February 8, 2016

The Lion Guard Adventure brings new characters to Disney's Animal Kingdom

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How’s this for a variation on the circle of life? Animal experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park help ensure script accuracy with Disney Junior’s new program, “The Lion Guard.” And then they work on the tail end of the production – promotion of the finished product – with an activity inside the park. The Lion Guard Adventure debuted Sunday, and we were there to check it out.

Even though my daughter is no longer in the target age range of 2 to 7 years for the Disney Junior network, she still is interested in “The Lion Guard” and its presence at Animal Kingdom. After all, the show is a spinoff from the very popular 1994 animated movie, “The Lion King.” The franchise has had several related stories since its introduction more than two decades ago. Most recently, it has been continued with a one-hour movie, “The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar,” on Nov. 22, 2015, and then the Disney Junior series began on Jan. 15.

“The Lion Guard” centers on Kion (voiced by Max Charles), the son of Simba (Rob Lowe) and Nala (Gabrielle Union), who has taken on the role of leading a group of friends to protect the Pride Lands. Guests at Walt Disney World can take part in a scavenger hunt throughout Animal Kingdom that enables them to take fun photos with five characters from “The Lion Guard.” At the end, participants can earn a Lion Guard Mark of the Shield and become a member of the Lion Guard.

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To get started, we grabbed a complimentary map from a countertop display in one of the large gift shops near the Tree of Life. Guests can start and end their scavenger hunts with any of the characters – Kion, Ono, Bunga, Beshte and Fuli. This makes it convenient to play The Lion Guard Adventure simultaneously while going about your plans for the day. Also, because it’s a self-guided activity, The Lion Guard Adventure is open the same hours as Animal Kingdom. Be aware that the rewards, however, are handed out at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which opens 30 minutes after the park does and usually closes a couple hours earlier than the park. Check the printed daily Times Guide or MyDisneyExperience.com for exact times.

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In the character hunt, each character statue is marked with a Lion Guard flag, making it easy to spot. When guests find each figure, they are invited to take their own photos. (Disney’s PhotoPass photographers are not at these locations.) But please don’t do what we saw one family doing on opening day: The parents were encouraging their children to climb on the statues to pose for pictures. These statues are intentionally placed back into the foliage and not easily accessible. Not only is climbing on the statues unsafe for youngsters, but it also could damage the characters and ruin the photo ops for other guests.

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Then, participants are encouraged to take the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and head to the Conservation Station to take The Lion Guard Pledge:

“I promise
To use my keen eyes
To see right and wrong,
To use my roar, and
To be brave, fast and strong.
I will protect
My animal friends.
I pledge to the Lion Guard,
I will defend!”

Afterward, they are rewarded with a button that shows the Mark of the Shield, which is what the all Kion’s friends in the Lion Guard have. A PhotoPass photographer is stationed at this location. A cast member told me that guests do not have to participate in the scavenger hunt in order to be able to take part in the pledge and Mark of the Shield ceremony.

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The Lion Guard Adventure is really simple – for older kids and adults. For children ages 2 to 7, which is the target audience, it appears to offer them satisfaction without a lot of frustration. The Lion Guard Adventure certainly is not challenging for older kids, but they can still enjoy the scavenger hunt because it’s the only place at Walt Disney World to see these characters.



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February 6, 2016

More students eligible to apply for SeaWorld Orlando's 2016 Environmental Scholarships

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SeaWorld Orlando is aiming to help more local students pursue careers related to the care and conservation of animals and the environment with its 2016 Environmental Scholarships. Now in its second year, the program has undergone some changes.

Students who are chosen as recipients of SeaWorld Orlando’s 2016 Environmental Scholarships will be receiving more college assistance from the theme-park company than winners in past years. Instead of awarding $1,000 scholarships, SeaWorld is giving four winners each a one-time award of $5,000 to be used at any college or university they choose to attend.

In addition, the scholarship program also is open to more students than it was in 2015. Any Florida high school senior who has a GPA of 3.0 or higher is eligible to apply. Last year, the program was only open to students in Orange County, which is where the theme park is located.

