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June 1, 2012

A Blast From The Past: Dining at the 50's Prime Time Cafe

Andrew Rossi

Disney's Hollywood Studios may be the smallest of all the theme parks, but it is home to two of the best-themed restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. One of the best parts about dining in Disney World is that you can eat at places that you cannot experience anywhere else. This holds especially true for the Sci-Fi Dine-In and the 50's Prime Time Café, restaurants that are uniquely Disney and offer dining experiences unlike anything you may have had before. These two restaurants are really great examples of Disney storytelling at its best, featuring themes that are embellished with the most minute of details to create an atmosphere and experience which is truly immersive. While both restaurants will take you back in time, they transport you to totally different worlds, worlds in which theming and detail are just as important as the food when it comes to your dining experience.

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Prime Time Exterior

Overview:
The 50's Prime Time Café is a nostalgic tour back to the 1950s, a time of classic television sitcoms such as "I Love Lucy," "Leave It To Beaver," and "Father Knows Best." In fact, a meal at 50's Prime Time makes you feel as though you have stepped right into one of these television shows. This is a restaurant where everyone is treated like family. While Mom is back in the kitchen preparing your lunch or dinner, you are waited on by an "Aunt" or "Uncle" and are introduced to the rest of your "Cousins" (your fellow diners) who are sitting at the tables next to you.

While you are invited to be comfortable and make yourself at home, there are also some rules that everyone is expected to follow, such as not putting your elbows on the table or making sure to eat all your vegetables. Your Aunt or Uncle will make sure that you follow these rules and there is a good amount of fun and gentle-ribbing that goes on during the course of your meal. Depending on how strict they are, you may also be forced to set the table before you get your food. For this reason, the 50's Prime Time Café is more than your typical restaurant, but rather an experience that makes you an active participant.

Atmosphere:
Attention to detail is something that Disney is known for and it is clearly evident throughout the 50's Prime Time Café. From the minute you step in the main entrance you feel as though you have set foot in a typical 1950's home. The waiting area and bar have the look of a large living room, complete with wood-paneled walls, bookshelves cluttered with various knick knacks, brightly-colored sofas and love seats, and of course numerous retro-looking black and white televisions playing scenes from classic 1950's sitcoms.

Prime Time Waiting Area

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Prime Time Bar

Entering the main dining area, you move from the living room to the kitchen and once again are treated to a completely immersive and authentic 1950's atmosphere. The restaurant's décor features an astonishing amount of little details, with everything from kitchen appliances such as toasters, blenders, pots, and pans to various vintage clocks, storage canisters and containers, tea pots, colorful glassware, and many decorative items featuring roosters or advertising Coca Cola.

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Knick Knacks

50s Decor

One of my favorite parts of the décor were the numerous cookie jars coming in all shapes, sizes, and designs, including one that looked like a dog house.

Dog House Cookie Jar

Just as in the waiting area, the dining rooms feature black and white televisions broadcasting scenes from classic shows such as "Father Knows Best," "Leave It To Beaver," and the original "Mickey Mouse Club." All these details really make you feel as though you are eating in a 1950's kitchen, and it is really fun for people who grew up in the fifties to spot different items that they had in their own home.

Television

This at-home feel gives the 50's Prime Time a very fun, casual, and laid back atmosphere. It is definitely a great restaurant for the entire family (with little kids especially liking the fact that they can watch television throughout their entire meal). Adding to this atmosphere is the tremendous amount of bright and vibrant colors found throughout the restaurant. The main dining area is divided into a series of smaller rooms, with each of these rooms having a different feel in terms of color and decoration. As you move from room to room you encounter various changes in wall paper, curtains, counter tops, and light fixtures, all of which make you feel as though you are moving through different rooms of a house (except in this case all the rooms happen to be kitchens).

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Overall the atmosphere of the restaurant can be appreciated on different levels by different guests. For kids it is fun to see how things were in the past and how different they are from today while for adults the atmosphere helps to brings back memories of their own childhoods.

The Menu:
While the 50's Prime Time Café may not feature a menu of gourmet delicacies, it can give you a good, old-fashioned, home-cooked meal that is "just like Mom used to make."

One of the fun aspects of the menu is that different items are named for different members of the family. For example, among the appetizer offerings there is Aunt Annie's Seafood Salad ($9.99) featuring lump blue crab, bay scallops, and shrimp tossed in citrus vinaigrette and served on seasonal greens as well as Cousin Amy's Iceberg Lettuce Wedge ($5.49) with blue cheese dressing, bacon, and chives. Other appetizers include the Chicken Noodle Soup ($6.49) which includes a hearty mixture of chicken, vegetables, and egg noodles, the Blue Claw Crab Cake ($9.49) served with succotash, chili sauce, and crispy onions, and Beer Battered Onion Rings for Two ($8.49).

The entrée items are all very familiar, with nothing really flashy or exotic, but all the dishes are in keeping with the restaurant's theme. The entrée selections remain the same for both lunch and dinner and include a Grilled Boneless Pork Loin ($20.99) glazed with peppered mushroom gravy with mashed potatoes and green beans, Cousin Barry's Olive Oil Poached Salmon ($19.99) served with sweet peas, brown rice pilaf, and a dill cream sauce, Caesar Salad served with your choice of chicken ($13.49) or salmon ($15.49), Aunt Liz's Golden Fried Chicken ($16.99) served with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and southern greens, Spaghetti and "Meatballs" ($15.99) featuring multigrain spaghetti and vegetarian meatballs with Dad's marinara sauce, Dad's Traditional Meatloaf ($14.99) with a blend of beef and pork and topped with tomato glaze, served with mashed potatoes, and green beans, Mom's Old Fashioned Pot Roast ($17.99) served with mashed potatoes, carrots, celery and onions, and Grandma's Chicken Pot Pie ($17.99) featuring a creamy cheese mixture of chicken, mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, and peas topped with a flaky pastry. For those guests having a little difficulty deciding there is the Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes ($19.99) that includes the Fried Chicken, Pot Roast, and Traditional Meatloaf with all the fixings.

Be sure to eat all your vegetables because there are some delectable desserts available such as Dad's Brownie Sundae ($5.99) topped with hot fudge and caramel sauce, No Sugar Added Cheesecake ($5.49) topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberry sauce, a Seasonal Cobbler ($5.49) that can also be served ala mode ($7.49), 50's Boston Cream Parfait ($5.49) with layers of chocolate fudge, vanilla cream, and pound cake topped with whipped cream, and S'mores ($4.79).

For an appetizer I decided on the Beer Battered Onion Rings, which in my opinion were some of the best I have had anywhere in Disney World. The onion rings were fried perfectly with a nice golden brown color and were not overly crispy. There was a slight beer flavor to the batter, but it was just enough to add a little extra taste rather than being overpowering. What really adds to the onion rings is the horseradish sauce that accompanies it, providing an extra little kick. The flavor of the horseradish complimented the onion and beer batter extremely well and it was not so strong that it dominated everything. This may be a simple and common appetizer found at many other restaurants or even prepared in your own home, but it is executed perfectly in taste, texture, and flavor and comes in a huge portion that can easily be shared by three or four people.

Onion Rings

Whenever dining at the 50's Prime Time, my mainstay entrée has always been Dad's Traditional Meatloaf, but this time I decided to try something different and opted for Grandma's Chicken Pot Pie. Again, while the menu features many traditional, home-style meals that may not jump out at you as being anything special, you are still getting the same type of quality food that you get from any other Disney restaurant.

The chicken pot pie was very rich and creamy with big pieces of chicken and vegetables. There was also a slight hint of cheese that really added extra flavor to the dish and helped give a little bit of a new twist to a traditional dish. I liked the fact that there were large pieces of chicken breast rather than having the chicken cut up into small, bite-sized pieces. The vegetables, which included mushrooms, carrots, celery, peas, and onions, were cooked just right so that they were not too hard and not too soft. I would have liked the vegetables more, however, if there had been more carrots and onions and less celery. That being said, I am not usually a celery fan, but I did feel as though the celery added a little extra flavor and texture to the dish. The pie crust was very light and flaky, also featuring a hint of cheese for added flavor, and really helped make the meal stand out as something more than your typical chicken pot pie.

Chicken Pot Pie

For dessert I decided to try the S'mores, which presents a new spin on a campfire favorite. The marshmallows are toasted to a nice golden brown and not burnt at all. The dessert is very chocolaty, featuring a layer of chocolate between the marshmallows and the graham crackers in addition to being drizzled over the top. The graham crackers were a little softer than what I expected and I would have really liked it if there had been a layer on top as well like traditional s'mores. Nevertheless, this was still a simple, but tasty, dessert and a fun way to end the meal.

Smores

Service:
I would argue that more so than any other restaurant in Disney World, the service at 50's Prime Time Café can truly make or break your dining experience. This is really a restaurant where the service is just as important as the food. Even if the food is great, if you have a lackluster server it takes away from the overall impact of the restaurant and you leave feeling a little disappointed. On the whole, I have mostly had great experiences at 50's Prime Time. There are some servers who are really over-the-top and truly go above-and-beyond with the theming. I have seen servers not only yelling at guests to take their elbows off the table and embarrassing them in front of the other guests but also putting children (and sometimes adults) in time-out and having them stand in the corner of the room facing the wall. I have been force-fed vegetables by one of my servers when I didn't finish them and another time a server brought me a very "special" dessert because I had not finished my string beans.

String Bean Dessert

At the other end of the spectrum there are some servers who are more laid back and low-key and, although it seems funny to say, they are just too nice. While these servers still provide good service, they do not help create the same sense of immersion that you get when you have a server who is going all-out. Overall, it is the service, especially the really enthusiastic and passionate cast members, that makes this restaurant truly special.

