September 19, 2017

Celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day today!


Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! And just a few simple “arghs” may bring you a pirate’s booty, Disney fans.

In previous years, anyone who dressed up like a pirate and visited a Krispie Kreme store was given a dozen glazed donuts for free. Unfortunately, the doughnut chain has chosen not to participate this year. (However, Krispie Kreme locations will be celebrating National Coffee Day the following week on Sept. 29 with a free coffee and a glazed doughnut for each customer, plus free coffee all weekend -- through Oct.1).

But back to today! Long John Silver’s locations are offering a free deep-fried Twinkie for anyone who comes in and talks like a pirate or is dressed up like one today.


And Disney fans still have plenty of ways to celebrate. At the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s PhotoPass photographers will have a unique MagicShot for guests today. Weather permitting, a photographer will be stationed across from the Pirates of the Caribbean clock tower from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Guests can pose there for a special image that adds a pirate ship in a bottle.

If you want other ways to celebrate pirates today (and any day), Disney’s PhotoPass captures images on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and adds a very special artistic frame to the image. If your junior pirate is chosen to train during Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial in Adventureland, a PhotoPass photographer will document their swashbuckling skills. Finally, those who visit the Disney PhotoPass Studio in the Marketplace at Disney Springs can ask a photographer for a pirate-themed virtual backdrop, such as a classic scene from the attraction.


While in the Magic Kingdom, don’t miss A Pirate’s Adventure. For this interactive experience, players head out on one of five possible quests to help Captain Jack Sparrow locate the Treasures of the Seven Seas. And, of course, there is The Pirate's League, which immerses guests in the swashbuckling world of pirates and their wenches by transforming them into new recruits for Captain Jack Sparrow's crew.

Younger pirates who aren’t traveling for this holiday might enjoy watching Disney Junior’s “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” episodes on the network’s website. Plus, children and their parents will find downloadable interactive themed activities and games. Kids can even create their own pirate names.

Older pirates can watch the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, including the newest installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (With Bonus Content) which is available on Digital HD from Amazon Video and iTunes today. (Oct. 3 is he release date for the DVD and Blu-ray versions.) In this fifth “Pirates” movie, Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the trident of Poseidon while being pursued by an undead sea captain and his crew.

September 16, 2017

Orange County (Calif.) students can apply to be Disneyland Dreamers and Doers



Disneyland’s Dreamers and Doers program, which recognizes local high school students who are making a difference, has returned for a third year. The application process is now open and continues through Oct. 13.

Students at all Orange County (California) high schools are eligible to apply by sharing their stories of how they are taking action for a brighter tomorrow in four focus areas: Live Healthier (make healthier living fun and accessible); Strengthen Community (bring hope, happiness and comfort to children and families); Conserve Nature (connect children and families with nature to build lifelong conservation values); and Think Creatively (nurture creative thinking skills to inspire children and families to create the future they imagine).

Applications can be downloaded now, and they must be turned in at each school’s main office by Oct. 13, and then the school will select up to two Dreamer & Doers. Here is what students can win:

** Each student nominated by their school will be recognized as a Dreamer & Doer and receive two Disneyland Resort 1-Day Park-Hopper tickets and a certificate of recognition. (Students can only be nominated once during their high school career.)

** From the nominated group of Dreamers & Doers, up to 35 students will be identified as Shining Stars and invited to attend a celebration luncheon with two family members and a representative from each of their schools.

** To inspire fellow students to make their school a better place, each of the students selected as a Shining Star will receive a $1,000 pay-it-forward grant for his or her school, as well as a Dreamers & Doers branded medal of recognition.

** Five Luminaries will be selected, and in recognition will receive a Disneyland Resort weekend prize package to enjoy with their families. They will also have the opportunity to select an Orange County non-profit organization of their choice to be awarded a $3,000 grant on their behalf.

** Shining Stars and Luminaries will have the opportunity to attend an educational symposium in spring 2018.

Ready to apply? Click here for the application, which asks each student:

** Please answer the following questions as they relate to your chosen focus area: Describe something you have done, created or innovated to solve a problem in your community or school and the quantitative impact your efforts have made.

** Describe how you engaged community partners and/or pulled together resources to help achieve the objectives stated in your answer above.

** Tell us how you could sustain and grow your community outreach efforts to make a lasting impact.

** Describe an influential moment in your life that led you to begin your community outreach efforts, or encouraged you to “keep moving forward”. Please answer as it relates to your chosen focus area.