The remainder of the application process is the same. Students must visit this page on seaworldparks.com to complete the application. The application consists of written questions about the student's plans to help protect the environment. Each applicant also must submit a video that summarizes his or her conservation plans. The video cannot be longer than 5 minutes and has to be uploaded to YouTube.

The deadline is March 31, 2016.

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All of the applications received will be evaluated by representatives of SeaWorld's Education & Conservation Team. They will consider originality, creativity, content, organization, neatness and the general presentation of the application.

The winners will be announced in the spring, and their awards will be presented by SeaWorld at the winning students' school awards ceremonies.

All winners will be notified by phone and/or email. Any award notification returned to the sponsor or its agencies as undeliverable will result in disqualification and the presenting of the award to an alternate winner. All application materials submitted become the property of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and none will be returned.

The fine print of the rules: Winners may be asked to complete photographic and video release forms. No substitution of awards will be offered and non-cash prizes may not be redeemed for cash value. The award money is intended to provide funding for the winners’ college education and may not be transferred to a third party or be used for unrelated purposes. By accepting an award, all representatives agree to permit SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and SeaWorld Orlando to use their name, voice, picture or other likeness for advertising, marketing, public relations or other promotional purposes in connection with awards program or otherwise without further compensations. Federal, state and local taxes on award money, if any, are the responsibility of the winners.

A global leader in animal care and conservation, SeaWorld has assisted more than 25,000 orphaned, injured or ill animals over the past 50 years.



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February 4, 2016

What you should know about Great Wolf Lodge and its plans to build near Disney World

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Who is ready for another water park option in Orlando? This one could be one at least partially protected from the elements, so visitors would not have to worry about scheduling their days around Florida’s daily thunderstorms in the summer.

Last week, it was reported in the Orlando Sentinel that an affiliate of Great Wolf Resorts bought about 50 acres of land near Walt Disney World. This came after the company told county officials in November that it was considering building its first resort in Florida.

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Great Wolf is about to open its 13th resort in Colorado Springs, and most of the existing hotels and adjacent indoor water parks also are located in climates colder than that of Florida. The attraction is, of course, being able to spend the day at a water park when it’s too cold outside to otherwise even consider putting on a swim suit.

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And these water parks aren’t just a pool slide and a lazy river with inner tubes. Great Wolf water parks vary by location, but common features include a thrilling six-story funnel ride; four-story tube slides; family raft rides; mat-racing slides; multi-level water fort with body slides; water basketball; and zero-depth entry to wave pools and play areas for toddlers. The water parks are only open to guests staying at the resort. A limited number of day passes can be purchased for friends of those staying at Great Wolf Lodge, but you cannot just walk in and purchase a day pass.

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Water parks aren’t all that Great Wolf Lodges offer, though. There are enough other family-friendly activities and dining options that guests say they don’t have to leave the property during their stay if they don’t want to. From spas that welcome children to miniature golf, a MagiQuest scavenger hunt, an awesome aracade, and arts and crafts, there is something or everyone. Each evening, an interactive story time with appearances by the Great Wolf Kids characters is held in the lobby, and families are invited to gather round in their pajamas. And there are several restaurants and take-away food options, including a pizza place, an ice cream parlor and an on-site Starbucks.

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As the name indicates, the hotels are designed to resemble cozy lodges. Fans of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge will feel right at home! Many of the rooms have rustic-looking bunk-beds that are enclosed in either a “camping tent” or a “log cabin” to give “wolf pups” their own space. And it’s pretty common to see kids in the hotel wearing wolf-ear headbands to indicate they are part of the “Great Wolf Pack.” Hmmm … did a certain mouse we know and love give them that idea?

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Great Wolf Resorts has several lodges in the Midwest, so I asked friends and family who live near the Cincinnati - Mason, Ohio, lodge and are repeat guests to tell me why they return time and time again, especially when the resort is not inexpensive. (Standard rooms start at about $200 and suites start at about $250 and go up from there.)

My friend Julie and her two children have stayed at Great Wolf Lodge six times. What keeps her coming back (in addition to the water park and other activities):

** “There are a lot of restaurant options in the lodge and rooms come with microwaves and refrigerators. I appreciate not having to leave the premises during our stay if we choose, especially since everyone usually has a wet head from being in the park or is exhausted from all the water fun.”

