July 16, 2016

Tips for customizing your Disney Cruise Line vacation

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If you’ve never been on a Disney Cruise Line vacation, you may not know about some of the less-publicized activities, entertainment and dining options available to you. Here are a few things my family and I have learned from our sailings with Disney Cruise Line that may make your trip even more enjoyable.

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Pool time on embarkation day

If your kids are eager to get up to the pool, slide and Aqua Duck, consider letting them swim as soon as you board, when the water features are likely to be less crowded as families get their bearings. Pack swimsuits and sunscreen in your day bag and change in the restrooms by the pool. (You won’t be able to get into your stateroom until about 1:30 p.m., and luggage can arrive any time up until dinnertime.) You can opt for lunch at Cabanas by the pool instead of the designated dining room. Just remember that pools close for the muster drill at 4 p.m. and then it’s time for the Sail Away Party.

Registering for complimentary activities

Some activities on the ship have limited space and require passengers to sign up for them ahead of time. Although the activities may take place later in the week, registration is available online in advance or it begins at Guest Services once boarding has commenced and spots can fill up quickly. One of the most popular events is the meet-and-greet with the Disney Princesses. Other such events are holiday-themed activities on the Christmas and Halloween cruises. If these offerings interest you, be sure to stop by Guest Services as soon as possible.

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Castaway Cay 5K

One of the highlights of a Caribbean cruise on a Disney ship is the day at the company’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. You can be as active or as relaxed as you choose in the tropical setting. For some, the ideal way to start the day is with the Castaway Cay 5K. This race is free to guests on the cruise, and each participant receives a bib and a medal of the same quality as runDisney 5K races at Disney Parks. That’s a nice perk, considering runDisney 5Ks can cost $65 per person. And you can’t beat the island scenery for this race! To participate, you must sign up onboard the ship, but you don’t need to worry about the race filling up in minutes as runDisney events do.

Room service

Room service, for the most part, is included in the cost of your cruise. The things you pay for are sodas, candy and alcohol – and a gratuity, if you choose. Also, know that there is one very special dessert not on the menu that can be ordered from Room Service: Mickey ice cream bars. Room service is available 24 hours a day but will close at 1 a.m. the night before debarkcation day.

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Meal options

Speaking of food, vacationers onboard Disney Cruise Line ships have options for eating all day long. You do not have to attend three meals a day in a formal dining room. In fact, I don’t think my family and I have ever eaten breakfast or lunch in the dining room we were assigned. Instead, we typically eat breakfast at the Cabanas buffet on the pool deck and return there or one of the other quick-service restaurants on the pool deck for lunch. There is a self-serve ice cream station that is open -- and popular -- all day on the pool deck, as well.

As for dinner, if you were assigned to the late seating, and you are worried your children cannot wait that long to eat, remember that you can get kid-friendly early dinners and snacks on the pool deck. Plus, camp counselors will pick up children from the dining rooms 45 minutes after the second meal service starts so the kids can play and have fun while adults enjoy a late dinner alone.

Finally, know that you can request ahead of time complimentary desserts for any celebrations that your family has. It seems like our cruises have always included birthdays, so we have had at least one night with these cakes. The special desserts have evolved over the years, so you might be surprised what you are presented with, but you can bet it will be delicious and beautifully presented. (You also can request DCL Happy Birthday Buttons at Guest Services.)

If you’re a veteran Disney Cruise Line passenger and have a tip for onboard activities for newbies, tell us in the comments!



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July 14, 2016

What to do before you board your Disney Cruise Line ship

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My family and I have been on several Disney Cruise Line vacations, and we have found that some advance planning helps customize our time at sea and make it an even more memorable vacation. Here are ideas about some of the things you can do to prepare for your Disney Cruise before you set sail.

Online check-in and advance reservations

The most important things you can do are to check in and make reservations online for excursions, upscale dining, the spa and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Pirate’s League if you want to do those things. During check-in, you will choose your port arrival time, which is tied to your boarding time. If you want to get on the ship as early as possible, you’ll want to get an early port arrival time. Boarding generally begins about 11:30 a.m., though the published time is later.

