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July 20, 2015

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - July 2015



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the June Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:

There were just 34 correct responses to the word search puzzle on Animal Kingdom attractions.

The first 10 unused letters in the puzzle were PTWAIFANBS.

The winner of a Sulley pin was Sharon G. of Allentown, PA Thanks to everyone for playing!

This month we are going to finish looking at extinct attractions at the Walt Disney Resort. The last area we will take a look at will be the Downtown Disney district.

Next month we are going to change gears and start with a photo quiz with a twist. Stay tuned!

Here's the link to the new puzzle:

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin: There's no need to send me the completed puzzle, just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row, IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on August 19, 2015. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog in mid-August.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at


July 19, 2015

Southern Ontario Disney Fans Invade Whitby!

Gary Cruise banner

June 28th was a cool, damp and dreary day in Southern Ontario.

How could we add a bit of warmth to a foul day in early summer?

Carol and I hopped in the car and drove west for two hours to join a group of Canadian Disney fans who were meeting in Whitby Ontario, a small city in the eastern suburbs of Toronto. The group came from far and wide to share their love of all things Disney!

There were 23 adults and 1 child at the first meeting of its kind in the Toronto area. Carol and I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit for a few hours with a half-dozen dear friends and to meet about 15 strangers who share our Disney affliction! It was a wonderful afternoon!

Disney Fans in Whitby Jun 2015

The true roots of the June 2015 get-together can be traced back over a decade to the very early days of Disney Pin Trading! About a dozen years ago Carol was browsing through a “Pin Trading Thread” on one of the popular Internet sites for Disney fans. She said, “Oh, look – there’s a pin trading meet in Toronto in a few weeks.”

We lived about 40 miles west of Toronto at the time and although pin trading was in its infancy, Carol was already an avid collector. We packed some pins into the car on the appointed day; filled with trepidation. This was our first “Disney event”! It was before MouseFest, before MagicMeets, before Reunion and before Carol had gone to any of the Annual EPCOT Pin Celebrations. We had some serious reservations as we drove eastward toward Toronto . . . Who would we meet? How weird would they be?

We had a terrific day! The event was held in one of the meeting rooms at a North York branch of the Toronto Public Library. The crowd was small, but everyone was friendly and we all shared a common interest, our love of all things Disney. Even though I have no interest in pin trading, there was plenty of chatter about many other aspects of our Disney experiences.

Those trading meets carried on for over a year, and we attended every month or two. The group varied, sometimes including a couple of ladies from Buffalo New York. Those dedicated traders crossed an international border then drove about 110 miles to spend a few hours trading pins! That’s dedication!

Alas, over time the crowd diminished. Soon there was just a small core of regulars, Gabe – the chief organizer, Susan, Allison, Carrie, Bob, Juanita, Carol and I. If you’ve read Carol’s blogs about the annual EPCOT Pin Celebrations, you know this group as “The Canadian Connection”.

2010 EPCOT Trade Celebration

2013 EPCOT Trade Celebration

We decided to eliminate the cost of renting a meeting room and began meeting at one of our homes. The trading meets have carried on for a dozen years now; but very little trading takes place any more. Our get-togethers are all about sharing our most recent Disney experiences, and enjoying the good friendships we have developed in the past decade.

About a year ago Gabe said, “Why don’t we try to reach out to other Disney fans in the area?” Everyone agreed to give it a try, so Gabe got to work! The tough part was finding a place to meet. He wanted something close to the freeway, easily accessible and very economical, preferably free! He made stop after stop before he finally found just what he was looking for! A local Denny’s Restaurant had a big area off to one side of the dining room that they only open during peak periods. We were welcome to use it between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.

Broadcasting news of the meet was much easier now than it was back in 2002 or 2003 when we first met. Social media makes it easy to reach out to our fellow fans. Gabe posted an announcement about his meet on a Facebook page titled “You May Be A Canadian Disney Addict If . . .” and the chatter began!

On the appointed day our group of “old-timers” who have been meeting for over ten years met at Denny’s for lunch at 12:30 and kept an eye on the door as the fans, most clad in Disney t-shirts, started to arrive! Before we had finished our lunch a half-dozen strangers wearing Disney inspired fashions were standing around our table. It was as though everyone was in uniform; there were Mickey shirts, Goofy shirts, Disney Cruise Line shirts and a variety of Disney purses. It wasn’t hard to pick out the newbies as they arrived!

Disney Fans in Whitby Jun 2015

They came from far and wide, Eva & Tarek from Brampton, Ann & Robert from Markham, Terence & Sarah from Markham, Ann & Don from Courtice, Dean and Charissa from Jordan Station, Cheryl from Uxbridge, Katie from Port Perry and Collette, it was a pleasure to meet all of you!

