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January 2016 Archives

January 3, 2016

Disney Soaps and Lotions

Gary Cruise banner

Do you have a shelf that looks like this?

Medicine Cabinet Soaps and Lotions

Is your travel bag filled with these?

Generic soaps and lotions

When you work on a crossword or Sudoku puzzle do you have one of these in your hand?

Disney Pens

If you answered yes to those questions you are in good company. I think almost every Disney fan takes home a pen or two and some of those handy little packages of soap and bottles of shampoo and lotions each time they stay in a Disney resort.

They are so handy to have, just the right size to carry along when you travel and the lotions are perfect for the night table beside your bed at home. Since they all say “Disney” right there on the package they’re collectibles as well!

Every day Mousekeeping drops off a fresh supply in your room and it accumulates much faster than you can possibly use it. The only logical solution is to take it home!

As you might expect, Carol has quite a varied collection. Let’s look at a few items.

These days everything is generic, every resort has the same soaps and shampoos . . . but in days of yore it was different; and Carol has collected the proof!

Grand Floridian soaps and lotions

The Grand Floridian Resort used to have a complete line of specialty products to enhance the experience for guests. That green bottle in the back row is shampoo for the ladies; to its right is a dark bottle – that’s shampoo for the men! The ladies and the gents apparently had to share conditioner; it’s on the far right. The white jar in the front is facial cream and the green tin is a sewing kit. Alas, even the mighty Floridian uses the generic line these days!

Contemporary and Fort Wilderness soaps

Here are a couple of soap bars from that same era, the Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

Disneyland Hotel soaps and lotions

When we last stayed at the Disneyland Hotel in 2011 they still provided specially branded toiletry products, including a shower cap. That’s something that’s rarely seen these days!

Disney Cruise Line soaps and lotions

The Disney Cruise Line has a line of H2O Spa soaps and lotions; Carol likes the H2O products and always brings home every drop Mousekeeping leaves in the stateroom.

Now let’s look at some of the generic soaps and lotions.

Generic soaps and lotions

This group of products from several years ago included two different styles of bottled body lotion, facial soap that was wrapped and also boxed, and a handy little sewing kit.

Generic soaps and lotions

Here’s another old group of generic soaps.

Generic soaps and lotions

And still more old soaps. The cellophane wrapper lets you see the Mickey embossed on the round bar.

Generic soaps and lotions

It looks like H2O is now the exclusive supplier for Disney resorts; it’s the only brand we’ve seen in the resorts during our recent trips.

Carol has pulled out all those unique "resort-specific" items in her collection and tucked them safely away in her Tickle Trunk. It would be a shame if they were used by accident; they’re irreplaceable!

How about you?

Do you have a collection of old Disney soaps, shampoos, lotions and toiletries?
What’s your favourite?

January 16, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler -- January 2016

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

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

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

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

This month, James writes:

I only received 15 correct responses to last month’s Guest Blog Picture Quiz! I guess these picture quizzes are more difficult than I thought! Yah can’t blame a guy for trying!

Here are the locations of last month’s Christmas trees:

Photo 1: Animal Kingdom-Entrance
Photo 2: Epcot-World Showcase Plaza
Photo 3: Grand Floridian Resort-Grand Lobby 2nd floor
Photo 4: Magic Kingdom-Town Square
Photo 5: Animal Kingdom Lodge-Kidani Village
Photo 6: Boardwalk Resort-outside on grassy lawn

Photo 3 was the odd photo out.

The winner of a Scrooge McDuck pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Kellie C. of Washington, DC.

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

This month we are going to go back to a crossword puzzle, but this is a special puzzle I created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this wonderful site we call home, AllEars.Net!

The subject of this puzzle is “This Year in Disney History, 1996.” All of these events happened sometime during the 1996 calendar year.

For this puzzle ALL of the clues are used. Some of you that attended the anniversary activities last month in Walt Disney World may recognize this puzzle!

http://allears.net/ae/mb011516.pdf

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

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on February 12, 2016. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog in mid- to late February.

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

Thanks!

January 22, 2016

Star Wars Day at Sea Cruise

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By Guest Blogger Denise Preskitt


Nearly one year ago, Disney Cruise Line announced a new experience for 8 sailings this year on the Disney Fantasy: Star Wars Day at Sea. Held from January 9th through April 16th, 2016 on Western Caribbean cruises, many benefits were touted. Those benefits included character meet and greets, special food offerings, and celebrity insiders and autograph sessions.

