May 25, 2017

Legoland Florida offers discounted annual pass that includes 6 Orlando attractions

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Several Orlando theme parks discount their annual passes or offer extra perks as an incentive to purchase during the end-of-the-year holidays, but one park is having a flash sale this month in time for the busy summer season. Legoland Florida will launch its biggest deal of the year on May 26 – $50 off the Awesomer Annual Pass, which offers admission to six separate attractions, including Legoland Florida and Legoland Water Park.

From Friday, May 26 through Monday, May 29 — or while supplies last — Legoland will sell the Awesomer Annual Pass for just $99 plus tax (regularly $149 plus tax). It provides a full year of unlimited admission to Legoland Florida, Legoland Water Park, The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds Orlando, SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando and Atlanta’s Legoland Discovery Center. Plus, the Awesomer Annual Pass includes free parking at all attractions; 10 percent off Legoland hotel, food and beverages, merchandise, VIP experiences and Premium Play bands; 15 percent off six guest tickets to Legoland; and a welcome kit with collectible bricks.

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To be among the first to take advantage of this limited-time sale, visit www.LEGOLAND.com/memorial-sign-up. Those who sign up in advance will receive an exclusive email with a link and discount code as soon as the sale goes live May 26.

The $99 price will be available online only for a maximum of six Awesomer Passes per transaction and cannot be combined with other offers or discounts. Passes must be activated in person at LEGOLAND Florida Resort within 60 days of purchase.

Current Awesomer Annual Pass Members can renew at the same $99-plus-tax rate through May 31. Awesome and Awesomest Annual Pass Members also can renew to an Awesomer Pass at the same discounted rate.

The Awesome Annual Pass offers one year of admission to both Legoland Florida and Legoland Water Park, plus Bonus Brick Time (early park entry) and park discounts. The Awesomest Annual Pass includes everything offered for the Awesomer Pass plus one year of admission to all Merlin attractions in the U.S.

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My children went to Legoland Florida several times when they were younger and had a great time each visit. There is plenty to do, even if the kids don’t like roller coasters, and the queues typically are shorter than those of other theme parks. In my experience, this deal is a good one if you’re planning more than one visit to Legoland Florida in the next year.

Upcoming events at Legoland Florida that are included with park admission are Legoland Knight Lights (every Saturday and Sunday in July, plus Tuesday, July 4), Brick or Treat Presented by Shutterfly (select dates in October), Christmas Bricktacular (select dates in December) and Kids’ New Year’s Eve (Sunday, Dec. 31 only).

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For more information about LEGOLAND Florida Resort, including savings on advance purchase of admission tickets, on-site accommodations, special events, educational programs, services for guests with disabilities, VIP experiences, teacher passes, military discounts and much more, visit www.LEGOLAND.com/florida, or call 877-350-5346.



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May 23, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando announces it will build Sesame Street-themed land

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Oh, what my children would have given to step into Elmo’s World when they were little! They, like countless other little ones, were just obsessed with the adorable red puppet. Elmo’s widespread appeal – and that of his furry friends – has prompted an expansion of SeaWorld’s partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street. The Orlando theme park has announced it will bring to life Sesame Street with its own new land.

The new land will fit into the park in the current children’s area, Happy Harbor, which will undergo a renovation that will be completed by fall 2022. The Orlando Sentinel reported the new Sesame Street land will be “more immersive than the Sesame Street Bay of Play kiddie areas in its San Diego and San Antonio theme parks or its Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa.”

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That’s a tall order because Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa offers quite a number of Sesame Street-themed attractions and experiences. Among them: Air Grover, a junior coaster; The Count’s Zambezi Rally, a kid-size car ride that takes you on a jaunt through the desert and tribal trails; Zoe-patra & the Hippos of the Nile, a splashy fun flume ride; Snuffy’s Elephant Romp, fly around and around and up and down with Snuffy’s fun friends; Elmo’s Safari Go-Round, a tribal-inspired carousel; Rosita’s Djembe Fly-Away, a swing ride through the jungle; Big Bird’s Whirly Birdie, a playful ferris wheel; Telly’s Jungle Jam, a play area to explore sound, shapes and shadows; Elmo’s Treehouse Trek, Elmo’s 3-story hideaway; Cookie Monster’s Canopy Crawl, a three-story net climb; Slimey’s Sahara Sand, sand-filled beachy oasis; Bert & Ernie’s Watering Hole, a water adventure filled with bubblers, geysers, jets, dumping buckets; Abby Cadabby’s Treasure Hut and Cookie Monster’s Trading Post, exclusive Sesame Street gift shops; Big Bird’s 123-Smile with Me, a character meet-and-greet; and Sunny Day Theater, home to a stage show featuring the Sesame Street characters.