Carol and I drove the longest distance, about 135 miles, but our dedication pales in comparison to Dean and Charissa who drove about 110 miles from Jordan Station, near Niagara Falls. Our drive was all on the freeway with no big cities; we cruised at 75 miles per hour. Dean and Charissa drove through about 60 miles of congested traffic as they came directly through the heart of Metropolitan Toronto. Believe me, Toronto traffic can be nasty; worse than New York City, worse than Los Angeles! They win the award for determination and grit!

So what happens at a Disney Fan Meet? Well, you never know for sure what to expect, but at this one there was lots of chatter, some pin trading, some Sorcerers of that Magic Kingdom card trading and lots of information sharing!

Disney Fans chat about pin trading Jun 2015

Comments overheard included:

• “We’re thinking about going to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party for the fist time. Is it worth it?”
• “We’ll be going to the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival in October; any tips for us?”
• “I’m just getting started in pin trading. Do you have any advice?”

There were lots of experienced Disney fans and pin traders there to answer all the questions raised. It was fun to simply stand back and watch it all happen!

What a terrific way to keep the “Disney magic” alive between trips to that happy place we all share!

Terence and Sarah were married just a few weeks ago and will be honeymooning aboard the Disney Dream in September. Many of us are veteran Disney cruisers so we had plenty of tips to help them enjoy the cruise.

Some of us scoured nooks, crannies and closets to find some Disney trinkets which we donated as door prizes. There was a prize for everyone, and enough booty left over to cover our next meet in November!

The draw brought out some moments of Disney magic right there in Whitby!

Katie and Cheryl

Katie was thrilled with her snow globe, Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Cheryl can’t wait to fill up her new Pirates of the Caribbean themed post-it note holder/desk organizer and find a special place for it on her desk at home!

Terence and Sarah

Terence and Sarah were thrilled with the set of Walt Disney World prints that Carol found at the bottom of her Tickle Trunk! Do you see the sparkle in their eyes? That’s Disney magic! They were planning to frame those prints and hang them as soon as they got home!

The crowd had begun to thin as folks left to head home when Carol said, “Are you about ready to go?” I was shocked when I looked at my watch! It was 5:45 . . . where had the last two hours gone! Time really does fly when you’re having fun!

We plan to get together again, at the same Denny’s Restaurant from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday November 22nd. If you live within driving distance of Whitby please come on out and join in the fun!

If our little group is too far away, why not organize your own Disney Fan meet! It’s as easy as finding a place to meet and then publicizing it on one of the many social media sites!

That Facebook page I mentioned earlier is already buzzing with discussion about similar get-togethers in London Ontario and Vancouver British Columbia.

Why don’t you make some Disney magic happen in your home town? Get busy and organize something magical . . . just like Gabe did!

July 5, 2015

Disney Collector Plates

Gary Cruise banner

About a year ago Carol said, “I need more room, build me a plate rail.”

The walls in her Disney Room were filled with Disney art and memorabilia and adding new items was becoming a challenge. Her collector plates were hanging in several clusters on the walls and she desperately needed to free up space for some new treasures!

Knowles Collector Plates

I quickly replied “Your wish is my command fair Princess!”

Actually, there was a bit of procrastination and a lot of nagging involved but eventually I got to work building two plate rails in the Disney Room. There are three overhead bulkheads which enclose the steel I-beams spanning the room. They were just the right height to display plates!

Carol claims that she never really wanted to collect plates; she bought her first few out of desperation. It all started back in the early 1990’s . . . Carol was an avid Disney fan and since she is a natural-born collector she craved Disney items. Alas, flying to Walt Disney World every year or two didn’t give her much opportunity to feed her addiction; she couldn’t bring home anything large or fragile!

There were no Disney Stores in the our area at the time; our Canadian department stores had little or no Disney merchandise and online shopping was still decades away. How could she possibly appease that monster within that drove her to collect?

Then one fateful day a mailer from The Knowles China Company arrived. Yes, Disney Collector Plates, the “Disney Treasured Moments” series.

Knowles Plate

There were eight in the series, from different animated features, and she faithfully bought one each month. She didn’t want to collect plates, but what alternative did she have? As each of them arrived it was lovingly added to her display!

The plates were limited in number; no more than 150 firing days. Each plate was individually numbered and came with a Certificate of Authenticity. Naturally Carol still has the original boxes and those ever-so-important certificates!

That series sold very well for the Knowles Company so naturally they followed it with another series, then another . . .

Carol was actually quite selective, after getting the complete set for that first series she only picked out “special” ones from the many offerings that followed.

In less than a decade Carol’s collection of Disneyana had grown to the point that we decided to move it all into one area of our Burlington Ontario home. Our “Disney Room” was born! Those original Knowles plates found a place of honour, hanging beside Carol’s crafting table in a corner of the Disney Room.