Dining on a Budget:
The 50's Prime Time Café is actually fairly affordable by Disney standards. Entrée selections such as Aunt Liz's Golden Fried Chicken for $16.99, Dad's Traditional Meatloaf for $14.99, and Mom's Old Fashioned Pot Roast for $17.99 are all very reasonable for the large portion size you receive. The best value on the menu is probably the Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes for $19.99 that features all three and is absolutely huge. What you have to also factor into the prices is that you are getting so much more in terms of the overall dining experience (the service and atmosphere of the restaurant). Dining at 50's Prime Time is about more than just the food.

If you are looking for an even cheaper option, the restaurant also features a bar at which you can sit and order off the regular menu. One possibility for a quick and fairly cheap meal for two people would be to sit at the bar and order a couple of appetizers. The Beer Battered Onion Rings could easily serve two for $7.99 and the menu features several other affordable appetizer options as well. If you are still hungry, consider splitting a dessert, such as Dad's Brownie Sundae, which is absolutely huge and also a good value at $5.99.

The 50's Prime Time Café is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland with members receiving its 20% discount. However, neither Annual Passholders nor Disney Vacation Club members receive discounts here.

The Overall Experience:
When it comes to theming and creating an overall sense of immersion, the 50's Prime Time Café is one of my favorite restaurants in all of Disney World. It is a dining experience unlike any other. While the food may be a far cry from gourmet, it is still of a very high quality. But, this is a restaurant where the food may not even be the most important aspect. An extremely dedicated and passionate group of cast members who deliver service that is both fun and entertaining, great attention to the smallest of details in the decor, and a unique back-story all combine to make dining at 50's Prime Time truly unforgettable. I highly recommend this restaurant for everyone, but especially families traveling with children because not only do you get a good, old-fashion, home-cooked meal at an affordable price but in doing so you will also have a lot of fun.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of 50's Prime Time Cafe and post your own too!

HGTV's 'My Yard Goes Disney' returns tonight with 11 new shows

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After a one-hour special in February, the second season of "My Yard Goes Disney" returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET on HGTV. The special and recent presentations at Walt Disney World by host Brandon Johnson offered fans a look at all the wonderfully themed and unexpected elements the show will feature this season.

During the February show, "My House Goes Disney," viewers were treated not just to the unveiling of an outdoor makeover, but also those of three bedrooms that five children share in their Lakeland, Florida, home. Even the family pet's space got a magical makeover. 

HGTV designers and Disney Imagineers took their inspiration for the interior makeovers from upcoming events at Disney Parks. For the oldest son's bedroom, Disney World's Art of Animation resort -- which opened its Nemo-themed suites yesterday -- was the model. Two younger boys will share a souped-up room based on the new Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure. And the two girls have a new room fit for a princess and a fairy, which were recently showcased at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. 

Outside, the family's backyard was modeled after their favorite Walt Disney World resort, Disney's Beach Club. The New England touches were evident in the deck surrounding the existing swimming pool, a new wading pool with a fountain, and even the Adirondack chairs.

And that was just the first house chosen for a Disney-style makeover this year! Host Johnson described others -- and even showed photos -- when he was one of the HGTV celebrity speakers at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival in April.

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" 'My Yard Goes Disney' is all about dreams coming true. We are about creating spaces that celebrate your family's favorite moments," he said.

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Certainly the one-of-a-kind outdoor features are beyond most people's wildest dreams, as the new season of shows attest. For the Trautwein family, reminders of Epcot are now no farther than their backyard, which houses a Spaceship Earth-inspired greenhouse, a Mickey Mouse fountain and a science center for the kids. And if the family needs to get a little air time, they can take turns on a sky bike with a track 12 feet off the ground.

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Another family's backyard fun was elevated to a higher level, as well. The Krantz family received quite a play fort, modeled after Disney's Treehouse Villas. This is no ordinary treehouse -- it gives residents a choice of bunkbeds for an afternoon nap and a roller coaster zipline to carry them to a splash pad on the ground.

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"The Krantz family's backyard really spoke to me. I love adrenaline and speed. Their zipline roller coaster is incredible," Johnson said. "And their Explorer's Club takes imagination to a whole other level -- literally. It's almost 30 feet up in the air. Could you imagine having sleepovers there as a kid? Unreal!"

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The We family loves to swim and splash and now they can do both at their own backyard lagoon with a private island, a nod to Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay. The lagoon has varying depths and includes a tropical reef, and the island in the center contains water play equipment that is reminiscent of Nemo's Reef on the Disney Dream. A new boardwalk offers space to entertain and a whole lot of palm trees add to the secluded feel.

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My favorite new "My Yard Goes Disney" backyard is one inspired by Blizzard Beach. It has the signature floating "ice" in the pool with the net hanging above it for kids to grasp as they try to stay afloat while crossing. There's a sleigh for photo opportunities, just like at the Disney water park, and plenty of skis and "snow" to complete the theme. But the best part has to be the patio-turned-concession stand that offers guests frozen drinks, snow cones, hot dogs, popcorn, and the park's popular mini donuts.

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Those who love Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground will be happy to see it, too, represented this season on "My Yard Goes Disney." Several of its popular features have been replicated for the Monize family: a 1,500-foot surrey bike path, an outdoor campground, an outdoor movie theater and a geyser that shoots 30 feet in the air to help keep the family cool in the Florida sun.

When you tune in tonight, though, the first of the 11 yards you will see this season will be that of the Morales family. HGTV describes it this way: "The Morales' daughters have all of their princess dreams come true as HGTV's designers turn one little girl's drawings for a Disney-inspired backyard into a reality. Host Brandon Johnson and the build team create a Snow White-style village, a backyard model train set that Walt himself would have loved and add a Cinderella-style dollhouse all the way from England. Mom and Dad get the royal treatment, too, with an extended entertainment area and a mini golf course reminiscent of Disney's Fantasia Gardens."

Here a sneak peek from HGTV:

To get the latest news about "My Yard Goes Disney" and other projects Johnson is involved with, be sure to check out his new website at http://www.officialbrandonjohnson.com/

June 5, 2012

Disney World's Art of Animation hotel suites well-planned for families

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Walt Disney World has taken its focus on multi-generational travel a step farther with the addition of more family suites to its hotel inventory. On May 31, Disney's Art of Animation, the newest resort in the value category, officially opened its first wing with 320 family suites.

And there are more to come. By mid-August, Art of Animation will have two more wings open for a total of 1,120 suites. Although the theming for each wing will be based on a different animated movie -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars" or "The Lion King" -- the suites will offer the same amenities.

Each family suite can sleep up to six people, and the functional and innovative furnishings ensure everyone has adequate space. The suites are essentially two single rooms put together and divided into three living areas.

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When you enter the suite, you'll first see a dining table with four chairs -- perfect for eating a meal that was prepared in the kitchenette or for use as a workspace. (Outlets are located above the side tables.) No need to balance a plate or computer on your lap! At night, the chairs -- which are quite sturdy despite being plastic -- are easy to stack and tuck in a corner when the Inova Table Bed is opened. This invention is similar to a Murphy bed, and it comes down easily as the table collapses underneath it. The Inova Table Bed fascinated my kids when we stayed in one of the Nemo suites recently and they couldn't wait to sleep in it.

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The second area of the suite houses a kitchenette with a refrigerator, microwave, sink and coffee-maker. For families, having the equipment to easily prepare breakfast and even some other meals in the room can greatly enhance their Disney World vacation. Not only does eating in save money, but it also may save time when family members don't have to get cleaned up and travel to other locations for reservations. Also, Pop Art Pizza delivers the Italian pies and other popular entrees, along with sodas, beer and wine, to guest rooms, and the kitchenette is useful for saving leftovers and reheating them.

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Next to the kitchenette in the family room is a sleeper sofa, a lamp table, two small coffee tables, an upholstered chair that spins, a television, chest of drawers and an area to hang clothes. This space is a comfortable place to hang out that converts into a second sleeping area at night. One cool feature here (and in the master bedroom) is that guests can plug in their videocameras and watch what they've recorded so far on the television. If that special experience wasn't taped properly, you'll know and have time to try again. Jacks for gaming devices and other electronics are also available.

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The third area of the suite is the master bedroom, which has a queen bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers with a television and DVD player, and a place to hang clothes. There are no closets in the family suites, but the master bedroom has several places to stash your suitcases. I usually am a heavy packer, and even with all my bags and suitcases, we had ample room to move around the suite.

In the Nemo suites, the decor of the rooms is coordinated with bright colors and an under-the-sea motif that kids and parents both are sure to love. Everywhere they look, they will find new details -- from the lamps shaped like sea urchins to the coral design in the backs of the plastic chairs to the wavy pattern in the carpet.

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Guests also have two full bathrooms at their disposal, and they are designed to make you feel as though you are in the movie's submarine. The master bath incorporates the brown tones and offers a more upscale feel with a large, glassed-in rain shower and a vanity that looks like a piece of furniture. The second bathroom has a tub with a Bruce the shark shower curtain and toilet that are separate from the sink. On mirrors in both is etched the saying, "Fish are friends."

The family suites at Art of Animation are priced from $248 to $415, depending on the view and season. Guests soon can choose to stay in the "Cars" wing, which opens June 18, and "The Lion King" wing, which opens Aug. 10. The Little Mermaid wing -- the only part of the hotel with single rooms -- opens Sept. 15. Those rooms start at $95 per night.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

June 7, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation offers its guests a variety of outdoor and indoor recreation

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Walt Disney World resorts are known for their recreational offerings, and the new Art of Animation hotel is no exception.

