November 1, 2014

Walt Disney World guests can buy Toy Box Starter Pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 early

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Gamers and Disney fans (and, of course, their parents), are you counting the days until the Toy Box Starter Pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 hits store shelves? (For those who haven't marked their calendars, that's Tuesday, Nov. 4.) If you happen to be in Orlando, though, you actually can purchase the new game a few days early and get a gift with your purchase at Walt Disney Disney World.

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Once Upon a Toy, the toy store at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, will have the starter pack that contains Merida from Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” and Stitch on Nov. 1 (today!) and 2. The set also includes the video game disc; a Disney Infinity base; Disney Originals “Toy Box Game Discs” – Stitch’s Tropical Rescue and Brave Forest Siege; one web code card; and a poster. This starter pack sells for $59.99 plus tax, and guests will receive one complimentary Disney figure with the purchase of a starter pack at this location on Nov. 1 and 2 (while supplies last).

Additional items being released at the store this weekend include figures of Maleficent, Donald Duck, Aladdin and Tinker Bell.

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Disney Interactive announced that Hiro and Baymax figures from the upcoming animated movie “Big Hero 6” also will be released nationwide on Tuesday, Nov. 4. Fans will be able to use Hiro’s mind-power and Baymax’s super strength, along with hundreds of items, locations, props and vehicles from across the Disney and Marvel universes to create all-new adventures born from the imagination of players. There will also be a “Big Hero 6” Chem Capsule Power Disc, which allows players to create a cloud of frost that freezes enemies right in their tracks.

The first starter pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 was released this fall and features Marvel characters. The Marvel Super Heroes Starter Pack includes the video game; three collectible characters, Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow; a Disney Infinity 2.0 base; two Toy Box game discs; a Marvel’s The Avengers play set piece; and a web code card. The list price for the Marvel starter pack is $74.99.

Neither starter pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 is available for the Wii or Nintendo 3DS systems, as the original version is. Instead, new gaming platforms have been added -- Playstation 4, Xbox One, iOS tablets and smart phones. They also will be compatible with Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PCs, which were platforms for the original game, as well.

Disney Interactive is making it easier to enjoy playing the original game on the Nintendo Wii U, if you choose to upgrade game systems, with your existing accessories. You can get the free download at the Wii U eShop and then use your Wii U Gamepad to start creating worlds in the Toy Box or unlocking items in the Play Sets. You also will be able to enjoy online multiplayer modes of play, as well.

Disney Infinity 2.0 is rated E-10+ by the ESRB.



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October 30, 2014

'Tinker Bell & the Legend of the NeverBeast' to introduce new Disney character, Gruff

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Those who share my family's love of Tinker Bell may know that we have faithfully followed the progression of the Disney Fairies movies since the first one was released in 2008. And we fans have another adventure to look forward to in the spring. DisneyToon Studios will release "Tinker Bell & the Legend of the NeverBeast" direct to DVD on March 3, 2015.

This week, it was announced that actress Ginnifer Goodwin (ABC's "Once Upon A Time") will voice Fawn in the upcoming sequel.

In a news release, Director Steve Loter wrote, “Fawn is a character who loves all animals unconditionally. She will help any animal that needs her, but sometimes Fawn thinks too impulsively, when she should be thinking with her head, as well as her heart.”

“Fawn was inspired by my daughter and her unconditional love of animals,” he said. “But Ginnifer had a very strong hand in crafting the character. Her sense of fun and her wondrous view of the world gave Fawn direction. You can hear the smile in Ginnifer’s voice—this is a character that loves life and lives it to its fullest.”

Goodwin joins veterans Mae Whitman (Tinker Bell), Megan Hilty (Rosetta), Lucy Liu (Silvermist), Raven Symone (Iridessa) and Anjelica Huston (Queen Clarion).

It also was announced that a new character -- Gruff -- will be introduced in "Tinker Bell & the Legend of the NeverBeast."

The studio describes the creature and his role in Pixie Hollow this way: "The heartwarming story explores the ancient myth of a mysterious creature whose distant roar sparks the curiosity of Tinker Bell’s friend Fawn, an animal fairy who’s not afraid to break the rules to rescue the NeverBeast before time runs out. The fairies meet Gruff who is a massive creature and the subject of an ancient Pixie Hollow myth. Hidden in a dark lair on the fringes of the fairies’ beloved home, Gruff is discovered by curious and empathetic animal fairy Fawn, who sees something special in his glowing green eyes. His penchant for stacking rocks mystifies Fawn and her friends—but Gruff’s true purpose is the real surprise."

However, Gruff is not rely welcome in Pixie Hollow because the other fairies suspect he could destroy their home. Fawn, who sees a tender heart beneath his gruff exterior, must convince Tink and the girls to risk everything to rescue the NeverBeast before time runs out.

