was there the lounge still didn't have the special souvenir glasses to go along with many of the specialty cocktails.

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My one complaint, if there has to be one, is that there is such limited seating indoors. Since it's open seating, this leads to people being forced to hover over tables, waiting for others to finish up. Yes, there is plentiful outdoor seating, including Reggie's boat, an actual boat converted into a seating area off the main dock.

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If there's a nice breeze coming off of the water, it is lovely. However, this being Orlando, it might just as easily be hot and humid and/or stormy -- not conducive to having a nice, relaxing drink and a snack.

All in all, I really enjoyed Jock's -- though, I'm not sure how he warranted a place all his own, given his minor role in the Indiana Jones story as we know it. Still, it gives us all a chance to relive the movie memories as we peruse the paraphernalia around the room, and to say, one more time, "Snakes? Why'd it have to be snakes?"


May 6, 2014

Coming Attractions Around the "World"

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In wrapping up the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train media preview the other day, Walt Disney World executives gave us an "Around Our World" briefing -- basically an overview of everything that's been going on and is to come at all of Disney's business units. You've probably read all the press releases by now, and realized that much of the news was not really "news" at all (expanded Star Wars Weekends, the upcoming 24-hour Memorial Day Weekend event, Norway experiences for the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney), or had been rumored around the internet. Still, it was good to get official word on some projects -- and I have to admit that there were one or two items that were actually news to me!

The biggest Walt Disney World news centered around Disney's Animal Kingdom. While Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis didn't offer much in the way of details on the progress of the park's Avatar-themed land, I did glean what I thought was an interesting nugget from the accompanying video.

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Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs spoke about the work on the new land, saying that the three things the team wanted to accomplish were to allow guests to experience the grandeur and scale of the film's floating mountains and the beauty of the bioluminescent forest, and to ride a banshee. He noted that through a new array of technologies and techniques they have figured out how to do all three things! I think this offers some clues as to what we can expect from the attractions when the new land eventually opens... in 2017!

Aside from "Pandora" or "Avatar-land," or whatever the new land is named, Kalogridis did have specifics on several new offerings that will help convert Animal Kingdom into a full-day park -- and by that I mean that the park will have extended opening hours, well into the night.

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Disney animated feature The Lion King, the park's beloved attraction Festival of the Lion King will reopen in June in its new location -- the newly constructed Harambe Theatre in the Africa section of the park (artist renderings below).

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Animal Kingdom then will begin to offer a series of special ticketed evening events, called "Harambe Nights," which will include a 55-minute theatrical rendition of the Lion King story in Harambe Theatre called "The Lion King Concert in the Wild." Running on Saturdays from June 7 through August 9, Harambe Nights will begin with a reception, complete with appetizers, beer and wine, in Animal Kingdom's Harambe Village, followed by the stage show, which will include a live orchestra and choir and will be narrated by such actors as Joe Morton (from ABC-TV's "Scandal") and Viola Davis (Oscar-nominated for her role in the film "The Help"). The evening will conclude with a street party and buffet stations situated throughout that area of the park. For more details, see the official press release HERE.

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In addition to this, the park will offer a new, "dark" version of the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction, and live performers will entertain guests in the evenings around the Tree of Life. Further down the road, a new "nighttime Spectacular" called "Rivers of Light." The nighttime show will combine live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery on the park's Discovery River, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. No estimated date was given for this new evening entertainment debut, but we were told that the night-time version of Kilimanjaro Safari, and the Tree of Life live performers would happen "sooner" than 2017.

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A lot of the other announcements dealt with the renovations happening at the Polynesian Resort -- er, excuse me, I mean the Polynesian VILLAGE Resort.

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That's right, the hotel is reverting to the name it originally sported back when it opened in 1971. In addition to the room refurbishments that have been ongoing at the resort, the main pool and the lobby -- the Great Ceremonial House -- are also getting the treatment. The resort is also going to add a new lounge, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, based on lounge at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. The new lounge will offer tiki cocktails served in souvenir mugs and Polynesian-themed small plates.

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Another topic that Karl Holz (President, Disney Cruise Line and New Vacation Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) just touched on was the addition of Disney Vacation Club units at the Polynesian. Disney's Polynesian Villas and Bungalows will include a collection of tropical structures right along the Seven Seas Lagoon, due to open in 2015.

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Also starting to open next year will be the reimagined Downtown Disney area. The first section of the new Disney Springs, to be known as The Landing, will be rededicated in early 2015. Leading up to that, however, we can expect more new shops and restaurants to open, including a full-service Starbucks this summer, the collection of six small boutique shops known as the Marketplace Co-op, and a new soccer store, the United World of Soccer, to help us all prepare for next year's World Cup.

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So all in all, the presentation wasn't exactly brimming with NEW news, but there were a few little tidbits worth hearing, with the promise of a whole lot more on the horizon.

Having had the opportunity to spend time in Disney's Animal Kingdom at night for several press events over the years, I'm most anxious to see what they do with the new nighttime experiences there. What are you most looking forward to in next few months and years at Walt Disney World, or with Disney in general?


September 21, 2013

"Unleash the Villains" Friday the 13th Limited Time Magic

Limited Time Magic brought a villain-filled night on September 13, 2013, to Disney's Hollywood Studios -- the "Unleash the Villains" event saw the park open until the 13th hour on Friday the 13th (1 a.m.) and featured a night filled with numerous Disney "bad guys" dancing and greeting guests all around the park. Here are some video highlights from the evening, including meet and greets with some rarely seen characters, and the spectactular "Villainy in the Sky" fireworks presentation that capped the event.


Introducing the 13 Featured Villains



Meet-and-Greet with Bowler Hat Guy from "Meet the Robinsons"



Meet-and-Greet with Oogie Boogie from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"


Villainy in the Sky Fireworks


May 3, 2013

Monstrous Summer Preview: Princess Fairytale Hall

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During the "Monstrous Summer" media event, I had the chance to get a little peek behind the construction walls surrounding the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and talk to Imagineers about the work being done on both the coaster, due to open in 2014, and the Princess Fairytale Hall, which will debut sometime later this year.

Alas, no photos were permitted behind the wall, but we do have some new artists' renderings of what Princess Fairytale Hall will look like. I was also able to get a few more details about the meet-and-greet location, which will be approximately on the site of the former Snow White's Scary Adventures, from Imagineers Pam Rawlins, assistant producer, and creative designer Jason Grandt.

According to Rawlins, when guests enter Princess Fairytale Hall they will be immersed into the "majestic world of the princesses."

"It will all be very elegant, with dark wood panelings and elegant finishes, with a bit of a gothic motif, so you really feel like you're in the castle," she says. "You will be a royal subject meeting your princess."


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"You'll enter through a tournament-type structure into the castle, and you'll pass our stained-glass windows that feature scenes and characters from classic movies, like Jacques and Gus-Gus from Cinderella," Rawlins explains. "Then you'll go through our Royal Gallery. This is a very airy, very open, high-ceilinged gallery, with our framed princess portraits and chandeliers, all very elegant."

Rawlins says you will then be received by your princess, and will be directed to one of two rooms, where you will meet up with either Cinderella and a friend, or Rapunzel and a friend.

"You won't know until that day who the friend will be," Rawlins adds.

Grandt notes that the Princess Fairytale Hall, while similar in purpose, does not borrow anything from the new Fantasy Faire character meeting spot that opened recently at the Disneyland Resort.

"I haven't even seen the California location yet," he says, "though I hope to this coming weekend."

Grandt also emphasizes the "opulent" furnishings and appointments the new Hall will have, particularly mentioning the princess character portraits that have been created.

"They are really beautiful," he adds, "I think you will really enjoy seeing them."



Although construction on the new meet-and-greet location seems to be moving apace, neither Grandt nor Rawlins would be more specific as to an actual opening date. "Later this year" was all either of them would say.


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Guess we'll have to wait patiently to meet our new Royal Highnesses! But it will certainly be nice to have them all in one place, in Fantasyland.


March 12, 2013

Flower and Food? Food and Vine? The Epcot 2013 Flower and Garden Festival

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This article appeared in the March 12, 2013 Issue #703 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

FlowersIn the interest of full disclosure I'll admit to you all up front that I do not have a green thumb. It's not that I can't grow plants, exactly -- it's more that I subject them to a slow and lingering death. I love plants, and gardens, I really do. I just don't know how to get them to flourish, so I tend to leave it to the professionals... or at least to my husband, who definitely wears the green thumbs in our family.

Still, I do enjoy looking at green things. I can appreciate the beauty of and skill behind perfectly manicured gardens and the explosion of color that springtime flowers bring after a bleak northern winter. That's why I have enjoyed visiting Epcot during its annual Flower and Garden Festival year after year.

But this year, I was looking forward to the festival, which started March 6 and runs through May 19, with a renewed enthusiasm. Why? Because a few months ago I learned of the addition of a miniature "Food and Wine Festival" taking place within the 20th Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. "Get a Taste of Spring" the festival organizers cleverly teased. You mean I get to eat and drink some new and exciting foods and beverages WHILE taking in the fabulous flowers? Sign me up!

Thus enticed, I anticipated this year's event eagerly. Not only did I have all the tasty new treats ahead of me, I was escaping from what I hope was Mother Nature's last-gasp of winter, last week's storm that threatened to dump multiple feet of snow on my Northern Virginia home.

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FIRST THINGS FIRST
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Rocky Road Brownie MousseEven though I've attended the Flower and Garden Festival many times before, I didn't really get to explore it last year at all, so I approached this visit as I normally do -- by concentrating first on what was new. As I noted at the outset, the biggest change this year, and maybe the thing seasoned visitors are most curious about, is the addition of the "food" element. Would this enhance or detract from the Flower and Garden experience? This added dimension intrigued me, so I spent a great deal of time eating my way around World Showcase's 12 Garden Marketplaces to evaluate it.

The Marketplaces themselves -- the physical structures -- are not unlike those you'd find at the Food and Wine Festival. In fact, I think most of them were actually re-purposed Food and Wine Festival booths given catchy names like Primavera Kitchen (in the Italy pavilion) and Bauernmarkt (in Germany). Stationed in front of each marketplace are at least two giant planters overflowing with fresh-growing produce -- vegetables and herbs, ingredients all used in the dishes being prepared in the marketplaces' tiny kitchens. The tie-in with the Flower and Garden Festival was obvious, and I thought made a lot of sense. Why not showcase the seasonality and freshness of the ingredients in an event that is essentially all about reconnecting with nature?

But what about what was going on INSIDE the Marketplaces? Were the Garden Marketplaces successful? In a word, yes. As Chef Jens Dahlmann, executive chef of Epcot, noted when talking to media the other day, one of his primary aims was to not replicate anything that you might find at the annual fall Food and Wine Festival. He definitely achieved that, and in some cases exceeded all expectations.

After visiting all of the marketplaces over the course of several days, and tasting nearly every item, here's my short list of winners and... well, let's not say losers. Let's call them... also-rans.

Winner #1: Shrimp and stone-ground grits with andouille sausage, Zellwood corn, tomatoes and cilantro, from the Florida Fresh Marketplace. Tender, perfectly cooked and seasoned shrimp coupled with creamy grits and a subtle kick of spicy sausage made for my favorite dish of the festival.

Winner #2: Watermelon Salad with pickled red onions, baby arugula, feta cheese and balsamic reduction, also at the Florida Fresh Marketplace. Who would have thought that the sharpness of feta would pair so well with juicy, sweet watermelon and onions? The combination of tastes and textures -- sweet, salty, crunchy, crumbly -- made for a totally surprising, and totally delicious, dish.

Winner #3: Lasagna Primavera at the Primavera Kitchen (Italy): Vegetable lasagna NEVER tasted so good. A slightly sweet tomato sauce, tender spinach pasta sheets, layered with peas, zucchini, mushrooms, broccolini and some of the best bechamel sauce I've had in a long time. The only reason I didn't go back for seconds was because the portion size was so generous.

Honorable Mentions: Limoncello Panna Cotta with wild berries and Green Asparagus and lobster with garden cocktail sauce (both at Primavera Kitchen); Frushi (Fruit Sushi at Hanami); and Rocky Road Brownie Mousse (The Smokehouse).

Now, for the not-so-good news:

Jardin de Fiestas FoodsAlso-Ran #1: Pulled Pig Slider with Cole Slaw (The Smokehouse): The oaky, smoky aromas wafting from the Smokehouse were tantalizing and the place looked great, so I had high expectations, but this pork left me cold -- little to no BBQ sauce, and the cole slaw was tart to the point of being inedible.

Also-Ran #2: Ginger and Green Tea Trifle at The Cottage (UK Pavilion): The other trifles in this trio of desserts (chocolate and wild berry) were perfectly scrumptious -- I had no idea the pretty green third cup would be such a let-down. The flavors just didn't work.

Also-Ran #3: Guava Flan at Jardin de Fiestas (Mexico): The orangey-brownish color of the flan alone was not very appetizing, but the musky, slightly tart flavor sealed the deal. Or maybe I just don't like guava.

Other items that disappointed: Dried out Ratatouille Tart with Goat Cheese at L'Orangerie (France); heavy and dry Savory Bread Pudding with Peas and Mushroom Ragout and Potato Pancake with housemade applesauce (both at the Bauernmarkt in Germany). The potato pancake in particular was disappointing -- the pancake was good and flavorful, but it was unnecessarily drenched with an overly sweet applesauce. Why?

That brings me to one of my complaints about several of the dishes in general. Why hide their natural goodness under gorpy, sweet sauces and dressings? The Angel Food Cake with macerated strawberries at Florida Fresh, for example, was nearly ruined by the gloppy, oversweetened strawberry sauce. It was so much better when the chef prepared a separate dish using only plain, fresh berries with the cream on the side. I had a similar issue with the Baked Goat's Brie with Kumquat Chutney, a savory pastry pocket with a scant amount of cheese, drowning in what tasted like peach pie filling. This had the potential to be one of my favorite treats -- love goat cheese, love pastry, love kumquat. Instead it fell somewhere in the middle, after I scraped off most of the chutney.

