February 18, 2017

Disney, Lucasfilm bring back Force Friday merchandise event for 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

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Disney and Lucasfilm want to make sure the force is with all Star Wars fans well before “The Last Jedi” – the ninth movie in the saga -- is released on Dec. 15. To that end, they have announced a sequel to 2015’s Force Friday on Sept. 1, 2017.

The hoopla begins at 12:01 a.m. when stores around the globe will open their doors with toys, collectibles, books and apparel related to the popular franchise on their shelves. The products will not be revealed ahead of time, and the Force Friday II celebration will continue all weekend.

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“The first Star Wars Force Friday event was truly unique, uniting fans across five continents in an unprecedented global live unboxing event ahead of thousands of midnight openings at retail,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in a press release. “We’re excited to confirm that Star Wars Force Friday is back for ‘The Last Jedi’. Plans for this year’s worldwide event are top secret but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga.”

As well as introducing new characters from the movie in toy form, the line will build on the success of products like Sphero’s BB-8, introducing more innovative technology to bring the characters and stories from the film to life in unique ways, according to the release.

“Toys play a unique role in the Star Wars universe, and we’re proud to have been part of that incredible legacy for the past forty years. The new line for ‘The Last Jedi’ is our most innovative yet, and we’re excited to unveil it on Force Friday II,” said Samantha Lomow, Senior Vice President at Hasbro, in the news release.

Also being revealed today is a first look at packaging for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” products which feature leading heroes: Poe Dameron, Rey and Finn. The packaging gives fans the first glimpse at what the heroes will look like in “The Last Jedi.”

Fans can stay tuned to StarWars.com for more details on Force Friday II events and can follow the conversation on social using #ForceFridayII


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February 16, 2017

Disney's Maker Studios severs relationship with YouTube star PewDiePie

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Maker Studios is in the news this week after parent The Walt Disney Company cut ties with one of its biggest YouTube stars, PewDiePie, over his anti-Semitic posts. And YouTube quickly followed suit, canceling plans for the second season of his reality series, “Scare PewDiePie.” PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, has 53 million YouTube subscribers.

The Walt Disney Company bought Maker Studios three years ago in a much-publicized deal for $500 million. Maker Studios is a multi-channel network and YouTube video supplier. It reportedly gets about 10 billion views per month across its 55,000 YouTube channels. Disney had planned to use Maker Studios as way to learn more about promoting its franchises online, as well as an acquisition of new content.

"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," according to a statement from a Maker spokeswoman, The Hollywood Reporter posted online. "Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward."

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I first wrote about Maker Studios back in 2015 when its co-founder, video blogger Shay Carl Butler, was in Orlando to attend Playlist Live 2015, a three-day convention that focuses on video production from experienced creators and gives attendees a way to meet their favorite YouTube stars. Butler has his own popular family video blog, The Shaytards, that is among my teenage son’s favorites.

The Wall Street Journal, which first broke the news about PewDiePie, also is reporting that in the wake of Maker Studios severing ties with him, the company is now looking at an uncertain future.

“The studio generated roughly $300 million in revenue last fiscal year but wasn't profitable, according to people with knowledge of the matter,” the newspaper reported.

Other sources are reporting that layoffs at Maker Studios may be coming. Maker Studios is part of the consumer products and interactive division at Disney.

Meanwhile, plans for Playlist Live 2017, which features many Maker Studios stars, are moving ahead. The event will take place May 5 to 7 at the Orlando World Center Marriott. Tickets, with early-bird discounts, are on sale now at https://www.playlist-live.com/orl-tickets/products Passes start at $130, and there are a number of new ticket options this year.

RELATED LINKS:
Disney's Maker Studios to feature Marvel characters and partner with ESPN and ABC



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February 14, 2017

Kingdom Keepers author Ridley Pearson gives readers opportunity to be Disney Imagineers

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Disney’s Imagineers have some of the coolest jobs around. Who wouldn’t want to help create the theme parks we all know and love? Well, now’s your chance to experience what they do – on a much smaller scale and from the comfort of your own home.