Here's a look back at recent Tinker Bell DVD releases, "The Pirate Fairy" and "Secret of the Wings."



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October 28, 2014

Enter Disney Side contest this week for chance to win private Haunted Mansion party & stay in Cinderella Castle

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We're heading into that final stretch before Halloween -- time to do final checks on the kids' costumes, carve the pumpkins and add last-minute touches to the decor before the big night on Friday. If you were inspired by Disney Parks, you might want to take a photo of your work and enter the Haunt Your Disney Side Contest for a chance to win a private "Midnight at the Haunted Mansion" party and an overnight stay in Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World.

Disney describes the grand prize his way: "All of our happy haunts are just dying to meet the winner! One family of foolish mortals will attend a private party, hosted by 999 happy haunts inside Haunted Mansion. After Midnight strikes, and all the supernatural surprises have been sprung, you'll retire for one comfortably creepy stay in Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, at Walt Disney World Resort."

The grand prize winner also receives an additional three-night stay at Walt Disney World with 5-Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper option as well as travel arrangements, as needed. The vacation will take place between Jan. 19 and Feb. 21, 2015.

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In addition, judges will choose a winner in each of the four categories to win a gift basket filled with the latest Haunted Mansion merchandise and collectibles.

The contest kicked off earlier this month and runs through Nov. 4. Participants can enter photos in one of four Halloween categories: home décor, food and beverage, pumpkin carving and costumes.

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To enter, post your photo on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #DisneySideContest. If you tweet a photo submission, follow @DisneyParks on Twitter so judges can contact you if you win. If you don't have a Twitter or Instagram account, you can upload your photo at DisneySideContest.com, which also is where the official rules are posted.

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Rules to note:

** You must be a legal resident of the United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding the Province of Quebec).

** You must be 18 years old, or the age of majority, in your area of residence as of the date of entry.

** You may not submit the same photo on all three platforms. However, a participant may have multiple entries provided they all are unique.

** Each entry must be a new post dated Oct. 6 or later. Participants cannot just add the hashtag to an older photo. Also, be aware that if Instagram or Twitter accounts are private, Disney judges may not be able to see such entries.



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October 25, 2014

Last-minute Halloween ideas for Disney costumes, pumpkins & treats

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Has Halloween snuck up on you? Never fear, Disney Family website has plenty of spooky and sweet ideas for last-minute costumes, carving pumpkins, treats and crafts. Here are a few of my favorites from this year's crop of ideas.

Pumpkin Carving


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Frozen's Olaf

Create your own jack-o’-lantern inspired by the lovable snowman from Disney’s Frozen. The great thing about this version of Olaf? He won’t melt.

First, download the template here.

1. There are two ways to transfer your design onto the pumpkin. One is to copy it freehand onto a clean, dry pumpkin with a water-based marker. (Mistakes can be easily corrected with a paper towel.) The other is to tape your template to the pumpkin, then score the design into the skin by poking holes through the template with a nail or plastic poking tool (available in some pumpkin-carving kits).

2. Carve by starting at the center of your design and working outward. (This avoids putting pressure on areas already carved.) Begin with the innermost and smallest details. As each shape loosens up, gently push it out of the pumpkin with a finger or a dull pencil point (a good job for young kids).

3. Use 2 more pumpkins (1 slightly smaller than his head and 1 slightly larger) to create Olaf's body. Cut 1 circle in the middle pumpkin and 2 circles in the bottom pumpkin (these are his buttons). Cut the tops off of the 2 pumpkins that make up his body so the pumpkins sit carefully inside one another.

4. Use 3 small tree sticks and put them on top of his head. Use 2 small tree sticks to create arms (put 1 on each side of the middle pumpkin).

5. Carefully stack all of the pumpkins in order and make sure he's in a safe place where he can't topple over!

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Or, how about this template of Maleficint's Dragon's head? Download the template here and follow the same first steps.

Costumes


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Malificent Horns

Speaking of Malificent, she calls herself the “Mistress of All Evil,” and indeed she is a force to be reckoned with. Clothed in a dark robe and a distinctive horned headdress, this green-skinned fairy can cast any number of evil spells as well as shape shift into a monstrous dragon. With this spiky poster board headband and a little face paint, so too can your trick-or-treater perform a stunning transformation — into Maleficent herself.

1. Download the template here and print it out. Place the sheet with the horn base atop a plain sheet of paper. Then cut out the horn, going through both layers of paper so that you end up with a pair of matching shapes.

2. Glue the two cutouts together.

3. Then use the full piece as a pattern for cutting the same shape out of neon yellow or green poster board.

4. Next, use the sectioned horn template to cut out two of each section from black cardstock.

5. Starting in the center of the poster board base and working your way to the tips, glue the sections in place atop each horn, spacing them slightly apart as shown. Brush a coat of glue sealer on both sides of the completed horns. Then, if your child opts for a sparkly effect, she can embellish them with glitter glue.