** "We lock up all electronics and usually go with another family. It is true family time playing board games, making forts, or watching movies.”

** “Service is incredible! Last year the Colts were playing in the AFC championship game, and I talked with a manager about big screen viewing options. He opened up their conference room and we watched it on a giant projection screen.“

My sister Jennifer, her husband, her two children and extended family have stayed at Great Wolf Lodge four times. The water park is a draw for them, too, but they also point out:

** “We like that it is right next to Kings Island [amusement park] so we can just walk over from the hotel.”

** “The lines aren’t as long as the ones at outdoor water parks, and it’s nice to be able to go back to your room or do other things in between being at the water park as well.”

** "There are lots of holiday activities and Great Wolf Lodge is beautifully decorated for Halloween and Christmas. When we went over fall break, there was trick-or-treating."

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Perhaps my biggest question, though, is whether Great Wolf Lodge can attract the same amount of business and loyalty in Orlando as it does in the Midwest. After all, the resort will be competing with world-class theme parks, water parks, hotels and other entertainment in a city that caters to tourists.

Would you plan an Orlando vacation that included a stay at the new Great Wolf Lodge? Please tell us in the comments.



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February 2, 2016

Insane Inflatable 5K a fun challenge in runDisney training

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Want to turn your runDisney training upside down? Runners and others looking for a different sort of fitness challenge might want to check out the Insane Inflatable 5K, which gives participants the opportunity to climb, bounce and slide their way through huge bounce-house-like obstacles.

The Insane Inflatable 5K, which is set up in various cities throughout the country, returned to Central Florida with a stop not far from Walt Disney World this past weekend after first appearing in Orlando in December. My 13-year-old son and his swim team, coach and some brave parents took part in the Insane Inflatable 5K on Saturday at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, so I’m sharing details about their experience in case you, too, would like to give it a shot.

The course will be set up in West Melbourne in two weeks, on Feb. 13. Then, the Insane Inflatable 5K travels to West Palm Beach on Feb. 20, Jacksonville on Feb. 27, Fort Myers on April 16, Palm Coast on April 23 and Sarasota on May 21. After a break for the hot Florida summer, it returns to Ocala, Tampa, Orlando and Miami in December. There also are courses set up simultaneously in many other states so check the schedule here.

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First, know that, like most races, registration should be done ahead of time at insaneinflatable5k.com, although there will be some on-site registrations available if spots are not filled up. There are a limited number of participants allowed per starting time, or wave, which you choose when you register. (The website shows how many spots are left for each wave.)Teams will want to make sure they pick the same wave and not wait until the last minute to register because start times are strictly enforced.

The full price of the race is about $70 per person, which I think most competitors would consider expensive. However, that price does include race insurance, a bib, a T-shirt, a medal, online access to any professional photos taken on the course and a snack after the race. Our group was able to use a Groupon to save about $20 per person, too, so be sure to check for your race there, as well. Remember that Groupons are only offered in limited quantities and for a set period of time, so don’t delay if you want to take advantage of an offer.

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There is no admission charge for spectators, who are encouraged to cheer on participants.

Once runners are registered, they will receive several emails with race instructions. You can choose to pick up your bib the night before the race, but because of the distance to the event, our team decided to wait until the morning, and we had no problems. T-shirts are distributed at the end of the race, so do not plan to wear yours during the actual event. At registration, you will be given a color-coded wristband for your wave that must be worn and you must sign a waiver – no exceptions.

As with runDisney events, each Insane Inflatable 5K runner can check one bag with things they don’t want out on the course, such as a phone, wallet and car keys. Coolers are prohibited.

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Then, it’s time to line up and get ready for your wave to go! When my son’s team ran, the participants seemed to be an even mix of kids and adults. There is no minimum age, but each runner must be at least 42 inches tall to participate.

They ran on concrete and grass to get to each inflatable, and there was hardly any waiting at each obstacle because of the well-planned starts. There are 1 or 2 water stops on the course, depending on the weather. The race culminates with an insane slide. At the bottom, finishers receive their medals, T-shirts and a bottle of water and banana to rehydrate.

