July 30, 2015

Tips for packing for a Disneyland vacation

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I am an Orlando Disney vacation veteran. My family and I have had Walt Disney World annual passes for more than a decade, and we have experienced much, if not most, of what the resort has to offer in the parks, restaurants and hotels. Plus, we have sailed on three of Disney Cruise Line’s ships. We have traveled with babies, kids and now almost-teens, as well as with our extended families. I’m pretty confident that I know what to pack for both types of Disney vacations, and it’s rare that I forget something we need, as my husband will attest when he’s dragging our many suitcases everywhere.

But I feel like a novice Disney traveler now that I’m preparing to pack for our first trip to Disneyland and D23 in August. I have to figure out what we will need in an unfamiliar hotel room and theme parks for an extended stay. And it’s a lot of stuff for four people!

I have never been to Anaheim, but from what I can tell, the weather this time of the year is just slightly cooler than Orlando during the day. The real differences are the lack of daily afternoon thunderstorms and temperatures that can dip into the 60s at night. So, for my family, when it comes to packing clothes for the trip, we will stick to mostly shorts and throw in a few hoodies or jackets for the nights. As with any trip, we each will bring a couple nice outfits in case we have unexpected opportunities where shorts are not appropriate. Of course, swim suits, pajamas and the like will also go with us. Perhaps the most important items will be comfortable, supportive shoes, and we each have those purchased and broken in. I don’t expect to have time to do laundry, so I will need to pack enough outfits to get us through 10 days of travel.

The part that brings out the list-maker in me is not the clothes but all the odds and ends we might need during our stay. First, we are going to stay at a Good Neighbor hotel within walking distance of Disneyland, so we are not renting a car. Because of the lack of transportation and nearby grocery or big-box stores, I had to determine how we would get breakfast foods, snacks and drinks to the hotel.

I’ve decided that we will use the Prime Pantry service at Amazon.com, which will be a first for us, and have everything shipped to the hotel ahead of time. Prime members – or even those using the free one-month trial membership – can order grocery and household items and have them delivered for a flat rate. Each Amazon box holds 45 pounds -- or four cubic feet of household products -- and costs $5.99 to ship. As you add things to your shopping cart, the website updates how much room you have left. The advantage of using this system, of course, is that you can ship heavy things, such as my beloved Diet Coke, at a reasonable cost. If you don’t plan to order heavy items, you also could use Amazon’s free shipping for orders of $35 or more. Most hotels will hold your packages for at least a week prior to your arrival. (Make sure you put “Hold for Your Name” in the second line of the shipping address.)

Next, here are the other things for the room that I plan to bring to make our stay a bit more comfortable:

** Nightlight so we can find our way in the dark if we get up at night. (I always forget this one!)
** Electrical power strips to charge all the electronic devices each night.
** Ziploc baggies of different sizes. I can’t live without these on a trip, and I take multiple boxes.
** Sample-size laundry detergent and a stain-remover product for emergencies.
** Dish soap pads for cleaning mugs and water bottles.
** Baby wipes for sticky hands and Chlorox wipes for surfaces.
** Scissors. (Make sure to pack these in your suitcase because they are not allowed in airplane carry-ons.)

For our backpacks that we will carry into the parks and at D23:

** Refillable water bottles with filters. These can be filled at water fountains, and counter-service restaurants at Disneyland give free cups of iced tap water.
** Sunscreen.
** Portable batteries and charging cords for our phones and other devices.
** Autograph books and pens, each in separate plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
** Glow sticks, necklaces and bracelets from the Dollar Store or Target Dollar Spot.
** Band-Aids and moleskin tape for cuts and blisters.
** Blanket or sheet to help save our space for Fantasmic! and World of Color, which are shows that do not have permanent seating.
** Extra clothes to change into after water rides, if we don’t plan to go back to the hotel.
** Rain ponchos in case it rains, but mostly to keep us or our belongings dry on the water rides.

No one has ever accused me of being a light packer, but I prefer the security of knowing I have most everything I need on my vacation and knowing that I won’t have to spend a small fortune once I get to my destination on items I forgot. If you have packing tips, I’d love to hear them! Please share your thoughts in the comments.

For advice about planning a trip to “The Happiest Place On Earth,” please read my recent newsletter feature. It covers topics such as selecting a hotel, making advanced dining reservations, buying theme-park tickets and using them efficiently.



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July 28, 2015

Disney Channel, Disney XD holding open casting call online now

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If you’ve dreamed of being the next big teen star, this might be your chance to get started! Disney Channel and Disney XD are hosting open online auditions for upcoming television series and original movies. But you need to get to work, because the deadline is Aug. 6.