“Kingdom Keepers” author Ridley Pearson is inviting readers to accept a series of writing challenges in the Disney School of Imagineering, which features prominently in his latest series of Kingdom Keepers books. The challenges will center on the theme “writing for the Disney parks,” and the first assignment has been posted on kingdomkeepersinsider.com:

“A big part of being an Imagineer is paying close attention to detail. Whether you're working as a character, designing a new ride, or (in our case) writing for the parks, it's the details that make the Disney experience so special. For your first assignment, think of a detail in a Disney park, like the weather vane on the top of the Haunted Mansion, or the bulletin board in Dinoland USA (If you're stumped, try Google). Once you have a detail in mind, write a backstory for it. Where did it come from? Why is it there? What about it is significant or magical? Have there been any times it was used or involved in a part of Disney or character lore?”

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To participate, you must post your entry on the website after creating a free account. Other readers will be able to view your work and vote for their favorites.

A word of advice from KKI Brooke: “A quick note before we begin: Many of these challenges deal with actual locations in the Disney parks. If you've never been, that's okay! Google is full of blogs and maps, photos and videos, so there's no need to miss out just because you don't spend as much time in Walt Disney World as the Keepers. Even if you do go to the parks every week, take some time to do your research. Preparation is key, and you never know what you might learn.”

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New challenges will appear every two weeks leading up to the release of Pearson’s “The Return: Disney at Last” on March 28. Great news for readers in Orlando: Pearson will kick off his book tour again at Walt Disney World and guests will be able to buy “The Return: Disney at Last” before its official release date. Pearson will be signing copies at Epcot on March 23 and at Disney Springs on March 24.

The "Kingdom Keepers" books take place inside Walt Disney World and Disneyland and aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. The final novel in the original, seven-book series was published in 2014, but the following year, Pearson released the first book in a new young adult trilogy that would keep the beloved characters alive. In "The Return: Disney Lands" the five Kingdom Keepers had to solve a puzzle of the past or face a new force of evil. In “The Return: Legacy of Secrets,” Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby travel back in time to experience the opening of Disneyland in 1955 and the start of the magic we know today. No, in “The Return: Disney at Last,” the Kingdom Keepers must face unimaginable choices.

"Kingdom Keepers" fans will be happy to know that Pearson already is at work on a new trilogy set at Epcot, according to an article last week on D23.com. Pearson confirmed to me that the new series will indeed bring back familiar "Kingdom Keepers" characters as well as introduce new ones.


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February 11, 2017

Tips for finding and buying Disney Dooney & Bourke, Vera Bradley, Harveys seatbelt bags

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Does a made-for-adults 101 Dalmatians purse set your heart racing? This Harveys Seatbeltbag collection was so popular that many of the bags minutes sold out within minutes of being posted online in mid-January.

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High-end Disney-themed purses and bags continue to increase in popularity – both those sold in the theme parks and those sold at outside retailers. And the primary and secondary markets don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Three of the most well-known manufacturers of Disney bags – Vera Bradley, Dooney & Bourke and Harveys Seatbeltbags – have been staples at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line for years now. In 2016, Coach and Kate Spade collaborated with the Mouse and debuted new lines.

I have to confess that I’m one of the shoppers fueling sales of Disney-themed Vera Bradley, Dooney & Bourke and Harveys Seatbeltbags. Although I by no means have an extensive collection, I have added pieces over the years. And I love to see the incredible creativity in each new pattern. So, if you’re a new Disney purse sister, here are some tips that you might find useful:

** Harveys bags are no longer sold in the parks, so unless you live near a store in California, you’ll need to order online. Some lines, such as the 101 Dalmatians collection, are only released online anyway. But shopHarveys.com isn’t the only resource. Be sure to also try Zappos.com and MaterialGirlhandbags.com, which also stock the brand. Follow Harveys on social media for sneak peeks of new collections and advance notice of release dates.

