November 18, 2017

Disney Christmas and Dogs Dooney and Bourke collections to be released on Thanksgiving weekend

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Two highly anticipated Disney Dooney & Bourke collections will be released next week. The Winter Wonderland (Christmas) design and the Disney Dogs are finally going to be available after they were unveiled over the summer.

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The Winter Wonderland pattern will be released on Black Friday, November 24, at Disney Springs. It will be sold at both The Dress Shop inside Marketplace Co-op and at the new Ever After Jewelry Co. & Accessories beginning at 8 a.m. It also will be released on the Shop Disney Parks app, shopDisney.com and at Disneyland that day.

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The Christmas collection is the same pattern that was introduced last year, but this season it’s printed on a black background instead of a cream one. It features Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse participating in a variety of holiday activities. The scenes are depicted in red, green and white.

The Winter Wonderland pattern comes in three silhouettes of bags: Tote ($268); Crossbody that is roomier and looks more like a satchel ($248); and Wallet that has a long strap to make it a crossbody, too ($178). Usually, there are limits on quantities that each guest can buy, but none have been announced so far. Typically it’s two per style per person.

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The Disney Dogs pattern features images of a large group of beloved dog characters from Disney animated films. (It’s being released a year after the Disney Cats version was released, which was really popular and sold out quickly.) The Disney Dogs collection will be released on Sunday, November 26 at Ever After Jewelry Co. & Accessories at Disney Springs. Ever After Jewelry Co. & Accessories opens at 10 a.m. that day.

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The Disney Dogs collection also will be sold on shopdisney.com the same day (November 26) and on the Shop Disney Parks app the following day (November 27).

The bags will be available at four locations at Disneyland on November 26: World of Disney, Disney Dress Shop, Clothier’s and Elias & Co.

Beginning November 27, depending on available stock, the Disney Dogs collection will be sold in the Walt Disney World parks: Uptown Jewelers at Magic Kingdom, Mouse Gear at Epcot, Discovery Trading Post at Animal Kingdom and either Keystone Clothiers or Once Upon A Time at Hollywood Studios.

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There are three silhouettes for Disney Dogs: Tote ($268); a Foldover Crossbody ($178); and Crossbody ($248). Based on the names of the bags, it would appear that these styles are the same shapes that were released with the Princess Tiana prints.

Discounts for annual passholder and Disney Vacation Club will be honored at the above stores and on the Shop Disney Parks app. It does not apply to purchases on shopdisney.com, but Disney Visa card members get a discount there.

(All photos are from the Disney Parks Blog.)





November 16, 2017

New SpectacuLAB opens at Epcot at Walt Disney World

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A new attraction with science as its focus opened this week at Walt Disney World. Housed in Epcot’s Innoventions, The SpectacuLAB is a show in which guests can interact with real scientists and their intern as they demonstrate scientific principles.

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The show was designed by Science from Scientists, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching and inspiring children to solve real-world problems by improving literacy in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), in partnership with electronic components manufacturer Murata and Disney Parks Live Entertainment.

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The SpectacuLAB is a 20-minute show that is appropriate for all ages. It takes place five times per day at 10:30 and 11:45 a.m. and 2, 3:15 and 4:30 p.m. in the building that used to be home to VISION House. Guests enter the lab and sit in pew-style seating. Those who want to be close to the action are invited to sit on the carpet close to the stage. Tip: If your child wants to be chosen to participate when the host asks for volunteers, it can’t hurt to be close to the stage.

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Through interactive demonstrations, guests at the attraction learn about scientific principles such as ultrasonic pressure, barometric pressure, acceleration and force. Audience volunteers help illustrate barometric pressure by raising and lowering cubes that changes colors and smashing a paper cup while an accelerometer sensor measures force. One of the scientists further demonstrates force when she lies on a bed of nails while other actions are taken.

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The founder of Science from Scientists, Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle, was part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The SpectacuLAB. I had the opportunity to speak with her this week and a few years ago when her organization helped produce the show "Science Thrills Live" at Walt Disney World for National Engineers Week. Ebbel Angle is a former Miss Massachusetts, MIT alumna, has a PhD in biochemistry from Boston University and is the host of the "Dr. Erika Show."

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How will this exhibit appeal to guests visiting Walt Disney World where they have so much competing for their attention?

When this show was designed, the goal was to tell a great story – to be engaging, entertaining, fun and hands-on and have audience members come up on stage – but also to describe some of the technologies that students wouldn’t normally see in daily life and understand the importance of. Murata has such great technology that’s embedded in the sensors in your cell phone, in your car, in medical equipment, things that you see every day that you wouldn’t necessarily know is there.