“We’d like to build the actual Sesame Street that kids can be on and walk down,” SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby told the Sentinel. “We will have hopefully a Sesame parade, rides, show where they can see and meet the Sesame characters.”

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Sesame Street characters currently only appear at SeaWorld Orlando for stage shows during the holidays. Previously, they also met guests during character breakfasts. SeaWorld parks have had a 37-year partnership with Sesame Workshop.

There is a single theme park dedicated to Sesame Street – Sesame Place -- located in Langhorne, Pa. between Philadelphia and New York City. A second such park will be built no later than mid-2021, though a U.S. location has yet to be determined. After the opening of the second Sesame Place, SeaWorld will have the option to build additional Sesame Place theme parks in the United States.

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“Expanding our Sesame Place theme park footprint will both deepen our relationship with longstanding fans and help us to connect with new families,” said Steve Youngwood, Chief Operating Officer of Sesame Workshop, in a press release. "This partnership will also enable the Workshop to continue producing high-quality educational programming for the next generation.”


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May 20, 2017

Review: Satu'li Canteen lunch on Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom seeks to fully engage the senses of its guests, and it certainly successfully reaches that goal with Satu'li Canteen. The brand-new quick-service restaurant at Walt Disney World not only offers guests a new way to dine, but it also gives them interesting menu choices that will have widespread appeal.

Satu'li Canteen currently serves breakfast and lunch, and each meal has a separate menu. I sampled some lunch dishes at a media preview with Deb Wills and then others the next day with my family at an annual passholder preview.

Satu’li Canteen’s signature dishes are the Create-Your-Own Satu’li Bowls. First, you select a protein: slow-roasted, sliced grilled beef; chopped wood-grilled chicken; sustainable fish fillet; or chili-spiced crispy fried tofu. Then, select your base: quinoa and vegetable salad; red & sweet potato hash; mixed whole grain & rice; or romaine & kale salad. Finally, choose your sauce: Charred onion chimichurri; black bean vinaigrette; or creamy herb dressing.

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At the media preview, our table was given all the bowl choices to mix and match as our taste buds dictated. And the following day, my 12-year-old daughter tried a bowl with chicken, rice and herb dressing. My husband chose the fish, potato hash and black bean vinaigrette. Honestly, all three of us enjoyed every bowl combination we tried. We liked our meals so much that I’m sure Satu'li Canteen will be our go-to restaurant when we're at Animal Kingdom. (Full disclosure: I did not try the tofu.) One of my good friends tried the beef, potato hash and chimichurri sauce combo and said she found it "filling and flavorful. I appreciated the variety. The steak was perfectly cooked."

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The only component of the Satu’li Bowls that we did not like was the Yogurt Boba Balls. These tiny balls had a strange flavor and left a bitter aftertaste. To be fair, the Boba Balls can easily be removed from the dish if you do not like them.

My 14-year-old son and I sampled the Cheeseburger Pods, which are served with root vegetable chips and crunchy vegetable slaw. The flavor of the burger pods was quite delicious and immediately reminded us of McDonald’s Quarter Pounders With Cheese. The “burger” is actually beef crumbles rather than a patty, and the McDonald’s flavor probably comes from the ketchup, mustard and pickle already inside the pod. The “pod” is a Bao Bun, which is a fun twist. My son said several times and even wanted to point out for this review that he wished there were other options for sides. He did not like the chips or slaw, and there is nothing that can be substituted. I didn’t mind them, though. Guests also can opt for a Vegetable Curry Pod.

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Satu’li Canteen serves a selection of beer and wine, in addition to sodas, coffee and tea. My husband tried the Mo’ara High Country Ale and said it was good but nothing to write home about. My friend opted for the green Hawks’ Grog Ale, which she said was lighter and had a fruity aftertaste. Overall, she found it to be more unique flavor-wise. Wines that are available include Banshee Chardonnay, Sonoma; Banshee Pinot Noir, Sonoma; and Dreamwalker Sangria (white sangria with a hint of Blue Curacao). Plus there is a specialty non-alcoholic drink, the Pandoran Sunrise (tropical juices blended with Powerade Melon), which can be purchased with or without the souvenir Na’vi Flute Cup.

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Children ages 9 and younger can choose from four kids meals: Their own version of the create-your-own bowls; cheeseburger steamed pod; Teylu all-beef hot dog wrapped in dough; or a cheese quesadilla. All kids meals (except bowls) are served with chips and a drink.