Eight Original Plates

By 2006 we had both retired and moved to our new retirement home in Kingston. It wasn’t long before I was busy finishing the basement, creating a new Disney Room. The eight Knowles plates were once again able to hang near the crafting table.

Eight Original Plates

Of course, since we were retired we started taking more frequent trips to our “Happy Place” and most times we were travelling in the motor home. There was no limit to what she could bring home! Big or small, we could fit it all in!

So it was inevitable that she would fill up the available space! It’s actually surprising that it took eight years to happen!

I started with two plate rails, one 11 feet long, the other 17 feet. She moved the plates from the walls and had plenty of room left over for new additions. The 11 foot rail was only half full! “That’s great,” she said, “That’s all the space I’ll ever need.”

Those two plate rails are shown in the picture below.

Plate Rails

She began looking for a few plates to fill up the empty space. Flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores filled the need!

Dayton Disneyana 2014 Plates

She found plates to match the Christmas tree ornaments she picked up years ago!

Plate Collage

Plates commemorating events she had attended . . .

Plate Collage

Plenty of new plates . . . plates for all occasions . . .

Plate Collage

Then came the dreaded words, “I need another plate rail.”

“Yes my Princess!” Sigh!

As I was listing the materials I needed to buy at the lumber store she added, “Could you make two rails and make one of them wide enough to hold glasses and mugs?”

“Anything for you my Princess!” Sigh!

The finished product looks great though, even the mugs and glasses display quite well.

Mug Collage

Mug Collage

The buying continued; several plates came home from Dayton each time we went to the annual Disneyana sale there. Now she has 11 feet of mug rail – FULL - and 39 feet of plate rail – FULL.

Just a few weeks ago we came back from our third trip to Dayton Disneyana and three more plates came home with us! There's no room on the rail for them!

Dayton Disneyana 2015 Plates

I think I know what’s coming in the near future!

Yes, there is room for another 17 foot rail!

I think it’ll be going up soon!

July 2, 2015

Pre-Ordering with Food Allergies? No Problem at Be Our Guest

by Laura Schmitt CNE
AllEars Guest Blogger

With an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, I was excited to try out Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. I was unable to secure a reservation at this popular destination for dinner, but I did manage to grab a lunch reservation. To bypass one step upon ordering, you have the option of selecting your meal in advance. (Note that there is also the option to wait and order at the restaurant.) I was curious if this was something that would work for people with basic food allergies, and here is what I discovered.

When you have a reservation for lunch, you will have the option to choose lunch menus for your party. There is a "Filter" button on the bottom of the ordering screen.

Click that button to see the window titled "Allergens". If your allergies are among this list (corn, peanut, soy, wheat, egg, milk, shellfish, treenut, fish), then you may feel comfortable pre-ordering.

There is an allergen disclaimer at the bottom.


I noticed that “gluten” was not listed, and only “wheat”, for example, so a person who has Celiac disease may want to inquire about this.

I selected two filter items, Wheat and Milk.


I proceeded to the next screen of entrees where I found several choices that would work for those allergy restrictions. I chose the quinoa salad.

By adding the menu item from this "filter" window, it tags the foods as "wheat free" and "milk free" on the summary page to follow. If you order the same entree item without first applying the filters it will not mark it as "wheat free" or "dairy free". So, I would definitely make sure to mark your filters first. (See photo below for orange triangle followed by warning of "Does not contain: Wheat.")


While there was an option for a gluten-free dessert, there was nothing that came up as wheat-free and milk-free. I did find two sorbet options that are marked dairy-free and no sugar added (lemon and raspberry). I felt comfortable with the sorbet, so I ordered that for myself. For my daughter, I ordered the gluten-free cream puff, as she can eat dairy.

When we arrived at Be Our Guest on our reservation date, we found that if you do the pre-order option, a chef will not be sent out for you to consult with, as at other Disney World restaurants. You will have to seek one out immediately upon check-in or your food will be brought to you as pre-ordered. This is another reason why it would likely be best to pre-order only if the current filters work for your allergy needs.

After checking in, we were told to seat ourselves. We found the system a little confusing because no one explained how it would work. For example, no one told us to get a drink, or said that they would come out to find us. I was able to ask a very friendly cast member, though, and we figured it out.

My husband was not excited about the system of ordering and he was already determined to dislike the meal. To his surprise it was his favorite of the trip. My daughter agreed that the wheat-free pork roast was delicious! She absolutely loved her lunch and she proclaimed the green beans and potatoes were also very tasty.


I had ordered the quinoa cake and salad, because I knew I would want a lighter lunch option. It was also quite good, but I only ate about half of it after having a huge breakfast. The quinoa cake was well seasoned and the beet cubes on top were delightful. The olives chopped into the salad greens were a nice touch.


