July 7, 2015

National survey asks travelers what they think about selfie sticks and their use at Walt Disney World

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Walt Disney World’s ban on selfie sticks in its theme parks has put the topic in the news yet again. The total ban went into effect last week, following a partial ban that excluded the devices from roller coasters. (AllEars.Net readers told us what they thought about the use of selfie sticks on attractions here.) Now, the poles designed to hold smartphones for picture-taking are not allowed in the parks at all.

Walt Disney World certainly is not the only tourist attraction that has banned selfie sticks. Recently, Travel Leaders Group conducted a national survey about the use of selfie sticks at major attractions, and one question specifically mentions Walt Disney World.

“Selfie sticks are being banned at some very popular tourist attractions, such as Rome’s Colosseum, the Palace of Versailles, the Smithsonian and on Disney World rides. When asked, ‘If you knew it was prohibited and you saw another tourist taking photos with a selfie stick, what would you do?’ the responses were:

** 33.7 percent of respondents would say nothing
** 32.2 percent would tell a security guard or official personnel
** 26.2 percent were not sure what they would do
** 8.9 percent would say something directly to the person

So, fewer than half of respondents would voice their concerns when selfie sticks were used in situations where they are banned for safety reasons or for interfering with the enjoyment of other visitors. Would you feel motivated or comfortable saying something if you found yourself in this situation?

Interestingly, however, the majority of participants in this survey said they did not own a selfie stick. However, when asked, “If you were taking photos in a location that banned selfie sticks, what would you do?” most people who owned selfie sticks said they would abide by the rules and not use their selfie sticks. Less than one percent said they would still try to use their selfie sticks and hope not to get caught.

Related questions on the travel survey asked participants what they would do if they were visiting locations where photos themselves were strictly banned and what they would do if they saw visitors damaging attractions.

“When asked, ‘Have you ever taken photos at a location, destination or exhibit that strictly prohibited all photos (such as the Sistine Chapel, England’s Crown Jewels, certain Japanese temples, etc.)?’ most people said they have not done that. About 18 percent said they hadn’t taken such photos but they really wanted to sneak some pictures. Only about 10 percent admitted they secretly took photos when no one was looking.

“Tourists at Rome’s Colosseum were caught carving initials into the ancient site. Also, two tourists in Italy recently broke a piece off a historic statue while climbing it to take a picture. When asked, ‘If you were at a major tourist attraction and saw another visitor damaging the attraction (by carving their initials into it, walking off-path and trampling sensitive vegetation, breaking off a piece to take home as a souvenir), what would you do?’ almost 73 percent reported they would tell a security guard or official personnel. About 15 percent said they would say something directly to the person.

This is the seventh consecutive year for the consumer travel survey. American consumers were engaged predominantly through social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as through direct contact with travel clients for the following Travel Leaders Group companies: Protravel International, Results! Travel, Travel Leaders, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com.

Want to weigh in on any of the questions? Give us your thoughts in the comments.



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July 4, 2015

Disneyland to launch its own Dreamers & Doers recognition program for high school students

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Disneyland may be the original Disney theme park, but Walt Disney World was the first park to celebrate students who have made a difference in their communities. The Orlando resort has honored Disney Dreamers & Doers for more than 30 years. Now, Disneyland has announced it, too, will begin highlighting outstanding students with awards of the same name, although the California program will have some differences.

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

Applications can be downloaded beginning Sept. 8. They must be turned in at each school’s main office by Nov. 20, and then the school will select up to two Dreamer & Doers. Each school winner will receive two 1-Day Disneyland Park-Hopper tickets.

In honor of the 60th Diamond Anniversary Celebration, Disneyland then will select 60 students from the group of Dreamers & Doers to be Shining Stars. They will be invited to attend a celebration luncheon along with two family members and a representative from their school. To inspire fellow students to make their school a better place, each of the 60 students selected as “Shining Stars” will receive a $1,000 grant for their school, as well as a Dreamers & Doers medal of recognition. Later, they will be invited to attend a one-day symposium to discuss issues that affect youth and create solutions that they can implement in their schools and communities.