** If given the opportunity to support a local charitable cause or organization in Orange County that directly relates to your community outreach efforts, which organization would you choose and why? Please be specific.

To be eligible to apply, students must:

** Be a current resident of Orange County, California.

** Currently attend an Orange County public, private or charter high school.

** Be in good academic and character standing, as verified by the high school.

** Submit a completed application to school administration by the specified deadline.

** Submit a signed form of authorization to use likeness, voice and/or written correspondence.

Disneyland’s Dreamers & Doers will be announced at the beginning of November, the Shining Stars in December, and Luminaries in January 2018s.

Questions can be directed to Disneyland Resort Corporate Citizenship at

September 14, 2017

What was it like to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel during Hurricane Irma?


During Hurricane Irma, the world’s longest-lasting powerful hurricane, AllEars.Net provided frequent updates about changes occurring at Walt Disney World as well as details from Founder Deb Wills about her preparations from Davenport, Fla. We hope you found those informative and helpful.

But did you wonder what it’s really like to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel during the storm? As a local living in Orlando, I hadn’t really considered evacuating to the hotel, but plenty of Florida residents did. AllEars.Net reader Sarah Rodenbeck was kind enough to share her family’s experience at the Art of Animation hotel.

Sarah has lived in the Tampa area for a decade with her husband, and now, two young children and dog Charlie (who you might have seen pictured on the AllEars.Net Instagram account over the weekend). She had this to say about her family’s decision to take shelter at Walt Disney World:

“We were originally planning to ride out the storm at home -- sandbags filled, supplies procured, cars filled up with gas, etc. But as the models changed and Irma kept shifting west, Tampa Bay was in her sights and Saturday morning it was announced we were now in a mandatory evacuation zone.

“The thought of driving north with two kids and a dog, stuck in traffic, with no guarantees of finding gas or lodging when we might need it was almost painful, and local shelters that took pets were rapidly filling up. So as my husband and I packed, the thought of finding a room at WDW came up and would be the answer to our dilemma - safe space, further inland, not too far from home. We knew their resort buildings were built to the highest code, they had backup power sources (generators and solar), and would continue to offer their usual level of service. What made it ideal was when it was announced the resorts were welcoming evacuees AND their pets!

“Checking online showed zero availability, but I was determined. Every time I passed the iPad I would hit refresh, hoping that someone would cancel so we could snag a room. Still no luck. So I started calling in between refreshing with the first two calls yielding no availability, but the third time was a charm -- a room just opened up in the Little Mermaid section at Art of Animation! I was so thankful; the stress of prepping, keeping calm for the kids, being under a mandatory evacuation order, and not knowing what would await us upon our return was taking its toll on me. As cliche as it sounds, I really needed that win.”

Once they checked into the hotel on Sunday, Sarah said everything was very well-run, as guests expect at Walt Disney World.


“Disney was great at keeping its guests informed (both on TV and with voicemails). Because the parks were closed, they brought the magic to us -- characters, dance parties, bingo, coloring. There was never not an activity happening. And all the arcade games were free!” (In-room movies were free, too.)

Some might wonder how everyone staying at a hotel with almost 2,000 rooms is fed during a hurricane – especially because supplies can be in short order when the storm is projected to affect residents throughout most of the state. When Sarah and her family arrived at the hotel on Sunday, they were able to purchase boxed lunches in the food court for $6 apiece. Each lunch included a choice of turkey or Italian sandwich, chips, a protein bar, a chocolate chip cookie, an apple and a bottle of water.

For dinner, the food court had only one entrance to minimize cutting and confusion, and switchbacks stretching back to the arcade were set up to accommodate guests. Sarah reported that boxed meals were still available as well as hot foods such as hamburgers, chicken tenders and pizzas. You can imagine how long the pizza line was! Still, Sarah said everything was handled efficiently. Guests also were able to make selections of sides and desserts from the coolers.

Guests had to observe a resort curfew of 7 p.m., which matched Orange County’s mandatory hurricane curfew. They were asked to stay in resort buildings after 7 p.m. but were not confined to their guest rooms. Once the hurricane threat was imminent that night, guests did stay in their rooms and were not cleared to come out until mid-morning Monday, when it was deemed safe.

“I never felt unsafe, and our room felt very secure,” Sarah said. “Even as the eye wall was overhead, we never lost power. Our windows never rattled, the door never shook, and save for some gusts of wind, we didn't hear a thing. If it wasn't for our building's alarm going off at one point, I have no doubt the kids would've slept through it all.