But don't let these quibbles discourage you. I really did enjoy the majority of the foods and beverages I sampled. (Did I mention the Hot Sun Tomato Wine? I should have -- it was great! As was the gorgeously pink Rosita Margarita with its rose petal garnish.) Yes, overall, I felt the Garden Marketplaces were well worth visiting.

OK, you're probably saying, enough about the food... what about the FLOWERS? What about the GARDENS?

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WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
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Garden PassportThough I thoroughly investigated the foodstuffs among the flowers, don't worry. I didn't forget to check out the other new features of this year's festival.

Starting at the front of the park, I encountered the new front-entrance topiary focal point: Party with Mickey & Friends. There I found Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy engaged in the cookout of our dreams. More than 15 varieties of flowers and plants make up this sweet-smelling centerpiece that looked great from every angle, even though it was hard to get a good photo of the badminton-playing Donald and Daisy.

Once I got to the Festival Center, one of the first things I discovered was the new Garden Passport. This pocket-sized booklet is a take-off on the popular Food & Wine Festival Passport that was started a few years ago. Take the passport to a cast member in each area you visit in Epcot to receive a stamp in the book! It's a fun idea for kids, but I noticed many adults getting in on the stamping action, too. The great thing about an activity like this is it encourages you to visit areas you might otherwise have skipped, and it is always an opportunity to have a little chat with a cast member so that you might learn a thing or two.

Along with the passports, it seemed to me that there were a number of new things geared specifically to attract the attention of the younger set. There's even a new symbol urging kids to "TRY IT!" which labels not only new experiences, but foods at the Garden Marketplaces that might be considered "kid-friendly."

One of these "TRY IT!" signs was posted at the new Radiator Springs interactive play zone in Future World East on the Test Track walkway, which already seemed to be a huge draw. Detailed topiaries of race car Lightning McQueen and tow truck Mater of the Disney-Pixar "Cars" films are stationed in this area that's decorated with gleaming hubcaps and gasoline cans. It's the perfect pitstop for young ones who want to climb around on the play equipment, or take a minute to try some of the hands-on or interactive activities, like finding Mater's missing shock absorbers.

Another new play zone claims a spot on the Rose Walk, promoting "Oz the Great and Powerful." This whimsical "Land of Oz" playground is actually entertaining for all ages, with old-time funhouse mirrors and giant plastic poppies, and play structures for both 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds.

Radiator SpringsKids will also enjoy seeing some of their favorite and more recent Disney characters brought to life. The ubiquitous Phineas and Ferb, from the Disney Channel cartoon that bears their names, finally have their own greenery alter egos -- you'll find them stationed in the Innoventions Plaza right behind Spaceship Earth, with a menacing Agent P peering over their fence. You'll also see the topiary prequel versions of Sulley and Mike Wazowski promoting their upcoming movie, Monsters University, in World Showcase Plaza. The detail on these new pieces, and the other "monsters" surrounding them, is impressive, but as I heard some observers noting, it would have been nice if Sully could have been a bit bluer.

While the stages and shopping areas of the Festival Center are set up pretty much as they have been in recent years, in the back of the building, you'll find a pleasant surprise. There's a retrospective depicting the evolution of horticulture at Disney Parks, including a tribute to Disney Legend Morgan "Bill" Evans, whose long career included transforming Anaheim orange groves into lush Disneyland attractions like the Jungle Cruise. Evans also worked on the master plan for Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center. Even after retiring in 1975, Evans consulted on the landscape design of Tokyo Disneyland as well as on the schematic designs of the Polynesian Resort, Discovery Island, Typhoon Lagoon and Disney-MGM Studios. He was involved in the selection of plants for Disneyland Paris and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Finally, the Flower and Garden viewing doesn't have to stop when the sun goes down, as it has in years past. The horticulture team has added Illuminated Gardens, which literally shine a spotlight on the featured figures so that you can enjoy them longer. I found the illuminated Captain Hook topiary in the UK pavilion with the Croc menacing in the background especially dramatic -- in fact, I think I liked him even better at night!

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THE TRIED AND TRUE
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Woody TopiaryEven though there was plenty of "new" to see, I couldn't neglect my old festival favorites.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the Butterfly House, which has a Tinker Bell and her Fairy Friends theme. Sadly, the day I visited was too cool for many of its 1000 or so butterflies to flutter by, but I loved peering into the chrysalis boxes, checking to see if any winged creatures were ready to burst free. The fairy topiaries have nearly all been moved into the butterfly house now, with the notable exception of Tinker Bell, who is perched with her sister Periwinkle outside. Don't miss the miniature pixie houses that dot the landscape as you browse around looking for fritillaries, monarchs and swallowtails. I still chuckle when I see the little home made from an old plastic roller skate.

Along with the brand new topiaries, there were many old standbys that I was happy to see again, some of which had been "rested" for the last few years: Buzz Lightyear and Woody were there, though not together (Buzz near Mission: SPACE and Woody in the American Adventure) and I must say I am impressed with the attention to detail on each of these figures. Woody even sports a pull-string on his back. The gawky old troll has returned to Norway after an absence of several years, and of course Winnie the Pooh and friends are scattered around the UK pavilion as usual. The Lion King figures are always beautiful to behold -- how the horticultural team is able to convey such movement and the nuances of these characters just by using ornamental grasses, ivies and moss, is truly a skill I would love to have. I also found the arrangement of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs topiaries to be especially clever this year. Something about the way they were lined up and the angle of the sun hitting them at various times of the day really brought the entire scene to life.

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HOURS OF
HORTICULTURE
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Don't let all my talk about food fool you. The Flower and Garden Festival still offers much more than just its feast for your eyes and, this year, taste buds. There's a wide range of informative demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages.

This year's HGTV Designers' Stage, located in the Festival Center, kicked off its series with speaker Roger Swain, former host of PBS's "Victory Garden" show. (Yes, I remember it. I'm that old.) Upcoming speakers who will grace this stage Monday-Thursday at noon and 3 p.m. include local and nationally recognized garden experts. On weekends, HGTV personalities take over. The coming weeks will see the likes of Egypt Sherrell ("Property Virgins") and Brandon Johnson ("My Yard Goes Disney") speaking. The Greenhouse Stage, with talks scheduled at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, will have even more local gardening experts and Disney horticulturists.

Also in the Festival Center, you'll find informal booths where you can "Ask an Expert" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or get "Planting Pointers" at 1 and 4 p.m.

If you're really interested in seeing how Disney does it, you can take the three-hour Gardens of the World tour, only offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday during the festival run. It's $60 and gives you a chance to tour the park with a Disney horticulturist who shows off the special displays and shares some secrets. (Read Kristin Ford's blog about this tour,which she took last week.)

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MORE THAN
JUST FLOWERS
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By far one of the best side shows at the Flower & Garden Festival is the series of "Flower Power" concerts held on the weekends at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. A cynic might say these performances by recording artists who were popular in the 1960s and '70s are just the last gasps of a bunch of has-beens -- but you won't hear that kind of remark from me! Over the years I have delighted to enthusiastic and nostalgic performances by Peter Noone, The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie and the late Davy Jones. This year, they've added several acts I just might be willing to make a special trip to see -- including The Village People! If upcoming Flower Power acts (among them Paul Revere and the Raiders, Tommy Roe and Nelson) are even half as entertaining as the returning, must-see Peter Noone, you must make time in your flower-viewing schedule to catch at least one show.

And finally, while there are smaller shops with outside vendors scattered around World Showcase, the Festival Center is the central location for Festival-themed merchandise. You can find everything from the annual Flower & Garden Festival poster (which now costs a whopping $24.95) to t-shirts, caps, totes and more sporting this year's logo. There is of course, loads of other gardening related merchandise, from small tools to gazing balls, bird feeders to wind chimes. (I'll have a blog on Festival merchandise on AllEars.Net later this week!)

So, did I "Get a Taste of Spring," as the festival organizers had promised? Indeed I did. The addition of the mini food and wine fest injected some new life and stirred the interest of this non-gardener -- which I suppose was partially the point. I look forward to seeing how they'll improve upon the concept if they decide to go with it again next year (and I hope they do!). And of course the flowers, gardens and topiaries were a welcome sight for these greenery-deprived eyes. I'd like to visit again in a few weeks once all the plantings fill in a bit and give it a lusher look.

And to give that Vegetable Lasagna and Shrimp and Grits another try...

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RELATED LINK
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20th Annual Flower and Garden Festival Video Tour


December 7, 2012

Disney Shares What's Happening "Around Our World" at Press Event

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The final day of the New Fantasyland press event began over at Downtown Disney's AMC 24 Theatre with Disney's presentation to update everyone on what's happening "Around Our World."

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Before the show there was much speculation as to whether any significant revelations would be made -- many were thinking (wishfully) that speaker Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, would announce that a version of California Adventure's Carsland would be coming to Walt Disney World.

Let me tell you right off, the answer to that is...no. At least, there was no announcement to that effect. Instead the biggest news we heard, at least in my opinion, is that the previously announced Avatar Land, a new area in Animal Kingdom to be themed after the successful James Cameron film and its upcoming sequels, is definitely proceeding. (Rumors have circulated that perhaps the project was dead, since there hasn't been much news about it since it was originally announced.) According to the Vaughn, development of the new fantastical land is "still on track" and something that they're "very excited" about.

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Aside from that tidbit, the rest of the presentation served as a recap of what's been happening at Disney Parks and around the Disney universe most recently.

Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, United States and France (to give her full title), introduced the program by sharing a few bits of trivia about the New Fantasyland and Test Track attractions, now that they're officially open to the public.

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She revealed, for example, that there is a Hidden Mickey in the new Little Mermaid attraction that will only be visible once a year, on November 18 -- Mickey Mouse's birthday. She also pointed out this subtle tribute to the original Epcot attraction World of Motion -- it's the logo for the old ride, which originally occupied Test Track's site.

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In addition to his confirmation of the Avatar project, Vaughn also spoke at length about other recent developments around the Disney Parks.

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Vaughn of course highlighted the New Fantasyland and its many features, calling the Audio Animatronic Lumiere, found in the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience, the most advanced that Disney has at the moment. He also talked about the non-queue queue at the revamped Dumbo attraction, hinting that the "queue lounge" is something we might be seeing more of. Vaughn also talked briefly about the Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which will open in New Fantasyland next year, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, not due to be finished until 2014. Vaughn said the train's thrill level will rank somewhere just below Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's, and added that the representations of the dwarfs themselves in the attraction will be "unique."

Vaughn also took the opportunity to announce the addition of a new gallery in Epcot, to be housed in the American Adventure. The Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Collection will be made up of 40 pieces of art, artifacts, books and documents from the Kinseys' personal collection of African-American art and history. The gallery will hold previews during African-American heritage month in February 2013, an will officially open in March.

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After recapping the new attractions at Disneyland Resort -- primarily Cars Land and the new Buena Vista Street -- Vaughn turned the program over to Karl Holz, President, New Vacation Operations and Disney Cruise Line.

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Holz also gave an overview of the latest news relating to his areas of responsibility, the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney. Future itineraries for both have already been announced -- the one item that was news to me was Holz's mention of a special princess event to be held in the Doges Palace in Venice, as part of the DCL's sailing in the Mediterranean next year.

Crofton concluded the presentation by giving a fuller explanation of Limited Time Magic, a program announced several weeks ago.

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The idea behind Limited Time Magic is to "give guests an extra dash of pixie dust" by providing themed weekly surprises that will create special memories. Crofton offered as examples of upcoming Limited Time Magic themes a week dedicated to pirates and a "love" week around Valentine's Day.

The presentation ended with the audience receiving its very own Limited Time Magic treat -- a selection from the "original boy band," the barbershop quartet known as the Dapper Dans. The foursome departed from their usual standards and delighted us with a medley of hits from recent REAL boy bands like Backstreet Boys, N Sync, and One Direction. If all Limited Time Magic offerings are as whimsical as this was, I'm excited for the program to start.

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DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the New Fantasyland Press Event.

New Fantasyland Grand Opening

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I haven't been to "the World" since early October, so I've missed all the little sneak previews Disney's been holding to tease us all with tastes of the new attractions and other features of the expansion to the theme park's beloved Fantasyland. It was so difficult to read everything about the new Enchanted Tales with Belle, the Beast's Castle and the Be Our Guest Restaurant, as well as the new Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, knowing it would be months until I finally had the chance to experience them all for myself.

Finally, as of today, I can tell you both that the New Fantasyland is open and, even better, I am even happier to report that I've seen it and LOVE it!

The opening festivities actually started Wednesday night with a press event that allowed members of the media and their guests to explore the area on their own. But the formal ribbon-cutting and "Grand Opening Celebration" occurred today, December 6, with the expected Disney fanfare.

First thing this morning, members of the media attended a small ribbon-cutting ceremony in Belle's Village, with chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Tom Staggs and two special guests -- actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Snow White on the popular ABC-TV show "Once Upon a Time," and singer (and former American Idol winner) Jordin Sparks. The festivities were overseen by Mickey Mouse, donned in appropriately regal Fantasyland-themed attire.

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With a burst of dove-shaped confetti, the ribbon leading to the new section of Fantasyland was cut and the attention turned to the Castle Forecourt Stage.

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The more elaborate and more public grand opening celebration on the Castle Forecourt Stage, featured Jordin Sparks singing a Disney tunes medley and performing with a new Magic Kingdom act, the Giggle Gang -- circus clowns!

After this performance, Staggs took the stage once more for the dedication of the New Fantasyland.

"Walt Disney once promised that Disneyland, and by extension all of our parks, would never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world," Staggs said. "New Fantasyland is a spectacular addition to the Magic Kingdom that delivers on Walt's promise. We're thrilled to take guests beyond the walls of Cinderella Castle to discover new worlds featuring iconic Disney characters and stories in ways that are more imaginative, more interactive and more immersive than ever before."

