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May 2012 Archives

May 1, 2012

Tusker House offers Disney character meals with a taste of African cuisine

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Tusker House's dessert bar is the first thing you see -- as it should be -- in the Harambe Marketplace.

Tusker House at Disney's Animal Kingdom is home to Donald's Dining Safari Breakfast and Lunch, the only character meals at that Walt Disney World park. Recently, I was invited to experience the lunch buffet, which features African cuisine, as well as plenty of American favorites.

Our experience began after we checked in at the outdoor podium. There is a large, shaded waiting area with tables and even a bar for those seeking adult beverages. It's definitely one of the nicer waiting areas, though you don't have to be eating at Tusker House to sit there. It's open to anyone in the Harambe, Africa section, which also has a snack counter on the opposite side from Dawa Bar.

When our party was called, we were led around the corner to a queue to have our pictures taken with Donald Duck. As with all Disney character photos, guests may take their own photos in addition to the ones snapped by the Disney PhotoPass photographer. A photo package that includes one 6 x 8 in a decorative folder and four 4 x 6 prints plus a character-only stock photo will be brought to your table during the meal. It's about $31 if you choose to purchase it. These photos also can be added to your Disney's PhotoPass account after purchasing the prints.

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The Disney characters visit guests in four dining rooms.

Inside the restaurant, our hostess explained the concept of the Harambe Marketplace, which features quite a few short buffet lines. She stood in front of the dessert lines (yes, plural!) during her talk, and suggested that diners can even eat dessert first. The children in our party took her up on that, and I feel certain my kids would do the same, especially when they saw the chocolate-frosted donuts with colorful sprinkles.

For those of us who decided to eat our vegetables first, there were numerous salads, many with African-inspired flavors. As the main course, guests could choose from carved sirloin or pork loin, curry and rotisserie chicken and salmon, plus a selection of stews. And, of course, there were many side dishes. Vegetarians, there is a buffet just for you, too.

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Kids can choose from white or wheat bread when making their own PB & J sandwiches. Chilled applesauce is on this bar, too.

The kids' buffet had a lot of the usual crowd favorites, but there were two fun additions -- corn dog nuggets and a table to make real peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The PB&J bar was a nice touch, especially when so many Walt Disney World kids' meals come with Smucker's uncrustables. The young and the young-at-heart are invited to choose items from the kids' buffet. (See a complete menu at the AllEars page http://allears.net/menu/menu_tus.htm)

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Daisy Duck strikes a pose.

In between your trips to the numerous buffets, Disney characters circulate through the four dining rooms, meeting families at their tables. Donald stays outside, but Minnie, Mickey, Daisy and Goofy greet guests inside, posing for photos and signing autographs. They each patiently allowed our party to take multiple photos, and Daisy really was funny -- striking pose after pose, like a model. One character also leads the kids around the room in a makeshift parade, complete with handheld instruments.

Lunch prices vary slightly depending on the season: Adults are $27.68 to $31.94; and children ages 3-9 are $15.97 to $18.10. (Tax is included; gratuity is not.) A standard, non-alcoholic beverage is included in this price. Admission into Disney's Animal Kingdom is required. These prices are typical of character lunches at Disney World.

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Well-known Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde and his infamous earring are celebrated with these Tusker House decorations.

I would recommend Tusker House to those guests who love to try different foods and flavors, or those who already have a taste for African cuisine. And all the Disney character meals have one great advantage in common: They allow diners to meet many Disney pals in such a short time, which clearly saves time waiting in individual lines.

See the AllEars resource page http://allears.net/din/cbchar.htm to find out where all the Disney World characters dine.

Disclosure: As an invited media guest, my lunch was paid for by The Walt Disney Company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine and do not reflect the opinions or policies of The Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

May 3, 2012

Disney World scores with youth soccer camps this summer

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The Haitian National Women's Under 17 soccer team played in the Disney Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament in 2010.

For many families, spring and summer are synonymous with soccer. This year, Walt Disney World is offering the ultimate soccer camp experience for players ages 6 to 18.

Players who join the Disney Soccer Academy will have interaction with and daily appearances by soccer stars from the English Premier League. The roster includes Craig Bellamy (Liverpool), Paul Robinson (England, Tottenham) and Aaron Hughes (Northern Ireland Captain, Fulham).There will be a special time for photos and autographs, too.

Two four-day camps will be held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex: June 18 to 21 and June 25 to 28. Licensed coaches from around the world will train male and female athletes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. They will focus on technical development and small sided games, all while keeping the instruction age-appropriate.

A typical schedule has the players training at HESS Sports Field from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Lunch is served in the Sports Pavilion/Sony Playstation Pavilion for 90 minutes, and then training resumes from 1 to 3 p.m.

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Players compete for the ball while participating in the Soccer Showcase at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Parents and family members can stay and watch, but they are required to purchase admission to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Daily admission is $15.50 for adults and $10.50 children ages 3-9. Length-of-event passes can be purchased for $62 for adults and $42 for children.

Each player (or a minor's guardian) is required to turn in a waiver in order to participate. When the forms are completed, campers will receive their athlete credentials, which gains them access to ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the duration of the week.

Camp includes lunch, an event shirt and gifts for $390. (Aftercare from 3 to 5 p.m. is available for an additional $15 per day.) Best deal: Disney World passholders who register by June 1 using the code PASS are entitled to $100 discount. Register online at disneysocceracademy.com or call 1-877-714-5575. Players can bring their own ball or purchase an official camp ball on the first day.

Disney Soccer Academy is operated by Midwest Soccer Academy.

Disney Soccer Academy participants and spectators are eligible for specially priced Disney World hotel rooms. Book Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort for $112 plus tax per night by calling 407-938-4868. Theme park tickets are also available at a discount.

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Rusty Scarborough, head coach of Disney's Soccer Showcase All-Stars (Raleigh, NC), demonstrates a drill during practice at Disney World.

In recent years, Disney World has continued to add youth and professional soccer tournaments. Next up: Disney's Memorial Day Soccer Shootout. In 2011, more than 400 teams played more than 500 matches in the competition's three days. This is an FYSA-sanctioned tournament, which is open to all USSF/FIFA affiliated organizations for boys and girls in age groups: U9-U10, U11-U12, U13-U14, and U15-U19.

In July, the ESPN Wide World of Sports hosts the Disney Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament, which has attracted teams from more than 20 countries for 13 years. It, too, is an FYSA sanctioned tournament and open to the same groups.

May 4, 2012

Changes on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom take place this week

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Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition is a fairly tame ride through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 100-acre savannah in the Africa area of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Sure, there are some bumps when the driver intentionally speeds through the reserve, but the attraction is not designed to be a thrill ride.

As a mom who has ridden in the jeep-like vehicles with kids of varying ages, I was surprised to hear a cast member said that the attraction was being changed this week because some parents complained their children found it too scary. Apparently the ride's theme of protecting the reserve from elephant poachers is what they found frightening.

However, Walt Disney World announced a few months ago that the attraction would undergo changes to include more live animals, especially zebras. Publicists emphasized that the safaris still would offer a strong message of conservation, but they did not explain how that would play out.

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For repeat riders, the first modification they will notice happens shortly after boarding the vehicle when the prerecorded message from the game warden to Simba 1 (your ride vehicle) is not played. Farther into the savannah, the audio-animatronic elephant, Little Red, who is stuck in the back of the poachers' jeep, is gone. And so is the abandoned poachers' camp. In their place is bright, new sod, which extends the savannah for the zebras that are expected to move in by fall. A watering hole also is expected to be created nearby.