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Your online access date is based on your cruise status, which is determined by how many times you have sailed with Disney Cruise Line. If the people in your stateroom have different status levels, Disney Cruise Line will recognize the highest. First-time Disney cruisers can check in and make reservations 75 days prior to sailing. Passengers who have completed one to four trips are Silver members of the Castaway Club, Disney Cruise Line’s frequent traveler program, and can book 90 days ahead of departure day. Those who have five to nine cruises under their belts have Gold status and can book 105 days before sailing. Cruisers who have sailed ten or more times are Platinum members and have priority booking at 120 days out.

To be able to make special reservations, you will need to have paid for your cruise in full. However, that is not necessary to just check in online. The booking window for reservations usually opens at midnight EST and check-in starts at 3 a.m. EST. You can save yourself some time by making sure you have set up an account on DisneyCruise.com and have linked your reservation. Incidentally, once you do that, the website will tell you the date you can access everything online.

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Make magnets for your stateroom door

It’s become popular to decorate the metal stateroom doors on Disney cruises, and the only way to do that is with magnets because DCL does not allow tape. If you're artistic, put your talents to work and create some fun Disney designs! Not a graphic artist? Look online for free designs to download. Once you have the image you like, you can print it directly onto magnet paper, which can be purchased at your local office-supply store. I like this option because it's the easiest, but it also can get expensive if you plan to make a lot of magnets. Other cruise veterans suggest printing the image on cardstock, laminating it, and then sticking small magnet squares to the back. If that sounds like more work than you’re interested in, there are sellers on Etsy who offer personalized, finished magnets for sale. Decorated doors help kids find their rooms, and adults can't help but smile when they see them.

Things you might consider purchasing

My family and I have learned after several cruises that a few purchases we didn’t initially think about greatly enhance our time on the ship. You certainly don’t need these items, but you might benefit from them, too.

Snorkeling equipment: We decided to purchase snorkeling equipment and bring it on the ship rather than rent it at Castaway Cay and other ports because my family and I live in Florida and will use it again. We didn’t mind packing the equipment and having something to show for our money at the end of the trip. For others, especially those flying into Central Florida, this might be a huge hassle and extra weight in suitcases they want to avoid. Snorkeling equipment costs about $31 for ages 10 and older and $15 for ages 5 to 9 on Castaway Cay. Life vests and the use of the two snorkeling trails there are free.

Large insulated mugs or cups: There is a drink station near the family pool of each Disney Cruise Line ship, and it stays open 24 hours. Guests can serve themselves complimentary milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks with the disposable cups provided. While convenient, the cups are not large, so if you would like a bigger dose of your daily caffeine without repeated trips to the pool deck, you might consider bringing your own cup.

Dry erase board: Most people choose not to use their cell phones to text or make calls while onboard because the roaming charges are so expensive. That means many groups need to find ways to communicate with each other when they are not together. Disney Cruise Line provides Wave phones that work onboard the ship, but if you do not want to carry one or allow your kids to carry the phones – they’re expensive if you have to replace one -- another low-tech communication tool is a dry erase board. Get one with magnets to stick to your door or cording to loop over the fish extender hook.

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Pirate costumes: Many families enjoy dressing up for pirate night, which occurs on all sailings in the Caribbean. If you do not want to pack extra clothes, know that your cabin steward will provide you with Mickey Mouse pirate bandanas on the day of the festivities and you could pair that with a pirate T-shirt and shorts or perhaps black pants and a white shirt that you already own. Or, if you forget or have a change of heart, children’s pirate costumes are sold in the gift shops onboard. Family members can each undergo a total transformation with an appointment at the Pirates League.

Do you have a tip for packing or planning a Disney Cruise? Please share it in the comments section!



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July 12, 2016

Enter sweepstakes this week to win tickets to family friendly O-Town MacDown

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If you love macaroni and cheese dishes, you’ll want to mark your calendar for Aug. 20 when the O-Town MacDown takes place at Osceola Heritage Park. And through Friday (July 15), you can enter a sweepstakes for the chance to win four tickets to the event.