Additionally, six “Luminaries” will be selected to receive a Disneyland weekend prize package to enjoy with their families. And there will be additional surprises announced at the celebration luncheon.

Students interested in applying to become a Dreamer & Doer this fall are encouraged to use summer break to get involved and make a difference, and even showcase how they are making an impact by submitting videos of their work in action. Select videos will then be part of a final video highlighting the program, which will be shown on the Disney Parks Blog and various other social media channels.

Video submissions must:

** Be between one and two minutes in length.
** Include the statement “I Dream…” to describe what the student dreams the world could look like given the work they do in their community. (For example, a student who serves by supporting a local food bank might say: “I dream that everyone will have access to the nutrition they need, so I collect food donations for my local food bank.”)
** Showcase the student’s work in their community, home or school.
** Be in a .mov file format.
** Be emailed to DLR.Corporate.Citizenship@disney.com by August 2.
** Be submitted along with a signed “Consent and Release” form from each individual in the video. Forms can be downloaded here.

Disneyland’s Dreamers & Doers will be announced in December, and the Shining Stars will be named in January 2016.



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July 1, 2015

Walt Disney World's DisneyQuest to close in 2016

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Even Wreck-It Ralph couldn’t save the video games at Downtown Disney’s DisneyQuest.

Disney officials announced Tuesday that DisneyQuest, its five-story arcade of video games and technology-driven activities, will close in 2016 to make room for the previously announced NBA Experience, which will include a restaurant and basketball-themed activities.

Fans and recent visitors who reacted online to the announcement cited dated technology as the main reason they thought the gaming attraction had fared poorly in recent years. When DisneyQuest opened in 1998, the virtual technology seemed like the Tomorrowland of gaming. But with the increasing capabilities of smartphones, the facility lost some of its appeal, they said. Even classic games, such as Pac Man and Fix It Felix Jr. -- which was brought in to promote the animated movie “Wreck-It Ralph” in 2012 – didn’t capture the interest of enough vacationers to keep the facility full.

Still, in its heyday, DisneyQuest was a fun place not just for families on vacation, but for local kids and even couples on date nights. My family and I had annual passes to DisneyQuest for a few years when the kids were younger, and we really enjoyed it. We used those passes most often in the summer to escape the heat or the afternoon thunderstorms.

Among our favorite attractions were Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, a life-size virtual pinball game; Virtual Jungle Cruise, where guests sit in rubber rafts and use real paddles; and Ride the Comix, which requires players to wear virtual-reality helmets and engage in 3D battles. One section of the arcade is dedicated to children ages 2 to 7, and it features age-appropriate games and smaller versions of family favorites.

As my children got older and reached the height requirements, they became more interested in CyberSpace Mountain, which allows users to design their own roller coasters and then ride them in simulators; Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters, which are bumper cars that pick up and shoot balls at targets on other cars; and Pirates of the Caribbean -- Battle for Buccaneer Gold, which allows players to steer a pirate ship and man cannons against enemies while searching for treasure.

Plus, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, there is a second location for the Animation Academy inside DisneyQuest. It will be the only remaining location after the one inside the Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios closes on July 13. On the same floor as the Animation Academy, visitors can participate in other creative endeavors, such as making music and other art projects.

DisneyQuest houses two restaurants. FoodQuest serves pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, wraps and assorted snacks. Wonderland Cafe offers various desserts, snacks, adult beverages and ice cream novelties. For a time, The Cheescake Factory ran the food concessions at DisneyQuest, but that hasn’t been the case for years.

Disney officials have not announced a closing date for DisneyQuest, but they did stop selling annual passes. Guests still can buy a one-day ticket, good for unlimited use of all games and attractions, for $45 plus tax for adults and $39 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9.

You can see my photos of the various attractions in this gallery from when I worked at the Orlando Sentinel and when my kids were younger.



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June 30, 2015

Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios may be closing, but drawing lessons remain at Walt Disney World

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A cherished part of Walt Disney World has been highlighting artwork and drawing since the late 1980s, and now it is drawing to a close.

The Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios is closing, local media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, have confirmed this week. The attraction features a short movie about Disney animation; two character greeting areas; and Animation Academy, where guests can learn to draw popular characters. The Magic of Disney Animation closes on July 13, so the last day for guests is July 12.

My family and I have enjoyed this attraction on many visits to the Walt Disney World theme park, so of course we’re sad to hear it is closing. The Magic of Disney Animation is one of the park’s original attractions, and it allowed budding artists and those fascinated with animation to delve into techniques used in the field. In fact, for years, animators actually worked in bays with large windows designed to allow visitors to watch them draw. Now, guests see their work during an introductory film clip.

In addition, the Magic of Disney Animation usually offered several character meet-and-greets. Mickey, Minnie and The Incredibles were regulars, and a separate, central area with a themed backdrop was used for characters from the latest Disney and Pixar films. Currently, Baymax and Hiro from “Big Hero 6” are located there. Disney officials have not revealed where Mickey and Minnie will be relocated -- or if Hero and Baymax will continue to have a presence at Hollywood Studios.

The third component – Animation Academy, the hands-on opportunity for kids and adults alike to learn to draw from a trained cast member – is what we will miss most. I’ve written about this hidden gem for years because it’s such a unique opportunity.

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Drawing classes at the Animation Academy are offered every 30 minutes, and the subjects are chosen from requests by visitors. The classroom inside the Magic of Disney Animation is quite large, and the setup is fun, with each student sitting on a stool at a slanted drawing board, just like a "real" artist. The Disney animator guides guests through the process of drawing a character, line by line. And the pencils they provide purposely do not have erasers. As the cast member explains, they want guests to understand these drawings are sketches. The pencil strokes are done lightly until the end, when the guests then go over their finished products with bolder markings.

Speaking of finished products, each guest leaves the Animation Academy with a pretty cool souvenir. Guests are invited to autograph their work at the end of each session, but they also could visit the subject of their sketch for a character signature if that character is in the park.

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Guests who really want this experience the Animation Academy after the Magic of Disney Animation closes can visit a second drawing school of the same name, located inside DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney West Side (soon to be renamed Disney Springs). It operates in the same fashion, except that subject requests are not accepted. Instead, there is a posted schedule of the characters to be drawn each day. To access that Animation Academy location, guests must pay admission to DisneyQuest, which is $45 plus tax for adults and $39 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9.

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A similar activity has been built in the lobby of Disney’s Art of Animation hotel. Tucked in a corner to the left of the registration desks, guests will find comfy benches and an animation station, where the instructor shows line by line on a projection screen how to bring a Disney character to life. The classes are free for resort guests. Check with the front desk for the current schedule.

Kids, teens and even adults of all talent levels usually find the drawing classes fun. And getting the chance to learn to draw your favorite character is a unique kind of entertainment you might not find just anywhere. My two kids always got a thrill whenever their “favorite” character was the featured one for the artwork session.

Animation and artwork are, of course, the basis for all of what Disney is and has become. Hopefully, whatever replaces the Magic of Disney Animation will be just as moving and inspiring for guests as this attraction was for my kids and our family.



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June 27, 2015

Tips for planning and saving at SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica water park

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It’s summer, and for many people, that means lots of water time -- whether it’s the pool, lake or beach. For Orlando visitors and locals, beating the heat often translates to taking advantage of one of the area’s many water parks.

Today, we’re taking a look at some of things that can make a day spent at SeaWorld’s Aquatica as hassle-free as possible. Plus, we’ll give you some ideas for saving money.

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The biggest expense of going to Aquatica other than consumables, is, of course, your admission ticket. If you purchase your ticket online in advance for $47, you save $10 over the gate price. You can also purchase in advance an eat-and-play-all-day ticket for $52 for adults and $47 for children ages 3 to 9. However, if you are planning to visit more than once, you might want to consider an annual pass for $108 for one year or $146 for two years. Or, if you know annual pass members, they can purchase guest tickets for half off, $28.50. (Only annual pass members receive free parking; for everyone else, it’s $13 for cars and motorcycles and $17 for RVs.)