** Disney Dooney & Bourke bags are sold at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line plus they can be ordered online at DisneyStore.com and through the Shop Disney Parks app. Annual pass and Disney Vacation Club discounts can be applied to purchases in the theme parks and on the app. Periodically, DisneyStore.com and the Shop Disney Parks app offer additional discounts as they are doing now. Both have 10 percent off now through Sunday. And sometimes consumers will find different stock online and on the app, so be sure to check both. For example, DisneyStore.com is offering a Disney Dooney cosmetic bag for $29 with a $100 purchase. Disney Vera Bradley bags are sold in the same physical and online locations.

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** For many runDisney races, Dooney & Bourke releases a new runDisney-specific pattern on three silhouettes of bags. Runners often are invited to pre-order the bags, but they also sell them at the Health & Fitness Expo before each event. (The expos are open to public and you do not have to be running to enter.) When I went to packet pickup at Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, there were still plenty of Disney Dooneys for several days. That’s not always the case, though.

** When Disney decides to retire certain Dooney & Bourke and Vera Bradley patterns, you may see them on sale online. But if you are in Orlando, you also can visit two Disney outlet stores that carry official Walt Disney World merchandise, including these bags. The selection is more limited, but the prices are significantly discounted.

** Popular patterns and prints do sell out quickly, especially for Harveys bags because of the smaller inventory. Recently Harveys posted a survey asking shoppers which Disney patterns they would like to see become a staple in its collections. Follow Harveys on Facebook if you want to take the survey. And cross your fingers for more Disney Harveys Seatbeltbags!

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** Some Disney fans choose to use personal shoppers, which largely can be found on Facebook, for their purse purchases. If they can’t be at a store themselves, consumers want people they trust to pick the “placement” on such expensive bags. Disney Dooneys, for the most part, feature patterns with repeating icons, and each person may prefer a different image be displayed prominently. Personal shoppers will search for the desired placement on bags.

** Purse charms are a thing. I had no idea until I joined a private Facebook group dedicated to high-end Disney bags, but, boy, do I love them now. I even gave some as Christmas gifts. Etsy is the place to look for purse charms.

** Finally, although eBay might be the easiest place to buy Disney bags you missed out on, it’s not always the most economical. Many Facebook groups feature sellers of Disney merchandise who are just looking to recoup what they paid, so it might be worth your while to join a few online groups.

Happy shopping!


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February 9, 2017

Disney's marketing campaign for Marvel super heroes focuses on inclusiveness

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Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) has announced a new campaign designed to appeal to all types of buyers: “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes.” Of course, from a business standpoint, this kind of marketing strategy is important to appeal to a wide range of consumers for the variety of cool Marvel products in the pipeline. But as a mom, I applaud the inclusiveness of the campaign, which, of course, implies that the people who enjoy super heroes are as varied as the heroes themselves. In my family, it’s my daughter who loves super heroes, not my son.

The “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes” campaign is a celebration of Marvel Super Heroes – and everyday heroes – and will reinforce the idea that the best way to measure a Super Hero is by the size of their heart, according to a news release. This is yet another positive message in diversity.

“Whether you are big like Hulk, small like Ant-Man or smart and quick-to-action like Black Widow, Marvel truly has a hero for everyone,” said Paul Gitter, senior vice president of licensing for Marvel at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in the release. “From young kids to teenagers, to a casual fan or a diehard adult collector, Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes showcases that there is no singular definition for a hero and that our diversity is what makes us so powerful.”

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Having a memorable marketing campaign is critical for all the new products related to Marvel stories starring super heroes that are soon to hit the shelves and screens. Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 28. (Read my movie review here.) Also this month, Marvel Publishing launches the new Monsters Unleashed! comic series and Disney Publishing releases the first novel for young readers featuring Squirrel Girl in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World and a picture book featuring Baby Groot. On the small screen, fans will be able to catch the season 3 finale of Marvel’s Ultron Revolution and the season 4 finale of Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister Six. More Marvel favorites will be returning to television with the season 2 premiere of the Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy animated series and the premiere of new “Rocket and Groot” video shorts.