O-Town MacDown is a family friendly, mac and cheese cooking competition benefiting Give Kids The World Village. Sponsored by Subaru, the event gives professional chefs and restaurant cooks the opportunity to vie for the title of Orlando's Mac-n-Cheese Champion. And attendees will benefit from their efforts with an invitation to sample their creations.

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Cooking teams and individuals can register through July 20 by using this form. The cost is $100. So far, competitors include the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, Radisson Resort Celebration, BJ’s Brewhouse, Bubba Gump and Second Harvest Food Bank. Awards for first through third will be presented for the two divisions, professional and restaurant. A Wildcard Award will honor the best non-traditional mac and cheese dish. Plus, guests will vote for their favorite, and a winner will receive the People’s Choice Award.

In addition to the food component, the event will include live entertainment; a kids' fun zone with face painting, bounce houses and a macaroni art station; cooking demonstrations by chefs; and vendor booths.

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Attendance and participation at the O-Town MacDown benefits Give Kids The World Village, a 70-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

To enter the O-Town MacDown Sweepstakes with a chance to win four tickets to the event, click here for the entry form and the official rules. One entry per person is allowed. Just for entering, you will receive the winning recipe from last year’s competition.

Tickets for the O-Town MacDown are on sale now online at a discount:

** $15 for adults, which includes all the mac-n-cheese you can eat.

** $10 for kids ages 3-12, which includes all the mac-n-cheese you can eat and the Kids Zone. (Ages 2 and younger are free.)

Tickets at the door will be $20 for adults and $15 for kids. Parking is free. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Osceola Heritage Park, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee, Florida 34744.

About 3,000 people are expected to attend the 2016 O-Town MacDown.



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July 9, 2016

Fans take to Twitter to ask Disney Junior to renew 'Doc McStuffins'

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A popular Disney Junior television show has not yet been renewed, and fans are so concerned they have taken to social media to tell the Disney Channel network how they feel. Comedian W. Kamau Bell made a call to action and even celebrities have joined the #RenewDocMcStuffins movement.

“Doc McStuffins” is a show that stars Dottie “Doc” McStuffins, a 6-year-old African American girl who cares for her stuffed animals, dolls and toys at her home clinic. But when she puts on her stethoscope, they come to life and she can talk with them. She and her friends Hallie, Lambie, Chilly and Stuffy work together to solve their patients’ problems.

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Season 4 of “Doc McStuffins” will begin airing on July 30.

But the network has not announced whether the series will be picked up for a fifth season, and that has fans upset because other Disney Channel renewals have been publicized and it’s well-known that many Disney shows end after four seasons.

In addition to a love of the show itself at issue is the fact that the lead character is a female of color, a category of protagonist that is still under-represented on television, especially in roles that model success in science and technology.

“Doc McStuffins” was created by Peabody and Emmy award-winning Executive Producer Chris Nee, who told The New York Times, “The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them. And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.”

Powerful tweets in support of the show have included these sentiments:

My daughter doesn't need to watch ANOTHER princess. We need the entrepreneurial, medically savvy #DocMcStuffins #renewdocmcstuffins

#RenewDocMcStuffins @DisneyJunior the little child who will one day cure cancer is watching Doc in her/his PJs right now.

Doc appeals to kids of all backgrounds. She is clever and kind. Teaches them about compassion #RenewDocMcStuffins

I've played a patient 100 times in need of a check up because my preschoolers love this show! #RenewDocMcStuffins

Why on EARTH would @DisneyJunior drop Doc McStuffins?! I don't even HAVE kids and know how impactful that show is. #RenewDocMcStuffins

Disney Junior responded with a nebulous tweet:

Wow - thanks for all the love and cuddles! As long as there are toys to fix, the Doc will be in! -- #DocMcStuffins

Clearly, the response was meant to soothe Twitter users’ upset feelings, but it’s still not clear if “Doc McStuffins” will return for a fifth season.



