July 20, 2017

Spoiler-free details about Descendants 2 premiere tomorrow

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It’s finally here! Well, just about. In a little over a day, Disney “Descendants” fans will be able to find out what’s next in the lives of the children of infamous Disney villains when the sequel premieres. July 21 has been a highly anticipated date for many Disney Channel fans, including one at my own house. And now we have learned about a few surprises for fans, too.

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“Descendants 2” will air simultaneously at 8 p.m. ET Friday on Disney Channel, Disney XD, ABC, Freeform and Lifetime. And ABC announced this week that fans should stick around afterward for “Descendants 2: ABC After-Party,” which will air immediately following the sequel at 10:30 p.m. The principal cast -- Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Sofia Carson, Booboo Stewart and China Anne McClain – plus Director Kenny Ortega will take viewers on a visual and verbal tour of their experiences making the movie.

Expect to get a look behind the scenes on set and see some outtakes that didn’t make the final cut of the film. Plus, if you missed last week’s Disney Parks Blog livestream of the cast serving as grand marshals in Disneyland’s parade down Main Street U.S.A., you can see that, as well as the actors meeting fans at the red carpet premiere of their movie.

With the cast doing press for the movie’s release, we’re learning some details about the “Descendants 2” storyline, too. No spoilers here; just a few intriguing details! Dove Cameron, who plays Maleficent’s daughter Mal, revealed earlier this week that the movie will start with time jump of six months. Some of the characters are still struggling to fit in, though.

“My character Mal is actually having the hardest time adjusting, considering that she is the most villainous of them all,” the actress explained on “Live! With Kelly & Ryan,” according to peopleschoice.com. “It’s really not meshing with her so she’s trying on this whole princess cape persona to try to sort of fit in and be accepted by these people that she hopes to find a home with but she’s finding that it’s against her nature.”

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On the other hand, Sofia Carson told J-14.com that her character Evie has really grown up and is very happy being a fashion designer in the second film. She even has her own clothing line, Evie 4 Hearts. In real life, girls can find outfits inspired by Evie in the D-Signed collection sold at Kohl’s.

Brenna D’Amico -- who plays Jane, the daughter of Fairy Godmother -- revealed a few more details about “Descendants 2” to Variety.com. “There’s a lot more action — the sets are bigger, the music numbers are insane, everybody’s amazing, and the little love stories they’ve plopped in there,” she said.

The “Descendants 2” soundtrack also will be available tomorrow (July 21), and the DVD will be for sale Aug. 15. Bonus features will include:

** Cast Secrets - Personal secrets are revealed by cast members Dove Cameron (Mal), Cameron Boyce (Carlos), Sofia Carson (Evie), Booboo Stewart (Jay) and China Anne McClain (Uma) during the filming of the movie.

** Bloopers - The cast cracks up on set during some crazy takes.

** Deleted Song and More – Includes an extended song, a deleted song and two alternate endings.

** Descendants: Wicked World - A collection of all the animated shorts from season 1.

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Disney describes “Descendants 2” this way: “The Villain Kids are back in a high-stakes adventure that's badder than ever! When the pressure to be royally perfect becomes too much for Mal (Dove Cameron), she flees Auradon only to have Evie (Sofia Carson) and the rest of the gang sneak onto the Isle to retrieve her. But there's a new, self-proclaimed queen of evil in town: Mal's archenemy Uma (China Anne McClain), daughter of Ursula. Together with her pirate crew including Captain Hook's son Harry and Gaston's son Gil Uma unleashes havoc on Auradon! With swashbuckling action, amazing song & dance numbers and must-see bonus features, Descendants 2 rocks all-new ways to be.. W-I-C-K-E-D!”





July 17, 2017

Disney's new Star Wars hotel to allow guests step into story and role-play

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“Immersive” has been a buzzword in the theme-park industry for years, especially since Universal Orlando allowed its visitors to step into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010. The Walt Disney Company quickly followed suit a couple years later with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and new Fantasyland attractions in the Magic Kingdom.