“The next morning we awoke to upended trees and landscape debris scattered about, but by mid-morning it was well on its way to being cleaned up. We were instructed to stay in our rooms, but nature called for the pets and many of us were out walking our dogs before curfew was officially lifted.


“We were asked to stay in our rooms until it was safe, so no breakfast. But late morning (11 to 11:30) they opened the food court to serve burgers and at noon offered even more hot food selections. They were well-stocked and the lines moved well.

“As far as experiencing a hurricane while staying at Disney ... I wouldn't recommend having to go through it, but if you must, Disney is the way to go."

September 9, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando helps evacuate dolphins from Florida Keys before Hurricane Irma arrives


If you live in Florida, like I do, it’s difficult at this point to concentrate on anything except Hurricane Irma. We are expected to start feeling the effects of this monster storm today, but many of us have been preparing for it all week, both at home and at work.

Those preparations include keeping animals safe, and SeaWorld Orlando is doing its part by rescuing animals from another facility. Because the Florida Keys are expected to take a direct hit, five Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins were transported from Dolphin Connection, a marine mammal organization owned by Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key to SeaWorld Orlando. Four team members from Dolphin Connection traveled with the dolphins and are caring for them at SeaWorld’s behind-the-scenes area.

Dolphin Connection is a marine life educational facility with interactive dolphin conservation programs. (The institution is accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA).)


Longtime readers of my blog know that my daughter’s passion for dolphins has led us on many adventures. One of them was a stay at Hawk’s Cay several years ago. Dolphin Connection is the only on-property resort dolphin program in the continental United States. There, guests can swim with dolphins and learn about dolphin and marine conservation. Even if resort guests choose not to book an interaction package, they can just walk along the dolphin lagoon and watch these magnificent mammals in the water.

“At Dolphin Connection we believe that experiential learning, meeting a dolphin face-to-face, encourages and motivates our guests to make difference on behalf of our planet,” the organization's website states.

Dolphin Connection was established in 1990, and its staff and animals have worked with a variety of world-renowned researchers to make groundbreaking discoveries about bottlenose dolphins. Their research has included defining the natural behavior of breeding dolphins; gaining a better understanding of dolphin reproduction; documenting and identifying newborn dolphin calf whistles; and gaining a better understanding of how pollution can affect dolphins.

The five male dolphins that were evacuated range in age from 13 to 43 years old and are expected to stay at SeaWorld Orlando until they can be safely returned to their home in the Florida Keys. Staff members from Dolphin Connection are staying in the Orlando area to monitor the animals during the storm.

September 7, 2017

Guests with food allergies can trick-or-treat at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party


Walt Disney World is well-known for its willingness to accommodate guests with food allergies. In fact, its chefs often go out of their way to prepare special dishes even when they are not requested. Now, the Orlando resort is offering another option for those with food concerns: allergy friendly trick-or-treating at its Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party events.

When I attended a party last week as an invited media guest, I decided to trick-or-treat using the new program so I could see how it works. I do not have any food allergies, but my 12-year-old daughter (who was with me) does have some food sensitivities and we both wanted to better understand the experience.


Guests who participate in allergy friendly trick-or-treating start the evening the same way any other guest does -- by asking for a complimentary bag on the Main Street bypass or at any candy station in the park. But the allergy friendly bags look different from the other candy bags that cast members are handing out. They are teal with the image of a single orange pumpkin, as a reference to the Teal Pumpkin Project, which was started to promote the inclusion of all trick-or-treaters during the Halloween season.



Guests – children and adults alike – take these bags to the candy stations throughout the park and exclaim, “Trick or Treat!” When cast members see the teal bags, they will give the bearers special teal tokens that say, “Please redeem for allergy-friendly treats.” Guests can choose to trade in the tokens at any point in the evening so they can begin enjoying their treats (like other guests) and continue trick-or-treating. There are three locations for redemption: in Liberty Square between Sleepy Hollow and the Hall of Presidents attraction, at the Town Square Theater or at City Hall.


I waited until the end of the night to exchange my tokens, so the only location open was City Hall. I was presented with a list of available treats (and their ingredients) and asked what I would like to receive. My choices included: Smarties, Gummy Worms, Gummy Bears, Jelly Beans, Ricemilk Chocolate Bars, Dark Chocolate Bars, Vanilla Honey Graham Crunchy Cookies and Double Chocolate Crunchy Cookies. There were even craft kits for those who wanted a treat that wasn’t a food item. I received a generous portion of all the items I asked for.