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After the race, participants can visit the midway area, where food trucks, merchandise vendors, games and photo backdrops are available.

My son said he would do the Insane Inflatable 5K again in a heartbeat. He thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of the inflatable challenges and already loves running. After tackling the semi-seriousness of the recent runDisney 10K event at Epcot in January, he saw this event as a fun way for him to keep on his practice regime while he’s looking forward to something more serious and challenging in the fall – like the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. That will be a different kind of insanity, no doubt.



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January 30, 2016

Walt Disney Imagineering celebrates finalists in annual theme-park design competition

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UPDATE: The team with students from Ohio University and the University of Washington won first place for its Mickey’s Magic Garden project. Second place was awarded to the team from the University of Texas, and the North Carolina State University team earned third place.

Potential Walt Disney Imagineers gathered this week in California for the final step in a prestigious talent search that began in the fall. The annual Imaginations Design Competition, sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), celebrated its 25th anniversary by doing what it does best: turning the spotlight on the next generation of talented theme-park designers.

For this year’s competition, students from American universities and colleges were given the following challenge: “Design a traveling experience that will tour small towns across the United States so families who do not have the opportunity to travel to a Disney Park can have a Park experience. This temporary venue will operate in each community for two to three days, should take no more than a day to set up and break down, and embody the kind of family entertainment that Walt envisioned when he first built Disneyland.”

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Six teams were chosen as finalists, including one from the University of Florida. The news release from WDI describes its “Extravagizmo! Mickey’s Inventor Showcase” entry this way, “Uniting the timeless magic of Disney with the excitement of progress showcased at classic world’s fairs, “Extravagizmo!” proposes an extraordinary destination inspired by the possibility of the future. Through interactive, hands-on experiences, guests would join Mickey Mouse – and a new character created exclusively for the project – in a one-of-a-kind showcase of magic and innovation.”

Other finalists are teams with students from California State University, Fullerton; Columbus College of Art and Design; North Carolina State University; Ohio State University; Ohio University; The University of Texas at Austin; University of Florida; and University of Washington. Their projects invite audiences to “embark on an adventure to enliven a black and white world; go to camp with the beloved DuckTales crew; interact with Disney environments from “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” and “Toy Story”; take a trip through Mickey’s Magic Garden; and learn what it means to be a Scarer at Monsters University.”

Each finalist team was awarded a five-day, all-expense-paid trip to Imagineering’s main campus in Glendale, Calif. In addition to presenting their projects, while there, the students have opportunities to see where and how Imagineers work; network with Imagineers; and interview for paid internships. The winning team receives $3,000 (plus $1,000 for the sponsoring universities); second place is awarded $1,000; and third gets $500.

What exactly is an Imagineer? According to WDI, “Imagineers create immersive entertainment experiences, primarily for our theme parks and resorts. Every day, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.” More than 140 disciplines exist in the organization, including artists, architects, engineers, writers, machinists, landscape designers, model makers, sound technicians, carpenters, producers, accountants, filmmakers, schedulers, estimators and more.

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Disney Legend and Imagineering executive Marty Sklar founded the Imaginations Design Competition in 1991. My 13-year-old son, who hopes to one day be an Imagineer, had the good fortune to hear Sklar’s presentation “The Road to Imagineering” at the D23 convention in August 2015. Sklar introduced panelists whose paths to Imagineering varied but ultimately have led them to success. Two were winners of the Imaginations Design Competition: Daniel Joseph and Dex Tanksley. You can read about their winning projects and subsequent careers with Walt Disney Imagineering in my previous blog post here.

The project challenge for the 2017 Imaginations Design Competition will be announced this summer at disneyimaginations.com



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January 28, 2016

Disney movie review: 'The Finest Hours'

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Walt Disney Studios’ “The Finest Hours” delivers an exciting adventure appropriate for families that has enough action sequences to keep audiences on the edges of their seats. What it doesn’t give us, however, is another blockbuster about a tragedy at sea like James Cameron’s dramatically satisfying “Titanic,” and that’s largely due to the lack of character development.

The story certainly has the hallmarks of a Disney movie with its heroic actions and against-all-odds happy ending. “The Finest Hours” is based on a book of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman that tells the true story of the most daring rescue mission in the history of the Coast Guard.

