June 30, 2018

2018 Tour de Turtles to release competitors at Disney's Vero Beach


Disney’s Vero Beach will help kick off Tour de Turtles on July 28 on the East Coast of Florida, and the state's visitors and locals alike have several opportunities to join in the fun surrounding the marine marathon.

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

This is the eleventh year for Tour de Turtles, and there will be 18 sea turtles representing four different species. The turtles leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including one in front of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, and will be tracked for about three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.


As in past years, two Loggerhead turtles will begin their marathon in front of the Disney hotel. Resort guests are invited to watch, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 28. The beach offers public access, but parking at the resort is limited to guests. Until 9 a.m., resort guests can take part in family-friendly activities on the beach that generate awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation.

Disney’s turtles that participated last year were named Sally and Cruz after the characters in “Cars 3.” At the time of publication, Sally had traveled 1,118 miles in 335 days, while Cruz had traveled 742 miles in 235 days.


Guests at Disney’s Vero Beach might also want to keep an eye out for Captain Ron, a pocket beagle who is trained to sniff out sea turtle nests along the beach so that scientists can mark the nests to protect them. This special dog and his trainer, Pepe Peruvero, can be seen helping the sea turtle conservation team patrol the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings from late June through the end of August.

From 6 to 8 p.m. July 28, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is hosting a party to benefit the animals and their habitat in Brevard County. The party takes place at the Barrier Island Center, located at 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach. It will include heavy hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $30 online when purchased in advance or they will be available at the door for $45. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Questions? Call 321-723-3556.


On Sunday, July 29, there is an opportunity for the public to watch more turtles begin the race. This group will be leaving from the beach start gate near the Barrier Island Center at 7:30 a.m. Spectators are asked to arrive 30 minutes early. From 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., there will be fun family-friendly activities. This event is free and open to the public. Parking is limited here, too.

If you can't make it to either of the launches, you still can follow the race at tourdeturtles.org Updates also will be posted on Twitter @conserveturtles and Facebook at www.facebook.com/conserveturtles.

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

June 28, 2018

Walt Disney World's pet-friendly hotel program to end Oct. 15


Last fall, Walt Disney World introduced a pilot program to allow dogs stay in hotel rooms at four of its resorts. That program is scheduled to end on Oct. 15 of this year, and Disney officials say there are no plans to extend it.

Guests who have reservations on or before Oct. 15 in the designated locations will be allowed to have their dogs stay through the end date of their reservations. (Cats are not part of this program.) When this program ends, the only pet-friendly lodging option on Walt Disney World property will be some of the pet-friendly campsites at Fort Wilderness.


Pet-friendly hotels in the test program include Art of Animation, Port Orleans Riverside, Yacht Club and the Fort Wilderness cabins. Guests can have a maximum of two dogs per room, and there is an additional cleaning fee per night per room of $50 at each hotel. (The fee is $75 at the Yacht Club, which is a Deluxe resort.)

The rooms are located in sections of the hotel with easy access to outdoor pet walkways for exercise and green spaces with pet relief areas. Disney has designated certain floors or sections of a hotel as dog-friendly, while the majority of areas have remained canine-free to accommodate guests with allergies or other concerns.

At check-in, guests receive Pluto’s Welcome Kit, which includes a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, courtesy plastic disposable bags, puppy pads, dog-walking maps and a Pluto “Do Not Disturb” door hanger. Housekeeping only is provided when guests are in their rooms and can be scheduled by calling. Dogs have to be quiet when left unattended in rooms; otherwise guests are contacted and have 30 minutes to address the issue. The Walt Disney World policy says that dogs should not be left unattended in rooms for more than seven hours.

While dogs will be allowed to stay in guest rooms of the designated hotels, they will be expected to be well-behaved, leashed in public resort areas and properly vaccinated. Dogs are not permitted on furniture in public areas. Additionally, only service animals are permitted in restaurants, Club lounges, pool areas, fitness centers and other public guest areas. The same is true of Disney Springs and the theme parks -- only service animals are admitted.

However, pets coming to stay at Walt Disney World are allowed to use some Disney resort transportation, including Magical Express and Minnie Vans. Dogs must remain in pet carriers during travel.


During Hurricane Irma last year – which struck Central Florida before this pilot program was in place – Walt Disney World allowed guests fleeing the storm to bring their dogs to the resort hotels. You can read about that experience here.