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Perhaps the most obvious change for kids who love this ride is when the vehicle does not speed up on its "chase" to help save the baby elephant. Instead, the vehicle maintains a slow speed during the whole "two-week" trip. A friend who rode it this week said her children would most miss bouncing across the rickety bridges, rocky hills and rivers in this new version of the safaris.

The ride currently wraps up with the driver talking about Disney's conservation efforts.

Although I am a little disappointed about the pacing of the refurbished Kilimanjaro Safaris, I do look forward to seeing more zebra and the possibility of being able to better photograph them when we're traveling at a slower speed.

This recent change to the ride's storyline isn't the first. Jack Spence describes what happened to the attraction shortly before Animal Kingdom's grand opening:

"Before the Animal Kingdom opened to the general public, cast previews were held to help the operations people work out the bugs that are inherent with the opening of any new facility. At this time, the Big Red-Little Red [mother and baby elephants] story had a much darker ending. At the end of the safari, guests came across the bloody carcass of Big Red, tusks removed, obviously downed by the nefarious poachers. Even though the dead elephant was fake, it was real enough looking to terrify little children and upset many adults.

"The Imagineers only wanted to drive home the point that killing animals is evil, but their message was too heavy-handed for a theme park and complaints were numerous at Guest Relations. With only a few weeks left before the official Grand Opening, something needed to be done. In the end, the carcass was removed and minor script changes were made leaving the fate of Big Red ambiguous.

"For the most part, guests riding Kilimanjaro Safaris are far more interested in spotting real animals than they are in fictitious stories about poachers. So in 2007 another script change was implemented. With far less chatter on the two-way radio, we now learn that a baby elephant is wandering the Reserve and we're asked to keep a lookout. We still pursue poachers at the end of our journey, but the lost elephant is never in any real danger."

To read more from Jack's two-part blog on Kilimanjaro Sarafris, go to AllEars pages http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2011/01/kilimanjaro_safaris_at_animal_1.html and http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2011/01/kilimanjaro_safaris_at_animal_2.html.

May 6, 2012

Disney Pin Trading in New Jersey

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One of the highlights of Carol's pin-trading year is the trip to New Jersey each April for the "Trade 'Til You Fade" pin trading weekend hosted by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. She just loves getting together with other traders and CJDPT always puts on a first class event!

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The group was founded by John Rick in January 2002 and since then they have held regular pin trading meets. The schedule of events is accessible on their web site at: http://www.cjdpt.com All of their meets are held at the Hampton Inn 255 Davidson Avenue, Somerset, NJ. There are Friday evening events, Saturday afternoon events and two week-end-long events in April and October. John's wife Sheila and their good friends Janis Lavender of Travel Dreams and her husband David are actively involved in all aspects of the group's activities.

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We normally travel to New Jersey with a group of Canadian pin traders, most of them from the Toronto area. Even though I am not a pin trader, I have joined in a few times. The trip is an adventure for us. Our travel day is Thursday and we always stop at the Syracuse NY Disney Store on the way; many of the Disney Stores in Canada have closed and we sure miss them! The store is conveniently located about two hours into our trek so we can stop and stretch our legs. It's a 364 mile trip from our home to the Hampton Inn but we have a bit of a head-start on our companions from the Toronto area who have to drive an extra 160 miles, making it a 524 mile trip for them.

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You might expect that we Canadians, since we are foreigners, travelled furthest to get to New Jersey but that's actually not the case. Folks drive from as far away as Miami FL - 1,270 miles but I think this year the distance award has to go to the dedicated trader from Seattle WA who flew 2,800 miles to trade pins!

Even though trading activities don't officially start until Friday evening there are already some pin traders set up at the tables in the breakfast area adjacent to the lobby by the time we arrive Thursday evening. We always stop and renew acquaintances but it's normally a short night for us. It has been a long drive and Carol needs a good night's rest to get herself ready for a gruelling week end!

We try to plan some other "Disney" activities for Friday morning. This often involves a train ride to The Big Apple and a trip to the Disney Store at Times Square. This time the ladies kept it simple; they took a short 30 minute drive to Staten Island. There are three Disney Stores along that 23 mile route and they covered them all in a shopping frenzy! I hung out at the hotel and my buddy John who lives about 45 minutes away came to join me for lunch.

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The event kicks off Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. when the registration desk opens and folks line up to check-in, pick up their name-tags, goody bags and tickets for several random draws. There are three trading areas, two hotel meeting rooms fill with traders first and once breakfast is over the trading activity spills over into the room where the complimentary breakfast is served each morning. The Hampton Inn and their staff are extremely accommodating. The hotel staff all join in the fun by wearing Disney themed clothing and they allow the group to post Disney posters and signs throughout the common areas of the hotel. It is a very festive and fun filled place! They even allow the group to bring in coolers filled with their own drinks on ice. Most traders bring bottled water, sodas or juices to add to the communal drink coolers and there are also plenty of traders who contribute "snack-food" items which soon fill the counters in the breakfast area. It quickly transforms from a complimentary breakfast into a veritable junk-food buffet!

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Carol always does her best trading on Friday nights. This year she traded from 7:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. and was delighted with the 39 pins and 2 vinylmations she was able to pick up. Yes, pin traders are an oddly nocturnal group! I have no idea what time things actually wound down but a friend reported that the crowd was thin when he left at 3:00 a.m.

Saturday morning we headed down for breakfast at 8:15. Many of the night-owls had returned, looking remarkably fresh and eager. The two meeting rooms were open and trading was in full swing again but, of course, the breakfast room was set aside for breakfast. Traders who want to set up in the breakfast room once the meal is done simply park their pin cases and pin bags along the wall in the corridor and establish their order in the line. Then at 10:20 or 10:30, when the area has been cleaned up after breakfast, they are given the "all-clear" to file in. Once they settle and get set up they are established for the day and trading resumes in earnest.

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The traders who come to these events are not at all like some of the ones you used to meet at those tables outside Pin Central at Downtown Disney. Many of them made their living trading pins and they could be very aggressive, sometimes ruthless. Not so at CJDPT events. The traders here are nice people who are anxious to help you complete your collection. Trading is easy, fun and free of stress. Carol really enjoys this week end; she looks forward to it every year.

This is the 19th "overnight event" CJDPT has hosted and there were 105 overnight guests in the hotel, occupying 51 rooms. The organizers always negotiate a flat rate with the hotel; all rooms were available at a cost of $68.00 per night which includes taxes and breakfast. We had a two-room suite with a king bed for a mere $68.00 per night! Wow! Registration fees for the pin trading event are quite reasonable as well. Guests registered at the hotel pay a fee of $3.00 to register for all three days. If you are not a hotel guest your fees for all three days will not be more than $13.00. The local people who "drop in" for a few hours swelled the total registration number to 122 people.

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There are special games, activities, quizzes and raffles throughout each day and night with prizes for all the winners. It's non-stop trading and there is always a fun-filled diversion of some kind. It's not always about pins; people are also trading vinylmations and other Disney collectibles!

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One of the highlights is the Saturday night gift exchange. It's purely voluntary and not everyone participates but it's always fun for those who do get involved. It's one of those exchanges where gifts can be "stolen" and folks can get quite aggressive and quite entertaining as they seek out their favourite gift!

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Sunday morning is generally very quiet; those who have travelled a distance are packing up and checking out to start the trip home. We always have breakfast and yak a bit before saying our goodbyes. We strive to be on the road by 10:30 so that we arrive home by about 6:00 p.m. Many folks stay and continue trading until the event officially closes at noon. Every year we see the plenty of familiar faces and several new ones. Carol has always found the group to be easy to trade with and she always completes a few sets and comes home with some new treasures!

