January 19, 2015

Compare Disney's 'Big Hero 6' DVD and home-viewing options coming in February 2015

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It’s awards season for films, which means many of us are focused on our favorite films. Surely Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated movie “Big Hero 6” ranks at the top among Disney fans for films debuting in 2014. Next month, the feature film will be released for home and mobile viewing, and customers will have several purchase options.

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“Big Hero 6” is scheduled for release on Feb. 24, and it will be available on DVD and as a Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD). The list prices are $29.99 and $39.99, respectively, though several online stores already have the titles available for pre-order at discounted prices. Both versions include a variety of bonus features.

The “Big Hero 6” Blu-ray Combo Pack offers:

** “Feast” Theatrical Short
** Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters
** Big Hero 6 Theatrical Teaser
** The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro's Journey
** Big Hero Secrets
** Deleted Scenes

The DVD-only purchase includes just the first three bonus features.

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Wal-mart has an exclusive offer for the Blu-ray Combo Pack. Buyers get everything listed above, plus a separate bonus DVD, “The Science Of Big Hero 6.” The bonus DVD allows viewers to explore Baymax and Hiro's high-tech world. Wal-mart’s exclusive gift set retails for $39.99, but it is available for pre-order for $26.96.

Want to see the movie sooner? “Big Hero 6” will be released earlier – Feb. 3 -- on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere. It will include all the bonus features of the Blu-ray combo pack, except “Big Hero Secrets.”

If you haven’t seen this worthwhile family friendly animated movie, here’s a short synopsis:

When the film opens, we find ourselves in San Fransokyo, a city that appears just as it sounds -- an idealized combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. San Fransokyo is the home of Hiro Hamada and his older brother, Tadashi. The brothers are both gifted in robotics technology, but Hiro is at a crossroads. He has graduated from high school at age 13 and spends his time building "bots" (short for robots) to fight in matches where owners and audience members bet illegally on the outcome. Tadashi believes that Hiro should join him at an exclusive robotics program at the nearby university and devises a plan to convince Hiro.

During an impromptu tour of the Nerd Lab at the university, Hiro meets Tadashi's eclectic band of friends in the department. They each show Hiro their ambitious robotics projects, but, of course, nothing can top Tadashi's -- the lovable, huggable Baymax. Baymax is a "heath care companion" that Tadashi has programmed to diagnose and treat 10,000 medical problems. Hiro is impressed by Baymax and the other projects and decides to apply to the school. It's at this point that events propel the kids into superhero roles. The action picks up significantly and we have a classic comic-book battle of good vs. evil.

If you’d like to read more of my spoiler-free review, you can find it here. For another take on “Big Hero 6,” be sure to check out guest blogger Jeanine Yamanaka’s review.

And those visiting Walt Disney World can meet Hiro and Baymax at Hollywood Studios.



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January 17, 2015

Orlando Science Center’s Otronicon features hands-on exhibit from Walt Disney World

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Video gamers can get a look behind the screen, if you will, this weekend at the Orlando Science Center’s Otronicon, a four-day event dedicated to technology and digital media. As one of the exhibitors, Walt Disney World will give visitors a glimpse into how technology is used at its theme parks and how attractions are designed.

Now in its tenth year, Otronicon runs Jan. 16 through 19. The science center describes the event this way: “Discover how we will live, learn, work and play in the years to come through video games, simulation and other technology — most of which is made here in Orlando.”

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Disney’s Imagineers present Math Magic 'Science Fair!' each day throughout the event. The exhibit has several demonstrations that will show the difference between digital and analog control for animated figures. Plus, visitors can see how simulations and mechanical engineering are used at Walt Disney World.

Last year’s Disney exhibit included demonstrations of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) applications in popular Disney Parks attractions Toy Story Midway Mania, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours and Test Track. Visitors were able to get hands-on experience operating the computer programs that run some of the attractions.

Otronicon 2015 also features state-of-the-art medical and military simulators from Florida Hospital for Children and Lockheed Martin, respectively; workshops taught by industry professionals; and video-game development and competitions.