6. Next, make a headband by cutting a long 1½-inch-wide strip from poster board. Glue the horns to the center of the strip. Then overlap the ends of the headband and secure them with glue dots or staples to form a circle that fits around your child's head.

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The Hitchhiking Ghosts

Don’t have a costume for the party? The Hitchhiking Ghosts are happy to let you use their faces for a small fee, and as always, the haunting’s free.

1. Download the templates for all three here.

2. Print out the masks on regular paper or cardstock and cut them out. Use a craft knife to cut along the dashed line around the nose and the two eye holes. Do not allow children to use the craft knife.

3. Punch holes on sides of head where indicated and thread string or ribbon through the holes to hold the mask in place.

Treats


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Jack Skellington Bento Box

1. Jack Skellington Sandwich: Cut both slices of bread into a circular shape (Jack's face isn't a perfect circle). Fill sandwich with favorite ingredients, the above sandwich is peppered turkey and cheddar.

2. To make Jack's features, cut two larger ovals from two spinach leaves. Set aside.

3. Using a smaller oval cutter, cut the edge of one of the spinach leaves. Flip the cutter and re-cut the same piece of spinach to make an almond shaped nostril. Repeat for the second nostril.

4. For Jack's smile, use kitchen shears to cut a smile shape from the edge of a spinach leaf.

5. To assemble, dip toothpick in cream cheese and use very small dots to adhere Jack's features to the bread.

6. Using kitchen shears again, cut small sections of spinach leaves to finish Jack's mouth. Dot with cream cheese and press in place.

7. Zero Boiled Egg: Slice egg in half lengthwise, save the other half to put in the bento box underneath Zero.

8. Using oval fondant cutter, cut two eyes for Zero. Attach to the egg, using cream cheese if necessary.

9. Slice end off of one carrot, then slice a single circle for Zero's nose. Attach with a dab of cream cheese.

10. Slice/shave two strips from the sides of a carrot to make Zero's ears. A thinner carrot works better for this. Cut a small point at one end.

11. Using the tip of a knife, pierce the side of the egg enough to insert one ear, then repeat on the other side.

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Little Yummy Jar of Souls

Poor unfortunate souls have no chance against Ursula, the spell casting, soul gathering sea witch. You and your Halloween party guests don’t need to take your chances in order to create your own (sweet) field of souls. Delight your guests with a personal jar filled with poor unfortunate gummy souls in seawater (colored gelatin). No spell casting required!

1. Wash, rinse and dry a small Mason jar. Tip: Straight-sided, wide-mouthed jelly jars work best, because they're the easiest to fill and the easiest for the kids to empty.

2. Open boxes of green or blue gelatin dessert powder – or a mixture of both – and shake them into a heatproof mixing bowl or large measuring cup. A standard-size package of gelatin makes 2 cups of wobbly dessert, enough to fill two 1-cup jars or four ½-cup jars, so determine how many jars you’ll need ahead of time and purchase as many boxes as you need.

3. Pour 1 cup of boiling water for every box of gelatin into the bowl and stir it until the powder dissolves completely. Add an equal quantity of cold water and stir again. If you're in a hurry, use 2 cups of ice in place of each cup of cold water. When the gel begins to thicken, after 5 or 6 minutes, remove any unmelted ice.

4. Fill each jar about 2/3 full with the gelatin and place it in a rectangular cake pan or other baking pan. When the jars are all filled, the pan makes it easier to transfer them to your fridge. You'll have gelatin left over, at this stage. Set it aside in a warm place, because you need it later.

5. Refrigerate the jars of gelatin for roughly 20 minutes, until the dessert begins to set but is still quite soft. If you used the ice-cube technique, cut that time in half.

6. Cut the gummy worms into varying lengths with a knife or clean scissors while the gelatin begins to set. This is optional, but gives the worms – for lack of a better term – a more “lifelike” appearance. The movie's poor unfortunate souls moved around and reacted to Ursula's threatening song, and the gummies look more real at varying heights in the jar.

7. Remove the pan of Mason jars from your refrigerator, and slide several gummy “souls” into each jar. The gelatin should be thick enough to hold them upright, but not set enough to make it difficult for you to slide them in.

8. Soften your leftover gelatin by melting it in your microwave or over a pot of boiling water. Divide it evenly between the jars to make a smooth, even surface and conceal any fingermarks.

9. Return the jars to your refrigerator until they set completely. Keep them cold until party time.

10. Let guests know just what kind of treat this is with a custom label for each Mason lid. Trace the tops of your lids on purple or blue construction paper and write “Poor Unfortunate Souls” on each circle with a marker or silver paint pen. Cut out the labels and tape one to the top of each lid.