How do you get kids excited about science?

There are several ways. The first is to make it real, so rather than make it something that's covered in a textbook or described only as something they can imagine, you have to make it tangible. The second way is by having the right people. You have to have fun, cool, charismatic folks talking about the material so you're dispelling the stereotype that all scientists are boring and have no other interests. So you have to find folks who are capable of talking to kids and getting them excited and making it understandable. Many scientists have a challenging time doing that.

How does relaying your story as pageant participant help girls relate to you and your mission?

The purpose of it [her crown] is to show that science is not a single activity for which you could have no other interests. So for me, my secret is that I have done pageants, I play the piano, I have other interests. So whether you're an athlete or an artist, a magician or whether you like to play the kazoo, the point is that you can be a scientist or engineer and have other interests, as well. So, the messaging with the crown is "Look -- it doesn't matter what your other interests are. It doesn't affect whether you can become a scientist."

How do you reach out especially to girls and get them interested in STEM activities?

From what I've heard and from talking to girls between the ages of 5 and 13, the concerns are "Well, if I'm a scientist, no one will like me or I won't have friends" or "I'm going to be labeled a geek." No. 1: It's cool to be a geek because if you're not a geek, one day you'll probably be working for one. No. 2: Embrace who you are. That doesn't affect whether or not you can be a scientist, a biochemist, an astrophysicist, an engineer.

So, the message to girls is "You are who you are. Be very comfortable with that. Don't let what other people say to you affect the decisions that you make. Don't let people harass you into thinking you can't do something because you're a girl. It's just the same as saying, 'You wear pink shoes, and, therefore, you can't be a scientist'."

Again, producing high-quality role models helps so girls say, "OK, that person is a scientist and they're pretty normal and have a life and other interests." And then just helping them to be themselves and encouraging them to be comfortable in their own skin and letting the rest go.

Do you find that kids are especially interested in one branch of science over others?

That's an interesting question. Historically there have been many fewer women in science, especially in engineering, than men. I think a lot of that has to do with role models. But now that there are more women in medicine, in the life sciences -- biology, chemistry -- you're seeing even more women apply. Statistics show that more women go to college than men these days, and there are quite a few in medical school and in the life sciences. But fewer in physics and computer science. I think part of that is that girls don't see many women, so as a result they have no role models.

So one of the things we try to do is find these people and say, " 'Come out, talk to kids, and say they can do it'." Maybe in the next five to 10 years we may start seeing a shift as more women [are more visible].

The trend has been very interesting even for boys. Girls outscore boys on the SAT, and their grades are better. I think there are a variety of different reasons. Boys tend to mature a little later and then they finally settle into themselves and become who they are later on. There's also a different mindset. I've noticed that men and women think very differently. As girls get older, they're less afraid to fail. Whether that's environmental or genetic, who knows? Boys don't care as much about just raising their hands and being wrong. But girls won't raise their hands if they're not totally sure.

Ultimately if the activities are good enough and the content isn't boring, I think you can encourage both simultaneously.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for the opening of the SpectacuLAB at Epcot. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.





November 14, 2017

Review: Disney Cruise Line's Beauty and the Beast stage show

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The new stage production of “Beauty and the Beast” onboard the Disney Dream certainly lives up to the high standard of creativity and performance set by Disney Cruise Line’s other Broadway-style shows and, in fact, introduces new technology in the storytelling that will leave audiences breathless.

On Friday while the Disney Cruise Line ship was in port in Florida, I was invited to a media showing of the show, which had quietly soft-opened on the previous sailing. Although I have not seen “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway, I did review the live-action remake of the animated classic last year from which this show primarily draws inspiration.

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The similarities are clear from the focus on the ornate versions of Lumiere and Cogsworth to the gilding of the set to the iconic ballroom waltz scene. Even two of the new songs from the film, “Days in the Sun” and “How Does a Moment Last Forever” are included into this stage production.

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But the element that really sets this production apart from the movie is the use of movement. It becomes apparent from the start that this version of the musical is the one with the highest energy level yet. Actors and dancers are in constant motion, not just in choreographed numbers but in introducing and removing the sets from view. Clever use of arches for doorways and mobile sets of stairs allow the performers to travel between scenes and the wheeled pieces become part of the dance as they glide through the numbers with the dancers.

The wow factor, though, comes from the LED screens that form the walls, and even the exit doors, of the stage. Not only are the images crisp and bright with the ultra high definition, but they keep moving and changing seamlessly. I recently saw LED screen technology used in this way at an Ed Sheeran concert, and it was the same effect of creating continual motion and a richness of depth on a static stage. Amazing.