These auditions are open to actors ages 10 to 17. To get started, you’ll need to be 17 or have a parent’s permission to download the Disney Applause app, which is available on iTunes and Google Play.

Once the app is installed, you’ll be able to access the script to practice before you make your video audition and upload it through the app. Videos should only be a maximum of 120 seconds (2 minutes) and the file size cannot exceed 200 MB. The format must be avi, .wmv, .asf, mov, 3gp, .mp4, .mpg or .m4v.

Jacob Bertrand (”Kirby Buckets”) and Paris Berelec (“Mighty Med”) offer some audition tips, including:

** Introduce yourself.
** Be yourself.
** Look into the camera.
** Have energy.
** Prepare and work on the script.
** Dress like yourself.
** Be original.
** Make sure we can see you. (Have good light and a solid color background.)
** Have fun and smile.

Things to avoid:

** Don’t be nervous.
** Don’t wear white. (Colors “pop” more.)
** Don’t sit down. (Standing shows more energy.)
** Don’t look down too much. (Show us your face.)
** Don’t send a video that is too long, too big or the wrong format.

Judy Taylor, senior vice president, Casting and Talent Relations, Disney Channels Worldwide, said in a press release, “While many factors go into casting a role, our goal is to find new talent and make the process accessible to all, whether amateur or professional actors with agents. It also provides parents assurances about privacy and safety online.”

Disclaimer from Disney: An audition is not an offer or a guarantee of employment. This is not a contest. There is never a fee to participate in a Disney Channel/Disney XD talent search. Minors must have a parent or guardian’s permission to audition.

The Disney Applause app also allows users to submit photos and videos for other contests and sweepstakes.



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July 25, 2015

Tour de Turtles kicks off on Florida's East Coast beaches this weekend

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Disney’s Vero Beach will help kick off Tour de Turtles next weekend on the East Coast of Florida, and the state's visitors and locals alike have several opportunities to join in the fun surrounding the marine marathon.

Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is an interesting way to learn about the long migration of sea turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Tracking is done through satellite telemetry, with transmitters sending signals each time a turtle surfaces to breathe. Those who follow along at tourdeturtles.org will be exposed to the science and geography of sea-turtle migration. At the same time, researchers hope to gain more knowledge about the migratory practices of the endangered species because so much still is unknown.

This is the eighth year for Tour de Turtles, and there will be 15 sea turtles representing four different species. The turtles leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including one in front of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, and will be tracked for three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.

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Disney's Vero Beach Resort

As in past years, two Loggerhead turtles – named Tinker Bell and Marina this year -- will begin their marathon in front of the Disney hotel. Resort guests are invited to watch, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 1.

Disney’s turtles that participated last year were named Anna and Elsa. At the end of May, the Disney Parks Blog gave us an update on the pair’s travels:

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Anna

“For about a week, Anna swam and drifted within Florida’s coastal waters and then headed south along the coast of eastern Florida. This means that the nest she made in late July was her last of the season. If Anna was like most loggerheads, this would have been her fifth nest! Anna’s travels south took her to Key West, where she looped around the island and settled into a beautiful shallow seagrass pasture just north of the popular tourist destination. (Perhaps it reminded her of Arendelle?) Anna’s journey has totaled 661 miles!”

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Elsa

“After Elsa left Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, she drifted for a few weeks within Florida’s offshore waters and eventually headed south. Like Anna, Elsa also swam toward Key West, but soon found her own path. She turned south to cross the Florida current toward Cuba. The strong, Gulf Stream current must have diverted her to the east, which put her on course for the Cay Sal Bank, a rich area of shallow seagrass between the United States and Cuba. This is where Elsa stayed for several months, until just recently when she looped closer to Cuba and back toward Cay Sal. Elsa’s journey has totaled 1,929 miles!”

From 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 1, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is hosting a party to benefit the animals and their habitat in Brevard County. The party takes place at the Barrier Island Center, located at 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach. It will include heavy hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $20 online when purchased in advance or they will be available at the door for $35. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Questions? Call 321-723-3556.

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Barrier Island Center

On Sunday, Aug. 2, there is an opportunity for the public to watch more turtles begin the race. This group will be leaving from the beach start gate near the Barrier Island Center at 8 a.m. Spectators are asked to arrive 30 minutes early. From 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., there will be fun family-friendly activities. This event is free and open to the public, and T-shirts will be available for $20. Parking is limited here, too.

In addition to the education and research components, Tour de Turtles also raises money for additional research and conservancy efforts through sponsorships of each turtle. Several branches of The Walt Disney Company have been annual sponsors of Tour de Turtles: Disney's Animal Program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney's Vero Beach Resort.