11. Offer each guest their very own themed utensil to gobble up those yummy ‘souls.’ Cut out a simple tag made of construction or Kraft paper, with the words ‘Dinglehopper’ written in silver paint pen, and tape it to a spork or fork. Make sure you make enough for every jar. Write the name of each guest on the back of the label so it becomes a favor at the end of the party.



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October 23, 2014

Sneak peek: PANDORA Jewelry's upcoming Disney collection

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Ladies, if you're like me, this week's news out of Disney Parks has prompted me start my wish list for Santa. In just a matter of days, The Walt Disney Co. will begin releasing its exclusive line of PANDORA Jewelry.

Dates to mark on your calendar include:

Oct. 31 -- PANDORA stores nationwide will release 25 charm designs from the Disney collection.

Nov. 3 -- Locations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland will release 16 Disney Parks-specific PANDORA Jewelry items. (At Walt Disney World, try Uptown Jewelers at Magic Kingdom, Mousegear at Epcot or World of Disney at Downtown Disney Marketplace.) Some of these pieces also will be available online that day at DisneyStore.com/Pandora.

Nov. 7-8 -- A special release party will be held in Cherry Tree Lane in the Marketplace Co-Op store at Downtown Disney Marketplace here in Florida. (Additional details to be released soon.)

Early November -- Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii and Disney Cruise Line ships also will carry the Disney Parks-specific pieces of the new PANDORA collection.

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As if that's not exciting enough, Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager at Walt Disney World, has given us a sneak peek at the bracelets and some of the charms. He wrote, "The image above showcases the new sterling silver Disney Parks “Wonderful World” bracelet, which features PANDORA’s unique threading system and a ball clasp engraved with our castle logo."

PANDORA describes its proprietary system this way: "Each bracelet is divided into three segments by small threads. Every charm is equipped with interior threads, which allow for individual placement within any bracelet segment. To hold the charms in place, clips are placed over the middle two threads. The clips are opened by gently sliding one fingernail into the side corner of the clip's crease. To close the clip, simply pinch the sides together. The charms move freely in each segment and rotate slightly with your wrist's movement, creating an undeniably eye-catching and stunning effect."

Details have been released about these new Disney charms:

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** Sterling silver Walt Disney World Resort destination charm, which is hand-finished with flush-set cubic zirconia star detail.

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** Mickey Mania charm, a sterling silver openwork Mickey charm with red, light yellow, black and white enamel.

** Mickey Swirls charm, which is an openwork sterling silver charm with a Disney Mickey icon swirl design.

** 2015 Edition charm, which is sterling silver and blue enamel with 18 cubic zirconia stones bead-set in star and Mickey details.

** Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat dangle charm, which is sterling silver with blue enamel.

** Disney Cruise Line ship charm, designed in sterling silver.

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** Minnie Sparkling Ear Hat dangle charm, which is in sterling silver with 105 pave-set black crystals and nine pave-set, red-cubic zirconia in the bow detail.

Prices have not yet been released for the new PANDORA collection of Disney pieces, which will be hand-finished .925 sterling silver and 14K gold. However, other PANDORA charms range from $25 to $200 apiece, depending on size and materials.

Miller said the pieces in the Disney Parks-specific collection are not part of a limited edition, which means the company expects to sell them for quite a while. In addition, he eased several readers' concerns about whether the PANDORA charms would be compatible with the Chamilia line, which is of a similar style and price range. PANDORA charms will fit on Disney Chamilia bracelets, which were released at the resort in 2005.

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In the meantime, PANDORA also has a line of Fairy Tale charms -- a castle, a coach, a fairy, a lion and more -- that would be appropriate on a new Disney bracelet. Looks like many dreams will come true this holiday season!



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October 21, 2014

Top 5 reasons to visit SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica in the fall

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If you've never been to SeaWorld Orlando's water park, Aquatica, fall is the perfect time for checking it out. Many families with school-age children have fall breaks this month, and Aquatica could be a great way to spend some of that vacation time. My family and I have visited the water park at different times of the year, and we especially like the fall. Here are our Top 5 reasons why:

1. Unlike some of the other Central Florida water parks, SeaWorld's Aquatica offers several price breaks on admission right now. If you book your ticket online in advance and commit to a specific day, you will save at least half off regular admission. Weekday Splash and Save tickets are $19 and weekend tickets are $24. Want to enjoy the water park for the remainder of the calendar year? Pay just $37 for unlimited admission per person in 2014. (Regular admission is about $50 per day for adults.) In addition, Florida residents visiting SeaWorld's Discovery Cove receive unlimited admission to Aquatica through Jan. 31.

