August 21, 2014

SeaWorld sponsors family friendly mac-n-cheese competition at Orange County Convention Center

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Need a fun, inexpensive activity in Orlando for your family this weekend?

Look no farther than the Orange County Convention Center, which is the location for the first O-Town MacDown on Saturday. Sponsored by SeaWorld, the competition gives professional chefs and amateur cooks the opportunity to vie for the title of Orlando's Mac-n-Cheese Champion. And attendees will benefit from their efforts with an invitation to sample their creations.

Judges include Emily Ellyn from the Food Network, Orlando Sentinel’s food editor Heather McPherson, WDBO’s news director Joe Kelley, SeaWorld Executive Chef Hector Colon, Louis Perrotte of the American Academy of Chefs Hall of Fame and Disney Chef Michael Bersell.

In addition to the food component, the event will include live entertainment from The SeaWorld Groove Chefs, who transform kitchen gear and BBQ grills into makeshift musical instruments; magician and comedian Tony Brent from the WonderWorks Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show; acoustic guitarist Islay Rodriguez; The Orlando Improv All-Stars; and The Magic and Mayhem Comedy Magic Show.

Celebrity chefs will host cooking demonstrations, too. Look for Emily Ellyn; Jillian Hopke, the owner of Orlando's Jillycakes and a winner on "Cupcake Wars"; Maira Isabel, executive chef at Disney World Golf Courses; Jody McLeod, culinary operations manager at SeaWorld Orlando; and John Radcliff, culinary director for 4R Restaurant Group.

A kids’ fun zone will feature face painting, bounce houses and a macaroni art station, and there will be meet-and-greets from theme-park characters, such as Shamu and Dolly from SeaWorld Orlando. Plus, there will be additional live entertainment designed just for kids. Check out the Mad Scientist Interactive Show; Elevate Live, a group of Central Florida kids ages 5-20 who perform a Top 40 / pop-style singing and dancing show; The Bumbles and The Honey Bees Too, a high-energy educational show for 3- to 8-year-olds; The Literacy Alliance: Scrambled Fairy Tales; and Orlando's Mr. Richard.

Attendance and participation at the O-Town MacDown benefits Give Kids The World Village, a 70-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Although the deadline to enter the macaroni-and-cheese cooking competition has passed, tickets to visit the O-Town MacDown still are available. Until 5 p.m. Aug. 22, tickets can be purchased online at a discount. Prices are as follows:

** $10 for adults, which includes all the mac-n-cheese you can eat.

** $5 for kids ages 3-12, which includes all the mac-n-cheese you can eat and the Kids Zone. (Ages 2 and younger are free.)

** $35 for VIP tickets, which includes unlimited mac-n-cheese, premium seating in the VIP area, free O-Town MacDown T-shirt and a free beverage.

Tickets at the door are $15 for adults and $10 for kids. Parking will be discounted to $9 at the convention center.

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Orange County Convention Center, Hall D2 West concourse.




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August 16, 2014

SeaWorld Orlando visitors will be able to interact with killer whales in new ways in the future

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On Friday, SeaWorld Entertainment announced major expansions for its three theme parks in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego. The multi-million-dollar project will create first-of-its-kind environments for its signature killer whales.

Named the Blue World Project because of its size and scope, the construction will begin in San Diego, which has a target opening date of 2018. Then, Orlando and San Antonio parks will follow. Each new environment will have a total water volume of 10 million gallons, nearly double that of the existing facility, and a surface area of nearly 1.5 acres. The wow factor comes with the views that will be more than 40 feet tall, providing guests with the world’s largest underwater viewing experience of orcas. Plus, guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore.

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And although each SeaWorld park is different, the goal is to have the same features in each killer whale environment, said Terry Prather, president of the Orlando park, at a news conference.

"[The new environment] will support the whales’ broad range of behaviors and provide choices that can challenge the whales both physically and mentally. Among other things, it is planned to include a “fast water current” that allows whales to swim against moving water, thus functionally increasing speed and diversity. Innovative features focused on husbandry and animal care will offer SeaWorld’s animal health professionals and independent scientists unique access to the whales that can lead to a better understanding and care of the animals both in the parks and in the wild," according to a press release.

SeaWorld is constantly looking for ways to get people closer to its animals and inspire them more, Prather told media. Certainly, inspiring guests to become involved with conservation efforts is what sets SeaWorld apart from other theme parks.

“For 50 years, SeaWorld has transformed how the world views marine life. The unprecedented access to marine mammals that our parks provide has increased our knowledge of the ocean and inspired generations,” said Jim Atchison, Chief Executive Officer and President of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “Our new killer whale homes and research initiatives have just as bold a vision: to advance global understanding of these animals, to educate, and to inspire conservation efforts to protect killer whales in the wild.”