If you are a pin trader and you want experience a fun filled week end with your peers, New Jersey is the place for you. Check out their web site at: http://www.cjdpt.com and make plans to join in a pin week end soon.

May 8, 2012

The Avengers assemble on new app and other Disney products

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Evidently, The Hulk isn't the only one who can smash things.

Joss Whedon's film version of Marvel's "The Avengers' pulverized the former record for a domestic opening weekend. With more than $200 million taken in for its U.S. debut, the blockbuster film ushered in the summer movie season and showed just how popular Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Co. remain for fans of all ages.

Whether you caught the film this weekend or not, Disney Publishing has several stories in different formats for fans who want to continue the action at home. Narrated by comic legend Stan Lee, two new Disney storybook apps take readers into the world of The Avengers.

"Avengers Origins: Assemble!" has a lot to offer for its $5.99 price tag. The in-depth story follows Atlantis' Namor, who seeks revenge by attempting to conquer the entire human race, and The Avengers, who vow to stop him. In this version, the super heroes also include Ant-Man and The Wasp in the mix. (They weren't in the movie.)

What makes this storybook app stand out are all the interactive features. You don't even have to turn the page to follow along. Not only do the pages fade in and out with the action, but little hands can help with the plot. For example, readers are able to put on each super hero's mask and give him his weapon, move their fingers to help melt the ice that imprisons Captain America, and drag shields over the enemies to free The Avengers.

In addition, "Avengers Origins: Assemble!" offers three separate games each with three difficulty levels. The app is available for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

A great deal: Through May 11, Disney Stores and Apple are teaming up to give away 100,000 coupon codes for a free download of "Avengers Origins: Assemble!" when a consumer purchases at least $20 worth of merchandise at all Disney Store locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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Also new in Disney Publishing apps is a story about my daughter's favorite smashing character, The Hulk. In "Avengers Origins: Hulk," readers learn how Dr. Bruce Banner is transformed into The Hulk. This storybook app offers several positive messages about the importance of education, explaining that Banner loved to read and science was his favorite subject. Along the way, readers are invited to help toss a car, contain gamma radiation and punch a wall as The Hulk. It also has a seek-and-find feature, in which readers can try to collect six symbols in the course of the story.

"Advengers Origins: Hulk" is also available for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and sells for $3.99 at the iTunes store. For that price, it's too bad there are not a few separate games included with the app.

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For those that like their comics in a paper, instead of digital, format, Disney Publishing recently unveiled its Marvel Super Heroes Magazine. The new 36-page publication is written and drawn for boys ages 8 to 10 and features brain teasing puzzles, cool activities and cut-outs in addition to the story. The May 2012 issue also includes an exclusive poster of Iron Man. Marvel Super Heroes Magazine is sold on newsstands for $4.99 per issue, and an 8-month subscription costs $29.92.

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Guests who visit Walt Disney World this summer will find that Monorail Red has been wrapped in an Avengers movie promo starring The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor. It's eye-catching, for sure. Look for the Avengers monorail on the loop that leads to the Magic Kingdom and the resorts. Fans will not find any meet-and-greets with the Super Heroes on Disney property, however, a Disney spokeswoman confirmed. Although the company acquired Marvel in 2009, Universal Orlando still has an agreement that allows the characters to appear at Islands of Adventure.

May 10, 2012

Ideas for celebrating Mother's Day at Walt Disney World

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Celebrating Mother's Day at Walt Disney World is, of course, a wonderful treat in and of itself. But if husbands and children want to make the day perfect for the women in their lives, there is one simple thing they can do to make the day a success -- plan ahead.

If they're like me, what's important to most mothers is spending the day with family doing something fun. It doesn't have to be an expensive or unique experience, but it does have to be planned by our families. The gift -- besides spending time with our favorite people -- is that we don't have to make any decisions or pack the bags. For one day, we don't have to think ahead and plan for every eventuality. We get to just show up and enjoy the day.

To make this happen for the mother in your family, it's important to know what she enjoys. Are Mickey waffles the perfect way to start the day? Or is sleeping in and then lounging by the pool while the kids play even better? Does being the first one in line for Expedition Everest make her excited?

Here are a few suggestions that are sure to bring a smile to any Disney mom's face on Sunday:

1. Visit the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. It's beautiful with all the flowers and topiaries, and there are fun seminars and demonstrations for guests who like to garden. Herman's Hermit's, starring Peter Noone, will be performing. Plus, there are special activities and playgrounds for kids. If the little ones are happy, chances are, mom will be, too. (Florida residents still can purchase a three-day Walt Disney World ticket for $99 plus tax.)

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2. If brunch is on the agenda, why not make it a character meal and let her feel like a kid again? Two of the most popular are Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary Resort and Cinderella's Royal Table in her Magic Kingdom castle. At this late date, you can try for a reservation cancellation by calling WDW-DINE. Another great character brunch is located at Disney's Beach Club in the Cape May Cafe, which has just reopened after renovations.

3. For shopping aficionados, give her a Disney gift card and the time to shop. Try a gift-shop crawl on the monorail loop. It's fun to see the beautiful hotels while she's browsing for souvenirs. Or, if she's more of a boutique shopper, plan a visit to Downtown Disney and stores such as D Street, Something Silver, Apricot Lane, PoP Gallery and TrenD.

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4. Who doesn't like to visit the spa? There are many locations and services to choose from at Walt Disney World. Full-service spas, which include massages, facials, aromatherapy, salon services and exercise facilities, are available at the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Saratoga Springs Resort. (The Grand Floridian spa is closed for refurbishment.) There also are massage and fitness services at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary Resort, Coronado Springs, Wilderness Lodge and the Yacht Club. Disney World passholders receive 10 percent off one regularly priced service at the Saratoga Springs spa.

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5. Wrap up Mother's Day with dessert and fireworks at one of the Disney World parks, resorts or restaurants. This can be as simple as grabbing a casual treat and a table outside one of Epcot's World Showcase restaurants or as formal as paying for a ticket to the Wishes Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom. One of my favorite resort spots for viewing the fireworks is the beach at the Polynesian resort. A bonus there is being able to see the Electrical Water Pageant.

What ideas do YOU have for celebrating Mother's Day at Walt Disney World? Leave a comment below!

May 11, 2012

Top middle school students compete in MATHCOUNTS competition at Walt Disney World

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The nation's top 224 middle school students who have excelled at math are competing in the MATHCOUNTS National Competition at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort this weekend. These students have earned their spots after winning school, local and state competitions. Now, they are vying for the titles of 2012 National Champion and National Championship Team.

Raytheon Company is hosting the event. If you're not familiar with the defense company, perhaps you'll recognize the name from its sponsorship of the Sum of all Thrills experience at Epcot's Innoventions. The exhibit gives students the opportunity to put their math skills to the test as they design and experience their own thrill rides. (Read all about the Sum of all Thrills on Jack Spence's blog http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2009/10/sum_of_all_thrills.html)

These Mathletes will solve problems using critical-thinking skills in both written and oral rounds in individual and team components. The competition problems focus on the 6th through 8th grade standards of the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics. Want to see if you're smarter than a middle school student? The championship will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com, with the Countdown Round at 2 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 11.

