December 12, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ticket offers, giveaways and celebrations

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For Star Wars fans, this wait is almost over! The Last Jedi finally hits theaters this week, and there are several special offers that give fans some extras along with their movie tickets.

On Thursday, December 14 -- ahead of the movie’s official opening on December 15 -- fans can be among the first to see the film by attending one of three events: An Opening Night Fan Event; A Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi Double Feature; or a Star Wars Marathon featuring all eight movies.

These premium events will include exclusive content, Star Wars collectible cards, and a special concession offer of a free drink and popcorn combo with collectible cup. Plus, Star Wars: The Last Jedi will start at 6 p.m. local time, one hour earlier than regular public showtimes.

Every Sunday from December 17 to January 7, guests who purchase a ticket to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in IMAX at AMC Theatres will receive an exclusive print from artist Dan Mumford, while supplies last. A new poster will be revealed each week.

Each Saturday from December 16 to 30, the first 500 guests who experience Star Wars: The Last Jedi in IMAX at Regal Cinemas will receive an exclusive collectible ticket featuring unique art, while supplies last. New art will be revealed weekly.

On Fandango, each fan who buys Star Wars: The Last Jedi tickets will receive a complimentary Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster from Fandango FanShop, while supplies last. Fans can also order Star Wars: The Last Jedi Fandango gift cards and Star Wars gear and collectibles at FandangoFanShop.com.

For a limited time, Connections loyalty members can purchase a Star Wars: The Last Jedi RealD 3D ticket to unlock a free pair of 3D Star Wars glasses.

As part of the advanced ticketing promotion, you can add exclusive Star Wars: The Last Jedi collectibles to your Alamo Drafthouse ticket purchase, including a commemorative all-Star Wars issue of Birth.Movies.Death, and three incredible Mondo-designed glasses. Available for a limited time only.

Star Wars fans in the Orlando area also have opportunities to celebrate all things Star Wars at Walt Disney World. Galactic Nights returns to Hollywood Studios on Dec. 16 for the second year. Deb Wills will be attending and covering this one-night event for AllEars.Net. Plus, the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire experience opens Dec. 16 at Disney Springs. It’s described as a “multi-sensory, untethered hyper-reality adventure.”

Are you looking forward to The Last Jedi? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.





December 9, 2017

How to enjoy Walt Disney World, SeaWorld when it's cold outside

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Attention, theme park visitors: Floridians will be celebrating winter beginning Saturday. That’s because Orlando temperatures actually are forecasted to only reach 60 degrees and be in the 40s at night for a good five days. Break out the parkas, hats and gloves! And don’t forget the boots – we must seize this rare opportunity!

If you’re from a colder climate than our normally balmy Florida weather, I’m sure you’re shaking your head, but I hope you are chuckling along with us, too. I’m originally from Indiana, so I know what it’s like to be truly cold outside, but this change in weather is the closest we get to a change in seasons here in Orlando. Humor us! My children were born here in Central Florida so they view this next week as an opportunity to not only break out the winter clothes but to drink gallons of hot chocolate.

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In all seriousness, when the forecast calls for colder than normal weather here, there are some things that theme parks do differently – and you, the visitor, should take into account, too. I’ve updated my annual story to include suggestions from readers as well as new information from the theme parks. Here are some things to keep in mind:

** Water parks will close. Disney's Blizzard Beach already is not open to guests because of scheduled maintenance, and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon is slated to be closed Saturday (Dec. 9) because of the anticipated cold weather. Guests who had planned to visit the Disney water park still can enjoy the adjacent Winter Summerland miniature golf course, though. Reader George suggests an alternative is to take your favorite beverage and relax in your hotel’s hot tub. Reader Craig suggests waiting a day after the water park reopens to go, if your vacation allows, because the water park can be busier than usual after a closure.

** Some animals will stay indoors, but others will not be deterred by the cold. At Disney's Animal Kingdom, a three-hour process brings all animals indoors each night to climate-controlled areas. In the morning, they are given a choice whether to venture out or stay warm and cozy. When Florida has a cold snap, such as this one, extra precautions also are taken in the outdoor habitat, such as adding heating elements, for example. So, riding Kilimanjaro Safaris will not be a bust, but you're unlikely to see the Komodo dragon from the walkway along its outdoor habitat because it is sensitive to the cold. The same goes for some other animals.