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And what would a meal at Walt Disney World be without a beautiful and delectable dessert? My family and I ordered one of each to share: Chocolate Cake with a Crunchy Cake Layer, Banana Cream and Goji Berries and a Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse with Passion Fruit Curd. Usually, I go for the chocolate dessert, but this one was more bitter than sweet. I definitely liked the blueberry mousse better and cannot wait to try it again.

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Satu’li Canteen is considered a fast-casual restaurant and is among the first to offer Mobile Order, which allows guests to order and pay for meals on the My Disney Experience app. This means they can bypass the queue to order when they arrive at the restaurant. When they arrive at the restaurant they will tap an "I'm here" button in the app, which will notify the kitchen to prepare the meal. When ready, guests will be alerted through the app to pick up their meal at a designated window.

To read more about the theming of Satu'li Canteen, please see my previous blog post.

Don't forget to tell us about your experience at Satu'li Canteen in the comments below.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its media and passholder previews. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.


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May 18, 2017

Expansive theming creates broad appeal for Disney World's Pandora

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Don’t let the fact that you haven’t seen -- or didn’t love -- James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” keep you from experiencing Walt Disney World’s amazing addition to Animal Kingdom. If you do, you most definitely will miss out on one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced experiences.

Disney Imagineers have brought to life such creative storytelling that Pandora – The World of Avatar can stand alone and thoroughly wow guests, regardless of whether they are movie fans. And that’s important because the original “Avatar” was released in 2009 and the first of four sequels isn’t due out in theaters for several years.

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To step into Pandora – The World of Avatar is to enter a truly immersive environment. (“Immersive” is such a buzzword in the theme-park industry, but in this case, I think it really fits. You DO feel like you are entering another world.) And that other-worldly experience is made possible by the rich back-stories and theming of the land.

Matt Beiler, a principal producer at Walt Disney Imagineering for the Avatar project, recently spoke with local media about the story development for Pandora. Here are some of his descriptions.

What do guests need to know when they travel to Pandora?

When guests enter into this story, it’s a story that’s a generation beyond where the conflict between the humans and the Na’vi has ended [in the movie]. It’s been a full 20 to 30 years since that conflict was resolved and in the time the RDA (that’s the militaristic group that was mining and built facilities all throughout Mo’ara Valley) is long gone. They’re not here.

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But in the time since the end of the conflict, Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), an eco-tour group who are our hosts as we enter into Pandora, they’ve come in and set up a number of excursions for us to go on and make sure we have places to eat and places to get supplies for our journey on Pandora.

Cast members on Pandora are different from other Disney employees in many ways, but one is that each has his or her own personal back-story. Guests are encouraged to ask cast members about themselves, which will help them learn about Pandora. What are some of the possible classes of cast members will we meet?

The Pandoran Conservation Initiative – This is a group of scientists and researchers that are studying Pandora and the human destruction that occurred a generation ago and how to resolve that and clean up Pandora. They’re very knowledgeable about the fauna, the flora, the ecology and the culture of the Na’vi. They are able to educate guests about what they are seeing on this planet and how it relates back to our homeland of Earth.

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The Ex-Pat Community – This is a group of people who came to Pandora and fell in love with it. They decided to stay here, live their lives here and many of them have even grown up with the Na’vi. You’ll see a number of them operating our carts and smaller shops.

(And, as previously mentioned, the members of Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), which is an eco-tour group and our hosts.)

The FastPass and standby queues for Flight of Passage are chock full of details to support the Pandora theming. So, why does this attraction exist in the storyline?

The Pandoran Conservation Initiative is really visible, and you see what they’re doing in their work on Pandora. They’ve taken over an old RDA research facility, and they’ve reinstated the Avatar program. {An Avatar is created by linking the genetic material of a human and a Na’vi.] Because of that program’s existence, they’re able to study the mountain banshee, which is a keystone species here on Pandora. They see correlation between the mountain banshee population and the effects of the humans’ work of cleaning up Pandora. So they can really see what they’ve done and how it’s helping Pandora. As guests walk through this research facility, they’ll see a number of scientists that have little experiments going on. … You’ll also see an Avatar in an amnio tank. It’s floating.

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The Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful boat ride that brings the bioluminescent forest of Pandora to life. Is there other theming created for this attraction?

The Na’vi Shaman of Songs is [a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora and celebrates that beautiful connection through her music]. She’s an amazing audio-animatronic figure – the most advanced that’s been built to date. The fluidity of her movements, the facial expressions she makes, you almost question if that is a real Na’vi. It’s that realistic.

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Pandora’s restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, also is beautifully decorated in Earth tones and with plenty of art on display. How does that fit the theming?