Check out these MATHCOUNTS questions from a previous year and see what lies ahead:

Team Round (calculator permitted; 10 problems in 20 minutes; students work with three other team
members)
Problem: A four-digit perfect square integer is created by placing two positive two-digit perfect square
integers next to each other. What is the four-digit square integer?
Answer: 1681

Countdown Round (no calculator; head-to-head challenge between two students; first-to-answer; no
more than 45 seconds permitted)
Problem: When Bob exercises, he does jumping jacks for 5 minutes and then walks the track at 4 minutes
per lap. If he exercised for 73 minutes on Monday, how many laps did he walk?
Answer: 17 laps
Problem: What number is 17 less than its negative? Express your answer as a decimal to the nearest tenth.
Answer: 8.5

If you're up for the challenge, try your hand at other real MATHCOUNTS competition questions on the MathMovesU Facebook page. Users will be able to answer questions, earn and share badges, advance to higher playing levels and challenge their friends.

This year MATHCOUNTS also has introduced a new element to the competition, the Reel Math Challenge video competition. Middle school students across the country were invited to create tutorial videos about math problems and their concepts that were based on the MATHCOUNTS School Handbook. Four finalist videos have been selected by a panel of MATHCOUNTS judges. The Mathletes will watch them and vote for the winner Saturday.

The individual Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition Champion will receive the $8,000 Donald G. Weinert Scholarship to the college of his or her choice along with a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. Runners-up, as well as members of the winning team, also will receive college scholarships and trips to attend space camp. Each member of the winning video's team also will also receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

"The Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition is the ultimate stage for our nation's rising young math stars to demonstrate their talents and achieve more in mathematics," said Lou DiGioia, executive director of MATHCOUNTS. "Our partnership with Raytheon enables us to continue to inspire excellence, curiosity and confidence in mathematics in U.S. middle school students and to help provide today's students with the foundation for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."


May 12, 2012

Disney’s Newsies, The Musical

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My family and I recently had the great pleasure of being able to see Disney's Newsies, The Musical on Broadway recently. We had a blast! (Newsies has been nominated for eight Tony Awards, including Best New Musical.)

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I purchased the tickets back in January as part of a preorder discount special. Not only did I manage to nab good tickets at a discounted price (although still pricey, this IS New York, after all), but we were also promised a free Newsies messenger bag -- the same bag received by cast members on opening night!

Luckily, I was able to get good seats for a Sunday matinee the weekend before Daughter #2's 15th birthday. I managed to keep this a secret from both of my girls until the morning that we piled in the car to head to New York. It is not so easy to keep secrets from teenage girls, particularly when it is very difficult to explain why they may not schedule any extracurricular activities for an entire weekend.

The show is an adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Christian Bale that dramatizes an 1899 strike by New York City's news boys. The stage version features songs from the movie, plus additional songs, with music by Disney legend Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldmand, another Disney alum, and book by Tony Award-Winner writer and Actor Harvey Fierstein. Jack, the lead Newsie, is played by Jeremy Jordan, who recently starred with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in the movie "Joyful Noise." The musical made its debut at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, last fall and opened on Broadway in March of this year. The current cast of the Broadway show debuted the show at the Paper Mill playhouse.

Newsies is playing at the Nederlander Theatre, which is located one block away from the New Amsterdam Theatre, where Mary Poppins continues to enjoy its successful run.

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We arrived about half an hour early, and joined the rain-soaked queue to enter the theater once I had picked up our tickets from the Will Call window.

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The girls went to find our seats while I found the Ladies Room (very well laid-out for a theater in New York, if I may say so myself), and my husband went to trade the voucher I picked up with our tickets for the promised messenger bag. Very cool!

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We were lucky enough to be seated next to a very cool couple of Disney fanatics, who had come to the Big Apple from Oklahoma to see the show. They had preordered their tickets, as well, so we oohed and ahhed over the messenger bags until the lights went down and the show started.

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Wow! What a show! I'm not really sure what my expectations were for this production, as I had seen the Newsies movie before, but had not watched it multiple times as I had the movies that preceded the other shows that Disney had produced on Broadway. The tunes were catchy (I am now humming "The King of New York"), the acting was solid, and the story was compelling. But this show is really about the dancing! These guys (and they are mostly guys) can dance! And leap, and spin, and jump, and kick and flip . . . And for anyone who is a sucker for a good old-fashioned tap number, this show has a great one, and I highly recommend it!

A note about souvenirs:

While a number of souvenirs (t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, CDs and programs) are available at stands in the theater,

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many of them can be purchased more cheaply just up Broadway at the Times Square Disney Store. For instance, at the Disney Store we purchased a shirt for $5 less than the price that was being charged at the stands in the theater.

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The Disney Store also carries merchandise from several other Disney on Broadway shows, including Mary Poppins and The Lion King.

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May 14, 2012

New RFID FastPass Testing First Hand Report!

There has been lots reported about the Next Gen FastPass system. Recently, Walt Disney World performed a test for approximately 2 weeks to see how things were progressing.

In addition to our Report on AllEars, guest blogger John Leary writes in with his experience!

My family had an unexpected bit of magic added to our recent trip to Walt Disney World. Shortly after landing at MCO, we were greeted by a hostess at the front of the Disney Magical Express queue. She asked if we had a few minutes to take a brief survey and try out in a new Fastpass service. We hastily agreed, grinning ear-to-ear, and followed her over to one of the small tables in the nearby sitting area.

There, two cast members explained the testing process. They asked for our email address, and the best day and time bracket for us to use the new Fastpass system. We then picked four Magic Kingdom attractions we wanted to visit, two from each side of a survey card. The cast members explained that we'd receive an email confirming our schedule of selected attractions, spread throughout the day and time range we selected. Each attraction on the schedule had the typical one-hour window in which to use the Fastpass. Finally, each member of our party received their own Fastpass card, and we were off to our Resort.

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Being Disney Park veterans, we were familiar with the current Fastpass process. We arrived at the start to an attraction's Fastpass line, a cast member would place our card next to the new Fastpass reader (which look like a ball on a pole), and make sure we were scheduled for that attraction at that date and time. We noticed our Fastpass cards did not have a magnetic strip or bar code, so we assumed it used RFID (radio frequency) technology to identify each of us. Each cast member was also equipped with an iPad in a case, which displayed our first names when our card was scanned, or other information if needed.


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If the Fastpass card was valid at that time and location, the Mickey icon on the card scanner glowed a bright green. If you arrived at the wrong date/time, the icon glows blue, and alerts the cast member via their iPad to your correct Fastpass schedule. We also witnessed the icon glow red, when it seemed the cast member was having technical issues scanning another guest's card.

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Continuing down the Fastpass line, the second cast member (who typically takes your paper Fastpass ticket) also scanned our card, and we joined the main ride queue as usual.

Throughout our day, we noticed different card reader devices. The most typical Fastpass card reader was the "ball on a pole" version. But at our visit with Mickey at the Town Square Theatre, the cast member read our cards through a sensor on the back of her iPad. And when passing Stitch's Great Escape, we noticed a card reader that looked more like the current Fastpass ticket distribution kiosks.

Admittedly, we had the most fun using both our paper ticket Fastpasses and our Fastpass card at the same time throughout the day. Between Fastpasses and short morning lines, we rode Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin to our heart's content. We unfortunately missed one of our scheduled Fastpass card reservations due to an unexpected nap for our toddler, but the cards worked without any problems throughout our testing experience.

Imagining how Disney could use this new system for our future visits, I have mixed feelings. The organizer in me loves the idea that we can potentially plan a day's worth of Fastpasses before our vacation begins. But part of my disappointment has to do with their need to now enforce valid return times on Fastpass tickets because of this new system. I know, I know - this was always their policy - I just got used to the convenience of the rule being bent.

