April 17, 2014

'Ever After High' books target tweens with spinoff on princess fairy tales

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Tween girls who know the Disney Princess stories by heart and are looking to extend those fairy tales may be excited to discover the spinoff stories about the women's children. The "Ever After High" book series by author Shannon Hale debuted last summer and has quickly become popular with girls ages 8 to 12, including my own 9-year-old daughter.

The book jacket describes the trilogy this way: "At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens ... whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End -- both for a story and for a life."

The newest Ever After High book, "The Unfairest of Them All," was just released a few weeks ago, and it picks up after Legacy Day. Decisions made that day pit the Royals, who believe in fulfilling their destinies, against the Rebels, who want to write their own stories.

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The main characters are from the "Snow White" story: Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, and Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen. Through separate novellas, readers are introduced to others, such as Madeline Hatter, daughter of the Mad Hatter of Wonderland; Briar Beauty, daughter of Sleeping Beauty; Ashlynn Ella, daughter of Cinderella; and Hunter Huntsman, son of the heroic Huntsman.

Parents and young readers are likely to compare the wildly popular "Monster High" series to the new "Ever After High" books. After all, both are based on merchandise lines that feature dolls and other licensed products, and it's easy to see the promotions in the stories. Still, Hale's sense of humor keeps the books from feeling like one giant advertisement. For example, the students in Hale’s books use MirrorPods and MirrorPhones and listen to Tailor Quick and One Reflection. In addition, the focus stays on the relationships between female characters, rather than veering off into romance territory.

Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of nine children's and young adult novels. She won the Newberry Honor for "Princess Academy" and wrote the critically acclaimed "The Goose Girl."

The "Ever After High" series provides girls who aren't ready to give up their beloved princesses a fun way to delve into the stories again. And if these clever characters help cement an interest in reading, this is one parent who won't complain.




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April 14, 2014

How to create customized Easter baskets at Walt Disney World

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Guests visiting Walt Disney World for Easter this year have even more options than before for putting together gift baskets for their loved ones.

Disney Floral & Gifts has launched a Custom Gift Builder service this year that allows guests to create personalized Easter baskets -- and there are so many adorable choices! Each customer has the ability to select a container and all of the contents to tailor-make a gift.

Guests who like the look of traditional Easter baskets can choose a white basket with a handle or colorful felt baskets decorated with Mickey Mouse hands and the child's name. For those who prefer a container they can reuse, there are tote bags, backpack coolers, cinch sacks and Mickey Mouse-shaped trays. (You can see all the choices here.) Prices for the containers range from about $18 to $56.

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Next comes the best part -- picking out the treats, toys and plush Disney characters to fill the containers. There are more than 100 items that guests can add to their containers, and they are offered at a range of prices. Don't worry: the must-have chocolate bunnies, Peeps marshmallow chicks and various flavors of jelly beans are front and center! (You can peruse the basket goodies here.)

Not sure what to put in an Easter basket to make it look irresistible? You can choose from one of the pre-arranged baskets for boys and girls and personalize it by adding the child's name. (View those options here.) Prices range from $63 to $83.

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Disney Floral & Gifts delivers throughout Walt Disney World and also to many locations off property. Visitors can call 407-827-GIFT for more information regarding the delivery service area, and orders can be placed up to 2 p.m. for same-day delivery.

Disney Floral & Gifts is an online and phone service. In addition to it, beginning this week, Walt Disney World guests have another option for creating Easter baskets while on property, as well. In almost all the hotel gift shops, cast members will help guests assemble baskets. Customized baskets start with a white basket, green grass, shrink wrap and the choice of a bow -- pink, yellow, blue, purple -- for $7 plus tax. The rest of the price is determined by the toys and treats added to the basket. There is no charge for labor.

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So what are some of the more creative baskets cast members have seen over the years? A water-themed basket that featured goggles, beach toys and a swimsuit for the pool-loving child and a basket with a Disney Dooney & Bourke bag as its centerpiece for one lucky wife.

