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May 2011 Archives

May 1, 2011

Star Tours: Florida Sneak Peek Event

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In early April, Disney launched the official Star Tours Facebook page and announced that they would be doing a Florida Sneak Peek event at four Florida malls. On April 30, the event came to a mall near me. When we heard about it, my friends and I knew we had to go check it out. The three of us are huge Star Wars fans and Star Tours has always held a special place in our hearts.

We got there a little bit early so we lined up to meet Jedi Mickey:

Jedi Mickey line

They were showing some new (at least, new to me) footage of the Pod Race scene for Tatooine:

Pod Race

Bree Starliner, the Chief Holocommunications Officer for Star Tours, came out at 10AM on the dot to welcome everyone to the event and to encourage them to get their to all of these exciting destinations booked.

Jedi Mickey's backdrop was very cool:

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One Cast Member used guests' cameras to take pictures of them with Jedi Mickey. Another Cast Member had a camera that he/she used to take a picture of the guests and Jedi Mickey. We were given a card similar to a PhotoPass to claim the photos the Cast Member had taken online.

Jedi Mickey

Disney has launched a mobile website for Star Tours 2 (some signs are now calling it "Star Tours 3D"). You can either scan the barcode on the sign or you can go to startoursmobile.com on your cell phone.

Mobile website

After meeting Jedi Mickey, each guest was given a pair of Star Tours Mickey ears. My friends and I were very excited about these.

Mickey ears

Front of ears

Back of ears

Around the corner, there was a green screen for guests to pose against. A Cast Member took your photo(s) and they were added to your photo card. You can claim these pictures online and add borders similar to the ones pictured on this sign:

Destinations

After that, we were given a copy of the picture of us with Jedi Mickey and it had a very nice folder. We weren't expecting it so it was a very nice surprise and great touch.

Photo station

C-3PO and R2-D2 were also greeting guests. Their backdrop was the hangar for the Starspeeder 1000:

Hangar

C-3PO and R2-D2

We wandered around the area for a few minutes while we were waiting on Minnie Leia to greet guests. We found this neat sign:

Sign

Bree Starliner came back out to say hello.

Bree Starliner

Minnie Leia posed for pictures:

Minnie Leia

We had a really good time at this event. We had expected a larger crowd so we were pleasantly surprised it wasn't too crowded. The Cast Members were all very excited about not only the event but Star Tours reopening. I am SO excited for Star Tours to reopen on May 20!

May the Force be with you!


May 12, 2011

Indiana Jones Cairo Dinner Show

by John Bowers
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger
(additional photos by Sandi Lamborne)

Tables in Wonderland hosted the Cairo Dinner Show at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular theater at the Hollywood Studios on Saturday, April 30, 2011. The event lasted from 7:30 until about 9:30 p.m., and the weather was perfect. It had been unseasonably hot here in Orlando for a few days, but it cooled off somewhat and was ideal.


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We were welcomed right inside the entrance with a table full of screwdrivers and boxes of popcorn. Everyone got a name tag with the name of their dinner table. The dinner tables were named
for major world cities.

For 'Scene One' of the evening, the casting director selected about a dozen people from the crowd and led them through various (somewhat embarrassing) 'acting' roles. Screaming with fear, slowly dying from a gunshot, similar to what the show does for regular audiences. Always funny for the crowd. And you can usually count on a few of the selected 'actors' to be real hams.

They were then led away to get into their costumes while the rest of us got to see part of the action sequence that the attraction is famous for: Indiana Jones narrowly escaping the punji sticks which erupt from the floor and the giant rolling ball which threatens to crush him.

The show's director then introduced the actor who plays Indiana and gave us a couple of fun insights into the performance. The punji sticks are activated when the actor steps on one of a series of small plates on the floor. Each stick has a little square plate right beside it,
not really obvious from where the crowd sits. When Indy steps on a specific plate, the punji stick fires upward, so he knows exactly when and where to jump out of the way.

Then the director told us how many 'tons' the rolling ball weighs, as two guys easily pushed it back uphill behind him.

All those 'volunteers' from the crowd returned in their funny costumes, the rolling ball stage set parted and we were led out onto the floor to find our tables. The tables were all set up at the back
of the stage, in front of the 'houses' that make up the rest of the set.


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We had a DJ who played some theme-appropriate music and it was time to attack the buffet and the bar. The food was quite nice. Cucumber and red onion salad, wild greens, grilled flatbreads, roasted vegetable cous cous, grilled vegetables, braised chicken breast with garlic, cumin, and olives, roasted spiced lamb meatballs (yum), and seafood tagine with scallops, shrimp and crab in saffron charmoula! WOW! Delightful. Beer, wine, mixed drinks, tea, and coffee.

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Fresh Cucumber & Red Onion Salad
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Wild Greens with Cherry Vinaigrette
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Roasted Root Vegetable Cous Cous and Flatbreads
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Grilled Seasonal Vegetables
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Braised Chicken Breast, Garlic, Cumin, Olives.
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Roasted Lamb Meatballs
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Seafood Tagine with Saffron Charmoula
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And dessert! Mocha eclairs, baklava, citrus tarts, and fruit salad with mint yogurt.

As we were finishing our dinner, it was time for the belly dancer. A very lovely lady, not at all shy about making close contact with the most nervous-looking gentlemen in the audience. She was terrific.

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Finally the director let us know that for 'Scene Two' we were all to remain seated, not stand up, and not move around at all. He made it quite clear. Then the cast of the show commenced to staging the big sword/bullwhip fight, the building-climbing-fighting-rope-swinging-ladder-falling scene, and (yes) even the fiery exploding jeep sequence all around us. We were right in the middle of it. It was amazing. When those firebombs hit, you don't want to be too close. It scared the daylights out of quite a few of us.

The cast all came out for us to take pictures with them, and then it was time to leave. It was a beautiful evening weather-wise, perfect for an out-of-doors event.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cairo Dinner Show cost $160 per person, plus tax (gratuity included). Tables in Wonderland hosts a number of special dinners at Walt Disney World throughout the year. For more information about Tables in Wonderland, click HERE.



May 16, 2011

D23's Destination D: Day 1

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The Walt Disney World Destination D event began at the Contemporary Resort on Saturday, May 14 in the Fantasia ballroom(s) in the convention center portion of the resort. When the event was announced, I knew I HAD to go. I've been thinking about it over the last few days and realized I knew more about Disneyland's history than I did Disney World's history so I was excited to hear about it from those who helped create it.

The archives brought an exhibit of items relating to the Magic Kingdom's opening and the Disney World parks.

Archives

Magic Kingdom archives

Archives

We were taken into the ballroom on time and the logo they used for the event was great.

Destination D

The Head of D23, Steven Clark, was on hand to help kick things off.

Steven Clark

Debby Dane Browne, the first Disney World Ambassador, was also on hand to welcome everyone to the event. She also shared some of her memories from working at the preview center and of her work with Disney.

Debby Dane Browne

Becky Cline, Walt Disney Archives Director, and Paul F. Anderson, a Disney historian and who works for The Walt Disney Family Museum, hosted a panel called "Weird Disney: Walt Disney World & Beyond." What a hoot! As they said, Disneyland provided more material but there has certainly been some wacky stuff, both merchandise and advertisements alike, over the years!

Weird Disney

Becky Cline and Paul F. Anderson

The next panel was hosted by Disney Legend and the founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Dave Smith. He showed us a lot of construction photos of Magic Kingdom that I had never seen. He was a real treat to listen to.

Dave Smith

Dave Smith

After the afternoon break, Steven Vagnini, a Disney Archivist, and Paul F. Anderson, a Disney historian, hosted "Epcot: Walt Disney's Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." They talked a lot about Walt Disney's original concept for Epcot- that people would live, work and play there and it be a self-sustaining community. I had never realized the depth of Walt's interest in urban planning. His original vision didn't happen for a number of reasons and they showed us how certain parts of the Epcot vision became reality in other ways in the parks. The transportation system that we enjoy is part of that. The resorts are part of that. Some of the cutting edge attractions are part of it, etc.