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July 23, 2015

Enter Disney Infinity IN Games for chance to compete at D23 and on Disney Dream

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Leading up to the launch of Disney Infinity 3.0 on Aug. 30 – and the introduction of the Star Wars franchise to the gaming system – Disney Interactive is hosting three summer tournaments. The three winners will be invited the final round of the contest, which will take place onboard the Disney Dream cruise ship in its new Disney Infinity zone.

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The first leg of the tournament was held during Comic Con in San Diego in July, and the second contest takes place on Aug. 15 during the D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif. But the deadline to enter is this week – 11:59 p.m. PT July 26 to be exact. Disney Interactive will choose 16 players for this leg of the tournament. They will be filmed for broadcast during the tournament at D23, and all 16 will receive Disney Infinity Prize Packs.

To get started, potential contestants should make a video that is no longer than 1 minute in length. In it, the player must:

** State his or her first name only to protect privacy.
** Tell what he or she likes most about Disney Infinity.
** Describe his or her favorite toy box ever made and explain why.
** Choose a favorite Disney Infinity figure and explain the selection.
** The video must be all original content, so get creative!

There are a few rules, too, that must be followed:

** Entrants must be at least 13 years old, and those who are minors must have a parent or guardian’s permission.
** Entrants must be legal residents of and physically live within the 50 United States or the District of Columbia.
** If other people are in the video, they only can be immediate family members. They also can only use first names.
** There cannot be any brands or logos, other than Disney, visible in the background or on clothing.
** No rude gestures or profanity and other inappropriate behavior will be accepted.
** Only one video per person may be entered.

Disney Interactive offers these tips for making a great video:

** Make sure to hold the camera so your video comes out wider than it is tall, like a movie screen.
** Use sunlight, light bulbs, whatever! Shoot with lots of light coming from behind the camera and shining on you or your family!
** The closer you are to the camera or separate microphone, the better your voice will sound.

The winner of each of the three legs of the tournament, including the upcoming contest at the D23 Expo, receives a Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Starter Pack and a trip to the IN Games Finals Nov. 6-9 on the Disney Cruise Line, aboard the Disney Dream. “This epic showdown will take place inside the new immersive Disney Infinity zone onboard the Disney Dream. While onboard competitors will have the chance to pilot hyperspace inside the new Star Wars: Millennium Falcon, taste goodies galore at Vanellope’s Sweet & Treats, and unwind after the competition at Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay,” promotional materials state. The 3-night Bahamian cruise includes the following:

** 2 coach airfares if the winner resides outside a 200 mile radius of the ship’s home port.
** Round trip ground transportation from the airport to the ship.
** 3-night cruise on the Disney Dream for two people in one stateroom. This includes pre-paid gratuities, government taxes, fees and port expenses (as defined in the Disney Cruise Line brochure), plus all meals, except at Palo and Remy.

Log in here to enter!

Fans at a D23 presentation on Sunday, Aug. 16, will be among the first to see new gameplay, trailers and surprises from Disney Interactive. Throughout the weekend, guests on the expo floor will be able to experience play sets and new Star Wars characters from Disney Infinity 3.0 before their release date. Plus, they will receive limited-edition giveaways.



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July 21, 2015

Review: B Hotel Resort and Spa and American Q

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Makeovers aren’t just for princesses and princes at Walt Disney World, it seems. Even the hotels are treated to periodic transformations.

Recently, my family and I stayed at the B Hotel on Walt Disney World property. It was my first time at the renovated hotel since I had stayed at the then-Hotel Royal Plaza when I was a child in the ’70s, and how things have changed! The two-year makeover of the hotel culminated in the second half of 2014 when the contemporarily designed hotel reopened.

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And the clean-looking style of the chain does make an older hotel feel fresh. The lobby is a backdrop of glossy white surfaces and punches of color, including the brand’s own signature blue. Modern furnishings continue throughout the resort. One fun element is that on the elevator landing of each floor in the tower, there is a tableau of a chair, table and mirror in a color scheme that is different on each floor.

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For those not familiar with the hotel, it is located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, within walking distance of Downtown Disney. But, although it is situated on Disney World property, it is not a Disney-owned or -operated hotel. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between B Hotel and a Disney-owned hotel is the theming. Disney Imagineers have not worked their magic on this space, and there are no hints of Disney characters anywhere except the gift shop. For some guests, this décor may be preferable. For others, like myself, I missed the so-called Disney Difference that is so apparent in attention to detail and even in the way the employees interacted with my family. B Hotel’s staff was perfectly polite, but there was a definite lack of knowledge about the hotel and the surrounding areas.

Also, guests staying at a hotel that is not Disney-owned or operated do not have access to some perks, such as Magic Hours, Disney transportation, charging privileges, and earlier-than-public booking of dining reservations and FastPasses. However, B Hotel does have shuttle buses that run to each of the parks and Downtown Disney every half hour, and there is a dedicated Disney gift shop in the lobby that sells tickets, souvenirs and sundries.