New Marvel launches will be hitting digital platforms, as well, this spring, including unique video and gaming content for all ages that will bring the “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes” theme to life. This month, MarvelKids.com is launching the Scavenger Hunt Game. (If your Marvel fans have not seen this website, check it out now! There are all kinds of free games and activities.) In March, Telltale Games will be debuting its new Guardians of the Galaxy console game.

Marvel fan favorite toys and collectibles will be getting a new look with the debut of six-inch Marvel Legends figures from Hasbro, new larger scale Funko collectible characters, and updated Mighty Micros from LEGO. New products will also debut this spring, including additional Tsum Tsum characters from Jakks, diecast figures from Jada Toys, and the debut lineup from new collectibles partner Schleich.

Not only will the Marvel super heroes be marketed as inclusive, from the sound of it, they also will be omnipresent. And with such a positive message, that’s a good thing.



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February 7, 2017

Disney to shut down Club Penguin and replace it with Club Penguin Island app

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It’s with some wistfulness that I received the news last week that The Walt Disney Company is shutting down its Club Penguin website. Disney acquired the popular kids virtual world in 2007, and my children spent a couple years enthralled with it. Apparently, though, its popularity has been waning so Disney is closing the online game as of March 29. Don’t despair if your kids still love it because Disney is introducing Club Penguin Island to take its place.

Club Penguin is like many other virtual worlds in that users play games to earn a currency to feather their nests and dress their players. In this case, penguins earn coins that they can use to purchase clothing for themselves, hats for their puffles and decorations for their igloos. Physical coins with online codes are attached to plush puffles and penguins and play sets sold in stores, and these unlock bonus items, such as extra puffles or clothes.

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Club Penguin offered two types of accounts -- free and paid. Users who pay the monthly rate have more access and more options, of course. To hear my kids tell it at the height of their obsession, you HAVE to have a paid account to do the fun stuff.

Club Penguin is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), which means millions of users are playing at the same time. Penguins can friend each other, and if the requests are accepted, users gain access into each other's igloos and can interact in other ways, such as messaging.

In addition to entertainment, Club Penguin also delivered positive messages including one about charitable giving with its Coins for Change holiday program. Disney spent millions on its Club Penguin Internet safety campaign for kids. Most recently, the website gave elementary school students a place online to have their anti-Trump protest heard.

The new Club Penguin Island game will launch in March and be solely for mobile devices. (Club Penguin could be used on desktop and mobile devices.)

“The problem for Club Penguin, which was aimed at younger children and tweens primarily, is that there are now so many apps vying for kids’ attention,” according to TechCrunch.com. “The new site, Club Penguin Island, will look to recapture kids’ interest, with a modern-day take on the original virtual world, but one’s that focused on mobile.

“Though related, Club Penguin Island is its own, standalone app – players can’t bring items or coins from the old site to the new one. Their Club Penguin membership will also not transfer over to the new property. Club Penguin Island is currently offering pre-registration, so kids can reserve their new penguin’s name in advance of its March release.”

Club Penguin Island will be available for iOS and Android mobile devices.



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February 4, 2017

Orlando's Paws in the Park fundraiser includes Disney fun for families

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Love animals? Join Walt Disney World and other sponsors of Orlando’s Paws in the Park on Valentine’s Day weekend for some family fun that includes your furry babies.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando hosts its annual event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lake Eola. Paws in the Park includes a pet walk, vendors, demonstrations, agility contests and a kid zone from Walt Disney World. The centerpiece of the annual event is the dog walk that serves as a fundraiser for homeless pets and other initiatives of the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

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Registration is ongoing now and it’s free. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals. Walkers can even register the day of the event and do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $75 to $5,000. They include such prizes as Paws in the Park T-shirts and dog bandanas; VIP access to the Dog Lure Course, Splash Dogs and Dog Agility Course; and VIP Shelter Star pins and access to the VIP reception. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.) This year's top individual fundraiser will win two Walt Disney World theme-park tickets with the Park Hopper option for two days.