There also are other combo offers if you and your family are interested in visiting SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens in Tampa. Or, if you splurge on a day at Discovery Cove, your ticket gives you 14 days at SeaWorld and Aquatica.

Another way to add value to your day at Aquatica is go on a Friday or Saturday from July 3 through Aug. 8, when the water park stays open later for Island Nights. Closing time is extended until 9 p.m. on those days and includes a beach party. Waterstone Grille also serves up a new, evening menu.

Speaking of food and drinks, they can add up quickly at Aquatica (or any theme park). Aquatica does offer an all-day dining plan for $26 for adults and $21 for children ages 3 to 9. Depending on how much you eat, this might be a good deal for you! Or, if you can squeeze in two meals -- lunch and an early dinner -- that could help justify the cost, too.

Just like at SeaWorld, Aquatica sells cups that can be refilled with soda or juice from the fountain machines for $1.29. The initial price varies by the style of the cup, but count on about $10, and it’s good forever. We have had some cups for years! That’s a good deal for this Diet Coke-loving mama. Even better: I recently discovered that the cups may be used interchangeably for refills at SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens. (Pass members receive 10 percent off all dining, including the refills.)

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If I could change one thing about dining at Aquatica, it would be that there would be fewer restrictions placed on bringing in personal coolers and their contents. Guests are permitted to bring in a cooler that is 16 quarts in size, and it can contain snacks in individual serving sizes that are less than 3 ounces, bottled water and baby food in plastic containers. That’s it – no sandwiches or anything that would constitute a meal is allowed. Exceptions may be made for guests with dietary restrictions. This was a big adjustment for our family because we were used to Walt Disney World’s policy that doesn’t put such tight size limitations on coolers and only forbids alcohol and glass containers.

Still, if you really want to bring your own food and drinks to Aquatica, it is possible, but you will have to leave them in your vehicle. There are a limited number of picnic tables outside the turnstiles, and guests who want to exercise this option are allowed to leave and gain re-entry to the water park.

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Another expense for many guests is a locker to hold valuables. Aquatica has upgraded its offerings by trading in its key-entry lockers for ones with digital codes. No need to wear that key around the park all day and hope you don’t lose it! Plus, renting a locker is now done at self-service machines, which reduces lines. Lockers are $10 for a small size and $15 for the large space. There no longer is a deposit given back at the end of the day because you are not returning a key.

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About a week ago, Aquatica introduced another option for keeping your valuables safe – the AquaVault. This device is slightly smaller than a shoebox and made of plastic with a digital entry. It is designed to be secured to your lounge chair. It retails for about $40 in the gift shop at the front of the park and can be reused on multiple visits.

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If you want to completely avoid charges for securing items such as cell phones and credit cards, you can get a cashless wristband at Guest Services and leave your phone in your vehicle. A team member will link your credit card information to the wristband so you can charge throughout the park, and then you can return that to your car, as well.

If you plan your day at the water park, you can save a few bucks and beat the summer heat. And with as hot as it’s been lately, that’s well worth the money you save.



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June 24, 2015

Stay safe at Walt Disney World in Florida's heat and humidity

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We all know Florida is brutally hot in the summer, but it’s been even more so the last couple of weeks with temperatures soaring. Orlando even tied a 17-year-old record of 100 degrees one day this past week!

I was reminded last week after spending the morning at Walt Disney World just how quickly a person can go from feeling fine to feeling sick from too much sun. You may think, like me, that you are not doing anything you don’t routinely do in the theme parks, but when the mercury and the heat index rise, it’s time to re-think some of your touring strategies.

First, those visitors who like to travel light should consider that they actually could benefit from some extra gear.

** Bring a reusable water bottle and fill and drink from it often. Walt Disney World has plenty of water fountains, and counter-service restaurants will provide cups of ice and ice water at no charge. If you really don’t want to tote around a reusable bottle, be prepared to fork over $2.75 for a bottle of Dasani water. (The price recently increased on Disney property.) Experts say you should be drinking water even if you’re not thirsty to prevent dehydration.