Epcot

Steve and Paul

Next was "Past Forward: Walt Disney World on Television." This was hosted by Rob Klein, a Disney Archivist, and Tim O'Day, a Disney author and historian. Oh my gosh... some of the promo materials for Disney World are a scream to look at now.

Rob and Tim

After that panel, Imagineer Tony Baxter and Steve Vagnini presented "The Walt Disney World Resort That Never Was." No photography was allowed at this session. It was absolutely fascinating to see what they had originally planned for Disney World and how, if ever, it came to life. For example, they had planned a very elaborate area called Thunder Mesa that would host Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and a ride similar to Pirates of the Caribbean- only, with cowboys. When they opened Disney World, they found that people wanted Pirates of the Caribbean, not cowboys, so the idea was ultimately scrapped but some of the ideas for the Big Thunder Mountain area are there today.

After the dinner break, there was another presentation. I will 'fess up to the fact that we were just flat out too tired to go. We went back to the resort and went to sleep because Sunday was a big day....

D23's Destination D: Day 2

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Saturday (Day 1) was fabulous at Destination D but Sunday was going to be THE day. The day's scheduled was packed with Disney Legends and the event that was in the evening was... well, you'll see. :)

The morning began with the Walt Disney Ambassador Team saying hello.

Ambassador Team

They helped Steven Clark host a trivia tournament. The prize of the tournament was a place in The Ultimate Disney Trivia Tournament at the D23 Expo in Anaheim in August.

Steven Clark

Trivia

The first panel of the day, Walt Disney World in Detail was hosted by Imagineers Jason Surrell, Alex Wright and Jason Grandt. They spoke of the details (or D-Tails) that can be found in the parks and how they painstakingly make sure that you are immersed in an experience at all times. They were so funny and it was a great way to kick off the day.

Disney Details

They showed Madam Letoa's spell book. They based it on the Book of the Dead. The spell in the middle of the page is from "Blackbeard's Ghost" and it was used to raise Blackbeard. Jason Surrell actually called Dave Smith and asked if he had a copy of the script so that the spelling would be correct on the page.

Madam Leota's spell book

Jason Grandt was spoke about the details in the new Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet (for pictures of the new meet-and-greet, click here). There is a picture of Mickey and Oswald drawn by a child in the meet-and-greet area. It was drawn by Jason when he was six years old. When he told his mom about it, she wondered where it had gone.

Mickey and Oswald

"Imagineering Walt Disney World: From Yesteryear to Tomorrow" was hosted by Eric Jacobson, a Disney Imagineer. The panelists began the presentation speaking about Star Tours. I was very excited! They shared some concept art for the ride.

Imagineering

They also spoke about the Art of Animation Resort. It will have standard rooms as well as suites that sleep 6 instead of 5.

Art of Animation

Then they moved to the Fantasyland expansion. They showed an aerial photo of the site.

Fantasyland

He was interrupted by a bird singing and he told the control guys just to keep going with his presentation. He said that Fantasyland as it is now doesn't have a lot of trees in the area because it is directly over the utilidoor system. The expansion will largely be off the utilidoors so they can add trees and landscaping.

At the end of the presentation, Jose interrupted. Eric said that even though it wasn't Fantasyland, he had an announcement to make. The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) was being transformed into a version similar to the original Tropical Serenade. The new version will be called the Enchanted Tiki Room. The audience loved this news!

Tiki Room

The first presentation of the afternoon was hosted by Marty Sklar and was called "Creating a Whole New 'Disney World'." The panel featured 1971 Disney World Ambassador Debby Dane Browne, Disney Legend Orlando Ferrante, Disney Legal Counsel Bob Foster, Disney Legend Bob Gurr and Disney Legend Ron Logan.

Whole New Disney World

Panel

Panel

Bob Foster is the man who helped Walt Disney buy up the land in central Florida for Disney World. He was fascinating. He talked about going back and forth and the speculation as to who/what company was buying up all this land. They all said that they felt that Walt would be proud of what Disney World has become.

The next panel was full of Disney Legends, too. It was called "Making the Magic Happen" and was hosted by Tim O'Day. This panel featured Disney Legends Jack Lindquist, Bob Matheison, Charlie Ridgway and Bill Sullivan. They spoke of how they purposely almost underplayed Disney World's opening so they didn't have some of the problems they had on opening day at Disneyland. One newspaper speculated they would have 200,000 people on opening day - the number was closer to 10,000. The first traffic jam didn't happen until after Thanksgiving that year. They also spoke of having to walk people into the Magic Kingdom when the original trams couldn't make it up the hill that's near the Contemporary.

Making the Magic Happen

Making the Magic Happen

For Donald Duck's 50th birthday, they wanted to have 50 ducks with him on Main Street. They talked to their wildlife experts and they told the team that Donald would have to bond with the ducks from hatching. So, Donald went over and spent time with the ducks and this picture was taken with Donald and the ducks on his 50th birthday.

Donald

At the end of the panel, the guests of Marty Sklar's panel came out to join everyone on stage and posed for photos.

Disney Legends

After dinner, there was a concert called "Magic Journeys." That is such an appropriate title for everything they had in store for that event.

Magic Journeys

This gentleman was the original performer on the Empress Lilly. He was very funny and talented.

Empress Lilly

The Kids of the Kingdom were on hand to sing for us.

Kids of the Kingdom

The original Magic Kingdom Philarmonic band performed next. I can't even begin to describe to you how amazing this was. They started at the back of the ballroom and marched to the front. The crowd LOVED this.

Magic Kingdom Philarmonic

Magic Kingdom Philarmonic

Tim O'Day was the host for the portion of the evening with Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman. This promised to be an unforgettable experience... and it is truly unforgettable. I will be telling my kids and grandkids (and anyone else who might listen) about this evening for YEARS to come. It was a very emotional evening. I really can't put it into words but it was one of the most incredible events I've ever been a part of.

Tim O'Day

Richard M. Sherman

Richard M. Sherman

"Tuppence" was one of Walt Disney's favorite songs that the Sherman Brothers wrote. At the dedication of the Partners statue at Disneyland on Walt's 100th birthday, Richard Sherman performed this song. In the middle of the song, a single black bird flew over and sat on the piano. The bird flew off when he finished the last note of the song. He, and a lot of the other Legends, have felt that this was Walt coming by to say hello and thanks.

Richard Sherman

The Enchanted Tiki Room's song was brought up. Richard said that he and his brother, Robert, were asked to go see this tiki room that Walt had created. They asked Walt, "What is this?!" Walt told them he wanted them to write him a song that explained what it all was... and they did. A similar thing happened with "it's a small world."

Tiki Room

The Dreamfinder came out to say hello. The audience went wild! He requested that Richard Sherman sing "One Spark" and helped lead the audience in a sing-along.

Dreamfinder

Dreamfinder

Next, "Golden Dreams" was sung. The two who sang it started out in the the Kids of the Kingdom. They both, along with the pianist, have had wonderful careers.

Golden Dreams

Next, the Cast choir (Encore!) and Cast band performed. They were wonderful.

Encore!

At the end, everyone came back out on stage.

Stage

This was such an unforgettable, amazing and every other 'amazing' adjective you can think of weekend. I just really can't put into words how much I enjoyed the whole Destination D event and what it means to me to be able to have heard these wonderful, talented people speak.

I'd like to say a HUGE thank you to the D23 team for hosting this event. Many, many thanks to the Cast Members at the Contemporary who took such great care of us all weekend.

May 17, 2011

Star Tours Soft Opening

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On Monday, May 16, I was lucky enough to be at Studios while they were testing, or soft opening, Star Tours. This was huge for me. I loved the original attraction and it's among some of my first Disney memories.

I won't spoil anything but I'll provide some generic details.

The new signs look fantastic.

Signs

Sign

The attraction poster looked great from the queue.

Attraction poster

The safety sign remains much the same.