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2. The weather in Orlando is still warm enough for a day of hanging out in swimsuits. Temperatures this week will be in the 80s, and that doesn't leave room for shivering. In fact, when my children and I visited Aquatica on Sunday, the pavement still was hot enough for us to want to wear our flip-flops. It's also warm enough to crave an Icee from one of the most expansive selections we've ever seen near one of the kids' sections. Choose from Blue Raspberry, White Cherry, Coca-Cola, Orange, Watermelon, Lemonade, Banana, Strawberry, Kiwi Strawberry and Pina Colada. The kiosk even suggests ways to mix the flavors to create unique flavors for the Outback of Aquatica: Hooroo Runner, Outback Cherry Cooler, Tassie Lemon Twist and Walhalla Blast.

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3. As with other Orlando theme parks, crowds tend to be less severe at Aquatica in the Fall when most children are in school. The queue for Aquatica's newest thrill ride, Ihu's Breakaway Falls, does not extend from the eight-story platform to the ground. You get more for your money when you're able to experience more of the water park's signature attractions, and that should appeal to everyone, right?

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4. From tame to thrilling, there is enough variety in the water attractions at Aquatica that everyone can find something to enjoy. Roa's Rapids, Loggerhead Lane and the side-by-side wave pools appeal to all ages. Kata's Kookaburra Cove is designed for young children 48 inches and younger, while older children can hit up the fantastic Walkabout Waters. In addition, there are slides for families to experience together and individually.

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5. Of course, what sets this water park apart from others in the area is its focus on real animals and marine life. Perhaps the most stunning are the Commerson's dolphins that swim in the tank that Dolphin Plunge goes through. Many guests do not realize there are dolphins that look like much smaller versions of orcas. You'll also find other species, such as parrots and tortoises, in locations where visitors can learn about them.

Sure, water parks are a great summertime break from the heat, but living in Florida means our cool-down for fall still can’t diminish the cool features at Aquatica. Now is as fun a time as any to make a splash and still soak up the fun in the sun that often lingers well into December.

DISCLAIMER:
Recently, I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando at Aquatica. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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October 18, 2014

At Epcot, Chef Rick Bayless dishes on how to prepare authentic Mexican food

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Once again, Epcot Food & Wine Festival guests had a unique opportunity to explore culinary flavors and topics beyond the norm with one of the most proficient chefs of the day.

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Most people know Chef Rick Bayless as the winner of Bravo’s "Top Chef Masters" but his name also is synonymous with authentic Mexican cuisine north of the border and has been for quite some time. His highly rated PBS series, "Mexico – One Plate at a Time," is in its ninth season, he has published eight cookbooks, and he has three top restaurant concepts in Chicago.

The casual Frontera Grill was founded in 1987 and received the James Beard Foundation’s highest award, Outstanding Restaurant, in 2007. The 4-star Topolobampo served its first meals in 1991. And the very popular, fast-casual Xoco has been around since 2009, serving wood-oven tortas, steaming caldos, golden churros and bean-to-cup Mexican hot chocolate. Bayless' quick-service Tortas Frontera have changed the face of food service at O’Hare International Airport, while Frontera Fresco has brought Frontera flavors to several Macy’s stores and Northwestern University. His award-winning Frontera line of salsas, cooking sauces and organic chips can be found coast to coast.

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Bayless was a guest chef Friday during the Food For Thought series at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World. He has been a frequent speaker over the years at the festival. This year, he spoke about his start in the culinary arts while preparing various foods and offering cooking -- and eating -- tips to the audience.

How did you get started on this Mexico path?

I always loved food -- not just cooking it, but serving it, gathering around the table. My grandmother was hugely inspirational in my family about that. … She taught me the most important lesson I could possibly ever learn about cooking and that is you bring a lot more than just a dish to the table. … She was the one who taught me how to create a community around the table. That's why I say the profession of being a chef is one of the most noble you can have.

When I was 14, I was taking a Spanish class and I got super interested in the culture of Mexico … So, I planned a family vacation to Mexico. … My family had never been out of the country. We arrived in Mexico City at 9 at night and that's the time people are starting to go out to dinner … There is so much life there. There were balloon vendors, there were street vendors and I could hear them from the hotel. There were ladies roasting walnuts and you could smell it up into the room. There was so much vitality -- the joy of life -- coming out of that park. I felt like I had come home, and I continued to go back to Mexico every year and I continued Latin American studies in college. I decide to go to graduate school in anthropology and linguistics.

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Chicken Tinga Tostada with Avocado and Cheese


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Grilled Corn and Poblano Guacamole

Rules for street food anywhere in the world

A lot of times when people travel to Mexico, they don't know if they should eat in the marketplaces. I think those are the best places to eat because you can see everything -- how the food is held, how the food is prepared, everything about it. You go into a fancy restaurant and the dining room may look really pretty but you don't see the kitchen, so you have no idea what is going on.