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Still, B Hotel does offer plenty of amenities that most guests would expect from a hotel near Walt Disney World. There is a small, but nicely landscaped and furnished pool area with a hot tub and a bar that also serves food. Adjacent to the pool is a complimentary kids area with video games and movies, and there is even a life-size chess set for those who wish to play. Across from the pool is a separate entrance to the Aveda Spa, the brand's first full-service B Indulged lifestyle spa. It offers a customizable menu of services, including massages and skin-care treatments, a hair salon, a nail boutique, and the B Active Fitness Center.

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Inside the hotel, guests will find a business center with computers to access the Internet, a fax machine and a printer. There is more than 25,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor function space equipped for business meetings and gatherings, social events and weddings. Plus, there is a concierge to help with making local arrangements and a dedicated Enterprise car-rental desk.

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B Hotel offers one table-service restaurant, American Q, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is a rustic, fun setting that includes a full bar. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a cherry-red truck whose bed serves as a base for a buffet for all three meals, although the restaurant also offers a la carte options. For the breakfast buffet, guests will find traditional dishes such as eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, fruit and pastries. I was pleasantly surprised to find Mickey waffles, as well, plus a separate omelet station. We enjoyed the breakfast and found the $18 price to be acceptable for a theme-park location.

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For dinner, the buffet changes to side dishes that are traditionally served with barbecued entrees. There were salads, corn on the cob, potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and more. The buffet is accompanied by eight different meats, which are brought to your table and carved there by a “cowboy” or “cowgirl.” For my family, that was the best part of the meal. Not only was the presentation fun, but my children got a kick out of putting the sign up on our table to alert the server we were ready for more meat. Although we enjoyed the novelty of the meal service, we found the experience to be pretty pricey at $40 per person plus drinks, tax and tip. The service was excellent, however.

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In addition to the restaurant, The Pickup is a grab ‘n’ go cafe with an ice cream parlor that has extended hours. Pizza and other foods can be ordered through room service.

B Hotel has 394 guest rooms and suites that offer a variety of sleeping accommodations, such as two queen beds or a king plus bunk beds for the children. Like the lobby, the rooms are decorated in a white-and-blue palette with modern styling. There are 47-inch, high-definition LED flat-screen televisions, old-fashioned telephones, refrigerators, snack bars, ironing boards and safes large enough to fit two 13-inch laptops. The bathrooms have an upscale look with a glassed-in shower – no tub – and a basin sink, and complimentary Avena products are displayed.

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The only real complaint we had about our room is that the temperature-control system did not work properly. We could not heat or cool the room without the assistance of a maintenance crew, and even then the unit was so loud we could hardly hear each other speak. After the first night, we had had enough. The front desk staff did not offer to move us to another room until I insisted, but then they were accommodating. Our new room had an even better view of the Epcot and Magic Kingdom fireworks, which was something my children were quite excited about.

Overall, my family and I had a positive impression of the B Hotel for this price point. B Hotel rates are comparable to those of Disney World value resorts. (AllEars newsletter readers can even get a 20 percent discount and a free upgrade by booking through our link.) It’s important to note that the lower cost per night can attract various tour groups, which also can affect your stay. Still, the tradeoffs might be worth it if you are looking for ways to rein in your vacation budget.

DISCLAIMER: AllEars.Net paid for my stay and my dining experiences at the B Hotel for the purposes of this review. I was not a guest of the hotel. My opinions are my own.



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July 17, 2015

Ice Palace Boutique at Disney's Hollywood Studios to offer Frozen-themed makeovers

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Beginning Friday (July 17), reservations can be made for the Ice Palace Boutique, a wintry salon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where young guests can get “Frozen”-themed makeovers. The Ice Palace Boutique will be open July 26 through Sept. 7 as part of the Frozen Summer Fun event.

The salon, which will be located on Commissary Lane across from the ABC Commissary, will offer several packages for guests ages 3 to 12, including:

** Frozen Summer Fun Boutique Package – This package includes Anna- or Elsa-inspired shimmering makeup palette, face gems, nail polish, a braided hairpiece with sparkling snowflake accessory and an exclusive photo opportunity. Price: $75.

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** Ice Palace Boutique Package – This package includes everything offered in the Frozen Summer Fun Boutique Package for the makeover and photo. It also includes access to the Ice Palace Café, which serves complimentary Frozen-themed treats, and reserved seating at one of the “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” shows for the child and five guests. Price: $175.

** Ice Palace Boutique Deluxe Package – This package includes everything from the Palace Boutique Package plus an Anna or Elsa costume for the child getting the magical transformation. Price: $240.