Safety sign

Inside the attraction, there was a very strict no photography policy until the attraction officially opens.

The "hot set" theme of Star Tours is gone. From the moment you enter the attraction, you're in Star Tours' port, ready to begin your travels to any of their destinations. If you haven't already chosen a destination, there is an arrival and departure guide to help you. Additional information is shown on this screen as well. The layout of the inside is largely the same. Only, now, it's the new Starspeeder 1000 is waiting for you. C-3PO has been polished until he absolutely shines.

When you turn the corner, you enter Star Tours security. You are "scanned" and a droid shows the contents of "someone's" luggage. Be sure to watch the screen. You never know what you'll see. To the left are some droids. Look closely and you should spot some very familiar faces.

Once you get up the ramp, you're into the boarding area. The gates are now A-F instead of 1-6. You are directed to a gate and asked to pick up a pair of 3D glasses. The glasses are very nice looking (they are black and resemble eye glasses) and very comfortable to wear. They are not like the PhilharMagic or Toy Story Midway Mania 3D glasses at all.

You're still sorted into rows much like the original Star Tours. The new pre-boarding loading video has several humorous moments so be sure to watch it.

The ride itself is very smooth. The graphics are top-notch and crystal clear. The effects, like going into hyperspace and such, felt more realistic but it didn't throw you around as much as the original Star Tours did. The 3D is incredibly realistic and not at all hokey. The 3D effects are used to show depth more than to have things randomly pop out at you. That's not to say, however, that there may not be a few things that pop...

The new Star Tours is a randomized experience. There are 54 possible combinations of the beginning, first destination, middle and end. At the Destination D event, they told us that you would have to ride for six continuous hours in order to experience them all.

We were able to ride Star Tours a total of 5 times in a row. The first three times were essentially walk-ons. FastPasses were being distributed since it was a full test.

FastPasses

Since the ride does not officially open until May 20, testing can be stopped at any time.

Testing sign

To sum up how I felt about the new Star Tours: WOW!!!!!! I went into the ride for the first time with no expectations and just... WOW!!! Every time we rode, our speeder clapped and cheered at the end. Disney and Lucasfilm should be very, very proud of this ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when you get to experience it.

Keep an eye on AllEars on and around May 20 for more Star Tours coverage. :)

May the Force be with you!

May 18, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next May 11-16, 2011

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Wednesday, May 11

We checked in at our resort a day before the D23 events began so that we could get settled at the resort and eat at a couple of our favorite places. We spent the morning at Epcot.

The renovations in Mouse Gear are finished. When you walk in, at least at the Test Track entrance, there is a sign that shows you the layout of the store.

Mouse Gear map

There are signs overhead like this one that will direct you to the different sections.

Sign

They have some fitting rooms available if you want to try something on.

Fitting Room

They have a nice jewelry and watch section. There is a small selection of the Dooney + Bourke bags there, too.

Jewelry and watch

At the World Showcase entrance, Tow Mater has joined Lightning McQueen.

Tow Mater

The flags are still up behind Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater.

Flags

Flags

Since our room was ready after lunch, we headed back and went through the Magic Kingdom gate. The far right lane, usually used for buses is being worked on so that lane and the second-to-right lane are blocked off. Buses are going through the third-to-last right lane. It made getting over to go to our resort a tad hairy. Please use caution going through that area if you're going to any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts until they are finished!

Buses

Thursday, May 12

When we registered for D23's Great Disney Scavenger Hunt, we were told which park we would begin with. We were assigned Epcot. There was a a check-in table near Guest Relations outside the main gates.

Check-in

We liked these posters at the ticket booths.

Ticket booth poster

There was some work going on at this Innoventions area.

Innoventions

There was some work going on in the back of the China pavilion.

China

We had four hours to complete the hunt at Epcot. When we were done, we went back to the resort to regroup and to take the bus to Magic Kingdom.

The Wilderness Lodge bus stop refurbishment is complete.

Wilderness Lodge bus stop

We grabbed a quick dinner before we started the Magic Kingdom portion of our day.

The Confectionery is still partially under scrims.

Confectionery

The area next to City Hall still has Mr. And Mrs. Easter Bunny's backdrop up.

Backdrop

The Carousel of Progress' sign is being worked on.

Carousel of Progress sign

There were some walls up near the Lunching Pad.

Walls

There's been a lot of progress on this building (I had previously called it a 'wall' because that's what it looked like). There were several construction machines running behind the wall.

Storybook Land building

They have added more trees so it's harder to see over the walls in Fantasyland.

Trees

Fantasyland expansion

Fantasyland Expansion

The walls around the back of the castle were down.

Castle

There were walls around Cinderella Fountain.

Fountain

There were walls up around the dock to the Liberty Belle. The Liberty Belle IS running - go around to the right side of the walls to wait/board.

Liberty Belle

At bus station A at Magic Kingdom, stop number 3 is behind walls (the picture is very blurry... sorry!) so it's hard to see Wilderness Lodge's stop behind the walls but it is there. At the stop, we saw some work going on at the end of station B's line.

Bus work

When we left Wilderness Lodge, we thought something looked different near the store but couldn't figure out what. When we came back, we looked over to say hi to the PhotoPass Cast Members who were always there... only they weren't there because the PhotoPass desk has been taken out!

PhotoPass

Friday, May 13

We began Day 2 of the Great Disney Scavenger Hunt at Animal Kingdom. We were told a lot of people had the same idea because Animal Kingdom doesn't offer much shade in the afternoons and it was kind of, er, hot!

Animal Kingdom's questions had us running all over the park and the only thing that really caught my eye as new/changing was the fact that Primeval Whirl had walls around it.

Primeval Whirl

In all honesty, it was so crowded at Animal Kingdom that I couldn't easily take pictures (it was wall-to-wall people in some places) and we were under such a time crunch- we had 3 hours to complete Animal Kingdom and the book had us running back and forth- so I was looking around but I wasn't *looking* around. I'll be back there soon, though.

Studios was our fourth and final park and, honestly, our favorite for the scavenger hunt. I was able to take more pictures as we walked around.

There was a sign at Guest Relations outside the park letting you know that you could purchase tickets at the ticket booths as well.

Sign

The stage has been set up in front of the hat.

Stage

The walls around what will become the new Winnie the Pooh meet-and-greet had some cute decorations.

Pooh

There were some walls in the Magic of Animation queue.

Queue

There were some walls on Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset Boulevard

All of the scaffolding was down on Tower of Terror.

Tower of Terror

There was a 'Cars 2' poster up near Pixar Place and I don't recall seeing this face painting station before.

Poster

The walls are decorated around the delayed Phineas and Ferb meet-and-greet.

Phineas and Ferb

All of the new signs were up at Star Tours (yay!!!!!).

Star Tours

Star Tours

The Jedi Training Academy Stage looked refreshed and the new attraction poster was up.

Jedi Academy Stage

Star Tours sign

Saturday, May 14

The Destination D event began. Day 1 was a lot of fun and I saw a lot of footage that I had never seen before. I've seen tons of Disneyland footage but not that much from Disney World so that was a great. There were lots of stories and laughs. The archives have a small exhibit and this piece from Minnie's kitchen in ToonTown has been saved for the archives.

Minnie's blender

The only other thing to report from Saturday is it's another day close to when Star Tours reopens!! Can you tell I'm excited about Star Tours? :)

Sunday, May 15

They announced that the Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) will be reshaped to be similar to Tropical Serenade, which opened with Magic Kingdom in 1971. The new version will be called Enchanted Tiki Room.

Monday, May 16

We went over to Studios to have a look around. On Streets of America, these banners were up over the street.

Banners

We saw this "box" around the palm tree.

Palm tree

May 19, 2011

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

by Guest Blogger Al Williamson

The Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend was held the weekend of May 14-15th at EPCOT. I had gotten an email from Pixar earlier in the week and being a huge Disney Pixar fan, and seeing who they had for guest speakers, I quickly signed up. I was able to attend the Sunday afternoon event which was held at Pixar Celebration Central in an area between the Canada and United Kingdom pavilions.