Being an avid ParkHopper ticket user, I would find less value in park hopping if we were locked to one or multiple day's Fastpass schedule if we were restricted to one park. Being near-obsessive with planning table-service meals, I'd be worried that the Fastpass system would assign us a Fastpass attraction that conflicts with a previously-booked restaurant reservation. And though it's of little consequence, having cast members scan my card twice at each attraction felt a little redundant to me.

As a whole, we found the new Fastpass system as easy to use as it was fun, and we have great hopes for how Disney uses this new technology to make our future trip planning that much more enjoyable.


May 15, 2012

A mom's tips for finding Disney Crocs for all sizes

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Crocs were invented in 2002, the same year my first child was born, and they quickly became a staple for my kids. Once my son and daughter were steady on their feet, we invested in a pair for each.

Because we live in Orlando and have annual passes for Walt Disney World, I could not pass up the itsy-bitsy brightly colored shoes with the traditional Mickey icon cut-outs. Too cute!

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For my Florida kids, they are the perfect casual shoe. With their foam resin material, Crocs are comfortable for our frequent trips to the theme parks. They are simple for the littlest hands to put on and take off by themselves. If they get wet or dirty, they are easy to clean. No need to spend the day wearing wet shoes because a child couldn't resist the lure of a splash pad!

That said, I do think there are places where kids shouldn't wear Crocs. Obviously, they're not made for sports, and are not the best choice for even casual recreation, such as playing at the playground. The lack of deep treads on the bottom and the strap on the back of the shoe do not offer enough support for running and jumping. Because of this, my kids do not wear their Crocs to school.

Still, their Crocs get a good workout, so I keep an eye out for new styles and deals. Crocs typically range from $25 for toddlers up to $50 for adult sizes. For kids' Crocs with Disney designs, there are a few options.

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First, take a look at Crocs.com, where current children's Disney styles include pictures of Mickey Mouse and Pluto; Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story; Winnie the Pooh and Tigger; Tow Mater and Finn McMissile; and Lightning McQueen and Francisco clog styles. There is also a navy and red Croc with icon Mickey design. Be sure to sign up for email alerts for sales, coupon codes and free shipping.

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You can add a touch of Disney Magic to any style of Crocs with air holes by adding Jibbitz, the charms that personalize the shoes. Crocs.com carries about 100 different Disney Jibbitz designs and many more, including popular characters such as The Avengers and Hello Kitty. The average price is $3 per Jibbitz.

Other websites sell Disney Crocs, as well. ShoeBuy.com has Disney Princess Crocs with free shipping and free returns. SurfandDirt.com sells the kids' icon Mickey design in a variety of colors. Zappos.com offers both styles.

These choices usually run through size 3 Junior. What do you do if your child has outgrown that size and still wants Mickey Crocs?

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Your best best is to shop at one of the Disney theme parks because they carry adult sizes and styles. My 9-year-old son recently chose navy blue Crocs with a subtle Mickey icon design. They look a little more grown-up, but still have a touch of whimsy. World of Disney at Downtown Disney has many styles of Crocs in its new crop -- from the adorable pint-size shoes to the subtle adult designs. If you won't be visiting Disney World any time soon, you can order them through the mail order department by calling 1-877-560-6477 or emailing wdw.mail.order@disneyworld.com.


May 17, 2012

Disney Channel, Disney Parks to host open auditions for performers

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Selena Gomez, who starred as Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place, was discovered at a Disney Channel open casting call.

Ever wonder how stars such as Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato got their start with Disney Channel? Like thousands of other hopeful child performers, they showed up for an open casting search the network was hosting.

These official auditions are rare, however, and may only occur once or twice a year in the United States. If you think you have what it takes to be the next star and you're ready to take your best shot, you're in luck. The next national casting call is right around the corner -- on May 26 in Kansas City, Missouri -- so it's time to talk the parents into a road trip.

Disney Channel is looking for boys and girls who can play characters between the ages of 10 to 18 and can act, dance or sing. If you can do all three, even better! (You don't have to be ages 10 to 18, but you have to look like you are.) Performers will be considered for upcoming original movies and series being produced for exhibition on Disney Channel and Disney XD.

Audition websites point out that most of Disney Channel's shows are comedic in nature, so having the timing to perform comedy bits is a plus.

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Registration and auditions will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kansas City Convention Center, 301 West 13th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64105. An application and monologue will be provided upon arrival. (You can also download the application at http://tv.disney.go.com/disneychannel/opencasting/DCOpenCallForm2010_Final.pdf) Be sure to bring a current photo that Disney Channel representatives can keep. A parent or legal guardian must accompany you if you are a minor.

Both working child actors and those without experience are welcome and will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis. As such, be prepared for a wait and bring what you need to pass the time -- an ipod, drinks or snacks. A Disney Channel representative told me they have seen as many as 2,000 kids show up for an open call.

There is no fee to attend the tryout, but travel expenses and incidentals, such as parking fees, are your responsibility. Attending the auditions is not a guarantee of employment, and there will be no contracts to sign on May 26.

Talented teen actors who are interested in other Disney performance opportunities can apply to work in the Disney Parks. The minimum age to apply to be a Disney character performer in shows, parades and meet-and-greets at Walt Disney World is 16, though that requirement varies at other properties. There is an audition today (May 17) at 4 p.m. at Disney's Animal Kingdom Rehearsal Facility for dancers and actors to portray Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Tinker Bell, and Rapunzel.

Actors 18 and older can attend an open call for comedic and improv actors at 9 a.m. Friday, May 18, at the same facility. Disney World is seeking to fill roles of a jedi master, Captain Jack Sparrow and his sidekick Mack.

Check out the upcoming calendar of auditions for Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line at DisneyAuditions.com. You'll also find information about what to expect and how to prepare for Disney auditions.

May 19, 2012

Aspiring young chefs can learn to cook at 3 Downtown Disney restaurants

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Young chefs work with about 30 feet of fresh pasta dough.

UPDATE: The class on June 23 has sold out. Levy Restaurants has added a second class on June 24 at the same time and price.

It's probably no surprise that many kids love to help their parents in the kitchen, but it's often with baking. Stirring and then sampling sweets is fun for all ages, right?

Levy Restaurants, however, is offering kids ages 6 to 12 the opportunity to make three delicious dishes at three different Downtown Disney restaurants at Walt Disney World. The kid-friendly cooking class takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at Fulton's Crab House, Portobello Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck Café.

So, what will the budding chefs create? The professionals at each restaurant will help kids make Goin' Fishin' snack mix, ravioli gigante and dessert sushi, and then they will sample what they have created.

"Last year we had about 30 feet of fresh pasta dough spread out with kids elbow to elbow filling, forming and cutting ravioli to simulate what we do in our kitchen every day for one of our signature items, 'Ravioli Gigante'," said Steven Richard, area chef for Levy Restaurants and former executive chef at Portobello. "It was a huge hit, and we are doing it again this year."

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Kids ages 6 to 12 learn to make sushi.

This is the third year that Portobello, Fulton's Crab House and Wolfgang Puck Café have teamed up to offer a spring cooking class for children. Richard said the young chefs have learned to prepare "variations of sushi ranging from the well-known, such as California rolls, to chicken finger rolls and this year's dessert sushi at Wolfgang Puck's. We've done pizza and homemade ravioli at Portobello. Fulton's has also done a range of things from chocolate chip cookies to the " Goin' Fishin' " snack mix that we will do this year."

Parents who might be hesitant to drop off their younger children are welcome to observe and even participate in the class. Others might seize the four hours that they know their kids are well-supervised and having fun to enjoy their own lunch and shopping at Downtown Disney.