Going forward, if guests with pets are not staying at Fort Wilderness, they can board their dogs at Best Friend Pet Care, which is a luxury facility located on property.

June 26, 2018

SeaWorld Orlando's Infinity Falls ride: A look behind construction walls


Last week, AllEars.Net was invited to step behind the construction walls of SeaWorld Orlando’s newest attraction, Infinity Falls. No opening date has been announced, but officials are still saying it will happen this summer.

Infinity Falls is a water ride – only the theme park’s second – and is sure to be a welcome addition on hot summer days. What is going to set it apart is a lift (much like an elevator) that will take the eight-person rafts straight up in the air and then drop them 40 feet down a hill, which is the world’s biggest drop for a ride of this kind.

The ride has been retrofitted into an area around the former Terrace Garden Buffet restaurant. It has taken over the Sea Garden, where guests could meet with trainers and their animal ambassadors. No need to lament the loss, though, because animal interactions will continue to be a part of this area. The jungle theme of the attraction means that trainers will be out and about with animals such as a green lizard, an eagle and the oh-so-popular sloth.


The building still will house a restaurant, but it has been renovated and renamed Waterway Grill. It will feature South American cuisine, such as the Brazilian Churrasco (Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri & Garbanzo Frito) and Salpicao Brazilian Chicken Salad (Chicken, Ham, Raisins, Carrots, Apples and Olives Topped with Shoestring Potatoes) that were popular during the park’s Seven Seas Food Festival earlier this year. Waterway Grill will serve 20 craft beers, which brings the total number of craft beers in the park to 50.


“We are really excited about this [project] because it is a family friendly attraction as well and it gives us the unique aspect of being able to tell a freshwater story,” said Jeff Hornick, Senior Director of Theme Park Development for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. “We wanted to tell a little bit of a different story about rivers and streams and ecosystems that are so fragile, especially in the rainforest.”


Infinity Falls mimics a white-water river expedition and in doing so tells the story of the SEA Collective (Science. Exploration. Adventure.) that is exploring the jungle and comes upon this river. Riders will experience two stretches of the ride that feel like Class IV river rapids, as well as serene segments of water, before the grand finale with the 40-foot splashdown during the five-minute attraction. Passengers only have to be 42 inches to ride.


Hornick said riders can expect an “appropriate amount” of soaking on the attraction. In other words, don’t expect to stay dry! If by chance some do escape a dousing, visitors lining a bridge the rafts pass under can pay to squirt water on unsuspecting passengers.


Infinity Falls also will have a feature that allows guests with disabilities to be able to load at their own pace. Meanwhile, the ride has continuous loading and is expected to send about 1,000 passengers per hour on its course.


Lush landscaping and a flamingo habitat will set Infinity Falls apart. Hornick said they are creating the jungle atmosphere one tree at a time – for a total of about 700 trees. The largest tree lifted into the attraction by crane is a 22,000-pound ficus that will provide shade in the queue.


After riding Infinity Falls, visitors can explore the village that is the base camp of explorers and scientists. There are interactive activities that create a positive impact on freshwater ecosystems. Plus, a new gift shop, Whitewater Supply, is themed to re-imagine a commissary. A portion of the proceeds from Whitewater Supply and Waterway Grill will be donated The Everglades Foundation.

Guests also will find lockers for their belongings during the ride and haystack dryers for those who want to expedite drying their clothes.

June 23, 2018

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon brings Partysaurus Rex short to life with H2O Glow Nights


For the first time, Walt Disney World is hosting an after-hours, hard-ticket event at one of its water parks this summer. My daughter and I attended the opening night of Disney’s H2O Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon and really enjoyed it. I don’t always say this, but I think it is well worth the price of admission.


H2O Glow Nights are part of the Incredible Summer events at Walt Disney World, which feature characters from Pixar movies. (The most extensive offering is the Incredible Tomorrowland Expo at Magic Kingdom, which is based on the new “Incredibles 2” animated film.) Inspired by the Pixar short “Partysaurus Rex,” H2O Glow Nights take place after the park closes to day guests – from 8 to 11 p.m. – and feature a number of glow elements, special character meet-and-greet experiences, new event food and beverages, an adults-only area and a DJ dance party on the beach.


