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December 10, 2016

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for Teens and Young Adults

by Evan L. Weston
AllEars® Guest Blogger

We're deep into the heart of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party season, and that means the scramble is on to snatch up passes for the Magic Kingdom's premier specially ticketed event.

In my feature article in the November 15 edition of the AllEars® newsletter, I discussed how Magic Kingdom tends to be the most difficult park to convince the teen and young adult demographic to try, and the Christmas Party can exacerbate some of those perceptions. The event is built not around thrills or a club atmosphere, but around exclusive character meets and once-a-year shows and parades. But don't let the surface events fool you; there's plenty of fun to be found for our subset, including every young adult's absolute favorite thing in the world. Say it with me...



Yes, there are not one, not two, but eight complimentary treats included with your Christmas Party admission! The offerings include four different cookies, three beverages, and what turned out to be my girlfriend's favorite, a blue raspberry snow cone that you should definitely have before it gets too cold! On the food side, the best offerings are the snickerdoodle cookies, on hand at Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland, and the peppermint bark cookies from Tomorrowland's Lunching Pad. If you're out on a cool Florida night, you can pick up hot chocolate at both of those locations, but I tended towards the spiced hot cider, located all the way in the back of the park at Pete's Silly Sideshow. It's worth the trek, if only to gawk at the sometimes three-hour line to meet the Seven Dwarves!

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party also includes a benefit you shouldn't discount: some of the shortest waits you'll ever see on the Magic Kingdom's flagship attractions.


With capacity limited and most of the attention focused on the shows and parades, attractions that normally see wait times exceeding an hour often can be done in under 20 minutes. Space Mountain, for instance, never went higher than 25 minutes at any point during our Friday night visit to the Christmas Party. Line times plummet further after Holiday Wishes and especially after the final parade; just after 11 p.m., only the uber-popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a wait higher than 20 minutes, sitting at a very doable half an hour.

Lastly, for those looking to get into the Christmas spirit, Holiday Wishes is well worth your time. Don't bother waiting forever in front of the castle for a premium view, though; instead catch it from the side of the castle (where plenty of the show is still visible) and stay near a hub exit, ready to break back for the rides before the crowd disperses. It's really not a bad view:

Holiday Wishes

For other entertainment, Tomorrowland features four performances a night from VoicePlay, a supremely talented, Orlando-based a cappella group that came to fame on NBC's "The Sing-Off." The shows are, for whatever reason, never particularly crowded, and offer a very cool theatrical experience. It's absolutely wild what these guys can do with just their voices!

Between free food, short waits, and a little bit of Christmas magic, be sure to remember that Magic Kingdom, even Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, has something for everyone in the family!

Mickey & Minnie

December 5, 2016

Art Smith's Homecoming beefs up Disney Springs' restaurant offerings


Guests at Art Smith's Homecoming in The Landing neighborhood at Disney Springs prepare to dig in to some of the restaurant's signature items. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

As celebrity chefs go, Art Smith is the antithesis of the flashy food mavens you often see on TV cooking channels. He's thoughtful, articulate and genuinely down-to-earth.

But that doesn't mean Smith isn't passionate about what he does.

When Smith partnered with the Walt Disney Company to create Art Smith's Homecoming, one of the crown jewels of the newly transformed Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment district, he did so with the intention of bringing back the traditional family dining concept that's been lost in the hustle and bustle of our 21st Century lifestyles.

"It's great to see people enjoying food," Smith said during a recent interview at his restaurant, located in The Landing neighborhood of Disney Springs, the district's own version of "restaurant row."

Smith is a proponent of what he calls "celebrational family food," as well as sharing at the dinner table. "I like to serve food that's 'shareable'," meaning the meal is placed at the middle of the table and everybody just digs in.

"The sharing of food makes it more precious. And where I came from, we always had a salad with every meal."

Smith is no stranger to preparing delicious food, owning restaurants or being in the spotlight.

Chef Art Smith is a proponent of family style, shareable dining. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He has cooked for several political leaders and celebrities, and was even Oprah Winfrey's personal chef for several years. "Oprah taught me some great lessons," he says with a laugh, "including, 'Wine with food, thank you very much!'"

He's appeared on a number of television shows and specials, has written four books, has traveled the world as part of the State Department's Chefs' Program, owns restaurants in Chicago [TABLE fifty-two] and Washington, D.C. [Art and Soul] and has won several awards, including the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year in 2007.

Indeed, if there's one takeaway from talking to Smith is that he's a caring individual.

He cares about his home state of Florida [he's a sixth-generation Floridian whose great-grandfather was a moonshiner], making a commitment to use only Florida-grown products in Homecoming [as it says on the sign outside his establishment, "Florida Kitchen, Southern Shine"]. He also cares passionately about teaching children sound nutritional values. To that end, he founded the non-profit Common Threads. He's also on the board of a nutrition program in Minneapolis called Kids' Cafe.

Smith and his husband, Jesus Salgueiro, have four adopted children, so for him, the stakes are pretty high when it comes to children's nutrition.