The Easter basket service will be available through Saturday, April 19, and gift shops also will store the baskets, if guests prefer.



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April 12, 2014

Deadline nears for Central Florida students to apply to be Disney Dreamers and Doers

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Elementary, middle- and high-school students in Central Florida have a shot at winning a day's admission -- or even annual passes -- to Walt Disney World. But they have to get moving because the first deadline is only days away. The prizes are given out next month when Disney bestows its Dreamers and Doers awards.

For more than three decades, this award program has recognized local students who have inspired others and made the world a better place. In return, The Walt Disney Co. hopes to inspire and reward the area's student leaders with the theme-park tickets and Disney-themed keepsakes.

Disney relies on each school in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties (plus the Florida Virtual School) to nominate one child for the honor of being named a Disney Dreamer and Doer. In total, there are about 400 students chosen to receive the one-day park-hopper tickets and certificates.

The process begins when students are asked to nominate themselves by writing a 300-word paragraph describing their achievements. These achievements don’t necessarily have to be academic. The official rules give these examples of student contributions: "strengthening their families; conservation/environmental projects; helping others; safety; school achievement in spite of barriers; improving their schools; serving as a role model for siblings/friends; or other positive actions."

Then, the student asks a teacher to champion his or her application by writing a 75-word endorsement. The two essays are turned into 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.)

Once a school's Disney Dreamer and Doer is chosen, he or she is entered in a larger competition, Disney's Shining Stars. April 25 is the deadline for schools to submit these applications. The awards are given to 18 students -- one elementary, middle and high school student in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties and from the Florida Virtual School. 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.

"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 states. "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."

Among last year's winners are a student who started a pajama drive for those in need, a student who dedicates his life to his autistic brother and a student who focuses on volunteering.

Schools will be notified on May 12 if their students are among this year's Shining Stars.



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April 10, 2014

Nintendo to launch Disney Magical World video game

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Beginning tomorrow, Nintendo is launching a new Disney video game -- "Disney Magical World" for its 2D and 3D handheld systems -- in North America. (A version of it was released in Japan last year under a different title, "Disney Magic Castle: My Happy Life.")

Like with many of its other video games, Disney relies on a stable of beloved characters to attract players to this new game. It's no secret that the brand has a built-in audience of fans who love the Disney stories, but the question is whether Disney Magical World also will attract gamers who are not uniquely Disney fans.

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In this game, the player can interact with more than 60 Disney characters, visit Disney-themed worlds, customize his or her character with hundreds of Disney-themed clothes and accessories, plant and harvest crops in the 100-Acre Wood and collect rare Disney character cards. It's a dream come true for a Disney fan, right?

My 11-year-old Disney fan began playing this game, and it took a while for his enthusiasm to build. He did like the option to play as a preset character or his own Mii that was stored on his 3DS. And customizing the representation of himself with the Disney accessories was fun. It begins with the first of 16 quests, when the player is asked to "meet with Mickey and friends in Castleton." Once they do join up in the virtual city, the player receives his or her own iconic mouse-ear hat.

Soon afterward, the player is gifted a reopened cafe in Castleton and the opportunity to customize it. To do so, the cafe's owner can earn money from sales or as rewards for doing favors for others. The money then can be spent at McDuck's, which specializes in furniture and accessories for the cafe. To keep things fresh, the merchandise selection changes each day at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time for the player. My son has his eye on the line of Stitch-inspired goods, including chairs, tables, rugs, a counter and luau-themed wallpaper.

This part of the game reminds me a lot of Disney's Club Penguin, where players play games to earn coins that they can spend to decorate their virtual igloos. That game model is common, but the simplicity of it often attracts younger players. (My son "outgrew" Club Penguin more than a year ago.) In fact, Disney Magical World is rated E for everyone, although the 3D mode is only recommended for ages 7 and older.