The centerpiece for the new hotel that is themed around four animated movies -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" -- is The Big Blue Pool in the Nemo courtyard. At 12,000 feet, the pool is the biggest on Disney property, excluding the ones at the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and it is designed to be enjoyed by guests of all ages.

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A zero entry at one end allows swimmers of varying abilities to wade in gradually. In the shallow water there, kids can splash under the dripping-water tentacles of four pinkish-purple jellyfish structures. The deepest area of The Big Blue Pool is the center at 4 feet, 9 inches. Perhaps the coolest feature, however, is the underwater sound system -- a first at Disney World. Guests who dive beneath the surface can hear Disney music and even messages from the "Finding Nemo" characters.

Like the recreation courtyards at other Disney resorts in the value category, the theming is larger than life. Imagineers want guests to feel as though they are experiencing the area from Nemo's point of view. It's difficult not to feel dwarfed when you're standing next to a 30-foot-tall Crush or a Mr. Ray sculpture with a 26-foot wingspan. Being immersed in the animated story is what sets this resort apart from others.

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Other characters from "Finding Nemo" come to life in the adjacent Schoolyard Sprayground. Nemo and his father, Marlin, sit atop a 16-foot-tall sea anemone they call home in the movie. Tad, Chicken Fish, Sheldon and Pearl squirt water from the perimeter of the splash pad. Just beyond the sprayground is Squirt's Righteous Reef, a dry playground with three slides and a soft landing spot at each.

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Cast members host family friendly activities, such as Bingo, water basketball and hula hoop games, poolside each day from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The most popular events -- The Big Blue Pool Party at 3 p.m., the Righteous Dance Party Extravaganza at 4 p.m. and Arts & Crafts at 4:30 p.m. -- occur when many guests return to the resort from the theme parks. At 9 each night, a Movie Under the Stars is shown on a huge inflatable screen near the pool. Guests can swim or relax in lounge chairs for the show. My almost-8-year-old-daughter was eager to dance to hit Disney songs and to make a shark-themed picture frame during her afternoon at the pool. She reluctantly took a break for dinner before donning her swimsuit again for the evening movie.

Older kids might enjoy the ping-pong tables on the Mr. Ray side of the pool, including one that allows for four players. (Family-style gaming seems to be a recent trend, with DisneyQuest installing a four-person air hockey table and a four-player Pac Man system.)

With so many activities to choose from, my elementary-school-age children soon forgot they were ever concerned that there wasn't a water slide at the pool. And when Art of Animation's other wings open this year, two additional swimming pools and a playground will be available to guests. The "Cars" section opening June 18 will house the Cozy Cone Pool, and "The Little Mermaid" wing will have the Flippin Fins Pool beginning Aug. 10. The Elephant Graveyard play area will be located in "The Lion King" courtyard on Sept. 15.

Guests visiting the swimming pools and playgrounds at Disney's Ar of Animation will want to remember to bring two things -- towels from their rooms because they are not distributed at the pools and their room keys because the new recreation areas are gated.

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If it's a rainy day or you just need a break from the Florida sun, head inside Animation Hall for other recreation options. Many consider shopping a fun pasttime, and the Ink & Paint Shop offers resort-specific merchandise as well as popular Disney World souvenirs. Just outside the gift shop is Pixel Play Arcade for those who love to game. To play, guests must purchase a digital points card and choose how much money to load on it, beginning at $5. The arcade houses old-school favorites and newer attractions. A smart addition is the group of plush benches and small tables at the front for waiting parents.

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Out in the lobby, tucked next to the front doors, is an area where guests can learn to draw various Disney characters step-by-step. An animator is there from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday to lead guests through the process. Classes start on the hour and are free. This is a popular activity at DisneyQuest and at The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Of course, it's a perfect fit for Art of Animation.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

June 9, 2012

Disney helps protect ocean wildlife and you can, too

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Yesterday Walt Disney World celebrated World Oceans Day with various education stations and interactive activities for kids inside Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Even if you missed the event, though, you still can learn about ways in which Disney is helping to protect and promote the world's oceans.

World Oceans Day was proposed in 1992 at the United Nations' Earth Summit and officially recognized by the world body in 2008. Since then, a couple of organizations charged with protecting the world's oceans, The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network, have coordinated celebrations each year in an effort to promote a better understanding of the importance of the seas.

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A cast member explains why coral needs to be protected.

At one booth inside The Seas, a cast member explained how The Walt Disney Ço. is helping to protect coral reefs near Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas, by relocating sea urchins that help control the algae there. At another booth, guests could see the teeth of various sea animals and learn how they have helped the animals survive. At still another site, kids could play a game with cast members with the goal of teaching them about ocean conservation.

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A dolphin's teeth.
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A whale's vertabrae.

But my kids and I found the area dedicated to sea turtles the most interesting - and if you missed World Oceans Day, you still can get involved with these projects and make a difference.

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Cast member Leslie Wells explains Disney's role in sea turtle conservation.

At three Disney sites, you can contribute to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund's sea turtle conservation efforts through the Adopt-A-Nest Program. You can do so at the gift shop at Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends; the Out of the Wild shop at Animal Kingdom; and at Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

The adoption program, which launched on July 5, 2007, offers guests adoption packages for $50 that include a Disney Worldwide Conservation Hero Button, a "Finding Nemo" themed keychain, and an adoption certificate that lists the species of turtle and the date the eggs were laid in the nest. Guests can use their certificate numbers to track online their nest's success and possible hatchings at http://www.nestingturtles.com/adoptanest/

Proceeds from the program benefit turtle and beach conservation efforts throughout the state of Florida.

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A model of a sea turtle's nest illustrates the process of the eggs hatching.

At Disney's Vero Beach Resort, guests also can take guided tours of the beach during turtle nesting season, which runs approximately May through October. Turtle Troop, the tour arranged by the resort, is a popular summertime activity. And because visitors and residents to the Treasure Coast are aware of the precarious nature of baby sea turtles - only about 10 of the dozens of eggs laid in each nest will survive to adulthood - they tend to be the ones adopting the nests, a cast member said. Disney's Vero Beach guests are invited to use the same beaches where the sea turtle nests are marked and located.

In addition, trained Disney cast members monitor a stretch of coastline at Disney's Vero Beach Resort, collecting important data on sea turtle nests in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In August, The Walt Disney Co. will participate in the Tour de Turtles, which is a marathon of sorts for migrating sea turtles. Disney describes the event this way: "For at least three months, Tour de Turtles will follow multiple sea turtles, using satellite-tracking technology, as they travel from their respective nesting sites to unknown foraging grounds, with the goal of being the first to complete the 2,620 km marathon. By tracking sea turtle migrations, scientists can learn more about these mysterious mariners and the routes they take. Just as with human marathons, each turtle swims to raise awareness about a particular "cause" or threat to their survival."

You can follow the Tour de Turtles at http://www.tourdeturtles.org/

From "Finding Nemo" to "The Little Mermaid," many Disney films and theme-park attractions have offered entertainment based on ocean settings and the animals who live there. But through various ongoing conservation and awareness programs, Disney clearly is going a step farther and educating as well as entertaining its theme-park guests and fans.


June 10, 2012

Group Cruising

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to cruise with a group? Well I can tell you based on our experience that it's fun!

Carol and I have cruised once on our own; we've cruised with a few friends twice and we've cruised as part of a large group four times. Our experience has been that the group adds a new dimension to the cruise experience. We really like it!

A group cruise is simply a cruise vacation which is organized by a person or company and is then offered to people with common interests. The organizer often arranges group activities which individuals can elect to participate in if they wish. There is no pressure to participate, it is purely voluntary.

What are the advantages of a group cruise?
• Well, an obvious advantage is price. The organizer can sometimes negotiate very favourable pricing by committing to a number of staterooms.
• Another is the diversity of the group. Carol and I enjoy the opportunity to mix and mingle with old friends we see on the ship and we like to meet new people as well. The group cruise gives us this opportunity.
• You can be as involved and active as you like or you can just kick back, relax and ignore all the group activities. There is no truant officer!

So what are some of these group activities? Let me give you some examples from our latest adventure.

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We sailed on the AllEars Disney Fantasy Cruise which took place May 19 - 26, 2012. The bookings were all taken care of by our good friends at MouseFan Travel and the group activities were all arranged by AllEars and MouseFan Travel. There were 125 cruisers in our group and we occupied 52 staterooms on a seven day eastern Caribbean cruise.

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On Saturday we boarded the Fantasy and one of the first stops was the AllEars registration desk where we registered, picked up our AllEars Navigator (schedule of events) and our scavenger hunt questionnaire.

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We also received our "Welcome Gift" . . . a backpack full of a variety of swag! Disney Cruise Line gives some pretty nice swag to returning cruisers, members of the Castaway Club, but not nearly as nice as the AllEars swag we received. It was a high quality AllEars backpack full of trinkets and treasures. In the pack we found a handy little first-aid kit, chap stick, hand sanitizer, a sewing kit, a small cooler bag from David's Vacation Club Rentals, a pen from All Star Vacation Homes, an AllEars lanyard and a MouseFan Travel cell phone pouch but the highlight was the AllEars Trading Cards Build-A-Set.

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Since May 2010 AllEars has been creating a unique Trading Card for each event they hold. When we sailed there were 52 cards in the series and the Build-A-Set in each backpack contained ten copies of five of those cards. The challenge was to connect with fellow cruisers and trade cards until your set was complete. The trading was fast and furious! There were two more cards released during the cruise and by the time we debarked most people had managed to acquire a complete set of all 54 cards. This was a terrific way to meet a lot of new people!