The entrance was laid out with a long red carpet flanked by large murals of the hit Pixar films, which were ordained with artwork and trivia from the individual movies.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

Once you entered the Central building, there were character meet-and-greet sections where visitors could meet with characters like Carl and Buddy from UP, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl from The Incredibles, or Lots-O-Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3. Needless to say, this area had lots of the smaller fans and their parents vying for picture time with their favorite Pixar characters.

Next to this area was a large convention-type room which was set up with around 300 seats. There were several screens with the largest being centered on the main stage next to a small couch and seat for the special guests.


Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

There were four sessions offered that day: Jay Ward - "Cars 101: Inspiration for All the CARacters You Know and Love", Jonas Rivera - "Pixar: Celebrating 25 Years of Animation", Michael Giacchino -"Behind the Music: A Score is Born" and a Roundtable Session with Jay Ward, Jonas Rivera and Shawn Krause, a Pixar animator. Needless to say, I had signed up for all four sessions and made it a point to always tried to find a seat near the front.

Before each session, the attendees were welcomed by a trio of Green Army Men, direct from the Toy Story films, who conducted a Q & A with the audience with Pixar trivia questions and awarded the correct answers with Pixar swag (which was a combination hat that included Mickey ears, Lightning McQueen eyes, Goofy ears and small hat and Tow Mater teeth. As my sister would say, "It was so ugly, it was cute.")

Of course, with the upcoming release of CARS 2, it stood to reason the first guest speaker was Jay Ward, whose official Pixar title is CARS Franchise Guardian. Jay's role with the CARS films was character team manager and car consultant to director John Lassiter. During his presentation, Jay showed the audience images of some of the new characters that will be introduced in CARS 2.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

Because the next film's setting will be a world-wide race, he spoke of some of the challenges the Pixar team faced, such as applying character design to a character car based on a Formula 1 racer. He also spoke about Pixar's attention to detail when trying to mimic the surface found on a car's surface. Jay's presentation really set the tone for the rest of sessions and ended as it began, with yet another CARS 2 trailer.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

The next speaker was Joshua Rivera, producer of Pixar's Academy award winning UP.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

Joshua's talk was on Pixar Studio's 25 years but he also illuminated the audience with stories of the UP production. For instance, the design for the main character, Carl. was based on a square-- which suggested a rigid, immobile persona-- as opposed to his wife Ellie's design, which was based on a circle-- which indicates an open, free-spirit persona and how the balloons (round) lifted the house (square) away from its moorings and off to adventure. He also showed a slide where the Disney archives had loaned Pixar the hand-painted background artwork from Peter Pan for analysis by the Pixar artists for the UP jungle scenes.

Joshua was a real trooper, as he croaked through his talk, his voice raspy from what he claimed was a result of screaming on the Tower of Terror ride the night before. His presentation truly represented the Pixar magic and how the studio continues to produce classics with strong stories and characters that audiences care about-- be they a cranky old man, a plastic toy cowboy or a rusty metal robot.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

I have to admit I was really looking forward to the next speaker, Michael Giacchio, who composed the musical score for one of my all-time favorite Pixar's films, The Incredibles.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

Michael regaled the crowd with his own personal film history, starting with showing one of his own "home made" films made as a adolescent film director to how, as a Disney game producer, he impressed Steven Spielburg with his music score for The Lost Word video game.

This led to gigs with J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) and ultimately garnered the composer a call from Brad Bird, who was working on The Incredibles. This association with Pixar continued with his score of UP, which garnered Michael the Academy Award for Best Musical Score. A highlight was when Michael showed an excerpt from the film with the initial score, then the same clip with the final score. Both versions were good but the final version was indicative of how Michael's music helps elicit the emotions that great films evoke.

Michael also spoke of being a true Disney fan and told how he had called his brother the night before from the very spot they had stood when they visited Disney World back in 1973. (His brother's response was "Do you know what time it is?!") Michael has also scored other films, such as the latest Star Trek, and drew cheers from the audience when he let it slip there will be another Star Trek film. Maybe I'm showing my bias but his session was, by far, the best!

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

The final session was a discussion that had Jay Ward and Joshua Rivera joined by Pixar animator, Shawn Krause.

Pixar 25th Anniversary Weekend at Epcot

Shawn has worked on almost all the Pixar feature films and was supervising animator for the UP feature. Their discussion, prompted by supplemental questions that were texted in from the audience, ranged from how technology has changed their work (such as how much different it was animating the characters for Toy Story compared to Toy Story 3 ) to what makes Pixar such great place to work (it's the people.)

While Shawn and Jay were enthusiastic about their love of working at Pixar, poor Joshua could only croak his way through some of the responses. But you have to give the guy credit-- he just couldn't let the audience down-- and gave it his best. He even took a picture of the audience from the stage. They ended their discussion answering "What's the best thing about working at Pixar?" (Joshua says it's the cereal-- but there's not enough space for that story) and the evening wrapped with the guys receiving a standing ovation. And then, a final glimpse at the CARS 2 trailer. You gotta love Disney marketing.

All in all, it was truly a wonderful afternoon of sessions. I'm so thankful that Disney and Pixar took the time and effort to put on such an event for Disney World. Many times, I get the feeling that many Disney events happen in California because, naturally, of proximity. Its nice that every once and awhile, Disney World gets them too. Especially when it includes Pixar.

May 21, 2011

D23's Great Disney Scavenger Hunt

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Before the Destination D event began on May 14, D23 hosted the Great Disney Scavenger Hunt. We had never participated in any of the scavenger hunts so we didn't know what to expect. We were assigned a park to start at. Ours was Epcot. After the first park, we could go to any of the other three that we chose to.

At Epcot, you had four hours to complete the hunt. At the other parks, you had three hours.

Check-in was outside the turnstiles near Guest Relations. They checked our name off (we were Team Goof Troop) and gave us our badges before the official start time at 10 AM.

Line

Badge

Sign

Check in

The worst part of the hunt was getting organized and figuring out a plan of action. The clues were all over the parks and it was interesting to see the details that they had picked out for us to find.

For example, on this sign, we had to identify the third letter of the fourth word (or something like that) and several others to create another word to unscramble. We would end up with CPTAEOINA and unscrambled, that would be Captain EO.

Sign

All of the questions weren't that difficult. There were some like "How many sea turtles are on the mural at The Seas?" There were varying levels of difficulty.

At the train station at Magic Kingdom, we were directed to look at the box of pins in the railroad station. There was one railroad that was represented twice.

Train

The guidebooks were a good size and actually quite cute.

Booklet

The results were announced at the Contemporary at 8:30 Friday evening. We could also register for the Destination D event that evening.

Destination D registration

They announced the top 20 teams. Tigger was on hand to help. The grand prize was a cruise on the Fantasy, the upcoming boat for Disney Cruise Line.

Registration

We had a really good time on the hunt, despite the heat and the crowds. However, it was HOT!!!! We would love to do this again... just maybe not in May. :) We learned a lot about the parks and saw a lot of things we had never seen before. All in all, it really was fun.

May 22, 2011

Star Wars Weekends 2011

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Star Wars Weekends (SWW) began in 1997. However, the SWW did not become a regular, annual event until 2003. Since then, each year has had exclusive merchandise and a logo, a motorcade and other events. The Weekends feature celebrity guests who are on hand to sign autographs (FastPasses are a MUST if you want an autograph... more on this later), participate in a motorcade and be part of an interview session. Since the Clone Wars series started, there is now a Behind the Force show where the voice talents of the Clone Wars discuss the show and demonstrate how the scenes are acted out.

This year for SWW, Jedi Training Academy is performed much more often during the day. Numerous shows have been added to the schedule.