The walk begins at 9 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m., and the other activities go until 1 p.m. On the main stage, visitors can see the following presentations beginning at 9:05 a.m.: a "bubble release" led by Pet Loss Center to pay tribute to pets that have touched our lives; “Dogs With Jobs”; a performance by the Orlando Gay Chorus; and music by John Frank.

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Families won't want to miss the Disney Kids and Family Zone, presented by Walt Disney World, which has interactive activities everyone can enjoy. In addition, nationally recognized company Splash Dogs will offer dock-jumping competitions, and there is a Canine Sports area.

Entrance to park is free, but there is a charge to participate in the event activities. A $20 Doggie Pass allows your pup to enjoy the Lucky Dogs Lure Course, Agility Course and the "Splash Dogs" Diving Pool at the event.

Sponsor WFTV offers these reminders:

** All pets must be at least 6 months old and have proof of vaccinations.
** Dogs only please. No female dogs in heat.
** Pets must wear a suitable collar.
** Keep your dogs on a 6-foot leash or shorter and under control at all times.
** Water for dogs will be supplied.
** Please be considerate and pick-up after your dog.
** For the enjoyment and safety of all participants, any aggressive animal will be asked to leave the park.
** Please obey all rules of Lake Eola. No swimming in the lake and no chasing the ducks or swans.



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February 2, 2017

Sneak peek: SeaWorld Orlando's new Seven Seas Food Festival

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Last weekend, I was invited to join SeaWorld Orlando pass members at a sold-out preview of foods and beverages that will be served at the upcoming Seven Seas Food Festival.

Beginning Feb. 11 and continuing on Saturdays through May 13, guests can visit the new food festival, which features some of the same components that they have come to love at the theme park’s other festivals – special food to purchase and enjoy and concerts that are included in the day’s admission.

However, this festival will run concurrently with the Viva La Musica and BBQ festivals. That’s possible because the Seven Seas Food Festival will take place around the lake, throughout the entire SeaWorld Orlando park, and it won’t be limited to the Bayside walkway (where other festivals are contained).

There will be 11 coastal markets and each will feature food with beer and wine pairings from Asian, Caribbean, Latin, European, Polynesian and North Atlantic locales. Visitors can expect to pay $4 to $6 per dish and about $4 per beverage sample. They also have the option to buy Food & Brew Sampling Lanyards. The 10-item lanyard costs $40 plus tax and the 15-item lanyard is $55. Both are good for the duration of the festival, so they can be used on multiple visits. The lanyards are available for purchase online now.

“[The Seven Seas Food Festival] will show what we can do at SeaWorld that is not only about hamburgers and hot dogs. It’s a little bit more,” Executive Chef Hector Colon told me at the pass member preview.

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I think SeaWorld visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the offerings, based on what my children and I sampled at the preview. The dishes really are unlike what we’ve come to expect at SeaWorld, and with so many choices – 60 food items, 55 local and international craft brews and 13 wine pairings -- most people will find something to suit their tastes.

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Our favorites were the Braised Short Ribs with the Jalapeno Corn Grits, Candied Smoked Bacon, Aged Balsamic Demi & Crispy Fried Onion Strings; the Churrasco Grilled Shirt Steak with Chimichurri & Garbanzo Frito; and the Grilled Corn on the Cob with Cheese. The short ribs were fall-apart tender and paired perfectly with the candied bacon and crispy onion strings. Although my children and I aren’t big fans of grits, I’m told they were tasty, too. The grilled steak was full of flavor – with and without the spicy chimichurri sauce – and the corn-and-cheese combo had us going back for seconds. I’ll definitely be looking for these dishes at the festival.

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We also tried the Grilled Venison Sausage Slider with Caramelized Red Onions, Sweet Red Peppers & Whole Grain Mustard; and the Shrimp cake with Jicama Slaw & Key Lime Mustard. We didn’t dislike these dishes; we just liked the others better!