MouseFan Travel had a table at the registration area as well to help with any last minute arrangements, group booking for a special Palo brunch, etc.

After settling into our stateroom and attending the mandatory lifeboat drill we headed up to deck #12 for the sail-away party. This was our first chance to mix and mingle with others in the group.

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There was a scavenger hunt which required cruisers to answer some very challenging trivia questions about the Disney Fantasy. The door decorating contest ensured that some of the stateroom doors were quickly transformed into lavish art displays!

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Each of the three "sea days" AllEars founder Deb Wills invited everyone to join her at 8:00 a.m. for coffee and chatter at the Cove Café. These meets were always well attended . . . another opportunity to trade those AllEars Cards! The trading even attracted my wife Carol who is not normally a "morning person".

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Sunday afternoon there was an Ice Cream Social. We met at Eye Scream Treats on deck #11 and everyone helped themselves to a self-serve ice cream treat. Yum! Everyone enjoyed it!

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Some people really enjoyed it!

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And of course they traded cards!

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Sunday evening we met for cocktails in La Piazza on deck #4, a few impromptu photo-ops ensued!

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Monday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in The Tube on deck #4 for some pin trading. Carol was busy manning the pin board for the full 90 minutes and answered a lot of questions for some newcomers to pin trading.

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Once folks had done a pin trade (or two or three) out came the AllEars cards and the traders spread out all over The Tube.

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While we had great weather, a brief rain Monday afternoon dampened plans for the Mini Golf meet on deck #13, Goofy's Sport Deck. Maybe next time . . .

Most of our group selected the early dining option and we were all seated in close proximity in the dining rooms. This gave yet another opportunity to see the new people we met and was especially fun on Pirate Night when we got to see everyone's costumes! Argggh!

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Thursday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in the atrium on deck #3 for a photo-walk. Barrie Brewer was our leader and expert photographer. She explained what a photo walk was all about, then we broke into two groups and got started. We simply walked around the ship taking pictures. I led one group which stayed in the atrium and did our best to capture some interesting images there. Barrie Brewer and Linda Eckwerth took the other group and headed to Europa, the adult entertainment area on deck #4. My group rejoined them there and the larger group swarmed Europa taking pictures. The mosaic murals of toreadors and flamenco dancers in the restrooms were an extremely popular subject!

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Friday at Castaway Cay many of us convened for a group lunch at the Serenity Bay barbecue. It's funny but even with all the fine dining available on the ship, this barbecue on Castaway Cay is always one of my favourite meals!

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Then came the grand finale! The AllEars farewell party on Friday afternoon. The cruise was coming to an end, we debark tomorrow. Dang! We met in The Tube on deck #4. A slide show of pictures from many of our meets was playing on three large screens behind the stage and we were treated to complementary beverages and snacks!

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Deb Wills thanked us all for joining her on the cruise and for participating in so many on-board events. These events were scrolling behind her in the slide show so we relived them as she spoke.

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Soon the prizes were handed out for the scavenger hunt and the door decorating contest. Then the raffle tickets were drawn. Every time you attended any of the events or meets during the cruise you were given a raffle ticket. There were over a dozen prizes and some very happy winners.

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None of us were happier than Karilynn who won the grand prize donated by MouseFan Travel, a seven-night stay at a Deluxe Resort at WDW, including dining! Wow!

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After the prizes were all awarded we had a surprise visitor, Captain Mickey came and posed for pictures with all of us! What a treat!

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So that's what a group cruise is all about. There is always a nice variety of activities which you can elect to participate in but they do not interfere with other things you want to do. We attended almost all the group activities but we were still able to see every show in the Walt Disney Theatre. We spent plenty of time lounging around the pool, enjoyed shore adventures and did all the other things we like to do while cruising. The bonus was we met some very nice people and made some new friends while we were doing it!

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So if you think a group cruise might appeal to you keep your eyes on AllEars.net - Deb was hinting about another AllEars cruise in 2014. I hope we'll see you there!

June 13, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Part 1

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton, shares her South African Adventure by Disney. Coleen is a travel agent with MEI and Mouse Fan Travel. Coleen has been helping clients plan memorable vacations since 2001. This was her first Adventures by Disney vacation, but certainly won't be her last.

I would guess that everyone has a travel bucket list. That place or maybe places you just really want to be able to visit one day. It's most likely somewhere far away and might be a rather expensive trip. You might save and plan for it for many years.

When you are finally able to cross that place off your bucket list you want to be sure you do it right and don't miss anything while you are there. This can be a bit overwhelming but that's where a packaged tour comes in handy. If you ask me, no one makes travel dreams come true better than Disney, and that doesn't just apply to visiting a Disney Theme Park or sailing on one of their cruise ships anymore.

Disney has something called Adventures by Disney. If you haven't heard of this yet they are packaged land tours to different places all over the world. They include amazing accommodations, most of your meals, sightseeing, and the best part -- your Adventure Guides.

The guides are knowledgeable about the area you are visiting and they take care of making your Adventure totally unforgettable. You won't have to worry about missing any "must see things" at your destination because your Adventure will surely include it and you also get some free time to be able to do even more. As you would expect Disney thinks of every detail to make your adventure as magical as possible. They even have some separate activities set up just for kids on the adventures.

I am so excited to say that I took an Adventure by Disney to South Africa! This was like a dream come true for me.The Lion King is one of my favorite movies and I can't imagine going on a real safari in Africa any other way than with Disney.


Day 1

Our Adventure beings with a 16-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg. When we arrive in Johannesburg we will change planes for a short flight over to Cape Town. It will be a lot of travel time plus South Africa is 7 hours ahead of New York so it will feel like more than 24 hours of travel time by the time we get to our first resort. A Disney rep will be waiting for us in Johannesburg to make sure we make it to the gate for our flight to Cape Town. I am thinking after 16 hours on a plane having someone make sure we make it to the gate will be much needed. When we arrive in Cape Town one of our Adventure guides will meet us and take us to the first resort. I am sure we will all need to catch up on some sleep before the fun begins the next morning.

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Day 2

After a good night's sleep it was time for the real Adventure to begin. We started with a group breakfast where everyone introduced themselves.

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Then we were supposed to be heading up to the top of Table Mountain but due to fog we have to postpone that. I love that the guides have the flexibility to make changes and do their best to be sure we get to do everything possible.

We instead went to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. This fit very well with today's word of the day, Fynbos, which means type of botanical region or floral kingdom where the vegetation is distinct to the area. We had an amazing guide, Andrew, who was not only very knowledgeable but also very funny.

After the garden we went to the District 6 Museum. We had two wonderful speakers who told us about their personal experience with Apartheid. It was very sad to hear how the homes they had lived in all their lives we demolished and they were forced to move just because of the color of their skin.

We had a group lunch followed by some shopping in Greenmarket Square. Then we had some free time before meeting up again for an entertaining dinner at the Castle of Good Hope, which is the oldest building in South Africa. We are hoping to be able to squeeze in Table Mountain tomorrow if the weather cooperates.


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Day 3

Today our guides tried to prepare us for what we would see by giving us a new meaning for OMG - "Oh My Guide!" They were right, we spent the day repeating that phrase over and over. First thing we noticed is the clouds were gone and we could see Table Mountain from the resort. That meant we were making a bee line right to the mountain to make up for missing it yesterday.

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We rode an aerial cableway up to the top for some spectacular views of Cape Town's waterfront.

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After that it was back to the bus to head to Boulders Beach in Simon's Town to see something that I didn't realize lived in Africa -- penguins. The sand was so white it almost looked like snow and the penguins were enjoying soaking up the sun.

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We had worked up an appetite just in time for a group lunch on the waterfront. Then it was off to the Cape of Good Hope. I thought this was where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean but that is not quite correct. The two currents meet here but the spot where the ocean meet is Cape Agulhas, which is about 90 miles south of the Cape of Good Hope.

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We also rode a funicular up to Cape Point for even more breathtaking views. Our day wasn't over yet, we still had a special dinner at the Gold of Africa Museum. This was a traditional African feast which also includes a drum lesson before dinner.

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Stay tuned -- there is more to come.

June 14, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Part 2

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton continues with her Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa.

Day 4

Today started off with a drive to Stellenbosch, which is South Africa's second oldest city and also known as the wine capital. It is a very cute town with lots of Cape Dutch cottages. First we had a hands on cooking class and made Koeksister (pronounced cook-sister), and that was also our word of the day. A Koeksister is a pastry sort of like a doughnut dipped in syrup. We then got to work off our Koeksister with a bike ride to our lunch location.

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Our lunch was at Moyo in the Spier Wine Estate, a fun place where we almost felt like we were eating in a treehouse.

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After lunch there were two choices -- wine tasting or an eagle encounter. I am not big on wine so I chose the eagles and I am glad I did. It was a nice presentation where we had a couple owls land on us and got up close with a couple vultures.

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Compared to yesterday today was relaxing, but unfortunately we will be saying good bye to Cape Town bright and early tomorrow morning. We are headed to the airport at 5:30 am to make our way to Knysna (pronounced nize-nuh). Adventures by Disney is the only tour that flies to Knysna, others go by motorcoach and waste a whole day driving.

Day 5

Cape Town was a beautiful city and I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit it and soak up some of the culture. Today starts our visit to the Garden Route. This was like going out to the country compared to Cape Town. It was a quick flight away but it would have been an all day drive so I don't mind that we had to be up so early if it meant not spending a whole day on a bus.