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July 7, 2016

Island Nights and other new summer offerings at SeaWorld's Aquatica water park

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Beginning tomorrow (July 8), Aquatica will stay open an extra hour for its Island Nights presented by Coca-Cola on Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 6.

SeaWorld Orlando’s water park will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for Island Nights. During the summer celebration, guests can experience kick-off parties with a DJ and dancers, special music during the event and an evening menu at Waterstone Grill. Pass members can take advantage of a happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. that includes one free 12-ounce Coca-Cola beverage or ICEE per pass member at the stand across from Kiwi Traders.

During the rest of the week this summer, Aquatica is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and there are plenty of deals and new offerings to entice vacationers and local residents to spend a day at the water park.

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Purchasing a one-day ticket to Aquatica at the gate is $58 plus tax for ages 10 and older and $53 plus tax for ages 3 to 9. However, if you buy it online in advance, you can save $20 per ticket. Tickets can be purchased at this price through Sept. 5 and must be redeemed 365 days from the date of purchase. You can also opt to purchase an Aquatica annual pass for $108 plus tax for ages 10 and older. It includes free parking, which costs $15 per car each day otherwise, and there are no blackout dates. (There also are other tickets and annual passes that combine admission to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.)

Pass members can buy guest tickets for half off the $58 plus tax. They must be purchased and used by Dec. 31. There is a limit of six guest tickets per pass member.

There are some new offerings at Aquatica this summer designed to enhance guests’ experience – but they come with an additional charge.

Perhaps the most noticeable is the addition of Quick Queue, SeaWorld’s system of paying to bypass the long lines. This is the first summer Aquatica Orlando has offered the system, and there are two tiers: Quick Queue and Quick Queue Unlimited. Quick Queue allows each front-of-the-line access once at each of these six rides: Whanau Way, Omaka Rocka, Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, Taumata Racer, Walhalla Wave and HooRoo Run. The Unlimited version allows guests skip the line at the same six rides as many times as they would like. Quick Queue and Quick Queue Unlimited are offered seasonally, and pricing is based on popularity of certain days. Expect Quick Queue to start at about $20 per person and Quick Queue Unlimited at $35. Note that Dolphin Plunge is not included in the Quick Queue options.

All-day dining deals have returned to Aquatica this summer, and the new feature is the inclusion of breakfast. Guests still can choose lunch only – unlimited visits throughout the day -- at Banana Beach Buffet for $20 for ages 10 and older or $15 for ages 3 to 9. The menu includes pulled pork, baked chicken, hot dogs, cheese pizza, a variety of sides, desserts and Coca Cola products. For just $5 more per person, guests can purchase All-day Dining with Breakfast, which is served until 10:45 a.m. Guests who purchase this option may make unlimited trips through the buffet for breakfast and lunch. That option is less expensive than just the all-day lunch option was last year.

Just like at SeaWorld, Aquatica sells cups that can be refilled with soda or juice from the fountain machines for about $1. The initial price varies by the style of the cup, but count on about $10, and it’s good forever. We have had some cups for years! Plus, the cups may be used interchangeably for refills at SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens. (Pass members receive 10 percent off all dining, including the refills.)

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Finally, there are two new ways to seek refuge from the sun at Aquatica. Although the water park has a decent number of shaded chairs that are free, as you can imagine, they are among the first to be occupied each day. Guests now can opt to rent individually shaded chairs – Wave Pool Loungers -- in an area directly in front of the wave pools for $30 per chair. (The price drops to $15 per chair for off-peak times.) There are about 30 chairs, and the section is monitored by a team member to make sure only those who have rented the chairs are in the section.

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Also new this summer is a section of private cabanas with views of Roa’s Rapids. The cabanas are priced for four people at $249 (dropping to $129 for off-peak times) and up to three more can be added for $15 to $30 per person. Cabanas include a locker, rental towels, ceiling fan, refrigerator with bottled water, and a 20 percent discount coupon for merchandise, including photos. Aquatica already had cabanas in Cutback Cove, plus Premium and Ultimate cabanas.