SWW 2011 began on Friday, May 20. Most of my day was spent on the Star Tours events on the 20th. I caught the opening ceremony (see Deb Koma's pictures here), rode Star Tours a few times (it's just as awesome the 20th time as it is/was the first) and a few other things and then the heat ran me out of the park. The event got started much later in the day because of the opening ceremony and by the time everything was underway, I was done for the day.

On Saturday the 21st, I got to the Studios just before park opening. There is an information booth set up just inside the main gate.

Info booth

The stage was still set up for use for the Hyperspace Hoopla each evening during SWW.

Stage

There was a sign near the tip board pointing the way to the SWW store, appropriately called Jabba's Hutt.

Sign for store

To get to the store, go to the Rock 'N Roller Coaster courtyard and keep right. There is a gate open and the store is behind that gate. You'll have a fantastic view of Tower of Terror and the store is in the big white tent. It's very spacious and air conditioned. As of 8 AM Saturday, the only thing that was sold out was the opening day Star Tours pin.

Store

Artist signing
Artist Signing Station

Store

Star Tours shirts
Star Tours shirts

Luke and Leia
Luke and/or Leia meet-and-greet

Photo station
Photo station

Maquette
Maquettes

Maquette
Maquettes

Boxed pin set
Unframed, boxed pin set. This has the completer pin in it.

Pin set
Framed pin set

Jumbo pin
Jumbo pin.

Travel poster pin set
Travel poster pin set

Star Tours opening day shirt
Star Tours opening day t-shirt

Stitch
Stitch as Yoda

Mimbots
Star Wars Mimbots

Poster card
Silver poster card

Lights Box
Olszewski Gallery of Lights Box - Star Wars Mickey and Donald

Watches
Watches

Paper art
Paper art poster

Passholder shirt
Passholder t-shirt

Since the store is called Jabba's Hutt, it is only fitting that Salacious Crumb and Boba Fett keep watch over things.

Salacious Crumb

Boba

Outside the store, this stand has been set up.

Stand

We loved this kid's costume.

Costume

Banners were set up around the Star Tours area.

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Banners

Banners

Directional signs were out around the park to show guests where they could meet their favorite characters.

Direction signs

Sign

Sign

Queen Amidala's backdrop was lovely.

Queen Amidala

FastPasses are currently being distributed outside the main gate. When you approach the main gate, look to the right, near the big sign (it currently has the Star Tours logo on it). The queues begin in that area. All theme park tickets are being scanned prior to a FastPass being handed to the guest. They are also handing out wristbands with the FastPasses. You *cannot* receive an autograph without a wristband AND a FastPass. Each member of your party must be present to receive the wristband and FastPass.

Anthony Daniels' autograph station is inside Sounds Dangerous. Only the FastPass holder is permitted inside. The Cast Members inside will use your camera to take a photo of you and Anthony.

Anthony Daniels

Sunshades were up on Streets of America and a queue was in place for Star Tours if they needed it. The queue also extended to the San Francisco portion of the street. The sunshades were very effective. They used this queue on Friday but I don't know if they did on Saturday.

Sunshades

The rest of the autograph stations are at the Lights, Motors Action! end of Streets of America. Daniel Logan was very popular.

Daniel Logan

Daniel Logan

James Arnold Taylor is very friendly.

James Arnold Taylor

Just around the corner, near San Francisco, Anakin was greeting guests. Jedi Masters Mace Windu, Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto also greet guests at this location.

Anakin

My friends and I caught the Behind the Force show. Host James Arnold Taylor introduced Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano). She spoke to Supervising Director Dave Filoni about his work on the Clone Wars. They went through how a scene is created and did a voice demonstration. They also selected someone from the audience to try it out.

Behind the Force

James Arnold Taylor

James and Ashley

Ashley and Dave

Scene

Asajj Ventress and other Clone Wars characters were greeting guests near the Premier Theater.

Ventress

The Legends of the Force Motorcade is now happening at 12:40 PM. We were able to catch it near the beginning of the parade route.

Mickey

501st stormtroopers

Rebel Legion

Chewbacca

R2-D2

Daniel Logan
Daniel Logan

Anthony Daniels
Anthony Daniels

Dave Filoni
Dave Filoni

Ahsoka

Ashley Eckstein
Ashley Eckstein

bounty hunters

James Arnold Taylor
James Arnold Taylor

Darth Vader

The motorcade stopped at the hat and the characters and celebrities took the stage.

Stage

Boba Fett was greeting guests on Pixar Place when I went by.

Boba Fett

Darth Vader was greeting guests near Studio Catering Company.

Darth Vader

The booth was set up for Dave Filoni when we went by and we noticed this sign for the Disney Racers.

Racers

We saw the Stars of the Saga show at 3:15. Note that the schedule says 3:15 but the celebrities don't take the stage until 3:30.

Stage

The stormtroopers do a 15 minute pre-show. Their dialog was updated to include Star Tours. They were amusing, as always. This trooper and his Mickey ice cream bar was a crowd favorite.

Mickey bar

Stormtrooper

The troopers had captured Chewbacca. Hopefully they know now that it's always wise to let the Wookiee win. :)

Chewie

Host James Arnold Taylor introduced and interviewed the two guests, Daniel Logan and Anthony Daniels.

James

Daniel

Daniel

Anthony

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Unfortunately, the heat had gotten to me after Stars of the Saga and I didn't stay for Anthony Daniels' show or James Arnold Taylor's show. I hear that James Arnold Taylor's show is fantastic.

SWW is better than ever this year. I had a great time, especially because I was with family and friends.

May the Force be with you!

BOOK REVIEW: " From Screen to Theme " by Brent Dodge

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From Screen to Theme:
A Guide to Disney Animated Film References
Found Throughout the Walt Disney World Resort by Brent Dodge
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Are you the type of person who searches for references to your favorite Disney films when you visit Walt Disney World? Do you wonder where you can find your favorite (and sometimes obscure) characters from those films (J. Worthington Foulfellow*, anyone?) for a Character Meet and Greet? Do you wonder if you can find Flick anywhere in the World other than in the "it's tough to be a bug" attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom?** If so, this may be the perfect book for you!

Author Brent Dodge's volume covering references to animated Disney films throughout Walt Disney World is fun to read, well-organized and very thorough. Dodge starts with a note about which films are and are not included in the book (only animated films, and only those films for which he believes that the references will be more than fleeting) and how to easily navigate the pages to find the references to your favorite films. The films are listed in date order; that is in order of the dates on which they were released in theatres. The index at the back of the book has listing for both the films and characters, so it is very easy to find all of the references for say "The Aristocats," or for those specifically for Marie.

The section for each film includes the title of the film, the date of the film's release, an enlightening and concise description of "The Film in Three Paragraphs," references in each park, references found in Downtown Disney, and references found in the resorts. References range from the more obvious (Peter Pan's Flight is, in fact, based on the movie "Peter Pan") to the more difficult to spot ("If you enter Disney's Days of Christmas [in Downtown Disney] through the first door on your left hand side while coming from the Marketplace bus stop, you can find the fairies from "The Nutcracker Suite" ["Fantasia"] on the ceiling).

Dodge also includes a variety of "Fun Facts" for some of the films, including film references that can be found in other Disney parks around the world and other interesting tidbits. For instance, in the section on "The Three Caballeros," which takes center stage in the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros in Epcot's Mexico Pavilion, Dodge notes that: "Even though the Three Caballeros attraction is in Mexico, Panchito is the only Mexican among the three. Jose [Carioca] is Brazilian and Donald [Duck] is American." I did not know that!

The book also points to some areas where Disney had some rather confusing and/or mixed film references, but has since moved to make them more consistent. In Cinderella Castle: "Before 1997, Cinderella's Royal Table was actually called King Stefan's Banquet Hall. King Stefan is actually the father of Princess Aurora, or as most know her, Sleeping Beauty."

Here are the things that I liked about the book:

• It was very well-organized. It is easy to find the references for particular films or characters.

• The directions for finding the references seem to be very easy to follow. [I have not actually had the chance to field test this book, however.]