Following the ceremony, the media had the opportunity to attend a short panel discussion on "The Story Behind New Fantasyland," held in the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland. Panel members included Imagineer Chris Beatty, who has overseen the development of the New Fantasyland project; Maribeth Bisienere (vice president of Food and Beverage and Merchandise Operations Integration for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts); and Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom.

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The discussion centered on the challenges the team faced in bringing the New Fantasyland to fruition, including the controversial decision to serve alcoholic beverages at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in the Beast's Castle. Below, Beatty talks about the inspiration behind the New Fantasyland project.

And with that, the New Fantasyland is finally open! I'll be sharing more photos and my thoughts about the new features of this brand new section of the park in this week's AllEars newsletter. Until then...

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the New Fantasyland Press Event.

October 16, 2012

AllEars.Net Meet and Greet at the UK Pavilion

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While we were in Epcot last week, members of the AllEars.Net Team had a meet and greet with readers in the back of the United Kingdom pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. About 50 friends, old and new, turned out on this warm Tuesday morning and shared some laughs, and also traded AllEars.Net trading cards.


AllEars.Net Founder Deb Wills welcomes everyone and thanks them for their support of the site:

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Blogger Jack Spence signs an autograph for a fan.

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The obligatory group shot. Such a great turn-out that it was hard to squeeze everyone in!

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As I mentioned earlier, several readers had brought their AllEars.Net trading cards with them, and were trying to complete their sets. Two new cards were introduced for them to add, as well.

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Thanks to everyone who turned out for this fun get-together!

Be sure to check our Team Meets page to see if we're holding a meet the next you're going to be in the World!


September 30, 2012

Big Top Souvenirs Opens

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I took a break from Epcot's Food and Wine Festival today to run over to the Magic Kingdom and see what progress had been made on Fantasyland since my last visit (back at the end of July).

I was happy to find that the new shop, Big Top Souvenirs had opened in the Storybook Circus section, so I spent some time wandering around and checking out the fantastic details.


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I love the circus tent motif, and they really have carried that theme out to an impressive degree, from the carpeting, made to look like canvas, to the sales desks that resemble circus train cars, to the trapeze and rope ladders suspended from the brightly lit ceiling. I especially liked the cast members' costumes.


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I didn't notice any merchandise that appeared to be specific to this shop, but still, it was all displayed in such a whimsical way it was very appealing.


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In the middle of the shop is a snack counter -- Big Top Snacks -- selling the types of goodies you get when you go to the circus: popcorn, cotton candy, caramel corn, slushies and caramel apples. But not just any caramel apples -- these are gourmet apples, with personality.


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I watched them making some chocolate-covered apples for a while -- loved that they were in the shape of Mickey, with marshmallows for the mouse ears.


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After leaving the shop, I wandered over to the other big tent, which will house a character greeting area called Pete's Silly Sideshow. Many thought it would be open this weekend, as well, but apparently its opening has been delayed. The outside of the tent piques your curiosity, though.


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There were a number of other things in the area that were also new to me, like the covered Fastpass area for Barnstormer and Dumbo, which also has several picnic tables.


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There were also some new snack carts (although didn't seem to be open as yet) with a brightly colored seating area.


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Just seeing all these little changes makes me even more anxious for the grand opening of the entire New Fantasyland on December 6!

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August 3, 2012

Taste Your Way around the World! The 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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So, here it is, the beginning of August -- how did that happen? As the summer winds down (to my dismay), it's nice to know that the chefs at Walt Disney World are already prepping for my favorite time on their special events calendar -- the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

Many details for the festival have been released over the past few days, a sure sign that this annual event, the 17th, is just around the corner. In fact, it starts in just under 60 days, on September 28, and runs through November 12 -- 46 days this year. (Turns out that last day is Veteran's Day -- so why not take advantage of an extra day off?)

In anticipation of the coming reservations "D-Day" (7 a.m. on Tuesday, August 14), Marianne Hunnel, the event's content development manager, recently took time from her rapidly dwindling countdown to talk with me about this year's Festival. I also attended a "sneak preview" of the Festival, hosted by Tables in Wonderland, this past Saturday, during which I was able to sample some of the new tastes that will be introduced at this year's International Marketplaces. I know this is all a lot to digest (if you'll pardon the pun), but bear with me -- if you love the Festival as much as I do, it's all info you'll want to know!


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Hunnel notes that last year's theme, "A Passport to a World of Flavors," has evolved into this year's "Taste Your Way around the World."

"We like that travel element," she admits. "Last year's passport got you here, and this year we think we're taking you to some more adventuresome places."

I like adventure! So just what do Marianne and her team of event planners have planned for us? For starters, there will be two new International Marketplaces included in World Showcase -- one featuring the fresh cuisine of Florida, the other an all-new vegan outlet dubbed "Terra."

It's this latter addition that is creating a buzz among the Food and Wine Festival regulars I've been talking to. Terra (Latin for "earth") will highlight products from the Gardein line of vegan foods, as well as beverages that also use no animal products.

"We have heard from lots of guests over the years who were looking for vegetarian and vegan options at the marketplaces," Hunnel explains. "There were some items in previous years that were vegetarian, but we have gone to great lengths to make sure that everything in the Terra marketplace is vegan -- that is, animal products were not used to produce these items in any way."

The Terra marketplace will offer two savory vegan dishes, both specially created for the festival: Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice featuring Gardein Chick'n Breast, and Chili Colorado with House Made Chips & Cashew Cheese, featuring Gardein Beefless Tips.

The Chili was presented as an appetizer at the Tables in Wonderland event, paired with a vegan wine, Paul Dolan Pinot Noir.


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I guess it's hard to see from this photo, but when I tell you that no one at my table could believe that the "meat" in the dish was not really beef, I am not exaggerating. Some even thought they detected a bit of "fat" as they chewed. The texture and flavor were nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

And speaking as someone who is not ordinarily a fan of pinot, I found the wine (which I'm told is from a sustainable, organic vineyard in Mendocino County) to be an excellent pairing, offsetting the spiciness of the chili perfectly. [An aside: If being vegan means not using any animal products, how can a wine, which is essentially just grapes, NOT be vegan? Some wines use materials known as "fining agents" to fine, or clarify, the wine. They remove materials that might otherwise stay in suspension in the wine, and in some cases can alter the flavor or color. These fining agents may be derived from animal products, such as gelatin, albumen (egg white) and casein (milk protein). Wines that use these types of fining agent are therefore not vegan. The Paul Dolan wines ARE.]

This experience left me really eager to try the other savory item, the Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice -- here's Disney's photo of it:



The booth will also have a Chocolate Cake with Passion Fruit Sorbet and Coconut Foam that sounds fabulous, and a Berry Smoothie, made with Silk, the almond milk.

The other new marketplace, Florida Local, "focuses on the fresh and exciting things the state of Florida has to share," says Hunnel.

It was also well-represented at the preview, as both of its menu items featured as part of the buffet reception. The colorful Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Vegetables, Fried Plantains and Cilantro was a treat for both the eyes and the tastebuds. Fresh, plump shrimp were tossed with a very rich red sauce, accented by the aromatic cilantro -- definitely a WIN! as I have scrawled in my notes.


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I'm not quite as enthusiastic about the other Florida Local item, White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork Rilette and Zellwood Sweet Corn Salad. Two bites of the dry, heavy corn cake stuffed with a rather bland, stringy pork filling was enough for me, I'm sorry to say.


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The Florida Local marketplace will also offer some locally produced beverages, including Florida Beer Company's Florida Lager and Key West Southernmost Wheat, as well as Florida Orange Grove Key Limen wine. Yes, a lime-flavored wine, which Hunnel says is very refreshing, and pairs perfectly with the shrimp. It's also great with a splash of club soda as a wine spritzer, she notes. I didn't get to sample it at the Tables in Wonderland preview, but I might give it a try come September.

Other new food items that will be debuting at the International Marketplaces that I had the chance to sample at the preview:

-- Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Chutney -- These tasty morsels are a great replacement for the popular lamb slider the New Zealand marketplace has been featuring the past few years. They have that whole spicy/tangy/sweet/savory thing going on and I think that everyone is going to literally "eat them up!"


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-- Seared Mahi Mahi with Jasmine Rice and "Singa" Sauce -- I guess this is an improvement over the Shrimp Cake that last year's Singapore booth featured. But still, my piece of this usually succulent white fish was dry, oversalted and chewy. The jasmine rice was outstanding, however.

-- "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce -- This is something new for the Canada marketplace, taking the spot of the perennial favorite, Maple-Glazed Salmon. To me, there's no contest -- the beef is better. Tender and juicy, with just the right hint of truffle -- not overpowering at all.


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-- Yogurt Panna Cotta with Orange Cake, Raspberries and Pomegranate, Lemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote, and Dark Chocolate Mousse with Chili and Salted Caramel -- This mini dessert trio represented the three new items that will be offered at the Desserts and Champagne marketplace. Of the three, the Yogurt Panna Cotta was my favorite -- light, creamy, and not too sweet, with just a hint of orange and luscious red raspberries on top. My only complaint was that the bottom of the dessert cup was so narrow I couldn't dig my spoon into it to get at much of the orangy cake goodness.


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The Lemon Custard Verrine was also good, but VERY intense. I heard some complaints from the other diners around me that they had too much blueberry and not enough custard, but in my case, I had plenty of lemon -- in fact, the dessert didn't just whisper "lemon" to you, it SHOUTED it, in all caps!


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As for the chocolate mousse -- well, I must admit I was a little disappointed. Everyone around me was raving about it, and marveling at the little kick the chili gave it, but for me it tasted just like an ordinary chocolate mousse. Which is to say that it was delicious, but not unusually so. Maybe I didn't get enough spice in my portion? All the more reason for me to try it again during the actual festival!


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There are a few other little tweaks to the food around the marketplaces -- the Black Pepper Shrimp are going to be replaced by Mongolian Beef with Chinese Steamed Bun at the China booth, the Mussels at the Belgium kiosk will be prepared slightly differently -- but the majority of the items are returning unchanged.

So what about other NEW offerings at the festival? Here are what I feel are the highlights:

-- Some of the biggest news surrounding the festival this year is the implementation of a three-tiered pricing structure for the popular Party for the Senses tasting offered most Saturday evenings during the event. For years one of the biggest complaints about this eating extravaganza has been the shortage of seating -- diners are expected to graze on their tapas-sized dishes without a designated place to sit, and are forced to float from table to table, noshing and conversing with strangers. The ensuing juggling act -- plate, wine glass, napkin, utensils -- has resulted in many disgruntled diners.


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The festival tried to address that issue by introducing the Wine View Lounge a few years ago -- it's an exclusive area within the World Showcase venue that guarantees you your own table, along with a number of other amenities, all at an additional fee. This year, the Party takes that one step further and is offering a mid-range tier that guarantees you a seat in a special area, without all the bells and whistles of the Wine View Lounge. Pricing for the Party events is now: General Admission $145/person + tax; Reserved Seating $170/person + tax; Wine View Lounge $270/person + tax.

-- One of the most enticing new offerings, to me at least, is the introduction of Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tours. Held on Wednesday mornings at 10:30, you'll get the chance to wander around World Showcase for two hours before it officially opens to guests with a chef, visiting five marketplaces and sampling their food and beverages. "What a great opportunity for the chefs to share their stories and insights with their guests," says Hunnel. "You generally wouldn't get this kind of experience, so we're really excited to be able to offer it."

-- Remember last year's cranberry bog, situated in Future World as you approached World Showcase Plaza? It's returning, but more than that, there's also going to be a watermelon patch! Sponsored by The National Watermelon Promotion Board, the patch will have actual live watermelon plants where you can learn about growing them and get tips from affable TV personality Mr. Food ("Oooh, it's so good!")



-- From the Bean to the Bar Hosted by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company -- "We've been wanting to do something like this for many years," Hunnel notes. "This is going to be located in the back of the Festival Center -- Walt Disney Imagineering is helping us create a space that will be perfect for this decadent chocolate experience!"

According to Hunnel, guests will have the chance to not only sample gourmet chocolates, but will be able to DRINK it -- the exhibit will be featuring a drinking chocolate that's like a liquid candy bar. There will also be chocolate sculptures created by Disney pastry chefs and informative displays on about the food's origins. From the Bean to the Bar will be open daily from 9 a.m. through park close.

-- Wine Sampling in the Wine Shop -- This is something I've often wondered why they DIDN'T have! Now, you can visit the Festival Center Wine Shop for daily wine samples provided by participating beverages companies. Open daily at 11 a.m., and 1, 3 and 5 p.m.


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Now that I've told you what's new, I want to fill you in on who and what are returning.

"It's such an honor for us that these people choose to be a part of our festival," Hunnel notes. "They could go to any festival in the country, but they come to ours. And for many of them, it's a sort of homecoming -- so many of them have been coming here for years."

Among those returning celebrity chefs is a veritable "Who's Who?" of personalities you might find currently on your television, on the Food Network, Bravo or even the Travel Channel: Keegan Gerhard, Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Bryan Voltaggio, Art Smith, Cat Cora, and Buddy Valastro (the Cake Boss, who this year will be expanding his repertoire from sweets to savory, presenting at a Kitchen Memories session).


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Other returning offerings are the wildly popular Mixology sessions, presented every evening at the Festival Center at 6 p.m. A certified Mixologist talks about a specific spirit, then shows you how to mix it up into three lively cocktails -- a presentation that is practical AND potable, not to mention highly entertaining and a bargain at $16.

Last year, the festival tried an experiment with its signature dinners, and offered, instead of wine dinner, a BEER dinner. Apparently that was so popular it is returning, presented again by Chef Jens Dahlmann (below), this year on November 9.


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What's missing this year? Well, most notably there will NOT be a First Bites Reception the night before the official start of the festival. There also will not be a Party for the Senses tasting on the first or last Saturday of the festival. Bummer.