** Olaf Package – This package includes an Olaf T-shirt and a glitter hairstyle. (Reservations are not required for this package.) Price: $19.95, plus tax.

Ice Palace Boutique will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily during the event.

Although this is the first time Walt Disney World has opened a salon dedicated to Frozen experiences, it is not the first time Anna and Elsa makeovers have been offered at the resort. After the movie was released in November 2013, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offered holiday experiences based on the royal sisters. In fact, the Anna and Elsa dresses sold out so quickly on property that, for a time, booking one of those makeovers was the only way to purchase the costumes at Walt Disney World. It was a limited-time offering, however.

Later in 2014, when merchandise levels caught up with the demand for all things “Frozen,” both Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique locations (inside World of Disney at Downtown Disney and inside Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom) added the costumes to their choices for Disney Princess makeovers as part of the Castle Packages. They did not, however, include the special hairpieces that are part of the new experience at the Ice Palace Boutique.

If your child is wrapped up in the magic of Frozen, the new Ice Palace packages might be just the experience to make his or her day unforgettable. For reservations, call 407-827-7400. And don’t forget to check out our coverage of all the Frozen Summer Fun activities at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.



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July 16, 2015

UPDATED -- Review: Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market

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If you are a repeat visitor at Walt Disney World, chances are you have favorite foods at each of the theme parks that you can’t wait to sink your teeth into again. For my family and I, a visit to Animal Kingdom usually means a meal at Flame Tree Barbecue. We like the food there well enough, but part of our enjoyment of that restaurant is also the shaded seating overlooking the lake in front of Mount Everest. But, a new quick-service restaurant that opened last month has us rethinking our tried-and-true routine.

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Located in the Africa section of the park, Harambe Market mimics the atmosphere of an open-air marketplace and serves dishes that would be considered African street foods. My family and I recently tried some of the offerings and were pleased with what we sampled. And, when we found the perfect shaded table, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the market, too.

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Our experience began as we approached the area near Kilimanjaro Safaris at the back of the park. Yes, this is a trek from the front of the park, but we thought it was worth it. And, of course, if you’re already in the park, it’s not such a hike. Just keep this in mind if you’re planning on going to lunch first before your day’s activities in the park.

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Harambe Market is colorful, loud, and, when we arrived at 1:30 p.m., it was busy! By the time we finished standing in line, found a table and ate, it was 3 p.m. and the place had cleared out. I suspect the crowds were there in full force because of the novelty of a new eatery and the start of the summer season at Walt Disney World, but it never hurts to avoid peak meal times if you want to skip the lines.

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Although there are four shop windows advertising different menu items, know that you can pick any line to order from the entire menu. You do not need to stand in separate lines. The queue for the ribs – on the far right when looking at the storefronts -- was the shortest on the day we were there and it offered the most shade. Also, on the day we were there, cast members were at the front of the lines, handing out menus for customers to browse before they got into the lines.

Your choices include:

** Kitamu Grill: Skewered chicken and a kebab flatbread sandwich

** Famous Sausages: Corndog made with a South African boerewors sausage dipped in curry-infused corn batter

** Chef Mwanga’s: Spice-rubbed Karubi Rib paired with green papaya-carrot slaw

Each of these service counters offers a kids version of the main dish. For the chicken and ribs, it’s just a smaller portion with kid-friendly sides. For the sausage station, it’s a traditional corn dog instead of the sausage. A Kids Snack Pack with yogurt, apple slices, carrot sticks, Goldfish crackers, apple-cinnamon bar and choice of small lowfat milk or small water is also available.

** Wanjohi Refreshments: Craft draft beers like Safari Amber Lager; six South African wines by the glass, The Starr of Harambe frozen drink with Starr African rum and mango puree in a souvenir mug, red Sangria with Van der Hum tangerine liqueur, and non alcoholic tangerine lemonade or fountain beverages like Sparberry from Zimbabwe. (My husband loves a good IPA and he highly recommended the I-4 IPA from Orlando Brewing.)

For dessert, all the counters serve a coconut custard in a chocolate tart shell.

For complete menu details, including prices, see our AllEars.Net dining page.

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For our meal, my family and I tried the Karubi Ribs and the Boerewors Sausage Corndog. The guys tried the ribs, which are served with green papaya-carrot slaw on top and a cucumber and tomato salad on the side. Predictably, my 12-yer-old son did not like the slaw, but both he and my husband raved about the ribs, which are kind of like the variety they often order at Flame Tree Barbecue. This dish is a little spicier, but they both said they liked it equally as well, if not better than the other Animal Kingdom ribs.

