Epcot Archives

February 8, 2016

A Different Kind of Wine Bar



You probably know that there's a wine bar in one of the shops inside Epcot's Italy pavilion. And that you can get a variety of wines by the glass at Les Vines de France in the France pavilion. But did you know that there was a place to try a different kind of wine stowed away in the back of the Japan pavilion at Epcot?

Yes, there is a bar serving up samples of sake, the traditional rice wine of Japan.I think this is one of those hidden treasures that not many people know about, although it's been here for years. Unless perhaps you're a sake aficionado....

Which, I admit, I'm not, but I do like to try new things, and this is a good spot for that.

So how do you find this place? Walk all the way to back of Japan's Mitsukoshi Department Store. If you're standing near the Hello Kitty display, keep walking. If you're opposite the "pick your own pearl" stand, keep walking. Walk all the way back to where you'll find a wide variety of Japanese food specialty items. Items like Pocky, yummy chocolate-dipped cookie sticks, and other Asian sweets. Then, on your left, tucked into the back corner, you'll see it. The big sign that cries "SAKE BAR" overhead, and the little bar where you can sample some!


If you're like me, and know little about this alcoholic rice wine, you can start by educating yourself with the "Sake Matrix" that's on display.


This divides the sakes that are available to try into four quadrants, classifying them from dry to sweet and light to heavy. You can learn a little more about the sakes from talking with the cast members pouring, of course, but be sure to also consult the little "cheat sheet" menu that's available. I 've not tried it yet, but I'm intrigued by the description for the Murai Nigori Genshu cloudy sake: "Very strong in alcohol with a creamy confection that can hit you like a ton of bricks if you're not careful. Sip slowly!" Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!


There are about 10 different varieties on hand, and samples are in the $5 to $10 range. They include the traditional aperitif plum wine, a fizzy low-alcohol sake called Hana Awaka Sparkling, and the award-winning fruity and dry Mu Junmai Dai-Ginjyo.



There are even a few other alcoholic beverages on offer, such as an unfiltered Ginga Kogen Beer. So far I've only tried the Wakatake, which is a pure, dry rice sake and the Yuzu Omoi, a citrus-flavored drink.


Many of these beverages, which come in beautiful, decorative bottles, can be found for sale on the opposite wall, so after you've found a sake that's to your liking, you can take some home with you!


Next time you find yourself around the Japan pavilion and you're feeling a little adventurous, consider taking a meander through Mitsukoshi shop and exploring the world of sake that awaits you.

As they might say in Japan: Kanpai!

October 5, 2015

2015 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise and Special Packages



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

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


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

This t-shirt ($24.95)...


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

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




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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Happy shopping!

January 23, 2015

Epcot for 8 Year Olds? See Why!


Deb Wills talks with 8 year old Carson Hamilton about his favorite park at Walt Disney World, Epcot! Hear what his favorite attractions in Epcot are and why any 8 year old will love the park!

Did you miss Carson's first video on AllEarsNet TV?

Deb Wills talks with 8 year old Carson Hamilton all about Walt Disney World. Carson talks about his first ride ever on the Tower of Terror, family fun at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and more!

"And we'll see YOU, real soon!"

May 10, 2014

After Hours Wind Down: Rose and Crown Pub


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A few weeks ago, Walt Disney World announced a special spring/summer offering that allows you to stay in Epcot and "lounge around" after the park closes at one of four spots scattered around World Showcase. Called the "After Hours Wind Down," the program gives you the chance to hang out at either La Cava del Tequila in Mexico, Spice Road Table in Morocco, Tutto Gusto in Italy, or the Rose and Crown Pub in the United Kingdom, from 9:20 (after IllumiNations) to 11 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays.

Since I was in Walt Disney World last week for a few days, I managed to find a way to squeeze it into my schedule, and booked my reservations at the Rose and Crown Pub.

After an early dinner, my friend and I showed up at the door of the Rose and Crown immediately after IllumiNations had concluded. The greeter checked our names off her list and gave us wristbands, asking us to wait as the pub staff readied for our visit. After a few minutes, we were allowed to enter and had our choice of seats. The capacity for this event at Rose and Crown is about 50, but I'd say that on this Friday evening there were only about 20 patrons.


Soon after we settled in, a cast member brought us our beverage "flight" for the evening: 6-oz. pours of Bass Ale, Harp Lager, Guinness Stout and Strongbow Cider.


A few minutes later we were brought a plate with our food sampler of typical pub fare -- a Scotch egg with mustard sauce and watercress; English Cotswold cheese with chives with onion jam; and pork apple sausage roll served with picalilli.