So, that first hour of game play can be tedious for older kids who have long mastered the simple tasks. Still, if they hang on, older players will be rewarded with the ability to explore the worlds of various characters and complete more challenging quests by collecting stickers. Additionally, the StreetPass function allows gamers to access what other players have stored in their cafes, and AR cards expand play, as well.

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One of the features my son liked best was the use of a daily and seasonal time elements. McDuck's is not the only place to use local time in game play. From 8:30 to 9 p.m. each night, a fireworks show takes place over the castle in Disney Magical World, much like the actual Disney Parks presentations. The game recognizes upcoming holidays, and it currently is decked out for Easter.

Disney Magical World is available on store shelves April 11 with a list price of $29.99 and also in Nintendo's eShop. A special 3DS XL with a Disney Magical World logo and a Mickey Mouse icon design on the cover is available exclusively at Walmart for $199.96. (The game is not included with the 3DS XL.)

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a review copy of Disney Magical World. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.



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April 5, 2014

Tips for using your Walt Disney World MagicBand with Disney Infinity game

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Disney Infinity fans have known since the game system launched that if they receive and use a MagicBand, they can unlock special theme park content once they get home. With the rollout this week of MagicBands to day guests -- meaning everyone has access to the RFID bracelets -- I thought it might be a good time to remind visitors about the hidden content.

The key to collecting the Easter eggs in the game, which the Disney Infinity player will be able to save for future use, is patience. They are unlocked as you play the game over time.

To begin, you'll need to start the game in Toy Box mode with a character on the base. Then, touch your MagicBand to the spot where a game disc usually is placed. Within a couple minutes, a message will flash on the screen indicating that the MagicBand has been detected.

Spoiler alert: If you want to be surprised by the bonus content, you'll want to stop reading here.

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In build mode, look for the first surprise, Dragon's Gate, which is the entry into the bonus content, and it also unlocks a flying, fire-breathing dragon. Dragons have a long history in The Walt Disney Co. -- from Maleficent’s dragon form in 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” to "Pete's Dragon" to Epcot’s Figment -- and most recently they were re-introduced during the launch of New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. On that day in December 2012, a dragon "flew" over the crowds, surprising everyone.
(You can see video here.)

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The dragon in Disney Infinity releases green capsules that contain the other Easter eggs during game play. It may take 10 to 15 minutes between drop-offs for each capsule to appear. The player should open each capsule when he or she sees it and save the content. The collection includes:

** Dragon's Domain, which includes "surfaces and objects inspired by the Disney Dragon."

** Dragon's Flight Sky, which is a new, mountainous and cloudy sky, perfect for the dragon.

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There is a fourth surprise, Dragon's Keep, that is not available on the Wii platform. You'll need Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or Wii U to access it. It's "a fantasy-filled Toy Box, for the Disney Dragon." This content gives the player a new, pre-built world to play in, and I have to say, it looks amazing. My family has a Wii, so we were unable to play in Dragon's Keep, but we have admired it in YouTube videos.

For those not familiar with Disney Infinity, here is a simple explanation of how the game works and what the pieces do. Beginning this month, the Phineas and Ferb Toy Box Pack is now available at retailers nationwide.

To read more about Disney Infinity, see my collection of blog posts here.



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April 3, 2014

Disney movie review: "The Pirate Fairy"

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SPOILER ALERT!

Everyone familiar with the Disney film classic “Peter Pan” knows that fairies and pirates have a history with one another. Now a new Disney movie release adds a little back story to the swashbuckling adventures of both Captain Hook and the easily piqued pixie Tink.

Disney's Tinker Bell movie franchise is back this week with its fifth installment, "The Pirate Fairy," a direct-to-DVD release. My elementary-school-age children have been following the series since it first started in 2008, so they were excited about Tuesday's launch. And apparently, they were not the only ones: When I visited our local Target store at 10 a.m., the sales clerk already was restocking the shelf after the first round of buyers had emptied it.

With engaging stories, vivid animation and memorable songs, it’s easy to see why the franchise is so popular with kids and families.