My daughter has always wanted to try French Onion Soup, but we have never found one that was gluten-free and dairy-free. When you order the soup with the wheat filter, it gives you the option to get the French Onion Soup without the bread crumb and cheese topping. This was confirmed on our receipt, so when I saw all the cheese on the soup they brought out to us, I sent it back. They brought out a second batch without any cheese and they explained that they did make it gluten-free, but they had left the "safe" cheese on for my daughter. It was not clearly labeled this way in ordering, so that was a bit confusing. She ended up eating the cheese-free version (which her tummy appreciated). She loved it, and she was so happy to have tried French Onion Soup at last.


The soup and entree were the stars of the show. My daughter was disappointed with the gluten-free cream puff. She said the dough was very hard (rock-like) and that the lemon filling was incredibly tart, which she did not enjoy. As it turns out, a scoop of rice dream would have been a better choice for her, but it was fun to try something new.


As I said earlier, I had ordered the only dairy-free option I could find, a lemon sorbet, which turned out to be bitterly tart. I ate a little, but left the rest behind. While Be Our Guest has mastered the lunch entrees, they have room for improvement in the world of gluten-free, dairy-free dessert offerings. We are still disappointed that the French Meadow Bakery items are no longer offered on property, or the Babycakes/Erin McKenna’s in a restaurant like this. I did ask the Special Diet department via email if there were any other options for us, but they did not get back with an answer.

A benefit of pre-ordering and using our dining plan credits is that we didn’t have to wait in a line to order at a kiosk, nor did we have to wait in a line to pay. Our meal was already paid for, so we could dine and dash. This worked beautifully, minus the confusion here and there. As we look back on our experience, my family all raves about this beautiful restaurant experience as the best of the trip and a definite “must-do” for future visits.

While we felt comfortable with our pre-order options using the filters available, it is clear that each individual will have to consider their own allergies and determine if pre-ordering is a viable option, or if it would be better to wait and ask to speak to a chef upon arrival before ordering. I suspect this will not add a considerable amount of time to your lunchtime, and the atmosphere is very fun to explore.

For a “quick service” lunch credit, I felt quite spoiled by the great options for everyone in my family at Be Our Guest.

June 21, 2015

Fishing at Walt Disney World

Gary Cruise banner

Go Fishin

Last October Carol and I were on our way from Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground to the Magic Kingdom. As we stood on the dock at the Marina waiting for the boat we were able to watch the joy a young boy experienced as he caught his first fish. Wow! He was grinning from ear to ear and his eyes were sparkling; his grandfather, standing behind the boy, was beaming too! That bass was the first of several fish he landed in the few minutes that we waited on the dock.

Fishin at the Fort

They hadn't even sailed away from the slip where the 21-foot Tracker pontoon boats moor; the Disney guide simply backed the boat up, about 20 feet, and they fished between the boat slip and the marina dock. The guide baited the hook and then demonstrated how to cast the line. After several practice casts the happy young angler was able to consistently drop his line in the shadow of the dock, where the guide had told him the fish like to hide.

The Fort Wilderness Marina Dock

I think the folks on the dock were having almost as much fun as the boy and his grandfather. Everyone was cheering him on!

It took me back to fond memories of my childhood; I grew up in a small town on the north shore of Lake Erie. Boating and fishing were a big part of our family life and those few minutes on the Fort Wilderness dock took me back decades to happy times catching yellow perch, often pulling in two at a time, on the reef about 5 miles offshore.

Disney Fishing

It's not unusual to see people fishing in Bay Lake near Fort Wilderness, but it was a rare treat to be so close to the action. We could watch and listen as the guide worked with that boy and helped him land his first catch! It was another illustration of Disney Magic!

Here's how the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel described fishing at Walt Disney World in a September 9, 2010 article:

Lake Buena Vista - Bass guide Dave Osani offers these words of caution to those who fish the lakes at Walt Disney World for the first time:

"Warning," Osani said with a laugh. "May be habit-forming."

Osani, who has guided at Disney for 15 years, knows what he's talking about. He's seen novice anglers - men, women, boys and girls - get hooked on fishing and had experienced anglers become speechless after catching more bass and bigger bass than they'd ever caught before.

Then there were the sisters, one a veteran saltwater angler from Miami and the other from Polk County. In a four-hour trip with Osani last year, they caught 20 fish on lures.

They asked Osani if he was available to fish the following day and he guided them to 30 bass in four hours.

They came back the next day with two other members of their group. Osani guided the four anglers to 64 fish in two hours. The quartet came back the next day and caught 49 fish in two hours with Osani, including a big bass of 6 pounds, 15 ounces.