At SeaWorld Orlando, many of the marine animals already thrive in cooler waters, such as the orca whales, sea lions and dolphins, so these temperatures don't affect their performances. The shows will go on! You might want to skip the Splash Zone, though. And although the penguins in the Antarctica attraction reside in a climate-controlled area, guests just might feel like they've stepped onto the South Pole, too, no matter how chilly it might be outside. Reader NT3 suggests bringing (or buying) a blanket or towels from your hotel room to sit on for attractions and shows.

** Steer clear of water rides, such as Splash Mountain or Journey to Atlantis. These places may be open, but do you really want to spend the rest of your day shivering from wet, soggy clothes and hair? If they are on your bucket list, be sure to stash some extra clothes in a locker for afterward.

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** Seize the opportunity to drink plenty of hot chocolate or warm coffee in the theme parks. SeaWorld has the best deal for hot chocolate, with its refillable souvenir mug. It works the same way as its drink cups -- after a one-time purchase of the cup, all refills are a little more than a dollar each. (Pass members can apply their discount to the refill price.) At Disney World, coffee lovers can get their Starbucks fix at locations in each of the four theme parks and two stores at Disney Springs. Of course, Disney visitors can sip on hot chocolate that’s readily available, as well. And Hollywood Studios has a new Tervis Jingle BAM mug that can be purchased in the gift shops that’s perfect for keeping your beverages (and hands) warm.

** When vacationers arrive at the theme parks, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and the anticipation of their favorite attractions. But when it's cold, adjust your schedule accordingly. Plan to visit indoor attractions in the morning or evening, when temperatures are coolest. As the day warms up, spend more time outdoors for a more pleasurable experience. Also, know that some outdoor roller coasters may be affected by the cold weather, and operators also have to wait for the tracks to warm up for the coasters to perform correctly and safely.

** If you're staying in the Disney resorts, don't forget that some, like the Wilderness Lodge or the BoardWalk Inn, offer enticing fireplace settings in their main lobbies. Others, such as the Polynesian Resort or the Beach Club, also offer nightly beachside fire pits complete with s'mores that also can be fun family escapes from the rare Florida cool-downs. The cozy evening gatherings around the fire can be the perfect way to wind down after a long day in the parks, too. Who knows, if you're outside at a fire pit, you might even catch a glimpse of a fireworks show, as well.

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** Finally, the No. 1 tip from locals and seasoned visitors alike: Dress in layers for changing temperatures. You may very well be comfortable in shorts in the middle of the afternoon, but once the sun goes down and the wind begins whipping across the lakes, you’ll be longing for a jacket -- or at the very least, a sweatshirt. Lockers are relatively inexpensive if you want to bring extra clothes and not have to carry them around all day. You might also consider bringing some inexpensive packet hand warmers. I was recently was surprised to find how great they worked at my kids’ outdoor sporting events. As reader Ashley said, “How much fun are you going to have if you're freezing for a couple of hours?”





December 7, 2017

'Snow' falls near Walt Disney World every night in December 2017

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For years, one of my family's favorite holiday traditions is a visit to see "snow" just outside the gates of Walt Disney World. The town of Celebration hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" - a flurry of soap bubbles -- from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge.

Celebration’s downtown is a traditional retail and business district modeled after those found in small American towns and built by The Walt Disney Company. Retail shops, restaurants, a town hall, post office and offices are among the downtown businesses. Many of these buildings are situated along a wide promenade circling a lake.

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The shopping district is quite festive with the "snowfall," Christmas decorations, live music on Saturdays, ice skating, horse-drawn carriages, simulated train rides, visits with Santa Claus and restaurants to fit a range of budgets and tastes.

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Our family outing usually consists of eating dinner and then enjoying the entertainment. There are some wonderful places to dine, such as Cuban treasure the Columbia Restaurant. Through the years, we have learned that planning to have an early dinner helps avoid a long wait for a table (and also makes street parking, which is free, easier) on weekend nights during Now Snowing. The later it gets, the more crowded the streets become and the harder it is to find a close parking spot.

Snow falls daily at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic.