Guests who spot regular candy that they know they can safely consume in the trick-or-treat barrels also can ask cast members specifically for that candy along with a token. Cast members I encountered were happy to fulfill such requests. Remember, your party ticket includes unlimited trick-or-treating so it’s not an either-or situation, unless you need it to be. This worked for my daughter because she has some food sensitivities and not life-threatening allergies. If you are concerned about cross-contamination, though, this would not be a good practice because the candy you can safely eat is stored in a container of other treats you cannot.

Overall, my daughter and I found the allergy friendly trick-or-treating to be a fun experience and one that allowed all guests to participate without being singled out. The cast members were friendly and helpful, which we appreciated.

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Have you tried the allergy friendly trick-or-treating? Please share your experience in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.

September 5, 2017

Tips for 2017 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party


It still may feel like summer in Orlando, but at the Magic Kingdom, fall came early (as it usually does) with autumn decorations and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. My family thinks this is one of the best hard-ticket events at Walt Disney World and has been attending the party for more than a decade. As such, we have some up-to-date tips for families who want to make the most of their time and money.


The party only lasts for five hours – from 7 p.m. to midnight – so you’ll need a strategy in order to do most everything that’s important to your group. Our family focuses on the entertainment that is unique to the party because we can choose to experience other things at Magic Kingdom another day.

First, know that your party ticket allows you to enter the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m., even though most party activities do not start until 7 p.m. Early admission used to be a non-publicized perk and a tool to disburse the arriving crowds. Now, however, Walt Disney World touts the entrance time. You could, of course, use the extra time to experience attractions, but I think that three-hour window is best used to prepare for the party so you don't waste precious party time.

Once you enter the park, head straight to the Firehouse in Town Square so you can pick up a special Halloween card for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom virtual game. Each person will need his or her party wristband to collect the card, beginning at 4 p.m. Because this is the only time you can get the card, I recommend collecting it and using it on another visit. There was no line at about 6:30 p.m. on the day we attended the party.



Next, if you are interested in exclusive party merchandise, head into the adjacent Emporium store. In the center room, the goods are displayed in a section behind the cash registers. Cast members will allow a few guests – with party wristbands -- at a time to peruse and purchase items. This is a change from past years when the merchandise was not uncovered until 7 p.m. If you see something you like, don’t hesitate to purchase it because items can and do sell out later in the night. Other locations with party merchandise include Mickey’s Star Traders, Frontier Trading Post and Big Top Souvenirs.



After shopping, you can continue down Main Street, U.S.A., and into the park or backtrack a little and take the bypass route into the park. Near The Chapeau store in Town Square, the gates to a “back stage” area are open, providing guests with an alternative pathway into the park. The purpose is to alleviate congestion on Main Street with day guests leaving at the same time many party guests are entering. Cast members offer incentives for guests to walk this way, including a starter pack of Mars treats and the opportunities to take photos with party props and to purchase party merchandise from carts. If you don’t walk this way, don’t worry about missing out. The candy, with the exception of a granola bar, is the same that you will receive at the trick-or-treat stations; the merchandise is the same as what is offered at other locations; and the party frame photo prop is available in other PhotoPass spots later in the party. (At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party last year, guests were handsomely rewarded for choosing the bypass route with large, wrapped sugar cookies not available elsewhere during the party.)


Next, I would either recommend having an early dinner before the party starts or getting in line for one of the popular meet-and-greets. If having an actual meal (as opposed to grabbing snacks on the go) is important to your group, don’t waste party time; eat beforehand. There are limited restaurants open during the party, so having dinner beforehand also gives you more choices for your meal. This may be especially important to families with small children. If the food aspect is not key to your group having a successful evening, then I would suggest getting in line for Jack Skellington and Sally, the Seven Dwarfs or Moana, who is new to the party this year. Jack and Sally are in the gazebo behind Liberty Square, where Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen used to greet guests. The Seven Dwarfs can be found in the covered area in Storybook Circus adjacent to where Minnie Mouse meets. Moana is greeting guests on the wooden platform near the exit of Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland. Lines this year for these meet-and-greets routinely are about two hours, so if you do use your time before the party starts to wait, you’ll have more time for the other entertainment later. Plus, these character experiences have been known to start before 7 p.m. for guests with party wristbands.



Once the party starts, guests can begin trick-or-treating. This fun tradition is open to all guests, including adults, and bags are provided. Also, guests are invited to wear costumes, as long as they are family friendly. My own children love this tradition, which allows them to see the Magic Kingdom in a whole new way.