Outings like that make fishing at Disney a magical experience, both for the anglers who fish there and for guides like Osani.

"It's not always great, but a bad day here is better than a good day at most places," Osani said. "It's not uncommon to catch 40 fish in two hours."

An article in the Spring 2003 Issue of Disney Magazine provides a bit of interesting background.
Disney Magazine Spring 2003 page 41

Click on the image below to see a larger version.
Disney Magazine Spring 2003 page 40

A guest comment in 2004 gives this perspective!
Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 15

Disney offers two fishing options, the Guided Fishing Excursions described above, and Dockside Fishing.

Here is the sign listing current pricing at the Fort Wilderness Marina. Click on the image to see a larger, easier to read copy.

Fort Wilderness Marina Fishing Prices

The fishing excursions are a bit more than some vacation budgets can accommodate but dockside fishing provides some lower-cost options. At either Port Orleans Riverside or Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground you can rent a fishing pole, grab some bait and wet a line! If you bring your own poles, just buy some bait, the fishing is free!

At the Riverside resort the Fishin' Hole at Ol' Man Island is stocked with catfish, blue gill and bass. Click on the picture of the sign below to see current prices.

Riverside Fishin Hole

At Fort Wilderness you can fish along the side of any of the streams and canals that criss-cross the property or on the shore of Bay Lake or any of the ponds. You will find bluegill, gar, catfish, crappie and bass.

Shore Fishing

There is no fishing allowed from roads, bridges or docks, with the exception of a special "fishing dock" located behind the Meadow Trading Post. The fishing dock is pictured below.

Fishing dock at the Meadow

Bud M. from Cumming Georgia is pictured below holding the 5 1/2 pound bass he caught behind the Meadow Trading Post on June 3, 2015.

Bass at Meadow Trading Post

Just a few minutes later his daughter Ally landed a 3 pound bass.

Ally's Bass at Meadow Trading Post

Daughter Katie's bass was smallest, but still much better than no bass at all! Nice work Katie!

Katie's Bass

The fish were all landed using worms Bud bought at the Bike Barn. Looks like it's no coincidence that the large-mouth bass is the Official Fish of the Peach State! Thanks for sharing your pictures Bud & Sonya!

Read more about fishing, and find current prices on the official Disney site HERE or on HERE.

All fishing at Walt Disney World is "catch and release" so be sure to take pictures of your trophies before you let them go!

Bay Lake Bass

So, the next time you're at Walt Disney World and you decide you need some quiet time, a bit of a break from the hectic pace at the theme parks . . . why not go fishin'?

Goofy About Fishin

Head on over to Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans Riverside, grab a pole and spend a few hours pretending to be Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer . . . or maybe Ally or Katie M. from Cumming Georgia!

Doesn't that sound relaxing?

PS - Special thanks to my friend and fellow Fort Wilderness camper, Al Boeck, who endured some unusually hot weather in May to take many of the photos you see in this blog.

June 16, 2015

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - June 2015



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the May Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:

There were just 33 correct responses to the word search puzzle on Extinct Hollywood Studios' attractions.

The first 10 unused letters in the puzzle were either XLPLXUVWTL or XLPLXUVWRT, depending on which REX you chose.

The winner of a Mousketeer pin was Stefanie V. of Ada, MI. Thanks to everyone for playing!

This month we are going to continue looking at extinct attractions at the various Disney Parks. The fifth park we will take a look at will be Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This is WDW’s newest theme park, so there hasn’t been as much change in the landscape as with the other parks.

Here's the link to the new puzzle:

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin: There's no need to send me the completed puzzle, just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row, IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on July 15, 2015. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog in mid-July.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at


June 12, 2015

Feelin’ the Force: A Review of the Star Wars Weekends Feel the Force Premium Package at Disney’s Hollywood Studios


By Alice McNutt Miller

I made plans for a quick Miller family visit to Walt Disney World over Memorial Day weekend months ago. My older daughter would be home from her second year of college, and it seemed like a good time to squeeze more out of our annual passes. When it was time to make our FastPass+ reservations, 60 days out from our arrival date, and I dug into the daily planning, I realized -- with some surprise, and a bit of consternation -- that the visit also coincided with one of the Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Argghh. That meant that an already crowded holiday weekend would be even MORE crowded. At first I thought we might want to avoid the Studios altogether, but then I decided to embrace the Force, and go all in.

Premium Package 1

We are a family of mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fans. The first Star Wars movie -- then referred to just as “Star Wars” and now more appropriately “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope” -- came out when I was in junior high school. My dad and I stood in line for hours at the old Wilma Theater in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to get in to see the movie on opening weekend. I had on a really cool t-shirt that I had bought at J.C. Penney with my hard-earned babysitting money, for what I am sure I thought was an exorbitant sum. It had a picture of Luke Skywalker on it. He was dreamy.