Saturday's live performance, the annual Radio Disney Holiday Concert, kicks off at 6 p.m. with Skylar Steckera and In Real Life. We have attended the Radio Disney concert several times and definitely noticed that those nights are popular with crowds, especially tweens and teens. On Dec. 16, Countdown to Christmas begins at 5:30 p.m. with Ava Bryant, Catching Arrows, Danielle Carter, Nick Barbuto, The House on Cliff, Couch Jackets, Erin Kinsley and Menage.

Other holiday activities include:

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** Ice Skating. The ice skating rink really is a hard plastic surface that kids use skates to glide on. The Endless Ice offers them the traditional winter experience without as many painful spills. This rink even encourages beginning skaters to use supports (that look a lot like walkers) while they learn. Skating, which includes skate rental, is $10 per 30 minutes and it's open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily.

** Santa Claus greets families each night from 6 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 24. (He starts 30 minutes earlier on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.) There is no charge for the visit, and photo packages start at $24.99. Pets are welcome on Wednesdays.

** Horse and carriage rides are $45 for up to four passengers and $10 for each additional person. A special Cinderella Carriage can accommodate up to four people for $65, and each additional person is $10. A sleigh ride is $55 for up to four passengers and $10 for each additional person. Group wagon rides are $5 per person.

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** When my son and daughter were younger, they couldn't wait to ride the Holiday Train on a short trip through town. It's $5 per person. Tickets can be purchased for $4 before 4 p.m. at Market Street Gallery or Sweet Escape.

If you're looking for a fun holiday getaway not far from Orlando or the gates of Walt Disney World, you'll find that the town of Celebration certainly lives up to its name during the holidays. And if you're a native Floridian, you'll appreciate a chance to have a white Christmas after all. Good luck building that bubbly Olaf snowman, though.





December 5, 2017

What makes this Disney Parks merchandise must-have souvenirs?

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Tis the season for shopping, and what better place than Walt Disney World or Disneyland? For many, if not most, travelers, a fun part of the vacation experience is bringing home a souvenir or two. We love to have something tangible to remind us of our time spent exploring new places. And there’s no doubt that Disney merchandise is some of the most popular – for personal use and for collectors.

But every season now there seems to be an item or two at the Disney theme parks that is short supply after shoppers collectively decide that it’s a must-have item. Social media helps spread the news about the popular item, and travelers and collectors snap it up, leaving Disney trying to keep up with the demand.

This spring, it was the Enchanted Rose tumbler. The clear plastic cup had the famed rose in the middle of the base, a lid with various light-up features, and a clear plastic straw. It was released to promote the live-action version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and quickly sold out first at Disneyland. When it finally was introduced at Walt Disney World, guests could only purchase the tumblers if they had reservations at Be Our Guest, and even then there were purchase limits. And the Enchanted Rose Tumblers still sold out. People were reselling the tumblers that cost $13 for as much as $75 to $100 on eBay! Eventually, a different version from the restaurant tumbler was sold at Disney Store locations and then theme-park merchandise stores.

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For several months now, the must-have merchandise item has been Rose Gold Mickey Mouse ear handbands. I’m not sure why this particular item became so sought-after overnight, other than the color is a popular one right now. Still, Disneyland and Walt Disney World have not been able to keep these mouse ears in stock. Many people who got their hands on the $25 headgear have been reselling them for double the price. Others want to show off their prized possession in the parks, which has prompted guests to count the number of the Rose Gold Ears they see each park visit as a sort of online game.

Now, many Disney fans have been left wishing Dooney & Bourke had produced more of its new Disney Dogs and Disney Woodland Winter bag collections. Both lines had been announced over the summer and were eagerly anticipated before their releases during Black Friday weekend. Guests lined up at Disney Springs on the first day the bags were for sale, with the Dogs bags commanding a three-hour wait for guests who wanted to be among the first to purchase the bags. The Dogs bags sold out on Disney property within a day, while the Christmas bags have lasted for about a week. Both collections also were sold on the ShopDisney website and Shop Disney Parks app, where the stock was quickly depleted. The demand for these bags was so great that Disney began cancelling online orders, leaving many unhappy customers.

With a seemingly endless supply of new merchandise at the Disney parks, what makes certain items the new “it” purchase for Disney fans? What do you think? Tell us in the comments, please.