Hunnel also notes that they've retired the "Authors without Borders" program, which allowed guests to visit with cookbook and other authors, and have instead increased the number of Authentic Tastes they'll be offering. "These will be presented by people responsible for finding this special ingredients," Hunnel explains. "Ingredients like oils, mustards, vanilla, sugars, different gingers... you'll have the chance to get know more about these ingredients."

The beloved French Regional Lunches at Bistro de Paris are on hiatus this year, also, due to the renovations that will be taking place at that location. Instead Italian Regional Food and Wine Luncheons will be held at the new Tutto Gusto in the Italy pavilion. They'll be Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. and will be $75 per person. (Also due to the work at the Bistro, the super-fun Grand Marnier tasting is relocated to the Festival Center this year. So glad that's not going away altogether!)

As the August 14 reservations date nears, Hunnel admits that she's starting to get anxious. "Everything starts to resonate now," she laughs. "It's like a Broadway opening, and the ticket sales are like our review, our report card. Did we do good? Are guests interested in what we're offering?"

"We want to make sure our guests are happy," Hunnel adds. "We listen to what our guests say, and I think that's one of the reasons we're so successful. I think our guests' expectations are so much higher here, than they are at other similar festivals, because people know we also offer the Disney experience."

I know that's part of the draw for me -- not just the amazing culinary delights I know await me, but that they will be presented with the quality and care I've come to expect from Disney. That's why I've already set the alarm on my iPhone for 6:45 a.m. EDT on August 14 -- I don't want to miss the chance to make my reservations!

What looks good to you? What will you be booking this year, as you Taste Your Way around the World?

May 17, 2012

AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE!

Win a one-year subscription to Disney Publishing's
Marvel Super Heroes Magazine,
a new publication for kids
!

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Along Walt Disney World's monorail track, you'll have a lot better chance of seeing Mickey Mouse than Captain America. Still, Disney's "highway in the sky" currently features a train-wrapped promotion for the current blockbuster film "The Avengers." Have you seen the monorail promotion yet? And have you taken a photo of this unique, one-of-a-kind train? If so, here's your chance to show off your favorite picture of Monorail Red, which features promotional images of Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor and, of course, Captain America.

From now through May 22, send us your most original or unique photo of the monorail as it appears at Walt Disney World. It might be the train in front of the Grand Floridian or with the Magic Kingdom as a backdrop. Maybe you've taken a photo of it entering or leaving the Contemporary Resort or just sailing high above the Seven Seas Lagoon. We'll pick the 10 most interesting photos, which will be showcased in our end of the month "Wandering the World" featurette here on AllEars.Net. The best photo will win a one-year subscription to Disney Publishing's Marvel Super Heroes Magazine, a new publication for kids. If you haven't taken a photo yet, don't worry. You can catch the train as it travels around the track from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom and the resorts around the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Email your photos with the word "Avengers" in the subject line to allearsnet@yahoo.com no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern on May 22, 2012. Be sure to include your name, age and phone number so we can contact you.

Contest for U.S. Residents ONLY.

Good luck!

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!


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 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.


March 16, 2012

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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



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

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


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


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

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

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

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


March 4, 2012

Recap: One More Disney Day

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

The turnstiles:

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Looking down on Main Street from the train station:

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


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


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

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


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Dancing in the streets! on Twitpic

CLICK THE IMAGE FOR THE VIDEO!


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


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


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


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

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


March 1, 2012

One More Disney Day Opening Ceremony

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

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


September 21, 2011

Disney's Caricature Artists

by AllEars® Team Member Jack Marshall

You have probably seen them a hundred times. Walked right past them without paying any mind. I know. I'm guilty of doing it, too. Every resort lobby in the Value and Moderate categories has one. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, too. I'm talking about that little fold-up stand by the door where the caricature artist sits.

Every night from 6 to 11 pm and an occasional mid-day, too, you will find one of these artists ready to perform right in front of you. Most of their subjects are children but they do all ages. They can do face only or they can put your face on one of many body poses you can choose from a notebook they have. You can even specify one that isn't there and they will tell you whether they can do it or not.

The artists themselves are not Disney cast members. They work for an outside firm that Disney contracts with. There are currently about 40 artists who alternate between 11 locations. Some work once or twice a week. A few work a little more and a few are vacation/illness fill-ins. There are four different art companies that handle the various caricature and portrait business throughout Walt Disney World.

The artist that I spoke to on a recent Sunday night was named Michael. As I was asking him some questions, a young lady named Lily, all of 4 years old, came up to the booth with her mother and asked to have her caricature done. She was wearing the cutest Little mermaid dress. When Michael asked what she wanted her body to look like, she didn't hesitate: "Mermaid!" Shocker, huh?

So Lily was seated and Michael took out a fresh piece of paper to begin. The first step is to put the name in the upper left corner. Then it's on to the rough sketching of the shape and features of the head using a pencil.

The beginning:
The beginning

Pencil sketching:

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Michael drawing:

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Once satisfied with the pencil drawing, Michael uses a thin-tipped permanent marker to outline the features.



Adding marker:

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Soon the mermaid's tail is added and other "under the sea" friends start to appear.

Tail fin appears:
tail fin appears


Sebastian and Flounder appear:

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If you want the black and white sketch, this would be your finished product. Total time from start to this point was about 8 minutes.

Finished black and white head and body picture:
finished black and white

But Lily is going to be in full color so here goes:

The coloring begins:
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Sebastian comes to life:

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Flounder is colored and work on the tail begins:

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Almost done:

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Finally, Michael adds the sea and the finished product appears. Total time: about 15 minutes.



Putting the finishing touches on the sea:

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The finished product: Lily the Mermaid

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The cost for these caricatures is currently $15 for face only black and white, $20 for face only color; $20 for face and body black and white; $30 for face and body color. But note that the price is PER PERSON.

If you are worrying that your child would never sit still for long enough, here's a secret. The child only needs to be looking at the artist during the pencil sketching. Once that's done (and it only takes about two minutes), the child can do pretty much whatever they want.

The artists can also work from photographs as long as they are of a decent size. Postage stamp size photos don't work well, but they can use most photos from cell phones.

I asked Michael about mistakes. "Do you ever do an oops when you're drawing?" He said absolutely. Just the other day he spelled a name wrong and redid the entire caricature. Yes, mistakes do happen.

So next time you come upon one of these artists seated at their booth, stop and think about it. Ten years from now you will wish you had. My wife had one of these done of my daughter about 12 years ago and it's still one of my most treasured things from her childhood. Fifteen minutes now will mean a lifetime of memories.

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 19, 2011

"Let the Memories Begin" Kick-Off

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As you may have read, Disney is christening its newest ship, the Disney Dream, on January 19. As a precursor to the christening ceremony and cruise, a special event was held Tuesday night in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for an assortment of guests, including members of the media, who were also treated to a briefing on what's new and what's next in the parks as Disney launches their new "Let the Memories Begin" campaign.

Many of the plans discussed at the briefing were announced earlier in the day, but the briefing, and the subsequent interviews we were able to conduct later, shed a little more light on them.

The briefing began at the Philharmagic Theater, with Al Weiss, president of Worldwide Operations, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Weiss stated that there were more projects in the works than ever before in the company's history and recapped additions to Disney parks around the world.

Weiss then introduced Walt Disney World Resort's president Meg Crofton, who officially kicked off the "Let the Memories Begin" campaign by talking about how memories were at the core of everything they do at the parks.

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"Ultimately it's not about the bricks and mortar," she noted. "Every time we add an element we think about the emotional experiences we're creating."

Crofton detailed several recent park additions or new "immersive experiences", such as the Wild Africa Trek experience which started a few days ago at Disney's Animal Kingdom. She also highlighted such features as the interactive queue area at The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, and the new "Tangled" Play and greet that allows children to play with Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder.

As she revealed that the renovated attraction "Star Tours" would reopen on May 20 - in 3D -- Crofton also had the chance to tease the audience a bit. Imposing music from the "Star Wars" films began to play, announcing the arrival of Imperial Stormtroopers and Darth Vader himself. "Now that's what I call 3D," Crofton joked as the villain and his entourage strode out of the theater.

Eric Jacobson, Senior Vice President of Creative Development, Walt Disney Imagineering, then took the stage to outline some of the major changes coming to Fantasyland as part of its current expansion project. Some of the changes were previously announced last year, like Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid, but there were several new attractions just announced today.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will feature first-of-its-kind ride technology that allows the cars to swing back and forth a bit as it takes riders both inside and outside on a journey starring the Dwarfs and even Snow White. The Scary Adventures of Snow White will close as a result, but on its site will be the new Princess Fairytale Hall, which will host a variety of princesses, including the newer members of the royal family, Tiana and Rapunzel. Finally, fans of the gentle coaster, Goofy's Barnstormer in Toontown will be happy to hear that it is being slightly rethemed, but will still feature Goofy. Redubbed The Great Goofini, . the storyline will have Goofy as a stunt pilot who is part of the Storybook Circus, new home to Dumbo All of these attractions will start "rolling out" in late 2012.

You can watch Deb Wills speak with Jacobson about the Fantasyland changes below:

Alan Bruun, associate creative director at Walt Disney World Entertainment, was tasked with introducing the new 10-minute castle show that is tied to the Let the Memories Begin campaign.

"The Magic, The Memories, and You," features photos of visitors to Walt Disney World taken during the day, and then projected on the castle in the evening. This basic description, however, fails to take into account the special effects also used to create an almost 3D effect and bring the castle to life.

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According to Bruun, as many as 500 photos shot during the day will be projected onto the castle -- but these photos are all selected individually, in a process that Bruun says involves as much 'high touch" as high tech, and then are interwoven into a "story" that tells the guests' experience.

After dinner in Frontierland and desserts in front of the castle, we had the chance to see the new show first-hand. I was skeptical at first as to whether watching photos of strangers would be entertaining at all. But after viewing the show, I must say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Some of the special effects are simply amazing, the music is stirring and of course the finale with fireworks is the perfect end to any show. I don't want to ruin all the surprises, but if you don't mind spoilers, we recorded the show here:


Tomorrow is a whole new kind of experience for me, as we take to the "high seas" and I get my first taste of cruising on the brand new Disney Dream! We'll have lots of photos and hopefully we'll get the chance to write a bit, if our luck with the internet holds out.

Follow Deb Wills and me on Twitter as we send mini-updates whenever we can:

Deb Wills = @AllEarsDeb
Deb Koma = @dcdeb_allears

December 20, 2010

New Gingerbread Tree at Disney's Contemporary Resort

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I haven't been to Walt Disney World during the holidays for two years, so the big Gingerbread Tree at the Contemporary Resort, located on the Grand Canyon Concourse Level adjacent to the monorail station, was new to me. Said to be inspired by the art of Disney Legend Mary Blair, the Gingerbread Tree is placed right in front of one of her impressive murals.

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The tree is made of gingerbread shingles and other confections and is 6 feet wide, 17 feet tall.

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They say it took the following to construct the tree:

-- 1050 pounds of honey
-- 800 pounds of flour
-- 600 pounds of chocolate
-- 600 pounds of powdered sugar
-- 180 pounds of apricot glaze
-- 140 pints of egg whites
-- 35 pounds of spices
-- tons of creativity with some Disney Magic and Pixie Dust

The Contemporary Bakery cast members needed more than three months and 1200 hours to produce, cut and bake the 4,939 shingles used to decorate the Gingerbread Tree.

In addition to all the goodies sold there at the Gingerbread Tree, the Contemporary Resort is offering hand-painted holiday ornaments made to order for $10.50.

Here's a list of what you can purchase after you've done drooling at the tree:

Butter cookie $4.00
Chocolate candy cane $4.00
Chocolate Happy Holidays Frame $11.00
Chocolate Monorail $6.00
Contemporary Season's Greetings Chocolate Frame $12.50
Butter Cookie Holiday Tree $16.00
Linzer Cookie $4.75
Dark Chocolate Lollipop $4.25
White Chocolate Lollipop $4.25
Princess Lollipop $6.00
Gingerbread Man $7.75
Gingerbread Ornament $8.50
Gingerbread Snowflake $4.00
Peppermint Bark $6.00
Hand-painted Ornament $10.50
Gingerbread House $55.00

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The shop at the Gingerbread Tree is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The artist who hand-paints and personalizes white chocolate ornaments is on hand 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Saturdays.

November 29, 2010

Disney Park Wallpapers for your Desktop!

Did you know All Ears® has a Disney Desktop section? Now it has 56 new wallpapers are waiting for you, including Disneyland, California Adventure, Walt Disney World, and the Disney Cruise Line!

One of the great things about these is: you'll find the big icons like Cinderella Castle and Spaceship Earth, but you also get some hidden little details in attractions or different views of them. We're also building up our resorts section and in fact, we expanded the Grand Floridian in this update. We also added holiday photos sprinkled throughout each section.

All Ears wants to give you access to favorites that don't get the attention they deserve.

Foodies, your time is here! Do you need not just a Disney fix, but you're thinking of Cheddar Cheese soup? We have a Disney restaurant wallpaper section featuring these special places and some signature dishes.

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Another nice touch to these are: they all came from photos taken by the All Ears team, including our staff photographers.

Below, you can see me taking a break from getting menus to get pictures for the wallpapers section:

Erin Taking Photos

The rest of the team would like you to know that their camera equipment is much more modern.

As always, please give All Ears your feedback. Do you like these wallpapers? Let us know! Do you need different sizes or want to see certain attractions, shows, restaurants, events".? Let us know!

Enjoy! Fill that Disney fix! And when your friends and family have one, send them to our Disney desktop wallpapers!

Deb and the team (including me) are headed for Walt Disney World very soon, so we'll be getting more great images for you. Make sure to say hello if you see me, I have my own All Ears team trading card to hand out too!!!!

And since I'm writing this on Thanksgiving, thank you so much for supporting All Ears!

Erin Blackwell

October 4, 2010

New Karamell-Küche in Epcot's Germany Pavilion

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Mmmm... I can still smell the amazing, buttery aroma of freshly made caramel, even now -- 24 hours after I first set foot in the new Karamell-Küche shop that opened just a few days ago in Epcot's Germany pavilion.