My family and I have had Disney water park passes off and on again for more than a decade and have gone to Typhoon Lagoon at various times of the year. Summer (obviously) is the most crowded. So, my first thought about these parties was “How in the world are we going to be able to do enough in three hours to justify the cost?” (H2O Glow Nights is priced at $50 for children ages 3 to 9 and $55 for those 10 years and older.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that three hours was plenty of time to do everything because Disney limits attendance at the party so each ride had no more than a five-minute wait. And unlike Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very-Merry-Christmas Party, ALL the rides are open during this party.


Guests with H2O Glow Nights tickets can enter Typhoon Lagoon as early as 7 p.m. Even though the party activities don’t start until 8 p.m., visitors can use this time to secure lockers, find chairs if they want a “home base,” have a bite to eat, go shopping or just get acclimated.


In addition to eliminating wait times, the other draw for H2O Glow Nights is that the parties offer a different experience with nighttime ambiance enhanced by neon “glow” lighting. My children and I have always considered “night swimming” to be a special experience and usually one that only happens on vacation. So, we would be sold on this event even if the glow aspect was not part of it.


It is, though. You will find glow lights everywhere from the DJ Rex Dance Party to environmental lighting throughout the park to special inner tubes added to Castaway Creek lazy river to glow cubes in party drinks. Guests can buy Typhoon Lagoon glow sticks for $2 apiece or you can bring your own. We even saw some creative guests who brought glow face paint. We’re doing that next time! Although the glow aspect has been incorporated seamlessly into the park for the party, it is a large water park and some of the effects get lost. I think adding even more glow effects would make this party better standout.


The DJ Rex Dance Party is continuous for the three hours with a 20-foot Rex the dinosaur blow-up on stage, family-appropriate club music mixes, dancing on the beach and contests, such as glow hula hooping.

There is also an adult-only area located near the old shark reef area called The Wharf. You have to be 18 years or older to enter the area, which offers a variety of music throughout the night. Adult beverages, such as Fred’s Purple Siren (Stoli Ohranj Vodka and Desert Pear Syrup blended with pineapple juice and raspberry puree), are sold at Hammer Head Fred’s Dive.


Speaking of party drinks … adult guests will also find glow drinks at Let’s Go Slurpin’. The specialty there is Black Light Cherry Lemonade: Grey Goose Cherry Noir Vodka, Odwalla Lemonade and Grenadine with a splash of tonic water.


Many of the restaurants are open during the party and most of what they are serving in on the day menu. However, there are a few dishes that are different for night. The IMPOSSIBLE Burger (meatless), which is topped with banana peppers and chipotle sauce, is served at Leaning Palms and is quite tasty. Also at Leaning Palms and Typhoon Tilly’s is the Backyard BBQ Sampler (choice of smoked beef brisket or pulled pork served with St. Louis ribs, smoked sausage, baked beans, cole slaw and Texas Toast. Surf Doggies has a Smoked Sausage (carmelized onions, house pickles, mustard and barbecue sauce) served with chips. At Happy Landings, guests will find a Banana Foster Sundae (vanilla ice cream, carmelized banana, rum and caramel sauce).


H2O Glow Nights also has Pixar character meet-and-greets. Woody and Jessie greet guests near Typhoon Boatworks, and Buzz Lightyear is stationed by Crush ‘n’ Gusher. Both have special glow sets, and a PhotoPass photographer will take photos and give guests a waterproof card so there is no need to carry a cell phone around a waterpark.


Tickets for H2O Glow Nights are less expensive than one day’s admission, which is $59 plus tax for ages 3 to 9 and $65 for 10 years and older. Having experienced both, my teenage daughter and I think the party is a great deal – and you get to skip the hot pavement and sunburn!

H2O Glow Nights take place on Thursday and Sunday nights through Aug. 11. There is a $6 discount for Annual Passholders: $49 for adults; $44 for children 3-9.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at its H2O Glow Nights. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.

June 21, 2018

Make your Disney cruise Incredible with these tips


Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” just set a new record for the biggest opening weekend for an animated film -- estimated at $183.2 million domestically, according to CNN.com. That, coupled with Walt Disney World’s summer event focusing on the movie, Incredible Tomorrowland Expo at Magic Kingdom, got me thinking about what Disney Cruise Line ships are doing – or could be doing – to get passengers in a Super frame of mind this summer.