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July 5, 2016

Tickets on sale for new Disney on Ice 'Follow Your Heart' show with 'Finding Dory,' 'Inside Out' characters

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As has become tradition, this year’s new Disney on Ice show will make it debut in September in Orlando, and, for the first time, it will feature characters and popular scenes from “Finding Dory” and “Inside Out.” Tickets for “Disney on Ice presents Follow Your Heart” go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. July 8 through Ticketmaster, but pre-sale codes are available now. (Try "BUBBLES.")

According to the official description: “Just keep swimming with Dory and new pal Hank from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Dory” as they set out to find her parents and discover the devotion of family. Cheer with Joy, Sadness, and the rest of the Emotions from Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out” as they work together to boost Riley’s spirit and win the big hockey game.”

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Typically, Disney on Ice shows feature a large cast of characters in various vignettes to appeal to a spectrum of fans, and “Follow Your Heart” is no exception. The new production includes characters from “Frozen” and “Toy Story,” plus many Disney Princesses. In addition, Mickey and Minnie host the show. Here’s how Feld Entertainment describes the rest of the production:

“Venture to wintery Arendelle where Olaf and Kristoff help reunite royal sisters Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen and learn love is the most powerful magic of all. See Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel and the Disney Princesses make their dreams possible through virtues of bravery, kindness and perseverance. And celebrate true friendship with Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the Toy Story gang. Make unforgettable memories with Mickey, Minnie and all your Disney friends when Disney On Ice presents Follow Your Heart skates into your hometown!”

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Disney on Ice productions often use small stages along the perimeter of the rink that allow characters to step up and interact with audience members, which thrills the children watching. The characters alternate locations, engaging different segments of viewers. My kids and I experienced this when we saw “Disney on Ice Presents Frozen.” You can read my review of that production here.

Florida residents and visitors will be among the first to see the new "Follow Your Heart" production. For years, Ellenton, Fla.-based Feld Entertainment has used Lakeland and Orlando as a starting point for new Disney on Ice productions, and this is true again this fall. From here, the production moves to Alabama, Miami and Atlanta.

"Disney on Ice presents Follow Your Heart" will be at Orlando's Amway Center for six performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. 7 p.m. Sept. 3; and 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 4. Tickets are $18 to $100 and can be purchased at the Amway Center box office or through Ticketmaster. Every audience member 2 years and older is required to have a ticket.



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July 2, 2016

Movie review: Disney's 'The BFG'

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I have a confession to make: I didn’t love Disney’s “The BFG.” I suspect that fans of Roald Dahl's classic story of the same name will feel differently about the movie, and that’s fine. I, too, have enjoyed watching my favorite books come to life on the screen, regardless of the movie’s quality.

But if I’m critiquing the movie from the viewpoint of someone who hasn’t read the book and doesn’t have an emotional attachment to the story, “The BFG” (Big Friendly Giant) wasn’t a film I would necessarily recommend to families. It is long – at just about two hours – and it drags, despite the special effects and a title character portrayed by an award-winning actor.

For those not familiar with the original story, it is based on a 10-year-old orphan girl’s friendship with a Big Friendly Giant. Without giving too much away, the BFG is lives in Giant Country, which means that when he and Sophie go to his home, they have to be prepared to hide her at a moment’s notice from the other giants who eat people. Eventually, they must enlist the help of the Queen of England in order to stop the giants.

As my 13-year-old son pointed out, “It doesn’t seem like there is a climax to the story.” And perhaps that’s the crux of the problem: “The BFG” meanders along, faithfully retelling the story, but the action – physical or dramatic – doesn’t build quickly enough to leave viewers engaged. Of course, there are the giants who love to snack on humans, but even those scenes seem more cartoonish than scary.

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It’s also difficult to feel invested in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “The BFG” because the relationship between The Big Friendly Giant (played by Mark Rylance) and Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) doesn’t evolve. The audience sees them become friends, but we don’t feel like they have established a real bond. And so, when they are forced to part company, the separation isn’t a tear-jerker.