• It appears that the references for each of the listed films are exhaustive. Dodge does ask readers to update him if they find references that he has either missed or that have been added since the publication of the book, and his website, www.fromscreentotheme.com, has a section for updates.

• The "Film in Three Paragraphs" inclusions are particularly useful for remembering the specifics of the films, and helping the reader to decide which of the films' characters they are most interested in finding.

• The "Fun Facts" add color and an additional level of interest to the entries.

This book is definitely for: Those who are looking for all of the references to their favorite animated films and their characters in Walt Disney World, and who like their guidebooks to be peppered with interesting factoids. I will definitely take this book with me on my next trip to the World so that I can make sure that I spot J. Worthington Foulfellow (now that I know what his name is!) as my family and I tour the parks.

This book may not be for: Those who are not interested in finding the more obscure references to Disney animated films in the parks.

Dodge has indicated that he is working on a similar book with references to Disney live-action films. I will definitely buy this one once it is available. Brent?

* J. Worthington Foulfellow is the sneaky fox, who with his cat friend, Gideon, leads Pinocchio astray by convincing him to join up with the evil Stromboli ("An Actor's Life for Me") and later to venture to Pleasure Island, where Pinocchio and the other boys there are turned into donkeys by the equally evil Lampwick. I have to admit that I did not know this character's name before reading this book!

**Observant guests can catch references to Flick in several places in the Magic of Disney Imagination attraction in Disney's Hollywood Studios, or may catch him at a Character Meet and Greet on the Discovery Island Trails at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Purchase the book via the AllEars Amazon Store!

DISCLOSURE: AllEars® received a complimentary review copy of the book. This did not influence the review in any way. Alice McNutt Miller is an independent reviewer and guest blogger for AllEars®.

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 ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

May 23, 2011

Star Wars Weekends: James Arnold Taylor's One Man Show

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I didn't get to see James Arnold Taylor's one man show at Star Wars Weekends but my friend J.W. did. She was kind enough to write up a review of the show. Here's what she says:

The show starts with your typical announcer voice telling you how great James Arnold Taylor is - then the curtain parts to show James Arnold Taylor doing the voice himself. That really set the tone (laugh out loud funny). There were two screen on either side of the stage in addition to the two mounted on either wall (used for intros in Stars of the Saga, etc). All four screens were used, most notably so "Obi-Wan" could make an appearance from time to time ("Between you and Anakin I don't know why I bother!")

logo

intro

First, he talked about his backstory, including this adorable pic of him as a kid. He also did some radio voices.

kid

This clip was part of his show:

Next, he talked about how his career evolved (commercials, etc) and demonstrated the life of a voice actor (you spend a lot of time in a padded room talking to yourself, etc.) Then he demonstrated the "vocal highway." This video is similar:

He ended on an inspirational message (best part of the show, if you ask me). He explained how, just when his dreams started coming together (he'd landed Obi-Wan, was working on Johnny Test, etc.), he got sick and was told his voice may never return to its full capacity. He explained how faith got him through this and urged everyone present to have faith in THEIR dreams. :)

inspiring

All in all, a GREAT show. I'd highly recommend it!

May 24, 2011

Star Tours Midnight Meetup

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Star Tours closed on September 7, 2010 to be converted to what has affectionately been called Star Tours 2.0, or Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. To celebrate its reopening, Disney hosted a midnight meet up on Friday, May 20 at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The event was announced on May 5 and you had to RSVP via email. There were approximately 500 people invited (250 people + 1 guest apiece). A friend who was in town from Chicago was my guest for the event.

We had to go to Blizzard Beach to park, check-in and take a bus to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Bus

We entered Studios backstage near Star Tours. The red carpet had been rolled out for the evening.

Red carpet

As we made our way to Star Tours, the Hyperspace Hoopla hosts welcomed us to the event and said that Star Tours was now open. I was very excited about being able to ride again... but I was even more excited because we were allowed to take pictures. No photos were allowed during soft openings (click here to read my soft opening report).

The "hot set" theme of Star Tours is gone. You are now in Star Tours' terminal getting ready for your departure to one of their destinations. The first thing you see when you walk in is the Mon Calamari still keeping watch over C-3PO and R2-D2.

Mon Calamari

As your turn the corner, you see the departures and arrivals board. The board is first shown in Aurebesh and then translated to English. Star Tours commercials, weather forecasts and other important Star Tours information is also shown on this board. I was told that this board has over one hour's worth of footage that is shown on it.

Departures and arrivals

The Starspeeder 1000's color scheme is red. The speeders are all brand new for their port on planet Earth. R2-D2 is still our faithful astromech droid for the journey. The flight number for Star Tours is now 1401. 1401 is the street number for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) in California.

Starspeeder 1000

Speeder and R2-D2

C-3PO has been polished until he shines.

C-3PO

Speeder

The space port theme is enhanced by signs like these throughout the queue.

Signs

Sign

After you pass through the "scanning" station, look to the left. An old friend, RX-24 (or Rex) is seen. Rex isn't quite ready for piloting a Star Tours speeder. Perhaps when the Starspeeder 3000* model is ready for flights...

Rex

Near Rex, you will also see the mechanical 'birds' that used to sit near the top of the queue line. Also, in the far back, look for a reference to TK-421, the trooper who wasn't at his post in A New Hope.

Just up the ramp from Rex is the luggage scanner droid. He can get a little... preoccupied talking to guests. He has also been known to mistakenly 'zap' items like Mickey ears from people's luggage. He also wonders why people would take something called a camera on vacation.

Luggage Scanner

Before you make the turn to go to the top of the queue, watch the 'door' for some familiar characters to walk by.

Door

At the top of the queue, there is a 'heat signature' scanner. He can identify 14,000 life forms but everyone he sees is human so he's perturbed.

Scanner

Just before you are sent to your gate, a schematic of the Starspeeder 1000 can be seen on the wall.

Schematic

The loading area for the speeder is very nice. You will pick up your flight glasses (3D glasses) when you reach your gate. The gates are labeled A-F and and the numbers on the doors are also written in Aurebesh.

Loading area

There are two different pre-show videos that I've seen. Both convey the same information but are presented in slightly different ways.

The interior of the Starspeeder 1000 is largely the same as before. The biggest difference is the seats are now blue.

There are 54 possible experiences on Star Tours flight. There are two openings, three first scenes, three middle scenes and three endings (2*3*3*3 = 54). I was going to give you a list of the scenes but I had a blast figuring it out for myself so I thought I would let you have fun with it, too. You can keep track of your destinations by using your Star Tours passport.

The posters at the end of your flight have been updated. They look great.

Bespin

Otoh Gunga

Naboo

Coruscant

Imagineers were on hand to discuss Star Tours and answer questions from guests. They did say that we were a long way off from having a 3D attraction without needing 3D glasses.

Imagineers

The area around Star Tours was set up very nicely. Beverages were provided as was an ice cream bar. Tables were set up for everyone to use, which was very nice. Near Indiana Jones, this probe droid was set up. It was transmitting the message it sent in The Empire Strikes Back. It's hard to hear on the video below but it gives you an idea of what it was doing.

Probe droid

Characters were roaming around and posing for photos as well. It was a fun event. We got to ride Star Tours 4 times and had the queue virtually to ourselves for a bit to take pictures. I'm really glad I was able to do this event.

*The Starspeeder 3000 was the speeder for the original version of Star Tours.

May 29, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Walt Disney World Guide to the Magic for Kids by Tim Foster"

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Let me start this review by saying that when my 14-year-old daughter picked it up after seeing it on the counter in my kitchen, she immediately said: "Wow! This is so cool!" I thought that it was pretty cool, too.

The Guide to the Magic for Kids is more than just a Disney World guidebook aimed at kids (I'd say it would appeal most to kids between the ages of about 5 and 12), it is also a sticker book, an autograph book, and a trip journal. The Guide covers all four Disney World Theme parks and includes a very helpful couple of pages upfront explaining how to use the book, the symbols used, and ways to get the most out of it.