Having visited the UK many times, I thought I would know what to expect from the food, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. The hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, coated in bread crumbs and baked, was quite tasty, as was the savory pork roll. The cheese, creamy and oniony, was nicely accented by the sweet jam. The portions were a typical tasting size (though I could have used a bit more mustard sauce) and I really enjoyed them. Even though it wasn't an overabundance of food, I was glad I had skipped dessert at dinner, I overheard the couples at nearby tables complaining that they were too full from their dinners at Le Cellier and Monsieur Paul to really enjoy the food. No problem, though. The friendly cast members were happy to box up the snacks to be carried home and eaten later.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a beer fan, and had thought that there would be alternative beverage options -- but I guess there's not much in the way of British wine, is there? So I went with the beer, and surprised myself. I found that I really enjoyed the Harp Lager, which I'd never tried before. The Bass was, well, to me it was just beer. Not a fan. The Guinness, which I've tried before, was a little too thick and strong for me -- definitely an acquired taste that I haven't acquired. The Strongbow, however, was light and refreshing and went down easily -- and I noticed that the people at the surrounding tables seemed to feel the same.


While 24 ounces of beer-type beverages over the course of almost 90 minutes was plenty for me, you can order additional drinks (and food, too) if you'd like -- at a price. Also, if you decide to go non-alcoholic, you can still attend -- for the same price, of course -- and you'll be provided with soft drinks.

There's no entertainment during the Wind Down, which was fine with me, but I thought that some soft background music would have added a little to the ambience. On the other hand, I could have done without the janitorial staff (three of them!) who took up residence in the corner of the room, chatting on their walkie-talkies and sweeping up non-existent litter while I was trying to relax and enjoy my drink. It really struck me as Bad Show.

The other thing that disappointed me is that the Friday night I was there was evening Extra Magic Hours night at Epcot -- so what was supposed to be "after hours" really wasn't. I was hoping to have the chance to walk through a deserted Epcot after we'd finished, but there were still quite a few other guests in the park. Oh well.

But these are minor complaints. Overall it was a quite enjoyable experience and a pleasant way to end the evening. Was it worth $35? I'd say a qualified "yes" -- maybe it's just slightly overpriced, by about $5. Still, it was great to actually be able to sit in the pub and soak in the atmosphere. That's something that you can't normally do during regular park hours, due to the spot's popularity.

I think the next time I book the Wind Down -- and I do plan to try it again -- I'll make reservations at the wine cellar at Tutto Gusto. On a Sunday night!


The After Hours Wind Down is available Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays now through September 15. Cost is $35, plus tax and gratuity.

Make a reservation at, call 407-WDW-DINE or stop by Epcot Guest Relations.

June 7, 2013

Henna: That'll Leave a Mark!



Now and then, I've thought about getting a tattoo -- nothing too flashy, but maybe just a small flower or butterfly, discreetly placed on a shoulder or inside the wrist. I've never actually committed to such permanent body art, though, partially because I'm a bit leery of the pain and needle involved.

What I have done several times, though, is indulge in getting temporary henna "tattoos," like those popularized by the Indian and Middle Eastern cultures.


Henna is a plant that grows in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and across other hot, dry regions in Asia. Its dried leaves are ground into a powder and mixed with other ingredients to make a paste which, when applied to the skin, will stain it in much the same way that a used teabag will stain a surface its left on. No needles are involved in the process, making it an easy and relatively inexpensive alternative to true tattooing, which can be painful to both the skin and the pocketbook.

At Walt Disney World, there are two places you can get a lovely henna tattoo -- in the Morocco pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, and at the Mombasa Marketplace in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The latter location is where I've had henna tattoos done a few times over the last year. The process is quite quick, and completely painless.

First, choose your design from a book chock full of photos that show not only the patterns, but suggested placement. Prices range from $15 for less complicated patterns up to $35 for the more intricate designs.






Once you choose your design, the cast member at the henna station will write an order for you, which you must take inside the shop so you can pay in advance. Take the receipt back out to the henna artist and have a seat.

Henna artists are skilled in drawing intricate patterns with the paste, which is applied with a type of pen -- sort of like a gel pen.



I'm so impressed with how quickly these artists work, and they do it all freehand. Obviously, they've had loads of practice, but they move swiftly and confidently, creating beautiful swirls and flourishes without mistakes.


Before you know it, your hand (or arm or leg or whichever body part you've designated for your henna) is decorated, and possibly even sprinkled with a little glittery "pixie dust." (That's a Disney touch -- I'm not sure whether traditional henna artists ever accent their work with glitter and jewels.)