"What we try to do for adult, as well as kids', cooking classes is to simplify and remove the mystery from things that people might not otherwise try at home. There is no reason why you can't make sushi, homemade pizza or fresh pasta at home, yet many people are intimidated to try it," Richard said. "Exposing children to a culture of home cooking is a very positive thing, and it can broaden the way that they look at food and inspire a healthy curiosity."

"Last year I made sushi for 16 second-graders [in his wife's elementary-school class] who had never tried it before. Most had never heard of it. By the end of the class, every one of them tried it and loved it," he said. "We get much of the same reaction when we do the classes in the restaurants. Imagine having your six-year-old asking for sushi instead of a burger and fries."

The Levy cooking class is $36 per child. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis until the class is full. To sign up, call 407-828-8996.

May 21, 2012

Disney's Star Wars Weekends offer galaxy of fun for kids

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Star Wars fans will, of course, be in their element at Disney's Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. But even if your kids cannot tell Luke Skywalker from Anakin Skywalker, they still can have a great time celebrating The Force.

First, get in a Star Wars mindset by riding Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue. The re-imagined ride opened last year with a 3D experience that takes riders through one of 54 sequences -- and you never know which journey you'll get.

The Star Tours ride empties into the Tatooine Traders gift shop and it's impossible to miss the roped off line for the latest Star Wars toys. New this year is the Droid Factory in the center of the store. There, the young and the young-at-heart can build their own droids with multiple color combinations, in R2-D2's likeness, and topped with Disney Parks' signature mouse ears hat.

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A complete droid consists of a body, a dome, a left leg, a middle leg, a right leg and a novelty hat. Single droids cost $11.95 plus tax and a double package is $18.95 plus tax. (Walt Disney World passholder discounts are honored at Tatooine Traders.) The packaging includes a sticker sheet of letters and symbols so guests can name their creations.

When I checked at various times on Saturday, the line for the Droid Factory remained steady at 30 minutes. That didn't deter my kids or seem to bother them much when we waited. The Droid Factory debuted this past weekend, the first of four Star Wars Weekends, and there is only the one location at Disney World.

Several cast members said that the standard R2-D2 look was the most popular for those making droids. A close second during the opening weekend were the clear domes with red and purple trim. Coming in August: different color body parts and Indiana Jones fedoras, a cast member said.

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If your child enjoyed the concept of putting together a toy, the store also offers guests the opportunity to build their own ultimate lightsabers. And kids ages 4 to 12 can test their lightsaber skills next door at the Jedi Training Academy.

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Jedi hopefuls have the opportunity to do battle against The Empire after a bit of training from a master Jedi. The young rebels are provided with brown robes and lightsabers for the show, and they set out to learn some signature moves before Darth Vader appears. (Read more about the story behind the show on Jack Spence's blog.)

Jedi Training Academy started out as an event offered only during Star Wars Weekends, but it was so popular that Disney built a permanent stage so young guests could do battle every day. There are limited spots each day, so registering first thing when you arrive at the Studios is necessary. Even with 16 shows each day, the slots fill up quickly. Sign-ups are in front of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!

(Years ago, when my nephew was really into Star Wars, children were chosen to participate in the Jedi Training Academy from the audience. That meant camping out by the stage for parents of kids whose top priority was the interactive Star Wars experience. This registration format certainly is a welcome change.)

Young guests won't want to miss the Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade that travels down Hollywood Boulevard and concludes with a short show at the Sorcerer Hat stage. In addition to the weekend's famous actors and personalities, the parade includes Jedi Mickey and many, many characters from the George Lucas films. The parade route is packed, so find a spot early if you want to take photos or have a decent vantage point. If you're a casual observer, grab a seat in front of the American Idol Experience and you'll see most of the characters go by, though not the celebrities.

Want more time with the characters? Photo opportunities with Disney characters dressed in their Star Wars costumes can be a fun experience. Look for Jedi Mickey, Stormtrooper Donald, R2-MK and Darth Goofy near the ABC Commissary. Star Wars characters from the movies and other Star Wars spinoffs also are stationed around Hollywood Studios for meet-and-greets.

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You also can visit Darth's Mall, the main location for event merchandise, where there is a backdrop set up for photos with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and other perennial favorites. Just as my daughter walked up to meet Princess Leia, C-3PO stepped out to join them. She was thrilled with that surprise! And afterward R2-D2 joined the party behind us.

Finally, what child can resist a special Star Wars snack container for a themed treat? Most food locations sell a kids' power pack in a plastic R2-D2 container. It includes string cheese, carrots and ranch dip, yogurt, goldfish, a cookie and a drink for $10.99. If it's time for dessert, there are Darth Vader cupcakes for $4.99 or chocolate or strawberry mousse in a smaller R2-D2 container for $8.99. And may The Force be with you after all that yummy sugar!

May 24, 2012

Tips for securing celebrity autographs at Disney's Star Wars Weekends

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Last weekend's crowds again proved the popularity of Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World. And one of the biggest draws for park guests is the opportunity to meet Star Wars celebrities and get photos and autographs.

At many fan conventions, those privileges don't come cheap, let alone free. Consequently, guests line up early for the limited slots to meet their favorite Star Wars actors and personalities at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And when I say early, I mean before dawn.

Years ago, my young son wanted to meet Jake Lloyd (young Anakin Skywalker), so my husband and I tried to make it happen. We arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios about 30 minutes before it opened. While Stormtroopers stood guard from atop the entrance, a small crowd waited for the turnstiles to open. When they did, guests raced back to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! to get FastPasses and ensure a spot to meet a celebrity.

The stampede among guests was so out of character for an event at Disney World, where organized queues are the company's specialty. Since that day, we've been to plenty of crowded passholder events through the years - including concerts featuring Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus - and none surprised us more than that experience.

Disney clearly has learned from those days and has implemented a FastPass system that doesn't involve putting on your track shoes. Guests are asked to line up along the right side of the main entrance to Hollywood Studios and the tickets are distributed to the queue. There is no need to rush past your neighbors when you get inside because you must have one of the tickets to receive a celebrity FastPass.

The published rules on the Star Wars Weekends map state that each guest may receive one FastPass -- and you have to be present to receive the special ticket. In other words, one person cannot get celebrity autograph FastPasses for everyone in his or her group. After all the FastPasses are distributed for the day, a limited number of stand-by tickets will be issued. These tickets do not guarantee autographs, but they are offered in case a celebrity has time after the FastPass holders have had their turns.

So, how early do you have to hit the concrete for the golden tickets? Several cast members I spoke with advised guests to be in line between 5 and 6 a.m. for the park opening at 8 a.m. Earlier is better, they emphasized. They recalled one guest who camped out 44 hours before the first day of Star Wars Weekends. That certainly guaranteed the guest a FastPass, but it's not necessary, they said.

Ray Park, who plays Darth Maul, was the most popular ticket for the first Star Wars Weekend this year, the cast members said. He was very personable and chatty, though, and only got to a few guests with stand-by tickets before he had to get to his presentation in the park.

If you've joined the fans waiting for celebrity autographs, we want to hear about your experience in the comments.


May 26, 2012

Be aware of changes at Disney's Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends

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So, you're planning a visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios during the month that includes Star Wars Weekends (through June 10 this year) and you have your entire day planned out, based on past experiences. Be aware that there are some minor changes within the park that might influence how you experience the day.

First, the Disney Channel Rocks! street show is set up a little differently. The float that normally rolls down Hollywood Boulevard with the performers is absent because there is not room for it to turn and park in front of the temporary Sorcerer Hat Stage. Performers instead enter from the side and use the stage. This really doesn't significantly alter the quality of the experience.