"The Pirate Fairy" introduces viewers to a new fairy, Zarina, a Dust Keeper who cannot resist the temptation to experiment with the fairy's all-important pixie dust. She is especially interested in the blue dust, which is the key ingredient in producing the massive quantities of pixie dust needed to allow all the fairies to fly. Fairy Gary, the pixie dust manager, cannot allow her tampering and puts a stop to her shenanigans, which leads Zarina to run away from Pixie Hollow.

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She doesn't give up, though, and returns a year later to steal the blue dust. Tinker Bell, Rosetta, Vidia, Fawn, Silvermist and Iridessa pursue Zarina to Skull Rock, where they are surprised to find out she is the captain of the pirates. At this point, the story begins to encompass more elements of "Peter Pan," and we learn some of the back story of the series that introduced us to Tinker Bell. For example, it's revealed that James, the cabin boy who is Zarina's confidant, will become the infamous Captain Hook. They must possess the pixie dust to make their pirate ship fly around the world as they plunder whatever they can steal.

Of course, the good and evil sides clash, leading to some harrowing battles and even some humorous moments. As a Dust Keeper, Zarina is able to aim different shades of pixie dust at the band of fairies, which changes their talents. Rosetta, the garden fairy, suddenly becomes an animal fairy. Tick-Tock, the baby crocodile, recognizes this and showers her with his affection, which leaves viewers laughing.

Directed by Peggy Holmes, "The Pirate Fairy" stars the voices of Tom Hiddleston as Captain (James) Hook and Christina Hendricks as Zarina, and brings back Mae Whitman, Megan Hilty, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symoné, and Anjelica Huston. The high-profile cast has been the subject of much anticipation since it was announced at D23 last summer. Hiddleston is a Disney film veteran who has starred as Marvel's Loki in the "Thor" movies and most recently played The Great Escapo in "Muppets Most Wanted." Hendricks is best known for her portrayal of Joan Harris on television's hit drama, "Mad Men."

The soundtrack for "The Pirate Fairy," which also went on sale digitally on April 1, also boasts the work of a well-known artist. Grammy-nominated Natasha Bedingfield performs an original song called "Who I Am," and the album will feature her previously released track, "Weightless," as well. Composer Joel McNeely created the original score for this movie, as he did the previous four films.

"The Pirate Fairy" moves the Tinker Bell franchise forward, giving families a fun and age-appropriate movie in the process. And, though the movie features plenty of antagonism between Zarina and the other fairies, this movie – like others in the franchise – also offers some entertaining lessons about how to overcome conflict and achieve reconciliation. It’s a perfect animated adventure that sails toward that fabled second star to the right as long as we’re willing to see it through the eyes of youngsters who know well the feeling of never wanting to grow up.



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April 1, 2014

Families: Don't miss these foods at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival

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Last year, after five years in the making, outdoor kitchens debuted at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The kitchens are similar to the popular kiosks at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, which serve up appetizer-size portions of dishes from around the world that normally are not available at Epcot.

For adults, the food and beverage set-up is a no-brainer. Who doesn't like to stroll, sip and sample? But for children, it can be more of a challenge to get them to give new foods a chance. In 2013, Flower and Garden Festival organizers offered younger guests a TRYit food or beverage at each outdoor kitchen, and Deb Wills and I took my kids, who were 8 and 10 years old at the time, on a food tour around World Showcase. You can see a video -- don't miss the bloopers at the end! -- and read about our experiences on last year's blog.

This year, we took a less formal approach and decided to just let the kids eat what appealed to them at each kitchen. As they have gotten older, my children look forward to the food component of the two Epcot festivals more and more. But I think even picky eaters can find foods that appeal to them in this setting, and it's fun to help decide what the family will try. In that spirit, here are some notes from what we enjoyed this past weekend:

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** My favorite, hands down: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Waffle with Pineapple Soft Serve (Dole Whip!) at the Pineapple Promenade kitchen. I love Mickey waffles and Dole Whips, so this was a perfect pairing for me. I suspect I'm not the only adult -- or child -- who will visit this kitchen for seconds.