The entire procedure from design selection to the application of the henna takes less than a half-hour (unless, of course, you have to wait for other customers for your turn with the henna artist). As I said before, there's no pain involved -- the paste has a strong odor, but it doesn't sting the skin when it's applied. There's just the light pressure of someone painting or drawing on you. (NOTE: If you have very sensitive skin or are prone to allergies, you may want to check with your doctor before getting a henna tattoo -- or perhaps test a very small amount of the paste on your skin to determine if you have a reaction.)

The henna paste must stay on your skin for several hours (the henna artists suggest at least eight) to really "soak in" -- the longer you can leave it on, the deeper the stain penetrates, and the longer the design should last. As the paste dries, it cracks and then gradually flakes off, revealing the henna "tattoo," which is initially rather orange in color. It darkens over the next day or so to a deep reddish-brown.


How long the stain lasts depends on a number of variables. Thicker skin, like that on the palms of the hands, holds the stain longer. Also, keeping the henna area moisturized, using body lotion or baby oil, may help it to last a little longer. Conversely, if you swim in chlorinated water, which tends to dry the skin out, the henna may fade more quickly.

With time, your dead skin cells flake off, and the dye fades away. As you can see, this henna had really faded after about 10 days.


The henna tattoos I've gotten have generally lasted about two weeks, despite my efforts to prolong them, but the henna artists I've spoken to say they've had the tattoos stick with them as long as a month.

As I said, that's not been my experience. For example, there's no trace of the latest henna tattoo I had -- it was applied at the end of April.



Guess that means I'm ready for another, the next time I'm in the World!

March 12, 2013

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


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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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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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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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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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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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...


20th Annual Flower and Garden Festival Video Tour

March 11, 2013

Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection



Friday, March 8, marked the grand opening of the newest exhibit to be housed in Epcot's American Heritage Gallery -- "Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection."

This exhibit of rare African-American art, documents, books and other artifacts from the personal collection of philanthropists Bernard and Shirley Kinsey will be on display in the gallery for the next three years. The current exhibit, which consists of about 40 items, is only a fraction of the approximately 300 pieces that the Kinseys have gathered over the past 30 years. Every six months, the exhibit will be refreshed with different pieces.



Here's an overview video of the collection:

According to Bernard Kinsey, the exhibit traces 400 years of African-American achievements from 1600 to the present in an effort to showcase the significant contributions of people many of us have never heard of.

"We were here one year before the Mayflower, not as slaves, but as indentured servants, just like the English," Kinsey noted. "And that's the part of history we are trying to get at. Not just to get people to understand, but to really write black people into the narrative of America. Once we do that we can get over race, which is also what we want."

The Kinseys began their search for these historically important pieces about 30 years ago, when their son Khalil, who now oversees the collection, expressed a curiosity about his heritage.

"He was in third grade and he wanted to know about his history," recalled Shirley Kinsey. "Other kids could trace back to Europe -- his story only went back as far as Florida," she explained, adding that she and her husband are both Florida natives (she's from St. Augustine). "The kids wanted to know more about their own personal history."


The search for these pieces led Bernard and Shirley all over the world.

"We've been to 91 countries," Bernard Kinsey noted, "and we've selected these pieces with a great deal of care... And we continue to look for pieces that will bring the story to bear, and give a more complete picture. We want to show that we were there [throughout history], and we mattered."

Bernard noted that among his favorite items in the collection is a page from the 1796 almanac of Benjamin Banneker, who is also reported to have assisted in the initial survey of the District of Columbia.


Shirley Kinsey stressed that this collection is not just about the horrors of slavery, although several pieces, such as the Harriet Jacobs' book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1862), do recall that era: "This is about American history, and about people whose story has never been told."

She noted that her favorite piece of the items currently displayed is an untitled painting by Huey Lee Smith.

"The girl in the picture is jumping rope with her back to you. I like to say that little girl is me, and in it I'm looking to the future."

Appropriately enough, that painting can be found in the display case marked "Hope." The exhibit is actually divided into five sections, reflecting the various themes of the pieces on display: Hope, Belief, Courage, Imagination and Heritage.


In each section, a timeline mural calls out key events, and there are interactive touch screens that provide more details on displays.


In each section also, a flickering lantern beckons, ready to "cast some light" on the artifacts nearby. By simply depressing the lantern's handle, a guest can watch a holographic video narrated by a number of popular celebrities, including: Academy Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Sawyer, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, Jr. from "Grey's Anatomy," Kerry Washington of ABC-TV's "Scandal," and Disney Channel stars Zendaya Coleman and Roshon Fegan ("Shake It Up"), China Anne McClain ("A.N.T. Farm") and Tyrel Jackson Williams ("Lab Rats").