December 2, 2017

A guide to 2017 Disney holiday TV programming

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“25 Days of Christmas” is back on Freeform, formerly ABC Family, and there are even more holiday-themed television shows. Programming will also be available to stream via the Freeform app and online.

The annual programming event, featuring a variety of holiday-themed specials, movies and TV episodes, will expand this year from Freeform to all of the Disney/ABC Television Group networks, including ABC, Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior. The programs began yesterday.

Freeform will focus on Christmas films, running such favorites as “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “The Polar Express.” It will also launch the original Christmas movie “Angry Angel,” starring Brenda Song and Jason Biggs. See the full schedule here.

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“Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings: Holiday Magic,” premieres at 8 p.m. EST Dec. 11 on Freeform. The special edition will go behind the scenes of some of the most spectacular weddings and engagements at Disney Destinations around the globe during the holiday season. From a sun-drenched holiday proposal at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii, to a winter wonderland wedding at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, viewers will be guests from the start of each couple’s “happily ever after” journey. The “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings” series is set to begin airing in the spring.

Want to know how Disney transforms its theme parks and resort hotels into winter wonderlands seemingly overnight? “Decorating Disney: Holiday Magic,” which airs at 8 p.m. EST Dec. 18 on Freeform, shows viewers how the holiday magic and spirit come to life throughout Disney destinations. Meet the dedicated team of Disney cast members and Santa’s helpers who meticulously plan, design, build and bring to life wondrous Christmas trees, life-size gingerbread houses and more.

Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior and Radio Disney will feature special holiday-themed programming including episodes of series “Stuck in the Middle,” “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Sofia the First.”

On ABC, this means new seasons of home-decoration competition series “The Great Christmas Light Fight” and cooking series “The Great American Baking Show.” The network will also air holiday episodes of “American Housewife,” “black-ish,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Mayor,” “The Middle” and “Speechless.” Returning specials include “Shrek the Halls,” “The Toy Story That Time Forgot,” “Disney Prep and Landing,” “Disney Prep and Landing 2: Naughty vs. Nice,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown!”

Plus, look for the third holiday special of the 2017 season filmed in the Disney theme parks and resorts: “Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration” on Christmas morning. (Check local listings for air times.) This traditional show features a Christmas parade, favorite Disney characters and performances by Ciara, Darius Rucker, Fifth Harmony, Fitz and the Tantrums, Jason Derulo, Lea Michele, 98°, Telly Leung and Arielle Jacobs from Broadway’s Aladdin. (“The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” and “Disney Parks Presents a Disney Channel Holiday Celebration” have already aired.)

“25 Days of Christmas is the holiday event our viewers look forward to all year long. This year there is more for everyone: more original shows, more fun and laughter, more opportunities to take part in this beloved holiday tradition,” said Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood. “We hope everyone joins in the fun as Disney ABC spreads holiday cheer across all of our channels and platforms for audiences everywhere.”





November 30, 2017

Easy Disney-themed ideas for your Elf on the Shelf

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This week is a week that many of us parents have been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to since Christmas Day 2016: It’s the return of the Elf on the Shelf shenanigans. The day after Thanksgiving marked the start of Elf Scout Return Week, the time when most families welcome back their scout elves or adopt new North Pole helpers. Our elves, Sugar Plum and Blizzard, usually arrive the day after Thanksgiving and true to form, they showed up for our North Pole Breakfast. You’re never too old to have the elves help kick off the start of the Christmas season!

For those who have somehow missed this very popular recent Christmas tradition, allow me to give you a brief explanation. The plush elves are sent by Santa to keep an eye on the children of the family and to report back each night whether they should be on the Naughty or Nice list by the time Christmas arrives. But the elves like to have a little fun, too, so when they return in the morning from their trip to the North Pole, they move to a different spot in the house. Often, they get into some mischief, which surprises the kids when they wake up.

The official rules: “First, a scout elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if a scout elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, a scout elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! A scout elf's job is to watch and listen.” The only exception to this rule is that children may gently play with their elves on Christmas Eve because they do not need magic to get back to the North Pole that night; they ride with Santa on his sleigh.

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I love seeing photos of the elves’ endeavors at different houses, and I, like other parents, always enjoyed some Disney magic at our house when my children were younger. There are so many clever Disney-themed ideas on Pintrest, Etsy and other online sites. Here are some of my favorite Disney-themed ideas that the elves set up:

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** Elves like to recreate attractions from the Disney Parks.