When I used to picture Africa in my head I thought of the flat savannas and so far we haven't gotten to that part. Instead we have seen the vibrant waterfront and city of Cape Town which was bordered with rocky looking mountains. Now we are out in garden country where there are green covered mountains everywhere. Today we went a little bananas at Monkeyland and then watched the birds soar at the world's largest free flight sanctuary.

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After some lunch out in a vineyard we headed to our new home for 2 nights -- the Pezula resort. All I can say is - OH MY GUIDES! This resort is just A-Mazing! We don't just have rooms we have suites that even have a fireplace. This resort also has its own small castle that we were able to tour. We are only half way through our Adventure and I am already totally spoiled! I know that I will never be able to travel any other way than Adventures by Disney!

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June 15, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Part 3

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton continues with her Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa.

Day 6

Today was totally bakgat (pronounced buck-ghut) that means cool or awesome in Afrikaans. We started with a ferry ride across the Knsyna Lagoon to Featherbed Nature Reserve. We rode Unimogs up to the top of the cliff and then hiked back down, stopping for some more breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean!

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Then it was finally time to meet one of the big 5. We not only got to see elephants, we got to feed them and then walk in a field with them and touch them.

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It really was just amazing to be walking around freely with these big animals. We then walked just a few steps to enjoy a wonderful dinner.

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Tomorrow morning we say good bye to Knysna and head to the big finale -- Kapama Game Reserve. The game drive begins the moment we drive out of the airport. I cannot wait to see what animals we will catch a glimpse of!

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Day 7

Masambene! (that means let's move) It's time for Safari! This morning we were up bright and early to say good bye to Knysna and head back to the George airport to fly to Kapama Game reserve.

When we arrived it finally felt like we were in the Africa I had pictured. The airport was pretty much a runway and a small building. We walked out the back door to find our wheels for the next few days waiting for us. These open air jeeps would be what we will be riding in for the next few mornings and evenings as we search for all the animals we can find.

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The ride from the airport into the game reserve and up to the lodge was almost like a mini safari. Within seconds we made our first sighting and it was a kudu. Our excitement got the best of us and we did let a couple squeals which scared it off pretty quick. We did learn that from here on out we need to keep quiet so as not to frighten the animals.

We arrived at the River Lodge, fueled up with some lunch, and then found our rooms. After a quick cool down it was time to head out for our first real safari. It was almost sunset so the heat from earlier had subsided and ride was very comfortable.

We were able to spot quite a few animals and some even got very close to our jeep. We saw giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, hippos, warthogs, hornbills and a few I already forgot. I have taken a picture of each animal we find, but I guess I better start writing these down as we see them tomorrow. After a few hours of the game drive we found ourselves pulling up to a nice bonfire where tables were all set up to have dinner right there out on the game preserve!

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Dinner was a braai (pronounced bry), which is Afrikaans for barbecue. It was amazing to be eating out on the preserve and looking up to see all the stars. Of course, a dinner by a bonfire would not be complete without s'mores!

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June 16, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Part 4

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton continues with her Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa.

Day 8

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Today's theme was the Big Five and our morning game drive started off with the king of the 5 walking right out in front of our truck. It was a male about 3 years old according to our ranger, Janco. He walked right up to our truck and right past us like he couldn't care less that we were there. It was so amazing!

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After watching him for a bit we were off to see what else we could find and we even luckier to find a couple lionesses and their cubs hiding out. They were not easy to see since they are very good at hiding but our ranger did a super job of getting us pretty close.

After the lions we ran into a pretty big herd of elephants. There were elephants of all sizes even a very small baby that our ranger said looked to be about a week old. It pretty much stayed under its mom so it was hard to get a good look. While we were watching one elephant eat some leaves he decided that the leaves were too high so he started to knock the tree down and it was coming right at our truck! Good thing our ranger has quick reflexes and started the truck up and backed us out pretty quick.

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By this point I think we were all just in awe and it was not even 7 am yet! We had now seen 3 of the big 5 -- Lion, Elephant, and Buffalo. We are still hoping to catch site of a rhino and leopard. Some of the other trucks said they saw rhino but so far no one has seen a leopard.

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After the morning game drive we returned to the lodge for breakfast -- it was hard to believe it was only breakfast time. After breakfast we had a wonderful demonstration by Trompie. He showed us archery and blow darts. I was picked to be his example and he said no matter what he could teach anyone to hit the target with less than five attempts. I didn't believe he could teach me to do that. He was an excellent teacher because I was able to hit the yellow bull's-eye on my second try! Archery is something I always wanted to try so it was so cool to be able to get to do that. There was also a beading demonstration by Motsatsi and we could all make a beaded necklace or bracelet. I never knew how big beading was in Africa.

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We had lunch and some time to relax before our evening game drive. We were lucky again tonight and found two sleepy cheetahs!


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This was perfect since the junior adventures were watching Disney's African Cats after dinner.


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The evening game drives are a lot of fun even if we don't see anything. Before it got dark our ranger drove us over to the river area and showed us all the damage done by the recent flooding. It was scary to see how much damage rain could do.

Today's word of the day is Boma, which most Disney World people have heard before -- but did you know that it comes from Swahili and means an enclosure normally used for livestock? Kind of funny that we know it as a place to eat. That doesn't only apply to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, because here at the Kampana River Lodge we dined in the Rhino Boma tonight. It was another wonderful meal complete with bonfire. After dinner I snuck down into the snake pit with the junior adventures to watch the movie. It was a fun way to end another great day!

June 17, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Part 5

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton continues with her Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa.

Day 9

Today started with tea and our morning game drive. It was a little chilly this morning so we didn't see as many animals as the day before. Our ranger and tracker tried really hard to find us a rhino, but no luck. It was still an amazing drive.

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It was clear we were the first truck to go down certain paths, since we were riding through the large webs that went from one side of the path to the other. It was a bit scary but our ranger and tracker took good care of us and swept the webs away as best possible.

We headed back for breakfast and then it was time for the one thing on the adventure I really wasn't looking forward to -- the reptile and bug demonstration. I have to admit I am glad I went. The speaker was very passionate about snakes. He made me realize that snakes are not as scary as I used to think. Snakes really don't want to bite people -- it's people that cause the snakes to bite.

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After that it was about time for lunch and then I was headed to the spa. I had a wonderful hot stone massage, which was nice to have at just about the end of the trip.The wellness center at Kampana is beautiful with its own private pool just for adults.

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I went from my spa appointment to afternoon tea and then back out for another game drive. We were still searching for that rhino with no luck. We did see a lot of other animals though, including some that we hadn't seen yet, like the wildebeest.

Sadly, after the game drive it was time for our farewell dinner. It was an amazing dinner with some great music and dance. The night ended with a Power Point show of some of the photos taken during the adventure.

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Since the trip isn't exactly over yet it wasn't too sad. We still have one more game drive in the morning followed by breakfast and sort of mini game drive back to the airport. We are all flying to Johannesburg so we will officially say goodbye to everyone then.

Day 10 & 11

Our last morning's game drive was a success -- we finally found a rhino! Not just one but two, just hanging out as we drove past and put on the brakes to back up and get a good look. It was bittersweet since we also knew this was the last time we would be driving the trails of Kapama.

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The game drives were the Africa I had pictured when I thought of going to Africa and they even surpassed my expectations. It was just so amazing to be driving around and be a part of the animal's world. It was sad to hear how people poach the rhinos, and some even found a way onto the preserve and killed one. They only want the horn so these poor animals die for no good reason. I hope that they can put a stop to the poaching so we don't lose these magnificent animals for good.

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After our game drive it was time to have breakfast and pack up. We headed back to the airport, which is sort of a mini game drive. We had a giraffe say good-bye to us as we left which was very cool.

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Due to flight issues some of us needed to add an extra day in Johannesburg. This is not normally part of the Adventure but Disney found us a great hotel to spend the night at and tomorrow we will do a short city tour before heading to the airport for our 16-hour flight back to New York and reality. Sala Kahle (pronounced say-lah kaw-lee), which means good-bye or go well.

June 18, 2012

Safari in South Africa - Adventures by Disney Wrap Up

Guest Blogger Coleen Bolton concludes her Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa.

After spending about two weeks with the same people it was very hard to say goodbye, especially to our wonderful guides Craig and Chris.

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Adventures by Disney surpassed all of my expectations and I know that is largely due to the guides. Every day they were there sharing their passion and excitement for where our adventure was taking us. They did an amazing job of keeping us all together and on schedule which couldn't have been easy with 40 guests and an adventure that included a few trips through different airports.

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They were always on top of everything and making adjustments as needed to be sure we all had a stress-free adventure and that we didn't miss anything.

If there was something you wanted to do during the free time they were right there to help you make it happen.

They also always seemed to have that one thing you might have forgotten such as sunblock, band aids, or hand sanitizer. As a mom who is used to always having to be the one that remembers everything it was really nice to realize I didn't have to do that on this trip. The best part was that I didn't have to plan where we would go each day and I didn't have make sure we got there on time. I was able to just sit back and have the guides tell me where to be and all I had to do was show up.

There were a few kids on our Adventure and even though our schedule was very busy with some long days all the kids seemed to do really well. The youngest was 9 and I would say that is probably the youngest I would suggest for this adventure.

Disney of course does have special name for the kids, they are Junior Adventurers. There were some special things on the Adventure that were just for the Junior Adventurers and even though some of us adults really wanted to join the Juniors we couldn't. I think it is great that Disney has some things on each adventure that gives the kids a chance to be on their own.