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Former SeaWorld trainer Mark Simmons told ABC News that the new environments will provide the killer whales with improved mental stimulation, emphasizing that the type of environment is more important than the size of the body of water where they live.

"I think it's an enhancement, an obvious evolution of SeaWorld's mission," Simmons said in an ABC News story.

As part of the Blue World Project, SeaWorld has pledged $10 million in matching funds focused on threats to killer whales in the wild, especially those identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration related to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale. That includes new projects already funded this year: one that will help to understand the hearing ranges of killer whales and the other that will provide insight into nutritional status and reproduction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale. The matching funds will be in addition to killer whale research conducted by SeaWorld’s scientists, which includes nearly 50 studies to date.



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Radio Disney to close Orlando station and most others

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Earlier this week, the Walt Disney Co. announced it is planning to sell all but one of its Radio Disney stations. The move is a sign of the times, the company said, because most of its listeners access its broadcast content digitally.

According to published reports, only about 18 percent of Radio Disney listeners hear the network's programming via AM or FM broadcasts. Instead, they choose satellite radio, the Internet and mobile devices that use digital radio distribution apps. To be sure, that is the case at our house. My 11-year-old son, who started out listening to Radio Disney on an actual radio as a kindergartner now prefers to listen to music through Pandora.

The Walt Disney Co. will retain one Radio Disney station -- KDIS-AM (1110) in Los Angeles -- which will generate Radio Disney's national content for the digital platforms.

Locally, Orlando's WDYZ, AM 990, which broadcasts Radio Disney for all of Central Florida, will close Sept. 26. Although kids and parents still will be able to digitally access the content they enjoy, it's still a loss for our market. Radio Disney is one of the few family-friendly stations that focus on music that pre-teens want to hear. (Others that are "safe for little ears" play pop music, too, yet their playlist isn’t created specifically with youngsters and pre-teens in mind.)

In addition, Radio Disney was a presence in the Orlando area with its many fun promotions and appearances. My family and I have attended many through the years and will miss those fun opportunities. The station's Road Crew brought family friendly activities to festivals, openings and special events, such as Noon Year's Eve in Tampa, just to name one. (Once, when my son was a Cub Scout on a eco-field trip, he actually saw the Radio Disney Road Crew taking part in a community event at the Orange County landfill. Talk about eclectic marketing.)

Of other marketing efforts, perhaps most notably is the annual holiday concert in Celebration, which is the planned community not far from the gates of Walt Disney World. The free concert showcases winners from Radio Disney's annual Next Big Thing (N.B.T.) competition and always attracts a crowd of pre-teens and teenagers. When announcing the news of the station's closing, Disney did say it will continue to focus on events such as N.B.T., so perhaps there is hope the concert will continue.

In February, Radio Disney kicked off its first "On the Road to the RDMAs [Radio Disney Music Awards]" tour with a free concert in Central Florida. Families were invited to go out to the Leesburg Mardi Gras Celebration to hear Mexican-American rapper Becky G and British pop rock band The Vamps, and to meet rock band Before You Exit from Orlando.

In addition, Radio Disney has brought its national on-air personalities and Disney Channel actors to Central Florida for various events, which were unique opportunities for fans to meet their favorite stars. Creative Director and lead DJ Ernie D, a.k.a. Ernest Martinez, has been a frequent visitor, as well as actors Laura Marano, Ross Lynch, Debby Ryan, Bella Thorne and Zendaya in recent years.

Despite my disappointment in hearing that Radio Disney was selling most of its radio stations, the news isn’t entirely a downer for parents who have come to trust the stations as ones their kids could listen to without being exposed to some of the more grown-up aspects of adult radio stations.

After all, Radio Disney still will exist in the digital realm, including various Internet app platforms (both Disney’s own apps and others) and via Sirius XM satellite radio for the car. Also, Disney’s Top 30 song segment is still distributed on various AM and FM stations nationwide.

Still, I just hope we’ll continue to see something similar to the stations’ Road Crew having a community presence here in Central Florida, adding friendly faces and a little bit of Disney magic to some of the family outings we attend.



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August 14, 2014

How to use Walt Disney World to give your kids a little more independence

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It's been said that once a mother gives birth to her child, the process of letting go begins. Sure, it may start with the separation of teaching a baby to sleep in his own bed. But, in what seems like the blink of an eye, your child is ready to take bigger steps toward independence -- whether you, the parent, are ready or not.

As my almost-12-year-old son prepares for his first year of middle school, I definitely have felt those tugs on my heartstrings this summer. And no matter how prepared you -- and your child -- are, it's still a bit disconcerting.