Lest you think this version of “Beauty and the Beast” is taking a modernistic approach to a beloved tale that won’t appeal to theater purists, let me assure you that it still contains all the elements that audiences expect. The screens really are integrated into the production.

“We’re really taking a giant leap forward with video technology, said projection designer Aaron Rhyme. “And we really believe that’s going to create a really incredible, cohesive blend with what the set looks like, what the video looks like and then the actors really bringing Beauty and the Beast to life in a new way.”

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The heart of the production – the storyline – is still intact, and the performers present it to audiences beautifully. The introduction is a little different, though, as explained by Jason Sherwood, scenic designer for the show:

“As we all sat down and discussed the approach and the idea that Belle’s father wasn’t an inventor as we had seen in the animated movie but a music-box maker and a craftsperson and that a music box contains a story, that felt like a very interesting way into the idea that we could take a different vantage point. So the idea that the characters, the people, the story are inside an object became a huge aspect in what we wanted to create visually on stage and the idea that we’re telling a story—it’s a tale as old as time – here it is. We’re opening it up and we’re sharing it with you. It’s a very intimate, very tactile, very old-school storytelling idea we were able to put through our contemporary sensibility as current theater artists.”

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But audiences will still find their favorite parts of “Beauty and the Beast.” Belle is still the same earnest, compassionate young woman who dreams of faraway places. The humorous relationship between Gaston and LeFou is still on display. “Reflected glory is just as good as the real thing,” Gaston says to his admirer. And Beast still makes that transformation mentally and physically from a banished man to one who feels loved.

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The crowd favorite “Be Our Guest” has been re-imagined as an even more elaborate number with a several-course meal, deliciously prolonging the catchy song. The bold colors of each course – a neon salad! – and the variety of dancing that includes a breakdancer – make this an infinitely satisfying experience.

“In this version of Beauty and the Beast, we are using what we call ‘hi-fi story theatre.’ ‘Hi-fi story theatre being an imaginative, creative way to tell a story and bumping that right up against high-tech theatrical magic that only Disney can deliver,” said Director and Choreographer Connor Gallagher.

“Beauty and the Beast” will be performed exclusively on the Disney Dream, replacing “Villains Tonight” in the ship’s rotation of theater productions.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Disney Cruise Line for its media showing of “Beauty and the Beast” onboard the Disney Dream. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.





November 11, 2017

Pre-sale tickets available now for new Disney Junior Dance Party On Tour

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Billed as a first concert experience for kids, the new Disney Junior Dance Party On Tour will travel across the country in 2018, it was announced this week. Pre-sale tickets are on sale now, and general admission tickets go on sale Nov. 17.

Launching March 14 in Southern California, the high-energy production is inspired by popular Disney Junior series Mickey and the Roadster Racers, Sofia the First, Elena of Avalor, Doc McStuffins, The Lion Guard, Vampirina and Puppy Dog Pals. The live concert also will include a brand-new interactive experience featuring Disney Junior's highly anticipated series, Muppet Babies, which will air in early 2018.

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The 50-show tour will make stops at marquis venues including Rosemont Theatre (Chicago), The Fox Theatre (Atlanta) and The Grand Ole Opry (Nashville). A complete list of venues and dates can be found here.

During the show, hosts Dee and Jay and the DJ Dance squad welcome Mickey, Minnie and other Disney Junior characters on stage to perform popular songs including "Hot Dog Dance" from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, "Time For Your Check Up" from Doc McStuffins, "Zuka Zama" from The Lion Guard and "Happy Helpers" from Mickey and the Roadster Racers.

"The 'Disney Junior Dance Party On Tour' is going to be the premiere family concert event of the year and for many years to come. The production is absolutely stunning and working alongside Disney and Amy Tinkham to create this show has been an incredible experience and an honor," said executive tour producer Jonathan Shank in a statement. "Parents and children are going to truly love this show. There are new songs, greatest hits and some mashups, which are really fun!"

Who doesn’t love a good mashup?

"We are delighted to collaborate with Red Light Management to bring some of Disney Junior's biggest hit series to the stage for kids and families nationwide to enjoy in a truly immersive concert experience," said Jennifer Rogers-Doyle, vice president of franchise management at Disney Channels Worldwide, in a statement.

Disney Visa Cardmember pre-sale tickets, as well as VIP meet-and-greet packages, are available now, with Disney Junior Facebook pre-sales starting at 10 a.m. (local time) Nov. 14. General admission tickets go on sale to the public on Nov. 17.

VIP packages include an after-party and meet-and-greets following each performance. Kids and families also will have the opportunity to enjoy breakfast with characters including Mickey, Sofia and Doc on weekend show days. Performances during the week will include a special VIP offering, an afternoon tea featuring appearances by Princess Elena, Princess Sofia and Minnie Mouse.