So how does the mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fan navigate the complications of character meet and greets, talk show FastPasses, good viewing spots for the Motorcade, how to buy the coveted Boba Fett merchandise? I did some reading up on past events, and plans for the current one, and frankly, felt a bit overwhelmed. I decided to do what I am sure many befuddled first timers would do -- splurge on a Feel the Force Premium Package! There are three levels of “experiences” offered under the various premium packages. For $69 a pop ($39 for kids aged 3-9) guests receive: access to a special viewing area for the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade (including soft drinks); reserved seating for one of the celebrity talk shows; and A reserved viewing location for the nightly Symphony in the Stars fireworks show, paired with a Star Wars-themed dessert party with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. For an additional $30/person, you can upgrade to the Deluxe Feel the Force Premium Package, which includes everything in the regular package, plus the ability to follow behind the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, provides reserved seating for all of the celebrity talk shows that day in the and offers priority access to Darth's Mall throughout the day of the package. Oh, and they will throw in “a commemorative lanyard and credential to honor your most impressive day.” Since, as I mentioned before, the Miller family is only mildly enthusiastic about Star Wars, I figured that we did not need to pay an extra $30 to see celebrities we didn’t know anything about and to have the opportunity to spend even more money on souvenirs, I decided to forgo the deluxe and stick with the regular. (And I didn’t even think about spending $499 per person for the VIP Experience. Yikes!)


Picking up the credentials.
According to my reservation information, we could pick up our credentials for the day starting at 10 a.m. at a kiosk near Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. However, while we were hanging out in the Streets of America watching Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears at about 9:30 a.m., I saw a few people with what looked like the Premium Package credentials hanging around their necks. I left my family to rock out and hoofed it over to Echo Lake to see if the kiosk was open. Sure enough, I was able to collect our lanyards and choose our Celebrity Talk Show passes. My family really wanted to see Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok from The Empire Strikes Back, Willow and various characters in the Harry Potter movies), mostly because he was the only one of the celebrities who we really knew anything about, and I was afraid that the passes would already be gone. I was lucky enough to be able to get passes for that show, and I was also given packs of autographed photos of the celebrities in attendance that weekend. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my family, Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears was just wrapping up.

Celebrity Motorcade.
As part of the Premium Package, we got access to a reserved viewing area to watch the Legends of the Force Celebrity Motorcade. We arrived a bit after access to the area was opened (we had FastPasses for Toy Story!), but about 20 minutes before the motorcade actually started. Our reservation said that water and soft drinks would be provided, and I was happy to see that full size bottles of water and Coke products were being handed out. As a special surprise, there were also Mickey Ice Cream bars, frozen strawberry bars and boxes of popcorn available, as well! We enjoyed those as we waited for the festivities to start.


Because we arrived a bit late, our view was not so great once the motorcade and show started (guests in front of us were about four deep, and of course the tall guys in the front, who had been sitting earlier, stood and pretty much blocked the view of the motorcade and the stage from my short self). We did have a better view than many regular guests, however, and the Mickey bars and bottles of water were very welcome. We enjoyed watching the Disney characters in Star Wars garb, and that weekend’s celebrities (James Arnold Taylor, Ashley Eckstein, Warwick Davis, Silas Carson, and Vanessa Marshall) arrive, and the kick off show on the stage. The Motorcade and show were a lot of fun, and we were happy to have the drinks, treats, and reserved place to watch from.

After the motorcade, we decided to skedaddle, and head back to our hotel for lunch and a rest. The park was very crowded, and we felt like we needed a break before the evening activities that were included in the package.

Celebrity Talk Show. Our favorite part of the day was probably Warwick Davis’s show, “An Ewok’s Tale.” Our credentials advised us to show up at the Theatre of the Stars between 15 and 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. We arrived about 20 minutes early, and waited with other Premium and Deluxe Premium Package holders who had tickets for the show. There was a stand-by line for folks who did not have packages, and from my observation, it looked like there were still a few empty seats, so (at least for that show) anyone who wanted to see it, was able to get in. Our reserved seats were about 7 rows back from the stage, so we had a great view. The show was very interactive, and for anyone who has never seen Davis, I would highly recommend it, if he returns for future Star Wars Weekends.


If you've never seen Warwick's An Ewok's Tale, here is a video from a previous Star Wars Weekend:

After the Talk Show, we decided to head over to the merchandise area, Darth’s Mall, to see what was on offer. Earlier in the day, the lines had been crazy long, but at this point -- about 6:30 p.m., an hour before the was to close for the day -- we did not wait at all to go into X-Wing Collectibles (art, pins, other collectibles), and waited only about 5 minutes to get into Watto’s Grotto (t-shirts, mugs, build-your-own lightsabers).