1. Eat food that is well-done, well-cooked. That simmering pot of whatever is going to most likely be the best bet.

2. If they put fresh, raw garnishes on it, I usually say no. If I'm only going to be there for a short period of time, I skip that part of it. The only exception that I make -- and this may surprise some of you -- is salsa that contains chiles, cilantro, salt and acid. Cilantro is the thing in the plant world that is the most anti-microbial … It will kill pretty much any germ. Salt, chiles and acid are preservatives so salsa is a pretty good risk if you're going to have something that is fresh and you want to get the flavor of what they're doing. Raw onion and raw lettuce, I usually say I'm going to skip that because I don't know how they washed it and all that sort of stuff.

3. Do I want to eat there? Does it look good? Is it well organized? Is it clean? Are they taking care of things? If I say yes to [those questions], then I ask, "Are there a lot of people there?" If yes, it's either really good or really cheap. Sometimes it's just cheap and I throw that one out. If it's the same price as everybody else, then I say, "Fine, I'll eat at that one because it must be good, and they're going to have a lot of turnover, so nothing sits around for a long time. [That's important because] with marketplace cooking, there's no refrigeration. Basically, you want something that's cooked and kept warm.

On getting good recipes

You can't go anywhere in the world and ask for a recipe. First of all, they may not know what you are talking about. A recipe is a fairly recent invention that would have exact quantities and steps. In the really old cookbooks in Mexico, they would list the ingredients and the assume you would know the quantities and how to balance them for your own taste, and then they would list the most basic of steps. These were essentially notes from my kitchen and I assumed you already knew how to make the dish. The really detailed recipe have only come in the last 50 years or so, as we have gotten further and further away from the kitchen.

So the only way I could work with street stall cooks was to let them know that I knew how to make that dish. My first question was never, "Oh, can you give me your recipe and show me how to make it?" It was "Do you put this combination of chiles in there like the person down the street or do you just do it with one chile?" And I would only ask that question after I consumed a whole portion of whatever it is they made.

How to make freshest guacamole

Pairing alcoholic beverages with Mexican cuisine

Bayless has entered a partnership with the popular Negra Modelo beer, a dark-style lager that contains a slow-roasted caramel malt and is a complement to many dishes that he prepares. On the company's website, NegraModeloUSA.com, the chef has contributed recipes for entrees, such as Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos With Salsa and Negra Modelo, that are prepared with the beer. There also are recipes for items that pair well with the beer, such as the Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars that I sampled at the Food for Thought tasting at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival. This particular dessert -- which is to die for -- has been served at Bayless' Frontera restaurant in Chicago since it opened in 1987.

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Equally as delicious in the fall is the Mexican Snakebite Cocktail that we sipped at the tasting. As our treat to you, here's the recipe:

Ingredients
2 cups tamarind pulp
3 1/2 cups ice-cold apple cider, preferably fresh-squeezed and unpasteurized
4 (12-ounce) ice-cold Negra Modelos

Directions
1. In a blender, combine the tamarind and half of the cider. Blend to thoroughly combine.
2. Pour into a pitcher and stir in the remaining cider.
3. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
4. When that moment comes, measure 2/3 cup of the apple cider mixture into 8 tall glasses, then slowly top off each one with half a Negra Modelo.
5. Serve right away.

Servings
8 (12-ounce) cocktails

Bayless says that adding 1 cup sugar to the tamarind base lessens the beer taste in the cocktail and other flavors emerge. No wonder I liked it so well!

If you have a chance to catch Bayless at future Epcot Food & Wine Festival events, I would recommend you consider it. Even though his Friday discussion and demonstration was a separate ticketed event, he offered a wealth of cooking information that you can take home with you into your own kitchen and share at your table. And that, as any foodie will attest, is priceless.

Check out our other Epcot Food and Wine Festival Videos:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World and Negra Modelo. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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October 16, 2014

Part 1: A family's trip through Epcot's Food & Wine Festival

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As my kids have gotten older, they have come to appreciate, and even look forward to, the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival almost as much as my husband and I do. Here, I'll share our family's favorites. Of course, every child's palate is different, but perhaps this guide will help your family find some new favorites you might not have considered.

Years of experience have taught my family that we need at least two visits to the event to be able sample everything that interests us. No matter which side of the World Showcase we start on -- and even with sharing the appetizer-size portions among our family of four -- we cannot make it past the American Adventure with any room left in our bellies.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Entrance

One thing we always start with is collecting a Marketplace Discovery Passport for each person in our group. My children -- ages 12 and 10 -- enjoy collecting the stamps at each marketplace, and the small books make a handy menu guide for the adults. We also purchase two of the Food & Wine Festival gift cards, so each child can wear one and swipe it for our purchases. Yes, they will fight over who gets the privilege of paying at each stop, so having their own cards works well.