Parents can go to disney.com/disneyjuniortour to get more information and to purchase tickets.





November 9, 2017

Loaded with bonus features, Pixar's "Cars 3" now available on DVD and blu-ray

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Poised to race into your home, “Cars 3” is now available on DVD and blu-ray loaded with extra content.

“Cars 3” clearly is an updated version of the original that shows a lot of creative spirit under the hood. Pixar artist Brian Fee’s 2017 directorial debut brought back the familiar animated cars voiced by Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt and Orlando’s Larry the Cable Guy, and it adds new characters and a score of actual NASCAR personalities.

“Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician with her own plan to win, inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet, and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn't through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing's biggest stage!” Pixar Animation Studios describes the movie.

This third computer-animated film has, according to most reviews (including ours) at its release, retained that creative vroom of storytelling that the original “Cars” showed. So far, the film has grossed over $382 million worldwide.

Now, fans can watch “Cars 3” at their convenience with the DVD and blu-ray release. (The film was released on Digital HD on Oct. 24.) Of course, any new Disney DVD release is more than just the feature presentation, and “Cars 3” is packed with lots of fun bonus features. Here’s a list of some of what you’ll find in the Blu-ray, Digital HD and DVD packages:

Blu-ray and Digital HD

** Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool (Exclusive new mini-movie) – Enjoy blindsided testimonials from the Crazy 8’s, touting the transformative impact Miss Fritter’s Racing School has had in reshaping the direction of their lives.

** Theatrical Short: “Lou” – When a toy-stealing bully ruins recess for a playground full of kids, only one thing stands in his way: the “Lost and Found” box.

** Let’s. Get. Crazy. – Get schooled in the world of demolition derby, the “rules” of figure 8 racing, and how Pixar puts the crazy in the Thunder Hollow Crazy 8 race. This piece is hosted by Lea DeLaria.

** Legendary – Get a close, historical look at the racing legends Wendell Scott and Louise Smith, whose tenacity and perseverance got them into the race even when they weren’t invited.

** Ready for the Race – Disney Channel’s Olivia Rodrigo and NASCAR Racer William Byron check out the Hendrick Motorsports campus to showcase how real-world race training influenced the filmmakers.

** World’s Fastest Billboard – Blink and you will miss all of the graphics and “car-ified” advertisements created by Pixar’s Art team to make the ”Cars 3” world as believable as possible.

** Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could – Join Cristela Alonzo and the filmmakers on their journey to create a race-car trainer turned champion racer.

** Generations: The Story of “Cars 3” – For the story team, creating Lightning McQueen’s next chapter didn’t involve just a tune-up, but a complete overhaul.

** My First Car – A collection of illustrated first-car stories as narrated by members of the “Cars 3” cast and crew. “A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington,” “Old Blue,” and “Still in the Family.”

** 5 Deleted Scenes – Each deleted scene is set up with an introduction as to why it was removed from the film. Deleted scenes include “The Boogie Woogie,” “The Jars of Dirt,” “Lugnut,” “The Bolt,” and “More Than New Paint.”

** Cars To Die(cast) For – Take a look at the phenomenon of die-cast toy collecting and the more than 1,000 unique designs that exist in the Cars universe.

** Commentary – Brian Fee (Director), Kevin Reher (Producer), Andrea Warren (Co-Producer) and Jay Ward (Creative Director)

DVD

** Theatrical Short: “Lou” & “Commentary”





November 7, 2017

Review: House of Blues changes tempo on its menu selections

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House of Blues has long been a presence at Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), and my husband and I have enjoyed dining there since its early days in the late '90s. We have had date nights there, as well as taken visiting family and friends to its rollicking Gospel Brunch – all with a sense of adventure in the entertainment and satisfaction with our meals.

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“The House of Blues grew out of founder Isaac Tigrett's love for the unique American art form known as the ‘the Blues.’ Weaned on this music during his early childhood in Tennessee, one of Isaac's goals was to introduce the world to the music of the rural south, including the Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Roots-based Rock & Roll,” according to the company website. “The very first House of Blues opened its doors in a converted historical house in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1992 and is home to live music, original folk art, and delta-inspired cuisine.”

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The Orlando restaurant recently updated its menu, and I was invited to visit and sample new dishes and old favorites. Although I had made a reservation, the walk-up wait time was only about 20 minutes on a Saturday night. With the holiday season – and crowds – upon us, that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re visiting Disney Springs without a reservation. Many of the other restaurants cannot accommodate last-minute guests so quickly on busy nights.