** Bring or purchase gadgets that help you keep cool, such as personal fans and misters. Can’t bear to spend the money? At the very least, bring a few washcloths in Ziploc bags that you can wet with cold water and place on your face and neck throughout the day.

Be sure to dress for the heat and humidity.

** Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. If your favorite shirt for vacation photos is black, try to find an alternative ahead of time.

** Hats will not only help with sun protection but also keep you cooler.

** Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Plan your day’s activities with the heat in mind. Temperatures are the highest between noon and 4 p.m.

** As much as possible, avoid standing in outdoor queues and waiting for parades and outdoor stage shows. Use your FastPass selections to limit exposure.

** Do not go from waiting an hour for the parade to waiting another hour for a stage show; try to alternate outdoor activities with indoor attractions so your body can cool off in the air conditioning. The Frozen Summer Fun activities come to mind here. Instead of waiting for the royal parade and Olaf stage show consecutively, break up the time in the sun by going to the sing-along in the new Hyperion Theater.

Finally, seek out a water adventure either in the park or at an entirely new park. Plan a day at Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon water parks. Break up a day in the theme parks by going back to your hotel and enjoying a dip in the pool. At the very least, book your FastPasses for Splash Mountain during the afternoon hours!



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June 23, 2015

Disney Channel's 'Teen Beach 2' movie, soundtrack and related shows debut this week

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“Teen Beach 2” premiere week is finally here, and that’s no small event for Disney Channel viewers or the cable channel itself. After all, the first “Teen Beach Movie,” which debuted in 2013, had 13.5 million viewers, making it the second highest-rated TV movie of all time, according to Variety.com.

The highest-rated TV movie of all time also belongs to Disney Channel: “High School Musical 2.” The highly anticipated sequel was part of a trilogy that made musicals popular with a new generation of viewers. Given that “Teen Beach 2” also is a musical, it might be difficult for the cast to avoid such comparisons.

I had the opportunity to interview Garrett Clayton, who plays Tanner, before “Teen Beach Movie” was released, and I asked him about the comparisons to the “High School Musical” franchise. For starters, it’s impossible to ignore that Garrett bears an uncanny resemblance to Zac Efron, who played the male lead, Troy.

"I think because no one has seen [the movie], they see that there are four leads and it's a musical and there are resemblances with cast members to Corbin Bleu, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, people assume that, but there is so much more," Garrett said. "I think when people actually see the plot line, they'll see it's worlds apart."

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In the original “Teen Beach Movie,” Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) were transported back in time to the 1960s, when surfer movies were all the rage. The sequel, however, brings retro surfers Tanner (Clayton) and Lela (Grace Phipps) into the modern world, which, of course, is a set-up for many comedic scenes.

“Teen Beach 2” debuts at 8 p.m. ET Friday (June 26) on Disney Channel, and it also will be released on DVD the same day. At 11 a.m. ET Saturday, the cast will host a Teen Beach 2 Beach Party, following by a replay of the movie, on Disney Channel. A special lip sync version can be seen Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

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Fans won’t have to wait till Friday to get their hands on the movie’s music, however, because the soundtrack goes on sale today (June 23). Only one track was released in advance, "Gotta Be Me," which is performed by the four main actors - Lynch, Mitchell, Clayton and Phipps - and John DeLuca and Jordan Fisher.

In May, my pre-teen children and I previewed "Best Summer Ever" and "That's How We Do" at the kickoff of the Teen Beach 2: Beach Party at Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon. Expect to see the latter song in a choreographed, large-scale production scene in the new movie. Partygoers got a taste of the dance moves, with surfer and biker characters teaching the crowd how to do "The Milkshake" and "The Jelly Belly." Most of the songs on the soundtrack are performed by the cast; after all, "Teen Beach 2" is a musical. (There is one song by Lynch's band, R5.)

"This music is a little more contemporary, more modern," Lynch told us. "The [music from the] first movie was more retro, like surf guitar." You can see our full interview with Lynch in my previous blog post.