Admission to Otronicon is $19 per day for adults and $13 per day for children ages 3 to 11. Admission to Otronicon is free for Science Center members. Hours for Otronicon are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 16 -17 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 18 -19.

Can’t make it to Otronicon to check the theme-park exhibit? Look for other STEM demonstrations and celebrations during National Engineers Week next month at Walt Disney World. For the last several years, Raytheon has offered extra interactive experiences for the week. Raytheon, an aerospace and defense contractor that employs state-of-the-art electronics and communications systems for government and commercial projects, sponsors Sum of All Thrills at Epcot. This attraction allows guests to digitally design their own roller coasters and then experience a simulated ride in them.



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January 15, 2015

Fans invited to submit writing and artwork based on Ridley Pearson's 'Kingdom Keeper' books

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Author Ridley Pearson has long celebrated the fans who have made his “Kingdom Keepers” books best sellers, even inviting them to help him write the last novel in the original young adult series that is set at Disney properties. That book, “The Insider,” was published last spring.

Since then, Pearson has been at work on a trilogy that picks up where "The Insider" left off. The first book in the new series, "The Return: Disney Lands," has a U.S. publication date of March 31. The author also has been busy creating “Fairlies Adventures,” a series of novellas in the “Kingdom Keepers” series. The first, “The Syndrome,” will be released March 3. And throughout the creative process, Pearson has again solicited submissions from fans, the best of which will be included in the projects and their promotions.

Although some writing contests have closed, there still are some ways young adults can be involved with their beloved “Kingdom Keepers” series. Last summer, Pearson invited readers to participate in eight writing challenges that ended on Sept. 1. The deadline has been reached, but the entries (and the winners) are posted on kingdomkeepersinsider.com, so fans can have a sneak peek at what will be in the finished novel.

Pearson sums up the plot on his website this way: “With the defeat of the Overtakers behind them, the five teenagers known as the Kingdom Keepers should be celebrating. By all accounts, they saved Disneyland from certain destruction. Why then did their mentor leave one last puzzle for them to decipher? The Keepers must solve a puzzle of the past, or be crushed under an evil that makes the Overtakers seem like gentle souls.”

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As for the “Fairlies Adventures,” Pearson says the name comes from the “fairly human” girls Amanda, Jess and Mattie. “Over the years, they’ve protected and supported the five Disney guides with their paranormal abilities,” he wrote.

Writing challenges still are open for the first novella on TheKingdomKeepers.com. According to the website, “If you, collectively, can decipher the clues in time, you’ll unlock sneak previews and behind-the-scenes intel on this awesome new book.”

Plus, artists are asked to submit drawings of Amanda, Jess and Mattie by Jan. 17 for a chance to be featured in the book trailer. Submissions should be sent to Pearson’s assistant Jen at jen@ridleypearson.com. Fans can view the art as it is submitted on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/ridleypearson/fairlies/

The team has utilized fan art for projects in the past, including T-shirts for the book publicity tour.

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Speaking of the tour, for the last several years, Pearson has launched each new “Kingdom Keepers” novel at Walt Disney World. No word yet on whether he will be in Central Florida for the release of "The Return: Disney Lands," but stay tuned because we definitely are watching for the announcement. In the meantime, here are some tips and thoughts about what to expect at such a popular book signing, should it come our way again.



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January 13, 2015

Disney builds BeachBot that 'draws' large-scale art in sand

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The Walt Disney Co. is known for its creativity, innovation and, of course, the ability to promote the characters at the heart of its brand. So, although it’s unlikely to be a surprise that the company has found another way to showcase its stories, this particular new method in the news recently is sure to delight Disney fans.

Information technology news website TechCrunch.com and others reported over the weekend that the Disney Research Hub developed a BeachBot in partnership with Swiss engineering school ETH Zürich. Designed to look like an adorable turtle, the robot was created to draw large-scale images in the sand.