This was never meant to be a full Star Wars cruise, which is one thing I have been asked quite a bit about. It was replacing one port stop on the itinerary. We booked the cruise immediately and sailed on the first one, January 9th.

Much of what was promised was a part of the experience. However, one thing that everyone seemed to be looking forward to was completely lacking: celebrity insiders and autograph sessions. Considering how well Disney has been able to add celebrities to Star Wars Weekends, it was quite a surprise that they couldn't find anybody for the first cruise (there was a new Imagineer, who couldn't answer many questions). That said, it was actually a fun day.

The Disney Fantasy was full for the first sailing, there was even a sign telling guests not to ask for upgrades because they'd not be available due to that. There was a large photo backdrop in the atrium, which was the first real sign of the cruise to come. This backdrop was there until almost the end of the cruise, so there was actually no need to have a photo in front of it right away. There was almost no other Star Wars décor the whole cruise – really, none.

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Two elements of the cruise did include Star Wars the entire time. Star Wars films were shown each day, including “Star Wars: A Force Awakens” (non-Star Wars films were shown as well).

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And Star Wars Day at Sea merchandise was available from the second day through most of the sailing – I believe it was put away the last night.

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When we boarded, we were told that there would be an interactive meet and greet and that we needed to choose – by Sunday – which one we were interested in by filling out paperwork in the room. The paper wasn't there, eventually the room steward came and was a little confused about what he was supposed to bring, but it was in one of his hands and we were able to figure it out. I think that should be smoother in future sailings. The meet and greet locations available to choose from were Bespin, Tatooine and the Dark Side. It seems that one is guaranteed, but everyone we knew was given two experiences.

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The next morning, Disney had a queue for guests who wanted to purchase Star Wars Day at Sea merchandise. This was the first full day at sea. We didn't wait in the queue, opting instead to go later in the day. Everything seemed to be there for the whole cruise. Prior to sailing, we had filled out an RSP form for merchandise – both of us chose the limited edition pin #1. Each sailing was to receive one special limited edition pin. However, the first pin never arrived. We were given pins for our trouble, and pins from later cruises were set out (and pin #1 will be shipped, maybe in spring). I'm not sure what will happen with Limited Edition pins for later cruises.

Fast forward to Star Wars Day at Sea.

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We had received our tickets for the meet and greets the previous evening. The way this was handled was very organized, as were the meets themselves. The Personal Navigator for the day included everything guests needed to know, and the app had almost everything. Star Wars music played throughout the hallways and atrium.

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While we had two meet and greets, a friend of ours also had one that his family chose not to attend with him. It did allow us to experience all three locations, although not all the characters.

Guests began congregating in the atrium at about 8:30 a.m., waiting for the walk-around characters. That started at about 9:00 a.m., as Stormtroopers and Tusken Raiders could be seen above. This was an 11 hour experience, with characters roaming until 8:00 p.m. It seemed to get less busy by mid afternoon.

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In addition to the official characters on board, there were many guests dressed head to toe in fantastic costumes. From Jabba the Hutt to Kylo Ren and so many other characters (including face masks and everything else), this was one of my favorite parts of the cruise. Kylo Ren was not meeting on board, but I could still get a picture of him thanks to a well costumed guest.

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We didn't make it to some of the offerings, like Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple and the Padawan Mind Challenge. There actually was quite a bit to do on board, and not enough time to do everything we had planned. (Editor's Note: I spoke with a family who had been on this same cruise. They said out of the 1500 kids on board only a small amount were able to be part of the Jedi Training because it was only offered on a limited basis. Let's hope that is a future change.)

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Outside, the Disney Fantasy was skirting the beautiful coastline of Cuba all day. From what I was told, it had to do with the weather being not optimum elsewhere. The cruise otherwise had quite a lot of rain, and we didn't make it to Castaway Cay due to weather. Seeing Cuba was one of my favorite parts of the day and of the cruise.

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Stormtroopers could be found out on the jogging deck (deck 4) and during “Pool Patrol”. Pool Patrol was shown as a few little blips in the schedule, but it was fun to see them at the pool area. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as fun if I was wanting to be in the pool, but it was a nice little addition to the day. Boba Fett occasionally would be above the crowd, taunting.