** Mickey Mouse hat ornaments make great elf hats.

** An elf might want to dress up as a Disney Princess.

** Give a new elf a “My First Visit” button from one of the Disney Parks.

** A plush Olaf might pose with Snowgees made of two big and two little marshmallows. (Faces can be drawn with markers.)

** Elves can announce or count down a trip to Walt Disney World, Disneyland or Disney Cruise Line.

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** Set up a meet-and-greet with a Disney plush character complete with an autograph book.

** Elves like to draw red reindeer noses or mustaches with a dry-erase marker on the glass of a framed photo of your family at Disneyland or Walt Disney World.

** Allow Elf to sit on the couch to play Disney Infinity.

** An elf might leave a message on an extra cheer card from a runDisney event.

** Elves like to play Disney board games, too.

** A Disney bedtime story might be just what an Elf needs to get to sleep in the morning.

** Elves love to bring small gifts, like a Disney sweet or a Disney ornament.

** You could find your family’s elf sitting on the couch with Disney plush and popcorn buckets with a note explaining there is to be a Disney movie night at your house.

** Sometimes Hidden Mickeys are formed when an elf spills something in the house, such as M&Ms, Legos or some other small household object.

I also have seen plenty of accounts of when families’ elves have traveled with them to Walt Disney World, Disneyland or Disney Cruise Line. Sometimes they snap photos of themselves on attractions or by Disney icons. Ours never did that; I guess they were just homebodies.

I'd love to hear about your elf's Disney or Disney-themed adventures! Tell us about it in the comments.





November 28, 2017

Where to find Santa Claus at Walt Disney World for 2017 Christmas season

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Walt Disney World kicked off its holiday celebrations earlier this month, and that included the long-standing tradition of Santa Claus meeting with children and their families at his chalet at Disney Springs. This year, the location has moved and it’s not quite as visible as in years past.

Santa Chalet has moved to the end of the Christmas Tree Trail, which is located behind Earl of Sandwich next to the pedestrian bridge and Once Upon A Toy store. You can either enter the start of tree trail and walk through to the chalet or enter through the end of the trail, which is near the back of Disney’s Days of Christmas store.

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Don’t be put off by the long wait times posted at Santa Chalet at Disney Springs. It was 180 minutes on Sunday! All guests are asked to check in at the entrance, and they will be placed in a virtual queue and given a pager. So, even if Santa may not be available for another two hours, you won't have to spend that time in a physical line. You can shop, grab a bite to eat, or even just rest your tired feet. Guests are asked to return to the podium within 10 minutes of being paged.

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The chalet itself, as well as the way the trees are decorated with toy trains and planes, remains the same. For some of us who enjoy visiting the same location year after year, that’s a welcome status quo.

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There is no cost associated with Santa Chalet, and you are not obligated to buy Disney’s photos. Cast members will use your camera or cell phone to take photos, and professional photographers will capture the moment, as well. If you have purchased a Memory Maker package or have certain Walt Disney World annual passes, free downloads of the photos are available with your account.

If not, the Disney PhotoPass prices are reasonable, compared with visiting Santa at many malls and events. I speak from a decade's worth of experience of meeting Mr. Claus when I say this. You can order a download of your favorite photo on My Disney Experience for the regular price of $15. Once you download the photo, you can make as many prints as you wish.

Santa Claus will be at the Disney Springs Chalet from noon to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 24. Santa Goofy takes over Dec. 25 through 30 during the same hours.

Despite his busy schedule before Christmas, Santa Claus will be making other appearances at Walt Disney World. It would seem impossible, but the Big Man can be found in these additional locations:

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** Epcot: Santa and Mrs. Claus meet guests and pose for pictures for 90-minute sets at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. daily through Dec. 24 at The American Adventure. Plus, each country in the World Showcase also features storytellers who describe local holiday traditions. In many countries, the storyteller is a representation of Santa, such as Pere Noel in France and Father Christmas in England.

** Hollywood Studios. Step inside Once Upon a Time to find Jolly Old Saint Nick greeting good girls and good boys in a glamorous area from 10 a.m. to closing (with some scheduled breaks, of course) through Dec. 24. If the wait is longer than 30 minutes, guests are given pagers that work along Sunset Boulevard so they can do other things besides standing in line while their spots are held in a virtual queue.