The big entertainment this year – Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, Mickey’s Boo-To-You Halloween Parade and Happy HalloWishes fireworks – are all scheduled a little later in the evening. Depending on your strategy, this may actually give you more party time. The first stage shows and parade are always more crowded than the later ones, so if everyone in your party can stay awake, choose later options. For example, you could choose to view Happy HalloWishes at 10:15 p.m. (the only time it’s available) and then grab a seat in the hub for the Hocus Pocus show at 10:45 p.m. and the second parade at 11:15 p.m. (There actually is a Hocus Pocus show at midnight, if you want to try to do something in between the fireworks and second parade.) That gives you at least three hours to collect candy, meet characters, go on rides and more.


What to do when the clock strikes 7 p.m. if you are saving the big entertainment until the latter part of the evening?

Here are a few suggestions:

** The Fab Five are decked out in their costumes, and lines to meet them typically aren’t as long as those for Jack Skellington and the Seven Dwarfs. We waited 30 minutes a couple years ago to meet Mickey Mouse, who actually talks to guests, and is in his Halloween costume. Mickey engages guests in conversation about their costumes and even strikes a pose himself.

** Check out the dance party in Tomorrowland, which features the Monsters University characters. This is not a meet-and-greet opportunity so characters don't stop and pose but you may be able to capture some fun candid shots.


** Trick-or-treat. There are candy spots all over the park so you can pick up candy wherever you find yourself.



** If candy is not your thing, try one of the specialty foods at the party: Jack Skellington Desserts, Haunted Mansion Portrait Desserts, Pumpkin Cheesecake Dome, Candy Corn Soft-Serve Ice Cream, Worms and Dirt, Pumpkin Mickey Waffles and Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Crisped Rice Treats and Vampire Mickey Brownies. My daughter loves the ice cream, and I enjoyed the waffles.

** Take advantage of short lines for attractions. You will be able to walk right on many of the rides, and others will have much shorter waits than a typical day. For example, we saw Seven Dwarfs Mine Train only had a 40-minute queue at one point. Some guests actually buy tickets to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party with no intention of experiencing the seasonal events. Instead, they plan to take advantage of the short waits for rides.


** Once it gets dark, get in line for one (or more) of several cool party-exclusive Magic Shots. (Magic Shots are photos that the professional photographers take. When you view it later on My Disney Experience, a character or other enhancement has been added to the image. For a detailed explanation of everything related to Disney’s PhotoPass, please read my newsletter story.) At the front of the park, in front of the train station, photographers take two pictures of each guest – one looking scared and one looking happy. The Headless Horseman, who starts Mickey’s Boo To You Parade, is added alongside the guests. I really like this image because this is the only time guests can get an image with the Headless Horseman. Check the party map for locations for other Magic Shots. Remember that the photographers on Main Street stay in place until 1 a.m., so you can take those last photos when the queues might be shorter.

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Have a tip or a question? Please share it in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.

September 2, 2017

Disney on Ice debuts re-imagined Dare to Dream show with Moana in Orlando



Disney on Ice returns to Orlando for six shows on Sept. 8, 9 and 10 – that’s next weekend! – and tickets are still available. This time, it’s a revamped version of the popular “Dare to Dream” production, which will be the first Disney on Ice show to feature Moana.

According to the official description from Feld Entertainment: “Celebrate what’s possible as the adventures of five daring Disney heroines spark the courage inside us all at Disney On Ice presents Dare To Dream! In her Disney On Ice debut, see how far Moana will go when she embarks on an action-packed voyage with mighty demigod Maui in a quest to save her island, become a wayfinder, and find her own identity. “

Typically, Disney on Ice shows feature a large cast of characters in various vignettes to appeal to a spectrum of fans, and “Dare to Dream” is no exception. The new production includes characters from “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella.” In addition, Mickey and Minnie host the show. Here’s how Feld Entertainment describes the rest of the production:

“Anna’s devotion to her estranged sister Elsa sets her on a perilous journey to mend their bond, and stop an eternal winter. Rapunzel breaks out of her tower and teams up with an unlikely companion, Flynn Rider, as she goes to great lengths to realize her dream. Armed only with courage, Belle befriends the enchanted castle staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s rough exterior. With help from her friends and a little magic, Cinderella is determined to make the wish in her heart come true. Hosted by Mickey and Minnie, discover why no dream is too big when we find the strength to shape our own destiny at Disney On Ice presents Dare To Dream!”