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Now, Disney Parks and Resorts are taking immersive to a new level with the Star Wars-themed hotel that is being planned for Walt Disney World. The announcement came at the D23 Expo over the weekend in Anaheim, Calif. Details were not plentiful, but here is what we know so far:

** The hotel will be a luxury hotel. Many are assuming that means it will be on par with Disney World’s deluxe category.

** The hotel is a large part of the experience, not just a place to stay. Guests will feel like they are stepping into a place in the Star Wars story, not just a Star Wars-themed hotel.

** To accomplish that feeling of immersion, each guest will be given a storyline that shapes his or her experience.

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** Guests will wear Star Wars costumes during the experience.

** Hotel employees will play characters in the Star Wars story while performing their duties. That’s different from other Walt Disney World hotel staffs.

** This is advertised as a “multi-day adventure,” and it likely will be priced as such. Surveys given to guests visiting Walt Disney World indicated the price point could be $1,000 per person for three days and two nights. Disney has not announced an official price for the experience.

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** The hotel will be a spaceship in the Star Wars fleet. As such, there won’t be windows looking out to Walt Disney World grounds. Instead, each window will show space scenes. Some are speculating these fake windows could be like the popular magic portholes on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise ships that show changing scenes from the ocean.

To many, the opportunity to participate in this type of continuous role-playing in the Star Wars universe is a dream come true. Others – even those who enjoy Star Wars – may not be certain they want to spend their Disney vacation holed up in a hotel experience. So, I’m curious what YOUR family would do. Would you like to experience the Star Wars hotel? Will your family split up so certain members can enjoy it? If you do the experience, would you stay on afterward to go to the other theme parks? Tell us about it in the comments below.





July 15, 2017

Celebrate Christmas in July at Walt Disney World

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I always thought it would be fun to have a “Christmas in July” party, but who really wants to drag all the decorations down from the attic a second time each year? Now you don’t have to because Disney Springs is hosting holiday events this month.

Beginning today (July 15), and continuing through July 30, the Marketplace side of Disney Springs will be spreading holiday cheer with merchandise, entertainment and treats.

Here’s what to look for:

** Santa will be meeting and taking photos with guests, but it won’t be in his chalet that usually appears in November. Instead, he will be dressed in his summer vacation attire at Disney’s Days of Christmas each day from 1 to 10 p.m.

** Of course, Disney’s Days of Christmas sells Christmas merchandise year-round so you can get a start on your shopping or decorating for your home.

** A DJ will be spinning Christmas beats.

** Enjoy Your Face will add some sparkle with holiday face painting designs.

** The Disney Springs fountains will be decked for the season.

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** Don’t forget about the permanent holiday-themed Fab Five statue tucked behind Disney’s Days of Christmas that makes a great backdrop for Christmas card photos.

** Hot chocolate may be a staple at Starbucks, but the popular coffee bar also will be serving its holiday-themed drinks during the two-week celebration.

** At Goofy’s Candy Company, guests will find peppermint bark, gingerbread cookies, Santa Mickey and Minnie specialty apples (my favorite!) and krispy treats.

** Head over to AristoCrepes to indulge in a gingerbread crepe.

** Need a drink after all this holiday cheer? Dockside Margaritas is serving Snowflake Margaritas.

Admission and parking in two garages at Disney Springs are free.

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If you want to keep that holiday spirit going, perhaps a stop by the Winter Summerland miniature golf courses is in order. The facility is located near the entrance to the Blizzard Beach water park.

Winter Summerland has two 18-hole courses: the Snow side, where Santa and his elves seem to be getting ready for Christmas, and the Sand side, which shows how they spend his off-season.