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** At the Jardin de Fiestas outside the Mexico Pavilion, we tried the Taco al Pastor (Corn Tortilla filled with Achiote Marinated Pork garnished with Grilled Diced Pineapple, Onions and Cilantro) and the Quesadilla de Hongos con Queso (Flour Tortilla filled with Mushrooms and Cheese.) Although my son steered clear of the latter dish because of the mushrooms, which can be a common issue with kids, the rest of my family really liked it. The mild flavor and cheese appealed to my daughter. The first dish was a little spicier, but not so much as to deter her or my husband.

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** My daughter was already talking about the Candied Strawberries at the Lotus House when we entered the theme park, so I knew she would enjoy them again this year. The large strawberries are very ripe and juicy, and the crunchy, sweet coating makes them even more delicious. While we were at the outdoor kitchen in front of China, we also tried the Spring Pancake with Grilled Chicken and Green Apple again, and it was surprisingly flavorful. We definitely liked it better this year. I think this dish is something that would appeal to even the pickiest of kids, who are used to eating the protein and fruit separately.

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** Florida Fresh has brought back its much-talked-about Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, BW Farm Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction. If you missed it last year, don't miss it this year! The combination of the feta cheese and the watermelon is amazing, and even my daughter enjoyed the salad (minus the onions). Both kids tried the Watermelon Passion Fruit Slush at this kitchen, but didn't care for the flavor.

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** At the Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews, we all got our hands messy and enjoyed the Pulled Pig Sliders. (My husband and I kept the Cole Slaw on the sandwich, while our kids had theirs "naked.") My son and husband also enjoyed the Smoked Turkey Rib. Both meats have a tangier taste than, for example, the pulled pork sliders at the Hawaii kiosk of the Food and Wine Festival. Afterward, we all split the "Piggylicious" Bacon Cupcake with Maple Frosting and Pretzel Crunch. I didn't expect to like this dessert, but I really did. My children liked the cake, but their palates were not used to the unusual frosting.

** Next stop: Hanami in front of Japan. My son fondly recalled the Frushi (Pineapple, Strawberries and Melon rolled with Coconut Rice, served with Raspberry Sauce, sprinkled with Toasted Cocounut and Whipped Cream) from last year. He actually ate seconds when it was a TRYit food.

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** At Taste of Marrakesh near the Morocco pavilion, both kids sampled the Harissa Chicken Kebab with Couscous Salad. The chicken was similar to what was offered last year, and they both enjoyed the spicy flavor. They weren't as adventurous with the cold couscous salad.

By this point, we all were so full we couldn't eat another bite, and, unfortunately, there were several additional outdoor kitchens we had not visited. Still, we thought that starting around World Showcase in a counter-clockwise direction offered the most kid-friendly foods first.

We hope that some of our suggestions might help guide you and your family when you choose to sample what the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival has to offer. My children tended to gravitate toward many of the same foods they enjoyed last year, but, of course, every child has different food preferences. With the variety of choices, though, it shouldn't be difficult for everyone in the family to find something they like.

Kids TRYit! 2013 Style:



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March 29, 2014

A young model from Orlando helps Walt Disney World spread its magical message

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Recently, my family was excited to see that one of my daughter's friends was pictured in a full-page color ad for Walt Disney World in the Orlando Sentinel. And that piqued my curiosity about how child models are chosen for the company's advertising campaigns and what is involved with that experience.

In this case, Kayla Davis, who will turn 9 next month, is living out her own fairy tale. She began modeling at age 4, and her first photo shoot was for Disney, portraying a princess story time.

"It was truly a magical moment for Kayla," said her mother, Tammy Davis. "She was able to meet Jasmine and Snow White that day."