Disney on Ice “Dare to Dream” debuted in 2011. Previous versions of the production included segments and characters from “The Princess and the Frog” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

I have been to several Disney on Ice shows over the years, and I am still amazed at the new ways Feld finds to present the classic Disney stories. Although the choreography and costumes certainly are the main draws for a Disney on Ice show, the productions make good use of movable sets, special effects and unique props to keep audiences entertained. Changing patterns and colors of lights on the ice – and over sections of the audience in the arena -- help set the mood of each Disney story.

Disney on Ice productions often use small stages along the perimeter of the rink that allow characters to step up and interact with audience members, which thrills the children watching. The characters alternate locations, engaging different segments of viewers.

Every Disney on Ice production has a brief intermission (15 to 20 minutes) after the first hour. There is plenty of Disney merchandise to peruse during this time, or kids can have their faces painted or their photos taken with special backdrops. If the concession stand takes precedence during intermission, all of these booths are open before and after the show, as well.

Central Florida residents and visitors will be among the first to see the re-imagined “Dare to Dream” For years, Ellenton, Fla.-based Feld has used Lakeland and Orlando as a starting point for new Disney on Ice productions, and this tour is no exception. From here, the production travels south to Sunrise and Miami.

Tickets are on sale at the Amway Center box office or through Ticketmaster. Seats range from $16 to $100 plus fees per seat. Every audience member 2 years and older is required to have a ticket. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sept. 9; and 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 10.

August 30, 2017

Tips for families at 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival


The 2017 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins tomorrow – and lasts a mouth-watering, record 75 days. My family and I look forward to this special event every fall. For years, my children, who are now a tween and teen, have enjoyed sampling the new foods and perennial favorites. We have learned a few tips and tricks over the years that we think will help other families maximize their time and increase their enjoyment of the festival. Here are our top suggestions:

** The day and time you visit the World Showcase promenade for the festival makes a huge difference in how your experience will play out. The best time to go is at 11 a.m. (when the food booths open) on weekdays to avoid crowds. However, that’s obviously not practical for families with kids in school. So, if you must go on the weekend, opt for Friday afternoons and evenings or Sunday mornings. The most crowded days by far at the festival are Saturdays, when many locals visit Walt Disney World.

** Another strategy for avoiding the thickest crowds is to start sampling foods and beverages farther around World Showcase, rather than at the front of the 1.2-mile loop. Take the Friendships Boats across the lagoon to either Germany or Morocco and begin your culinary tour at one of those countries. Bonus: Parents of young children know that even Disney transportation counts a ride in kids’ minds and is cause for excitement!

** If you plan to be at Epcot at park opening at 9 a.m., you can still enjoy several Food & Wine Festival activities, even though the marketplaces do not begin serving until 11 a.m. The Festival Center is located in Future World at the front of the park. There, families can walk through the Ghirardelli Chocolate display, which includes amazing sculptures made of chocolate; demonstrations of the process of turning the bean into a bar; and samples for each visitor. Guests also can see a short movie about the making of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as well as shop for exclusive merchandise, visit a snack station, or attend a cooking demonstration in the air-conditioned center.


** When you get to Epcot, purchase festival gift cards that include the wristband. If your children are old enough to trust, allow each to wear one of the gift cards. My kids always get a kick out of paying, and it’s easier for my husband and I, too. If you do not want your children handling the money, the wristlet gift cards are still a good idea for the adults because it means not having to dig through your purse or wallet to pay at each marketplace. Swipe and then eat!


** Get a festival passport – available at the Festival Center or each marketplace -- for each family member. There are stickers included to commemorate each marketplace you visit, and kids usually love to do this. The passport also lists all the menus, so you can keep track of what you have tried and make your Bucket List for the rest of the festival.


** Walt Disney World is again offering its passholders each a collectible gift for visiting the Food & Wine Festival. This year, there are three buttons with designs based on Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” and guests can collect one per visit. Annual passholders must present their pass and a photo ID before receiving a button.


** Finally, Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game returns and takes family members on a scavenger hunt around World Showcase as the little chef collects ingredients for his signature dish. Maps and stickers for this interactive game can be purchased at several locations, and the price includes a surprise that is rewarded when the map is redeemed before the end of the festival. (The 2017 surprise is different from the pins participants could choose from in past years.)

The 22nd Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs through Nov. 13. Admission to the festival is included with regular admission (or annual passes) to Epcot.

Coming soon on my blog: Favorite festival foods for families. (Try saying that quickly five times!)