Church Lady Deviled Eggs are one of many must-have selections at Art Smith's Homecoming. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Years ago, "I played the whole funny fat chef thing," he said. At one point, he admits, his weight ballooned over 350 pounds. He credits healthier food choices and running marathons for helping him drop more than 100 pounds. "We have four kids. I wanna live a long, healthy life for them. You have to be responsible when it comes to your food choices, including cutting down on sugar and salt consumption. My No. 1 rule is don't drink your calories. When you take better care of yourself, you take better care of others."

Smith is involved in a number of projects which reaffirm his commitment to responsibility when it comes to the field of agriculture.

He recently purchased a former jai alai arena with plans to build a bakery and market. "I wanted to create a real farmer's market, one that showcased fresh items from Florida farms. You have to remember there are a lot of hard-working families on our farms," Smith said, adding that "Florida is the winter pantry of America."

Art's Fabulous Fried Chicken is buttermilk-brined, moist and tender. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He also purchased an Antebellum house with the idea of turning it into a school of sustainability.

"Most chefs don't know where their food comes from," Smith says, adding that many have a "Cisco-to-table mentality," meaning they take food from a delivery truck, cook it, then serve it. "Chefs should be more conscious of health and wellness."

He's also involved in helping to bring back the sagging oyster industry in Florida. "In Apalachicola, the water has changed so much and the oyster industry has suffered because of it." An oyster farming program he helped initiate at a local community college is so popular that it has a six-year waiting list.

Smith is the first Disney College Program graduate to open a business on Disney property, a fact that he's very proud of. "That's me when I was a young pup," he says, pointing to a picture of himself while in the program in 1980.

"I'm a big believer in internships," he said. He's also a big Disney fan. "I admire the sense of team spirit at Disney, the sense of family. It's no wonder so many people stay and work here for as long as they do." Smith first visited Walt Disney World when he was just 12; he and his family stayed at the Polynesian Resort.

According to Chef Art Smith, Homecoming's desserts "taste like momma made 'em." [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Sense of family is so important to Art Smith and it shows through in the signature items Homecoming offers.

His Church Lady Deviled Eggs are truly mouth-watering. Momma's Mac and Cheese ... delicious. His buttermilk-brined Fabulous Fried Chicken is moist, tender and absolutely scrumptious. Addie Mae's Chicken and Dumplings ... superb. There's also fried catfish, shrimp and grits and an assortment of sandwiches and burgers. Homecoming also has a full bar with a variety of signature drinks.

And then there are the rich, decadent desserts ... desserts, Smith says proudly, "that taste like momma made 'em."

Smith says that Homecoming was five years in the making, but during the process, he never once thought about how much it would cost. "I'm a big believer in dreaming it and making that dream come true.

"I hope you find inspiration here. For all of us, the sharing of a meal is a common, anticipated ritual that reunites us with loved ones and brings a sense of balance to our lives. It's my heart's desire ... to serve a simple, unfussy meal of freshly made foods ... and see how it enriches your lives."

December 2, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler



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® newsletter, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also 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!

James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

We received 36 correct responses; all of you knew that the inventor of many of the special effects and illusions experienced in the Haunted Mansion, and elsewhere around the world, was none other than Imagineer extraordinaire, Yale Gracey! Did you know that a Haunted Mansion attraction of some sort can be found in every Magic Kingdom theme park around the world. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend Jason Surrell’s book on the subject, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic."

The winner of a Goofy/Donald pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Matt H. of Smithfield, NC.

If you missed it last month, that’s OK, because here’s another chance.

This month we continue with the special crossword puzzle series, concentrating on Disney History. The subject of this month’s puzzle will be “This Month in Disney History, November.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of November. This will, in fact be the last month of this series, since we started with the month of December last year. Boy, time flies when you’re having fun, or not having fun, or working, or shopping, or… Oh, you get the picture! By the way, did you notice that many of Disney’s animated features were released in the month of November? A majority of films have been released during the springtime (June-July), with the second most popular time of year being late fall (November-December.) On the flip side, the lowly month of April was completely ignored all the way up until 1995, when “A Goofy Movie” was released on April 7, 1995.

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on December 30, 2016. 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 late September.

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

May your holidays be magical and safe, from our Disney family to yours, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

November 28, 2016

First Timers Trip to Shanghai Disneyland

By Guest Blogger: Michelle Buchecker

As part of a business trip to Shanghai in late October 2016, I decide to add an extra day and visit Shanghai Disneyland. What follows are my experiences and impressions and hope that this helps anyone who may also be going for their first time.


Getting There

Shanghai is in the Peoples Republic of China. Normally you need a Visa to visit China. Shanghai has this 144 hour exception rule that if you are just going to Shanghai and spend less than 144 hours there, you can go without a Visa as long as Shanghai is just a stopover for you in route to another destination. In other words, you are not permitted to fly directly home from Shanghai. This is not a well-known rule and you may have trouble when people check your passport and don’t find a Visa. I had a Visa and it was easy to use. Not so easy to get though. You have to be very careful in filling out the Visa form.