This new store, located on the site of the former Glas und Porzellan in the front of the pavilion, is sponsored by Storck USA, makers of Werther's Original Caramels. It's unique, in that it is the only freestanding retail location for Werther's in the world -- how did Epcot get so lucky?


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Not only does the shop sell a wide array of prepackaged Werther's candies, but each day cast members are busy making fresh caramel confections, including caramel apples and popcorn, caramel-drizzled cupcakes, rice krispie treats, cookies, strawberries, and much more.


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Not only is this place a treat for the nose and tastebuds, but it's a feast for the eyes, with attractive displays of its goodies, as well as the chance to watch the cast members at work. You can see them mixing up batches of savory hot caramel, or generously drizzling it over popcorn, cupcakes, and a variety of fruit and freshly baked items.


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All of this gooey goodness does not come cheap, of course. You can expect to pay $5.45 for a regular caramel-dipped apple, and up to $9.95 for a specialty, such as Rocky Road (covered with nuts, chocolate chunks, and marshmallows) or Apple Pie. But get this! Some of the items count as snacks on the Disney Dining Plan, including the small bag of caramel popcorn ($2.95), the gourmet caramels ($3.95), the chocolate and caramel covered strawberries ($3.95) and several of the various cookies (prices vary).


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If you're buying some of the regular Werther's candies, you can get 1.8 oz. roll packs for $.95, 4.5 oz. bags for $2.95. You can also get sugar-free Werther's: 1.48 oz. minis for $1.45; 2.75 oz. bags for $2.95 and 7.7 oz. bags for $8.95.

The shop is open during regular World Showcase hours, and the lines are currently long, but fast-moving. This is one sweet destination, if you'll pardon the pun, that you should definitely check out on your next visit to Epcot.



February 26, 2010

ESPN Wide World of Sports Relaunches Amid Much Fanfare

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars.Net Senior Editor

"We want to make you feel like you've made the big time."

Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises, and George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, were just two of several speakers who repeated this mantra yesterday during the day-long relaunching of what was formerly known as Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

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Now christened ESPN Wide World of Sports, the 220-acre complex hosted a number of members of the media (including yours truly), as we toured the facilities, which encompass two field houses, a baseball stadium, soccer and softball fields, clay tennis courts, and much more. During the tour, we were treated to an inside look at all the recent changes that have taken place at the complex recently to "merge the two powerhouse brands of ESPN and Disney" in an effort to create an "immersive experience" for guests.

What's New:

--The Innovation Lab. This lab actually opened in October of last year, but what's new is the announcement that this location will be the hub for developing and testing ESPN's 3D technology. Chuck Pagano, Executive Vice president of Technology for ESPN, called the lab a petrie dish for growing and testing methods of "all things broadcast". We were given a sneak peek of 3D television, which ESPN will debut officially in June, when ESPN covers the FIFA World Cup Soccer games held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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-- ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill. The former All Star Sports Café has been completely renovated and rethemed with ESPN décor and slogans.

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-- Playstation pavilion. Adjacent to the grill is the new Playstation pavilion, which houses 64 gaming stations (16 pods, each with four games), plus a kiosk featuring the game Singstar. Five different games are currently available for play, including brand new titles not yet available to the public. Visitors to the pavilion will be able to register a unique gamer name and pay for play time in increments of 30, 60 or 90 minutes. The Playstation pavilion is the first of what the ESPN WWoS complex is calling a "wait buster." As it was explained, this area will be the perfects time-killing location for athletes at the complex who have a game early in the morning and then another in the afternoon. That gap is not enough time to go to the theme parks to play, so they can visit the pavilion to while they wait for their next event.

--Customized Tee Shirts. Through a partnership with Champion the WWoS complex now has several locations at which athletes can design their own t-shirts to commemorate specific achievements or events. For example, if they have participated in a tournament, they could design a tee with their particular bracket, or scores. One such location is in the Josten Center, but others are mobile units that can be positioned at various spots around the different fields.

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In addition to all the recent changes at the complex, speakers like Potrock and Bodenheimer revealed what's in store for the complex in the future.

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-- At least 25 new events that will appeal to a wide range of guests, including untraditional events like "major league gaming." Other events will include a new baseball tournament in partnership with Rawlings called the "Golden Glove"; and other events that will focus on the health and wellness of children.

-- New and enhanced partnerships with corporate sponsors such as Josten's, which is now the exclusive medal and trophy provider for ESPN WWoS, CIGNA, CLIF energy bars and gels; and others.

The overall goal, as restated time and again throughout the day, is to make an athlete who comes to the complex loving sports, walk out knowing "that sports loves them back."

As the sun began to set, a host of sports celebrities and ESPN personalities assembled, walking the "green" carpet at the complex entrance. Notables including football star Chad Ochocinco and golfing great Annika Sorenstam stopped for photo ops and autographs, then joined the fans and others to watch the official opening ceremonies.

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Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, Potrock, Bodenheimer, and Florida governor Charlie Crist, stressed the significance of this "reimagined" effort. Crist also emphasized that this complex's rebranding and new events would help boost the state's economy through growing tourism and jobs. He concluded, "It's the right thing to do, and the right time to do it."

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After the officials' remarks, Garrett Hartley, kicker for the 2010 Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints, came out to "kick-off" the opening by booting a football (brought out by Football Player Mickey) through the entrance's "goal posts" accompanied by fireworks and a shower of confetti.

The day's events concluded with a special performance of the Harlem Globetrotters, hosted by "coaches" Mike Golic and Mike Greenburg of ESPN. After more than an hour of slapstick tomfoolery, it came to no one's surprise that the Globetrotters won the game.

February 13, 2010

Interview with Michelle Nunn: CEO of the Points of Light Institute

AllEars.Net's Mike Scopa and Jack Spence recently attended the "Celebrate Volunteers" press event at Walt Disney World, where they had the chance to speak with Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Institute and co-Founder of the Hands On Network.

Text: Mike Scopa
Photo: Jack Spence

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I was able to track down and spend some time with Michelle Nunn who wears two hats: one as the CEO of the Points of Light Institute and secondly as the co-Founder of the Hands On network.

I asked her how she got involved with volunteerism.

She said that some 20 years ago she had met some folks like her who wanted to get into volunteer service. They combined their initiative to create Hands On Atlanta, the first volunteer organization of its kind anywhere.

Soon other organizations around the country began to pop up and soon there were sets of these organizations all becoming part of the Hands On Network.

She mentioned how then President Bush had called for 1000 points of light and how that got the Points of Light Institute on its way and how eventually that and the Hands On Network were on a course to one day merge"which happened about two years ago.

Since that merger, the executives at Walt Disney World contacted her and wanted to discuss an initiative and theme for 2010 on volunteerism.
The time and economic climate seemed right and the goal was to make the awareness for volunteers, to call for service across the country, and most notably work towards creating a new, younger generation of volunteers.

It took nine months of hard work to design and get the program in place.
Since the program was launched over 10,000 organizations has signed on to be a part of the effort.

So how does one get involved in the "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" program?

Michelle says to go to www.disneyparks.com and look for instructions on how to go about serving your community.There is a pipeline of projects just waiting for volunteers.

She says with a twinkle in her eye that she would love to see all who sign up to be lifelong volunteers.

The partnership with Walt Disney World allows the combination of Walt Disney World's "extraordinary and unrivaled assets" along with Hands On Network expertise in how to create and manage volunteer projects and how to activate people to do service, to create and implement and amazing program to inspire people from across the country to volunteer.
I asked her what has been most heartwarming about this program and she did not hesitate in saying that the testimonials from the organizations and volunteers are at the top of her list.

She mentioned how people like architects and technologists are stepping up to offer their skill sets to the volunteer efforts.

She mentioned the wonderful volunteer stories like Amanda from Canada, who from the age of 2 has been selling lemonade to raise money for all kinds of causes and at the age of 12 has already raised more than $135,000. That is a lot of lemonade.

Michelle also mentioned the wonderful networking of ideas that has resulted from this initiative and how sharing good ideas can only reap positive dividends.

Most of all she loves the fact that the partnership with Disney will Inspire young families and young people and create a whole new generation of citizens who will serve their communities and serve as change agents.
There are so many benefits from having young children get involved.

" Studies have shown that children who grow up in a household where at least one parent volunteers are twice as likely to be active citizens and participate as volunteers in their adult life.

" Studies have also shown that those who participate in service learning programs are more likely to complete college because they are developing self esteem and emotional intelligence and find ways to navigate the world around them.

" It has also been found that young people who volunteer at least one hour a week had 50% less chance of risky behavior such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol.

I asked her about the day's events and she said it was nice to see the volunteers be the stars of the show.

I asked her if there would be more honoring of volunteers this year and said to me she was looking forward to finding that out herself.

Finally she remarked how wonderful it was to partner with a corporation who certainly knows how to engage its customers and finds exciting ways to profile these volunteers.

I said to her that Disney has always been a great storyteller and we have heard many stories so far but we have many more to come. She agreed.

You can read about the Points of Light Institute at www.pointsoflight.org
and the Hands On network at www.handsonnetwork.org where you will find local volunteer organizations and toolkits to help you get started.
Get involved"what you will receive in return for your service will be priceless smiles and an indescribable feeling of gratification" not to mention a Disney Day.

February 12, 2010

Give A Day, Get A Disney Day Press Event

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AllEars.Net's Jack Spence and Mike Scopa attended the Give a Day, Get a Disney Day press event held Thursday, February 11, 2010. The following are images from the day's activities.

This week Walt Disney World's "Give a Day Get a Disney Day" promotion was given its official launch with a huge celebration of volunteerism at Epcot.

The celebration was held in what was formerly known as the Millennium Village portion of the United Kingdom pavilion in World Showcase -- now called World Showplace.

A few thousand people were in attendance, notably volunteer families elected from across the United States, representing their home state. These volunteer families were being honored by Walt Disney World and their partner in this venture, the Points of Light Institute and the Hands On Network.


Walt Disney World Ambassador Introduces Day's Events
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Tom Staggs, Chairmen of Walt Disney World Parks and Resort opened up the ceremony by welcoming everyone with a special welcome to these families. He had a little help from Kermit the Frog who made a special surprise appearance.
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WDW Ambassador Talks to Kermit the Frog about Volunteering
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Staggs focused on how the theme for 2010 was volunteerism and how the goal was to inspire one million people to go out and do volunteer service for their community.

He then smiled and reported that as of this week 600,000 volunteers have already committed to or have already performed volunteer service within their community.

He mentioned how Walt Disney World's own cast members have served as role models for volunteering and reported that over the last 25 years cast members have contributed over 5.5 million hours of volunteer service to their communities including most recent efforts to help the people of Haiti.

Walt Disney World is partnering with the Hands On Network and the Points of Light Institute in this push to inspire volunteerism across the country.

The Hands On Network has over 70,000 organizations answering the call to serve. It's the largest volunteer network in the world.

Staggs introduced Co-Founder of the Hand On Network and Points of Light Institute CEO, Michelle Nunn who addressed the audience.

Michelle Nunn, co-founder of HandsOn Network and CEO of the Points of Light Institute
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Nunn talked about the spirit of volunteerism and how this partnering with Walt Disney World had created an "extraordinary lift" for volunteerism across the country.

She proclaimed this partnership to be the most creative volunteer/corporate initiative effort she has ever experienced and applauded everyone's effort.

She paid homage to the "amazing families" in the audience and talked about just how much this program has accomplished so far.

Over 10,000 community organizations have signed on since the announcement of the program.

The Hands On Network in Jacksonville, FLA has collected eight tons of canned food representing 10,000 meals.

Volunteer families have donated 4000 books for after school programs and have created 800 disaster kits.

Over 60,000 blankets have been collected for those in need.

Nunn closed out by saying Disney's "Give a Day Get a Disney Day" promotion and partnership with the Hands On network is really "helping dreams come true."

JAMMitors were on hand
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Chairman Staggs stood in front of a wall of white balloons and mentioned that behind the balloons was a structure made of over 150,000 cans of food that will be boxed up, loaded onto trucks, and delivered to food banks in Central Florida, Miami, and Atlanta.

The 150,000 plus cans represented 70,000 meals and was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the Largest Structure of Canned Goods Ever Assembled.

He then introduced Ty Pennington, star of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" to help reveal the structure.

Pennington asked for some helpers and Mickey Mouse and Goofy were happy to assist.

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Amid fanfare and cries of "Raise those Balloons" the several hundred balloons rose to the ceiling to reveal an enormous wall of canned foods with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy peeking over the edge.

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Pluto canned goods sculpture
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Canned Goods for the Record-Breaking Sculpture
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Later on several of the Disney Channel stars came on hand to help put together disaster kits for Haiti and help box and load the canned goods onto a special truck convoy that was led around World Showcase by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Sweetums.

Friends for Change, Project Green -- Hands On Activities
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Haiti Care Kits were Assembled
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Mike Scopa Interviews Michelle Nunn, co-founder of HandsOn Network and CEO of the Points of Light Institute
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Honorary VoluntEARS Cavalcade at Epcot
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Be sure to check back later for more on this event, and Mike Scopa's interview with Michelle Nunn.

February 10, 2010

What's New? What's Next?

AllEars.Net's Mike Scopa and Jack Spence were at today's "What's New? What's Next?" presentation held at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Here they share some exciting new things we can expect to see over the next few months at the Most Magical Place on Earth!

What's New... What's Next!

That was the name given to the press conference held on Wednesday evening at the Disney's World of Sports Complex.

Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, World Wide Operations President Al Weiss, and Senior Vice President, Disney Sports Enterprises, Ken Potrock, made some announcements that will surely bring smiles to Walt Disney World fans around the globe.

Crofton addressed the audience by saying how Walt Disney World is always working to give guests, -new reasons to visit Walt Disney World!" and also new ideas such as the "Give a Day Get a Disney Day" celebration and how WDW in 2010 wants to inspire 1 million volunteers to give a day of service to one of the thousands of community organizations that are registered with the Hands on Network.