Both "Grey's Anatomy" actors were on hand for the gallery's grand opening ceremony, which also featured remarks from the Kinseys, as well as Jim MacPhee, senior vice president of Walt Disney World parks, and Carmen Smith, vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering, whose vision drove the project that led to the collection's installation at Epcot.

"We are truly honored to have been able to lend our voices along with the other performers to the interactive storytelling portion of the installation," Wilson noted, as she talked about the significance of her participation in the project. "As an actress in New York City, voiceover work is what would get me through the lean years, and I actually once did a campaign called, '20 Reasons to Come to Disney World.' It paid my rent for a year! So it's come full circle to be working for Disney on Grey's and then to have our voices present in this exhibit."


"To appreciate art and what it means in terms of its translation of culture and our history, I think they [the Kinseys] have done more for that than the average American, and we appreciate that," Pickens noted. "I was glad to lend my voice to that."

"This gives us a better sense of self and says how valid our participation is and was," he added. "It can only help our education process."


"We [the collection] were at the Smithsonian," observed Bernard Kinsey. "And about 2 million people saw us there. Here at Epcot over the next three years, about 40 million people will see us. You know, from a pure museum standpoint, nobody beats the Smithsonian. But from a pure storytelling standpoint, nobody beats Disney. And the Kinsey Collection is more about storytelling."








Kinsey concluded. "We want you to leave with a simple comment: I didn't know that. If we can get everybody to come to say, 'I didn't know that,' we will have accomplished what we set out to do."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The rotating exhibit "Re-Discovering America -- Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection," will be on display at Epcot's American Heritage Gallery until 2016. It is open daily, 11 9 p.m., or normal park operating hours. Admission to the gallery is included with your admission to Epcot -- there is no additional entry fee.

October 30, 2012

2012 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise


If you're visiting Walt Disney World in the next few weeks, you'll surely be stopping by the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. When you do, you'll be impressed by the number of little specialty items you can take home as souvenirs for yourself or for favorite foodie.

There's a wide assortment of Festival logo merchandise this year, perhaps even more than in previous years. Along with the usual t-shirts (various styles/colors, but the one pictured is $31.95), caps, and tote bags, there are items for those who like to dabble in the kitchen and behind the bar, such as logo aprons ($24.95), oven mitt/potholder combos ($19.95), appetizer plates (four for $25) and shakers ($14.95).




And of course, there's Duffy the Disney Bear, in his chef's toque, sporting a Food and Wine Festival emblem ($30).

But if you're looking for more unusual items, take a look in the Wine Shop in the Festival Center. There are miniature tequila bottles painted to resemble small "Day of the Dead" skulls for $9.95. The pretty bottle of Bohae Black Raspberry Wine (Bokbunjajoo), with its Asian influences apparent, makes a nice little gift, too, and sells for just $10.95. Another interesting bottle, not necessarily for what's outside, but more for what's on the inside, is that of the Chocolate Crave liqueurs. Made by John deKuyper and Sons, these sweet spirits feature Chocolate Chili, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Cherry flavors and sell for $21.95. They've only been out about a year, and are distinctively different -- especially the Chocolate Chili. (Just remember, if you're flying home, you'll have to pack these liquid items in your checked luggage!)

If you're a fan of the Disney artist NOAH, you'll want to snap up a few of the Festival art pieces he's had a hand in designing this year. Aside from the Festival poster ($24.95), you'll find his designs, which deceptively resemble photography, but are actually paintings of bottles and wine in warm brown and golden hues, on clocks ($39.95), cutting boards, coasters, mugs, ceramic tile trivets, serving dishes and more. There are even some fine art pieces by NOAH, including some framed artwork that cost more than $1000. (OK, maybe those aren't exactly souven-ears, but they were so impressive I had to mention them -- I even spotted a Hidden Mickey in one piece.)


In addition to the merchandise specific to the event, the Festival Center has done a good job of bringing together an array of other food-related Disney-designed items in one location. Mickey, Goofy and Donald each seem to have their own distinct lines of items, including aprons, clocks, and cutting boards, all of which will make nice take-home gifts.




Happy Shopping!

October 16, 2012

AllEars.Net Meet and Greet at the UK Pavilion


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:



Blogger Jack Spence signs an autograph for a fan.




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


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.



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!

November 15, 2010

Holiday Decorations around Epcot


I made a short trip to the World this past weekend (Nov. 12-14),
mostly for the end of the Food & Wine Festival. I couldn't help but
notice, however, that Christmas decorations are popping up all over.
Here are some of the more prominent holiday displays I noticed as I wandered around the park.