Guests who choose to play the Winter Course will see their golf balls travel up and down ski slopes, through a campfire, into an ice hockey game, past a squirty Snowman, and even up a peppermint twist. Along the way to the North Hole, some of your favorite Disney characters can be spotted saluting you. After sinking the last putt on Hole 18, you'll get a special greeting from Santa Claus, thanks to the WinterNet and a computer.

On the Summer Course, expect to see a beach theme for Santa and his elves. Make your golf ball slip past the camper and roasting turkey without disturbing its residents. Hop over a creek, past the opening clam shells, around the sand buckets and surfboards, through a loop, over a sleeping Santa's belly and into a gigantic sand castle.

You can't go wrong with either course. Take a break in between rounds at Santa's "Winterbago," a converted trailer that is home to the starter booth, gift shop and snack stand. There are lots of shaded picnic tables nearby, and cast members even have hula hoops for the young and young-at-heart.

If you're looking for a unusual photo for this year's Christmas cards, be sure to bring your camera. There are so many fun backdrops -- beginning with a big red sleigh that guests can sit inside and the icon Santa on a surfboard holding his golf clubs.

Winter Summerland is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Prices are $14 plus tax for adults and $12 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 for 18 holes.





July 13, 2017

Interactive missions allow guests at Disney's Pandora to earn conservation donations

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Think you know everything there is to know about the new Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? I certainly thought I knew more than most after writing about this new land for years. Somehow, though, I missed the announcement of a new mobile interaction that allows each guest visiting Pandora to help determine how Disney will donate money to protect or restore animal habitats.

Here’s how it works: when you step into Pandora, you must have the My Disney Experience app open on your mobile device to participate in the new Connect to Protect adventure. One of Pandora’s ecological specialists, Fitsimti “Fits” Buckley, then will send you an instant message via Facebook Messenger. If you agree to an invitation to take on a mission in Pandora, Fits will direct you around Pandora, helping you find exotic flora and fauna and sharing messages about conservation.

There are several different missions, and guests do not choose which ones they will be offered. One of the missions leads guests to the beautiful Flaska reclinata at the entrance to Pandora. This large plant can “re-seed” itself on Pandora through guests’ touch.

The idea is that these missions lead guests to make a personal connection with the natural world and then they are inspired to take action in their own lives to make a difference when they leave the theme park. That call to action and message of stewardship are hallmarks of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the movie AVATAR, as well.

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Plus, “After completing one or more missions, you will unlock a $10 contribution from Disney Parks, through the Disney Conservation Fund, or a $5 contribution just for discussing conservation. You will then get to choose how that contribution will help protect or restore habitats important to one of 10 threatened categories of animals: apes, elephants, butterflies, coral reefs, cranes, monkeys, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks & rays, and tigers,” according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and the Disney Conservation Fund have made a commitment to donate up to $1 million with this initiative.





July 11, 2017

Review: Renovated Roaring Fork at Disney's Wilderness Lodge reopens

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Roaring Fork at Wilderness Lodge has long been one of my family’s favorite quick-service restaurants at Walt Disney World – so much so that, as locals, we have been known to drive to the resort just so I can have the popular Wilderness Salad for dinner.

For the last few months I have gone through a withdrawal while the restaurant was being renovated. It reopened last week, ahead of schedule, and in time for the official opening of the Copper Creek Villas and other additions to the hotel. So, my family went to check it out over the weekend.

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Those familiar with Roaring Fork will not be walking into an unfamiliar setting when they visit the renovated space. There are some changes to the set-up, though, that are definite improvements. I have to say, however, that the lunch/dinner menu was a disappointment for our family who dined there specifically for favorite dishes. More casual visitors without such expectations are likely to find Roaring Fork perfectly acceptable.

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Most of the changes at this restaurant center around streamlining operations into more of a grab-and-go location. In fact, that is exactly what happened to my favorite Wilderness Salad – it’s still available as a pre-packaged item in one of the expansive new coolers. Unfortunately, the salad just does not have the same flavors as when it is prepared fresh in front of each guest. Among other things, it’s difficult to keep nuts and croutons from becoming mushy in a refrigerator.