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My husband and I began the dinner by sipping on a Pride & Joy (made from Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila, St. Elder, lime and pineapple juice, agave nectar and sour) and a Rock Me Hurricane (made from Bacardi Superior rum, Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, Amaretto Disaronno, orange and pineapple juices and a Bacardi Black rum float). The Hurricane had that familiar and refreshing fruit-and-rum taste, and the spiced rum was strong, sweet and abundant. My husband said his first Pride & Joy was delicious, too.

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Our server, Calvin, was knowledgeable about the new menu and explained that many of the dishes had been revamped and others added in an effort to offer a dining experience more typical of the cuisine of the South. Still, repeat diners will find that the most popular dishes remain on the menu.

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Knowing that the portions are huge, we decided to skip the appetizers at the beginning and focus on our meals. We ordered four dinners to share. My husband chose the Fried Chicken, which was a quarter bird drizzled with warm honey, slaw and mashed potatoes with gravy ($20). Calvin explained that the addition of the honey was new to this dish, and my husband said he enjoyed the flavor of the traditional southern staple. The Fried Chicken is one of the dishes on the menu earmarked by the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, which donates $1 from its sale to the nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the real-life skills for youth using music as the bridge to successful careers. (You can read more at hobmusicforward.org)

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My teenage son tried the BBQ Bacon Burger ($15), which was no surprise to the rest of us because he routinely orders bacon or barbecue burgers when we go out. Because of his preference and breadth of experience, I trust his opinion that the House of Blues burger was good, but it wasn’t his favorite at Disney Springs. The House of Blues burger was topped with cheddar cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, crispy jalapenos, sautéed bourbon onions and Memphis BBQ sauce, and although it was perfectly fine, my son said he would not seek it out. Instead, he recommends the Barbecue Classic Burger (served with signature blend beef patty topped with a fried onion ring, smoked Gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce, grilled onions and lettuce) at D-Luxe Burger, a short walk away.

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My daughter tried the New York Strip ($30), which is a 12-ounce grilled Angus steak, mashed potatoes and arugula salad. We all tasted the steak and agreed that it, unfortunately, did not have much flavor. It definitely was not something I would order again, especially knowing that plenty of other locations on Disney property have excellent steaks that I would make a special trip to enjoy. The mashed potatoes were delicious, however.

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I decided to go with my old standby, the Jambalaya ($19), which is made with sautéed chicken, andouille sausage and trinity cooked in spicy red sauce. I opted to add the Cajun shrimp ($6), and I ordered the Jalapeno-Cheese Cornbread ($9), which is served in a skillet with honey butter. The Jambalaya perhaps was our biggest disappointment because I have ordered it almost every time I have dined at House of Blues during the last 20 years and this new version tastes nothing like that. It was quite bland and would have had little appeal without the shrimp add-on.

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Overall, my family and I found the quality of the entrees we sampled at the various price points to be acceptable, but nothing to rave about. Unfortunately, when a meal for a family of four costs $125 or more, such as this one and many table-service meals at Walt Disney World do, “acceptable” isn’t enough to entice me to dine there again.

Food aside, the restaurant’s cool atmosphere and our enthusiastic server did make for a pleasant experience. And if you love the blues and rock music, clearly you’ll value the dining experience more and overlook some of the menu shortcomings. After all, music and folk art appreciation is perhaps half the reason many people keep coming back to HOB. I just wish we liked the new menu more so that I’d be singing a different song about the food.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of House of Blues to sample its new menu. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.





November 4, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando announces 2017 Blue Friday deals for Thanksgiving weekend

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SeaWorld Orlando is preparing to celebrate "Blue Friday" (its version of Black Friday) and is offering quite a few deals to save you some green. There are a number of Buy One, Get One offers, and new this year is the BOGO on the Dine With Shamu package. Plus, the offers will be available online even earlier this year -- beginning at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23.)

To take advantage of the Blue Friday deals, guests must register to receive SeaWorld Orlando's e-mail updates on the website or already be subscribed. Fans can subscribe any time between now and Nov. 22 to participate. The deals will be available for a limited time.

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Look for these deals, beginning Thanksgiving morning !

** SeaWorld & Aquatica Orlando 1 Year Annual Pass Buy One Get One 50% Off Ticket (First visit must occur by Jan. 31, 2018.)

** SeaWorld Orlando Buy One Get One 50% Off Single-Day Ticket (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** SeaWorld Orlando + Aquatica Buy One Get One 50% Off Ticket (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** BOGO Quick Queue Unlimited (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** BOGO Beluga and Walrus Up-Close Tour (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** BOGO 50 percent off Dine With Shamu (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** Save up to $110 on gifted Discovery Cove admission packages.