All four ships show first-run Disney movies in their theaters and there is no additional admission charge. “Incredibles 2” is no exception. Simply line up with your snacks and enjoy the show! For “Incredibles 2,” families might want to add to the excitement by coming to nighttime viewings in new Incredibles pajamas. This will make bedtime with tired little ones easier after the show, too! An “Incredibles 2” family sleepwear collection is available on shopdisney.com and prices range from $16.95 for children’s sets to $29.95 for adult sets. There are even cute socks for $13.95 for kids and $15.95 for adults. Parents can surprise their little ones with “Incredibles 2” plush dolls to cuddle during the film. Each of the Parr family members –plus Edna Mode and Frozone -- is available on ShopDisney.com for $14.95 to $17.95. There are even Lamaze Incredibles 2 plushes for babies ($16.95) and ">Edna Mode Tsum Tsum minis ($14.95). Add that extra touch by bringing your own Incredibles-themed snacks, like the new Goldfish crackers I recently spotted at Target, or an Incredibles-themed bowl that you can purchase popcorn for onboard.


The Disney Cruise Line ships also host Jack Jack’s Incredible Diaper Dash, a high-speed crawling race. During the dash, babies don their race numbers and crawl to the finish line of a specially themed 20-foot track, fueled by music from the film and the cheers of spectators in the atrium. This Super fun event is offered year-round. Check your Navigator to find out how to sign up your baby or to just go and watch. The success of this event prompted Walt Disney World to mimic the race at the Incredible Tomorrowland Expo. (Visit our Instagram account to see a short video of the babies in action!)


On the Disney Wonder sailings to Alaska this summer, passengers can attend meet-and-greets with Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl on two days in the lobby atrium, and a Pixar Pals Party takes place at two times on one day on most seven-night voyages. The 25-minute dance party features the pair, as well as a slew of other beloved Pixar characters, in various dances including the Superhero Shuffle. Like other events in the atrium, guests can see the party from several decks. The Pixar Pals Party replaces the Pirates IN The Caribbean deck party for obvious location reasons but also because there is a noise ordinance when traveling through the straits in Alaska. This is an opportunity for passengers to dress up in costumes and ShopDisney.com has “Incredibles 2” outfits for the whole family.

Disney Cruise Line has a more relaxed costume policy than Walt Disney World, in that all ages may wear costumes at any time on the ships. Some restrictions are the same, though:

** “Guests are invited to wear costumes. Masks that completely cover a person’s face may only be worn when standing still at character photo locations and must be carried when moving around the ship.

** “Choose costumes that are not obstructive or offensive.

** “Toys or props that resemble guns, knives, or other related implements will not be allowed onboard.”

Not sailing on the Wonder? You still can make your own Super magic! Some takes a little planning and some doesn’t take any at all!

** The above-mentioned costumes can be brought on any ship to worn when you want. Perhaps you’d like to take a professional family photo in the lobby or just let the kids dress up for the Oceaneer Club and Lab.

** One of the things I’ve enjoyed on past cruises is putting together themed bags of small goodies for the family members we are traveling with. ShopDisney.com sells a customizable Incredibles tote bag that you can fill with anything you think your party might need.

** How about decorating your stateroom door? Tape cannot be used, so magnets are the best option. You can make your own from Incredibles printouts or search Etsy shops for talented graphic artists to do the work for you.

** Each ship announces passengers as they cross the threshold and into the lobby. You choose the names they announce, so feel free to be Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash or Jack Jack for the day.

What is your perfect way to celebrate the return of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash and Jack Jack?

June 19, 2018

runDisney announces new registration dates for 2019 races at Walt Disney World


Earlier this spring, runDisney put its registration on hold for 2019 events, saying it would be introducing a new process. That meant that all those registration dates that devoted runners had planned their schedules around being in front of a computer or on a device would change, too. We finally have the new registration dates.


Mark your calendars with these registration dates, beginning next month, if you want to runDisney next year:

** Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (Jan. 9-13, 2019): July 19, 2018, at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for general public; July 17, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and Golden Oak residents.

** Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend (Feb. 21-24, 2019): August 7, 2018, at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for general public; August 2, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and Golden Oak residents.

** Star Wars Rival Run Weekend (April 4-7, 2019): August 28, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for general public; August 23, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and Golden Oak residents.

** Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon and runDisney Kessel Run Challenge (Jan. 3 – March 31, 2019): August 28, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for the general public; August 23, 2018 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT for annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and Golden Oak residents.

The Kessel Run Challenge requires runners to complete within the pacing requirements the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon at Walt Disney World Resort and the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon at home. You must register for the runDisney Kessel Run Challenge plus the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon or Star Wars Rival Run Challenge in order to participate in the runDisney Kessel Run Challenge. Kessel Run Challenge participants will receive their Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon medals and Star Wars-themed keepsakes at the runDisney Health & Fitness Expo during the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend. Upon completion of the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon within the pacing requirements, participants will be awarded the Kessel Run Challenge medal.