When you arrive, be sure to hit up an ATM. There are currency exchanges right after you pass Customs, but if you go farther down in the terminal you will find plenty of ATMs which gives you a better exchange rate.

Shanghai Disneyland is not that far from Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG). A taxi ride will run you approximately 100 RMB (as of October 2016 it’s about 6.7 RMB for US Dollar, so under $20 US). Be sure to get in the regular Taxi line and don’t fall for those people hawking “Taxi! Taxi!” inside the terminal as they are not metered.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, have a picture on your phone or a printout of the hotel name and address in Chinese for the taxi driver. Most drivers do not speak English. And the area where Disney is in is so new that even with the address in Chinese they may not know where it is. Saying “Disney” helps somewhat.

Address of Toy Story Hotel


Toy Story Hotel

I opted to stay at the Toy Story Hotel. This is the equivalent of an All-Star value hotel in Walt Disney World with a few differences. One difference is that the rooms all open to an inside hallway instead of an outside walkway. Additionally, there were 8 bottles of water in the room that were complimentary since the tap water in China is known for parasites.

The room is well-themed in a Toy Story motif. My room had two full sized beds, small table with 2 chairs, dresser, nightstand, mini-fridge, small closet, and bathroom with tub/shower combination. The outlets are equipped to accommodate American 2 prong plugs. The only time you’ll need an adapter is if you have a plug that’s grounded.





The TV has a version of CNN, BBC, and the Discovery Channel in English. In addition, it has complimentary on demand movies of a handful of Pixar movies, Mulan, TRON, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

I think the hotel may have Wi-Fi but my employer implored on me not to connect to Wi-Fi, or connect to cell service except to text (so no email, social media, etc.) due to controls that the China government imposes, and that devices are susceptible to hacking. So I cannot comment on the speed or reliability of the internet or Wi-Fi.

The hotel boasts a small food court and a grab-and-go area.



The food court has 4 stations. Three are devoted to Chinese tastes with lots of fish (even for breakfast) and pork. The fourth station is for Western tastes with eggs, sausage, croissants, etc. for breakfast. There are 3 combo meal options for breakfast. You cannot get any of it ala carte or mix and match between the combo meals.

For dinner, I had the chicken satay from the Western station. The chicken was dark meat chicken with a delicious peanut sauce, and included rice, and vegetables that were a little too spicy for me, but I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy. Beverages include apple juice, orange juice, coca cola, water, bottled green tea, and milk. With your breakfast meal you will get a cup at checkout for tea or coffee. Equal and sugar is available. If you want salt you will have to ask for it. Chopsticks and western utensils are available as well.

Differences compared to the All-Stars is that the cast members will bus your trays for you from the table. Also I visited in late October and there were more cast members than guests. It’s a little eerie with SO many cast members just standing around as you have the restaurant virtually to yourself.

The grab-and-go area features pastries, hot dogs, chicken bau buns, and similar small items. In addition, beer, and small bottles of wine are sold. Hot Dog, nuts, and beer for about $11
Cast members at the hotel spoke conversational English, enough to greet you, ask how you are and wish you a magical day. If you have a question that is involved, you are best off going to the concierge.

Shopping at the hotel: The shop is called Lotso Shop.

It has many Toy Story themed items plus regular Disney items. Not much that is Shanghai Disney specific.


A complimentary shuttle drops you off at the stop for both Disneytown and Shanghai Disney. If it’s not raining, it’s not that far to walk.

Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland is owned and operated by the Walt Disney company, unlike Tokyo Disney which has a licensing arrangement. As such you will notice many similarities as the United States versions. For instance, when you go to the website for Shanghai Disneyland you’ll notice the same look and feel as Walt Disney World and you can log in with your WDW website user id and password. Likewise, the app is similar to My Disney Experience app.


As with any Disney park, getting there for park opening will permit you to ride lots of attractions before the lines really start. FastPasses are available for several rides. To get a FP, there is a Guest Services area in each land where you get your FP for an attraction in that land. You will receive a return time window and can get a new FP when you use that one or after the window expires.

Rides with FastPasses are TRON, Buzz Lightyear, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Soaring over the Horizon.

Shanghai Disneyland also has many Single Rider lines. Take advantage of this as it significantly reduces your wait time. Single rider lines are TRON, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

When you arrive at the park, you will go through a metal detector and bag check which is much more thorough than WDW. After that, when you go through the turnstiles you will be on Mickey Avenue which is similar to Main Street USA but about half the length.


ust like Main Street, there is shopping and confectionery on Mickey Avenue. At the time of this writing, they were offering 10% discount off all merchandise purchased before noon on Mickey Avenue. Discount is planned to run through the end of November 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if this continued during slow periods though.

Just like WDW, you can have purchases sent to the front of the park for later pick-up or to your Disney hotel. Unlike WDW if you shop early enough in the day, your purchase will arrive at your hotel on the same day. So take advantage of shopping early in the day and not have to carry your purchases around.