The website describes the process this way: “[It] works by dragging a set of pins through the sand, sort of like a rake. Each pin is individually raisable, allowing the bot to draw lines of varying thicknesses. More pins down = thicker lines drawn. The artist behind the robot starts a canvas by setting down poles, which the robot uses as markers to finely calculate its position. At that point, the robot can be passed an image file to draw automatically, or the artists can steer it manually. The Beachbot moves on a set of large, soft wheels that Disney has dubbed “balloon wheels”, allowing it to move across the sand without leaving tracks or screwing up whatever it’s drawn previously.”

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“The BeachBot is not just a lifeless, mechanical being; it is a friendly looking creature with a soul,” according to the bot’s official page. “The robot will be deployed at a public beach to amaze beachgoers who pass by. Not only the final picture is important, the whole drawing process will provide an exceptional, magical show.”

Can you imagine walking down to the beach at your Walt Disney World or Disneyland resort and seeing characters perfectly drawn in the sand? One could imagine that there would be plenty of opportunities on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, too. And, of course, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort’s pristine Atlantic beachfront comes to mind when you think about a sandy palette, too.

Before you write off the concept as a technological gimmick that is void of real-world applications, consider other similar ways that Disney cast members already create artwork in the parks and, in the process, instill a little bit of magic for both young and young-at-heart guests.

The process reminds me of the artists at Walt Disney World who use their concrete surfaces as canvasses for water art. They deftly “draw” characters on sidewalks for passersby who can’t help but stop to watch the creations come to life. I know I can’t resist! The bot is obviously different than a live cast member, but the “street art” concept is the same: It’s fun to watch art being creating on the spot.

And although the bot might be a high-tech creation that comes from the research labs that have dreamed up – and created -- wild ideas such as 3D printing creations, more realistic parade balloons and multi-dimensional tactile sensations with computer touch screens, the BeachBot really goes to the heart of what started Disney as we know it: the creativity and whimsy of drawing.

To make it happen in the sand with such a cute robotic creation is just another kind of magic one would expect only from Disney.



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January 10, 2015

Walt Disney World adds magic to Paws in the Park fundraiser and festival

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Pluto is showing his love for his fellow furry friends in Central Florida at the Paws in the Park fundraiser and festival at Lake Eola on Valentine’s Day. Hosted by the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, the annual family friendly event includes a pet walk, food trucks, vendors, demonstrations, agility contests and a kid zone from Walt Disney World. Plus, Pluto’s owners are offering a fabulous prize to the top individual fundraiser.

The centerpiece of the annual event, which takes place this year on Feb. 14, is the dog walk that serves as a fundraiser for homeless pets and other initiatives of the SPCA of Central Florida. Registration is ongoing now. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals. Participation is $25 for adults and $10 for children ages 12 and younger. Walkers can even register the day of the event for $35. All registrants receive a T-shirt, doggie bandana and admission to Splash Dogs Dock Diving, the Doggie Fun Zone and the Canine Sports Arena at the event. Walkers do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $50 to $1,000. They include such prizes as dog toys, sports water bottle, collapsible bowl and commemorative pin, and six-month and one-year supplies of Frontline Plus. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.)

Packs and individuals are encouraged to attend a “pre-registration” event at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, 2727 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 on Feb. 11 to pick up their T-shirts and other prizes.

This year’s top fundraising pack will win a lunch with Animal Planet star Victoria Stilwell at a dog-friendly Orlando restaurant. This year’s top individual fundraiser will win a two-night stay at a Walt Disney World hotel for two people and two theme-park tickets with Park Hopper for one day.

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The walk begins at 9 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m., and the other activities go until 1 p.m. Stilwell is the featured presenter at Lake Eola, and she will be demonstrating various dog-training techniques from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Families won’t want to miss the Disney Kids and Family Zone, presented by Walt Disney World, which has interactive activities everyone can enjoy. In addition, nationally recognized company Splash Dogs will offer dock-jumping competitions, and local pet resort Happy Paws hosts a Canine Sports area.