Before these registration dates do arrive, runners can prepare for the new process by making sure they have a Disney account. This is the same Disney account that guests use for the My Disney Experience app and website and to make reservations, so many runners already will have these accounts set up. If you do, make sure you know the password! If you don’t, be sure to set up an account in advance by going to Disney.com or MyDisneyExperience.com With the new registration process, guests will be able to register multiple participants at a time and there will be extra payment options, including gift cards, available.

Participants registered for the 2018 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend will receive an email with instructions on how to link their current 2018 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend race registration to their Disney account and runDisney profile.

For more tips on registration, visit www.runDisney.com and opt in for updates.

June 16, 2018

Disney-Pixar's Incredibles 2: A spoiler-free review


The long-awaited sequel to “The Incredibles” is finally here! And although Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” doesn’t feel like the ground-breaking movie that the original was 14 years ago, it is well-worth seeing -- maybe even multiple times. Writer-director Brad Bird takes us back what to what made “The Incredibles” super – telling a story about undervalued superheroes and their family dynamic while giving us beautiful animation, thrilling action sequences and so many laughs.


“Incredibles 2” picks up where the original left off: After Dash’s track meet, the Underminer is attacking. The Incredibles -- Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), wife Helen who is Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teen daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) -- are still hiding that they are superheroes because using their powers is illegal. They can’t help but try to stop The Underminer when he unleashes a deadly drill on their city, though, and that leads to their being caught and the superhero program being dismantled.

While the parents are contemplating their future, an opportunity presents itself that has Elastgirl taking on the role of breadwinner while Mr. Incredible becomes Mr. Mom. Elastigirl’s new possible crime-fighting role leads to a family discussion about whether she should be publicly doing something that is still illegal. “If laws are unjust, there are laws to change them,” she says, also leery of leaving her family behind. But Mr. Incredible convinces her to go, knowing this form of government protest is necessary for the common good. This exchange will resonate with many audience members, given the current political climate in the United States. The script was written in 2015, as the stage was being set for today.


Watching Helen excel in her new role is sure to appeal to working mothers everywhere, and seeing Mr. Incredible’s struggle to manage his family duties will vindicate them – as well as give us all some laughs and touching father-and-child moments. Jack-Jack nearly steals the show with the unveiling of his super powers and subsequent harnassing of them.

My teenage daughter loved everything about “Incredibles 2” but when pressed to list her favorite aspect, she cited Jack-Jack and Bird’s sense of humor that kept her laughing throughout the film. She also found Violet’s teenage drama and Dash’s “new math” struggles relatable.


Crowd favorite Edna Mode (voiced again by Bird), fashion designer to the Supers, is back in this movie and in rare form. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) reappears, putting his amazing powers on display as well as his friendship with the Parr family. Plus, there are a handful of new superheroes. (Find out how you can see all the characters at the Magic Kingdom this summer in my previous blog about the Incredible Tomorrowland Expo.)

Of course, this movie is not just about family relationships but about the battle between Good and Evil. As such, the animation depicting the battles is nothing short of amazing. But even the everyday scenes of the 1960s the film is set in are improved, thanks to advances in computer animation technology. It really is a visual feast.

“Incredibles 2” is rated PG for its action sequences and some brief mild language. Except for very young children, I cannot imagine the action sequences to be upsetting. No deaths or shootings are shown, and the violence comes from physical battles between people or vehicles like a runaway monorail and some large-scale destruction. The villain, Screenslaver, could be considered scary with his mask, superpowers and flashing lights.

As has become tradition with Pixar movies, before the show we were treated to a short, wordless film of less than 10 minutes. Directed by Domee Shi, “Bao” is the first Pixar short to have a female at the helm, and it tells the story of a Chinese mother who is facing “empty-nest” syndrome with her child grown and on his own. It has many emotional moments and is a story I can connect with, knowing my oldest child is just a few short years from going off to college. My younger child, however, found some of the story unsettling. (I don’t want to spoil the big moment!) Who could not be tempted by the gorgeous spreads of Chinese food shown throughout the short, though? In any case, the short most definitely is food for thought.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Bao” and “Incredibles 2” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.