Satu’li Canteen was where the RDA’s crew used to eat. It was the mess hall or the commissary that had fallen into disrepair. ACE has redecorated it, sort of more reverent to the Na’vi culture. They’ve displayed a number of Na’vi weavings, artifacts, cooking implements and tools. They are really physically showing that peace-making has happened between the Na’vi and the humans. It’s there that you get to taste the flavors of Pandora. It’s truly an amazing menu. It delights the mouth as well as the eyes.

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What is Pongu Pongu?

Pongu Pongu -- which in Na’vi means Party, Party -- is a refreshment location where one of our ex-pats came to Pandora with RDA and decided to stay because he fell in love with it. He was an AMP (Amplified Mobility Platform)-suit mechanic. He’s parked his AMP-suit out in front of his establish and it’s here that you’re able to come and wet your whistle.

Windtraders, also known as the Pandora gift shop, doesn’t look like a typical Walt Disney World gift shop. Why is that?

Windtraders is an old RDA storage facility and it’s also been redecorated to be more reverent to the Na’vi. It’s here that you’re able to come and get a lot of the supplies that you’ll need while you’re on Pandora. It has a number of elements that really speak to the celebration of the flora and the fauna and the Na’vi culture.

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Finally, why is Pandora located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom rather than Hollywood Studios?

That is because it shares the same core values that have been used to guide the development of Animal Kingdom:

** [It celebrates the] intrinsic value of nature
** [It invokes a] personal call to action
** (It creates] transformation through adventure


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May 16, 2017

A parent's guide to Disney's Pandora - The World of Avatar

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Beginning May 27, families will be able to visit Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Based on the moon in the movie "Avatar," this new section of the theme park has been in the works for six years. I was able to visit Pandora twice over the weekend during a local media preview and an annual passholder day, and it definitely lived up to the hype. It really did feel like I was transported to another world! Guests not familiar with the movie or the construction might have some questions, though, so here is a description of what parents will encounter.

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for parents taking younger children into the newest area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that they won’t understand or care about the concept. After all, the movie had a PG rating for violence and brief nudity, so many parents opted not to allow younger kids to see it in theaters. But one of the many amazing things about Pandora - The World of Avatar is that you do not have to have seen the movie to appreciate and fully enjoy this area of the theme park.

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Walt Disney World Imagineers intentionally designed Pandora without an abundance of directional signs to encourage visitors to explore, and that is something most kids naturally love to do. Walking along the winding path toward the floating mountains, families will first come upon a kiosk with fun souvenirs, such as Na'vi tails and ears, drums and other accessories to make kids' time in the land more interactive. But the big draw there is the special face-painting designs that will glow in the bioluminescent forest at night and on parts of the Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage attractions. The designs range from $18 to $25.

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Just past the kiosk, guests will discover the entrance to the Na'vi River Journey. This gentle boat ride though the bioluminescent forest is appropriate for all ages. There are no drops and riders do not get wet. It could be compared to the boat ride in "it's a small world," though these boats only have two rows of seats. Cast members are trained to seat four per row, but if you want more room, just ask if your party can have its own boat. During passholder previews, they were happy to accommodate our requests.

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Upon exiting this attraction, guests can walk directly across the main walkway to an area where drums are built into the rock features. Kids (and adults) are invited to burn off some energy and play the drums and other shell-shaped percussion instruments.

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Then, pass under the floating mountains and see the spectacular scenery. It all can be captured at several Disney PhotoPass spots, including one on an elevation to the right that features a fun Magic Shot. (Magic Shots typically have added a character when you view them afterward on a device or computer.) The professional photographers are able to capture the massive size of the landscape that might be difficult for phones and point-and-shoot cameras to show unless they are using the panorama setting.

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Nearby is one of two new Wilderness Explorers stations in Pandora. Wilderness Explorers are from the Disney-Pixar movie “Up,” and guests at Animal Kingdom can earn badges like the kids do in the movie. In Pandora, kids can earn a Botany Badge while learning about the plant life and an Ecology Badge after studying the unique animals of Pandora.

Then families will come upon the main attraction: Flight of Passage. This ride is open to guests who are at least 44 inches tall, which is an average height for 5- and 6-year-olds. (Of course, there will be children who are younger and older when they hit that mark.) I have heard this ride described repeatedly as a cross between the Star Tours and Soarin' Around the World simulators, and after having ridden it multiple times, I would say that is true. Flight of Passage is much smoother than Star Tours, but it does make deep dives. You are, after all, riding on the back of a banshee!