** Magic Kingdom: Santa meets with guests during the day through Dec. 24 and at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, where he also makes an appearance at the end of Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade. Admission to the party requires a separate ticket.

If he's not called back to the North Pole, Santa likely will visit most Walt Disney World hotel lobbies in the evening on Christmas Eve.





November 25, 2017

One family's experiences at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

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Even in Orlando, guests and residents alike can dream of a white Christmas. But the closest we may come to that impossible feat in the Sunshine State is at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World, where it “snows” on Main Street, U.S.A., and guests enjoy hot cocoa on select dates in November and December. My family and I have attended the party for more than a decade, witnessing the changes through the years. As my children have gotten older – they’re 13 and 15 now – our touring strategy has changed a bit, too.

In my previous blog post, I pointed out ways to maximize your five hours of party time by using the extra time your ticket affords you before and after the party. Here’s a look at how my family and I, as Orlando locals, like to experience Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

When my children were younger and schedules were different, we planned to arrive at the Magic Kingdom by 4 p.m. when admission begins for those with party tickets. This year, my daughter and I planned to arrive by about 5:30 and my husband and son by 7 p.m. Unfortunately, traffic delayed all of us and we had to regroup a little. One change that partygoers and day guests will notice this year is that Walt Disney World officials are testing a system of having the park close at 6 p.m. on party nights for day guests. (They still can remain on Main Street until 7 p.m., and the park will open at 8 a.m. on party days so guests do not lose time on their tickets.) Beginning at 6 p.m., only partygoers can get in lines for rides.

One of my best pieces of advice for the party is that if you see something you want to do, such as take a special photo or grab a special treat, do it at that time rather than waiting. I have found that by the end of the night, my children are even less likely to want to take photos or we may be in line for one last ride on an attraction and miss out on something we could have done earlier. I still think you should have at least a loose game plan for how you approach the most popular entertainment at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party but for the little things, I wouldn’t postpone.

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So, when my daughter and I arrived, we got our Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards from the Firehouse in Town Square. (These are a party exclusive, so pick yours up even if you don’t plan to play the game on party night.) While we waited for my husband and son to arrive, we took selfies with the Toy Solider statues, shopped at the Emporium and then got in line to visit with Santa Claus. By the time we neared the front of the queue, the guys had made it into the park. After meeting with St. Nick, we all headed into Magic Kingdom via the Main Street U.S.A. bypass route. This pathway that goes “back stage” through the gates near Tony’s Town Square restaurant offers guests special photo opportunities and the gift of large wrapped sugar cookies. Nice incentives to avoid the crowded Main Street!

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We headed back to Tomorrowland where we planned to grab pretzels at The Lunching Pad for a quick dinner. We found out when we got there that the specialty cream cheese pretzels that we love have been replaced by salted caramel pretzels for the holiday season. Three of us opted for hot dogs instead while I had a Mickey pretzel with cheese dip. We had planned to head back to Main Street for the fireworks at 10 p.m. and the second parade at 11 p.m., so we had a few hours to enjoy the park. We decided to stroll around and take in the holiday offerings and atmosphere while we tried to sample as many of the complimentary treats as possible.

This year, the number of holiday treat stations and the variety of the treats has increased. Party guests can visit any (or all!) of these stations as often as they would like:

** Tortuga Tavern: Snowman Soft Pretzel and Sno-Cone

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** Liberty Square Ticket Office: Ginger Molasses Cookie and Eggnog

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** Pete’s Silly Sideshow: Peppermint Crunch Cookie and Nestle Nesquik

** Pinocchio Village Haus: A Variety of Holiday Favorites

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** The Friar’s Nook: Silky Smooth Dove Chocolate and Sparkling Cider

** Cosmic Rays Starlight Café: Snickerdoodle Cookie and Hot Chocolate

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** Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies: Santa Claus Cookie & Sno-Cone

My daughter and I could not get enough of the Peppermint Crunch cookies, while my son loves the traditional Snickerdoodle cookies. My husband joined the long line for the Eggnog and the Ginger Molasses Cookie was a nice bonus. Also, the Magic Kingdom continues to offer allergy-friendly and healthy snack alternatives to those who prefer to skip the cookies; apple slices and apple juice were available upon request.