Gardens of Imagination - Beyond Mickey Avenue is Gardens of Imagination which hosts the Carousel, Dumbo, Meet Mickey, and meeting various Marvel characters.


Carousel in Gardens of Imagination -- In addition, this is a great photo op with the Storytellers Statue (Partners statue) with the castle in the background.


Rainy Day - There are Photopass photographers at this point but you really have to approach them and get their attention as they don’t approach guests.


This is one of the differences I noticed at Shanghai Disney, is that cast members rarely look guests in the eye. Occasionally they will greet you, but they are not effusive. It’s not a language barrier as that was the same behavior they exhibited with all guests.

Stretching out from Gardens of Imagination going clockwise from the left is: Tomorrowland (yes it’s on the opposite side as the US parks), Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, and Adventure Isle.

This castle is the most elaborate of all Disney Parks. And is best experience in-person. It is second best experienced with lots of pictures.


A few of the many murals in the castle.



Panorama of murals in Castle rotunda




Here is a castle make out of crystals in the Crystal Shop in the Castle (almost a little MC Escher if you think about it)


Tomorrowland boasts a few attractions.


One of the headliner attractions is TRON Lightcycle Power Run.

This is similar to Rock n Roller Coaster except you are positioned like you are riding a motorcycle and there is no inversion. But it’s a great high-speed indoor coaster. You will have to put all belongings in a locker prior to getting in line. Lockers are free, just go up to one of the touch screens by the lockers, create a pin number and you will be assigned a locker to store your belongings.


Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue is similar to Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin except it’s MUCH easier to shoot the targets and you get good visual feedback.


Tomorrowland also has the Jet Packs similar to the Rocket Rods, an interactive Stich Encounter, and meeting Star Wars characters.

Fantasyland boasts the most attractions.

“Once Upon a Time” Adventure" - This attraction in the castle takes you through the story of Snow White. In small groups you walk through the various scenes that come to life. I think the scene with the woodland animals is interactive as a lot of kids were waving their hands and it looked like the creatures were reacting to it. Be aware that there are a LOT of stairs that you have to climb to get to the attraction.


Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – similar to the Magic Kingdom version. However, since there is no FP+ here, you can get a FP for this more easily if you do so at the beginning of the day. In addition, the single rider line is a great option here. Peter Pan’s Flight – was closed when I was here.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - This ride-through attraction takes you through Pooh’s world and is very whimsical.


Voyage to the Crystal Grotto
– I have to say that I don’t get the attraction of this ride. It has long lines and uses boats similar to Jungle Cruise that take you by scenes of a handful of Disney movies. If the line is short, go ahead and do it. But otherwise I don’t think you’d be missing much. Here is a scene from Voyage to the Crystal Grotto


Hunny Pot Spin – Tea cups but with hunny pots. Alice in Wonderland Maze is a wander-through area that shows whimsical components of Alice in Wonderland. Cute and worth a walk-through.


Frozen: Sing-Along Celebration – Check your times guide for when this occurs. Somehow I missed this so I can’t comment on what language it’s conducted in.

Treasure Cove - Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for Sunken Treasure:




This was the single best attraction I experienced. It’s like if Spiderman from Universal Studios and Pirates in WDW had a baby. It is the most intimate and immersive storyline I’ve encountered in an attraction. The boats are similar to the boats on the WDW Pirates ride, but all of the animatronics are really close to the boats and the ceiling alternates from being high like WDW Pirates, or more enclosed.

In addition, there are overly large screens in some areas like Spiderman to give the sensation of more movement and visuals than what you are actually doing. Go on this multiple times and take advantage of the single rider line.


Due to weather I didn’t get a chance to experience the Explorer Canoes. The other attractions in this area are Shipwreck Shore which is a kids play area, Siren’s Revenge which is a walk-through a pirate ship (think Swiss Family Robinson treehouse but a ship), and a Jack Sparrow Stunt show.

Adventure Isle - I realize that I didn’t do any attractions in this land. Attractions are Soaring over the Horizon (we have FP+ for this next month in WDW so I didn’t feel the need), Roaring Rapids (this is like the raft ride in Animal Kingdom. Fastpasses were already gone by 2 PM on a day where the park was relatively empty and the wait was 40 minutes. Plan accordingly when you go.),

Camp Discovery which is a collection of trails, rope courses, and an archaeological dig site for kids. In addition, there is a Tarzan stage show.



Traveling by myself I am more likely to eat counter service. Also I am not a particularly adventurous eater, so I had a cheeseburger and fries in Tomorrowland. However, there were several table service restaurants that looked interesting: Barbossa’s Bounty overlooking the Pirates attraction, and Wandering Moon Teahouse.


The Royal Banquet Hall, which is in the castle, is where you can meet the princesses (sound familiar?). What isn’t familiar was the cast members standing in front of the Royal Banquet trying to entice guests to come and eat at the restaurant. Please come eat in the Castle!