** BOGO SeaWorld All-Day Dining Deal (Must use by March 15, 2018.)

** 30 percent off your total purchase at SeaWorldShop.com

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If the Blue Friday offers don’t meet your group’s needs, there are two other admission deals. Visitors who purchase a Fun Card or annual pass will get bonus time – for free. Now through Jan. 3, 2018, SeaWorld pass members will receive 15 months of admission. This deal costs $168 plus tax – which must be paid in full at the time of purchase. Vouchers for this offer must be redeemed within 90 days of purchase. The “3 Months Free” deal also can be applied to combination annual passes that include Aquatica water park, Busch Gardens and other out-of-state parks owned by SeaWorld Entertainment. SeaWorld Orlando also is offering to add two months to its Fun Cards. If you purchase a Fun Card during the rest of this year, it will be good through Dec. 31, 2018. A Fun Card costs $99.99 plus tax for ages 3 and older.

What is the difference between a Fun Card and a SeaWorld annual pass?

A Fun Card is good for unlimited visits during the calendar year in which it was purchased. So, whether you buy a Fun Card in January or October, it still expires on December 31 of that year. There are no blackout dates for either Fun Cards or annual passes. Unlike annual passes, Fun Cards do not include parking, which is $20 per day for most vehicles.

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Finally, guests who visit SeaWorld on select days through Dec. 31 also can experience SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration for the price of regular admission. This is a wonderful value, especially when you consider that other area theme parks require separate tickets for holiday events. Holiday events take place on certain days starting Nov. 23. New this year is a Dine with Rudolph dinner experience that can be booked now.





November 2, 2017

Taping of Christmas specials begins tomorrow at Walt Disney World

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Beginning tomorrow (Nov. 3), segments of the Disney Parks holiday specials that air in November and December on ABC and the Disney Channel will be taped at Walt Disney World. According to online reports, tapings at the Orlando theme parks will take place through Tuesday (Nov. 7). Like last year, the production schedule calls for stage performances and other segments to be filmed here, while the Christmas parade that is shown on the morning of Dec. 25 will be filmed at Disneyland in California.

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For years, Walt Disney World invited various groups, such as passholders, sports volunteers and even the general public, to apply for free tickets to the tapings. In exchange, ticketholders agreed to be in the audience for a block of time. In recent years, however, only cast members were eligible for the tickets, and that is the case again this year.

But even if you don't have one of the complimentary production tickets, you still may be able to take part in the tapings -- or at least see some of the acts. The production schedule this year has a crew at Hollywood Studios on Friday, Animal Kingdom on Saturday and Magic Kingdom on Sunday through Tuesday. (Many times that last day is planned as a backup for a rain delay, so I wouldn’t necessarily count on seeing anything that day.) Filming takes place at all hours of the day – from very early in the morning to late at night, depending on what the producers want to depict and, of course, the weather.

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Annual passholders and guests who pay admission may enter the park, and if there is room in the roped-off areas for the pre-selected audience, they may be allowed to join cast members. Park hours for the public to enter Hollywood Studios on Friday are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with Extra Magic Hours for Disney hotel guests from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. On Saturday, hours for Animal Kingdom are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with Extra Magic Hours from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. At Magic Kingdom, hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday.

Two years ago, my son and I arrived when the park opened and easily were able to join the crowd in front of Cinderella Castle to see a few performers, including Jason Derulo and Ariana Grande.

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A word of warning: This is an actual television production, which means that songs are sung multiple times to get the desired images from the correct camera angle. For example, on one of Ariana’s takes, her mouse ears fell off, so the crowd got to see her perform the song again. We weren’t complaining, especially because it was a song from her new album. Know that you most likely will spend more time waiting than viewing the events, and you shouldn't expect to see a seamless concert.

I speak from more than a decade of experience when I say this can be a tedious process when you have young children. I’ve taken my children to the tapings when they were a range of ages – from preschool through middle school. Certainly, older is easier. If you're determined to take part, I'd suggest bringing plenty of snacks, drinks and electronics to occupy the kids during the wait. Still, it can be a unique opportunity for guests to see their favorite performers from just feet away.

Production also may take place at other locations across Walt Disney World resort, as well. One year that my family and I had tickets for the production taping, we ended up at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to watch Celine Dion perform because it began raining and the production couldn’t continue at the Magic Kingdom. So, don’t be surprised if you happen upon a production set this weekend!

Fans love to speculate who will be performing, but that, too, is a closely guarded secret, for the most part. Presumably, this is to help avoid overwhelming crowds that would be disruptive to other guests' park experiences.