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

Sponsor WFTV offers these reminders:

** All pets must be at least 6 months old and have proof of vaccinations.
** Dogs only please. No female dogs in heat.
** Pets must wear a suitable collar.
** Keep your dogs on a 6-foot leash or shorter and under control at all times.
** Water for dogs will be supplied.
** Please be considerate and pick-up after your dog.
** For the enjoyment and safety of all participants, any aggressive animal will be asked to leave the park.
** Please obey all rules of Lake Eola. No swimming in the lake and no chasing the ducks or swans.



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January 7, 2015

New Balance releases 2015 Limited Edition runDisney shoes today

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Runners -- and a good number of spectators -- heading to Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend have been waiting eagerly for New Balance to release the 2015 design for its Limited Edition runDisney shoes that will be sold at the Expo, beginning today. They finally got a glimpse of the sneakers on Tuesday, and judging from an abundance of comments on several online message boards, many were disappointed with this year's design.

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The 2015 design pays homage to Steamboat Willie, the 1928 black-and-white cartoon that introduced most audiences to Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie. The men's Retro Mickey 990v3 sneaker comes in black and white with musical notes around the front sole, classic images of Mickey and Minnie and character signatures. The women's Retro Minnie 990v3 sneaker is gray and white with the same features. They are priced at $185 per pair, according to New Balance.

The overwhelming complaint I've read seems to be that although the sneakers are true to theme, they are visually unexciting because of the neutral colors. runDisney fans are expressing their preference for styles that have been offered the last two years -- bold colors.

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New Balance first released Limited Edition runDisney shoes in 2013. The 860v3 sneakers were designed in bright red, yellow, black and white to mimic the traditional colors of modern Mickey and Minnie. They have since been retired.

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Last year's styles were designed to recall Sorcerer Mickey and Goofy (men's) and Cinderella and Minnie Mouse (women's). Due to popular demand, a limited number of the four New Balance 860v4 shoes will be available at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and at the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland Resort (Jan. 15 - 18.) They are priced at $125 per pair.

The new Retro designs only will be sold at runDisney events throughout the year, beginning today at the Marathon Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.

Guests who would like to try on - and possibly purchase -- the 2014 and 2015 New Balance running shoes must make an appointment through a virtual queue. There will be no stand-by lines at the Expo. Starting today (Jan.7) at 6 a.m., adult runners can sign up at NBvirtualqueue.com using their bib number, and all other guests can sign up Thursday (Jan. 8) at 6 a.m. Adult runners also can sign up at 6 a.m. Friday (Jan. 9) and all other guests on Saturday (Jan. 10). According to New Balance's posted rules, customers can reserve one pair of running shoes per reservation. They will be able to choose up to five more pairs in the booth and can purchase a total of six pairs of runDisney Collection footwear per event weekend. Only two of the six can be the new style 990v3.

When it's close to a guest's reserved time, he or she will receive a text and then must return within an hour or risk losing the shoes that were saved for that appointment. If the reserved shoes do not fit, the sales associate will check for other sizes. Customers can keep an eye on general inventory levels at NBVirtualQueue.com. The New Balance red tent is located near the west entrance of Josten's Center.

Not happy with this year's selections? New Balance tweeted this on Tuesday: “We've decided to try something different with our release schedules and are planning some exciting surprises for 2015. Stay tuned.” Runners were speculating online that the company may be planning to release new shoes for each race.



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January 6, 2015

What to know about traffic and crowds during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

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Planning to visit Walt Disney World this week, either as a day guest or during a multiday vacation? You probably already know this week is Marathon Weekend -- the largest runDisney event of the year -- at the resort. That doesn't necessarily mean you should avoid the theme parks, however, if you aren't participating.

Here's what you need to know before you step foot on Disney property, though.

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend takes place Wednesday, Jan. 7, through Sunday, Jun. 11. The aspect that most affects visitors is not the crowds but rather the vehicular traffic around the various parks. 

First, know that all races except the kid races start and finish at Epcot. Because the 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon kick off so early -- 6:15 a.m. for the 5K and 5:30 a.m. for the others, the starts typically do not affect many guests unless they are heading to an early breakfast reservation.