August 29, 2017

What's new at 2017 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party


I have made no secret over the years that Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is one of my favorite events at Walt Disney World, and that hasn’t changed even as my children have gotten older. If you’re like me, though, you like to know what’s new so you can make sure to sample those offerings as well as your annual favorites. Here a rundown of what you can expect:

** Party dates have started earlier than ever this year – in August! The second party is tonight and another happens Friday night.


** The Main Street bypass is open again at the start of the party, and there are incentives for walking that way. Located just past Chapeau Hat Shoppe are gates that open to a “back stage” walkway that has been dressed up and is used regularly for crowd control. In this case, Disney officials want to lessen traffic on Main Street, which gets very congested with day guests leaving and party guests arriving. To encourage arriving guests to take the alternate route, cast members stationed on the bypass hand out extra candy and photo opportunities are available. This year, guests can also buy event T-shirts there, avoiding the lines in the gift shops.

** There are a few new character meet-and-greets at the 2017 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party nights. Moana from her self-titled movie is greeting guests in Adventureland near the Swiss Family Treehouse exit. (For a few months, she did greet guests at Hollywood Studios, but that set has ended, so this currently is the only opportunity to meet Moana.) Also, Ariel in her blue dress (and human legs) will be meeting guests with Prince Eric near her attraction, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, at the back of Fantasyland. (At past parties, Ariel as the mermaid was greeting guests in her grotto.)

** This year’s event-exclusive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card features The Country Bears in a “Moonlight Jamboree.” Pick one up when you first enter the park so you don’t forget or get busy! Stop by the Firehouse in Town Square and show your party wristband to collect the card, beginning at 4 p.m. For the last few years, a cast member has been standing outside the Firehouse, ready to hand out cards, and there was no line. Because this is the only time you can get the card, I recommend collecting the card. You can always use it on another visit to enhance your game.

** Trick-or-treating candy spots are marked and listed on the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party paper map. However, some guests who attended the first party of the 2017 season have indicated there was an extra candy spot set up inside Stitch’s Great Escape attraction in Tomorrowland. The attraction is only open seasonally so that looks like a fun way to see the inside. My daughter is dressing up as Scrump this year, so we definitely will have to go to this spot if it is open at other parties. Also, if it’s been a few years since you’ve attended the party, know that the treat trails are a thing of the past; candy is collected at individual stations now. I miss being able to fill my treat bag quickly, but there is no shortage of candy during the evening, that’s for sure.

** Speaking of sweet treats, there are special desserts available for purchase only during the party. Look for:


Jack Skellington Dessert (Sleepy Hollow): A vanilla panna cotta, chocolate cake, vanilla buttercream, white chocolate and dark chocolate crisp pearls, dark chocolate curls and a white chocolate Jack Skellington.


Haunted Mansion Portrait Desserts:

Aloha Isle – A chocolate tart filled with chocolate ganache and topped with Oreo panna cotta and a white chocolate Haunted Mansion-inspired portrait.

Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies – A chocolate tart filled with raspberry compote and topped with white chocolate mousse and a Haunted Mansion-inspired white chocolate portrait.

Liberty Square Market – A chocolate tart filled with chocolate ganache and topped with peanut butter icing and a Haunted Mansion-inspired white chocolate portrait.

Storybook Treats – A chocolate tart filled with lemon curd, strawberry compote and topped with strawberry mousse and a Haunted Mansion-inspired white chocolate portrait.


Pumpkin Cheesecake Dome (Main Street Bakery and Gaston’s Tavern): Served with a graham cracker streusel base, orange white chocolate glaze and a white chocolate Mickey.


Candy Corn Soft-Serve Ice Cream (Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies)

Pumpkin Mickey Waffle (Sleepy Hollow): Served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles and caramel sauce.

Worms and Dirt (Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café): A chocolate gravestone with chocolate cake and chocolate mousse with a chocolate glaze topped with Oreo crumbs and gummy candy.

Chocolate Crisped Rice Treats and Vampire Mickey Brownies (Outdoor vending and kiosks).


** Finally, for the shoppers among us: Of course there is event-only merchandise, including T-shirts, MagicBands, ornaments and trading pins. The MagicBands glow in the dark and the box they are packaged in smell like chocolate! Annual Passholders can purchase an exclusive logo T-shirt and a limited edition pin with Hades from Disney’s “Hercules.” Disney previewed a line of Sanderson Sisters from “Hocus Pocus” merchandise, but it was pulled from shelves before the first party. No word on whether the merchandise will be sold this season.

Shirts Below are Buy One Get One 40% OFF

And that’s it … plenty of new mixed with old favorites. Happy Haunting!