Last year’s performers who taped in Orlando included the stars of “Decendants 2,” Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Jordan Fisher, Alessia Cara, Gavin DeGraw and Flo-Rida.

No dates for taping on the West Coast have been announced yet.





October 31, 2017

Plan now for 2018 Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

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Although I often write about fun for families in Orlando, this blog post is for adults. Parents need some time away from the kids to recharge, and we at AllEars.Net think the annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic is the perfect date night opportunity. Kids are welcome at the event, but it’s definitely the grown-ups who will have the most fun at it.

For those not familiar with the event, the Food and Wine Classic is two evenings of sampling appetizer-size portions of food, wine and beer in an outdoor atmosphere with live entertainment. Each night has a different menu at the food stations that represent restaurants and chefs that are part of the resort -- Kimonos, Cib's Smokehouse, Shula's Steakhouse, Il Mulino, bluezoo and more. During the last eight years, the event has grown to also include specialty areas: Beer Garden, Carnival Corner, Chinatown and now The Bubble Lounge.

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My husband and I attended the eighth annual Food & Wine Classic on Saturday night, and Deb Wills and Linda Eckwerth were there enjoying the offerings Friday night. There were more than 60 food and beverage stations. Plus, guests could choose to attend one of 11 food and beverage seminars before the main event opened each day.

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I had the opportunity to attend the Wine Blending class for the first time, which Deb highly recommends. Unlike Deb, though, I am a wine novice, so everything about the class was new to me. Our instructor was Tony Porcellini, a certified sommelier and director of food and beverage at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. So, clearly, Mr. Porcellini was well-qualified to teach our seminar, but he also was entertaining, so our time together did not become a dry history lesson.

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As a wine novice, I wondered if I would feel out of place among the connoisseurs at this class. I certainly did not. The instruction was appealing to attendees of all backgrounds, and I, too, would recommend this seminar if it is offered again next year.

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Afterward, when it came time for the main event, we walked across the covered causeway from the Swan to the Dolphin. Because of the inclement weather, the event was moved indoors to the ballrooms on the first floor. Food and beverage stations were grouped as they would have been outdoors and the specialty foods each had their own areas. Celebrity chef Todd English was in attendance and greeting attendees.

Here are some of the dishes we sampled this year:

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Cib’s Smokehouse: Smoked Spanish Iberico Pork Collar, Celery Root Puree, Toasted Hazelnuts, Fall Truffle


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Fountain: Southern Pulled Pork Slider, Apple & Cabbage Slaw, Nashville BBQ, Toasted Sesame Brioche


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Shula's Steakhouse: Oven Roasted Beef Rib Eye, Silky Mashed Potatoes, Sauce Bordelaise


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Cabana Bar and Beach Club: Sweet Corn Risotto "Arancini," Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms, Caper Emulsion


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Chef Todd English: Brown Butter Maine Lobster Roll


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Chef Laurent Branlard Desserts:
(from front, clockwise) Chocolate Cake pop, Mandarin Comfit, Raspberry Ice Cream Filled Profitrole, Vanilla Caramel Cream


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Carnival Corner: Nitro Kettle Corn


As the name indicates, the Food and Wine Classic is also all about the beverages. In fact, there were 44 beverage stations – and that didn’t include Carnival Corner, Beer Garden, Chinatown or The Bubble Lounge.

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“The causeway provides a great opportunity to taste new wines and learn more about what you like or may not like,” Deb said.

Guests who prefer beer to wine had plenty of beverage options, as well.

My husband, who enjoys IPAs and other robust beer varieties, once again had a lot of options at the event.

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He sampled his favorites from what he discovered at previous Food and Wine Classic events – the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale selections, stouts and lagers from Founders Brewing, and the selection being offered by one of his all-time favorite Florida brewers -- Winter Garden’s Crooked Can Brewery.

And, though there were samples being offered throughout all areas of the event, he said the Beer Garden offered the most consistently pleasing samples.

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One Florida brewery of which he wasn’t familiar was Walking Tree Brewery, based in Vero Beach. He said he really enjoyed the flavor of its IPA, White Walking Tree. It was advertised as having a “dry and crisp” flavor, and an aroma of citrus and pine. My husband said it definitely lived up to the advertising, and he’d be looking for it at area retailers.

That sample, by the way, and all the other varieties he enjoyed in the Beer Garden were said to be available at area liquor stores, such as ABC and Total Wine and even at some Publix locations.

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Beer Garden: Bratwurst with Sauerkraut

Along with the great-tasting beer offerings were warm pretzels and various mustards, and vendors offering German Style sausage and Wiener Schnitzel, too, for a perfect beer-pairing snack.