I do think this Adventure did a great job of showing us multiple sides of South Africa. I went into this Adventure thinking Africa was just safaris and savannas. It was amazing to see there is so much more than I pictured. We got to see so much, yet I never felt like we were doing too much or were being rushed.

Africa was a place on my bucket list that I never really thought I would get to see and I thank Disney for making that dream a reality. I had thought that going to Africa would be a one-time thing, but I really fell in love with South Africa and am already thinking about going back.

This was my first Adventures by Disney and I am sure it won't be my last. Cruising used to be my favorite way to travel, but Adventures by Disney easily took that top spot.

If you have looked at the prices for an Adventure you might think they are expensive but I can say from experience they are worth every penny! If you were to price a cruise for the same length of time and then add in the cost for all the excursions you would need to do to even come close to all the things you get to do on an Adventure by Disney I think you would see that an Adventure is a great deal.

You might ask what makes Adventures by Disney different than some other land tour company and that is easy to answer -- it's the Disney Difference. First off I think most people would agree that when you are doing something with the Disney name you are pretty sure you are going to get quality. For me I also feel safer doing something that Disney is part of. Going off to a foreign country like Africa isn't something I would have done without a feeling that I would be safe throughout my entire trip.

Then of course there are the little things, like we never waited in line to do things and most times what we got to do was exclusive to Adventures by Disney. We would hear people comment as we walked by following the Adventures by Disney sign and even if we couldn't understand the language they were speaking it was clear they were thinking, "Wow, how did they get to do that?"

A big Disney difference were the wonderful people that Disney found to be part of our Adventure -- those that shared their knowledge, passion, and their personal stories at the different places we visited. These people enhanced our adventure and made it even more memorable.

Again I also have to mention our guides, as I cannot imagine any other tour company having guides that are as good as Disney's. Every day they were sure to tell us one thing and I have to say it right back: "we love you guys too!"

Thank you again to Craig, Chris, Janco, Alphie, Prince, and all the other wonderful people who made my Adventure unforgettable!

Now to think about which Adventure should I take next?

June 24, 2012

Walt Disney – the Canadian Connection

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I am an amateur genealogist; I have been at it for over 25 years and I find it a fascinating hobby. Over those many years I have uncovered some interesting facts about several branches of my family, my wife Carol's family and even a few families I have researched for friends.

The Cruise family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named "de Crues" who arrived from France in 1066 with William the Conqueror. He was rewarded for his military service with a gift of land and he and his descendants were considered to be nobility in the area of Cruisetown, County Louth.

My documented history of the Cruise family goes back to Banagher, County Offaly, Ireland in the 1830's when my great-great-great grandmother Joyce Cruise (maiden name Shane, a widow of my g-g-g grandfather Peter Cruise) gathered her eight children and moved the family to Canada. The clan landed in Quebec in 1836 and settled just a few miles west of Montreal. Within a few years Joyce and her family moved to Ontario and settled in south-western Ontario, north of the present day city of London. My g-g grandfather William, son of Peter and Joyce, moved from the London area and settled in Norfolk County in 1843; that is where I was born a little over a century later.

I am a Disney fan and over the years I had heard a few snippets of Disney family history. One of these snippets was that there was a Canadian connection so I decided to take a look and see if I could find that Canadian link. Here's what I found!

My first find was an online family tree, several of them in fact, which state that the Disney family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named Robert d'Isigny who arrived in England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. They go on to say that a branch of the family travelled in 1834 from County Kilkenny, Ireland to Liverpool, England where they sailed on the ship "New Jersey". They landed October 3, 1834 in New York City. After a few years they moved to Clinton, Huron County in south-western Ontario. Does this sound somewhat familiar? Banagher to Kilkenny is a mere 48 miles and the Cruise and Disney families settled a mere 30 miles apart in Canada. I was getting excited . . . could there be a connection between our families? I love the challenge of a riddle or a mystery!

The two maps below show where the families originated in Ireland and where they settled in Canada. The red arrows are the Disney family and the blue arrows represent the Cruise family.

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Of course, I started my research with a bit of skepticism . . . it's my nature. Many people digging for family history will believe everything they read, but I do not. I need to verify what I find. I need factual evidence that what I read is correct. So I needed to verify the Canadian connection. Those family trees I referred to above showed Walt Disney's g-g-g grandparents, Robert Disney (1746 - 1808) and Mary Kepple (1750 - 1815). They were married on February 2, 1775 in Carlow, Ireland. Their son Kepple Disney was born in 1776 in Aharney Parish, County Laois, Ireland and married Frances Best, born in 1776, on February 17, 1795 in Carlow.

Kepple and Frances had eight children:
1. Mary Ann Disney, b. 1795 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 5 Nov 1875 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY. She married William Powers, 20 Apr 1815 in Ireland, b. 1790 in Garrintaggart, Laois, Ireland, d. 7 Feb 1869 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY.
2. Robert Disney, b. 9 Jul 1797 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 18 Apr 1872 in Goderich, Huron County, ON. He married Jane Cooke, 1829 in Ireland, b. 4 Nov 1810 in Ireland, d. 29 Dec 1893 in Goderich, ON.
3. Charlotte Disney, b. 1801 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. Jan 1882 in London, England.
4. Arundel Elias Disney, b. 1803 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. May 31 1880 in Goderich, Huron County, ON. He married Maria Swan, 1 Sep 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, b. 1816 in Ireland, d. 26 Sep 1896 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas, United States.
5. Kepple Disney b. 5 Sep 1806 in Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 1875. He married Mary E., b. 1830 in England.
6. James Disney, b. 1807 in Ireland, d. 1840.
7. Frances Disney, b. 1816 in Ireland.
8. Henry Disney, b. 10 May 1816, d. 12 Apr 1877.

Unfortunately I have not been able to verify any of the data on Robert Disney and Mary Kepple and their children which appears above. It may or may not be correct but I include it so that if you wish to investigate further you will have a starting point.

Now let's move on to what I have been able to confirm! In 1834 children Robert and Arundel Elias (number two and four above) sailed to New York City. The party of seven on board the ship named "New Jersey" included their wives Jane and Maria as well as Francis and Elias, sons of Robert and Jane, and Kepple, son of Arundel Elias and Maria.

Here is an extract of the passenger manifest from the ships records.

New%20Jersey%20Passenger%20List%20500.jpg

The brothers had intended to settle in America, but did not stay there long; they moved to the Township of Goderich in the wilderness of south-western Ontario, Canada, just off Lake Huron and bordering on the Maitland River.

Robert Disney and Jane Cooke had nine children:
1. Francis Disney, b. 1830 in Ireland.
2. Elias Disney, b. 1832 in Ireland, d. 23 Dec 1883 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
3. Elizabeth Disney, b. 1839 Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
4. Keppel Disney b. Aug 1841 Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. William Disney, b. 1843 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
6. Jane Disney, b. 1845 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
7. Robert Disney, b. 1846 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
8. Charles James Disney b. Aug 11 1851 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
9. Henry Disney, b. 1852 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.

I had some difficulty confirming when they moved to Ontario. They appear in the 1861 Census but proof of their presence before that time was elusive.

1861%20Census%20-%20Robert%20Disney%20500.jpg

I wanted to see if they were in Canada at the time of the 1851 Census, unfortunately the census records for that particular township have been lost. So I looked for the 1852 Agricultural Census records for Goderich Township . . . they were lost too! I kept searching, scouring a number of online resources and finally had a major breakthrough! There was a Huron County Tax Assessment done in 1842 and there I found our two brothers . . . misspelled but it was definitely our two brothers Robert and Arundel Elias Disney. Hooray!

Here's a transcription of the assessment record.

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I still don't know exactly when they arrived but in 1842 Robert owned lots 36 and 37, a 93 acre parcel, and in the household were one male and one female over 16 years of age and four males and two females under sixteen. Immediately next door was Elias Disney on lots 38 and 39. He farmed 149 acres and the household included one male and one female over 16 years of age and three males and two females under sixteen. Both properties are on the Maitland River.

That area of Ontario was just being settled or homesteaded at that time so it is quite likely that they acquired their farms under a Crown Grant, meaning that they were the first owners of the lands. A trip to the Land Registry Office could prove this but since it's a six hour drive from where I live it will have to wait.

Huron County was heavily wooded territory with gently rolling hills at the time. The brothers must have been industrious souls since settlers had to work for a few decades felling trees and pulling stumps to expand the arable land. Those who persevered, like the Disney brothers, were rewarded with very fertile farm lands.

This family stayed in the same area of south-western Ontario for several generations and there are still a number of direct descendants in Huron County and the neighbouring municipalities. There is even a Disney Road about four miles from the shore of Lake Huron, between the towns of Goderich and Clinton.

Robert and Jane are buried in the Maitland Cemetery in Goderich Township.

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Robert%20Disney%20Grave%20-%20Maitland%20Cemetery%20450.jpg

Jane%20Cooke%20Grave%20-%20Maitland%20Cemetery%20450.jpg

An 1872 Atlas for Huron County shows two Disney farms, the arrows mark the farms of Charles Disney on the left and Kepple Disney on the right. The arrow in the centre points to the road which is now known as "Disney Road". In 1872 the cousins were less than a mile apart. Charles was the son of Robert and was living on lot 36 which his father had owned. Kepple was the son of Elias.