Tammy said that when Kayla expressed an interest in modeling at a young age, she decided to research what she and her husband could do to facilitate their daughter's dream. She cautions other parents who have children interested in modeling to take the time to find a reputable talent agency. One sign of trustworthy representation is that no fees are collected up front, she said.

The talent agency then handles the interaction between clients, such as Walt Disney World, and its talent, such as Kayla. So, for all the work Kayla has done for Disney World ads, she has not had to audition. Her agency forwards her information and photos when they see a job she might be qualified for, and then the client makes a request for certain models.

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For this most recent ad, Kayla had to be at the Magic Kingdom at 1 a.m. and work until 9 that morning. And although she was able to rest in between shoots, that's still a long night for a third-grader. To prepare, Tammy said she went to bed at 7 p.m.

Once she arrived on Disney property, her job began with having her hair styled and light makeup applied, plus a trip to the wardrobe department for the Belle shirt she is wearing in the ad. Kayla wore several different Disney Princess-themed outfits during the course of the shoot and thoroughly enjoyed that part of the experience, Tammy said.

During this particular shoot, Walt Disney World was showcasing its newest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest, as the backdrop for a hiring campaign. The ad reads, "I made her feel like the Belle of the ball. #IamDisney"

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Kayla was required to pretend she was eating in the Fantasyland restaurant, which can be seen in the final full-page ad. She also had to pose for a slew of photos in front of the entrance to the castle. While she was on the job, Kayla got to see a big scene of Beauty and the Beast dancing. She said that interacting with the characters is one of her favorite parts about Disney modeling jobs. The Florida native also was infatuated with the windows in the ballroom of Beast's Castle that depict snow falling.

Kayla has done more shoots for Disney than any other company, her mother said. It certainly would seem that Disney has a way of making dreams come true for both theme-park guests and even others living out their own fairy tales.



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March 27, 2014

Best foods to take home from Walt Disney World

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Many of us have our favorite foods at Walt Disney World -- those meals, snacks or sweets that we just *have* to taste as soon as we get the parks or hotels. What is it for you? Is it a world-famous Dole Whip? A Mickey waffle? A peanut butter-and-jelly milkshake? Or something more substantial, like the filet at Le Cellier?

Whatever your favorite Disney food is, if you're like me, you probably crave it between visits and may even try to recreate a version of it at home -- with varying degrees of success. Sure, Disney publishes wonderful cookbooks from its chefs, but wouldn't it be easier if we just took extra portions with us on our last day of vacation? Of course, that works better if you live locally or have driven to Walt Disney World and can pack your take-home food in a cooler.

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My absolute favorite thing to bring home from the Disney Parks are the caramel- and candy-covered apples. You can find them in several locations, including Big Top Treats at Magic Kingdom and Goofy's Candy Company at Downtown Disney, both of which feature at least five different versions at any given time. At, Karamell-Kuche in Epcot, the apples are covered in Werther's caramel. These treats are expensive, ranging in price from about $5 to $10 each, but they also are large enough to share, if you're willing. I have found that the apples travel well and stay fresh for several days if you do not ask to have them cut. They don't need to be refrigerated, either.

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It's pretty common to see families using their last snack credits on the Disney Dining Plan for the themed rice krispie treats that can be found in hotel gift shops and the parks. Who doesn't love these cookies that change designs seasonally and don't easily go stale? At this time of the year, guests will find Easter egg treats of all hues.

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The easiest foods to take out of the parks are the ones that are pre-packed and intended to go home with you or eaten at your leisure. Kids can find snacks such as Mickey Mouse-shaped crackers and snack mixes to bags of various candies. Parents might be more excited to find the Mickey-shaped pasta.

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Maybe the craziest foods I've taken home from Walt Disney World are the salads. I love the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad at Columbia Harbour House in the Magic Kingdom and the Wilderness Salad at Roaring Fork inside the Wilderness Lodge. Cast members are happy to put the dressing in a separate container and give you the salad in a to-go box. I've found this allows me to at least enjoy the salad the next day.