Tips:

** From Deb: When the event is outside, I suggest starting at the far end near the Dolphin. The live entertainment is there and as the night goes on, it gets extremely crowded -- unless, of course, you like that kind of thing!

** From Linda: When checking in, make sure to pick up a pamphlet and look at the map of the causeway and vendors. Circle the ones you want to try first and then try the others. This way you make sure you visit your “musts.”

** From Linda: If going with a group of folks, it is fun to grab a large table so everyone can meet back at the table and compare food and drink choices. If there are just two folks in your group, don't be shy about asking to share a high-top table. It is a nice way to meet folks and share comparisons on the food and drink.

To be sure, moving the event indoors was the correct call with the almost-certain rain that was expected. But, in my opinion, it just wasn’t the same. The ambiance of being outdoors under the stars and by the water on a balmy Florida evening just can’t be beat. Probably the most jarring change to the evening was the loudness of the band. Being outdoors diffuses the sound, but inside it was so loud in all three ballrooms that my husband and I had to shout to have a conversation. Still, this was not the planned setup so it certainly wouldn’t stop me from wholeheartedly recommending this event to others in the future.

This was my fifth year covering the Food and Wine Classic for AllEars.Net, and it’s an event I look forward to every year. It’s a great value for your money with the event lasting for three and a half hours, and it does not feel rushed. If you haven’t tried this event, I recommend putting it on your calendar for next year. Official dates for 2018 have not yet been announced, but it typically is held the last weekend in October.

DISCLAMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin at its Food & Wine Classic. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.





October 28, 2017

Last chance to check out SeaWorld Orlando's Spooktacular Halloween celebration

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Residents and visitors alike have just one more weekend to enjoy SeaWorld Orlando’s Halloween Spooktacular before it disappears for another year. This gentle celebration is perfect for the youngest of trick-or-treaters, but all ages are invited. Here are some tips that we have learned over the years, and things that are new for 2017.

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** Admission to the Halloween activities is included in your regular admission (or Fun Card or annual pass) to SeaWorld Orlando. The last dates for 2017 are today and Sunday (Oct. 28 and 29). Unlike at the other local theme parks, you do not have to pay extra to get in the Halloween spirit. The Spooktacular events take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days, although the park opens at 9 a.m.

** Certainly the whole family is welcome at SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular, but you should know that most of the activities are planned for children 12 and younger. In Penelope's Garden Party, for example, children can dance to a live DJ’s music, make easy crafts and play simple games. The popular Sesame Street's Countdown to Halloween stage production is presented four times each day in the Seaport Theater. The day wraps up with a bubble-filled Spooktacular Dance Party at the front of the park from 6 to 7 p.m. And, of course, the parties take place mostly during the daytime, which is ideal for little ones who have early bedtimes.

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** Trick-or-treating is for all ages – and that includes parents! SeaWorld provides guests with bags, and team members pass out candy at various stations. Although each person only receives one piece of candy at a time, guests are welcome to go through the lines as many times as they would like. Last year, we actually stayed later than in the past, and we discovered that visitors are likely to get more candy per treat stand during the last hour the park is open. That’s because team members cannot save the candy for another day so they’re trying to empty their barrels. One station that actually had run out of candy was giving out cool bookmarks.

** All guests are welcome to dress up in costumes, although only those 12 and younger are allowed to wear masks. (Guests who are ages 13 and older may not wear masks or hoods in the park, and all costumes are subject to the normal dress code for the park.) In addition, face painting is not permitted on any guests unless it is done by park artists. A cool fact I learned this year: face-painting touch-ups are free all day on the day the painting originally is done. Love this policy!

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** Perhaps the best thing about the Underwater FantaSea Path is the sheer number of characters who roam among guests and pose for photos. Unlike at Walt Disney World, face characters and furry characters are not a common occurrence at SeaWorld. But they come out in full force for Spooktacular. We’ve seen princesses, mermaids, stilt walkers, catfish and dogfish, and more.

** Pass members receive 20 percent off food and beverages purchased along the event pathway. Look for treats such as warm mini donuts, kettle corn and SeaWorld’s special spooky punch.

** It’s not too late to purchase Halloween upgrades if you do so online before your arrival. Visitors can reserve seats to Sesame Street's Countdown to Halloween stage production for $19 each. There’s also a new Sppoky Game Pass that allows a guest to play five games for the price of four ($20), and each game guarantees a prize. Adults can purchase the Seasonal Craft Brew Sampler for $30, which gives the bearer 10 craft brews (7 ounces) from a seasonal selection of craft brews that includes more than 20 brews from Florida.

Live out your FantaSea of Halloween fun at SeaWorld Orlando!





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