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Kids (and adults) who do not like roller coasters may or may not like this attraction. It is a simulator, but it is definitely more intense than Star Tours and Soarin'. Those prone to motion sickness, like myself, may experience that as well. I will say that having wind blowing on me continuously throughout the 4.5-minute ride helped that feeling, compared to the stuffy, hot room on Star Tours. Also, be aware that this ride secures guests with back and leg rests that are engaged after the guest is straddling a seat like a motorcycle seat. I didn’t feel like I was shackled to the seat, but the restraints kept my limbs from flying about when the ride started. I was worried about feeling claustrophobic, but I didn’t feel that way at all. Of course, that also is an individual reaction.

For parents: Some heavier guests have had trouble fitting in the space with the back and leg rests engaged. There is no weight limit for this attraction, so it really depends how and where you carry your weight. Disney is expected to add a test seat outside the queue so guests can check before waiting in line.

If you are comfortable with the setting, I definitely recommend riding Flight of Passage. The state-of-the-art technology makes this one of the most amazing attractions in all of Walt Disney World. It’s thrilling in every sense and will make you want to ride again and again.

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Flight of Passage exits into a gift shop, of course. Besides the aforementioned kiosk, this is the only place to purchase souvenirs in Pandora, and there are many unique gifts and toys to bring home. Don’t expect to find any Mickey plush animals in Windtraders, however. Instead, link up with your own personal banshee or choose from an array of products that light up and reflect the light of the bioluminescent forests. The Na’vi Translator allows guests to learn how to pronounce 90 Na’vi words using interchangeable translation cards. Cast members throughout Pandora also will teach guests Na’vi phrases. My daughter enjoyed these exchanges.

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Next door is the Satu’li Canteen, where there are a variety of fresh foods and options just for kids. I’ll have a separate review of the food, but know that the menu for children age 9 and younger includes grilled chicken or beef, fish or tofu with greens or rice; a hot dog wrapped in Parker House dough; a cheese quesadilla; or a steamed “pod” (cheeseburger with a bao bun).

Do you have a question about Pandora? Ask away in the comment section below.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its media and passholder previews. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.


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May 13, 2017

My first experience at Universal Orlando's Gradventure

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Last week, I experienced one of Orlando’s theme parks in a whole new way: I was a chaperone at Universal Orlando’s Gradventure. Gradventure is the resort’s celebration for eighth-graders – and only these middle-school students and their chaperones are allowed in Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios during the special-ticket event. In fact, after 7 p.m., the parks are locked down and participants are not allowed to leave, though they can travel between the parks, until the end of the event at midnight. Imagine being in two theme parks with thousands of middle-school students!

Schools can sign up for one of three Fridays in May, giving students a chance to mark the end of their middle school years and their graduation to high school. Even though I have been a Florida resident for more than two decades, I grew up in Indiana and seeing my son get to go to a huge theme park for a school celebration still seems amazing to me. And as often as he goes to theme parks, he still was looking forward to this special event with his friends.

To keep things safe and comfortable, there were a LOT of rules we had to follow. It started with what to wear. Most schools designed their own T-shirts and students wore those with appropriate shorts or jeans. Our school requires students to stay within the county’s dress code, which was stricter than Universal’s. Still, Universal does prohibit clothing with holes or shredding; clothing with obscene or offensive language or graphics; visible undergarments; tank tops or undershirts; clothing that exposes excessive portions of the skin that may be viewed as inappropriate at a school function (e.g., bikini tops and bottoms); short shorts; area codes displayed on clothing; and accessories such as chains, spiked collars or studded/spiked belts.

In addition to their attire, students were limited to only drawstring bags, although chaperones could bring any size backpacks they wanted. Everyone was required to go through a metal detector and personal screening, where security personnel checked for weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and cigarettes. The process was efficient and not unlike what my family and I are used to doing when we visit the theme parks. My son’s school had so thoroughly emphasized its own guidelines – no outside food or drinks, no medications, etc. – that I didn’t see anyone from our groups have any security issues.

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And then we were in! We arrived about 5 p.m., and Universal Orlando was still open to the public for two more hours so it was crowded. Our group decided to hit one of the big roller coasters, The Incredible Hulk. That was my first time in the queue, which was loud. I got to know it well, though, as we were in line for 90 minutes. Thankfully, that was by far the longest wait of the night. Once Gradventure officially began at 7 p.m., the wait times dropped significantly.

It was recommended that students spend some of those first two hours at dinner – probably because of the crowds! – but my kids were too excited to just go sit in a restaurant. So, we sought out food after The Hulk. Gradventure tickets, which cost $85 at my son’s school, include Universal Orlando admission, roundtrip travel from the school on a motorcoach, school T-shirt and a dinner voucher. The dinner voucher can be redeemed at one of eleven locations in the two parks and included an entrée (salad, hamburger, chicken nuggets), French fries, a Coca-cola Freestyle drink and a chocolate chip cookie. Our group chose The Burger Digs and most of us did indeed have burgers. They were pretty bland, but food was not our focus, so we filled our bellies and got back out to the rides.