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Author Tim Foster has created a truly interesting guide to Walt Disney World that kids (and their grown-ups) can use to determine what an attraction is all about, what it will be like, whether it will be scary, and other pertinent information about snacking and shopping in each area of the park.

The book starts with a description of how to use the book, with a visual explanation of what the handy symbols and used throughout refer to and what information is included (my faves: Hidden Mickeys and Scavenger Hunts). He then follows with some basic tips for making any visit to Walt Disney World more enjoyable ("Take your time!" "Take a break!") and an index of attractions.

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The book is then organized by park, by section or "Land" within each park, and by each attraction within that section of the park. Section pages list extra "stuff" to look for, a description of the shopping offered (not sure a 5-year-old would care much about this, but tweens and some grown-ups definitely would) and suggestions for where to find kid-friendly snacks or meals.

Attraction pages describe what type of ride or attraction it is, what you can expect to see or do on or in the attraction and whether or not it is scary (I didn't always completely agree with these assessments). There is also space for kids to check off whether they did the attraction, how they rated it, and notes about things that they liked about the transaction. The pages for each country in Epcot's World Showcase also include spaces for passport stamps and cast member autographs and spaces to draw and color each country's flag.

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Scattered throughout the book are interesting bits of trivia ("Did You Know?"). Some examples: "Did You Know? The World Fellowship Fountain [in Epcot's Future World] was dedicated during the opening festivities of the park by Lillian Disney." "Did You Know? As you enter Dinoland, U.S.A. [in Disney's Animal Kingdom] you'll pass under the Olden Gate Bridge, which is actually a replica of a 40 foot tall Brachiosaurus skeleton."

Here are the things that I liked about the book:

• It was well-organized and easy to navigate. I liked the up-front explanation of how to use the book. The extensive index was helpful for quickly finding a particular attraction (although I kept flipping to the back of the book to find the index, and it is strangely located near the front).

• Color-coded pages allow you to flip quickly to a particular park.

• The "Did You Know?" entries add color and an additional level of interest to the entries.

• This book may actually entice your kids to do some thinking and writing during vacation!

Parents should note that the size of the book (and it is definitely meant to be brought with you as you are touring the parks) is not especially compact. It will be very difficult to be a "Guest Without Bag" if you are toting it around all day. That being said, most parents with kids are toting around lots of stuff for their little Mouseketeers. Just be sure to leave enough room in your backpack or stroller basket for the book!

This book is definitely for:

Kids who like to know more about the attractions they are about to experience than it says on the "You must be 44" tall to ride this ride" signs. Kids who like to keep notes about their trips, and want to keep all of their ink-based souvenirs (autographs, passport stamps, etc.) in one neat and tidy package.

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Parents who want additional information on whether particular attractions will be right for their kids, or who are looking for a guidebook that will turn into a great trip souvenir for their kids.

This book may not be for: Kids who don't really care to know much more about an attraction other than that they are tall enough to ride.

DISCLOSURE: Guide to the Magic is a paid advertiser in the AllEars® newsletter and provided a complimentary review copy of the book. This did not influence the review in any way. Alice McNutt Miller is an independent reviewer and guest blogger for AllEars®.

Photos provided by Guide to the Magic.

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 ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

May 31, 2011

An Elegant Dinner with a View at Narcoossee's

Andrew Rossi

Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi returns with a review of Narcoossee's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa certainly lives up to its name. When it comes to Disney resorts, its grandeur is second to none. The Grand Floridian is all about elegance as soon as you enter the resort's lobby. It is then no surprise that Grand Floridian is home to some of the most elegant restaurants found in all of Disney World. In fact, there are three Signature restaurants at Grand Floridian alone.

Victoria and Albert's is the gold standard among Disney dining experiences and a ten-year recipient of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award. Within the elaborate Victorian dining room, guests enjoy a six course prix fixe menu featuring the freshest ingredients paired with fine wines. Citrico's features the cuisine of Southern Europe within a setting of old-world furnishings, wrought-iron railings and mosaic-tile floors that contribute to an overall warm, Mediterranean décor. Finally, there is Narcoossee's. Serving a wide selection of fresh seafood and situated right on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, Narcoossee's offers one of the finest and most breathtaking dining experiences in all of Disney World.

Narcoossee's Sign

Narcoossee's Exterior1

Overview:
Narcoossee's is a type of restaurant that Disney classifies as a Signature dining experience. In fact, it is one of just 16 Signature restaurants in all of Disney World. This begs the question as to what exactly makes a restaurant a Signature dining location. These are restaurants that are the cream of the crop amongst the numerous dining locations to be found all across Disney World. They are settings that create truly unique and memorable dining experiences that really go above and beyond. Signature dining locations are often some of the most elegant and refined (and therefore usually the most expensive) restaurants.

As a result, of their more formal, upscale look and feel, Signature restaurants feature a dress code. The dress code for Narcoossee's is as follows (as stated on the Disney World website). Men are encouraged to wear khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, and collared shirts. Sport coats are optional. For women it is suggested that they wear capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts. There are also certain articles of clothing that are not allowed in the dining room, such as tank tops, swimwear, hats, cut-off or torn clothing. Also, while t-shirts are allowed, the policy is that anything with offensive language or graphics is not acceptable.

Another mark of Signature restaurants is their menu offerings. These dining locations are frequently changing their menus in accordance to the time of year because they use only the freshest ingredients. While there are some noteworthy items on the menu at Narcoossee's that are there consistently, my server explained that the menu changes on almost a weekly basis. Dining at a signature restaurant, you will notice the food offerings to be far more gourmet and the presentation to be exquisite. Signature restaurants are also known for their extensive wine lists.

In sum, these Signature restaurants offer everything you would typically expect from a Disney restaurant in terms of high quality atmosphere, food, and service, but they elevate it all to an entirely new level that really helps to separate them from the other restaurants found across Disney World.

Atmosphere:
Narcoossee's has a very simple, subtle, and subdued elegance to its atmosphere. There is actually very little décor to speak of aside from a few nautical touches as you enter the restaurant. The dining room itself has a very open, spacious feel thanks to its high ceilings and large windows.

Narcoosees Interior Seating

While these windows make the dining room very bright, warm, and inviting by day, when the sun sets the restaurant's low lighting makes for a much more intimate and romantic feel. Despite the restaurant's openness, the dining room's relatively small size and low seating capacity make for a very quiet meal. This makes Narcoossee's the perfect location for a romantic night out, whether on a date, celebrating an anniversary, or even if you are just looking to spend some time away from the kids. While I did notice some children present during dinner, this is a restaurant geared primarily towards adults.

What makes the atmosphere of Narcoossee's truly special is the view. With so little to look at inside in terms of décor, all eyes are drawn to the large windows encircling the dining room. In fact, all the tables of the restaurant are situated in a way to offer diners great views outside.

Narcoossee's Table

The restaurant is located right on the Seven Seas Lagoon and is situated in such a way that it juts out over the water and offers beautiful vistas of the surrounding area.

Narcoossee's Exterior2

Looking out the windows, depending on where you are seated, you may see the topmost spires of Cinderella Castle:

Cinderella Castle View

The Main Street Train Station and Space Mountain looming in the background:

Space Mountain View

Disney's Contemporary Resort:

Contemporary View

And even the monorail passing by taking guests to and from the Magic Kingdom:

Monorail View

These stunning views make for a great dining experience at any time of night, but create a truly memorable location for watching Wishes. It is because of this amazing location that makes Narcoossee's unique and special, offering views unmatched by most other Disney dining locations.

The Menu:
Narcoossee's location and amazing views are matched only by its gourmet cuisine. It offers a menu which specializes in seafood, but also includes a wide range of other dishes. It is also a menu which is continually changing. My server made sure to emphasize that the menu is laser printed; it is not permanent and while there are some items that remain constant there are many other items which change depending on what types of fresh fish and other ingredients they have.