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For dessert, we had three choices: Bacon and Hushpuppies Cormeal Fritters with Honey Butter; Grilled Cheese Pound Cake with Cheddar Cheese & Raspberry Sauce; and Dark Chocolate Guinness Mousse Parfait with Baileys Infused Whipped Cream. My children and I definitely liked the pound cake with cheese and raspberry sauce best. My son already is counting the days until he can have it again, and I’m sure I’ll be joining him in line. We also really enjoyed the hushpuppy fritters, which were delicious with the honey butter.

Chef Hector admitted to having a sweet tooth, and he agreed with our dessert choices. “I like the pound cake with a lot of raspberries or the hushpuppies are really great. They are sweet and salty at the same time and with the honey butter, it’s something you must have.”

Pass members at the preview also were able to sample Red Sangria; non-alcoholic Sangria; Watermelon Slushy with Soja (ginger liqueur); and Frozen Lagoon punch with Lychee liqueur.

See the full menu for SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival here.

SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival begins at 11 a.m. every Saturday -- Feb. 11 through May 13 -- and continues through park close. Like all special events at SeaWorld, the Seven Seas Food Festival is included with park admission.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the pass member preview of the Seven Seas Food Festival. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.



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January 31, 2017

Should you take kids to Epcot's new arts festival?

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We’re halfway through the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and if you’re a Disney fan, you’ve probably read or watched plenty about what the festival has to offer guests. (Our own Deb Koma has written a detailed review that is informative.) But maybe you’re wondering whether kids will enjoy these extra offerings at Epcot. My children, ages 12 and 14, and I have visited the festival on two separate weekends in order to find out the answer to that question. Here are some of our thoughts:

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** We all were pretty excited to try the Food Studios. After all, like many Walt Disney World regulars, we look forward to Epcot’s other festivals – Food & Wine and Flower & Garden – that feature the walk-up kiosks with appetizer-sized portions of dishes and samples of beverages. There are fewer foods to taste at the Festival of the Arts, so my family and I tried most of them on our two visits. And although we liked most of we sampled, I can’t say there were things that just wowed us. That’s different from our experiences at the Food & Wine and Flower & Garden festivals. We have left those culinary experiences raving about certain foods and planning our return to get them again. So, if you’re like us, you might enjoy having dinner somewhere other than the Food Studios and then visiting the booths for dessert, which are cleverly themed.

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** Each evening at the America Gardens Theatre, there are three Disney on Broadway shows that feature professional Broadway singers performing Disney favorites. The shows take place at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday through Monday of each festival weekend. We saw Kerry Butler and Kevin Massey perform songs from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, Newsies and Aladdin, and we thoroughly enjoyed the half-hour show. The stage is beautifully lit and set up for each story. Butler and Massey return for additional performances Feb. 3 to 6.

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** One of the best surprises, we think, are the large-scale photo backgrounds that allow guests to step into art masterpieces. My daughter loved posing for Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. There are four such opportunities this year, and I hope they add more in the future for the Festival of the Arts.

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** Although my son has long been engaged in creating two-dimensional art and my daughter is in the performing arts, neither was especially interested in perusing the art featured in the tents around World Showcase for the festival. I’d like to think that’s because, for kids especially, there are many more exciting things to do at Epcot, like ride attractions. Some unconventional art did attract my daughter’s attention, however. On both visits, she stopped at the TOMS shoes booth to see the hand-painted Disney designs.

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** On the other hand, both of my children enjoyed the Animation Academy, which takes place in Innoventions East from 9:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. daily. This is just like the attraction at Hollywood Studios that was closed to make way for the Star Wars Launch Bay, and there also is a similar experience at DisneyQuest. In these sessions, which can last 10 to 20 minutes, a cast member teaches the class how to draw a popular Disney character. My kids have been going to these sessions since they were little and they still find them worthwhile.

Overall, we did appreciate Disney’s new festival dedicated to the arts and would recommend checking it out if you’re going planning a visit to Epcot with children. I’m just not sure this is yet a festival that has enough appeal for families to make a special trip JUST for the festival. That said, this is the first year for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and we look forward to seeing what Walt Disney World adds in the coming years to expand its offerings.