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My 10-year-old daughter and I were tempted by the African version of a corndog for lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected flavors of the sausage and the curry-infused corn batter and certainly would order it again. The sausage is served with a roasted broccoli and tomato salad that has a light and tasty dressing. My daughter, however, would have been happier with the traditional corndog that is offered on the kids menu.

Both the ribs and the sausage are served in generous-size portions – more than enough to be filling for one person or possibly two less-hungry patrons. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this marketplace is serving appetizer-size portions, as is done at kiosks during Epcot food and beverage festivals. If you want to sample several dishes, plan accordingly!

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I recently spoke with Animal Kingdom’s chef de cuisine Albert Youngman about how foods were created for Harambe Market -- specifically how he and his team chose flavors that would be palatable to guests who might not be accustomed to typical African foods.

“The earth tones of the flavors and the actual flavors that come from the cardamom and the coriander and cumin and things like that are very much tasted in all of our food [at Harambe Market], but it’s not overdone to where it’s offensive to our guests,” Youngman said. “So, we tried to get a balance with the food. So, you take the African corn dog, for instance. People sometimes are scared of curry, right? Curry means hot. But [the corn dog] is not really hot. It actually has more of an earth tone and a sweetness to it and we incorporate it with our sweet corn batter that helps that flavor kind of mend together.”

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On a second visit to Harambe Market for a media event, my family and I sampled the skewered chicken, which we missed the first time, and found it to be rather plain, not offering the interesting flavors of the other foods we’ve come to enjoy there. Still, Youngman said it is the most popular item at Harambe Market – both for adults and children. Perhaps that’s because it’s not a culinary risk for most people. Yet, this is exactly the place to try something new, he said. “If you just go out of your element a little bit, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

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At Harambe Market, guests seat themselves at the outdoor tables. Because of the crowds, we started at a table that was in the sun. When an umbrella table emptied, we jumped at the chance to sit in the shade, which definitely made our experience more pleasant. The marketplace is, of course, creatively decorated and the Wildlife Express train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch passes by in the back on a regular schedule. Disney officials have said that live entertainment eventually will be offered in the marketplace, as well.

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During the media event, I also spoke with Imagineer Emily O’Brien, who was the lead designer for Harambe Market. You can read about how the new restaurant was developed and what it’s like to be an Imagineer here.

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Last month, Zuri’s Sweets Shop opened across from Harambe Market. This African-themed shop is the first dedicated consumables store, said Steven Miller, Walt Disney World Merchandise Communications Manager. It features three new lines of goodies: one based on “The Lion King,” one inspired by the bold and colorful African Kente cloths, and one that celebrates African spices and flavors. Miller talks to me about the tasty treats in the video below:

We found Harambe Market to be a fun – and tasty – addition to the quick-service restaurants at Animal Kingdom. The African flavors offer guests exciting alternatives to the traditional sandwiches, salads, burgers and fries that we’ve come to expect at counter-service restaurants at Walt Disney World, and there are enough kid-friendly choices to please the little ones.

The trek to the far corner of the park might be a far one from the front gates of Animal Kingdom, but, based on our recent dining experience, the journey there is a rewarding one if you’re looking for good food in a uniquely themed atmosphere. But, just as you would on the savannah grasslands west of Nairobi, try to find a nice shady spot to enjoy your lunch unless you want to end up feeling as baked as the Chef Mwanga’s special.

Enjoy this video of the Harambe Market:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for my second visit to Harambe Market. The first visit was at my own expense. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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July 14, 2015

Disney Parks Imagineer talks about designing Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market

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Animal Kingdom’s newest eatery, Harambe Market, has been well-received by Walt Disney World guests, and that’s no surprise. After all, it was designed by the Imagineer who headed up the development of restaurants and shops in the popular Cars Land at Disneyland, as well as a long list of beloved attractions at Walt Disney World. I recently had the opportunity to speak with that Imagineer -- Emily O’Brien, the executive producer for Animal Kingdom -- about the open-air, counter-service marketplace at Animal Kingdom.

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Could you tell us how the concept of Harambe Market came about?

Looking at the village as a whole, we were looking to give our guests some other options in the area. We developed this marketplace as a colonial train station, what I would call, a street fair market that you would find in any town along the coast of Africa. Goods would come in either by boat or by train. As you can see, we have a train that runs right by here, and people can experience the flavors that have been developed by locals to serve the community. We’re really trying to tell the story of a full neighborhood, a full town. To me, it doesn’t feel like a theme park, it feels like a neighborhood that you would go to. And from people who have been to Africa a lot, it really does feel like a small town, including the Lion King Theater, Harambe central street, [Kilimanjaro] Safaris, and then this area.

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How did this project get started?