August 26, 2017

How to celebrate Halloween 2017 at Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando


This year, Orlando’s big theme parks are starting their Halloween celebrations even earlier than past years. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando each offer different experiences for guests of different ages and interests. Here’s a look at ways to celebrate at theme parks, beginning this week!


What: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Where: Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Dates: Aug. 25 and 29; Sept. 1, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26 and 29; Oct. 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29 and 31; and Nov. 1.

What is offered: Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is the one Orlando experience that is designed for guests of all ages. Unlimited trick-or-treating throughout the park for children and adults alike is a big draw. Plus, party nights are some of the few times that adults are allowed and encouraged to dress in costumes, so you will see a lot of fun group themed costumes. Many popular characters will be dressed up, too! Each evening also features special Halloween entertainment, including Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade; Happy HalloWishes fireworks; the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular stage show; and the Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball. (Note: Because Happily Ever After fireworks now are shown on a nightly basis, the holiday versions of Wishes fireworks are the only time the popular show can be seen.) Admission to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is limited to a smaller number than the daily attendance so partygoers can expect much shorter lines for rides and attractions.

Tip: Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party activities run from 7 p.m. to midnight, but guests with party tickets can enter the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m. and enjoy regular attractions and entertainment. See the AllEars.Net resource page for more tips and details and check out my blog in the coming weeks for more previews and reviews of the 2017 party!

Prices: Adult tickets range from $69 plus tax to $115 plus tax, depending on date, advance purchase and annual passholder or Disney Vacation Club discounts. Children ages 3 to 9 are $64 plus tax to $110 plus tax.


What: SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular

Where: SeaWorld Orlando

Dates: Sept. 23, 24 and 30; Oct. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29

What is offered: SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular is mainly aimed at younger children and their families with its daytime hours and addition of Sesame Street characters that aren’t usually seen in the park. Visitors can see The Count, Elmo, Abby and others on stage in “Sesame Street’s Countdown to Halloween” or book Count von Count’s Spooktacular Breakfast. Families can enjoy unlimited trick-or-treating throughout SeaWorld Orlando and visit a Halloween Dance Party or Penelope’s [the Pumpkin] Garden Party. Also, look for a Halloween version of the popular Pets Ahoy show. One of the best parts about this party is the sheer number of characters mingling with guests compared to the handful that you might otherwise encounter. And the sea-themed costumes are truly beautiful! Perhaps the biggest draw for SeaWorld’s event, though, is that it is included in the price of regular admission, unlike at the other two Orlando parks. SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular starts at 11 a.m. and runs to park close on Saturdays and Sundays of the event.

Tip: All guests are welcome to dress up in costumes, although only those 12 and younger are allowed to wear masks. In addition, face painting is not permitted on any guests unless it is done by park artists. A sweet deal: face-painting touch-ups are free all day on the day the painting originally is done.

Prices: Single day tickets for ages 3 and older are $99.99 plus tax, but you can save $20 by purchasing online at least one day in advance. Or purchase a Fun Card for $99.99 plus tax for ages 3 and older and get unlimited admission for the remainder of the calendar year, including the Christmas celebration.


What: Halloween Horror Nights

Where: Universal Studios park at Universal Orlando

Dates: Sept. 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29 and 30; Oct. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31; and Nov. 3 and 4.

What is offered: As the name indicates, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights is designed for those guests who like and want to be scared. Make no mistake: It’s not for the faint of heart! It’s terrifying, gory and contains elements that are not at all appropriate for children. This event is best suited to brave teens and adults. The hallmarks of Halloween Horror Nights are the themed haunted houses, creepy scare zones and outrageous stage shows. It’s pretty normal for the houses, based on such popular shows as “American Horror Story” and “The Shining,” to have queues up to three hours long. To minimize your wait, arrive early. The event officially runs from 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., but they often start letting guests in as early as 6 p.m. If you are a day guest, you will be allowed to remain in a holding area inside Universal Studios between 5 and 6 p.m., which means you’ll beat even the early birds. Or, if you have extra spending money, purchase a HHN Express Pass for about $80 that allows you to skip the lines.

Tip: No masks or costumes are allowed because guests could be confused with performers who roam the street scare zones. As Universal boasts, “Your own terrified face will be enough.”

Prices: Tickets range from $59.99 plus tax to $83.99 depending on date if purchased in advance with the UPC code from any can of Coca-Cola products. Tickets at the box office are $109.99. There also are Frequent Fear Passes for guests who want to attend more than one Halloween Horror Nights.

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