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Arundel Elias Disney and Maria Swan had eight children:
1. Kepple Disney b. 2 Nov 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 24 May 1891 in Ellis, Ellis, KS. He married Mary Richardson, Mar 18 1858 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON, b. 30 Mar 1838 in Aghaboe Parish, Queens County, Ireland (daughter of Robert Richardson and Ruth Lark), d. 10 Mar 1909 in Ellis, KS.
2. Mary Disney, b. 6 Aug 1839 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. She married Israel E. Forsyth, b. 1840 in Dumfries Township, Middlesex County, ON (son of George Forsyth and Estacia), d. 1900 in New York, USA
3. Elias Disney, b. 4 Apr 1843 in Strathroy, ON, d. 3 Mar 1913 in Hutchinson, Reno, KS
4. Charlotte Disney, b. 1850 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. Thomas Disney, b. 1851 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
6. James Disney, b. 1853 in Ontario, Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
7. Harriet Disney, b. 1856 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 10 Jul 1881 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas, USA. She married Walter White Martin, 28 Apr 1875 in Chicago, Cook County, IL, b. 28 Mar 1850 in Cincinnati, Madison, OH, d. 14 Dec 1927 in Denver, Adams, CO.
8. Arundel Robert Disney, b. 1858 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 1910.

In a story I have not been able to substantiate it is suggested that Arundel Elias built the area's first grist mill and a saw mill while farming and raising a family.

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Kepple Disney and Mary Richardson had nine children:
1. Elias Disney b. Feb 6, 1859 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. Sep 13, 1941 in North Hollywood, CA. He married Flora Call, 1 Jan 1888 in Kismet, Lake County, FL, b. Apr 22, 1868 in Steuben, Huron, OH (daughter of Charles Call and Henrietta Gross), d. Nov 6, 1938 in North Hollywood, CA.
2. Robert Disney b. 7 Aug 1861 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 28 Jul 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
3. Annie Disney, b. abt 1864 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
4. Edward Disney, b. Dec 1867 in in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. Alberta Mary Disney b. 20 Feb 1869 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON , d. 17 May 1954 in Blackwell, Kay, OK. She married John Charles Fremont Johnson, 5 Feb 1891 in Ellis, KS, b. 29 May 1858 in Saginaw, MI, d. 22 Aug 1942 in Blackwell, Kay, OK.
6. Kepple Disney b. 28 Jan 1872 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 13 Dec 1939. He married Mary A. Mullen, 1897, b. 24 Mar 1872 in Iowa City, Wright, IA (daughter of Thomas Mullen and Annie), d. 11 Mar 1956.
7. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Disney, b. 3 Mar 1874 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 3 Dec 1906 in Kansas, USA. She married Harry S. Saunders, 1894, b. Aug 1862 in Illinois, USA.
8. Addie Disney, b. 18 Feb 1876 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 23 Mar 1932. She married Benjamin F Jones, 1895, b. 15 Apr 1872 in Jasper, Jasper County, MO.
9. William Henry Disney b. 7 Mar 1878 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 17 Apr 1958. He married Lydia M., b. abt 1886 in Missouri, USA.

In 1878 Kepple and Mary along with their children moved to Ellis, KS and appeared in the 1880 census.

1880%20Census%20USA%20-%20Kepple%20Disney%20500.jpg

By the time of the 1885 census in Florida their eldest son Elias Disney, born 1859, was living in Orange County Florida. Here you see him on the second line:

1885%20Census%20Florida%20-%20Elias%20Disney%20500.jpg

In that census you will see a 17 year old girl, F. (Flora) Call, about twelve lines below Elias Disney. Just three years later, in 1888 Elias married Flora at Kismet, Lake County Florida a mere 50 miles north of the site where their son Walt would, about 80 years later, build Walt Disney World. Kismet is now a ghost town in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.

Elias and Flora had five children:
1. Herbert Arthur Disney b. Dec 8, 1888 in Kismet, FL, d. Jan 29, 1961 in Los Angeles, CA. He married Louise J. Rost, 14 Aug 1913 in Kansas City, Jackson, MO, b. 15 Sep 1891 in Missouri (daughter of William A. Rost and Julia A. Rhedanz), d. 21 Apr 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
2. Raymond Arnold Disney, d. May 24, 1989 in Santa Monica, CA, b. Dec 30, 1890 in Chicago, Cook, IL.
3. Roy Oliver Disney b. Jun 24, 1893 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 20 Dec 1971 in North Hollywood, CA. He married Edna Francis, 11 Apr 1925 in Los Angeles, CA, b. 16 Jan 1890 in Wichita, Sedgwick, KS (daughter of Edward S. Francis and Lettye Montana Milbourn), d. 18 Dec 1984 in North Hollywood, CA.
4. Walter Elias Disney b. Dec 5, 1901 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Dec 15, 1966 in Burbank, CA. He married Lillian Marie Bounds, 13 Jul 1925 in Lewiston, Nez Perce, ID (daughter of Willard Pehall Bounds and Jeanette Short), b. 15 Feb 1899 in Spalding, Nez Perce, ID, d. 16 Dec 1997 in Los Angeles, CA.
5. Ruth Flora Disney b. Dec 6, 1903 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Apr 7, 1995 in Multnomah, Multnomah, OR. She married Theodore John Beecher, 29 Nov 1938, b. 20 Feb 1906 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 21 May 1995 in Multnomah, OR.

Elias and Flora have a well documented history due to their son Walt's amazing life. They lived in Chicago IL, Marceline MO and Kansas City MO during Walt's youth.

Although I cannot confirm that Robert Disney and Mary Kepple were the parents of the Robert and Elias Disney who came to Canada I have based my search on the presumption that the information is correct. I have found detailed information covering 213 of their descendants. You might be wondering how I discovered all of this information. Well it was quite simple really. I used Ancestry.com and did it all from my home in about 12 hours.

When I first started out in genealogy a search like this would have taken a few years and involved many visits to libraries and museums to pore through dusty old books or endless rolls of microfilm. In this new digital age it is almost all digitized, indexed and searchable online. Wow . . . what a treat compared to the old days.

If you watch the television series "Who Do You Think You Are" which is sponsored by Ancestry.com and you wonder, "Is Ancestry.com as good as they make it sound?" The answer is yes. Definitely yes! All of the pictures in this blog, including the census records and the cemetery headstones, were downloaded from Ancestry.com. They are all "public domain" documents and are easily found through the web service. If you are considering tracing your family history this is a tool you must try!

So that's the story of Walt's Canadian connection! Walt's father and grandfather were born in Canada and his great grandfather and great-great grandfather moved from Ireland to Canada, via New York, sometime before 1842.

And no, I did not find a connection to my Cruise clan . . . at least not yet! Genealogy is never finished; there is always another riddle or mystery ahead of you. So someday, when I least expect it, I may just stumble over a connection . . . wouldn't that be something? It's highly improbable - but it sure would be fun to find that I'm relatived to such an amazing man!

June 26, 2012

Dining Under the Sea at the Coral Reef Restaurant

Andrew Rossi

For years the Coral Reef Restaurant was a mainstay whenever I visited Disney World; no vacation was complete without dining there. Whenever someone would ask what one of my favorite Disney restaurants was I would answer without hesitation saying the Coral Reef Restaurant. However, a few years ago I had a couple of less-than-stellar experiences there; the food quality and quantity, the menu choices, and even the service was not nearly as good as I had been accustomed. It was not just me. I discovered that other friends and family members had disappointing experiences at the Coral Reef Restaurant. As a result, I stayed away for quite some time but recently decided to give it another try. Much to my surprise and delight, I found that the Coral Reef Restaurant had vastly improved since my previous visits and was once again how I remembered it when it was among my favorite restaurants at Disney World.

Coral Reef Signage

Overview:
The Coral Reef Restaurant is truly a unique dining experience among all the restaurants at Disney World. While the food certainly contributes to the overall experience, it is the view into the aquarium that makes dining here so special.

Underwater1

The 5.7 million gallon aquarium is the second largest in North America (next to Atlanta). It is so big that Spaceship Earth could fit inside of it with enough room to spare to drive a Disney bus around the perimeter.

Underwater2

In fact, if you were to take an inch of water from the surface of the aquarium it would be enough to fill a standard size swimming pool.

Underwater3

The glass through which diners look through is eight inches thick and is made of special acrylic designed not to magnify or distort the view.

Underwater4

Inside, the aquarium contains nearly 3,500 individual specimens of marine life comprising 65 species, including everything from sea turtles to sting rays to sharks. Each table in the restaurant has a fish-finding guide to help diners identify the different types of marine life they see swimming by. This is the same underwater environment that be viewed on The Seas with Nemo and Friends attraction as well as from the observation deck of Seabase, providing a different angle from these other locations. This massive aquarium gives the restaurant a certain sense of grandeur and wonder; there is just something about the underwater world that fascinates us.

Atmosphere:
I would describe the Coral Reef Restaurant as being family-friendly upscale. The restaurant's subdued lighting and predominantly blue-green color palette give the restaurant a more elegant and intimate feel.

Coral Reef Dining Room1

At the same time, however, there are more whimsical touches (such as the light fixtures shaped like shells) and children of all ages are greatly entertained watching the various marine life swimming past throughout their meal.

Light Fixture

In this way, the Coral Reef Restaurant provides a great atmosphere for those couples looking for a romantic night out but at the same time provides a fun and entertaining environment that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Coral Reef Dining Room2

The restaurant has a definite underwater theme, but with a more artistic and abstract flair. This is evident as soon as you enter the waiting area. It is this area that helps set the tone for the rest of the restaurant and begins to immerse you in the undersea environment. Here you will notice that walls move in a curved, wave-like pattern and the floor is covered with a beautiful and intricate seashell mosaic of blues and greens that is carried throughout the rest of the restaurant.