Tortuga Treats sell Turkey Legs but didn’t open until 2 PM the day I was there. But there was already a long line by 1:30.



Sadly, I did not see any Dole Whips. But Remy’s Patisserie had plenty of goodies to satisfy when I needed a snack like this bread with savory pumpkin filling.


Bathrooms are readily located throughout the park. I can’t speak to the men’s restrooms but in the women’s restrooms most of the stalls are squat toilets, but if you head farther back you will see the “Western” toilets. Easiest way to recognize the difference from the outside of the stalls is that the squat toilets have 1 or 2 steps leading up to the stall and the western toilets don’t.


There was plenty of toilet paper. I’m a little hesitant about the water, so I just used Purell to cleanse my hands.

You may have heard on other parts of the internet that one of the Chinese cultural behaviors is that young children have split pants and when they have to “go” they just squat and go where they are. I did not see any of that, but I did see an 8-year-old boy peeing into the landscape from the sidewalk as his mom was nearby just waiting for him to finish. There were a handful of locations in the park that had a slight urine smell. Not as bad as a summer day in a Chicago “L” station, but noticeable nonetheless.

DisneyTown is like a miniature version of Disney Springs or Downtown Disney in Anaheim. It is located next to the theme park and you can access it either from the bus drop off and car parking lot, or there is an entrance from inside the park next to Tomorrowland. In fact, if it’s a busy day, you may want to consider walking through DisneyTown to enter the park from this entrance instead of the main entrance. Kind of like using the International Gateway entrance at Epcot.


There is a World of Disney Store, Wolfgang Pucks, Cheesecake Factory, local Chinese eateries, and other shopping like Sephora and Lego.




The World of Disney store had many of the same items as WDW. The selection of Shanghai Disneyland items was best here but still not as large as I expected. Prices were reasonable.
I think the most surprising for me is that I was expecting a lot more Mulan merchandise. Mulan is my favorite Disney princess but just like the US she seems to be relegated to minor princess status.


Credit cards are readily accepted. No Disney Visa card or DVC discounts. Also a bag to put your purchases in costs 1 RMB each. Currently it is about 6.7 RMB per US dollar.

I enjoyed my time here and as Tigger says “Ta-ta for now”!

Michelle Buchecker is a lifelong Disney fan having received a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll on the day she was born. She is the creator of the iPhone app "500 Things to do in Walt Disney World Before You Die". Michelle married her husband at the WDW Wedding Pavilion with a dinner reception in the Boardwalk Hotel, and a dessert reception in Epcot watching Iluminations. She has visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World countless times and has been fortunate to check off Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and Shanghai Disneyland off her bucket list. Watch out Hong Kong Disney, you're next!

November 27, 2016

Try the Beverly

Gary Cruise banner
Club Cool sign

Do you remember your first sip of Beverly at EPCOT’s Club Cool?

Have you ever watched someone else take their first taste?

If you answered yes to these two questions then I’m sure you will agree with me; when it comes to Beverly it’s more fun watching than it is tasting!

Have you ever taken a friend into Club Cool and urged them to try the Beverly?

Me too! It’s so much fun watching their faces get all twisted and puckered-up as the flavour sensation sinks in! It just never gets old!

Club Cool is located on the west side of the fountain, on your right as you head from Spaceship Earth toward the World Showcase Lagoon. It is sponsored by the Coca Cola Company and offers free samples of Coke beverages from around the world.

Club Cool interior

There are several dispensing stations inside, just pull out one of the little paper cups and help yourself.

Club Cool Dispenser

Club Cool Dispenser

You can even spend a few minutes shopping for Coke merchandise.

Club Cool Merchandise

On a hot Florida afternoon Club Cool can be a real oasis! A cool, air-conditioned haven offering free cold drinks! What could be wrong with that?

Beverly, that’s what could be wrong! It may be popular in Italy, but I’ve never spoken with a North American who enjoyed it.

Most of the other flavours are quite tasty and refreshing, but Beverly is definitely an OMG experience for me!

Club Cool Dispenser

Here's how Coca Cola describes the flavours they offer at Club Cool:

• From Brazil: Guarana Kuat - Guarana Kuat is a guarana berry flavored soft drink first launched in Brazil in 1997. The word guanara comes from the Guarani word guara-ná, which translates to “fruit like the eyes of the people.”

• From Greece: Fanta Pineapple – Fanta has more than 90 distinct flavors available in more than 180 countries. It made it’s European debut in the 1940’s and was introduced to the USA in 1960. Fanta Pineapple is caffeine-free and features a sweet pineapple taste.

• From Japan: VegitaBeta – Originally launched in Japan in 1992, VegitaBeta is a non-carbonated beverage with apricot and passion fruit flavors and is rich in beta-carotene that contributes to its unique yellowish-orange color.

• From Peru: Inca Kola – Known as “The Taste of Peru,” this soda has an unusually sweet fruity flavor that many compare to the taste of liquid bubblegum. The name “Inca Kola” refers to the Quechua words for king and queen.