Dessert party and fireworks.
Following a lovely dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby, we headed back to the same area in front of the Event Stage for our dessert party. There were separate areas reserved for folks with the regular and Deluxe packages. Not sure if the Deluxe folks got any different dessert offerings than we did, but there was a separate area for them. We showed our credentials and found a stand up table. Soft drinks and water were again offered, as were two alcoholic drinks. My husband and I tried both of them, but weren’t really thrilled. They were colorful, but pretty gooey sweet. I would have preferred plain wine and beer. Desserts included themed cupcakes, and some sort of weird blue mousse. They were all cute and fun. The Symphony in the Stars Fireworks were amazing. The reserved viewing area was perfect.


All in all, we really enjoyed the Feel the Force Premium Package during our recent Star Wars Weekends visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we are not over the top Star Wars fans, we found the special events and character photo opportunities to be lots of fun. We also appreciated the fact that the package made our day almost completely hassle free. We did not have to stand in line or fight crowds to the see the Motorcade or get into our preferred talk show. I was also impressed by the quality of drinks, snacks and desserts on offer. With the package, we were able to maximize our time in the crowded park, and really enjoy the events. I often think that the prices charged by Disney for some of these events are excessive, but in this case, I felt like we got good value for the price paid. Until next year, may the Force be with you!


Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world (until the Shanghai Disney Resort opens!). They live in Alexandria, Virginia.

June 7, 2015

Trip Planning – More Important Than Ever

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I have been to Walt Disney World so many times that we no longer feel compelled to rush around and try to do it all! We take our time, we savour the experience! Over the years we've picked up some "insider knowledge" from other Disney addicts and we've learned a bit through our own mistakes. Our friends often ask us for advice before they visit our happy place.

What do we tell them? Plan ahead!

Experts in real estate will tell you that the three most important factors in assessing a property are Location, Location, Location. The three most important steps to ensure an enjoyable Disney vacation are Planning, Planning, Planning!

We often sit and chuckle after we check in for dinner at some of the nicer Walt Disney World restaurants. As we wait to be seated there is an endless stream of exasperated guests who hope to find a table service restaurant with available seating at the last minute. Many guests don't understand that the most popular Disney restaurants are fully booked months in advance!

A long time friend of Carol's asked her, "I want to take my niece to Disney and I think we'll go at Christmas. Any suggestions?" Carol was quick to reply, "Don't even think about going at Christmas, it will be too crowded."

Crowded Christmas

"How crowded?" the friend asked? "Imagine the entire population of Toronto trying to fit into your local Legion Hall." They didn't go at Christmas!

There was a wonderful article on planning in the Disney Magazine about a decade ago, in Spring 2004. It was written by Kim Wright Wiley who was a Contributing Editor at Disney Magazine and continues to author many books about Disney vacation planning. The article looks at planning primarily for those who've never been to Walt Disney World, then adds a second section for Disney veterans and a final chapter for Disneyland.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 30

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 31

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 32

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 33

I've included scans of the 2004 article above and below. Click on the images to see a larger version which is easier to read. There's some very good information there!

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 34

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 35

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 36

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 page 85

So what has changed in the intervening decade? It has only been 11 years, but technology has changed the booking and reservation process in a very big way. You no longer have to use a telephone; it can all be done on your computer, tablet or smart phone using the My Disney Experience system. You had better study up on a few new concepts such as Disney's Magical Express, MagicBands and FastPass+ which did not exist in 2004 when the article was written!

New Technology

Is planning still important? Yes, it's still important to plan, in fact, it's more vital than ever before.

The parks are busier now than they were just a decade ago. Since that article appeared Disney has opened Saratoga Springs Resort (2004), Animal Kingdom Villas (2007), Bay Lake Tower (2009), Art of Animation Resort (2012), The Villas at Grand Floridian (2013) and the Polynesian Villas (2015). These resorts add up to almost 5,000 new guest rooms and suites. While the hotel capacity grew there were no significant expansions to the theme parks; the result is longer lines and busier parks.

The low seasons are nowhere near as low as they used to be! There could be 10,000 to 20,000 people in those new guest rooms and some of them might be standing in front of you as you wait to ride Peter Pan's Flight or buy a hot dog at Casey's!

Many of the booking "windows" have changed as well. For example, you can now book your Disney hotel room up to 499 days from your departure. Our friend (and Photo Blogger) Scott Thomas has developed a handy tool to help you calculate those oh-so-important dates. You can find Scott's online Planning Strategy Calculator HERE.

Planning Strategy Calculator

Magical Gatherings have changed too. They're now called Disney Group Getaways. If your group will occupy 10 or more rooms in a Disney resort you might qualify for some special treatment! Look for details HERE.