The 5K course is set only through Epcot, while the 10K course begins on roads surrounding the park before traveling through the park and extending through the Epcot resort areas. Both the 5K and the 10K start from the Explore parking lot on Thursday and Friday, respectively, and finish at the Wonder parking lot, which is returned to normal use at 9 a.m. when Epcot's Future World opens for the day. So if you are heading to Epcot for rope drop on Thursday and Friday, give yourself extra time. Once you are inside the park, however, the races should be finished and the crowds are not expected to be excessive.

The half marathon and marathon begin and finish in the same place at Epcot, though the courses are longer, of course. The half marathon goes through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on Saturday. The full marathon leads runners through Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Hollywood Studios (in that order) on Sunday. These courses definitely require additional road closures, so be prepared for traffic delays or to find alternate routes into the afternoon hours. Also, for these two races, guests are likely to see runners on marked courses inside the theme parks through mid-afternoon while guests are there. This really shouldn't impede guests' experiences, although they are asked not to step in front of runners.

Epcot also hosts a Pasta in the Park Party on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at World Showplace, the facility located in World Showcase. This event also includes reserved viewing for the IllumiNations fireworks but not general admission into the park so it should not affect crowd levels.

On Sunday, a post-race Cool Down Party is scheduled for 2 to 8 p.m. at Downtown Disney Marketplace, which already is difficult for drivers to navigate because of the ongoing construction. It's probably advisable to avoid the area during that time unless you really have an overwhelming need to be there.

All these Marathon Weekend activities will affect Walt Disney World transportation. Although early buses are scheduled for participants, runners and their groups also will be using the regular routes later in the day and night, so allow extra time if you need to reach your destination by a certain time.



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January 3, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Expo begins Jan. 7 and is free to public

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runDisney's most extensive collection of races - Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend - begins Wednesday. If you're not participating as either a runner or a chEAR member, you might be like my family as been in the past and want to avoid all the traffic and road closures.

However, if you have an interest in fitness, there is one aspect you might want to check out and it's completely free - except for your inevitable spending spree, that is. The runDisney Health & Fitness Expo takes place Jan. 7 to 10 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and it's open not just to registered participants but to the public. Even the parking is free! (How often can you say that at Disney World?!)

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The Expo serves as the headquarters for race weekend, but it's also a showcase for the latest products and even a site for running seminars and celebrity speakers. My husband and son are registered for their first race later this year, and they're excited to check out the Expo as they continue their training.

If you are running this weekend, the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is where you'll need to go to pick up your race packet (race bib, timing device, race shirt, etc.) during Expo hours. Race packets must be picked up the actual person who is registered. He or she will need to show identification and turn in a waiver at that time.

Hours are as follows:

Wednesday, January 7, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thursday, January 8, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, January 9, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 10, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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Participants and guests who are in a shopping mood can choose from runDisney race-specific T-shirts, as well as Marathon Weekend gear, new MagicBands and Tervis Tumblers. In addition, vendors will be selling the latest in fitness apparel, footwear, sunglasses, high-tech gadgets and nutritional products.

One item everyone wants to get a glimpse of are the Limited Edition New Balance running shoes that are especially designed for runDisney. The 2015 design hasn't been released yet, but there are many eager fans waiting. When they were introduced in 2013, the men's shoes were designed in Mickey Mouse colors and the women's version clearly was influenced by Minnie Mouse. In 2014, four runDisney New Balance shoes debuted in a rainbow of colors. They all cost about $125 a pair and have sold out quickly in years past.

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Another must-see is the tradition of a new Dooney & Bourke pattern that sports a Disney race design. The 2015 WDW Marathon Weekend pattern has been released on five bags. Prices range from $159 to $269 for the crossbody, letter carrier, Smith bag, slim wristlet and satchel styles. They were available for pre-order.

The Expo also will showcase a Speaker Series that includes appearances by celebrity runners and seminars on training, running and nutrition featuring speakers and panelists from the running industry.