This week, my son was invited to go to the Magic Kingdom with a friend and her family for the day. What a great opportunity, right? Of course it was! The outing, though, got me thinking about how parents can grant their children some freedoms while on vacation without sacrificing their safety (or the parents' sanity).

For my husband and I, the decision to allow our son to go to Walt Disney World without us was not difficult. We know the family, and we are comfortable with our son's ability to navigate the Magic Kingdom under most circumstances. As Florida residents with annual passes to Walt Disney World, we have been taking my son to the theme parks since he was a baby. He is as familiar with the Magic Kingdom as he is his own back yard.

But our confidence in our son's ability to handle the bustling Magic Kingdom without the security of his parents has been built through a series of interactions over the years. It likely began on the trips when my husband was not present, and my son was too old to go into the women's bathroom with me. With instructions to "hurry," he tackled his business and I anxiously waited outside the men's loo, counting the seconds until he emerged.

Once that separation was mastered, we slowly added others. My son was allowed to go short distances without us -- to take a closer look at something as we trailed behind -- or to ride in an adjoining car on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Over the years, we have worked our way up to where we are now -- controlled independence in the parks. If my son doesn't want to experience the attraction that the rest of his family is going on, he can walk through the line and wait for us at the end of the queue. If he would like a drink, he can take the cash to a counter-service location, purchase one and come back to where we are.

That said, I am not comfortable with total independence from adults at this age, even if Disney is. This summer, the company lowered the minimum age for a minor to ride Disney's Magical Express, the complimentary bus service that shuttles resort guests between their hotels and Orlando International Airport, without an adult. Disney now allows kids ages 12 and older to ride without adult supervision; previously, the minimum age was 16. Even the minimum age to enter the Disney Parks unaccompanied by an adult is 14.

Of course, these are simply the written rules. Making the decision of what is appropriate for each child in his or her care is a parent's responsibility.

Do you use vacations as a time for teaching independence? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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August 12, 2014

What will replace Clyde & Seamore sea lions show at SeaWorld Orlando?

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On Sunday, SeaWorld Orlando's longest-running show, "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island," sailed off into the sunset. After 15 years, the theme park decided it's time for its beloved sea lions, walruses and otters to embark on a new adventure.

"It's bittersweet," said Todd Coffman, assistant curator of animal training. "I love this show, but I'm ready for the chance to do something new and different."

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Coffman spoke with reporters and bloggers on Friday about the pirate-themed production's last performances and gave us a few hints about what we can look forward to when a new show debuts in 2015.

What can you tell us about the new show that is coming to Sea Lion & Otter Theater?

You can expect the same amount of humor and laughs that you get with this current show. At Sea Lion & Otter Theater, the thing that makes us great is that people get a chance to laugh. When they go to see Shamu, there is the wow factor. When they see "Blue Horizons," there is an emotional connection. At Sea Lions, it's all about laughter.

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Are there other successful elements that will translate to the new show?

I think one of the things that makes "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island" so popular is that we have the ability to change our segments to keep it fresh. We can take a lot of things that are happening in the news and in the world and we can make jokes about those and put them into the show. So it's always fresh for the audience. That will happen in the new show, as well. We'll never get away from that. That's the staple of what the sea lions show does. What keeps people coming back is that this is a place for laughs. …. Even when the animals don't do exactly what they're supposed to do and we have to improv, we love that. We have fun with it, and of course, the audience has fun with it. So, all those elements together make this a winning recipe.

SeaWorld is known for its ability to entertain crowds who are waiting in its stadiums for its big shows to begin. Will the new sea lions show have a pre-show, similar to the mime at "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island"?

We're still working on the whole concept -- the scope, the characters -- so it's kind of too early to talk about that, but our plan is to make it every bit as enjoyable as our current show. We're not going to go backwards.

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Will Sea Lion & Otter Theater remain open while the new show is being developed?

No. We're going to tear down this entire set, and we're going to rebuild it with a brand-new themed show. (The construction means that there will not be a Christmas sea lions show for the 2014 season.)

During that time, what will the sea lions be doing?

They still will be in their pools out back, participating in all their usual activities, plus training for the new show. It takes three to five years of training before a sea lion will perform in a show. We have gotten to the point where we train all sea lions to do all the behaviors. We have 12 sea lions in our collection and, discounting our pups who aren't quite there yet, we've got about eight sea lions who can do Clyde or Seamore.

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How do you train the sea lions?

Having a relationship with the animals is vital to training. Not anyone can just go out and start teaching them to do tricks. We build the relationship through a number of ways, including sessions where we just hang out. A target ball, though, is used to teach almost all behaviors. And the sea lions are rewarded with fish, whisker scratches and rubdowns. Sea lions are not just food-motivated animals, they're also motivated by their own curiosity. They love to learn.