“In 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston that was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast,” according to the film’s official description.

“Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Mass., Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.”

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“The Finest Hours” has many of the same elements as “Titanic,” most notably the story of a doomed ship and its passengers and the romance that introduces us to the main characters. Unfortunately, though, the overall effect is far different. “Titanic” spends the first half of its running time letting us get to know Jack and Rose, as well as many of the secondary characters. We see their forbidden romance progress from flirtations to declarations of love. By the time the Titanic begins to sink, we are fully invested in the film’s characters and feel their desperation.

Not so in “The Finest Hours.” We don’t know much about Bernie (Chris Pine) and Miriam (Holliday Grainger) by the time he heads out to sea to face deadly storms. The movie opens with their first date, and from that we glean that he is a tentative sort of man who likes to follow the rules and she is a bold woman who speaks her mind. These characteristics again become apparent when she proposes to him at a dance and when he leaves on what appears to be an impossible rescue mission. Despite the peril, we just don’t feel much for the separated couple.

The action sequences, however, do inspire us to experience all the feelings of panic, despair and, ultimately, triumph. Certainly these adventure scenes are the strong points of “The Finest Hours.” Director Craig Gillespie (who also directed “Lars and the Real Girl” and the 2011 remake of “Fright Night”) does well with the special effects of a stormy ocean, the tanker breaking apart and the blizzard conditions that make you feel like you are actually a part of those scenes. I saw the movie in 3D, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to enjoy it.

“The Finest Hours” is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of peril.” My 11-year-old and 13-year-old children were not at all bothered by those scenes. Only one man’s death was shown in the film, and it was not depicted in a gory way. Afterward, my son (the older child) commented that he found the death scenes in Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” to be more disturbing.

And perhaps that’s the crux of “The Finest Hours.” It’s got enough action to entertain audiences of all ages, but not enough detailed drama to affect them – or keep them coming back for another heroic voyage.

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



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January 26, 2016

Changing Walt Disney World dining reservations just got easier

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Making dining reservations at Walt Disney World just got a little easier. The resort has added a new tool to its online site that allows guests to make changes to existing reservations, which eliminates a lot of confusion and extra steps.

The introduction of its online reservation system in My Disney Experience gave guests more flexibility about when they could book their meals for upcoming vacations. They no longer had to wait for a phone operator, and reservations could be secured even after the phone line closed each night at 11 p.m. ET.

Still, there wasn’t the same comprehensive interaction that a guest would have had with a live assistant. In order to change a reservation, a guest first had to search for the new reservation. If it were available, the online system prompted the user to cancel the old reservation before it would allow the new reservation to be booked, if the times overlapped. (My Disney Experience will not allow a guest to book multiple reservations within the same two-hour window.)

For example, let’s say you made hard-to-get reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table when the booking window opened 180 days before your visit. As your vacation approached, local friends also decided that Spring Break at Walt Disney World sounded like a good idea and they’d love to join you for dinner. In the past, you couldn’t just add four more people to your reservation; you had to cancel your old reservation before confirming a new reservation and risk losing the original booking if the new one was snapped up before you could confirm it. The same scenario would occur if your day’s schedule changed and you needed to shift your dining time.

Now, however, the online system allows you to see what, if any, other reservations are available and makes the change you select at the same time it cancels your existing reservation. That’s definitely an improvement!

Dining reservations still can be made through the phone line (407-WDW-DINE) from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET.

Here are a series of screenshots to illustrate the step=by-step process of making a change:

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In other Disney Dining news, Walt Disney World has just announced a new discount for vacationers staying at a Disney value resort this summer. The Summer Meal Offer gives each person age 3 or older one free quick service meal per night they stay. Guests must purchase a Magic Your Way vacation package at a Disney Value Resort of at least three nights in length with at least two-day base tickets. Guests must arrive between 5/29/16 and 6/30/16 or 7/5/16 and 8/13/16.

Tip: If you plan to arrive on a date not covered in these weeks, you can book a split stay to take advantage of the deal. In other words, you make two hotel reservations so that you are checking in on a date that falls in the weeks covered by the Summer Meal Offer. Also, as long as you check in on a date that the deal is offered, you can take advantage of the deal for your entire vacation, even if you stay past the dates the deal is offered.