Here is the schedule:

Wednesday
11 a.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant
12 p.m. Sport Science for Runners presented by Florida Hospital Celebration Health
1 p.m. Dopey Challenge Strategy Panel
2 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
3 p.m. How to Get The Most From Your Marathon Experience presented by Cigna
4 p.m. Don't Make Dopey Mistakes presented by Clif Bar
5 p.m. Dopey Challenge Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
6 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham

Thursday
10 a.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
12 p.m. Tips and Tricks to Prepare for Race Day (runDisney nutritionist Tara Gidus, running coach Jenny Hadfield, and creator of Disney Bound Leslie Kay)
1 p.m. Come on get ‘Appy! presented by Cigna
2 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham
3 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
4 p.m. Sport Science for Runners presented by Florida Hospital Celebration Health
5 p.m. Don't Make Dopey Mistakes presented by Clif Bar
6 p.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant

Friday
10 a.m. Motivation and Inspiration - How To Keep Yours Going presented by Cigna
11 a.m. Tips from the World Marathon Major Race Directors
12 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
1 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
2 p.m. Runner's World Challenge Strategy Session Bart Yasso, Warren Greene and Budd Coates
3 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin and Dave McGillivray
4 p.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant

Saturday
11 a.m. Pain Prevention and Management for Runners presented by GoodSense
12 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
1 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
2 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham
3 p.m. Tips and Tricks to Prepare for Race Day (runDisney nutritionist Tara Gidus, running coach Jenny Hadfield, and creator of Disney Bound Leslie Kay)

Good luck to ALL the participants but especially our own Laura Gilbreath (twitter: @AllEarsLaura) and Lee Zimmerman (twitter:@leezimmerman)



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January 1, 2015

#DisneySide campaign to reward lucky fans with stay in Cinderella Castle suite, home parties

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Don't be surprised if you see #DisneySide more prevalent on your social media networks in January. The Walt Disney Company has at least two new initiatives that are part of this marketing campaign in January - and both focus on rewarding Disney fans with some pretty amazing prizes.

#DisneySide actually began in earnest in 2014. Social Media Director Thomas Smith initially wrote on the Disney Parks Blog that a person's "Disney Side" is "the side of you that says 'yes' more often, laughs louder and lives life to the fullest. It's the side of you that embraces fun and comes out to play the moment you step through the gates at Disney Parks."

During the last year, the company offered a number of contests and meet-ups for Disney fans to express their creativity and their love of the brand. And the new year brings new opportunities.

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Beginning today, Disney Parks is giving away a Walt Disney World vacation every day during the month of January. As if that's not exciting enough, each of those five-day, four-night vacations includes one night's stay in Cinderella Castle - the most coveted suite on property!

To enter the Disney Flip Side sweepstakes, you must be a registered user of Disney.com. (Registration is free.) Then, click on http://parks.disney.com/disney-flip-side-sweepstakes. Each day is considered a separate contest legally so each user can enter once every day in January. Participants must be residents of the 50 United States, D.C., Puerto Rico or Canada and must not be a minor, as defined by their place of residence.

The vacation prizes also include five-day Magic Your Way tickets with Park Hopper and Water Parks & More options; $500 Disney gift card; personalized Disney Side gift basket; Glass Slipper gift inspired by the upcoming film, “Cinderella”; and round-trip coach airfare for those living more than 250 miles away from Walt Disney World.

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Disney also is repeating its Disney Side Home Celebrations. Families were invited to apply -- the deadline has been extended through this week -- to host at-home Disney parties during January or February 2015, and winners are being notified on or by Monday, Jan. 5. (If you still want to apply, go to http://bit.ly/13zjsKh) For their parties, hosts receive a box of goodies for at least 10 parents and 10 children. The package includes party favors, decorations, games, activities, recipe ideas and a special hostess gift. In exchange for taking part, winners agree to share their experiences online and offline.