If you're looking for a place to get up-to-date information to help you formulate your plans, look no further than the planning page HERE. It's updated regularly with the latest information available . . . and it's free!

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If you haven't already subscribed to the Weekly Newsletter, you should subscribe now. It is delivered FREE each week to more than 140,000 subscribers who share an interest in all things Disney. The newsletter is a great information source. There's always a feature article and there are often valuable tips from other readers. Subscribe HERE.

There are a number of other resources available to help in your planning. Check your local book store or search on Amazon for planning guides by Disney Vacation experts such as Birnbaum, PassPorter, The Unofficial Guide and many others. Find the Amazon link HERE.

Do I have any planning tips for you?
Nope, I don't . . . Carol does all of the planning for us. BUT I do have a few suggestions for you:
• Don’t plan every minute of every day. Leave some “down-time”, time to kick back and relax or time to do something spontaneous.
• At the end of your vacation think back to the thing you enjoyed most, then go do it again. Savour the experience a second time!
Act silly! Wear a funny hat, dance in the rain, sing as though no one can hear you. That’s what Walt Disney wanted you to do!
• If you’re a frequent Walt Disney World visitor, try to do something new and different each trip. Take an archery lesson, a backstage tour, go fishing or take a romantic moonlit ride in a horse-drawn carriage. There’s an almost endless list of things to do there!

The time you spend planning will ensure that you and your family fully enjoy your Disney vacation; it's an investment that really does pay huge dividends!

May 24, 2015

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - May 2015



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month (or sometimes a bit later, like this month, due to unforeseen circumstances), James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the April Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:

There were just 22 correct responses to the word search puzzle on Extinct World Showcase attractions.

The first ten unused letters in the puzzle were SNSQMAANJY.

The winner of a Disney pin was Steve B., of Huntsville, AL. . Thanks to everyone for playing!

This month we are going to continue looking at extinct attractions at the various Disney Parks. The fourth park we will take a look at will be Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS). At least that's what it's called this week; stay tuned, as the Studios is supposed to be undergoing a name change soon.

Here's the link to the new puzzle:

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin: There's no need to send me the completed puzzle, just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row, IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on June 15, 2015. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog, along with a new puzzle, in mid-June.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at

Thanks! Until next month...

Disney Craft Projects

Gary Cruise banner

I don't really consider myself to be "crafty" but over the years I have created a few interesting Disney items for our home. I've built several Mickey Lamp Posts; they're about 6' tall. One lights up our patio at home and the others travel in our motor home to add a Disney touch to our campsites wherever we go!

Mickey Lamp Post

The lamps get decorated for special occasions!
Halloween Mickey Lamp Post

Rope lights shaped like Mickey decorate our home for Christmas and Halloween.
Mickey Rope Light

Carol's collection of Antenna Toppers is displayed on wooden racks I have whipped up in my little workshop.
Antenna Topper Racks

Many campers at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground have "Musket Mickey" signs like this one. They are all hand crafted by Warren T. from South Carolina.
Fort Wilderness Sign

Not long ago I was browsing a Facebook page created especially for Canadian Disney fans. The official motto is: A place where everything Disney meets the Great White North.

As I scrolled down through the posts a unique picture caught my eye.
Framed Key To The World Cards

Valerie W. from Belleville Ontario wrote, "So I couldn't figure out what to do with some of the cards I have and decided to make this. When we go again in January I will take the white piece with me and have Characters sign it."

She took the family's Key To The World Cards, attached them to a coloured background, added a white matte and framed them. What a great idea! Character autographs on the matte will be the finishing touch; this piece of home-made art will remind Valerie and her family of their wonderful Disney trip for many years to come.

Valerie's creativity sparked my interest and I began to wonder what other craft ideas were out there. A simple internet search turned up plenty!

Here are samples of just a few.
Halloween Decorations
Disney themed Halloween decorations.

Halloween Stencils
Disney stencils for your Jack-O'Lanterns.

Halloween Treats
Disney Halloween treats.

Instructions for the items in the three images above can be found on the site HERE.

Here's a cute Disney Savings Jar from You or your children can use it to save for your next Disney adventure.
Savings Jar
Instructions are HERE.

Have you collected Pressed Pennies from all the Disney Parks? Why not make them into a charm bracelet?
Pressed Penny Bracelet
Find out how at HERE.

We all enjoy counting down the days until our next Disney vacation. Here's a project from which lets the entire family follow the countdown.
Disney Trip Countdown
See how it's made HERE.

If none of these spark your interest, why not try your own Internet search. Just enter "Disney craft project" in your search engine then scan through the images until you see a project that appeals to you. There are thousands of great ideas out there!

How "Crafty" are you? Have you created any Disney crafts you'd like to share with readers?

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