“The BFG” is rated PG for “action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor.” Frankly, the “rude humor” is the funniest part of the movie. The BFG’s favorite drink, a "frobscottle," is unique because its bubbles flow backwards, causing the person who drinks it to suffer the bubbles exiting downward, too. When the frobscottle is shared with the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) and others in Buckingham Palace, hilarity ensues. It’s definitely a laugh-out-loud scene.

My 11-year-old daughter recalled reading “The BFG” at school and was looking forward to the film adaptation. I think she liked it better than my son and I did. Unfortunately, though, “The BFG” is no Spielberg classic like “E.T.”

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “The BFG” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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June 30, 2016

Disney's 'Frozen' and 'Star Wars' characters to star in new computer science curriculum

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The Walt Disney Company is expanding its partnership with Code.org, the nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding student access to computer science, by lending its “Frozen” and “Star Wars” characters to a curriculum for elementary-school students.

The collaboration began in 2014 when Disney worked with the organization to use Elsa, Anna and Olaf and other “Frozen” characters in a one-hour tutorial on computer programming for the Hour of Code, a campaign that takes place in December. In 2015, Princess Leia, R2-D2, Rey and BB-8 had their own Hour of Code tutorial. The Frozen and Star Wars-themed tutorials have been used more than 30 million times and are among Code.org’s most popular coding activities, according to Code.org.

Now, both franchises will be used to create courses in the 80-hour, year-round Computer Science Fundamentals curriculum on Code Studio. They will be available to Code Studio account holders – about 11 million students and 330,000 teachers – as they are developed during the next year.

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“We’ve been trying to make learning fun for kids,” Code.org Founder and CEO Hadi Partovi told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally the reason why we’re working with Disney is because children love the Disney brand, the Disney characters and by integrating those characters into our lessons it makes learning to code much more engaging for the students.”

The integration of Disney characters will serve as a bridge for students as they transition from the introductory Hour of Code tutorials to a full computer science course, according to Disney’s press release. The announcement was made Tuesday at the International Society for Technology in Education Conference.

“Computer science will play a critical role in the careers of the next generation of innovators and storytellers, and we want to help open the door to students interested in this field,” said Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “By bringing Star Wars and Frozen characters to Code.org’s in-class curriculum, we hope to make these courses more fun and accessible than ever before.”

Disney is not the only large corporation getting involved with teaching children about computer science. This summer, Apple introduced “Coding Games and Programming Robots” to its lineup of free three-day Apple Camps aimed at ages 8 to 12. At this camp, kids learn the fundamentals of block coding using the Tynker app and Sphero robot. Registration for this camp and the other two at Apple stores – Interactive Storytelling with iBooks and Stories in Motion with iMovie – opened last week. You can check if your local store has any openings left here.



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June 28, 2016

Clearwater Marine Aquarium to host members-only event with 'Dolphin Tale' stars

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Over the years, I’ve written a lot about Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was made famous by Winter the dolphin who lives there and is the star of the “Dolphin Tale” movies. The nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation center for marine animals is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando and an easy day trip for Orlando locals and those vacationing in the Sunshine State.

It’s been almost five years since the release of that first movie, based on the true story of an injured dolphin that overcame great odds to survive, thrive and become an inspiration for people everywhere. At that time, in our local movie theater, my then-7-year-old daughter fell in love with dolphins, and they have been her passion ever since. Her desire to learn about and be around dolphins as much as possible has led us on many trips to Clearwater Marine Aquarium for different events.

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Fellow dolphin-lovers will want to mark their calendars for a special event coming in July, but you have to be an aquarium member to attend. There is still time to join and register for the event. Details on how to do that below. But first, the event:

On July 16, Clearwater Marine Aquarium will host Summer Movie Madness Membership Night from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s a free event and open only to members. The event features “Dolphin Tale 2” actors Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel), Nathan Gamble (Sawyer) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe), who will reunite with Winter, Hope and other animal stars of the film and take members on a “backstage movie set” tour. Refreshments will be served, and members can take part in an auction of one-of-a-kind movie props, animal encounters and limited-edition merchandise.