• From South Africa: Bibo – Originally created in 1998, Bibo is a fruit flavored line of juice drinks popular in South Africa. The brand features fun characters such as Johnny Orange, Taka Strawberry and Paolo Peach.

• From Thailand: Fanta Lemon Frosty – Fanta is the number one soft drink of Thailand. With a fun melon flavor, this carbonated beverage is beloved in Thailand’s sunny, tropical climate.

• From Zimbabwe: Spar-letta Sparberry – A raspberry flavored cream soda, Sparberry launched in Africa in 1955. It is exclusively available in several countries in southeast Africa.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, the pucker producer itself:

• From Italy: Beverly – Beverly, with its bitter flavor, is a popular non-alcoholic apéritif that is a traditional part of Italian refreshment culture.

Bitter flavor? I’ll say! To my uneducated palate Beverly tastes like vinegar mixed with alum . . . but of course that’s the beauty of it! It always produces exactly the same reaction in everyone who tastes it. Suddenly they look like Jim Carrey; their faces twisted in impossible contortions and their lips all puckered. It’s a beautiful thing!

Try this experiment with your friends . . .

Take them into Club Cool and say, “Try the Beverly; I think you’ll like it.”

Be sure to have your camera ready to capture a “Magical Disney Moment!”

November 25, 2016

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Dessert Party

By Guest Blogger: Kay Belin

The 2016 holiday season in Hollywood Studios was going to prove to be a bit sad this year. With the closing of the Osborne Family Lights spectacular show it sounded like the holiday draw to this park was going to be non existent. But hold on to your Mickey ears as Disney has pulled another great show out of their hat to please the guests this holiday season.

The new show is the Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! projection and firework show held nightly now through the end of the month in front of the Chinese Theater. To add to that excitement there is also the opportunity to enjoy a dessert party for this event. When it was announced the reservations went quickly but check back to see if there are any openings during your visit.

The dessert party is held at different times each night due to the change in time of the show. My husband and I were able to grab reservations for the second night of the party and were told to check in at 5:30 and the party would begin at 5:45 with the show at 6:30.

We came to the park early and realized that around 5pm that a line was forming in front of the Chinese Theater where the party is held. It was a bit confusing and unorganized as you had to be in one line to check in to get your special glasses and then line up in another line to get your wristband. I am confident this will become easier as they get more experience in logistics. If you wish to have one of the few tables with chairs it is wise to be up front in this check-in line but there is plenty of space and many stand up tables so you don't have to arrive until later if you wish to enjoy the park.

The party is held outside in front of the Theater.



The first area is quite large and that is where the main food stations are located. There is a bar which served wines and beer and also specialty holiday drinks....the Apple Cinnamon Cocktail and the Gingerbread Martini. I have to admit I tried them both and found them quite yummy! There was also water,sodas, coffee, tea, and hot cocoa offered for drinks so I felt they covered everyone's needs.




Since this is called a dessert party of course they had a table full of sweets to choose from. The choices we had during our party included chocolate cupcakes with mint frosting and peppermint bark, gingerbread almond chocolate cookie, lemon meringue tart, and holiday crispy bonbons. They also offered an interesting dessert called the liquid nitro frost bites. This was a duo of white chocolate and wintergreen mousse covered with dark chocolate sauce and Mickey sprinkles. The jury is still out on this one but I loved watching them make it and it's worth trying!




Although this is considered a dessert party they also offered guests some other culinary treats. These included a holiday antipasto, kale collard and pomegranate onion slaw, pineapple sweet and sour meatballs, and grilled flatbread with spinach artichoke dip. Personally I found the dessert choices better then these options as the meatballs were lacking in taste and the spices on the flatbread were strong. But I feel that as time moves on they will tweak and improve the food. I also observed cast members serving a young boy a special dessert plate who apparently had some food allergies. They were going out of their way to make this special for him as you would always expect at Disney.



It was nice to know that during the party every guest had the opportunity to have a photo with the special guest, Christmas Goofy. He moved from table to table and I will say that it was very organized and well done.



About fifteen minutes before show time you are then escorted to a special viewing area. Although you had blue lights held by the guides it was still difficult to manage your way through the crowds. Make sure you keep your family together and follow those blue lights closely or you will easily get lost. Wheelchair and ECV guests will have a separate section for them but everyone will have space to watch this show. The best spots will be as close to the center viewing of the theater as there are trees on either side that can and will block some of the show once it begins.


The show is cute and worth a visit to watch. Many familiar Disney characters take a part in finding and rescuing Santa for the holiday season. The projections were fairly clear and fireworks are added throughout the show making it even better. Of course what Disney show can end without spectacular fireworks and this show does not disappoint you. Have your cameras ready as you have some awesome shots of the finale.



The cost for the Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam Dessert party is $69 for adults and $39 for children 3-9 until December 17 and from December 18-31 it is $79 for adults and $45 for children.