It’s a big team of people that all work together, from park operators to our food and beverage team to the Imagineering team that helps come up with concepts that fit to serve a need – in this case, to offer more food. We all get together early on and figure out how big of a restaurant we need and what kinds of foods we are trying to do – are people going to sit down and be served or is it a more casual walk-up like this area? I started on [the project] in late 2012. But we go in ebbs and flows; we’re working on obviously a bunch of stuff at the same time. If it’s a concentrated effort, it can be a much shorter timeline.

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Did you travel to Africa to do research for Harambe Market?

I personally did not travel, although we did have a few Imagineers who did. The point of those travels is to really soak up what happens when you go around corners. You can get a certain feeling from pictures, but it’s a whole different experience to see how people live and interact with each other – the cultural aspects of it that influence why things look the way they look. [For example] you’ll see bundles of wires pulled from one place to another and that is true to what you’ll see if you go to Africa. People are what I would call “McGivering” wire from one spot to another. You can see everything that is powered pulled from one location. So, you have a big bundle and everything goes out from it. For those kinds of things, you might see a picture of a telephone pole with a whole bunch of wires on it, but you don’t know why it’s that way. So, the reason we travel for research is to understand the why, not just the what.

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Once the theme has been established, how do Imagineers proceed with designing the restaurant?

In this case, I was the Imagineer that was tasked with laying it out. I knew how many seats we were trying to put in here [220], I know the code requirements for how much space you need to walk around, and those sorts of things so I started developing a plan. And we also work with our kitchen contractors to figure out how much kitchen equipment we need, how big the kitchens will be and how those interact with each other. We basically start with an overhead, bird’s eye layout and we go 3D from there. A lot of Imagineers design it 3D in their heads as they are drawing things flat from an overhead view – but you know what it looks like in your head. Also, look at all of the details, the props, the inventive spirit. If you look at the bicycles, there might be a makeshift wheelchair made out of bike parts because they don’t have a wheelchair. There’s a very kind of usefulness that comes out of being very inventive with how pieces and parts go together to serve a purpose.

Tell us how you got started as an Imagineer at Walt Disney World.

So, about 18 years ago, I started as an intern in Interior Design. Over the course of time, I helped out and learned from people who have now been Imagineers for 30 years and are still here. I had great mentors that taught me the ins and outs of why we do what we do, how it all works together, and what to be sensitive to. I’ve done many, many restaurant designs. Most recently, I was the principal interior design Imagineer for Cars Land. I did Flo’s Restaurant and Cozy Cone, the shops there, and pretty much everything indoors in that particular park. Of course, there was a team of people, but I was the lead designer. Going backwards from there, I’ve done various bars and restaurants: Trader Sam’s in California, Turtle Talk here, Soarin’ here. I’ve been really fortunate to have people recognize my abilities and try to stretch them [with more responsibilities and bigger projects].

What did you enjoy the most about this Harambe Market project?

I think what’s great about this project is that when we finished, we had a guest come the very first day from Kenya. This particular person said that it felt like being in their own town, and that was like, “OK, we nailed it!” The idea is to be as authentic as possible, but it’s not just about what it looks like but what it feels like. And that’s not really even tangible, unless you’ve experienced both. We want to give our guests the real feeling of being in Africa, and from what I’ve heard, we were very successful at doing that.

On a day-to-day basis, what’s your favorite part about being an Imagineer?

There are so many facets to it because it goes from design to meeting with animal programs in this park and talking about new baby animals being born and how we’re going to incorporate those to meeting with kids in high school and encouraging them to go after what they’re passionate about. There are so many pieces to it that it’s hard to pick a favorite. One thing that I like to do if I’m struggling with something is to come into the park and do a lap. I watch people enjoying themselves and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. People go through things in their lives and so one thing that people come to Disney Parks to experience is to get away from stuff. I try to really appreciate what we’re providing for people in that aspect.



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July 11, 2015

Shutterfly introduces Disney photo books and other customized products

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I started scrapbooking when I was pregnant with my son 13 years ago. While I was on bed rest, a dear friend taught me the basics and inspired me with her gorgeous albums that documented the milestones in her children’s lives. After two detailed baby books, however, I decided I would focus on creating keepsakes of my family’s Disney memories; there just wasn’t enough time to scrapbook everything in our lives!

For years, I really enjoyed collecting Disney-themed albums, papers, stickers and embellishments. Designing the pages appealed to the former newspaper layout editor in me. And I usually scrapbooked with girlfriends, which was a great way to catch up with friends I didn’t see on a regular basis. But the older my children grew, the less time I had to pursue scrapbooking. It’s no longer working around naptimes and scheduling times when husbands can watch the kids, but fitting it in around sports practices and meets, homework and family time.