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The ship horn also played the Imperial March several times during the day, only on Star Wars Day at Sea.

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Counter service food items were available with a Star Wars theme. I'm not really sure what made the Death Star Pizza themed to the Death Star, but the Darth Vader Bantha Burger was similar to what you will find in the parks, black bun and all.

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On to the interactive meet and greets. These were meet and greets like you'd find at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where guests form an orderly line and meet a character. Each meet and greet alternated with 2 different characters. Darth Vader alternated with Captain Phasma at the Dark Side. Chewbacca and Boba Fett were at Bespin. And Tattoine included R2-D2 with C-3PO and Darth Maul.

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2 of 3 meet and greets we visited did not allow choosing of the character. While in line for Darth Vader and Captain Phasma, we wanted to meet the latter (since she was new), and the guest behind us did not know who she was and wanted to meet Darth Vader. In the Droid/Darth Maul location, they did allow anyone who wanted to wait for R2-D2 and C-3PO to do so. It'd be nice if this was always the case, especially since the meet and greets weren't that busy. Darth Maul was alone for a while, everyone could have met him and still continued to wait (and even if not, it was a very nice bonus to be able to choose). Our last meet and greet was in the morning on the next day.

Activities on board included a Star Wars Costume Celebration. This was enjoyable to watch, with a wide array of guest costumes. It was not a contest, as nobody won anything.

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Characters were still roaming the atrium on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors – but eventually the evening entertainment arrived, replacing Star Wars music. Country songs and other music filled the air while the characters walked about. It would have been good if there wasn't that break in continuity.


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Star Wars Day at Sea in many ways replaces the Pirate Night events. Fireworks and the late buffet are on Star Wars Day at Sea, not both. From what I understand, the Pirate Night menu was not available, but we were in Palo that evening. Some activities still go on, but much is moved to Star Wars night.

A special menu was offered for the evening, but the best part about it was the menu itself. Everyone at the table wanted one, even if we could have purchased it. The food itself was named after different characters, but there wasn't anything special when the items arrived at the table. My Qui-Gon's Crisp Chicken was sort of like a Shake and Bake meal. This was overall my least favorite Disney cruise over the years in food and service (the latter was remedied the last few nights).

Desserts included Calrissian Velvet Cake, which was a crunchy red velvet cake. I didn't finish it. There are numerous other choices as well, one guest at the table ordered a Mickey Bar instead.


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The last events of the day were the Summon the Force show, fireworks, and then the dinner buffet.

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The Summon the Force show featured mostly characters we'd seen during the day, and celebrated all the films. I have been asked many times about Disney characters in Star Wars costumes, and from what I understand, those aren't coming back. It is too bad, since that was my favorite part of Star Wars Weekends.

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The Summon the Force show included Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and many others. I recommend leaving dinner early if you are at the second seating to secure a spot. I arrived late, and did manage to snag an upper level spot right behind someone that left me with a tiny bit of photo room.

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The Summon the Force Fireworks were similar to Buccaneer Blast, but Star Wars themed. It is the only fireworks show at sea, and shouldn't be missed. There was also a dance party.

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If you've seen the Pirate late buffet, this wasn't too different. Items from the shops and refreshment stand, like BB-8 sippers, were used as decorations. If you are looking to buy a BB-8 sipper or Tie-Fighter popcorn bucket, it is much cheaper on board than in the parks. Watermelons at the buffet showcased Star Wars.

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The next morning, we met Chewbacca and that was the end of Star Wars Day at Sea. We did receive a “The Force is Strong with this Ship” window cling, but it disappeared the next day (it was thrown out) and we had to ask for another one.

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When the Disney Cruise Line announced the sailing, it said also that, “In the evening, adults entering the night club will feel like they stepped into the Mos Eisley cantina scene. Characters and cantina music set the mood as Star Wars-themed specialty cocktails are served.” I didn't see anything like that. There were two Star Wars themed drinks – one with alcohol and one without.

All in all, it was still a fun time. But there was a major disconnect with some of the announced offerings versus what materialized for the first cruise. Having Star Wars “celebrities and insiders” would not have only fulfilled what was announced, but it would have given great guest satisfaction. Some decorations would have been nice. It didn't feel like the event had been worked on for nearly a full year. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shown quite a few times, including in the Walt Disney Theater (in place of the show that night). There was trivia and some activities for the kids. It wasn't that there wasn't anything to do, because the schedule was pretty full. But it isn't Star Wars Weekends, not nearly – so keep expectations at a minimum, and I hope Disney will pull a few tricks out of its hat for future cruises.