I enjoyed my evening but not sure I can honestly say it is worth the cost. Guests can find a good spot out front to watch the show without the dessert party during most evenings. The party does give you a chance to enjoy some sweets and drinks and a secured spot for viewing but the price is high if you are not that interested in drinking or eating that evening. Children usually don't eat that much and with a very limited seating area I observed many young ones just sitting on the ground and a bit bored. Each family would have to determine the worth for their family for this evening event.

November 20, 2016

Change has been the name of the game at Walt Disney World


Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom has seen many changes over the years. The most recent was the placement of a Starbucks on the site of the bakery. [Walt Disney World]

Walt Disney World has been compared to a living, breathing entity, in the sense that it is always growing, always changing.

During a recent visit to the Magic Kingdom, my son Gregg, grandson Ryan and I paid a visit to The Hall of Presidents, where we saw and heard evidence of that metamorphosis.

To begin with, since it first swung open its doors in 1971, The Hall of Presidents has added seven presidents to its collection, with an eighth due to join the crew this January.

During the pre-show, we were reminded that there was no eating, drinking or smoking and that flash photography was not permitted to protect the dignity of the presentation. Then the cast member added that cell phones should be switched off.

It got me to thinking. Who, in 1971, would ever have thought that guests would have the ability to carry portable, lightweight cellular devices with the capability of making phone calls, sending electronic messages or even taking photos?

And who would have thought that just around the corner from The Hall of Presidents that you could take your devices to a designated area where you could plug them in to recharge them?

Yes, a lot has changed in the 45 years since Walt Disney World opened. Here are a few that come to mind:

Perhaps the place that's most representative of change in Walt Disney World is Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. Although the storefronts look pretty much the same as they did 45 years ago, what's being offered for sale today is vastly different from what was available back in the day.

Parades along Main Street have become more elaborate over the years. Here, Mickey leads the gang in 1972. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

For instance, the Main Street lineup of shops in 1971 included a Tobacconist, a Card Shop, the Wonderland of Wax Candle Shop, the Greenhouse Flower Shop, the Cup 'n Saucer China Shop and a Camera Center. Most of the stores were sponsored by corporations, such as GAF, Smuckers, Elgin and Hallmark. Over the years, most of those shops along Main Street evolved into Disney merchandise-exclusive outlets, although the opening of the Starbucks in the Main Street Bakery suggests that we might be headed back to the days of corporate sponsorship.

Still-photo cameras and video recorders also are emblematic of the changes that have swept over WDW over the years. Remember the days when you needed to make sure you had enough film in your camera? Or whether you wanted black-and-white or color prints? GAF was the official camera sponsor for WDW back in the 1970s and they offered four pages of photo tips in the park's information guide.

And, if you were like me, remember lugging those gigantic video cassette recorders on your shoulder? Yes, over the years, I did film some very memorable scenes, but with the demise of the VCR player, those cassettes are but a distant memory. And now, all of you memories can be recorded on a single, hand-held device.

Over the years, the proliferation of strollers and wheelchairs in the parks has been astounding. In fact, single and multi-seat strollers, as well as standard and electric wheelchairs became so plentiful, that designated parking areas are now the norm, with Disney cast members assigned to make sure those spots are kept orderly.

Cinderella Castle has evolved from a beloved icon into a veritable artist's palate, with colorful projections now the nightly norm. [Walt Disney World]

Cinderella Castle, always a beloved, iconic and stately structure, has evolved into a veritable artist's palate over the years, with the transformation never more evident than during the holidays. It's during this time of year in particular when Disney's creativity truly shines as the castle magically transforms into an ice palace, shimmering and glistening during the evening hours. And with the flip of a switch, projections of all shapes, sizes and colors are splashed onto the castle's front, giving guests a truly jaw-dropping experience.

Disney character appearances also have evolved over the years. When the park opened, the characters roamed freely, sidling up to guests almost out of the blue. And they were a pretty diverse cast: Giuseppi Cat, Br'er Bear and Jose Carioca joined the likes of Minnie [dressed in yellow], Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy walking among guests. These days, of course, the characters are kept in a more controlled environment, often indoors at meet-and-greets or at breakfasts/dinners. And the popularity of the Disney princesses has increased the stable of characters exponentially.

The characters have always participated in parades down Main Street, but today's parades are light years ahead of where they were during the park's first few years. Where once there were just marching bands and a few characters dancing their way down the street, there are now elaborate and colorful floats, some with fire-breathing dragons, with scores of heroes, villains, princes and princesses along for the ride.

Bollards have sprung up throughout the Walt Disney World property following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Security also has evolved over the years, with the biggest uptick coming after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Prior to 9/11, who among us had ever heard of a bollard. You know, those large poles that are strategically placed in front of entrances to prevent vehicles from going into places where they shouldn't. Post-9/11, they started popping up just about everywhere ... at parks, resorts, shopping areas. We even saw a string of them going from the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon right up to the monorail station at the Ticket and Transportation Center.