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January 28, 2017

Get a glimpse of Universal Orlando's new water park, Volcano Bay, opening May 25

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One of the perks of being an Orlando resident is the opportunity to go regularly to the fantastic water parks that are associated with our three big theme parks. With two children who swim like fish, I have enjoyed our family’s annual water park passes. Until this point, we have alternated between Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon and SeaWorld’s Aquatica water parks. Each is unique in its theming and a full day’s worth of fun for my family. But a new aquatic playground joins the lineup this summer, and we are excited to experience all it has to offer.

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Universal Orlando announced this week that its Volcano Bay water park will open May 25. The park will have a Pacific Isle theme, calling on the fabled Waturi islanders for inspiration for the tropical paradise. As details have emerged about the upcoming water park, two features are being touted as improvements to Orlando’s existing water parks. The first is the TapuTapu wearable band, which allows guests to enter virtual queues and avoid physical queues for the rides. Sounds a lot like Disney’s MagicBands, no? But Walt Disney World has not rolled out its MagicBands at Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon. The other welcome new aspect is that Volcano Bay guests will not have to lug their own tubes and rafts up stairs to the start of the aquatic adventure.

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Volcano Bay will have four distinct areas: The Volcano, Wave Village, River Village and Rainforest Village. The Volcano, named Krakatau, is the centerpiece of the park. It rises 200 feet above the tropical landscape, streaming waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night. Inside the volcano are a variety of water slides (as described by Universal):

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** Krakatau Aqua Coaster: Four-person canoes slide upward through the mists and into the dark twists and turns within the volcano before emerging with a plunge through a shimmering waterfall.

** Ko’okiri Body Plunge: Join in the centuries-old tradition of honoring the volcano god, Vol, by braving the incredible Ko’okiri Body Plunge. Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of screaming fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.

** Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides: Twin trap doors simultaneously drop two guests down clear, intertwining tubes before sending them splashing into the waters below.

** Punga Racers: A favorite among Waturi children of all ages, Punga Racers send single riders on their manta ray mats sliding down four lanes through underwater sea caves.

The Wave Village overlooks the waters of Waturi Beach at the base of the volcano and gives families a place to hang out and swim nearby in one of two wave pools.

River Village also is designed for guests of all ages, including the youngest. It features:

** Honu ika Moana: Just like the ancient Waturi people who rode the ocean waves on friendly sea turtles and whales, guests can enjoy these two twisting, turning, multi-person slides. Honu sweeps up two massive walls, while ika Moana sprays water on riders from the center of the raft.

** Tot Tiki Reef + Runamukka Reef: The little ones can frolic among the splashy slides and fountains of the Tot Tiki Reef toddler play area, while Runamukka Reef delights older children with its bubbling geysers, water guns, slides and dump cups.

** Kopiko Wai Winding River: Take a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River. Sprays of water surprise along the way.

Finally, Rainforest Village stretches along the shores of an action-packed river that houses these attractions:

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** Ohyah + Ohno Drop Slides: Ascend cliff side and plummet down the twisting waters of Ohyah before dropping out four feet above the pool below. To achieve even greater bragging rights, brave the rope bridge and plunge down Ohno, a serpentine adventure that ends six feet above the pool below. (Dare I say it? Does this sound like the pool at Disney’s defunct River Country?)

** Maku Puihi Raft Rides: This six-person rafting adventure is not for the faint of heart. Choose one of two paths or try them both — just be ready for a thrilling ride. Puihi careens through a dark, winding tunnel before the stomach-flipping thrill of zero gravity hang time. Maku slides you through a deep volcanic gorge before spinning wildly around bowl-like formations.

** TeAwa The Fearless River: Take a thrilling whitewater ride with churning rapids and choppy waves.

** Taniwha Tubes: Riders can try four twisting tracks, but beware — mischievous tiki statues spray jets of water when you least expect it.

So far, Universal has only announced combination tickets that include Volcano Bay with admission to Universal Studios and Island of Adventure. We’re eagerly waiting to find out the price of one-day admission and annual passes for the new water park.



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