What it does affect, however, is your ability to get a good seat, and this format cuts down on confusion. Guests can stake out their spots on the concrete on any of the three sides whenever it's convenient for them. When the float is in the picture, guests who want to sit in the center section must line up on the right-hand side until it passes.

As you would expect, some of the other changes occur back in the area around the Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue attraction because that's where many of the Star Wars events are located. This section of Hollywood Studios is obviously more crowded, and there are a lot of roped off lanes to direct moving traffic away from guests waiting for the ride, character meet-and-greets and the Jedi Training Academy. (Too bad the smoking section hasn't been moved away from the crowds at this event!) Cast members enforce a one-way traffic pattern for guests exiting Tatooine Traders by directing them down the ramp toward the Streets of America. From there, guests can continue to the back of the park or circle around past the ABC Commissary to head toward the front. Give yourself some extra time to move through this section if you're trying to catch the end of a FastPass window or get to a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the stand-by wait for Star Tours to be less than an hour most of the day last Saturday, the first of the Star Wars Weekends. This is good news for guests who want to ride more than once and are juggling show schedules and FastPass tickets. When Star Tours reopened in 2011, it wasn't uncommon to see two-hour waits -- or longer -- and the queue was roped off all the way down the Streets of America.

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The nearby Jedi Training Academy is available year-round and is always popular, but never more so than during Star Wars Weekends. If your child has his or her heart set on battling Darth Vader, be sure to sign up in front of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! when you first enter the park. Even with extra show times added each day during Star Wars Weekends, the slots fill up quickly in the morning.

Finally, don't underestimate the popularity of Star Wars Weekends and the effect the crowds will have on your ability to enter Hollywood Studios. By noon last Saturday, the parking lot was completely full. Cast members were directing guests to park at Epcot for free and use a special ticket to board a bus back to the Studios. This process could add hours to the start and end of your day, so plan accordingly.

For additional information about Star Wars Weekends, see my post about fun things for kids to do HERE and tips for securing celebrity autographs HERE.

May 27, 2012

D23 Fanniversary: Boston

by Scott Lopes and Monica Cesar
Photos by Scott and Barbara Lopes


It was a long awaited day for Disney fans in Boston, MA, as Disney's D23 held its third Fanniversary event on May 20 at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

(I'll stop at this point to add a disclaimer: the rest of this article contains spoilers and if you already have tickets for an upcoming Fanniversary event -- or are hoping that they add more stops on the tour -- you might want to stop reading at this point.)

We headed to Boston by train, which we think Walt would have appreciated, and arrived in Boston around 12:30 p.m. The event was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and we were let into the museum around 1:30.


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We then proceeded to the contemporary art wing, where we joined hundreds of other fans in line waiting to get into the Remis Auditorium.


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Since this was a Disney event, there were lots of little Disney details that you might expect. For example, as I walked into the museum I noticed a hidden Mickey formed by a trash can and two in-ground lights. Also, it sounded like they used the same announcer from the parks to do the pre-show countdown, making you have to think twice as to if you were in Boston or waiting to see the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom.

After arriving in line each person was handed a D23 button and D23 members received a 2012 Fanniversary pennant. After being checked off the list, we entered the auditorium. Once in the auditorium we selected our seats and I was able to take one last picture, as photography, video or audio recording were not permitted during the presentation.


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The show began with the introduction of the hosts, Becky from the Walt Disney Archives department and Jeffrey from D23. Also on hand during the presentation were cast members from local Disney stores, such as North Attleboro, MA.

It was clear from the outset that Becky and Jeffrey were passionate about Disney, and they were clearly excited to be amongst numerous Disney fans. The Fanniversary presentation consisted of a 90-minute slideshow of major Disney anniversaries being celebrated this year. The kick-off began with the 85th anniversary of the debut of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a prelude to none other than the most famous Disney character created, Mickey Mouse.

Speaking of famous Disney characters, it was also brought to the audience's attention that the lovable character of Goofy turns 83 years old this year. A special treat was provided when we got to see Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy since 1985, on the screen welcoming us D23 fans.

Disney's first color animation, Flowers and Trees, debuted 80 years ago, thus paving the way for a future of great accomplishments in the world colored animated features. One such animated feature was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White not only celebrates a 75th anniversary this year, it also accomplished a few firsts back in the day. It was the first animated film to have a soundtrack released and the first film to have merchandise associated with the film sold to the public. Fans of any generation have Walt Disney and his creation of Snow White to thank for their favorite movie dolls, cups clothes, etc.

Next on the list, the beloved Bambi made its debut 70 years ago. As Jeffrey and Becky presented in their slide, Bambi was a difficult movie to make. The artists had to work diligently to create an animated world of forest animals. These artists and others worked closely not only with Walt Disney himself, but also with the gifted group of Imagineers -- a team Walt created 60 years ago of individuals who were not only engineers, but were tasked to use their wild imagination in creating Disney products.

The last animated feature personally supervised by Walt was the Jungle Book, which debuted 45 years ago and is still a favorite among Disney fans everywhere.

Walt's Imagineers worked hard to make his vision of a futuristic environmentally conscious world in the creation of Epcot, which opened in Disney World on October 1, 1982. Walt's imagination was not contained after his untimely death: Disneyland Paris opened its doors 20 years ago and is to this day the most popular tourist destination in Europe. Many more Disney anniversaries were highlighted, proving to the fans present that the next generation of Disney fans will have much to celebrate.

It certainly would not have been a Disney fan event without hearing and seeing Walt Disney on screen in rare, never-before-seen footage of him working to create his magic.

After the event guests were able to chat with the presenters, Becky from the archives and Jeffrey from D23.


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Becky and Jeffrey were very personable and were very informative both during the presentation and after. Overall we recommend this event to any Disney fan!


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NOTE: Tickets for this event went on sale for D23 members on March 16; general admission opened on March 30. The remaining D23 Fanniversary events (Orlando on June 23, and Chicago on June 24) are sold out, however there is a waitlist for Orlando. Pricing for the event is $18 for D23 members and a guest and $25 for general admission. Fanniversary events have already been held in the following cities: Los Angeles, CA on April 27, San Francisco on April 28, Boston on May 20, and New York City on May 22.

May 29, 2012

Meet Merida from Disney-Pixar's Brave at Magic Kingdom

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A new character officially began meeting guests Friday at Disney's Magic Kingdom. Merida, the main character from Disney-Pixar's "Brave," is the fearless and impulsive daughter of Scotland's King Fergus and Queen Elinor. Her archery skills are as legendary as her impetuousness. She gets into a bit of trouble in the animated film, which debuts in theaters June 22, and must prove her bravery to save the kingdom.

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At her Orlando kingdom, however, Merida is more regal than mischieveous. The new meet-and-greet has taken over the beautiful Fairytale Garden adjacent to Cinderella Castle. The area has been stripped of its purple canopy and banners and romantic touches that decorated the spot for Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. Instead, the old world stone facade has taken on a Scottish theme from the movie. New props include flags, archery targets, and Celtic banners and plaques depicting scenes from the story.

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The Merida meet-and-greet begins just as the Rapunzel experience did -- with guests lining up on the hillside pathway between the Fairytale Garden and Cinderella Castle. Cast members allow 50 guests into the garden at a time. Once inside, parents wait along the wall to meet Merida, and kids are invited to a large table to color. (So, essentially, you are waiting in two lines.)

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However, the second line goes much faster because in addition to coloring, kids can take a quick archery lesson from a cast member dressed in a kilt and traditional Scottish attire. The cast member helps each child aim a rubber-tipped arrow at a target a few feet away. (Don't worry: there is a net behind the target to protect unsuspecting parents.) While we waited in line, each of my children was able to try to shoot an arrow twice and they loved it.