Starting at International Gateway:


World Showcase Plaza



In Germany



Even in Sommerfest:


In France

Not only in the new Givenchy shop...


... but also in the Bistro de Paris:


In the United Kingdom

In the American Adventure





And finally, where I didn't expect them... Inside Club Cool:


October 4, 2010

New Karamell-Küche in Epcot's Germany Pavilion



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?




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.




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.



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).








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.

July 22, 2010

New "Spirited Beasts" Exhibit in Epcot's Japan Pavilion



The Japan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase recently unveiled a new exhibit in its museum space adjacent to the Mitsukoshi Department Store. Entitled "Spirited Beasts: From Ancient Stories to Anime Stars", the exhibit focuses on the mythological origins of modern Japanese animated characters.



"Anime", as Japanese animation has come to be known, originated about 1917, but has enjoyed a great deal of popularity outside of Japan in recent years. The success of animated cartoon series like Pokemon and animated feature films like "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro," by director Hayao Miyazaki, have broadened the art form's appeal.

This new exhibit looks at how many anime characters and their traits are derived from ancient Japanese characters. As an introductory plaque says: "For centuries, heroic animals and magical creatures have appeared in traditional Japanese myths, stories and art. Today, they are the heroes and villains of Japan's manga comics and anime. These "spirited beasts" from Japan's past have become pop culture superstars, known and loved around the world. Join us as we celebrate these mysterious, magical and mischievous animal figures."







The "Tsuru", or Japanese crane, is a symbol of happiness, prosperity and world peace, and adorns much Japanese art and decor. The display below shows one thousand paper cranes, known as Senbazuru -- folding them is thought to grant a wish. (This exhibit is covered with a mesh screen, then lit periodically to reveal the cranes underneath, hence the grainy image quality, sorry.)


Kitsune (below) are magical fox spirits that grow extra tails as they gain in age, wisdom and power. Expert tricksters, they may take on human form. Kitsune are popular in kabuki drama as well as in popular manga and anime.



Cat Heroes

Saru - Monkeys



Tengu (below) are winged warriors that combine human features with birdlike beaks, wings and talons. They may teach their knowledge of magic to the worthiest humans. (This is also behind a mesh screen, so it was hard to get a clear photo.)


The statue below, The Slayer of Vanity, is a crow-tengu -- a powerful birdlike spirit that stands ready to defend. The figure wears the traditional robe of a Shinto priest. These were skilled warriors who often play mischievous tricks on those who are vain and proud.


The famous tryptich (by Kunisada Minamoto) below portrays the nobleman Yoshitsune being trained in the art of swordsmanship by a group of magical "tengu", birdlike spirits of the mountain. The long-nosed king tengu, Daitengu Sojobo, looks on.


A sign in the exhibit acknowledges the following: the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery of Scripps College in Claremont, CA; the Spencer Museum of Art of Kansas; Mr. Mitsuo Ogishima of the Japanese Outreach Initiatives of the Universoty of South Florida in Tampa; and Mr. and Mrs. Brennan of Windermere, FL.

March 20, 2010

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival Follow-up

Festival Follow-up
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, AllEars®

It's not often that I get to visit Walt Disney World two weekends in a row, being that I'm from out of state and all, but due to an unusual confluence of events, that's what I found myself doing recently. As a result, I was able to tour Epcot the weekend *before* the annual Flower and Garden Festival started, and then again the weekend *after* it started. It was kinda neat to see the changes just a few short days had made, so I thought I'd share them with you.

When I was in Epcot before the festival started, the main entrance display had not yet been installed, so I was eager to see it. As horticulture manager Eric Darden had told me previously, the display featured Donald and Daisy Duck, as well as Goofy and Pluto, in a Canadian Rockies setting, camping out and "Celebrating the Great Outdoors," the festival's 2010 theme.




True to form, the 14-foot Goofy topiary showed our canine friend in the awkward predicament of hooking his own pants with his fishing pole, while Canadian Mountie Donald and Pluto looked on. Off to the side Daisy calmly roasts marshmallows, the flames of her fire portrayed by bronze and copper-colored blooms. The scene is beautiful, accented by a waterfall and pine trees in the background, all set against the globe of Spaceship Earth, glinting in the sun.



Another thing that was interesting to note were the individual topiary exhibits. Darden had commented during our tour that they were constantly looking at ways to improve upon each display, and I saw several cases of their last-minute tinkering. The Lion King exhibit in front of Spaceship Earth, for example, which features Rafiki holding the baby Simba up for all to see, had sparse foliage behind it when I saw it before the festival opened. But on my more recent visit, you can see how space had been filled in with bushy plants to give the whole scene a lusher look.