The Summer Meal Offer is NOT the same as the free Quick Service Dining Plan that has been offered at value resorts for fall vacations for the past several years. The Summer Meal Offer is just one meal (one entrée, one dessert and one non-alcoholic beverage) per night and there is no snack or refillable mug included.

The Summer Meal Offer is valid for stays at All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, Pop Century and Art of Animation suites. (It cannot be used or stays in Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation.) You must book by Feb. 29.



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January 23, 2016

Walt Disney World creates family fun at Orlando's Paws in the Park fundraiser, festival

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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. 13, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando hosts its annual event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lake Eola. Paws in the Park includes a pet walk, food trucks, 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.

Registration is ongoing now. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals for $10 each. Walkers can even register the day of the event and do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate. All registrants receive admission to Splash Dogs Dock Diving, the Doggie Fun Zone and the Canine Sports Arena at the event.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $25 to $1,000. They include such prizes as dog bandanas, Wolfgang Bakery dog biscuits, event T-shirts, car magnets, sports water bottle, drawstring backpack, and six-month and one-year supplies of Frontline Plus. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.)

Packs and individuals are encouraged to attend a “pre-registration” event at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, 2727 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 from noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 10 to turn in donations they have collected and pick up their prizes.

This year's top individual fundraiser will win a two-night stay at a Walt Disney World hotel for two people and two theme-park tickets with the Park Hopper option for two days. (The prize is valued at $1,470.)

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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 10:30 a.m.: “So You Think Your Dog is a Star?”, “Dogs with Jobs” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” 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 local pet resort Happy Paws hosts a Canine Sports area.

Entrance to park is free, but there is a charge to participate in the event activities. Those not joining the walk who would like to experience the other activities can purchase a $10 pass.

Vendors still have time to apply for a spot at the festival; the deadline is Feb. 3. All documents and fees must be received by the Pet Alliance in order for a vendor to be considered confirmed. Vendors can expect an anticipated crowd of more than 12,000 visitors for Paws in the Park.

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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January 21, 2016

Introducing 2016 Disney Parks Moms Panel and upcoming website changes

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Disney fans on social media channels have been taking note for several weeks as excited tweets and posts reveal those who had been given coveted spots on the 2016 Disney Parks Moms Panel. This month, however, The Walt Disney Company has officially revealed the full panel, and there are fewer new members than in past years. In its ninth year, the Disney Parks Moms Panel, which answers online readers’ questions about planning Disney vacations, will be working with a revamped website.

Competition for a spot on the Disney Parks Moms Panel is intense -- thousands apply each year. In fact, this year’s panelists were chosen from a “near record number of thousands of applicants last fall,” wrote the panel's creator, Disney Parks Director of Social Media Leanne O'Regan, on the Disney Parks Blog.

Only 10 new members were chosen this year, compared with 22 new panelists in 2015. They join more than two dozen returning members of the Disney Parks Moms Panel. The Disney Parks Moms Panel has evolved from its inception in 2008, but its goal remains the same: to provide vacation-planning advice from adults in families that are interested in and knowledgeable about the Disney properties. The Disney Parks Moms Panelists not only help plan magical vacations for guests heading to Walt Disney World, but they also answer questions about Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, Adventures by Disney, runDisney and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Despite the name, however, panelists are not just limited to those who are mothers -- dads and grandparents have been chosen, as well.

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Here are the newest members and their areas of specialization:

** Brandy Robinson; Euless, Tex. (Disney Cruise Line)
** Erin Karsman; Pittsburgh, Pa. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Jackie Psarianos; Richmond Hill, Ont. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Jennifer Reeves; Columbia, Mo. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Kiki Wong-Yee; Carmichael, Calif. (Disneyland Resort)
** Korliss Datcher; Birmingham, Ala. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Nancy Murphy; Alpine, Ut. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Priscila Noriega; Miami, Fla. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Ricardo Stella; Plainsboro, N.J. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Sally Bulavko; El Paso, Tex. (Disney Vacation Club)