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Adding a unique interactive component such as the archery to this meet-and-greet area really improves the experience and makes what can be a long wait more worthwhile. The Tangled experience was called a "play-and-greet," which I always thought was a misnomer, but the Merida meet could use that term fairly.

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As guests finally approach Merida, they'll notice the backdrop for their photo is a cart with the three adorable bear cubs from "Brave." The cubs are animated, continually moving their heads while sitting in place. When a photo is taken, however, notice how they freeze on the spot. Looks like the Imagineers thought of everything!

Merida is greeting guests from 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the daily time sheet. However, when we stopped by on Saturday, she was staying out until 6:30 p.m.

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Once you exit the courtyard, you won't have to look far to see Brave merchandising. Among the offerings on the cart are a Barbie-size Merida doll ($19), T-shirt ($28), an archery set ($20) and a large plush bear ($20). For little girls who want to dress up as Merida, the total outfit will set you back a pretty penny: Merida's green dress ($65), crown ($18), wig ($18) and the requisite archery set ($20). Better hope you can persuade her that outfit has to be her Halloween costume, as well.

Here's a look at the Merida meet-and-greet:

Walt and the Promise of Progress City: The Florida Project

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the past few months, AllEars.Net has been highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City. The book explores the process through which meaningful and functional spaces were created by Walt Disney and his artists, as well as how guests understand and experience those spaces. It also takes a look at how Walt wanted to change the public's expectations about city life in the same way his earlier work had redefined what it meant to watch an animated film or visit an amusement park. In this month's excerpt, the final in our series, we learn about Walt Disney's goals for the Disney World project.

The Florida Project
by Sam Gennawey

What would motivate somebody as successful as Walt Disney to take on one of the most difficult challenges that anybody could tackle: the reinvention and renewal of our urban spaces? Could it be, after changing the world of animation and the amusement park industry, he felt he had a higher calling?

Walt Disney said, "I don't believe that there's a challenge anywhere in the world that's more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities." Walt felt that something was wrong with the way cities were designed, and he believed that, with the proper application of new technologies and creative thinking, he could create a city that would demonstrate to others how they could solve their urban planning problems.

Walt was not a fan of cities, and he really could not understand why anybody would want to live in one. He felt that his growing up in the country had given him a sense of independence, individualism, and democratic character. Perhaps because he spent a lot of time on the streets of Kansas City as a boy, his image of city centers was that they were overcrowded, unclean, sometimes dangerous places, and always filled with visual chaos. Walt was especially disappointed with the way Los Angeles was becoming choked in urban sprawl. Walt sensed that many American cities and suburbs were disorienting and inefficient.

On the 1948 train trip to the Chicago Railroad Fair, Walt had told Ward Kimball, "I can't figure out why in the hell everybody lives in the city where they don't have any room and can't do anything. Why don't they come out here where they have this great empty land, filled with opportunity and silence?" Disney biographer Bob Thomas, author of Building a Company, speculated that Walt's interest in city planning could be "an outgrowth of his lifelong search for better ways of doing things: adding sound, color, full-length stories, and dimension (via the multiplane camera) to animation; revolutionizing outdoor entertainment." In The Triumph of the American Imagination, author Neal Gabler said Walt wanted to "create an entire urban environment from scratch: a perfect city."

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury declared "that the first function of architecture is to make men over, make them wish to go on living, feed them fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind... Disneyland liberates men to their better selves. Here the wild brute is gently corralled, not squished and squashed, not put upon and harassed, not tromped on by real estate operators, not exhausted by smog and traffic." In 1960, Bradbury suggested to Walt that he should run for mayor of Los Angeles because he was the only man who knew how things work. Bradbury really believed that Walt understood the issues, especially when it came to public transit. Bradbury said, "I'm all for making Walt Disney our next mayor... the only man in the city who can get a working rapid transit system built without any more surveys, and turn it into a real attraction so that people will want to ride it." Walt's reply was, "Why should I run for mayor when I am already king?" Again, in 1964, Bradbury suggested that Walt was the only person who could "save us from our own self-destruction." He added, "[Walt] Disney is a city builder. He has already proven his ability to construct an entire community, plus rivers, plus mountains, from the gas lines up. He has already solved most of the problems that beset Los Angeles."

Disney Legend John Hench said, "Disneyland was very courageous on Walt's part, and Florida shows the most guts of anything... to take a kind of civilization, make it ideal, and then to make it practical." With the success of Disneyland, Walt understood that there was a better way to organize and manage the urban environment. When done properly, this new thinking would create a world with the kind of places we want to return to again and again -- because they are based on a "timeless way of building" and offer a higher quality of life for everyone. Walt also understood that he was the person best suited to take on the challenge.

May 31, 2012

Say goodbye to Snow White's Scary Adventures at Disney's Magic Kingdom

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Another one of the Magic Kingdom's original attractions closes today, May 31. After 40-plus years, Snow White's Scary Adventures will be shut down and the space reconfigured as part of the multi-year Fantasyland expansion project.

For many, today will be a day of fond farewells. For others, it's out with the old and in with the new.

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When Snow White's Scary Adventures first opened in 1971, Snow White did not appear in any scenes within the attraction. Instead, guests were supposed to be experiencing the story, based on the 1937 Disney animated film, from the princess's perspective. In addition, the Queen-turned-witch popped up more often and the Dwarfs were seen less. Consequently, that version was considered by many parents to be scarier.

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A refurbishment in 1994 toned down the witch's dominance of the attraction by adding Snow White to several scenes, including the classic Happily Ever After ending in which the Prince awakens Snow White from her spell. The Dwarfs also are more prominently seen alongside the ride, too. (Want to read more about Snow White's history with The Walt Disney Co.? See Jack's blog HERE.)

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Although I always have a sense of deja vu when riding Snow White's Scary Adventures, I don't have specific memories of the attraction from my first childhood visit to the Magic Kingdom in 1979. I can recall a vague sense of adventure circling the wishing well and heading into the mines, but I do not remember being overly afraid.

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By the same token, Snow White's Scary Adventures was not a ride that I begged to go on repeatedly, and neither do my elementary-school-age children today. My 7-year-old daughter would much rather be interacting with the Disney Princesses than just zipping by murals of them. For our family, spending 30 minutes in a queue for a meet-and-greet has more value than the same amount of time in this old-school ride. I can imagine we are not alone.

And so, although I am sad to see another bit of Disney World history disappear, I am excited about the new Princess Fairytale Hall, which will be built in the building that now houses Snow White's Scary Adventures. Set to open late in 2013, this location will be the new home for princess meet-and-greets.

Disney describes it this way: "The castle-like entrance will feature walls of stone and stained glass windows. The entrance will open into a large gallery -- an airy space with a high ceiling and portraits of Disney Princesses. When it's time for their audience with a princess, guests will proceed to an elegantly finished room to meet her."

In the meantime, guests can continue to meet the Disney Princesses, including Snow White, at the Town Square Theater at the front of the park. There, you can even get a FastPass and avoid a long wait. (A tip: The princesses rotate appearances in the theater. If Snow White is a must-see for your little girl and she is not there when your audience occurs, ask a cast member when she is scheduled to return.)

Snow White usually appears for meet-and-greets with all her Dwarfs at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

One of the last parts of the Fantasyland expansion to open will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster in 2014. This gentle ride is expected to use new technology to create a swaying train on a course that includes the Dwarfs' cottage and mine.

Are you among the fans eager for something new? Or would you have preferred that Disney preserve Snow White's Scary Adventures?

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About May 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in May 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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