This year, we began on the right and traveled counterclockwise around the promenade. At the first food booth, Scotland, my husband was excited to find the Innis & Gunn Original, Oak Aged Beer ($3.50), which he had sampled in previous years at a tasting seminar. Since that first event, he hasn't found it anywhere in Central Florida and was anticipating its return to the festival. It’s his favorite beer selection at the festival, and that’s saying a lot for someone who enjoys a range of beers from IPAs to stouts to American craft beers offered at the event.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Hawaii Pork Slider

My son, daughter and I slipped over to the adjacent Hawaii booth for one of our perennial favorites: a Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mustard ($3.75). Everyone in my family loves this item, though the kids prefer theirs "naked" (without the chutney and mayo). A tip: Don't hesitate to ask cast members if you would like an item prepared without some of the ingredients. If it is possible to modify a dish, they are happy to do so.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Puerto Rico


Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Tostones Sangriiia


Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Braised Beef Lemonade

I persuaded the kids to skip the Desserts & Champagne kiosk early in our rounds with a promise of something sweet later in the night. Instead, we joined the line at the Puerto Rico marketplace, one we all had been looking forward to. There we sampled the Tostones with mayo ketchup ($3.50), which lived up to others we enjoy regularly in the Orlando area. My daughter and my husband tried the Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican-Grown Rice ($4.50), and they confirmed what I thought when I tried this dish at a preview: It didn't have as much flavor as I expected. The kids sipped the non-alcoholic San Juan Breeze ($2.75), a lemonade-flavored drink that they found to be too bitter. The sweet Gasolina Sangriiia Cocktail ($5.50) was a perfect pairing for an adult, however.

We bypassed the Refreshment Port in favor of more international fare, but this would be a good stop for families with picky eaters. Dole is a sponsor, so you will find fried chicken chunks with Dole pineapple sweet and sour sauce ($8.99), Dole Fruit Squish'ems Apple-Strawberry ($1.39), and Dole Whip Soft-serve ($3.99). Plus, this is the home of the trendy and popular croissant doughnut with cinnamon and sugar ($4.69).

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Fishermans Pie

The Greece marketplace was skipped as my son made a beeline for Canada and its well-known Wild Mushroom Beef Filet with Truffle Butter Sauce from Le Cellier ($7.25). Meanwhile, my husband tried the Lobster and Seafood Fisherman's Pie ($3.25) and a Guiness Draught ($3.50) in Ireland. They both appreciated their selections.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival France Short Ribs

We crossed the bridge and headed into the longest queue of the night in France. There, both children wanted their own servings of the Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes ($5.75), which they sampled more than once last year. It lived up to their memories. While I don't think they would have relished the Escargot Tart, I do think they might like to try the Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese on another visit.

By this point, we all were on the verge of being pretty full, but we pushed on, saving the Brazil marketplace for the next time. (The Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Tomato, and Cilantro ($5.25) returns from last year. It is delicious.)

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Belgium Waffles

As a die-hard Mickey waffle fan, I couldn't wait to get to the Belgium marketplace, where I sampled miniature waffles with Berry Compote and Warm Chocolate Ganache. Both were drizzled with whipped cream ($3.50) and delicious, but the berry topping had more flavor.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Carrot Cake

The other members of my family wanted to reach the Hops & Barley marketplace at the American Adventure, so we passed on Morocco, Japan and Block & Hans. One there, we shared a Fresh-baked carrot cake with Craisins and cream cheese icing ($3.75). I tried this at a Food & Wine Festival preview in July, and the version being sold in the theme park was just as good as the original. My husband sampled the Beer Flight that featured Samuel Adams Octoberfest, New Belgium Snapshot, Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat and Leinenkugel's Seasonal Shandy ($9.25). He was happy with all the selections.

At that point, we had to admit defeat, if you could call it that, because none of us could eat another bite. Oh, well, we'll have to go back to eat and drink our way around the other half of World Showplace another time! Luckily for us, the Epcot Food & Wine Festival runs through Nov. 10.

You can see complete menus (and pricing) for the International Marketplaces on the AllEars.Net resource page.



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October 13, 2014

Don't miss this treat: 1-day Memory Maker option at Disney World Halloween parties

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Trick or treat? Let me tell you, this is definitely a treat.

Walt Disney World has just announced a special offer for the remaining nights of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party that I certainly wish I could have taken advantage of when I attended last month. Through Oct. 31, guests can purchase a one-day Memory Maker credit for just $39.

For those not familiar with the new terminology, Memory Maker is what used to be called Disney's PhotoPass CD. Basically, the service allows you to purchase all the professional photos taken of your family at Walt Disney World during your vacation. This new version delivers the photos as high-resolution downloads, rather than JPGs. Until now, there has only been one option: Purchase an unlimited number of photos for $199 after your vacation, or save $50 by buying the Memory Maker credit in advance.