In the Twining's Tea Garden in the UK pavilion, too, I saw the work of additional detailing. See the teacups before...


and after...


When I had visited before the festival had started, it had been a cold, dreary, rainy day, so many of my shots looked dull and lackluster. This was especially true in and around the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden. But on my subsequent visit, not only was I treated to a blue sky and more vibrant colors, but the butterflies had been released, and I was able to capture quite a few flitting around Fawn's Butterfly House.




The finished Art of Green Living Garden lived up to the expectations I had had for it -- truly had become a relaxing place to hang out, so much so that I couldn't get a decent photo of the seating, due to all the crowds. Sorry, you'll have to see it for yourself. But the whole area is just so beautifully designed, like a Tuscan garden area.





Besides things that had been tweaked since my first visit, a number of activities and events had, obviously, actually started.

In the former Wonders of Life pavilion, operating under the name of "Garden Town" for the duration of the festival, the educational sessions were in full swing. I happened to run into festival manager Darden who was keeping an eager eye on things, who told me that the 2 p.m. water gardens talk that was underway was at full capacity -- 77 people. "There were that many in line 50 minutes BEFORE the talk started," Darden claimed excitedly. "It's a shame that we ended up turning people away, but that's never happened before - the turnout is great!"


Over in the France pavilion, attendance was great for the Guerlain Fragrance Garden Tour that I took, too. The tour is offered at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. daily. I attended the 4 p.m. tour, which Guerlain Representative Caridad Canales told us is given by an International Program Cast Member. The group of about 20 others and I were led through the fragrance garden by Abou, a young man from Lyon, France, who was giving the tour for the first time.

He started by sharing a brief history of the Guerlain company, founded in 1828. He then proceeded to lead us around the garden, which is marked by groupings of plants whose essences go into Guerlain's many fragrances. At the Flora Nymphea exhibit, for example, there's an arrangement of planters with orange blossoms and lilac, for those are scents that go into Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria collection. At each exhibit, you'll also find a "scent box" that allows you to get a whiff of the fragrances. This year, there are new boxes, with knobs that turn, rather than the "lift the flap" type exhibits of previous years.



Abou took about 20 minutes to walk us around the garden, also pointing on the hidden bees nestled among the plantings. Explaining that the bee is the symbol for the French monarchy, Abou added that when turned upside-down, the bee resembles a fleur de lis, a well-known symbol often associated with royalty. In addition to this walking tour of the garden, Guerlain also sponsors a scavenger hunt for children who would like to search for the hidden bees scattered around the pavilions floral arrangements. The tour concluded with Caridad handing out small complimentary samples of a Guerlain perfume.

Though this follow-up visit to the Flower and Garden festival did afford me the chance to see and do more, there were still plenty of things I didn't get to see, and a few activities I would have liked to have tried -- like the tour of the UK pavilion's Tea Garden (offered on weekends at 2, 4 and 6:30 p.m.).

Never mind. I'll get another chance -- lucky me gets to visit the Festival a third time next month, when I travel to Walt Disney World as chaperone for my son's school orchestra's trip!

March 3, 2010

An Insider's Look at the 2010 Flower & Garden Festival

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars.Net Senior Editor

It was a cold, rainy Saturday that found me traipsing through a near-deserted Epcot, touring along with Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the annual Flower and Garden Festival. Gone were the blue skies and sunshine of the previous day, but never mind -- the show must go on, and Darden was more than happy to give me, along with several other local journalists, a behind-the-scenes preview of what to expect from the 2010 festival, whose theme is, somewhat ironically on that miserable day, "Celebrate the Great Outdoors."


"We are prepared for the cold weather," Darden explained as we trudged along through Future World. "We've had to cover the topiaries, but really it's done little damage to our festival-specific plants. We've lost some tropical plants, some shrubs, but in some ways the festival actually looks BETTER this year because of the freeze."

Better? My ears perked up, anxious to hear how he was going to spin this gardener's nightmare into a good thing.

"No, really, it's had a positive effect in many ways," Darden claimed. "We took the opportunity to replace some things that needed to be replaced -- and it's made a drastic improvement in some cases."

Darden pointed out one area in particular where overgrown plantings had been killed by the extended extreme cold. They had been replaced by low shrubs, effectively opening up the area so that the view was much less obstructed. That, Darden said, was how the view was always intended to be. "The sight-line is clear now. It's so much better, thanks to the cold weather."