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As much as I love scrapbooking by hand, I know it would be more efficient of me to make photo books online. I just couldn’t abandon all my Disney supplies. But now Disney scrapbookers like me don’t have to. Shutterfly has introduced a new Disney Collection, and photo books are one product. The Disney photo books can be created with Simple Path, which allows Shutterfly to arrange all your photos with preset backgrounds and layouts, or they can be customized. Scrapbookers who choose Custom Path can put pages together by mixing layouts, backgrounds and embellishments, much like the process of scrapbooking by hand.

Shutterfly also offers a number of Disney idea pages, which users can drag and drop into their books to use, if they choose. These pages are the best of both worlds – quick and easy to use, while allowing the scrapbooker some control over the placement of photos. There are pages for the Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line and plenty that could be applicable to both types of vacations. Disney photo books start at $12.99 and increase in price based on the size of the book and the number of pages included.

Shutterfly’s Disney Collection also includes sets of Disney character wall decals that can be customized with your own photos. Choose from Minnie and Friends, Mickey and Friends, Cars McQueen and Mater, Frozen Anna and Elsa, Princesses, Toy Story Buzz Lightyear. Each set costs $104.99. Pick your favorite hero for sweet dreams with Disney character pillows that can be personalized with names and photos, too. Pillow prices range from $39.99 to $44.99. Plus, an assortment of Disney holiday stockings – priced at $34.99 -- offer the opportunity to showcase the recipient’s favorite Disney memories.

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Scrapbookers looking for other Disney photo books can find another option in the Disney PhotoPass section of My Disney Experience. A premium photo book for sale features a padded cover, 20 stitched pages and the use of your own photos and those in your PhotoPass account for $79.99. There are even more choices for pre-designed, themed pages, and you also have the option to create pages with various backgrounds, photo frames and stickers.

For many people, Disney photo books are unique souvenirs that will be treasured for years to come. After all, who doesn’t like to relive their best vacations?



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July 9, 2015

What to do if you get sick at Walt Disney World

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It had been a fun day of enjoying activities at Walt Disney World. After the fireworks, we were at our hotel room and getting ready for one more late-night splash in the pool before calling it a day. It was then, at about 11 p.m., that my daughter informed all of us that she wasn’t feeling well.

Has a similar scenario ever played out for your family while on vacation?

My daughter’s condition wasn’t dire enough to warrant waiting hours in a hospital emergency room to be seen by a physician, but she was feeling sick enough that we wanted to get her some relief before morning. Our search for medical treatment turned up several options.

Our first thought was to find an urgent-care facility and, as it turned out, there was one located just around the corner from where we were staying. Centra Care, which operates many locations around Central Florida and is affiliated with Florida Hospital, has a site close to Downtown Disney. It’s located at 12500 South Apopka Vineland Road (State Road 535), Orlando, FL 32836. It’s open from 8 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Call 407-934-2273.

My husband and I have been to our fair share of after-hours clinics with our children, and we found this one to be efficient. The clinic takes many types of insurance plans, and the corresponding information required for check-in was handled through an easy-to-use computer system. The waiting room offered snacks and drinks for purchase as well as two televisions to help pass the time. It was a standard medical facility and waiting room, for sure, but the Disney-themed artwork in the examination rooms gave the place a little bit of magic and probably, truth be told, put a few youngsters more at ease in a medical setting.

After my daughter was seen, we were even offered the option to purchase her medications at the clinic. Although Centra Care doesn’t have the ability to apply insurance coverage to medications, the flat rate for the basic prescriptions we needed was well worth not having to go to a pharmacy and wait longer, especially after midnight. Plus, Centra Care has a complimentary shuttle that picks up and returns guests who do not have their own transportation.

There is another urgent-care facility farther down State Road 535: Buena Vista Urgent Care at 8216 World Center Dr., Suite D, Orlando, FL 32821. It is not open as late, however. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

For life-threatening and other emergency conditions, the closest hospital is Florida Hospital Celebration Health at 400 Celebration Place, Celebration, FL 34747.

If you should find yourself with a minor illness or ailment while touring Walt Disney World’s four theme parks or two water parks, know that each park has a First Aid center, usually located near the entrance or toward the front of the park. Nurses are available during normal park operating hours to offer over-the-counter medications, bandages and other quick remedies. First Aid centers can also store medications that require refrigeration and provide special containers for disposal of hypodermic needles. If you have a more serious illness, the nurses will direct you where to get such care.

We have stopped in the First Aid centers for Band-Aids, pain-relief medications and even a topical treatment for bug bites. There is no charge for these items. You simply sign the log, and the nurse will give you the appropriate dosage.

Their goal -- and presumably that of each guest who stops in -- is to feel better quickly so everyone can get back to enjoying a vacation at the Most Magical Place on Earth.



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