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One beverage option that we did applaud was the souvenir Gradventure cups. They each cost $6.99 and were refillable at Freestyle and ICEE machines all night long. Not only did I appreciate being able to quickly get my Diet Cokes all night while we were running to the attractions, but I also liked the style of the sipper cup. It was designed more like a travel cup so a straw was not needed and no handle meant it could be easily stowed in a backpack pocket.

There were several chaperone perks, too, that were accessible with a special wristband we were given. Parents and teachers can visit chaperone-only lounges that have complimentary light snacks and beverages. Plus, we were allowed to skip the regular lines at most rides and attractions with complimentary Universal Express ride access. These seem like great perks, but they weren’t really practical for me because I was with my group of kids all night.

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Of course, the kids had fun taking in all the Universal attractions with their friends, but they also browsed the gift shops and enjoyed the DJs playing current music. Getting a Butterbeer in Diagon Alley at 11:30 p.m. wasn’t too shabby, either. All in all, it was a fun night!

For more information about Gradventure, visit UniveralOrlandoYouth.com


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May 11, 2017

Everything you need to know about new Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney's Magic Kingdom

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Tonight, Walt Disney World bids farewell to its long-running “Wishes” fireworks show. And tomorrow, it ushers in its new nighttime spectacular, “Happily Ever After.” The Disney Parks Blog will be livestreaming the debut, so even if you can’t be at the Magic Kingdom on Friday, you can see Happily Ever After. Tune in at 8:55 p.m. ET. In the meantime, here are answers to some of the most common questions about the new show.

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What is “Happily Ever After”?

The new nighttime show tells this story, according to Disney: “[It] begins with scenes of fantastic dreams full of hope, wonder, magic and light. Disney villains soon become part of the story, attempting to quash those beautiful dreams and forcing the heroes to fight for what they believe in. Overcoming their fears, the heroes triumph and are celebrated with spectacular fireworks.”

Which Disney stories are represented in “Happily Ever After”?

Characters, scenes and music from more than 25 Disney films will be featured in the show. Among them are “The Little Mermaid,” “Moana,” “Brave,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “The Princess & The Frog,” “Aladdin,” "Beauty and the Beast," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Jungle Book.”

In addition to the story, how is “Happily Ever After” different from “Wishes”?

This 18-minute show will feature more lasers, lights and projections than any Disney show before it. The projection-mapping technology is the most state-of-the-art to date. “The team first used projection mapping in 2010 with the launch of ‘The Magic, The Memories & You,’ a nighttime show that combined guest-submitted photos with different colorful layouts that were projected onto Cinderella Castle. After more advancements were made in the field of projection mapping, a new show, ‘Celebrate the Magic,’ debuted in 2012. Because of its successful use at the Walt Disney World Resort, the use of projection mapping technology then expanded to be used as an entertainment tool at Disney Parks around the world,” according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Will there still be plenty of fireworks in “Happily Ever After,” even with all the special effects and projections on Cinderella Castle?

Based on reports from guests who saw the late-night testing of the new show last week, the answer is yes. They have said there is no shortage of fireworks in “Happily Ever After.”

Will Tinker Bell still have a role in “Happily Ever After”?

Yes. Tinker Bell will continue to fly across the night sky, reminding guests that with a little faith, trust and pixie dust, everyone can find their own happily ever after.

Where can I best see “Happily Ever After”?

That is largely a matter of personal preference. “The team designed the show so it could be enjoyed from everywhere ‘Wishes’ is currently seen today (including the Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace). While projections and other special effects will make the in-park experience unique, guests watching from Magic Kingdom resorts, watercraft on Seven Seas Lagoon, etc., will still see a full show of fireworks accompanied by a musical score,” according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Will holiday versions of Wishes be replaced at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party?

No. “Happy HalloWishes” and “Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season” will remain at the after-hours parties.

Will the score for “Happily Ever After” be as moving as the one for “Wishes”?

The score for "Happily Ever After" was recorded by a 75-piece orchestra in London, and it features contemporary versions of popular Disney songs. A brand-new theme song – also titled “Happily Ever After” -- is sung by country music artist Angie Keilhauer and singer Jordan Fisher. Fisher performed on the “Moana” soundtrack and was a member of the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton.”

Going to see “Happily Ever After” during opening week? Tell us what you think in the comments!



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May 9, 2017

You CAN make Disney's Mickey waffles at home

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If you’ve visited Walt Disney World, chances are you enjoyed a Mickey waffle for breakfast at some point. And if you did, I’m guessing you fell in love with the iconic food, like so many of us have.