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The new offer, which currently is being tested at Magic Kingdom, allows the guest to receive "all of your Disney PhotoPass photos taken on the day your event ticket is used, including character encounters and select dining and attraction photos are included — no matter how many you get or if they were taken earlier in the day before Mickey’s Not-So-scary Halloween Party," according to Kelly Glassburn, manager of marketing & communications for Disney’s PhotoPass Service.

That's one up-sell I would have happily bought!

For comparison, a download of an individual photo from Disney's PhotoPass costs $15 (unless there is a sale). I purchased four photos after my family's recent night at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, so this definitely would have been a savings for us. Considering the opportunities for family photos and shots with rarely seen characters at the party, I can easily see this being a good deal for guests. Plus, if you are relying on a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, it can be difficult to get great shots in low lighting like what is the norm at the Halloween party. Using the professional Disney photographers will make your night so much more relaxing.

When my children were younger, there were a couple years they visited the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and A Pirate's League to be transformed into a princess and a pirate on the day of the Halloween party. We definitely would have gotten our money's worth with the new one-day Memory Maker product.

If this sounds like something you could use, stop by any ticket booth at the Transportation and Ticket Center to add the one day Memory Maker entitlement to your Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party ticket. It does have to be purchased before the party, but you can do so even on the day you are attending the event. This offer is good for the remaining party nights of Oct. 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30 and 31. (Oct. 13, 16, 30 and 31 are sold out, but those ticket holders can add this option, as well.)

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Even if you are not going to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party this year, Disney's PhotoPass Service is offering you a treat. Log into your My Disney Experience account and claim PhotoPass ID COMEJOINTHEPARTY to receive a bonus shot of well-known ghosts from the Haunted Mansion.



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October 11, 2014

Where to find most popular Disney Halloween costumes

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It should come as no surprise to anyone who has a little girl in his or her life that costumes from the Disney animated blockbuster movie "Frozen" are among the most popular this year for Halloween, according to Yahoo search results reported by Disney Consumer Products.

Although this is the first Halloween since the movie's theatrical release, costumes for dress-up were in very short supply during the winter holiday season last year. The demand was so high that many parents were willing to pay double the retail price on sites such as eBay or wait in large crowds when new shipments were expected at Disney Stores nationwide.

A year later, the Disney marketing machine seemingly has caught up, and Anna and Elsa gowns and accessories can more easily be found at Walt Disney World, Disney Stores and other national retailers. The popularity of all things "Frozen," however, does not seem to be thawing.

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At Walt Disney World, guests can find Elsa's traditional ice blue gown and Anna's royal blue winter gown and red cape at Wandering Oaken's Trading Post at Hollywood Studios. The same gown for Elsa and Anna's green-and-gold coronation gown can be found at Sir Mickey's in the Magic Kingdom. That location also carries the royal wigs, crowns and other coordinating accessories. An assortment of Anna and Elsa merchandise also can be found in the gift shop at the Norway pavilion at Epcot and at World of Disney at Downtown Disney.

The stock at the resort is being replenished regularly, so check back if you don't find your child's size right away. I was able to find the coronation dress for my daughter after stopping back at Sir Mickey's several times. Another option is to call the mail order line at 877-560-6477. Items purchased this way can take up to 3 weeks to arrive, so this may be better if you are searching for the gown for a Christmas present rather than a Halloween costume.

One bonus about the costumes sold at Walt Disney World is that they typically have a larger range of sizes, extending to a youth extra large. Typically, that XL is a size 14-16.

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Costume sales at Disney Stores peak during the first week of October, Disney Consumer Products reports, so most related items are now on sale -- up to 40 percent off. "Frozen" items are not among those on sale at the DisneyStore.com, but there still is a great selection available in almost every size. Choose from regular and deluxe gowns for both Anna and Elsa.

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Both the online store and physical shops also carry an Olaf costume for kids. Although it is temporarily sold out, it is expected to be replenished next week, a spokeswoman told me.

Disney Store locations nationwide will be hosting a fun “Dress Rehearsal” event next weekend for kids to dress up in their Disney costumes, participate in a parade around the store, play games, crafts and more. The event takes place from 5 o 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct.18. The minimum age to participate is 3. There also is a similar party for children of Disney Visa card members at 9 a.m. Oct. 18 at Florida Mall. This exclusive event requires an RSVP to obtain a pass, and card members must show their cards to enter the store before it opens.

Among other fun costume facts:

** The most popular costume in Disney Store history is Cinderella.
** Sofia the First was the top-selling costume at Disney Store last year.
** More than 2.1 million kids will dress up as Super Heroes this year.
** Spider-Man has been in the Top 5 for costume choices for the last 10 years, according to the National Retail Federation.
** In years with Star Wars theatrical releases, up to 10 million lightsabers have been sold in a single year.
** $350 million will be spent on costumes for pets.
** The first Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse costumes were introduced in 1932.
** 162 million Americans are expected to celebrate Halloween this year.



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