Coral Reef Entrance Hall

There is also a variety of artwork meant to resemble various fish and marine life.

Coral Reef Decor

The aquarium is certainly the main allure of the Coral Reef Restaurant and, despite the dining room's large size, every table offers a great view.

Coral Reef Dining Room3

The tables are all positioned to face the aquarium and arranged on multiple levels. As you move further away from the aquarium windows the tables become more elevated, meaning that tables even at the very back of the dining room have an unobstructed view.

Coral Reef Dining Room4

Coral Reef Dining Room5

In fact, it might actually be better to be positioned further away from the windows as that affords a larger perspective of the aquarium as opposed to being right up against the glass.

The constant visual of the fish swimming by makes for a very calm and serene environment for your meal. The restaurant's subdued lighting and predominantly blue-green color scheme make the dining room a cool escape from the hot Florida weather. The Coral Reef Restaurant is a perfect example of how Disney restaurants help to transport and completely immerse you in a new environment; dining here almost makes you forget you are in the middle of a theme park. This restaurant is a great way to take a break from the all the hustle and bustle and all the crowds. It provides an upscale and quiet, yet relaxing, environment to enjoy a meal while at the same time taking in the majestic beauty of the undersea world.

The Menu:
It should come as no surprise that the Coral Reef Restaurant features a menu that is predominantly comprised of seafood dishes. That being said, there are still a variety of choices that will appeal to seafood and non-seafood lovers alike. While the lunch and dinner menus contain some subtle differences, the appetizer offerings are the same for both.

The appetizers include several different seafood offerings such as Crispy-Fried Shrimp ($11.99) with Coral Reef slaw and a spiced rémoulade, Crab Cakes ($11.99) with a tropical fruit salsa, Fish Tostadas ($8.99) with cabbage, avocado-cilantro cream, and fresh lime, a Rustic Seafood Stew ($11.99) with clams, mussels, white fish, and toasted ciabatta, Creamy Lobster Soup ($7.99) made with tarragon and brandy, Mixed Field Greens ($6.99) with seasonal fruit, blue cheese, candied walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette, and, for those who might have difficulty picking just one appetizer, the Appetizer for Two ($16.99) that includes the crab cakes, crispy-fried shrimp, and the creamy lobster soup.

The entrée offerings, for both lunch and dinner, tend to lean more toward the gourmet side, with an emphasis on presentation, the combination of different flavors, and the use of lesser-known ingredients that help give their dishes a little more exotic flair. If you are in the mood for seafood, this is certainly the restaurant for you. Both the lunch and dinner menus offer a wide variety of fish prepared in many different ways including an Orange Ginger-Glazed Scottish Salmon ($22.99) with a vegetable stir-fry, Grilled Mahi Mahi ($24.99) with shrimp, hearts of palm, jasmine rice, cilantro, and a coconut-lime sauce, Seared Rainbow Trout ($19.99) with a warm salad of white beans, arugula, tomatoes, crispy bacon, aged balsamic vinegar, and brown butter, and the Coral Reef Lobster Orecchiette Pasta ($26.49) with white cheddar cheese and basil oil.

If you are in the mood for something other than seafood there is the Seared Chicken Breast ($21.99) served over spaetzle finished with smoked Bacon and chicken broth, Braised Pork Shank ($25.99) with couscous and spring vegetables, Grilled New York Strip Steak ($31.99) served with roasted potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, and a red wine sauce, and, for vegetarians, the Vegetable-Potato Strudel ($18.99) with a tomato compote and basil oil.

The only difference between the lunch and dinner menus is that the lunch menu features a Caesar Salad ($11.99) that can be served with chicken breast ($15.49) or with shrimp ($17.49) while the dinner menu contains a Pan-Seared Sustainable Seasonal Catch (market price) served on basil risotto with bay scallops, a warm tomato salad, and a white wine butter sauce.

There are a good variety of dessert options as well including the restaurant's famous Chocolate Wave ($8.49), a Key Lime Mousse ($7.99) with roasted pineapple and mango sauce, Classic Vanilla Crème Brûlée ($7.99), a Baileys and Jack Daniel's Mousse ($7.99), and a Cherry Cheesecake($7.99).

Whenever I dine at the Coral Reef Restaurant I always start my meal with the Creamy Lobster Soup. This is my favorite lobster bisque that I have had anywhere in Disney World and maybe anywhere outside of Disney as well. For me, the best kind of lobster bisque is that which has a definite lobster flavor but without having too strong of that seafood/shellfish taste. I like bisques that tend to be more on the thicker, creamier side and that is exactly what the lobster soup at Coral Reef Restaurant is like.

Creamy Lobster Soup

In addition to its creamy consistency and flavor, there is just the slightest hint of brandy that gives the soup just a little kick. In addition, there are very large chunks of lobster meat that ensure the flavor of the lobster is still present. This is one appetizer that is certainly very rich and filling. Having one bowl all to yourself could easily fill you up before even having your entrée. The soup is big enough that it can be enjoyed by two people.

When deciding on my entrée I enquired as to what the Pan-Seared Sustainable Seasonal Catch was and was informed that it was salmon. I immediately decided that this was what I was going to get for my meal since salmon is one of my favorite types of fish. This entrée has changed slightly since I got it just about a month ago. The fish now comes served on basil risotto with bay scallops, a warm tomato salad, and a white wine butter sauce. When I got this entrée, however, it was served with a wild mushroom risotto with bay scallops and a parsley-truffle oil.

Salmon

The salmon was prepared absolutely perfectly so that it was slightly crispy on top but still nice and moist inside. It was also a very generously-sized piece of salmon, large enough that I was not able to finish it all. Salmon itself is a fairly mild-flavored fish, so it was the risotto that really enhanced the overall taste and really made the dish what it was. It is no stretch to say that the wild mushroom risotto was one of the richest, creamiest risottos I have ever tasted. I am not usually the biggest fan of mushrooms, but here they really complimented the salmon quite nicely without overpowering the flavor of the fish. The bay scallops in the risotto were very tender and were small enough that they might have gone unnoticed if not mentioned on the menu, but they added just the slightest bit of extra flavor to the dish. The parsley-truffle oil had almost the flavor of a light pesto, which paired very nicely with both the risotto and the salmon. Overall, this was a very elegant dish, not only presented beautifully but also featuring a tremendous combination of flavors and textures.

For dessert I chose one of the menu's signature items, the Chocolate Wave. This dessert is akin to a chocolate soufflé and features a warm dark chocolate cake with a white chocolate Grand Marnier center that oozes out when you cut into the cake. The cake itself is so moist that it seems as though it can literally melt in your mouth. While the white chocolate filling has a slight hint of Grand Marnier I did not find it to be too overwhelming, its slight citrusy flavor giving the dessert just an extra little kick. This is definitely a rich, decadent dessert and, after having a filling meal, can easily be split and enjoyed by two people.

Chocolate Wave

Service:
The tremendous service I received was something that definitely stood out on my most recent visit to the Coral Reef Restaurant. While I have never had bad service here in the past, I found my server on this visit to be especially attentive. Even though she was waiting on several tables, my sever took time to explain several dishes on the menu and offer her own recommendations. She was also very accommodating. When another member of my party noted that we would be splitting the lobster soup she immediately offered to bring it in two separate bowls instead of sharing out of the same one. She also had no problem with substituting various items on the menu when another member of my party wanted to try the grilled mahi mahi but have it with the mushroom risotto instead of the jasmine rice that was listed on the menu.

I also found my server to be very pleasant and personable. She was from Hawaii and we quickly struck up a conversation about the new Aulani resort. Most importantly, my server was constantly checking in on us to make sure we were enjoying everything with our meal. I could tell she was truly passionate about her job and it made my experience here all the better.

Dining on a Budget:
The Coral Reef Restaurant is certainly not the cheapest dining option at Epcot, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of both atmosphere and food quality. If you are looking for a truly special and unique dining experience that can be enjoyed by your entire family, then it is worth splurging a little to dine here. That being said, there are some ways to dine here without completely breaking the bank. One option that I would recommend is making a meal out of appetizers. The Creamy Lobster Soup for $7.99 is absolutely huge and very filling. Combining that with another appetizer would most likely be more than enough for a meal. The Crispy-Fried Shrimp for $11.99, the Crab Cakes for $11.99, and the Rustic Seafood Stew for $11.99 are all other appetizer offerings that are more economical than ordering an entrée. The best value is probably the Appetizer for Two ($16.99) that includes the crab cakes, crispy-fried shrimp, and the creamy lobster soup. Ordering this as a meal for one person would probably be more than enough food.

The Coral Reef Restaurant is on the Disney Dining Plan and is only one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. This restaurant is definitely one of the better values when using the dining plan, a great way to get the most for your money. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland and thus offers members a 20% discount. Unfortunately, the Coral Reef Restaurant does not offer discounts for either Annual Passholders Disney Vacation Club members.

The Overall Experience:
The Coral Reef Restaurant is truly a dining experience; while the food is fantastic, it is just one aspect that makes the restaurant so special. The atmosphere is like none other found in Disney World, one that is so unique and so immersive that you will almost completely forget that you are in the middle of a theme park. This is a restaurant that I have dined at many times, having some great experiences but also some less-than-stellar experiences in recent years. After staying away for a while I am happy to say that the Coral Reef Restaurant has returned to a position of prominence that it once enjoyed. Although it had fell out of favor with me for some time, I can now say that the Coral Reef Restaurant is back on my list of must-do Disney restaurants.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Coral Reef Restaurant and post your own too!

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About June 2012

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

May 2012 is the previous archive.

July 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.