That wasn't something I had expected to hear, given that this year the Orlando area has experienced one of the coldest winters in memory, with many nights dipping well below freezing. I had, in fact, assumed I'd hear more about how starting the festival a few weeks earlier than usual (March 3 this year as compared to last year's March 18 start date, and 2007's April 5 start) had caused a lot of problems.

"Did it (the cold) cause more work? Yeah," Darden admitted. "But we were ready for it. And if you're ready for one frost, you're ready for 10. I think this year's festival is as fine as any we've done."

That kind of preparedness doesn't happen overnight. Darden, who is in his seventh year as festival manager, said his team begins working on the 75-day event a year in advance. With the earlier start this year, the group was faced with several new challenges, which Darden asserted was actually a good thing.

"Starting early forced us to use other plants -- pansies and other winter bedding plants, which have great color," he explained. "I think eight out of 10 gardeners will tell you that it's hard to beat a viola, which is in the pansy family. Our biggest challenge was protecting the topiary."



Topiary, for the uninitiated, are those large statue-like figures made of all organic material -- moss, grasses, ivy, and other plants shaped around a metal frame to look like a 14-foot tall Goofy, or American Gothic Mickey and Minnie, or, my personal favorites, Bambi and friends (they're in the Canada pavilion).


According to Darden, the cold weather required that the horticulture staff keep the topiaries indoors longer to shelter them from the elements. Unfortunately, "keeping them in-house is never as good as outdoors," and such cool, wet conditions are perfect for growing fungus, which can destroy the plants. Not something they want to deal with, given all the hours it takes to construct a single figure, and also given that the topiaries are among visitors' favorite aspects of the festival.

Epcot is displaying about 75 topiaries this year, from the aforementioned Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Goofy, to newer characters like Tinker Bell's pixie friends found in the expanded Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden. Darden explained that while they do re-use topiaries from festivals gone by, they like to add new ones, even though it's a long, involved process.

To construct a new topiary, a Disney artist makes a maquette, or a small scale model, of the figure, just as they do for an animated film. After making castings of the maquette, they take the design to a welder who fabricates the frame, working with the artist. The whole process can take four to five months, then the plants are added, anchored in place by hair pins, but, as Darden said, "planting is the easiest and fastest part."

As we stopped in front of the Scar (the villain in The Lion King) topiary, I marveled at the level of detail. Long, dark Black Mondo Grass gave the lion his shaggy mane, while closely cropped variegated ficus and other greenery covered his face and body, which Darden said weighs in around 1300 pounds. Even without being told I could have identified this Disney bad guy, a testament to the amount of hard work, attention, and money, that go into designing the figure.


"Disney really cares about the integrity of these characters," Darden added. "That's why you won't see actual faces on human characters like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty -- we wouldn't be able to get them the way we want them, so we leave the face up to your imagination."

In addition to the topiaries and the abundant, colorful plantings around Epcot, a number of themed gardens caught my fancy. My favorite was the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden, which includes Fawn's (formerly Minnie's) Butterfly House. The pixie topiaries are bright and whimsical, and once the butterflies are released in the enclosed area I look forward to seeing them flitter around. I especially want to be sure to spend some time watching new butterflies emerge from their chrysalises in the little house located off to one side of the Butterfly House.





Other gardens that we had a chance to see in progress included the Tuscany-inspired Art of Green Living, which plants all sorts of ideas in your head as to what you can do in your own back yard, and the children's play area, Let's Get Moving, located along the Rose Walk between Future World and World Showcase, and the brand new Princess Tiana's Wedding Bayou. Vegetable gardeners are not forgotten, as some exhibits include "edible landscapes" with plants such as olive trees, and many pots and beds feature herbs, cabbages, kale and other veggies.




We also saw the unfinished Guerlain Fragrance Garden in the France pavilion. This year, the popular "lift and sniff" scent boxes that are usually a part of this exhibit will be divided between two locations -- their usual spot near the buildings in that pavilion, and another location more prominent on the promenade. In addition, the boxes have been redesigned for easier use -- instead of lifting a lid, there is a knob to turn that will release the scents.

The biggest area left to our imagination, though, was the entrance display, which wasn't to be installed until Monday, two days before the festival opens. Darden called the unveiling of that welcoming display one of his favorite days of the festival. This year, the exhibit features a 14-foot Goofy hooking his own pants with a fishing pole, Pluto in his "pup tent" (pun intentional), Donald Duck as a Mountie, and Daisy Duck roasting marshmallows, along with a six-foot waterfall.