And then there are bag checks as you enter the parks. Gone are the days of walking into the parks carrying just about anything, either innocent or untoward. The men and women who sort through your bags are generally pleasant and professional, but the process is time-consuming and the lines are almost as long as they are for an attraction. As an added measure of security, some guests are now pulled over at random to go through an airport-type screening.

As it turns out, what we've mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way WDW has changed over the years. In no particular order, we noted the emergence of the Disney Vacation Club [now in its 25th year]; the proliferation of on-property resorts; an entire network of bus transportation to and from those resorts to the parks; "special ticketed events" so popular during the holidays; the expansion of the hub area in front of the castle ... the list goes on.

Lastly, we have noticed an increase in the amount of service animals that accompany guests in the parks. They are so popular, that Disney has designated special areas in the parks for the animals to go to relieve themselves.

And we're not just talking dogs, either. Recently, while checking out all the aquatic life in The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion in Epcot, we came upon a group of three women, each with a service animal. There were two dogs ... and a pony. That's right. A pony. The times really are a changin'.

November 13, 2016

Chess Men at the Haunted Mansion

Gary Cruise banner

Here’s another little tidbit of Disney lore that Carol and I were told by a cast member during a behind the scenes tour . . . it explains those odd objects on the roof of the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The story the guide told us began in California back in the late 1960’s. Disney had just purchased the land needed for “The Florida Project” and all hands in the Imagineering Department were busy designing attractions for the new park.

Imagineer Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, was not only a gifted artist; he was also a skilled draftsman. He had designed the Haunted Mansion which opened to rave reviews at Disneyland in August 1969. It was only logical that he design another version, adapted to the geography and climate of central Florida.

So in the late 1960’s Davis was hard at work generating sketch after sketch of the Florida mansion. Before long he was drafting specific plans and had a number of small scale models built to test his plans and experiment with materials, textures and color schemes.

Marc Davis was also an avid chess player and always had a chess board set up in his office. He would often use the chess board to clear his mind during stressful times, playing a game against himself or replaying a classic game played by a chess master.

Often, while Davis and some of his fellow Imagineers were out having lunch an unknown prankster would sneak into his office, pick up a few of the chess men and put them on the model of the Haunted Mansion. A pawn on the corner of a gable, a rook on a chimney, etc. Of course, Marc had a keen memory and was able to put every piece back into the proper place on the board. A few days later the pieces would migrate back to the model during lunch . . . it happened again and again! And Marc Davis always put them back in place on the chess board.

After many months of work the design was nearing completion, the process was almost complete. But Davis couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing . . . something was wrong.

Rather than go back to the drawing board, he went back to the chess board. He put some chess men back in the places where the prankster had left them, switched them around a few times and soon found the perfect look. His work was done!

Haunted Mansion Chess Men
Click on the image to see a larger version

I snapped the picture above in November 2013. Can you spot the chess men? You should see Pawns, Bishops, Rooks and Queens.

November 7, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler



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® newsletter, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also 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!

James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

We received 48 correct responses; all of you knew that historically the Disneyland Resort has closed on only several special occasions. The first occurred in November 1963 following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The second closure occurred following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.

The winner of a Mickey pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Brent B. of Bellevue, NE.

If you missed it last month, that’s OK, because here’s another chance.

This month we continue with the special crossword puzzle series, concentrating on Disney History. The subject of this month’s puzzle will be “This Month in Disney History, October.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of October. Please note, for this puzzle ALL of the clues are used.

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on November 29, 2016. 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 late September.

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


November 6, 2016

Changes at Ft. Wilderness

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin


This past summer Fort Wilderness went through a huge change when they took a popular cabin loop and turned it into a camping loop. Many guests were disappointed as they watched "their" cabins disappear from the Fort. For many weeks you could actually see some of them sitting on the old landing strip on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

Work began to make new sites for RV camping. Concrete pads were built and electrical and water connections were put together for each site. I think everyone had thought that these new sites would be premium sites meaning long pads, high quality picnic tables, and all the other amenities of premium sites. The 2100 loop finally opened late summer and it was a surprise to see that it is now an added Full Hook-up loop and not Premium.

The pads are different from the other four Full loops, 1600-1900. The new pads have short concrete pads with a very small amount of sand pad in front of them. They have instead added a larger area of sand pad to the side and its just big enough for the picnic table. The loop itself is a very pretty loop with many large trees and some sites backing up to a drainage stream. The pads and area are very level and most sites appear to have easy access for backing into them.

There is an old comfort station located in the middle of the loop but at this time it is not available. Thus, two loops will now use the comfort station located next to the 1100 Loop.

Check out the pictures showing the different configuration of the pads.

These are the older pads in the 1600-1900 loops.


These are the pads in the new 2100 camping loop. The 2100 loop will be a quieter area but the pads might not best meet your needs with your longer RV.


Fort Wilderness is looking good these days. Lots of trimming and sprucing up the area has taken place. All cabins have been refurbished and are beautiful and include big screen TV's and queen beds. You can often catch a sight of the many turkey and deer who also call this resort their home making it a very special place to stay.

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