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My daughter met the three “Dolphin Tale” actors two years ago at the aquarium, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies. Zuehlsdorff, Gamble and Highsmith couldn’t have been nicer. My daughter was more than happy to wait in line for the opportunity, but it would appear that members who attend Summer Movie Madness Membership Night can skip that step and enjoy an evening of interactions.

Individual or group memberships to Clearwater Marine Aquarium can be purchased online at seewinter.com A membership is the equivalent of an annual pass, with free general admission for a year, but there are other perks, as well, such as discounts on boat tours, kids camps and birthday parties; 10 percent discount in the gift shop; and free or half-price admission to other Florida attractions that reciprocate.

Members attending the July event are invited to add a VIP Sunset Champagne Cruise to their evening. The boat leaves at 7:30 p.m. and stays out until the sun has set. The price is $30 for adults and $15 for kids.



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June 25, 2016

Frozen Ever After: What parents need to know about Disney World's newest attraction

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“Frozen” is one of Disney’s most successful character franchises ever, but its instant popularity seemed to come as a surprise to the company that struggled to catch up with merchandise, attractions and other ways for fans to interact with the characters. Over the past two-and-half years, Anna, Elsa and Olaf have worked their way into the hearts of children, who could not get enough of “Frozen.” Many parents, however, reached their saturation point much sooner.

This week, however, the first attraction based on “Frozen” opened at Walt Disney World, and the excitement drew crowds that were willing to wait in five-hour lines. That’s a lot of indulgent parents!

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Our own Deb Wills has a report of opening day for the Frozen Ever After attraction. I rode it that day, too, and have some tips for parents.

** This is likely to be THE most popular attraction in the park this summer, so get a FastPass reservation, if at all possible. Lines for the new Soarin’ have not been as long as the queues for Frozen Ever After, so choose to visit Arendelle when making your selections. (Soarin’, Test Track and Frozen Ever After are all in the same tier, from which you can only pick one FastPass selection.)

** If you choose to wait in the long line, be prepared – for yourself and your children. Bring snacks, drinks and something for everyone to do. These days, that often means a photo or electronic tablet, but it doesn’t have to. Anything that’s portable will work, like a family card game or coloring books. One of my favorite ideas is to give kids a travel journal so they can document their vacation memories during this down time. I’ve actually seen some journals in Walt Disney World gift stores, or you can create your own. (I did this once for a Disney Cruise Line trip, and all the kids in our group used the journals at the three-course dinners.)

** Be realistic. If you have very young children, they likely are not going to be able wait peacefully in an hours-long line, even with distractions. I waited 90 minutes to ride Frozen Ever After and saw plenty of older children waiting without meltdowns. However, there also was a family with several toddlers who were miserable and making everyone around them miserable with their behavior and screaming – and the adults just would not “let it go” when they really should have.

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** Frozen Ever After is what is known as a “dark ride,” meaning it’s one in which vehicles travel past illuminated scenes of a story. It doesn’t have to actually be dark, but in this case, it really is. However, the animated animatronics and other special effects generally keep the attraction lit well enough to not be scary for little ones.

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** Without giving away too many spoilers, this attraction follows the same track as its predecessor, Maelstrom, which means there are two small hills. Both make the boat ride fun without being frightening. Think Pirates of the Caribbean, not Splash Mountain.

** Children younger than 7 years old must ride this attraction with someone who is 14 or older.

** Like most Disney Parks attractions, Frozen Ever After releases its passengers and then they must exit through a gift shop. This is definitely a good place to locate “Frozen” souvenirs. You’ll find the original Elsa and Anna costumes as well as gowns from the “Frozen Fever” short; plush animals and dolls; Snowgie T-shirts; jewelry; trading pins; a collection of baby outfits; and so much more. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, a second gift shop carrying Frozen merchandise recently opened in the Norway pavilion adjacent to the Elsa and Anna meet-and-greets.



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