The tour concluded with lunch at Tutto Italia in World Showcase's Italy pavilion. As we approached the restaurant, I noted the gorgeous topiary of Lady and the Tramp, surrounded by pots of pink, purple and white blooms. Even on the coldest and dampest of days, Flower and Garden Festival managed to warm my heart.


July 28, 2009

Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure

By Michelle and Liam Scribner-MacLean

Kim Possible Logo

SPOILER ALERT: We share some of the hidden surprises in Germany and Japan, so if you haven't embarked on this adventure and want to save the surprises, you might want to read this later.

As veterans of Walt Disney World, we know that there is always something more to do".some other adventure hidden around the corner, so on a recent trip, we decided to try something new just to see what it was like: the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. For us, Disney rarely disappoints, and this was no exception.

We were at WDW as a surprise trip to celebrate Liam's 10th birthday. Because he did most of the spy work on these cases, I've asked him to join me in describing this experience.

Read on and we'll tell you what we learned.

Why We Chose to Do the Kim Possible Adventure
Liam: Because it looked really fun. I had heard that you get to go around the countries in World Showcase to see these cool things. I've been to EPCOT a lot and I think I've seen everything, but I haven't been there since last August and I'd heard about this and wanted to try it.

Michelle: Liam is like his mom. He loves everything Disney and would opt to go to the parks every day for 14 hours a day, given the option. While he enjoys World Showcase, he's not always enthused about spending lots of time there. I thought this would be a great way to show us some of the many details that Imagineers built into these pavilions.

What We Thought It Would Be:
Liam: I had no idea what it would be. I thought it would be a scavenger hunt, but it ended up being better.

Michelle: I, too, thought it would be a scavenger hunt"and to be honest, I thought it might to be a bit tedious, with us running around from spot to spot, finding minute details and writing them down. However, knowing the way Disney does things, I was hoping for more of an exciting adventure".and it was.

First, we stopped off Innovations and they swiped Liam's park ticket to send us to a country to get us started. We received our Kimmunicator from a Kim Possible cart, which sent us to our first case in Germany. Here is Liam and another spy (he looked vaguely familiar) as we begin our challenge.


What We Liked:
Liam: Disney made things just for this adventure. We did two countries and one of them was Germany. In Germany, we went to the toy shop and I pressed the Kimmunicator and it told me to remember a number and a train came around with three numbers on it.

I liked all of it. I liked how the Kimmunicator worked. You pressed OK and it would make something happen in the countries. In Japan, Bebe came out of the top of the toy shop display.

Bebe - Kim Possible

At the miniature railroad, a church clock lights up.

German Church Kim Possible

Michelle: I agree. Wow! That Kimmunicator was really neat. It was a cell phone which was programmed to introduce the case that we were working on. "Spies" are walked through five or six different tasks around the countries, each of which showed Liam and I things that we'd hardly noticed other times we'd visited the countries.

Here's the thing that was really cool about this little device".Often when you got to a certain area to follow up on a clue, the Kimmunicator will ask you to look at a certain spot and press a button on the phone. In the toy store in Germany, a train drove by with a special code and the little clock lit up at the miniature railroad. We loved it!
This is at the end of the Germany adventure. You'll need to use your communicator to look up at this balcony for a surprise.

Germany Kim Possible

Another thing that I liked was that this was a great way to kids and adults to have fun together. I went into it thinking that I would just let Liam do everything, but after the first few tasks, I was really engaged and interested to see what the next surprise was.

Each adventure took about 30 - 45 minutes to complete, but since we didn't have anything definite on the agenda, it was a great way to spend our time in EPCOT.

What We Didn't Like:
Liam: I liked everything. I thought it was fun.

Michelle: I have only two little criticisms. First, it may have just been my old mom ears, but I had difficulty hearing some of the things that the characters were saying on the Kimmunicator.

Second, the "cases" didn't really flow well in terms of storyline, but the excitement of seeing all the fun things pop up and turn on offset that.

Would We Do It Again:
Liam: Yes! I didn't get to do all of the countries and I'd like to try it again because there were a lot of surprises and things popped out. I think that kids and adults will enjoy it if they do it.

This is a really cool thing that happens in Japan. It tells you to look at a black rock and this appears.

Japan Rock Kim Possible

This is another cool thing in Japan. This lights up when you push the Kimmunicator.


Michelle: Definitely. We did only two of the seven adventures and I am looking forward to taking on more villains and helping Kim Possible solve crimes.

This is a really fun experience for kids and parents alike and a new way to have fun and look at some details you may have missed at World Showcase.

Find out more about the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure!

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.


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!).


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.


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.


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!"


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:

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""..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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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.


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.

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.


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.


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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About Epcot

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

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