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Once these volunteers have contributed their day of service Disney wants to celebrate that volunteer spirit with a day of fun in the parks.

Crofton then discussed the success of the American Idol Experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios. She went on to say that the AI experience helps WDW cast members to get to know guests better. They have found it to be quite inspirational to learn more and more about the guests.

She also discussed how guests have well received the newly refurbished Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.

Crofton then talked about the many more options given to DVC members with Kidani Village, Bay Lake Towers, and the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs Resort.

She also mentioned the well-received new dining experiences of Kidani Village's Sanaa and Kouzzina by Cat Cora on the Boardwalk.

That's What's New" then she told the audience What's Next!

" The term "Summer Nightastic" was introduced to describe the 2010 Summer nights at Walt Disney World.
" Crofton announced to a very happy audience that the Main Street Electrical Parade was coming back to The Magic Kingdom in early June 2010. This time the ELP will have Tinker Bell leading the way. Also, Snow White and Pinocchio will also be joining the parade.

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" Also this summer The Magic Kingdom will have a new fireworks spectacular at The Magic Kingdom.
" At Disney's Hollywood Studios the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will welcome "drop-ins" with new surprises, new lighting effects, and a new drop sequence.

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" The Sounds Like Summer concert series returns to Epcot and there are plans to expand Disney's Animal Kingdom evening hours.

Al Weiss, president of Worldwide Operations, took the podium and talked about things on the horizon.

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" Fantasyland Expansion (groundbreaking 2010) - This three-year construction project will result in the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history. For the first time, guests will be able to step into their favorite Disney fairy tales to have more magical and immersive encounters with Disney princesses. Each princess will have her own themed village within Fantasyland Forest. At Dreams Come True with Cinderella, guests can meet Cinderella face to face in her country chateau, share a dance or train to be one of her Royal Knights. At A Birthday Surprise for Sleeping Beauty, it is party time inside the Briar Rose Cottage, nestled in a lush, forest setting. The three good fairies give Aurora the Sweet 16 party she never received, and everyone's invited to join in the surprise celebration. And an enchanted mirror will transport guests from Belle's father's cottage to Beast's castle for an enchanting storytelling performance during Enchanted Tales with Belle.

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" The new district will invite parkgoers to the Be Our Guest Restaurant, one of three enchanted dining rooms inside Beast's castle. And just outside the castle in Belle's Village will be Gaston's Tavern, another themed eatery. Meanwhile, in the new Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction, Ariel and all her friends will entertain in a ride-through adventure featuring favorite songs from the popular animated feature.

" The big top comes to Dumbo's Flying Circus with a magical flight high above brand-new circus grounds, twice the size of the classic attraction. Inside a stylized tent, guests enjoy midway games and other fun-filled experiences.

" Perfecting Paradise - A Magical Makeover for Castaway Cay (2010) - Castaway Cay, Disney's private island paradise in the tropical waters of the Bahamas, is getting an extra dose of pixie dust. Enhancements include an expanded family beach, a floating water platform featuring two twisting water slides, two fresh-water play areas for guests to cool off, a new teen retreat and 20 new private rental cabanas offering the ultimate in beachside luxury. The additional island amenities are scheduled to be complete by summer 2010.

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" New Sailings for Disney Magic and Disney Wonder (2010, 2011) - In 2010, the Disney Magic will sail to Europe for an unprecedented five-month season of Northern European and Mediterranean cruises. Book-ending the summer season of 12-night Northern European Capitals cruises, the Disney Magic will once again return to the Mediterranean for 10- and 11-night cruises, with three new ports of call - Tunis in northern Africa, the island nation of Malta, and Ajaccio, Corsica. In the summer of 2010, the Disney Wonder will sail four- and five-night cruises to Nassau, Key West and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. In the summer of 2011, the Disney Wonder will sail for the first time to Alaska, with seven-night cruises calling on Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.

" Disney Cruise Line Expanding Its Fleet (2011, 2012) - The Walt Disney Company is expanding its successful cruise vacation business by adding two new ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, to set sail in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Two decks taller than the existing Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, the new 1,250-stateroom liners will more than double the passenger capacity for Disney Cruise Line. Now under construction, the Disney Dream will offer magical innovations, engaging children's spaces, family entertainment and immersive experiences for which Disney Cruise Line is renowned.

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" ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Relaunch (February 2010) - A re-imagining project involving ESPN and the Disney sports complex, the leading multi-sport venue in the nation, aims to create immersive and entertaining sports experiences for athletes, coaches and fans by incorporating signature elements of ESPN in ways that will connect athletes and coaches with their favorite ESPN programs, personalities and elements. Guests will discover a new welcome center, a digital center where video captured by 56 high-definition robotic and handheld cameras across the 220-acre sports campus is edited for display on 40 video screens and two "jumbotrons" throughout the complex as part of a veritable Wide World of SportsCenter, and the new ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, technical staff will continue work in the Innovation Lab to develop ground-breaking ESPN on-air products - using the action throughout the complex as a real-world testing environment.

" That's not all. Exciting coming attractions for Disney include new dining, retail - and even extend to a "galaxy far, far away." An all-new 3-D version of the popular Star Tours attraction launches in 2011 at Disney's Hollywood Studios, featuring immersive new elements that will take guests to many familiar places in the "Star Wars" galaxy.

September 12, 2009

NEWS! D23 Expo - Day 3

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

OK, OK, I know I said I'd write a Day 2 recap, and it's coming, I promise... but we have breaking news from TODAY.

And when the news breaks, the news breaks!

So, what's so important?

Well, today, at a presentation I attended just a little more than two hours ago, Jay Rasulo, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Chairman, made some really exciting announcements that I wanted to share right away!

First, the rumored expansion of Walt Disney World's Fantasyland is TRUE!

They are going to be more than doubling the size of Fantasyland and adding a number of
amazing new attractions.

The down side? Toontown is going to go away. Completely. Although the Imagineers have said they are going to try to save Goofy's Barnstormer somehow... they're just not sure how yet.

Based on Rasulo's presentation, and a press conference I attended afterward with several Imagineers and Rasulo as well, here are some of the major features of the expansion:

-- A country chateau where Cinderella lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, where you'll see her transform.
-- An area for Sleeping Beauty, in which you can make birthday cards for Aurora's Sweet 16 birthday party and give them to her.
-- Beast's Castle, which will house a 552-seat restaurant that is counter service by day, table service by night. The castle will have three areas, including the "West Wing", in which you will be able to see the Beast's private antechamber and the rose with dropping petals, featured in the animated film, Beauty and the Beast.
-- An "under the sea with Ariel" attraction, like the new Little Mermaid attraction in Disneyland, only with a completely different queue area.
--Expanded Dumbo -- Basically two Dumbo rides, and NO queue. Instead, there will be a 3-Ring Circus interactive play area with bleachers for adults, so that you can have fun while you wait for your "feather" to be called so that you can ride.
-- Pixie Hollow, which will be a second phase of the expansion, will eventually join the rest of Fantasyland.

Construction on the first phase of the expansion is expected to start soon, and, according to the Imagineers, impact on guests and existing attractions in Fantasyland should be minimal. The new areas should be completed by 2012, with the second phase following in 2013.

The second biggest announcement came as a good news/bad news thing.

The bad news? Star Tours in Disneyland is going to close in October 2010.

The good news? A whole new Star Tours, in 3D, will open in 2011!

The new attraction will feature scenes like the Pod Race in The Phantom Menace.

Although it was unclear when Star Tours in Walt Disney World will close, it, too, will be
receiving the new makeover.

For the official press release on this and other remarks Rasulo made today at the D23
Expo, as well as some artist renderings, check out our Disney News Blog HERE.

I'll be back more later with a recap of Day 2 and 3!

July 18, 2009

A Conversation with Marianne Hunnel: 2009 F&W Festival

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

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The other day, I had the chance to speak with Marianne Hunnel, manager of culinary programs for the upcoming Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I asked her if she could "spill the beans," so to speak, about what we can expect at the annual 45-day eating and drinking extravaganza, which runs this year from September 25 through November 8.

"I'm really excited about this year's festival,"Hunnel stated. "We have such an exciting lineup of chefs and programs."

Hunnel, who, along with her husband, Victoria and Albert's chef Scott, just celebrated her 20th year with Disney, noted that they are still adding the final touches to many of the events scheduled for this year's festival. She did, however, share many, if not all, details of what's to come.

What's New?

"We're going to have three new kiosks around World Showcase," Hunnel said, referring to the international food booths scattered amidst the country pavilions around World Showcase Lagoon. "The first will be right as you enter World Showcase, and it will feature desserts and champagne. You can arrive at the festival and toast the day along with maybe a Grand Marnier parfait. Then if you're hungry for real you can move to straight to another new kiosk -- Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil."

The other new kiosk this year is Thailand, featuring samples of savory Thai food paired with, not wine, but beer.

"We've found that in many countries wine isn't necessarily as popular," Hunnel noted. "And it's sometimes not the best pairing with the food."

While there won't be any big "experiences" around World Showcase, like last year's Louisiana or Australia exhibits, there will be several additions that offer more than just the samples you'll find at the food booths. For example, the Edy's Ice Cream Experience will offer a variety of flavors and interactive activities. The Italian region of Puglia will also be represented for all 45 days of the festival. Located near the Italy pavilion, of course, you'll find demonstrations there on pasta-making and tastings, including tastings of Puglia-produced olive oil, which Hunnel claimed is "incredible in flavor -- fruity, sweet, the aromas." My mouth was watering as she waxed poetic -- I do so love food.

Hunnel also said that by the time the festival starts the new lounge, Cava del Tequila, will be open in the Mexico pavilion, and it will be the site of tequila tastings each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Spirits seem to be making a comeback," she noted. "There's a timeless tradition, obviously, of people enjoying spirits, but it seems that they are gaining in popularity again. Some guests at the festival like to explore different tastes like this, particularly when the people who crafted the beverages are present. It's an educational journey."

Also in Mexico, at least for part of the festival (the specific dates have yet to be determined) there will be chefs and demonstrations courtesy of the Mexican Tourist Board.

One program the Hunnel said she was very excited about is the new Celebrating with Family and Friends in the Kitchen. The concept is that a celebrity chef will prepare a three-course lunch for the audience, alongside one of their friends, another chef, or perhaps even a family member. The tentative schedule of these lunches is listed below.

What's Returning?

Although last year's experimental venture City Tastes is not returning, the ever-popular Party for the Senses will again be featured every Saturday, adopting at least one aspect of City Tastes -- a weekly theme.

"Each week, we'll be celebrating something," Hunnel noted, "from Comfort Foods with a Twist to Classical Cuisine presented in a new way." (Hunnel detailed the themes for each weekend, which I've listed at the end of this blog, along with other info she shared with me about other programs.)

The Party will, however, feature a new twist this year -- an exclusive Wine View Lounge, available for an additional fee, will give a limited number of guests the chance to partake of special amenities: a secluded area; private, reserved tables; and special menu items.

"Guests have expressed a desire to have an exclusive area like this," Hunnel noted. "We think this will be the place to see and be seen."

Also returning are the popular Sweet Sundays brunches, during which a celebrity chef prepares a variety of desserts after guests have a light brunch. Programs like Authors without Borders, the Wine School and other signature dining events, will also return. The Cheese Tastings are being offered again as well, although they'll be starting a little earlier than in previous years -- 10:30 a.m. Hmm, wine and cheese first thing in the morning -- Breakfast of Champions? Could be, could be...

Hunnel said that the final schedule, complete with dates, times and prices, should be available online at disneyworld.com within the next 5-10 days, but here are some specifics that she could share with me:

Celebrating Friends and Family in the Kitchen

" September 26 The Deen Brothers (Jamie and Bobby, sons of Food Network's Paula Deen)

" October 2 Suvir Saran

" October 9 Patti LaBelle (yes, the singer -- she has a cookbook out!)

" October 16 Dean Max and Paula DaSilva

" October 23 Alan Wong with Art Smith

" October 30 Cat Cora (possibly with her mother)

" November 6 Andrea Immer Robinson, M.S. - With husband John Robinson

Party for the Senses

" September 26 - Spanish cuisine/wines (chef Douglas Rodriguez will be on hand this week)

" October 3 - Comfort Foods with a Twist (think macaroni and cheese made with artisanal cheeses and homemade pasta)

" October 10 - South American (including chef Jeff Tunks)

" October 17 - Classical Cuisine presented in a new way

" October 24 - Asian (including chef Alan Wong)

" October 31 - Fall Harvest (including chefs Cat Cora and Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans)

" November 7 - Italian

Sweet Sundays

" September 27 Andrew Shotts
" October 4 Warren Brown & Mary Meyers
" October 11 David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA
" October 18 Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
" October 25 Clair Clark from The French Laundry
" November 1 Geraldine Randalsome
" November 8 Jacques Torres

My mouth is watering already! I'll be covering the first weekend of the Festival and returning again later in October with my family for our annual visit. If you have any suggestions of things I should try specifically, drop me a note here and I'll make the supreme sacrifice of "researching" these fun food and wine events for our readers!

June 2, 2009

Disney's PhotoPass on AllEars.Net

AllEars® Team Member Erin Blackwell brings us this blog entry on Disney's PhotoPass.

What can we tell you about Disney's PhotoPass? Well, like everything else on the site, we try to be as comprehensive as possible, so you have all the information you need for your Disney vacation. Let's start with the basics for everyone who hasn't been to the parks in awhile or is about to go for the first time!

What is Disney's PhotoPass? It used to be Disney's photographers would take pictures of you in a park and give you a slip of paper to claim the photos at the end of the day. If you forgot or if you couldn't get the picture(s) then, you were out of luck. But now, that's all changed... and for the better! With the advantages of digital photography, Disney created the only system of this kind: the photographers still take pictures of your vacation, but now you can claim that any time, including online for 30 days after your trip is over. From there you can view your photos, order prints, and create photo keepsakes. Many guests say since PhotoPass has done away with the old system, they had more photos taken.

ppass-cards.jpgThe first time you have your picture taken, the photographer will give you a plastic Disney's PhotoPass card with an ID number on the back. Hang onto that card and use it for the duration of your trip. In fact, you can hang on to it and use it on every trip you take! Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card - they'll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go - and you can do this as often as you like.