The folks at Walt Disney World know how beloved their Mickey waffles are and have expanded the number of locations where they can be found. For years, the only way to see those magical waffles appear on your breakfast plate was to dine at a table-service restaurant. Now, however, Mickey waffles are on the menus at many quick-service restaurants, too. In fact, I’d say it’s probably more unusual to find a restaurant on Disney property that doesn’t serve Mickey waffles than one that does. (Still, to be sure, you can check all Walt Disney World menus on AllEars.Net.)

But what happens when vacation ends and it’s time to head home, where Mickey waffles are not as readily available?

For years, my family has tried to replicate that unique deliciousness in our kitchen. We have gone through three waffle irons in the process! We all have been happy with the results, though the waffles were not quite the same as the ones served at Walt Disney World. They were not quite as thick or crispy, which I think we can attribute to both the waffle iron and the waffle mix.

Now, however, we have discovered that we can buy the actual waffle mix that is used at Walt Disney World: Carbon’s Golden Malted Pancake & Waffle Flour. This patented mix, which was created 80 years ago, is made of high-quality wheat, flour and cornmeal blended with premium malt and natural flavorings.

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My family and I tried making Mickey waffles with Carbon’s Golden Malted Pancake & Waffle Flour this past weekend, and we definitely noticed a difference in the finished product. It started with my son walking into the kitchen saying, “It smells like Walt Disney World in here!” The Golden Malted mix also created a crunchier waffle than we were used to in the same waffle iron that we always use. That texture and the sweet flavor definitely created Mickey waffles that were the closest we have come to what is served at Walt Disney World.

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Making the waffles was simple, too, and not any more involved than other mixes we have used. Here’s what you will need:

1 cup Golden Malted Flour mix

1 egg

5 ounces water

2 Tablespoons melted butter

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Directions:

Beat eggs and liquid together.

Add flour and mix well.

Stir in melted butter and mix thoroughly.

Ladle onto hot waffle iron and remove when golden brown.

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Carbon’s Golden Malted Pancake & Waffle Flour can be purchased online. A 33-ounce canister normally costs $14.99, but it is 25 percent off right now during the Mother's Day sale. Golden Malted has a number of products and if you place an order that totals more than $49, shipping is free.

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DISCLAIMER: I received a sample of Carbon’s Golden Malted Pancake & Waffle Flour for the purpose of reviewing it. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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May 6, 2017

Junior Golf Camps Return to Walt Disney World for Summer 2017

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Children visiting Walt Disney World this summer also can spend a week learning from golf professionals at the “Happiest Place on Turf.” Walt Disney World Golf is offering its Junior Golf Camps for the fifth year, and registration is open now – with new discounts.

Kids ages 7 to 17 can learn from PGA professionals on the resort's championship golf courses. They will practice putting at a Magnolia course green, improve their short games and full swings near the Palm course, and play one of the courses on three separate days. There is a ratio of one instructor for every six junior golfers, and each session can accommodate up to 20 campers.

"We really want to give kids the chance to be introduced to the game or to polish their skills while giving them the 'Disney Experience' with the program," Michael Schlager, director of instruction for Walt Disney World Golf, told me.

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Each weeklong session is more than just a golf clinic, he said. The "Disney Experience" means that lessons are themed to Disney characters, plus there are games and prizes. At the end of the week, junior golfers even are awarded medals for their teams' standings in the ongoing competition.

Lunch also is included in the cost of the camp, which is $350 per week. (Each additional child in the same family receives a discount of $50 off the tuition. Plus, Disney cast members receive a $50 discount; Disney Vacation Club members, $25; and military personnel, $25.) On Monday through Thursday, students are served a boxed lunch with items such as a sandwich, apple, chips and a drink. On Friday, they celebrate the week with a pizza party. Each lunch hour also features a Disney movie.

Walt Disney World's Junior Golf Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. The weeklong sessions begin on June 5, 12, 19, 26; July 10, 17, 24, 31; and August 7. (At the time of publication, spots still are available in all sessions.) To register, call 407-WDW-GOLF or go online to http://golfwdw.com/junior-golf-camps/. If your child doesn't have golf clubs, a set will be provided.

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"We put a focus a fun, and we give [the junior golfers] better skills," Schlager said. "They have a lot more fun if they continue to improve."

If you’re not going to be at Walt Disney World this summer but wish your child could participate in a golf clinic at the resort, be sure to check the website periodically. One-day clinics for kids are offered seasonally, and they incorporate many of the same elements as the weeklong camps. The cost is $115 for each session, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Arnold Palmer Golf Management operates Walt Disney World Golf courses.