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My husband has always enjoyed the Roast Beef with Blue Cheese Sandwich, which was a hearty meal. The sandwich had a generous amount of roast beef and crumbled blue cheese in between focaccia bread. It was served with house-made chips or cucumber salad. That, too, has been relegated to the cooler, and it’s just not as appetizing as when it was freshly made. These two dishes were fan favorites, so I know we’re not alone in our disappointment.

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My husband and children decided to try sandwiches off the new hot menu. He chose the Brisket Cheeseburger, which has Tillamook cheddar cheese, cranberry barbecue sauce, cast iron onions, and apple frisee on sweet brioche. While my husband certainly found the burger acceptable, he said it just wasn’t a sandwich he would drive out of his way to go have.

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My kids both sampled the 10-Hour Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich, which is served with chipotle-apple barbecue sauce and creamy slaw on sweet brioche. Tater tots take the place of fries. My 12-year-old daughter said she really enjoyed her meal. On the other hand, my 14-year-old son who loves to try new barbeque recipes thought it was just average. (You can see the complete new Roaring Fork menus on AllEars.Net, including breakfast offerings.)

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What they did love, however, was dessert. When the manager realized my family’s food was taking a while to prepare, he offered each of us a dessert or pastry “compliments of Mickey.” Honestly, we did not think the service was especially slow, and we had not said anything about it. But, of course, we appreciated the gesture. I chose what has to be the cutest new cupcake on all of Disney property: the Campfire Cupcake. Everyone else in my family tried cookies and brownies.

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Certainly, service is something Walt Disney World is well-known for, and the new design of Roaring Fork minimizes wait times for hungry and busy guests. They no longer have to go to a separate counter to order food before paying. Instead, guests gather any pre-packaged items, drinks or desserts and head to the cash register. There, a cast member also takes orders for hot foods, which are then brought to the guest’s table when they are ready.

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When it comes to seating, guests will find both the indoor and outdoor spaces renovated with new furniture. Outdoor seating has been expanded and features a covering so guests are protected from the sun. Inside, the condiment bar no longer offers fresh toppings, such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions. But the soda machine has moved from the room where you order to the room where tables are. That, in my opinion, is a big improvement not just for this Diet Coke-loving mom but also for the greater good of cutting down on traffic congestion.

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Overall, Roaring Fork’s renovations have given guests a more streamlined dining experience. Unfortunately, those improvements mean that fewer foods are made to order and are, instead, available in coolers. Depending on your schedule, that could work in your favor. But I know I won’t be making the drive to Walt Disney World just to dine at Roaring Fork, as I have done in the past.





July 8, 2017

Clearwater Marine Aquarium visitors can meet Dolphin Tale actors this month

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If you or someone in your family loved the “Dolphin Tale” movies, this month might be the perfect time to visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the film was shot and Winter and Hope, the dolphins, live. The young stars of the movie -- Nathan Gamble (Sawyer), Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe) -- are visiting the aquarium again, and fans can meet them.

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Gamble will be at CMA July 22 through 25; Highsmith, July 23 through 28; and Zuehlsdorff, July 24 through 29. So, July 24 and 25 will be the only days when visitors can meet all three actors. The other days, they will appear singly or in combinations. For example, Gamble and Highsmith will be greeting guests together on July 23, and Highsmith and Zuehlsdorff will appear July 26 through 28.

Here is the schedule:

July 22 and 23 in Spectrum Theatre at Clearwater Marine Aquarium:
12 p.m. Autographs and Photos
2:30 p.m. Autographs and Photos

July 24 and 25 at Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure (downtown Clearwater):
12:30 p.m. Q&A Session moderated by David Yates
2 p.m. Autographs and Photos

July 26 through 29 in Spectrum Theatre at Clearwater Marine Aquarium:
12 p.m. Autographs and Photos
2:30 p.m. Autographs and Photos

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The trio of actors has made several appearances at CMA over the years to promote “Dolphin Tale” and "Dolphin Tale 2." My daughter was fortunate to be able to meet them a few years ago, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies.