This time, the latest Disney Side Home Celebration kits are tailored to each family's current stage. “Whether your preschooler is gearing up for her first spin on the teacups, your tween is busy scouting out the best “selfie” spots in the Magic Kingdom, or you're excitedly planning a family reunion trip that includes everyone from grandparents to great aunts, there is a Disney Side @Home Celebration experience perfect for your Disney lovin' crew,” according to the application.

“And just like each visit to Disney Parks, the latest Disney Side Home Celebration opportunity provides new ways for you to connect with your family and friends over your love of Disney.” Of course, that means plenty of photos will be posted online to show off their Disney sides.




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December 29, 2014

Ideas for celebrating New Year's Eve outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World

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Walt Disney World's theme parks certainly know how to host splashy New Year's Eve parties. It would be difficult to top the lavish food, top-notch entertainment and spectacular fireworks. But if your family has younger kids who might not make it until midnight or you're looking for a less crowded celebration, here are some suggestions for other ways to ring in 2015 Disney-style. Most of these do not require advance planning, so you can even decide on Dec. 31 what your family wants to do.

Raglan Road

At Downtown Disney, Raglan Road offers live entertainment on two stages, plus dinner and late-night menus inside the restaurant and on the patio. But what makes this especially appealing to families may be the complimentary champagne toast at midnight in Ireland (7 p.m. EST) and again at midnight in Orlando. Obviously those under age 21 won't be partaking, but the celebration itself is fun. My daughter and I have had several enjoyable experiences at Raglan Road and definitely recommend it. Parking in the new parking garage is complimentary, and there is no cover charge for the evening.

Dinner and fireworks viewing at a resort hotel

Although it may be tough at this late date to get a reservation at one of the table-service restaurants at the hotels on the monorail loop - Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian - it is still possible to dine there and then view the fireworks. To do so, you'll need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which costs $17 for the day if you're not staying on property or are an annual passholder, and then take the monorail or a bus to the hotel of your choice. (Because of the heavy holiday crowds, guests who are not staying at the hotels or those who don't have dining reservations will not be allowed to park in those lots.) Guests can eat in the quick-service restaurants at the three hotels and then view the fireworks from various public viewing areas, such as the fourth floor lobby or monorail platform at the Contemporary. Be aware that some hotel viewing areas are restricted to patrons of specific high-end restaurants.

Walt Disney World kids activity centers

If the adults in your group want to experience their own celebrations at Walt Disney World, the children can spend a fun evening in one of the resort's activity centers, which will have extended hours on New Year's Eve. The four locations open at 4:30 p.m. and will have the last pickup at 1:30 a.m. (Children will be able to rest or sleep when they get tired.) I'm told that the centers will not have special activities for the holiday. Still, when my daughter has spent time in the centers, she thoroughly enjoyed all the choices of entertainment. The centers welcome children ages 3 (must be potty-trained) to 12. The cost is $15 per hour per child, with a two-hour minimum. Dinner is included for those who are in the club during the time it is served. At the time of this writing, there still was space available in all four locations, but reservations are recommended. For more details, see the AllEars.Net resource page.

Celebration Town Center

The town of Celebration, located just outside the gates of Walt Disney World, hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" -- a flurry of soap bubbles -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. The last "snowfalls" of the season happen on Dec. 31 at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic. This event does not have a New Year's Eve countdown, but it does offer a last taste of the holiday season with gorgeous decorations, ice skating, “snow flurries,” carriage rides and a variety of restaurants for dinner.

DisneyQuest

For the last several years, DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, has hosted a family friendly event on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year, and there is no word on whether the party will resume next year. Still, the attraction is a fun place to let pre-teens and teens spend time enjoying electronic gaming fun while parents check out some of the more adult offerings at Downtown Disney.

Celebrate early

The Magic Kingdom displays its New Year's Eve fireworks on Dec. 30, as well as Dec. 31. Fantasy in the Sky starts at 11:50 p.m. both days. Although it still will be crowded in the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 30, it definitely will not be as bad as it is on New Year's Eve. This might be a way to see the fireworks early and then enjoy a quieter New Year's Eve. If you are staying at a Disney resort, there also usually are family friendly activities planned for guests.

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!



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