Of course, popcorn is fun food but you might not think of it as something that special to take home from the parks – unless you consider the fact that you can do so in a special commemorative plastic container that little kids will enjoy long after you leave the park.

The same concept applies to the drinks you can purchase at Animal Kingdom in an assortment of animal-themed cups. For youngsters, the apple juice tastes sweeter and the lemonade is cooler when it is being sipped through a straw atop a safari-themed menagerie of fun animal shapes.

Do you have a favorite food that you've been successful at taking away from Walt Disney World? Please tell us in the comments.



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March 25, 2014

Walt Disney World and Nickelodeon Suites offer summer Girl Scout events

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Two Orlando resorts are offering Girl Scouts the journeys of a lifetime. Walt Disney World and Nickelodeon Suites have separate summer programs, and registration is open now for both.

If Girl Scouts choose to visit Walt Disney World with their troops, they can learn about the the many disciplines that it takes to run the resort and how those principles relate to their own lives. Girls can ride Space Mountain with the lights on, learn the secrets of The Haunted Mansion and design their own roller coasters. And that's just for starters.

"2014 Girl Unite: Dream, Act, Change," a program sponsored by Disney Youth Programs for girls in kindergarden through twelfth grade, is back for its third year at Walt Disney World. Registration has just opened for the summer sessions, which run May 29 through June 28.

Girls Unite offers educational activities in the areas of leadership (dream), science & technology (act), and conservation (change) that are tailored to grade levels and give participants a taste of a different Disney park for each course. Daisies and Brownies can choose from "Exploring Disney Animation History," "How Things Move" or "Principles of Animal Behavior." Juniors and Cadettes can learn about "Discovering Marine Life Conservation," "Energy & Waves Physics Lab" and "Managing Your Personal Brand." Seniors and Ambassadors can opt for "Disney Leadership Strategies" or "Energy & Waves Physics Lab." Each program lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours. (Grade requirements are strictly enforced for the programs.)

Every Girl Scout who attends Girls Unite at Walt Disney World will receive a special patch appropriate for display on their uniforms. However, it is up to the troops to determine which classes fulfill requirement for specific badges and journeys. The Girl Scouts of Citrus, the Orlando council, has developed a step-by-step list of things to do at Walt Disney World that will contribute to earning badges. It's even broken down by level. Check it out here.

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Troops create their own experiences by customizing the length of stay, resort hotel, and more. The basic Girls Unite experience is a three-day experience -- Thursday through Saturday -- and includes one of the above programs and three days' worth of theme park admission tickets. Troops can add programs and more days in the parks at an additional cost. Because there are no blocks of rooms reserved for Girls Unite, troops choose whichever hotel best suits their budget. (Scouts are not required to stay on Disney property.) If the troop books 10 or more rooms, the participants are eligible for a discounted rate through Disney Youth Programs. There is no dining plan available with Girls Unite. To get started, go online to the planning website.

Troop leaders, parents, siblings and guests are eligible for Girl Scout event prices, but annual passes are not valid. One chaperone per five girls is allowed at the educational programs.

One change this year is the lack of social opportunities planned for Girls Unite. Last year, girls could add on the experience of a private dessert party, the Sweets and Swaps Social, at Epcot with a special viewing location for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, the nightly fireworks show. There also was a Kick-Off Sing-Along Dinner with character meet-and-greets, and special breakfasts.

Also in Orlando, the Nickelodeon Suites Resort is hosting its seventh annual Girl Scouts Thanks-A-Lot weekends from April 25 to June 8. The two-night weekend packages offer a Swap Exchange at the pool, plus other complimentary activities such as a self-guided scavenger hunt and karaoke, and a 2014 Girl Scout Patch. For an additional charge, girls can sign up for the Girl Scout Poolside Bash that includes lunch, slimings, entertainment and a character meet-and-greet.

The weekends of April 57-27, May 2-4 and June 6-8 are sold out. To register, visit the Nickelodeon Suites Resort website.



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