By the way, you're not limited to one card. If you and others in your party each have a card, or you forgot yours in your room so you get another, it doesn't matter. Your online account will take the ID numbers from all those cards and combine them, so everything's in one place.

ppass-wrist.jpgYou'll also get a separate card if you attend a special event such as Halloween parties, and the Walt Disney World water parks give you a small card on a wrist strap like the one on the right. These cards are getting so popular, the Magic Kingdom now offers them at Pixie Hollow, and hopefully, that'll expand to all the parks.

The most important thing is the ID number on the back of the card. All of your photos are linked to that code, so write it down, take a clear picture of it, or save it somehow. That way, if you lose your card, you still have your pictures! You can even send this ID number to someone at home, so they can look at your pictures online and share in your trip. They can also tell you if a picture didn't come out well, so you can have it done again.

Each park at Disneyland and Walt Disney World has PhotoPass Centers, and even some of the resorts, so you can look at them while you're on your vacation. But since they're online for 30 days, from the date the photo was taken, you just go to http://www.disneyphotopass.com, register for free, and enter the ID number on the back of the card(s). Now you can add characters and borders, look at the Disney Gallery for their pictures, and figure out what kind of products you might like.

So where are the photographers? That's the biggest question that I hear. Where are they? How do you recognize them? I'm going to give you two ways of finding them. You'll be able to print these (and even download them to a PDA) so you can have them while you're at the parks.

photopass-photographers.jpgFirst, how do you recognize them? Most Disney PhotoPass photographers wear the same basic costume: dark shorts or pants, white shirt, and, most times, a khaki photographer's vest. One exception are the photographers on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom; look for blue and white pinstripe shirts, with white pants and oversized beret-type hats. Both costumes are pictured on the left.

Second, the next big question: where are they? And "why doesn't Disney have maps for them!" Actually, Disney does have maps for the photographer locations. It's true that they aren't on the maps you get in the parks; Disney feels the locations can change so much, the paper maps become too easily obsolete.

But! The All Ears.Net PhotoPass page gives you the link for the only Disney PhotoPass maps; they're online and in PDF format, broken down by the six parks: Disneyland, California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios. Just look for the camera icons on the map to find the photographers. You also get some general tips and where you can find the PhotoPass Center in that park.

I said I'd give you another way to find them, and here it is: each PhotoPass page on the site (one for Disneyland parks, and one for Walt Disney World) lists each location. I also give tips like the official maps and the PhotoPass Centers, but (putting on infomercial voice) wait, there's more! The pages give additional tips like characters in each section, and what can you get in the "magical photos", plus the restaurants, special event locations, and resorts. You can read these Disneyland PhotoPass locations and Walt Disney World PhotoPass locations tables, and use the print link to take them with you!

Remember: because of the weather, character times, and photographer availability, photo locations are subject to change without notice. Some locations are meant to be temporary: my husband and I had our picture taken by a photographer taking advantage of the sunset on a lagoon, as an example.

Some readers reported seeing fewer photographers lately; the good news is, Disney is bringing in more, so this problem can be resolved.

Note: one PhotoPass location outside the parks is the NYC World of Disney store, so you can get a touch of Disney while visiting the Big Apple.

laura-balloons.jpg"Magical photos"? Yes, Virginia, I did say "magical photos". They can also be called "special poses" or "magical poses". The photographers will ask you to pose in what might seem like odd ways: cupping your hands, pointing to the ground, looking surprised.... They do this because characters are added into the photo, like you crossing swords with Captain Hook or Stitch popping out of the ground. The latest magical photo is the Mickey balloons, like you see in All Ears team member Laura's hands. Disneyland told Laura they've only been available for a month. My personal opinion is, they've been added to coincide with the balloon theme for "What Will You Celebrate?", but it could just be, the balloons look great!

jack-balloons.jpgOne Disney manager told team member Jack Spence that these balloons are available at all PhotoPass locations. We haven't tested all the places, but we can say that they're definitely available at these two locations:

Disneyland in front of the train station: as you see with Laura.

-and-

Disney's Hollywood Studios on Sunset Boulevard, as you can see with Jack on the left.

Ask if you get the balloon pose in other locations, and if you do, please let AllEars® know! More on that later.

The other newer magical photo that I've seen is also at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and it's Stitch bursting out of a hat in your hands. They offer it on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards.

Professional Portrait Service: Walt Disney World offers a private portrait session for you and your party at five of their hotels: The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, The Beach Club, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the newest location, Wilderness Lodge. (Each of these also has their own PhotoPass center.) For full information, check the Disney's PhotoPass page for Walt Disney World under Locations & Tips.

General tips: this section on the pages is about what you'd expect - tips on making Disney's PhotoPass work for you. The most important tip is what I said above: save that ID number! Others tips include help with dining locations, pictures with children, and not forgetting the great opportunity for beautiful night photos.

Ways to save money: that perked up the ears, didn't it? And why not? Who wouldn't like to save money? Disneyland guests save money on the PhotoCD of all your pictures, but did you know there is a way to get that price when you have a trip to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland?

Walt Disney World guests: If you booked your trip through either via Disneyworld.com or through Disney's Reservation Center, you will get an email from Disney Destinations called "Disney Vacation Must Sees for the (name) Family". It is sent approximately mid-way between when a reservation is booked and the arrival date (or 45 days prior to the arrival date if the mid-way point is more than 45 days prior to arrival). The email has a link to pre-order the PhotoCD and save! (Note: This is the ONLY way to get the link now and you only get this link if you booked your trip through the 2 ways described above. At this time, you will not get the discount if you booked through a travel agent, if you're staying off-property, or if you are a DVC member. Also, you must pre-order the PhotoCD to get the savings, you cannot do it during or after your trip, and the link is not transferable.)

Look for other ways to save money in this section. Of course, it lists all the products you can purchase; they're the same for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. If you've been to these sections before, one of the updates is to product prices. Some even went down.

Yes, Virginia, you read that right: some prices went down.

Tips on Posing: here's a whole new section added to the pages. It deals with what kind of fun and creative poses you can do. Some photographers are great with this and so are some guests. One of AllEars.Net's photographers, Lisa Berton, for example, got an apple to pose with the Evil Queen from Snow White poisoning her. She also used the crowd behind her at Cinderella's Castle to do a "I crush your head! Crush! Crush!" pose. (Everyone who knows Lisa is nodding their heads right now and grinning.)

Another that I really love is Mickey cupping his hands with a couple's hands folded on top of his, displaying their wedding rings like you would in a wedding album. It's a lovely "intimate" photo that is all Disney.

So check out these new sections to inspire your imagination and have fun!

Contacting PhotoPass: Two things that never change (besides death and taxes): 1) people make mistakes and 2) so do the machines they create. Your photos might not show up in your account, or you have some other reason you need to contact Disney's PhotoPass. The pages give you five different ways to do this: their contact form, 3 different email addresses, and their phone number.

The only difference between the Contact PhotoPass section for Disneyland vs Walt Disney World is: the latter also has the phone number for the Portrait Sessions and the NYC World Of Disney store.

Both also have a link to the Disney's PhotoPass Help FAQ.

What's coming up: For Disney's PhotoPass? Quite a lot, I'm sure: locations are fluid, technology improves, more and more special events are created. For the PhotoPass pages on AllEars.Net? My next big update will be Photo Galleries. This way, you will see all the "magical photos" characters, some of the creative poses you can do, Special Events, and PhotoPass pictures in general.

Of course, I need to keep the pages current so they're useful. One way I do that, in addition to whining badgering politely asking people on the team for help, is reading the feedback, tips and reviews from our readers. Please send in what you learn about Disney's PhotoPass. You help out me and your fellow guests!

Thank you to Jack Spence who dared to open an email with the subject line "Good Morning, Mr. Phelps" where I begged asked for help, and to Laura Gilbreath for all her help!

February 26, 2009

What's New, What's Next at Downtown Disney

by
Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor
AllEars®

I recently had the chance to chat with Kristi Koester, a manager of WDW Product Marketing, and we talked about what's going on with the Downtown Disney area. While there was a lot she couldn't talk about, because it's still in the planning stages, there were a few things she COULD reveal. Plus we had the chance to talk more at length about some plans that have already been announced.

kristi.jpg "When the night clubs closed on Pleasure Island (on September 28), we announced a complete transformation, not only of Pleasure Island, but of the whole Downtown Disney area," Koester says. "Over the past few months we have been working with Imagineers and many others to finalize this vision we have of making the area Disney's dining, shopping and entertainment metropolis."

Some of the changes to the area we're already seeing, she notes, pointing to the fall 2008 opening of T-Rex and the recent opening of the Design-A-Tee shop at the Marketplace. On the horizon is TrenD (pronounced trend-dee), an upscale, hip Disney fashion boutique, located on the site of the former Summer Sands in the marketplace, due to open in late March. And soon after that there will be a new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant with a Central and South American theme.

E-Brands Restaurants, based in Orlando, is the name behind the new restaurant, and the company already operates a number of high-concept eateries around the country, including Timpano Chophouse and Martini Bar, AquaKnox ( seafood), and David Burke (Modern American cuisine in Las Vegas). Nonetheless, Koester claims that this particular restaurant's concept is new to E-Brands, and will add to the mix of the Downtown Disney area, which she says is evolving from "night clubs" to "night life."

The new restaurant, which is slated to open later this year with a wine bar and a tequila bar, will also feature an impressive view of the waterfront.

"That's been one of the issues at Downtown Disney," she notes, "the real estate issue. You have this prime location sitting on the water and it was blockaded by all these buildings. The area needs to be contemporized and the waterfront opened up -- we're looking at ways to maximize this asset."

Another way Downtown Disney will "maximize this asset" is with Characters in Flight, the first Downtown Disney attraction, scheduled to open in April. This tethered balloon ride, situated in the water between Pleasure Island and West Side, is operated by the same company that runs a similar ride at Disneyland Paris. It will allow 30 participants at a time to go 300 feet off the ground and will last six minutes. The cost for the experience has not yet been set, but Koester notes that it will be quite an exhilarating ride.

"The ride will operate day and night," she explains, adding that the balloon will be illuminated in the evenings. "It's off-white, silhouetted with Disney characters, and will be quite a unique site hovering over the water at Downtown Disney."

When asked if this type of activity along with the closing of the night clubs, signals a shift to making Downtown Disney and specifically Pleasure Island more family-oriented, Koester shakes her head.

"No, I don't think that's it. I think the area will have a family focus, but will also be accommodating to others, not catering to one group more than another." She adds, "We're looking at rounding out what we have already and bringing in the best brands from all over. Not necessarily chains, but more unique experiences, like Raglan Road. We're looking at an array of dining possibilities, places with show kitchens, open lounges, that will appeal to everyone, not just families."

So what about bringing some of the old night clubs back, then? Specifically the beloved Adventurers Club, which was a uniquely Disney experience.

"I can tell you for certain that the Adventurers Club as it was will not be coming back to Pleasure Island," Koester states. "I'm afraid it will be a line in Disney history."

As for the rest of the changes the area will be seeing, Koester says they are coming, but as Imagineers are looking at transportation and a whole host of other related issues, it's been a challenge to develop and lock onto a finalized plan. But, she adds, there will be a succession of smaller announcements over the next 18 months to two years, as Disney reaches agreements with other partners who will open locations in the Downtown Disney area.

"As you can imagine, tough economic times like these tend to slow things down," she notes. "But you can expect an announcement at least of the overall vision for Downtown Disney early this summer."

December 15, 2008

Passholders' American Idol Experience Tour

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

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At the outset, I have to say one thing: I am very excited to announce that I was the very first non-Disney cast member to set foot in the brand new American Idol Experience that is nearly set to debut in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Yes, when Disney held its special Annual Passholder tour for the new attraction on Sunday, I was the very first person in the very first (10 a.m.) tour to set foot in the place. It was pretty exciting. For me, at least.

So, what did I learn on the tour? Well, lots of things. Most importantly, I guess, is that the new attraction is scheduled to open on February 14, 2009! Whatever the new attraction may be like, I'm always thrilled when something new opens.

What else can I tell you? Well, I'm sorry that I wasn't allowed to take photos on the tour, so I'll try to relate as much as I can remember.

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Since they couldn't really let us see the actual show that guests will experience come next February, they walked us through both backstage and in front of the stage.

When you enter the backstage area, you'll first encounter the auditioning booths... two as soon as you enter, another two further down the corridor. The whole area is very sleek and contemporary, done in royal blue carpeting, light wood, glass block and chrome. Though it wasn't there yet, the area will also eventually have a plasma screen TV, which will show an introductory video featuring American Idol's host, Ryan Seacrest.

But wait... Maybe I should back up a bit. For those of you who want to try out to be a performer at the American Idol Experience, you'll be able to pre-register online on Disney's site, before you come down to Walt Disney World, or you can just simply turn up to audition on the spot. (You'll have to be at least 14, though.) Those who audition will sing, a cappella, for a casting director in one of the four soundproof rooms. They'll be allowed to bring one guest with them throughout the whole process.

If selected during the audition process, the contestant will next spend some time in the producer's lounge, where they will be given an iPod holding 113 songs. They'll have up to 20 minutes to listen to the tunes on the iPod to decide which one they would like to sing at the next step in the process -- in front of the producer.

The producer's room is slightly large than the basic auditioning booth. There the contestant will sing with accompaniment and will learn whether they are passing on to the next phase -- to perform in front of an audience. There will be three to five contestants selected for each show.

Once the contestants are selected they will be given a special "vote for me!" lanyard to wear as they walk around the park for the remainder of the day, until they are tapped to perform. Contestants will receive a phone call about an hour before they are due to perform for the American Idol Experience -- that gives them time to talk with the stage coach, vocal coach, and hair and makeup people.
As the tour guide told us, everyone will truly be set up for success.