If the meet-and-greets work the same way as ours did, CMA had one of its photographers there, and you have the option to purchase the professional images afterward as prints or digital images. You also could take your photos. The event itself is included in the price of admission.

When we visited, the three actors joined Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates for a question-and-answer session, much like the one scheduled later this month, that we attended. You can view it here.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It's not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find at the working hospital is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tale 2," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.

Included in your ticket to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is transportation and admission to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure in downtown Clearwater. This location shows images, re-creations and actual props from the movie. For a complete explanation of what you can do at the two locations, see my previous post.

NOTE: Prices and operating hours were correct at the time of that blog’s publication, but they have since changed. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at seewinter.com at a discount or in person at the box office.





July 6, 2017

Disney's Blizzard Beach to host Club Penguin Island event

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Fans of Club Penguin Island will want to visit Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World this month for a special day dedicated to them.

On Saturday, July 29, guests at the water park will have the chance to participate in lots of Club Penguin Island-themed activities, such as a penguin splash competition in the Ski Patrol area, coloring contests and a ‘snowball’ toss with water balloons, according to the Disney Parks Blog. The site promises more details will be released before the event.

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My children, who are now almost 13 and 15, spent a couple of their tween years enthralled with Club Penguin, so news of this themed day brings up a little nostalgia for me, and I can’t help but think how fun it might be for old and new Club Penguin fans.

Disney acquired the popular kids virtual world, Club Penguin, in 2007, and just this year closed the original site and launched Club Penguin Island in its place.

The new Club Penguin Island is not unfamiliar to older users, however. It’s still 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 can interact in a variety of ways, including messaging. Meanwhile, players embark on island quests, earn special rewards, and take on daily challenges to level up their penguins.

The big differences between the original and the new game are that Club Penguin Island now sports 3D graphics; it is only available on mobile devices; and it is primarily a subscription-based app. You can download and access Club Penguin for free, but most of the content is only available to paid users at $4.99 per month.

When Club Penguin Island launched in March, Disney sought to reassure parents that safeguards remain in place because the game is targeted at kids and tweens:

“Club Penguin Island maintains a strong commitment to providing a secure environment for kids, with a new safety moderation system that includes a chat filter. The updated chat function features unique emojis and 3D animations, and personal expression is easier than ever with a fashion-forward penguin customization system. Players will also have access to familiar reporting tools, which lets them self-moderate the community.”

Want to revisit a childhood favorite or help bring to life the online world your child wishes he or she could step into? Tickets for Blizzard Beach admission on the day of the Club Penguin Island event are $62 for adults and children ages 3 to 8 pay $56.





July 4, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando launches new Killer Whale Up Close Tour

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SeaWorld Orlando has introduced a new tour designed to give guests even more interaction with its animals. The Killer Whale Up Close Tour just debuted, and already fans of the park are giving it positive reviews on social media channels.

The new tour begins each morning with the participants meeting their tour leader at the Dolphin Nursery at 9:45 a.m. From there, the group heads to Shamu Stadium, which is where the entire program takes place. There is no behind-the-scenes component to this program; it all happens around the show pool.

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When the group arrives at the stadium, they head down to the lower bleachers and choose a seat to hear the educator talk about the orcas. Then, it’s time for what they have been waiting for – interacting with the killer whales. A trainer divides the tour group into three smaller groups, each of which is assigned to an orca. Trainers teach each group simple hand signals and each participant is allowed to use several with the orca and watch the results. Visitors do not feed or touch the killer whales during this experience, which is different from other up-close tours at SeaWorld.

Next, a SeaWorld photographer takes images of individuals and families with the whales “posing” underwater in the tank and some with the majestic animals jumping behind them. Visitors may also use their own cameras.