The new panelists have diverse careers, and among the group are a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, realtor, professor, event planner, IT tech and digital marketing consultant. Three of the new panelists also speak Spanish and will be able to assist Spanish-speaking guests with questions, too. The Disney Parks Moms Panel is available in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

The Disney Parks Moms Panel members will be interacting with Disney guests on a redesigned website that is set to launch “later this winter,” according to a Disney news release. The Walt Disney Co. is improving navigation of the website, which is optimized for mobile devices, with a new topic search structure that allows users to access more than 150,000 questions asked by previous visitors and answered by the panelists. As always, visitors can get their own questions answered using the "Ask a Question" feature. In addition, the website will reflect a sense of community by showcasing trending topics and the most popular topics, allowing families to learn from each other's past experiences and inspire the creation of new memories.

"2016 is poised to be an exciting and transformative year for the Disney Parks Moms Panel," O'Regan said. "Not only are we welcoming ten motivated and diverse professionals to our esteemed forum, but we are also preparing to debut a new website experience in the coming months, streamlining the trip planning process and paving the way for what should be the most magical time of our guests' lives."



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January 19, 2016

Celebrate 10th anniversary of Disney Channel's 'High School Musical' with TV special Jan. 20

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Has it really been 10 years since the first “High School Musical” movie debuted on Disney Channel? My family and I remember it like it was yesterday, and I know we are not alone in our fond memories of the trilogy. The official anniversary is tomorrow (Jan. 20), and most of the cast returned to East High over the weekend to tape segments for special telecast of the movie that begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Disney Channel also will air “High School Musical 2” on Thursday.

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Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella Montez), Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay Evans), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan Evans), Corbin Bleu (Chad) and Monique Coleman (Taylor McKessie) gathered on Saturday to reflect on their “High School Musical” experiences, The Walt Disney Co. announced online. Although Zac Efron (Troy Bolton) was not present, he will appear in a pre-taped message to fans, the company website reported.

“High School Musical” was a surprise hit in 2006 that garnered 7.7 million total viewers in the United States, which was a record at the time for any Disney Channel show. When the sequel, “High School Musical 2” was released a year and a half later, it captured 17.2 million viewers, setting a new record for the highest number of viewers for Disney Channel and all basic cable shows. And the music was so popular that it became the first TV movie soundtrack to reach No.1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

Directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the “High School Musical” trilogy was credited by many as the vehicle that introduced a new generation to musicals. Not only did kids enjoy watching the musical, they wanted to perform it, as well. Disney Theatrical Productions licensed the script for local student theatre productions through Music Theatre International (MTI). In its first 15 months (2006-07), an estimated 2000 middle and high schools produced a licensed amateur stage production of “High School Musical,” according to Disney.

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My own children were not quite 2 and 4 years old in early 2006, and although they didn’t necessarily understand the story, they loved the music and choreography. Like so many other viewers, they couldn’t get enough! To their delight, Walt Disney World introduced a production to reprise the catchy tunes. It started with a “High School Musical” float that traveled up Hollywood Boulevard and stopped in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat. Cast members who looked like they stepped off a “High School Musical” set jumped down from the float to sing the popular songs and teach dance steps to kids in the audience.

The first moving stage show was High School Musical Pep Rally (which ran January - September 2007). It was followed by High School Musical 2: School's Out (September 2007 - September 2008), High School Musical 3: Senior Year (October 2008 - September 2010) and, finally, Disney Channel Rocks! (October 2010 - April 2013). You can see videos of each stage show in my previous blog post. Through each production, the anthem "We're All in This Together" remained a constant, and I'm sure, brought back memories for fans.

As such, we’ll be among millions watching the anniversary special, I’m certain. Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, summed up the appeal of the "High School Musical" franchise in his statement, “Seeing the cast of ‘High School Musical’ back together again reaffirms what made it special 10 years ago. It’s their optimism, their dedication and their extraordinary talent — as a group —t hat made this such an exceptional movie and cultural phenomenon. Ten years later, the movie continues to delight audiences around the globe, not just for its memorable song and dance numbers, but for its universal themes that continue to resonate with fans everywhere – express yourself, believe in yourself and always follow your dreams.”



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