On the audience side, though, no special skills are necessary. As you're waiting in the outdoor queue, a crew will be filming you -- excerpts will then be intercut into a video that will somehow be used during the show. (Justin Guarini, runner-up from the first season of American Idol, will be featured in this video.)

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When you enter 1000-seat theater you'll find quite a sight. More sleek furnishings, blue carpeting and upholstery, but more than that -- the set is identical to the REAL American Idol show. Understandable, really, when you discover that it was designed by the same person who designed the set for the television show, Andy Walmsley.

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This "smart theater", as the tour guides called it, is equipped with some impressive technology. For example, the LED lights that it uses save enough energy to power 60 houses each day. In addition, during the performances, the contestants will wear a transmitter that will enable the lighting to follow them automatically -- no worrying about stepping out of the spotlight.

After the contestants perform, they will be evaluated by three judges, who will be patterned after the familiar format used on the American Idol television show. One judge will be the hip, cool judge, one will be nurturing, and one will be the "tell it like it is" judge -- you know, like Simon Cowell. However, as our tour guide reminded us, it IS Disney World, so this judge won't be quite so nasty. And, just like on the television show, while the judges have their say, it is the audience's vote that counts. Members of the audience cast their vote using the keypads embedded in their armrests.

There will be seven preliminary shows per day, each running about 20-25 minutes. The eighth and last show of the day will be the grand finale, which will last about 45 minutes. During the finale, the seven winners from the day's earlier shows will perform, vying for the big prize -- a Dream Ticket that gives them the chance to go before a producer of the actual American Idol show. As one of our tour guides described it, it's like a FASTPASS to AI -- it doesn't guarantee you'll be on the show, but it gets you past the auditioning process and directly to a producer.

Other participants who don't win the Dream Ticket will receive special commemorative souvenirs, too, but it sounds like the experience alone will be a fantastic memory to take home.

Our tour guides concluded by telling us that a Passholder Preview is coming soon -- no date given, though. If you're interested in going, be sure you're registered on Disney's passholder site, as the announcement will be coming by email.

Overall, I'm anxious to see this new show -- I'm probably one of about 10 people in the World who has never watched American Idol on television, but still, I think seeing the new live "Experience" will be interesting -- but only from the audience! There is no way I would ever audition for something like that myself!

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October 26, 2008

Old Key West New Patio Furniture

Jack Marshall just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World. He stayed at Old Key West and reports that all the villas have received new patio furniture!


Old Key West New Patio Furniture

Old Key West New Patio Furniture


Old Key West New Patio Furniture


Old Key West New Patio Furniture


Jack also spotted this sign at Downtown Disney!

Downtown Disney Transportation Sign

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.

beekeepers


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.

butterfly.jpg

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.

Buckeye.jpg


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!"

stitch.jpg

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.

Seven Dwarves


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"

July 18, 2007

Spaceship Earth Photos

Debra Martin Koma is in Walt Disney World right now. She sent these photos of the continued removal of the wand/arm that's been on Spaceship Earth for several years.

Also, this morning she reported that at 10ish, the standby wait for Soarin was 75+ minutes. They were able to get FastPasses with a window beginning just after noon.

Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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June 24, 2007

Photo Updates from Walt Disney World

All Ears® Team member Jack Spence was roaming the parks recently, and sent in these photos.

First, an updated view of the space that once was occupied by the North Garden Wing of the Contemporary.

Contemporary Resort
Larger Version Here.

Next the Haunted Mansion entrance, closed for rehab!

Haunted Mansion entrance
Larger Version Here.

Finally, a new figurine for sale at the Watch Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.


Pirate Figurine
Larger Version Here.

June 22, 2007

Around the World.... Dateline June 22, 2007

AllEars Team Member Jack Spence files this report:

Toy Story Mania Construction
Here's a photo of the latest construction on Toy Story Mania at the Disney-MGM Studios. The attraction was officially announced at the January Press Event in Walt Disney World. This ride will also be opening in Disneyland's California Adventure next year as well.

Over in Animal Kingdom..... A CD of "Finding Nemo, The Musical" is now for sale at the Animal Kingdom for $12.98. This is a very nice recording of the entire show.

Construction on Yak and Yeti restaurant continues. To fit in with Anandapur, the fictional village that is home to Expedition Everest, the restaurant will be themed as a rural village in the Himalayan foothills. The pan-Asian establishment will house both a table service restaurant that seats 300 and a quick-service eatery that can hold 200 customers. The restaurant was announced in February 2006, and is set to open October 8, 2007. Yak and Yeti Construction

The "Leave A Legacy" purchasing area at Epcot is now all boarded up as is the "Leave A Legacy" display under Spaceship Earth. Speaking of Spaceship Earth the new rehab dates are July 9th through November 13th.

Below are a couple photos of the new Arcade on the 4th floor of the Contemporary. The operating hours are 8:00am to 11:30pm. Lots of other changes coming at the Comtemporary too. Big changes are coming to the dining options at the Contemporary Resort. The Food and Fun Center will close in July to be converted to a new table service restaurant. Beginning July 30, 2007, a temporary quick service restaurant called Tempo Grab and Go will operate near the Outer Rim lounge on the 4th Floor. It will be open through August 14, 2008. The new table service location will be called The Wave, and is tentatively set to open in late March or April 2008. Once The Wave opens, the Concourse Steakhouse will close and a new, permanent quick service restaurant will be constructed in that space, set to debut in mid-August 2008.


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May 17, 2007

A Quick Weekend Trip Report

AllEars Team Member Anita Answer files this report:
Just back from a quick Mothers' Day weekend trip to the World, and wanted to share a couple of things:

flower and garden festival


New Fastpasses: Saw them at the Safari and Everest. They're about 1/3 bigger, on heavier stock. The issue date is BIG now, so no cheating! The new FPs also reference the pass you used to get them, and have a ref number printed at the bottom as well as bar code on the sides. I think this foreshadows some other changes coming to the FP system in the near future, but I'm not really sure yet what they may be.

New Show at the Safari: First ride on the Safari on Sunday morning was the old show (Miss Jobson, Wilson, Big Red, Little Red, Shifty- eyed Crocodiles, etc.) I asked an area coordinator when the new show was starting as I thought it already had. He said there are 3 shows right now as they phase the new one in: The old one, the new one with a recorded spiel, and one where the driver does the whole thing. He asked if we wanted to check out the new show (Uh, let me think...YEAH!) and he back-doored us back onto the ride and made sure we got a truck with the new show. By the way, the trucks now have 2 extra rows on the back and a canvas roof. Anyway, back to the new show. Miss Jobson has been made redundant, Wilson has had a voice transplant and now sounds like Mr. Bean imitating Wilson. I was on the floor of the truck I was laughing so hard. It's unintentionally hilarious. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

In the new show, the driver handles most of the spiel now, and the poacher/dead elephant story has been relegated to the back page, with more emphasis on the animals now. Bottom line, the old show was silly and probabably needed some work. The new show is just...blah. The animals are spectacular as usual. Several times during the ride, we were eye to eye with rhinos, giraffes, and ostriches.

Saw the new Monsters, Inc. show. It was not an E Ticket, but not as bad as I had been led to believe. I thought it was cute. The audience interaction was very funny and entertaining.


Saw the new Three Caballeros ride at Mexico. Also cute and well done, but the boat goes too fast for you to catch on to what's going on in the story. You may have to ride it a few times to figure it out.

New queueing in Rock 'n' Roller. The queue is completely different from the entrance to the load zone now. There are three lines: Stand- by, Fastpass and Single Rider. The pre-show area has been rebuilt. The upper tier is now much smaller and for Fastpass guests. The lower tier is larger, and for Stand-By guests.

I rode Everest 12 times on Sunday. This is not my personal best, however, which is 29 times in one day during the first day of previews.

Saw the Nemo show again, and they've changed Crush's human's costume. I liked the old one better (dreds, board shorts, sandals). Now he wears one of those body suits the other puppeteers wear, and it's kind of a washed-out mottled khaki. Now it looks like there's another turtle riding on Crush's back. I thought it looked odd. Bring back the original costume, please?

Went to have lunch with friends yesterday (May 15) at the Yacht Club Galley and found it closed and under rehab! The hostess told me they had only found out at 2:30 on Friday they were closing. They'll re-open on May 23. Meanwhile, lunch is being served at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. The menu is the same. Lots of changes happening to the World's restaurants these days!

Stayed at Shades of Green for the first time and it was pretty much a bust. Although the resort is absolutely gorgeous and the rooms are huge, pretty and spotless, the restaurants were awful, and the guest service was worse. I started my stay on Saturday at lunch in Evergreens where I had an entire glass of iced coffee dumped on me by the server. Did she apologize? No. Did she offer to get me a towel to clean up? No. She didn't offer a free drink to replace the one I was now wearing, and in fact I had to ask for a replacement drink four times from two servers before I got it. Some of my clothing was ruined and my capris were soaked through to my skivvies.We didn't have a room yet, so it made for an uncomfortably damp coffee-scented afternoon. It did not set a good tone for our stay.

Although SoG is located right next to the Poly, it's impossible to get anywhere easily without a car. It's also impossible to park at the TTC and try to get back to SoG without going about 20 miles (slight exaggeration...) out of your way unless you know the Super Secret exit that will not put you on World Drive going south. I knew it was there, but could not find it at 1:00 am Sunday morning in the dark. After three loops around the parking lot, I gave up and went all the way down World Drive and turned around and came back. Frustrating, since you can see the
resort, but you can't get to it! By the way, it costs $5 a day to park at SoG, and your park parking is not covered. Parking is also in a garage, and the rows are so narrow you can't back out without doing a five-point turn.

Yesterday, they left our bill on our door. We opened it and noted that they had charged the wrong rate. We also noted that there was a room service charge we did not make. Then we noted we had been given the next room's bill! So...downstairs my friend goes, which was ok since she had to pick up a package we had delivered from Epcot. The front desk was less than helpful and had to be begged for a new printed copy of the bill. The desk clerk seemed unconcerned about privacy and identity security issues (at a military hotel!? ) and told her not to worry about who might have her bill. The the clerk then rolled her eyes at my friend as if it was all her fault!

Now it was time to get the package...which they had lost. Nowhere to be found. They said if they found it they would call and she could come get it! Uh, no! Shouldn't they mail it at their expense since they lost it? They finally found it and called, shortly before we were due to leave for the airport. "It was sent over to Saratoga Springs. You can pick it up there." Why did they send it to SSR? Needless to say, we both agreed that no matter how inexpensive it was to stay there or how lovely the resort was, we would never ever- did I mention NEVER?- ever stay there again. DND (Definitely Not Disney). It remains to be seen if the package ever makes it home.

Flowers


The Flower and Garden Festival has certainly been pared down this year! The grounds are stunning this year, but the "Festival" part is lacking. The Odyssey Festival Center contained a demo area, a display of arrangements and about 3 vendors. We kept asking if we were missing the rest somehow, but were assured this was pretty much all there was. Outside, there were some kiosks along World Showcase Plaza, and that was about it. They extended the show, and then got rid of 1/3 of it? That didn't make sense to me, but I'm not in charge of Epcot Special Events either.

Yak & Yeti - Second floor is taking shape, but still no roof. I don't think they're going to make that July 2007 deadline for opening. Had a "Farewell To Tusker House" breakfast on Sunday. Goodbye, old friend...

The Magic Kingdom Noodle Station is open 5pm to 9 pm daily. El Pirata in the Magic Kingdom has been open for lunch.

Apparently, the exhorbitant shipping costs did not go over well with guests and shipping costs are back to normal again. I didn't experience this personally, and I'm just repeating what my friend told me she learned when she bought something at Downtown Disney and had it shipped home. YMMV.

Saw the Animal Kingdom Lodge models and chatted with the sales people. I loved the layout, and especially the master bathroom in the new bigger 1 br. (there are two full bathrooms and the unit sleeps 5!) I did not like the general decor, however. Animal prints and dark woods are not to my taste. By the way, the dining table only seats 4, but the unit sleeps 5. Guess someone didn't think that one through?

Davy Jones


Saw Davy Jones on Sunday! We were so close to the stage we could almost touch him. Woohoo! For a 61 year old man, he sure looks good! He can also sing and dance just as well as he could when he was 21. Amazing. Can you believe the Monkees TV show is 40 years old? Special guest was his sister Hazel, sitting two rows behind me. He sang a Swing song for her, and a young couple began swing dancing near the back. He called them up on stage, but they didn't hear him as they were concentrating on their dancing. He walked all the way out into the audience and brought them onstage, then brought his sister out of the audience to dance with him. It was a really nice moment, and nice way to end my Epcot visit.

Now it's back to reality until my next trip.

Anita
Read Anita's Weekly Column!

May 1, 2007

Spaceship Earth's Project Tomorrow Post - Show

AllEars Team Member Jack Spence files this report:

It's refreshing to have the construction walls down and exit Spaceship Earth into a somewhat finished area. Like the previous AT&T exhibit, the lighting is low, enabling guests to see the various screens and monitors scattered around the room. When you first enter this area, you walk directly toward a large globe that is illuminated via rear-projection. Here you'll see various "advertisements" for Siemens. However, these advertisements feel more like entertainment than commercials.

ProjectTomorrow01.jpg

Two exhibits are up and running at the moment, Super Driver and Body Builder. As the attraction was somewhat busy I did not play either game and really can't comment on the rules, but here is my impression.

Super Driver resembles an arcade type game where someone sits in the "driver's seat" and drives a car along the highway. Others can stand behind the driver and watch his progress.

ProjectTomorrow02.jpg


Guests stand while playing the Body Builder game and two people compete against each other. 3D glasses are required and many pairs are available so onlookers can also watch the action.

There is space for more exhibits and several signs indicate that they will be arriving soon.

See more photos in our Wandering Around the World area.

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