The soundtrack from the original "Teen Beach Movie" reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and was No. 1 on the soundtrack chart, and the new album would seem to be headed in the same direction with its peppy, high-energy tunes.

Tune in for sand, sun and fun this week, and let us know your thoughts on “Teen Beach 2” and its soundtrack in the comments.



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June 20, 2015

Olympian Rowdy Gaines hosts World's Largest Swimming Lesson at SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica

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For the sixth consecutive year, SeaWorld Orlando’s Aquatica water park hosted a swim lesson a little different from the ones it offers all summer long. This lesson was part of an attempt to break the record for the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, which was set last year with 36,564 participants in hundreds of aquatic centers, pools and water parks around the globe.

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This was the sixth year that Aquatica has hosted the event, and 149 children took part, including my 12-year-old son. Although my son swims competitively and doesn’t need basic swim lessons, he wanted to see which skills were required for the 30-minute certified lesson for his age group, 10 and older. Among them were practicing swimming freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke; floating on his back; and streamlining off the wall. The “skill” he liked best, though, was jumping off the elevated side of Big Surf Shores pool, which is not allowed during normal operating hours at Aquatica.

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My son also had the remarkable opportunity to interview three-time Olympic gold-medal swimmer Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines, who was hosting the swim lesson. Gaines spoke to my son about the importance of learning to swim early in life and how that shaped his life. As a native Floridian, Gaines grew up around water and learned to swim at a young age. However, he didn’t begin swimming competitively until he was 17 – after he tried out for five other sports. “Is there any other sport than swimming?” he asked. “I can’t think of anything!”

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Still, he explained that learning to swim is more than just learning a sport, it is vital to children’s safety. He repeatedly said that as soon as kids learn to walk, they should learn to swim. The reason couldn’t be clearer: SeaWorld’s press release states that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death of children ages 1-14. Furthermore, research shows that if children don’t learn to swim before the third grade, they likely never will. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson is designed to draw attention to this issue, and encourage participation in swimming lesson programs.

You can see my son’s interview with Gaines below:

Aquatica invited the public to sign up in advance for the attempt to set a new Guinness World Record and also allowed water-park visitors to sign up on the spot. Admission to Aquatica was required to participate, and guests who did so received certificates and rubber bracelets for their efforts. Plus, their names were logged for the official entry should a record be broken.

DISCLAIMER: My son and I were guests of Aquatica for the World's Largest Swimming Lesson. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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June 18, 2015

Meet stars of 'Dolphin Tale 2' at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in July

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If you or someone in your family loved the “Dolphin Tale” movies, next month might be the perfect time to visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the film was shot and Winter and Hope, the dolphins, live.

The young stars of the movie -- Nathan Gamble (Sawyer), Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe) -- are visiting the aquarium again, and fans can meet them. Zuehlsdorff will be at CMA July 19 through 22; Gamble, July 22 through 25; and Highsmith July 25 through 28. So, July 22 will be the only day when visitors can meet both Zuehlsdorff and Gamble, and July 25 pairs Gamble with Highsmith.

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The trio of actors has made several appearances at CMA during the last year to promote "Dolphin Tale 2," which was released in theaters in September 2014. My 10-year-old daughter was fortunate to be able to meet them during one such trip last summer, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies.

If the meet-and-greets work the same way as ours did, the actors had a limited time to meet fans, so no autographs were permitted. However, you could take photos, and CMA had one of its photographers there, as well. You have the option to purchase those images afterward. The meet-and-greets were included in the price of admission.

Last summer, the three actors joined Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates for a question-and-answer session with that we attended. You can view it here.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It's not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find at the working hospital is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tale 2," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.

Included in your ticket to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is transportation and admission to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure in downtown Clearwater. This location shows images, re-creations and actual props from the movie. For a complete explanation of what you can do at the two locations, see my previous post.

NOTE: Prices and operating hours were correct at the time of that blog’s publication, but they have since changed. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at seewinter.com at a discount or in person at the box office.



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June 16, 2015

What is it like to volunteer at Give Kids The World Village?