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While we were walking around, we stopped for a few of the special PhotoPass photos. We opted not to stand in line for the special characters because we have met all of them at other times and we wanted the freedom to roam. We didn’t go on a lot of attractions because we wanted to enjoy as much of the special holiday entertainment as possible, but the short lines were tempting. Early in the night, we saw Space Mountain only had a 20-minute wait.

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No matter how many times my family and I have seen Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, they still amaze us, so we always make time to see them during the party. It’s not the Christmas season until we’ve seen the fireworks over Cinderella Castle and toy soldiers march in precision formations down Main Street, U.S.A.! Now, with the new fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom, versions of Wishes can only be seen at the Halloween and Christmas parties. We easily stepped onto Main Street a few minutes before Wishes to watch it, and then we snagged a seat on the curb for the next parade. While we waited, PhotoPass photographers came by with props for those who wanted to take photos and we saw some of the pre-parade entertainment.

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After the parade, we had about a half hour left of the party so we dashed to ride a couple attractions and get one last round of hot chocolate. Then we took a couple photos on Main Street, made one more pass through The Emporium for my son, and were on our way home. All in all, it was a fun night! There is so much to do and see at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that I think you easily could go to parties and not be bored. At the very least, be sure to prioritize what is important to your group for the night. What are you most looking forward to at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? Tell us in the comments!

Tickets still are available for select dates in November and December. See pricing information and discounts on the AllEars.Net resource page.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.





November 23, 2017

Review: Disney-Pixar's Coco is lively celebration of family

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Disney-Pixar’s newest animated film, “Coco,” is a colorful interpretation of the Mexican tradition of celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina successfully use the holiday as a way to explore the always-popular themes of following your dreams and being true to yourself while still celebrating Latino culture and giving audiences a fresh storyline. Along the way, “Coco,” tugs at our heartstrings – and not always in scenes we anticipate.

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The movie begins by cleverly telling the back story of protagonist 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) by imposing scenes on the signature intricate paper banners of Mexico. We learn that his great-great grandfather left his family to pursue his dream of performing on world stages. When he didn’t return to his wife and young daughter, Mamá Coco (voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguía), they swore off music and banned it from future generations. And although Miguel was surrounded by a loving extended family who became shoemakers, he secretly dreams of singing and playing guitar professionally. He idolizes a famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), who came from his village.

Miguel sees his chance to jumpstart his career when a singing contest is held locally. Unfortunately, his family finds out and destroys his guitar, so Miguel takes the instrument that is on display in the mausoleum of de la Cruz. That triggers Miguel to be sent to the Land of the Dead, where he is stranded until he receives a blessing from a dead family member. The Land of the Dead is a beautiful fantasy world of skeletons and ghosts who enjoy huge parties and live music. This is where the Pixar animation really shines with the vivid backdrops and realistic skeletons, who walk with a hitch and click that is somehow exactly how a skeleton would walk, if skeletons walked. The dead can remain here until they are forgotten by the living, at which time they fade away during the Final Death, another magical bit of animation.

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In his travels, Miguel meets a ghost named Héctor (voiced by Gael García Bernal), whose life in intertwined with that Miguel’s and de la Cruz’s. Miguel suspects that de la Cruz is his missing great-great-grandfather, and he discovers more than he expected. Miguel also is accompanied by his faithful dog, Dante, who provides a lot of comic relief to the many scenes that will have audiences reaching for their tissues.

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Although the first 20 minutes or so of the movie are somewhat slow-going as the back story is laid out, the pace of “Coco” does pick up and keeps audiences of all ages engaged. The soundtrack contributes to the story, as well, and is sure to spawn hits, especially the song, “Remember Me.” This bolero ranchero-style song was written by the “Frozen” hit-makers by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

My 13-year-old daughter said one of the things she liked best about this movie was the development of the characters. She said she really felt like she knew them. She found the sets to be just as colorful as the characters, and the music and the plot twist kept her entertained, too.