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May 4, 2017

5 reasons to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Disney’s Paradiso 37

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In case it snuck up on you, allow me to remind you that tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. But there’s no need to panic about finding a place to celebrate. I’ve done the taste-testing -- I mean, research –- and I have a perfect suggestion for your evening’s festivities. Here are five reasons why you should celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas.

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1. Atmosphere. Paradiso 37, which celebrates the flavors of the 37 countries in North America, Central America and South America, is centrally located at Disney Springs in The Landing with beautiful views of Village Lake. Diners can choose to enjoy the Latin décor inside on multiple levels, dine al fresco on the patio or something in-between with open-air seating at the back of the restaurant. Plus, there are spots at the two bars. The last time I ate lunch at Paradiso 37, our group found the restaurant to be fairly quiet and uncrowded. At my most recent visit this week for dinner, I saw another side of the restaurant. Paradiso 37 really comes alive in the evening with the live entertainment and guests who are looking to unwind and enjoy their evening Latin-style.

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2. Entertainment. Live entertainment takes place each evening on the patio, beginning at 5 p.m., and the performers also make their way into the restaurant, as I found out first-hand when a singer serenaded me. On Friday, look for a mariachi band to join the lineup. Plus, performers and other staff will be dressed in traditional Mexican attire, greeting the guests and posing for photos. You can’t help but feel the fiesta, now can you?

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3. Adult beverages. There are two bars at Paradiso 37 – one that features international wines and tequilas that are 100 percent agave – and the other dedicated to international brands of rum. If that selection doesn’t excite you, servers traverse the restaurant offering to make specialty drinks tableside. Each night, guests can choose a custom-blended Mojito, a Cuban cocktail; or a Caipirinha, the national cocktail in Brazil. On Cinco de Mayo, there also will a Margarita cart circulating among the guests. Our group sampled the P37 Swirl Sangria Margarita, and the consensus was definitely favorable. The drink, which is available on the regular menu, is a delicious blend, and it’s a generous portion served in a souvenir cup.

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4. The menu. Stop in for a bite or an entire meal to celebrate. Our group started the evening by sampling several appetizers, all of which tasted light and fresh. We started with the traditional chips served with house-made guacamole and salsa. I especially liked the Shrimp Ceviche, which had Fire Roasted Shrimp, Tomatillo, Lime, Avocado, Cucumbers, Tomato, Onion, gluten-free Tortilla Chips. My other favorite was the South American Crazy Corn, which consists of Fire Roasted Corn on the Cob, Aji Amarillo and P37 Cheese. Honestly, these appetizers alone would have made a great dinner, as far as I was concerned. We also were served the P37 Nachos -- Corn Tortillas, Cheese Sauce, Chili con Carne, P37 Cheese, Shredded Lettuce, Sour Cream, Pico de Gallo and Jalapeños -- and Barbacoa Beef Quesadillas. They looked delicious, but I decided to try to save some room for the entrees.

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Chef Mo Lakmichi then brought us the most popular dish at the restaurant: Baja Fish Tacos. The three tacos consisted of Crispy Seasonal White Fish, Cabbage Slaw, Corn Salsa, Cilantro-Lime Crema, Tortilla Salad and were a hit at our table. Another favorite was the 10-ounce Argentinian Skirt Steak Angus, which was served with Caramelized Onions and Chimichurri. Guests who are looking for North American fare might enjoy the South Carolina-style BBQ Pork Ribs or the Jalapeno Burger.

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And then it was time for dessert. Paradiso 37 offers a Mexican favorite, Churros with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces. If you like churros, these do not disappoint. Other classics included a Pineapple Upsidedown Cake and Tres Leches, coconut milk-soaked white cake layered with a fresh strawberry mousse and topped with toasted meringue and fresh strawberries. The Paradiso Chocolate Stack is quite popular I’m told and it’s gluten-free. It consists of chocolate cake layered with creamy chocolate mousse served with warm caramel sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

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See the entire Paradiso 37 menu on the AllEars.Net page.

5. Pricing. Paradiso 37’s prices are in line with many of the other table-service restaurants at Disney Springs and across Walt Disney World property. Appetizers, many of which are designed to share, range from about $11 to $17. Entrée salads are priced at $17 to $21 with burgers and sandwiches about the same. Dinner platters range from $21 to $34. (Paradiso 37 does have separate menus for lunch and dinner, although many of the dishes are served all day long.) Paradiso 37 is the kind of restaurant, though, where you could go for just drinks and appetizers or dessert. Or, enjoy the whole enchilada.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Paradiso 37 for a media preview of its Cinco de Mayo celebration. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


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