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Almost a year ago, my family and I were invited to a blogger event at Give Kids The World Village that was designed to educate writers about the charity that is located near Central Florida’s theme parks. The 70-acre nonprofit resort treats children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to weeklong vacations, including complimentary accommodations in the Village's villas, meals and theme-park tickets. (You can read more about all the amazing things this organization does in my previous blog.)

Fast forward about six months and my 12-year-old son is inducted in National Junior Honor Society, where there is a requirement of completing a certain number of volunteer hours per year. He had been involved in plenty of community-service events through Cub Scouts, but this was an opportunity for him to choose how he’d like to donate his time. And he was so impressed with what he had seen at Give Kids the World that he asked if we could spend time helping families at there. With his love of and knowledge about our local theme parks, I knew this would be a good fit for him and keep him inspired to help others. At my son’s age, most volunteer jobs require a parent to be present the entire time, which also was a good motivation for me to get started, too. Give Kids the World Village fills more than 1,500 volunteer shifts each week, so we definitely could find a way to be useful there.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions some might have about volunteering at Give Kids The World Village is that it’s a sad or depressing experience because the kids are so sick. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. The goal of these vacations is to give each family a break from their worries and allow them a carefree time to make memories together. I have yet to see a family that isn’t excited to be staying at the Village, and most are vocal about their gratitude for the opportunity and for the staff and volunteers who help make it possible. Pair that with the whimsical resort and all the exciting activities, and it’s hard not to smile when you’re there.

More than half of all Wish children request a trip to Orlando attractions, and Give Kids The World Village continues to grow to meet that need. At the end of May, a major addition to the Village opened -- the Towne Center -- and my son and I were able to see it for ourselves when we volunteered last week.

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The first floor of the 53,000-foot Towne Center has been designed as a food court and seating for families staying at the Village. Now, all the dining options are available in one place: Boston Market and Perkins menus, plus pizza, a salad bar, and more. Guests can choose to eat in or carry out their food.

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When my son and I worked our first shift, the signature peppermint tables from the Gingerbread House have been relocated, and the main dining room even has a stage so evening entertainment can move indoors when inclement weather strikes.

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So, what types of work do volunteers do at Give Kids the World? As I mentioned, there are a lot of positions to fill each week, which means there is a great variety of jobs for adults – and you get to pick where you’d like to work, based on availability. You can sign up to accompany characters from Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal and the Nickelodeon Hotel to meet children, set up for the weekly Halloween and Christmas celebrations, work in the La-Ti-Da Spa, operate the carousel, and so much more. Volunteers my son’s age are more limited in their choices because of safety issues, so we mostly work in food-service areas.

But, still, even that job brings can bring a lot of enjoyment and personal satisfaction.

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One of the most popular places to volunteer is the Ice Cream Palace, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Children and their families are encouraged to have ice cream as often as they would like. In fact, it's suggested -- quite often -- that ice cream makes a great breakfast. Who can argue with that? My son and I were thrilled to finally be able to work at the Ice Cream Palace. It’s so popular that the shifts book up months in advance, almost like the reservations at Be Our Guest restaurant at Walt Disney World! It was well worth the wait, though, and I even got to surprise my son with my ability to make a decent banana split and milkshake.

A few things to know about volunteering at Give Kids The World Village:

** You must be at least 12 years old, and volunteers ages 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult.

** Anyone who is not an approved volunteer, including other children in your family, may not accompany you to a shift.

** You must complete a two-hour volunteer training session before you can begin working at the Village.

** If you have a group of volunteers, coordinators will work with you to schedule them together if you would like to stay together during your volunteer time. It’s common to see local and out-of-state groups from churches, schools and other organizations donating their time together.

** Volunteers do not enter the guests’ villas, and jobs such as housekeeping, dish-washing and other heavy cleaning are done by paid employees. You may be asked to do light cleaning, such as wiping down counters or vacuuming in public areas, however.

** You will leave Give Kids The World feeling like you made a difference – and you will be correct!

If you are interested in volunteering, you can get started at https://www.gktw.org/volunteer/, where you also can see a full list of the positions available.



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