Then the tour moves to the slideout, which is the shallow area set slightly above water level where the orcas slide out of the tank. A trainer discusses training and husbandry, and participants have the opportunity to ask questions. Finally, a group photo is taken in front of the slideout with all three orcas up and out of the pool.

The Killer Whale Up Close Tour lasts about an hour, and the price ranges from $79 to $99 depending on the season. The pass member discount of 10 percent can be applied. Admission to the theme park is not included in the price of this tour.

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SeaWorld Orlando also offers another opportunity for guests to get closer to its beloved orcas: Dine With Shamu. If you’re trying to decide between the Killer Whale Up Close Tour and Dine With Shamu, here are some things to consider:

** As the name indicates, Dine With Shamu includes a meal for the human participants. It’s a buffet full of delicious, sustainable foods and kid favorites.

** Dine With Shamu takes place adjacent to one of the behind-the-scenes pools, so if getting a glimpse of something the public doesn’t see is important to you, this might be the choice for you.

** The Killer Whale Up Close Tour allows participants to directly interact with the orcas, and Dine With Shamu does not. Although you will be just as close to the tanks, you will not be giving the whales hand signals during dinner.

** Both presentations are educational with demonstrations but not choreographed shows.

** Both the Killer Whale Up Close Tour and Dine With Shamu last about an hour.

** Dine With Shamu costs between $26 and $34 per adult, depending on the season.

To learn more about Dine With Shamu, please read my blog about my family’s experience at the event.

If you’ve tried the new Killer Whale Up Close Tour at SeaWorld Orlando, tell us about it in the comments.





July 1, 2017

Lilo's Playhouse at Disney's Polynesian extends hours for daytime children's activities

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Beginning tomorrow (July 2), one of the most popular children’s centers at Walt Disney World will offer extended hours with complimentary activities for resort guests. Lilo’s Playhouse at Disney’s Polynesian Village will open during the daytime for families of kids ages 3 to 12 to experience together.

From 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, parents are invited to play videogames, watch movies and make arts and crafts with their little ones in the clubhouse. (The extended hours are not part of the nighttime babysitting service, so guardians must stay with the kids in Lilo’s Playhouse.) Most of the activities are free, but some special arts and crafts may have a nominal charge. Activities at Lilo’s Playhouse are open to guests staying at any of Walt Disney World’s hotels, not just those at the Polynesian.

In the evening, Lilo’s Playhouse will continue its immersive experiences for kids whose parents would like an adults-only night out. Modeled after the award-winning programming in the kids’ clubs on Disney Cruise Line ships, Lilo’s Playhouse and The Sandcastle Club at Disney’s Beach Club offer cooking activities, adventures in science and character interactions for ages 3 to 12.

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Disney cast members seek to entertain and educate kids with activities such as building a model volcano, watching the lava flow and then seeing the volcano explode. During Ratatouille’s Cooking School, kids will learn how to make some very special chocolate chip cookies and then sample their tasty treat! Brave children also will have the opportunity to train as pirates and then come face-to-face with Captain Hook.

In addition to the special programming, there still will be toys, games, costumes for playing dress-up, crafts, dancing and storytelling in Lilo’s Playhouse.

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Pricing for Lilo’s Playhouse and the Sandcastle Club is $55 per child from 4:30 p.m. to midnight. Your child can stay as little or long as you like, and it’s the same rate. Children who check in by 5:30 p.m. will be served dinner between 6 and 7 p.m. A snack also is included and served at 10 p.m.

Children must be potty-trained and able to feed themselves to participate. Payment is due at the time of booking, and cancellations must be made the day before to receive a refund.

Walt Disney World’s has two other children’s activity centers – Simba’s Clubhouse at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Camp Dolphin at The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. These locations offer supervised free play all evening, allowing kids to choose from games, playing dress-up, toys and arts and crafts.