January 24, 2016

FastPass+ - Love It or Hate It?

Gary Cruise banner

About a month ago Carol and I joined a group of AllEars.net readers at Tomorrowland Terrace for a “Meet and Greet”. I really enjoy this sort of get-together; any time Disney fans gather there’s always plenty of friendly chatter about our similar experiences and I usually come away having learned something new about my happy place.

December 2015 Meet and Greet

That particular Sunday morning I spent a few minutes chatting with a couple who read my blogs. I mentioned that I’m always on the lookout for new topics; was there anything they’d like me to write about? “Why yes,” they replied, “How do you use the FastPass+ system? We’ve been here for three days and had three FastPasses each day. We have yet to use a single one of them.”

I rolled that thought around in my mind for a second or two then replied, “I’m not really sure I can help with that. Carol and I seldom use all of ours either. We typically book three each day we are at a park, but we often only use one or two of them.”

We spent a few minutes talking about the reasons why we didn’t take advantage of the passes; as you might expect, our reasons were quite similar.

Let’s take a look back at how the new FastPass+ system has changed our park experiences . . .

FastPass vs FastPass+

Remember those old paper FastPasses? They were introduced in 1999 and gave the holder a one hour reserved time slot for a ride. When they returned during that hour they could enter through an “express lane”. FastPasses were only available for the most popular attractions at each park; the majority of rides or attractions did not have a FastPass line. The most avid guests would arrive at the park for “rope-drop” and as soon as the park opened they would hurry to the FastPass Distribution area for their first ride of the day.

Philharmagic FastPass Distribution

The voucher they received stipulated a time when they could pick up a second FastPass for a different attraction.

Hollywood Studios FastPasses

The system worked very well; guests would often pick up a FastPass then ride another non-FastPass attraction while they waited for their appointed time. It was a simple, but effective system that allowed guests who spent a few minutes planning to enjoy more rides in a short time.

Disney FastPass Logo

Then in 2013 Disney began rolling out the next generation . . . FastPass+ . . . at Walt Disney World. It has not been implemented at the other Disney theme parks yet.

Fastpass+ Logo

It was all part of a huge project code-named "Next Generation Experience". The project had a billion dollar budget and included MagicBands, FastPass+, My Disney Experience, and PhotoPass Memory Maker, four technology advances we’ve probably all become familiar with during the past couple of years.

So how does FastPass+ work? Well, it’s quite a bit different! There is now a FastPass+ line at virtually every attraction and the passes can be booked in advance. If you have pre-purchased your park ticket and are staying in a Disney resort you can book FastPass+ (3 per day) up to 60 days in advance using the online “My Disney Experience” system. If you have pre-purchased a park ticket or hold an Annual Pass you can use the same system to reserve FastPass+ (3 per day) up to 30 days in advance. There is even a mobile app available for smart phones and tablets which lets you manage and change your FastPass+ bookings.

My Disney Experience app

Day guests, who purchase tickets the day of their visit can also book FastPass+ but they have to line up at one of the kiosks in the park to select their passes from whatever remains available.

Regardless of when or how you booked your three FastPass+, once they have been used, or expired, you can book additional passes (only one at a time) at an in-park kiosk.

FastPass+ Kiosk Sign

So how has this impacted the guest experience?

There are some positive aspects, and there are also some negative ones; let’s look at a few of the good things first!

Very Convenient, Very Easy:
“My Disney Experience” is a wonderful tool to help with your trip plan. All of your resort details, FastPass+ selections, dining reservations, etc. appear in one location. It’s easy to use and accessible from your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone.

No need to rush:
You don’t have to be there at rope-drop and scurry back to Pixar Place for that FastPass+ at Toy Story Midway Mania. Carol and I always feel pretty smug as we wander slowly through Hollywood Studios to use the FastPass+ which she booked 60 days prior . . . that’s a very good benefit of the new system.

Fireworks and Parade viewing areas:
Special viewing areas have been set aside for guests who book FastPass+ to watch parades, fireworks and the nightly Capture The Magic show. These areas offer great views and are not nearly as crowded as surrounding areas. Another great advantage!