The appetizer selections are many and varied. Of course, seafood is prominent, but there are also many other options available. There is a Jumbo Lump Crabcake ($15.00) with grilled corn relish and ancho chili sauce, a Lobster Spring Roll ($9.00) with spicy mayonnaise and soy orange dipping sauce, Prince Edward Island Mussels ($10.00) with a parseley-pastis broth, Rhode Island Calamari ($13.00) with pepperoncini relish and tomato coulis, Roasted Beet Salad ($9.00) topped with goat cheese, candied pecans, and an orange-honey vinaigrette, Fried Oysters Rockefeller ($13.00) served with dijon creamed spinach and shallot rouille, Shrimp and Crab Chowder ($9.00), and a Mixed Greens Salad ($10.00) topped with a honey-dijon vinaigrette.

The entrée offerings are likewise numerous and feature something for everyone whether you are a seafood fan or not. In fact, my server noted that the most popular item on the menu is the Grilled Filet Mignon ($41.00) which comes with potato gratin and baby spring vegetables. Also found on the menu is a Shrimp and Scallop Fettuccini ($31.00), Crispy Whole Snapper ($35.00) with basmati rice and charred green beans, Grilled Swordfish ($37.00) with a panzanella salad of eggplant, sun dried tomatoes, and arugula topped with a roasted garlic vinaigrette, Brick-Roasted Whole Young Chicken ($29.00) served with manchego potatoes, spinach, onions, and citrus-chicken jus, Crab-Crusted Mahi Mahi ($35.00) accompanied by crushed fingerling potatoes and topped with a meyer lemon sauce, Steamed Whole Maine Lobster ($58.00), a Bouillabaisse ($38.00) featuring black cod, shrimp, mussels, scallops, and lobster in a saffron-tomato broth, and a Surf & Turf ($59.00) of filet mignon and lobster tail along with duchess potatoes and wax beans.

You also want to make sure to save room for dessert because there are several delectable options available. My server informed me that the restaurant's most popular dessert is its Almond-Crusted Cheesecake ($10.00) finished with a lambert cherry sauce. Also found on the dessert menu is a Florida Strawberry-Lemon Tart ($10.00), a Gelato Sampler ($8.00) featuring chocolate, raspberry, pistachio, and cappuccino gelato, a Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Dome ($10.00) finished with a raspberry sauce, and a Crème Brulee Duo ($9.00) of both key lime and coconut custard finished with caramelized sugar.

For an appetizer, I first started with the Rhode Island Calamari. Originally being from Rhode Island, fried calamari is a dish that I am very familiar with and it is no stretch to say that the calamari at Narcoossee's was some of the best I have ever had. It was prepared perfectly so that it was nice and crispy on the outside, but still extremely tender on the inside; it could almost melt in your mouth.

Rhode Island Calamari

The calamari itself was so good that it really did not need the pepperoncini relish and tomato coulis accompaniments. The relish was a little disappointing because I am not a big fan of olives, but after picking them out the hot pepper rings proved to be a nice compliment to the flavor of the calamari. I preferred the tomato coulis, which was basically like a spicy marinara sauce and added a little kick to the dish.

I also decided to try the Shrimp and Crab Chowder. In contrast to the light-tasting calamari, the chowder was very rich and creamy; it was very filling. The flavors of the shrimp and crab blended together very well so that one did not necessarily overpower the other. I was pleasantly surprised to see good-sized pieces of crab and shrimp in the chowder. I would go so far as to say that the chowder may have actually been the highlight of my meal.

Shrimp and Crab Chowder

For an entrée I decided on the Crab-Crusted Mahi Mahi. The fish itself was light and flaky and it came topped with a generous amount of crab. The fish was cooked perfectly so the crabmeat on top was just a little crispy, but the fish itself was still nice and moist. The more distinct flavor of the crabmeat paired well with the mild-tasting fish, but did not necessarily overpower the mahi mahi.

Mahi Mahi

The fish came accompanied by a meyer lemon sauce. This was very strong in flavor and only a little bit was needed to go along with the fish. While the sauce was light and refreshing, I felt it was a little too overpowering compared with the flavor of the mahi mahi and so I used it sparingly. The mahi mahi also came with crushed fingerling potatoes, which were good but paled in comparison to the gratin potatoes that came along with the filet mignon ordered by others in my party. I was also a little disappointed with the lack of vegetables that came along with the dish, as the fish was served with just two green beans.

For dessert, my party decided to split two different choices that were recommended by our server as the restaurant's most popular. First was the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Dome, which was a very rich and decadent dessert. Although this was a heavy and filling dessert, the mousse itself was extremely creamy, smooth and fluffy and it was accompanied by a raspberry sauce that really complimented the flavor of the chocolate well.

Chocolate Mousse

The second dessert we tried was the Almond-Crusted Cheesecake. In contrast to the heavier chocolate mousse, the cheesecake was extremely light. Not only was it coated in almonds, but the cheesecake itself was also infused with almond flavor. Overall, the texture was much fluffier than what you would expect from a typical cheesecake and presented a nice contrast to the crispiness and crunchiness of the almond coating.

Almond Cheesecake

I am not usually a big fan of cherries, but the sauce that accompanied the cheesecake paired perfectly with the flavor of the almonds. The cheesecake was also served with fresh-made whipped cream, which was probably some of the creamiest and smoothest whipped cream I have ever tasted. This dessert was my favorite of the two just because it was so unique.

Service:
One of the nice things about Signature dining locations is their smaller size, which means that the servers have fewer tables and can be more attentive to your needs. My server took time to explain several of the items on the menu and offer recommendations as to which were the most popular and which were his own personal favorites. He also checked in frequently to make sure every part of the meal was to my liking.

One thing should be noted about the service at Narcoossee's and that is it is definitely not a place to go if you are in a hurry. While the server was not slow or inefficient by any means, the meal progressed at a very relaxed and leisurely pace. There is plenty of time between courses to digest and take a little break before the next course is brought out; I was seated at six o'clock and did not leave the restaurant until after eight. While this might be a little long for some, I felt that the pace of the meal really allowed you to enjoy the beautiful view and helped you to fully appreciate the food rather than being rushed through your meal.

Dining on a Budget:
Because of its status as a Signature dining location, Narcoossee's is not necessarily a restaurant that you would want to go to if you are attempting to dine on a budget. If you are looking for seafood in particular, there are several other restaurants found across Disney property that can be much more affordable. Although I have not eaten there, a friend told me that Captain Jack's at the Downtown Disney Marketplace offers an atmosphere which is comparable to Narcoossee's (but more casual) and a menu which is far cheaper and still features a wide variety of seafood dishes.

If you are dining at Narcoossee's and looking to save a little money, I would suggests ordering a couple of appetizers and a dessert as opposed to an entrée as a way of keeping costs down. The Shrimp and Crab Chowder was very filling and could easily make a meal unto itself. If you paired this with the Rhode Island Calamari and the Almond-Crusted Cheesecake for dessert you could have an entire meal for $32 before tax and tip (compared with an entrée like the Filet Mignon which is $41 by itself).

The Overall Experience:
Dinner at Narcoossee's is probably one of the most exquisite meals I have had at Disney World. The restaurant certainly lived up to its Signature status in every way. Everything from the restaurant's beautiful location, to its gourmet food, to the attentive service made for an exceptional meal.

That being said, while Narcoossee's is certainly near the top of my list of most refined and elegant restaurants in Disney World, I would not necessarily consider it one of my overall favorites. There are several other restaurants that I would choose to dine at before going back to Narcoossee's again. I am not saying that I did not enjoy my experience there (on the contrary, everything was of the highest quality), but there are other restaurant's at Disney World that I just enjoy more and which are much more affordable. However, if you are looking to splurge on a fancy meal, Narcoossee's is a great option if you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, any other special occasion, or even just looking for a romantic night out. Whatever the reason for going there, Narcoossee's will deliver a dining experience that is truly special and memorable.

Check out Reader Reviews of Narcoossee's and post your own too!

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About May 2011

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in May 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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