“Coco” is rated PG for “thematic elements,” which mostly refers to the concepts of death and the actual deaths depicted in the film. There is a fatal accident shown and a murder uncovered during the movie, but even those are portrayed in ways that will not leave lasting negative impressions on children. Overall, despite the overriding focus on death, this is a warm and touching movie and not one that leave children will fears about death. With its emphasis on family, “Coco” is a wonderful movie to see during the Thanksgiving holiday.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Coco” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own. Although “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” featurette is being shown before “Coco” in theaters, it was not shown to media at my screening.





November 21, 2017

How to maximize your time at 2017 Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party only lasts for five hours – from 7 p.m. to midnight – so you’ll need a strategy in order to do most everything that’s important to your group. It’s unlikely that one family can do everything during that time.

But your party ticket allows you to enter the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m., even though most party activities do not start until 7 p.m. You can use those three hours to really maximize your party time by experiencing other holiday entertainment, riding attractions, getting in line for rare characters and more.

Before the party starts, you might want to check out:

** The Jungle Cruise. This classic attraction has been transformed into the Jingle Cruise for the fourth year. The "world-famous" holiday overlay can be experienced during regular park hours, too, but if you have some time to kill, it's a fun way to get in the Christmas spirit before the party. Plus, you’ll see all the little holiday touches better in the daylight.

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** Meet Santa Claus. St. Nick meets with the young and young-at-heart at Candy Cane Garden next to City Hall in Town Square. He is there every day and during party hours, except for when he is needed in the evening parade. My children have always thought it was extra special to talk with Santa in the Magic Kingdom (or anywhere at Disney, for that matter)!

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** A Frozen Holiday Wish. This short stage show takes place in front of Cinderella Castle during which the folks from Arendelle light up the 200,000 "icicles" adorning the castle. It takes place at 6:15 and 8:15 p.m. (during the party) daily, which means day guests can see the first show. In our experience, both shows are super crowded in the hub because that’s where you need to be if you want to see the “Frozen” characters on stage. However, you can see the castle being lit up from anywhere on Main Street.

** Attractions. If you think you might want to go on some rides before the party starts, be sure to book FastPasses. Although FastPass+ is not available during party hours, it is included with your ticket for rides scheduled between 4 and 6 p.m. If you forget to do this, you can stop by the kiosks in the Magic Kingdom, but know that many attractions may not have availability at the last minute.

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** Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card. Once you enter the park, head straight to the Firehouse in Town Square so you can pick up the party-exclusive Christmas card based on the Carousel of Progress for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom virtual game. Each person will need his or her party wristband to collect the card, beginning at 4 p.m. Because this is the only time you can get the card, I recommend collecting it and using it on another visit.

** Dinner. My family and I usually choose to have a quick-service dinner before the party starts so as not to use a lot of the time we could be spending on the holiday activities. This is a matter of personal preference, though, because a table-service meal might be more important to other guests.

** Rare characters. Finally, if you are interested in meeting any of the characters with long lines, it makes sense to do your waiting before the Christmas party starts so you’ll have more time to enjoy the entertainment that only takes place after 7 p.m. Plus, some of the characters have come out early for guests with party wristbands.

Jack Skellington dressed as Sandy Claws is as popular as ever and commanding long lines at his location in the gazebo in Liberty Square. Zootopia’s Judy Hoppes and Nick Wilde, who only appear during the Christmas and Halloween parties, are meeting in Tomorrowland. All Seven Dwarfs pose for photos across from the circus tent and the splash pad in Storybook Circus in Fantasyland. Moana is new to the party and is meeting guests in Adventureland. You’re likely to save party time if join the queues for these characters before the party officially starts at 7 p.m.

Look for Scrooge McDuck, Santa Goofy, and Daisy Duck, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse in their holiday finest in Storybook Circus in Fantasyland. Princess Ariel and Prince Eric are new to the parties this year and are meeting guests across from Under The Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid. Talking Mickey Mouse is dressed in his Christmas clothes in his usual spot inside Town Square Theater. These characters will have queues, though probably not as long as those I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Another way to make the most of your time at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is to stay late. Although the party and its activities end at midnight, Main Street U.S.A. stays open until 1 a.m. If you can remain awake, leave these activities until the end:

** See the last show of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration at 11:55 p.m. on the Castle Forecourt Stage.

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** Take classic group photos with the backdrop of Cinderella Castle or the giant Christmas tree.

** Shop for party merchandise and other Christmas goodies.

Look for another blog post from me about what not to miss during the party!

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.





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