FastPass+ Logo

Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages as well.

Flexibility is restricted:
The new system forces you to commit to visiting a theme park 30 to 60 days in advance and restricts your ability to be spontaneous. For example, you have pre-booked FastPass+ for Animal Kingdom but when you wake up it’s pouring rain. Before the new system you might have decided to go to EPCOT that day and visit Animal Kingdom later in your vacation. It’s no longer that easy . . . it’s really tough to let those FastPass+ go!

Park-Hopping is difficult:
All three FastPass+ must be booked at the same park. This restricts your ability to hop from one park to another. Yes, once your three passes have been used you can hop to another park and book another FastPass+ at a kiosk, but it’s not nearly as easy as it used to be!

You can’t always get what you want:
The day has finally arrived, it’s 60 days before your vacation and you sit down to make your FastPass+ bookings for Hollywood Studios. Naturally you want Toy Story Midway Mania so you book it first. Then you move on to your second favourite and book the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For your last selection you would like Rock ‘N Roller Coaster . . . but wait . . . it’s not on the list. Why can’t you see it? It’s not available and you will not be able to book it because the attractions at Hollywood Studios and EPCOT have been “tiered” to ensure fairness. Guests can select one Tier 1 attraction and two Tier 2 attractions. Toy Story Midway Mania and Rock “N Roller Coaster are both Tier 1, so you cannot reserve them both. That’s a big disadvantage! To see more detail about FastPass+ and Tiering read the AllEars page HERE.

Longer standby lines:
Imagine when you couldn’t get Rock ‘N Roller Coaster in that example above that you decided to go anyway and use the standby line. Wow – it was slow! Yes, the FastPass+ system seems to be putting more people than ever before into the FastPass line and this naturally slows down the standby lines. Even attractions that didn’t have FastPass lines in the old days now have long and slow standby lines as people whisk past in the new FastPass+ line. Another reason it’s difficult to be spontaneous!

Long FastPass+ lines:
Yes, the FastPass+ lines are sometimes long, very long. When we visited the parks in late October 2015 the FastPass+ line for Kilimanjaro Safaris was contained by a temporary system of posts and ropes. It stretched from the FastPass+ entrance all the way to the standby entrance. During the same trip the FastPass+ line for Toy Story stretched all the way back to One Man’s Dream.

What about inexperienced visitors? Do cast members explain FastPass+ to day guests? It’s difficult for me to imagine myself as a day guest, visiting Walt Disney World for the first time, but I suspect that if I were that day guest, I would be disappointed by what I found in the parks. Huge lines everywhere I looked and people hustling past, right beside me, in an express lane. I’m not at all sure I’d be back.

So how does the new system work for Carol and I? Well, I’d like to tell you it’s fabulous. I’d like to tell you that it’s the best thing ever . . . but that would be a very big exaggeration. If we were to boil our feelings about the system down to a single word, that word would be “meh”.

We would be quite happy to return to the old system.

Peter Pans Flight FastPass

Carol really enjoys planning our Disney adventures and she takes full advantage of My Disney Experience. It’s a good tool for planning and making reservations, but the new FastPass+ just isn’t a perfect fit for us. We all too often find ourselves a bit frustrated that we have three attractions booked at EPCOT and yet the weather is perfect for a trip to Animal Kingdom. We could not accurately forecast the weather 60 days ago and there’s just no room in the new system for the kind of spontaneity or improvisation we’re used too!

Imagine this scene; Carol is booking our day at Hollywood Studios. She has a 9:30 FastPass+ at Toy Story Midway Mania and a 10:45 pass at Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. She asks my opinion, “For our third FastPass+, would you rather have Disney Junior at 11:40 or the Frozen Sing-Along at 12:15?” My reply is quick, “Neither”! So she leaves it at the two she has already booked and the program automatically assigns us a third pass at Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. We haven’t watched that show since 2002 and I don’t think we’ll use that FastPass+ to see it this time. We very seldom use all three of our FastPass+.

So to that couple who asked how to use FastPass+ all I can say is, "We feel your pain and we share your frustration."

Yes, FastPass+ has some good points, but in our particular case they are slightly outweighed by the bad points.

How about you? Do you love FastPass+ or do you hate it?

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About January 2016

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in January 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2015 is the previous archive.

February 2016 is the next archive.

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