June 14, 2018

Walt Disney World chooses 15 local students for its Shining Stars awards


Walt Disney World has announced its 2018 Shining Stars recipients from among about 400 Central Florida students who were named Disney Dreamers and Doers last month.

The students originally were chosen by their schools for actions they took this past school year to inspire other students. Each of the 400 winners at schools across Central Florida was recognized with a medal, a certificate and four one-day theme-park tickets to use during the next year.

In addition, each Disney Dreamer and Doer was entered in the competition for Disney's Shining Stars. These awards are given to 15 students -- one each at the elementary-, middle- and high-school level in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties. Shining Stars receive Disney World annual passes for their immediate families for one year, Mousecar statues (Disney's version of the "Oscar" featuring Mickey Mouse), and certificates noting their accomplishments. Plus, the students and their families are invited to attend an IllumiNations Dessert Party at Epcot. Disney officials, not school principals, choose the Shining Stars.


Among this year's Shining Stars are students who have made community contributions by helping Hurricane Irma survivors; organizing fund-raisers to help the less fortunate; sharing the arts with those who are not exposed to visual art, music and dance; and volunteering at hospitals.

The 2018 Disney Dreamers and Doers Shining Stars are:

Lake County

Presli Sickels, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, 4th grade
Samantha Sapp, Pine Lake Preparatory, 8th grade
Jasmine Ramjeet, Leesburg High School, 11th grade

Orange County

Marissa Romeu, Prairie Lake Elementary, 5th grade
Maya Tharoo, Windermere Preparatory School, 8th grade
Evan Lorenzana, Colonial High School, 11th grade

Osceola County

Olivia Siegel, First United Methodist School, 4th grade
Gabriella Dali-Rivera, Florida Cyber Charter Academy, 8th grade
Juliet Cahow, Osceola County School for the Arts, 12th grade

Polk County

Wuesthoff, Boswell Elementary, 5th grade
Audrey Link, Resurrection Catholic Middle, 6th grade
Maria Del Carmen Martinez, Mulberry Senior High School, 11th grade

Seminole County

Jeremy Garcia-Abreu, Carillon Elementary School, 5th grade
Sydney Gross, Galileo Gifted School, 8th grade
Amber Lim, The Master’s Academy, 11th grade

So, how do you apply to become a Disney Dreamer and Doer?

It’s never too soon for students to take positive actions in their communities, but the application process historically takes place in the spring. Watch for information at your school or online.

The process begins when students are asked to nominate themselves or a teacher, counselor or peer can nominate them by writing a 400-word paragraph describing their achievements. The official rules state: “Although academic achievement and volunteerism are important, the Disney Dreamers and Doers program seeks to reward unique accomplishments in the following areas:

** positive action
** compassion
** empathy
** creativity

The essay is turned in to the school's principal by the school's announced deadline, and a school winner is chosen based on the strength of the essay. (Grammatical accuracy is not a factor.)

"Students may be comfortable in the spotlight, or shy away from it. Some take positive action that is visible; some actions may not be visible to many," the Disney press release stated. "We believe all students do good things and have the potential to be a Disney Dreamer and Doer. We look forward to hearing about students in each of these categories."

June 12, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy -- Awesome Mix Live! lands at America Gardens Theatre at Epcot for summer


“Guardians of the Galaxy - Awesome Mix Live!,” a musical show at Walt Disney World, debuted on Saturday, and it certainly appears to fill a need for not just movie fans but Epcot fans.

In recent years, the theme park has come to be known for its festivals that are largely centered on sampling new foods and beverages -- and live music. Summer is the only time when a festival is not taking place at Epcot (which makes sense with the oppressive heat), but it would seem like a bit of a letdown to not have a concert or musical performance to look forward to during a theme-park day that is designed to be more relaxing with guests strolling around World Showcase rather than racing from ride to ride.


To that end, Walt Disney World has added “Guardians of the Galaxy - Awesome Mix Live!” at the America Gardens Theatre in front of The American Adventure as part of its Incredible Summer offerings. Of course, it’s also a nod to the new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster that is being built in Future World and expected to open in time for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in 2021. (Driving into the Epcot parking lot, it was apparent how tall the building for the indoor coaster will be!)