Simba’s Clubhouse is open from 4:30 p.m. to midnight, and kids in the club from 6 to 8 p.m. are served a complimentary dinner of their choosing. The cost is $15 per child per hour with a two-hour minimum.

To make reservations for Lilo’s Playhouse, The Sandcastle or Simba’s Clubhouse, call 407-WDW-DINE.

Camp Dolphin operates with a few differences because of the hotel’s Westin ownership. The price is $12 per child per hour with no minimum, and a kid’s meal from Picabu can be included for an additional $10. However, each adult who orders an entree at Shula's Steak House, Todd English's bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the hotel earns two complimentary hours for a child at Camp Dolphin. This offer also applies to an adult who purchases a spa service at Mandara Spa. Children must be ages 4 to 12 to participate in Camp Dolphin.

Reservations are required for Camp Dolphin. To book, call 407-934-4000 or go online to the hotel’s website 72 hours in advance.





June 29, 2017

DisneyQuest offers deals for Florida residents, Walt Disney World passholders before it closes July 3

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As has been long announced, DisneyQuest at Disney Springs is closing. But now we are in the final week of operations with the last day on Sunday, July 2. And there are deals to be had every day except the last one.

Walt Disney World annual passholders – children and adults – pay just $19.98 admission. Florida residents pay $33.75 for adults and $29.25 for children ages 3 to 9 – a 25 percent savings. Proof of residency is required for the purchaser, but he or she can buy tickets for the same rate for up to five guests. Both types of discounted tickets must be bought at the DisneyQuest box office outside the attraction. They are not valid on July 2.

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DisneyQuest, a five-story arcade of video games and technology-driven activities, is closing to make room for the NBA Experience, which will include a restaurant and basketball-themed activities.

When the announcement of the closing was made in 2015, fans and visitors cited dated technology as the main reason they thought the gaming attraction had fared poorly in recent years. When DisneyQuest opened in 1998, the virtual technology seemed like the Tomorrowland of gaming. But with the increasing capabilities of smartphones, the facility lost some of its appeal, they said. Even classic games, such as Pac Man and Fix It Felix Jr. -- which was brought in to promote the animated movie “Wreck-It Ralph” in 2012 – didn’t capture the interest of enough vacationers to keep the facility full.

Still, in its heyday, DisneyQuest was a fun place not just for families on vacation, but for local kids and even couples on date nights. My family and I had annual passes to DisneyQuest for a few years when the kids were younger, and we really enjoyed it. We used those passes most often in the summer to escape the heat or the afternoon thunderstorms.

Among our favorite attractions were Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, a life-size virtual pinball game; Virtual Jungle Cruise, where guests sit in rubber rafts and use real paddles; and Ride the Comix, which requires players to wear virtual-reality helmets and engage in 3D battles. One section of the arcade is dedicated to children ages 2 to 7, and it features age-appropriate games and smaller versions of family favorites.

As my children got older and reached the height requirements, they became more interested in CyberSpace Mountain, which allows users to design their own roller coasters and then ride them in simulators; Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters, which are bumper cars that pick up and shoot balls at targets on other cars; and Pirates of the Caribbean -- Battle for Buccaneer Gold, which allows players to steer a pirate ship and man cannons against enemies while searching for treasure.

Plus, DisneyQuest is the last location for the Animation Academy after the one inside the Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios closed two years ago. On the same floor as the Animation Academy, visitors can participate in other creative endeavors, such as making music and other art projects.

DisneyQuest houses two restaurants. FoodQuest serves pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, wraps and assorted snacks. Wonderland Cafe offers various desserts, snacks, adult beverages and ice cream novelties. For a time, The Cheescake Factory ran the food concessions at DisneyQuest, but that hasn’t been the case for years.

You can see my photos of my family and I enjoying the various attractions in this gallery from when I worked at the Orlando Sentinel and when my kids were younger.





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