The premise of the new Guardians of the Galaxy show is that representatives of Xandar have come to share their extraterrestrial culture with the people of Epcot, which is known to be a cultural epicenter on Earth. The Xandarian Chamber Orchestra has come to play music with Peter Quill (Star-Lord) as its ambassador. Gamora, the feisty elite fighter of Infinity Watch, also appears in the show, her first at Walt Disney World. She thinks she is with Quill to save the galaxy and he quips, “You are here to save the galaxy -- from bad music!” Baby Groot makes several on-screen appearances and serves as a DJ.


The 20-minute show gives older guests a trip down musical Memory Lane with five songs from the ’70s and ’80s. Like the soundtrack from the popular movie, the song selection helps draw audience members who might not be interested in the Guardians franchise. And the classic music also fits with the type of music that is played during Epcot’s festivals. The “galaxy’s greatest cover band” also shares its dance steps with the audience. On one number, Quill breaks down the moves so the audience can participate.


My teenage son and I attended the second show of the day, and although the theater was not full, there was a healthy crowd of people who seemed to be enjoying the performance. Based on our experience, you wouldn’t have to line up to get a seat. I would recommend not sitting in most of the front sections because you need to be able to see the whole stage to get the full experience, which includes special effects. There is a small catwalk and if you sit toward the end of it, you should be able to take everything in. We sat in the front row of the second section, which provided extra legroom and a good view.


“Guardians of the Galaxy - Awesome Mix Live!” is a high-energy, feel-good show that many Epcot guests will enjoy even if they are not fans of the movies. And if they are Guardians fans, it’s a fun opportunity to see the characters. Epcot does not offer a meet-and-greet with the Guardians characters, but you might see the band when they exit the theater and walk by during the break between the second and third shows.

“Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix Live!” is performed at 1:30, 2:30, 5:30, 6:45 and 8 p.m. daily through Aug. 19. Can't make it? Watch the show in our video:

June 9, 2018

SeaWorld Orlando debuts Touch the Sky dolphin show; Electric Ocean summer event returns


Electric Ocean, SeaWorld’s nighttime summer event, kicks off with a new dolphin and bird show, “Touch the Sky.” This show takes place only once each day, so you’ll want to plan to be at Dolphin Theater in plenty of time for the 5:45 p.m. show.


“Touch the Sky” is different from the daytime show, “Dolphin Days,” because there is less of an emphasis on educating the audience and more of a focus on entertaining viewers. “Touch the Sky” begins with high-energy music – all original, I might add – and lots of high-flying Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. They wow the crowd with jump after jump.


SeaWorld dolphin fans, like my teenage daughter, will recognize some of the same animal behaviors that are present in all the theme-park dolphin shows. But “Touch the Sky” combines them in new ways. For example, the dolphins appear to be dancing as they come out of the water vertically and use their flukes to propel them in figure eights. The show offers some thrills when a dolphin with a trainer balancing on his nose jumps high out of the water and both dive back in separately. And you can’t help but “ooh” and “aah” when the dolphins soar over their trainers in the water or jump in unison.


In addition to the dolphins, “Touch the Sky” features three types of Macaws: the Ruby, the Blue-Throated and the Blue-and-Gold. Natives of South America, these birds are endangered. While they swoop over the audience, the trainers explain how they have come close to extinction – there are only 300 Blue-Throated Macaws left in the world – and what each person can do to make a difference in the birds' lives.


As we have come to expect, the show closes with folks in the Splash Zone getting wet. Then, the trainers come into the theater and stand along the walkways so guests can talk with them and take photos -- an opportunity my daughter never misses. Because she hopes to one day work with dolphins herself, she likes to ask questions about their career paths. Most dolphin trainers have degrees in marine biology or psychology, we were told. And they all try to volunteer and intern with animals of all kinds from an early age.


When “Touch the Sky” ends, guests are encouraged to enjoy the extended summer hours with other evening shows and the Club Sea Glow at Bayside Stadium. Folks can hustle over to Sea Lion & Otter Stadium to see a presentation of “Sea Lions Tonite,” a hilarious show only presented in the summer. Clyde and Seamore take a trip to SeaWorld and parody other theme parks in the process. It’s shown only once each night – at 6:30 p.m. You also won’t want to miss the “Light Up The Night” show with SeaWorld’s signature killer whales at 8:45 p.m. at Shamu Stadium. In between, guests will find a colorful, loud dance party with different entertainers and a DJ at Bayside Stadium for Club Sea Glow, which takes place from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. when the last show of the night, “Ignite,” offers fireworks, fountains and flames.

Electric Ocean events take place on select nights through Sept. 2.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando to experience its Electric Ocean events. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.

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