What is the most difficult behavior to train?

Some of the harder behaviors that we train are the ones when we have to train them to do nothing. They have to sit there and wait and watch. For me, my favorite is always the dinner segment, where the sea lions steal fish off the plate. It's a very behaviorally crisp segment. The animals are really responsive. If you watch them, they wait for very simple, subtle cues from us and the responses are quick and sharp. That's been one of the hardest things to maintain here. We have a large cast of trainers here -- 17 people -- and multiple people play the same role, so we have to make sure that everyone is doing it exactly the same way.

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While Sea Lions & Otter Theater is closed, where can guests see the sea lions?

Pacific Point Preserve will remain open for feeding and viewing while the new sea lion show is being developed. Guests will continue to be able to see them, hear them bark and feed them. The up-close experience will change slightly, however. The separately priced hourlong tour will focus on an Asian small-clawed otter and trainer rather than the sea lions.



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August 8, 2014

Disney Parks sponsors 6-city KaBOOM! Play Together Tour with free family fun

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Beginning this month, families in six cities in the United States will get to experience play areas designed by the world-renowned Disney Imagineers. Disney Parks is sponsoring the KaBOOM! Play Together Tour, which is planned to give families the opportunity to connect at free events.

KaBOOM! is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play needed to thrive. Disney Parks partnered with KaBOOM! this spring for a contest to find America's Most Playful Family. Families were invited to tell judges how they stay active together. The winner -- Trish's family from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico -- received her choice of a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland and the opportunity to grant play equipment to a community group in her state.

Now, Disney and KaBOOM! want to help strengthen family bonds with fun and free play. The tour features a state-of-the-art, pop-up play attraction with team-building stations, games that build mental and physical play prowess, and an incredible family-friendly obstacle course.

Registration is open for the first city, Anaheim, at kaboom.org/playtogether. Spaces are limited, so it's recommended you reserve your time as soon as it becomes available. You'll enter the obstacle course, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, within the one-hour time block you select on your registration. After you reach the finish line and raise your family flag, you're invited to stay for the other activities.

The tour schedule includes:

** Aug. 16-17: Anaheim -- Center Street Promenade, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
** Aug. 20: Sacramento -- Location to be announced, 3 to 8 p.m.
** Aug. 23-24: San Francisco -- Marina Middle School, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
** Aug. 30-31: Chicago -- Lincoln Park, Grove 2, near Lincoln Park Zoo, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
** Sept. 6-7: Atlanta -- Old 4th Ward Skate Park, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
** Sept. 13-14: Kissimmee (near Orlando) -- Mill Run Park, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Disney VoluntEARS will be on hand to support each tour stop. As one Disney spokeswoman said, "Bringing families together is at the heart of everything we do."

On its website, KaBOOM! cites research that shows that active play matters in many areas of a child's development. For example, the group says 80 percent of school principals report that recess has a positive effect on academic achievement, and increased access to play opportunities through playgrounds and parks provide significant immediate and long-term health benefits, such as chronic disease prevention. In addition, 96 percent of pediatricians say that play helps build kids’ social skills and confidence.

The partnership for this promotion couldn’t be more ideal. After all, Disney Parks and its Imagineers are known for playful attractions, and KaBOOM! shares its vision of nurturing, inspiring and empowering kids and families. Now, with the Play Together Tour making its way across the country, families will have another creative way to experience fun together through active play.



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August 7, 2014

Creating professional photos at Walt Disney World

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Visiting Walt Disney World usually means taking a ton of vacation photos. Of course, there is the obligatory snapshot in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and one with your pal, Mickey Mouse. Even if you are fortunate enough to make repeat trips to the Orlando theme park, those shots don't get old. But perhaps the parent or scrapbooker in you yearns for an image that is just a little different but every bit as special. That's where Disney Fine Art Photography & Video comes in.

These Walt Disney World photographers can create wedding-day photography, engagement photos, senior high portraits, family portraits and more at the resort. Recently, I was admiring their work, and it has me daydreaming about which locations at the resort will be best for my son's senior photos many years down the road.

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The group offers two photo packages. The Mini Portrait Session lasts 20 minutes and is "a quick way to capture casual family photos with professional posing." You choose the location for the photo shoot at one of five Walt Disney World hotels: Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Beach Club, Art of Animation or Animal Kingdom Lodge. Afterward, you will immediately receive your images on a flash drive with a copyright release. The Mini Portrait Session costs $150. You do have the option to pay for retouching at $25 for a single image or up to six images for $100.

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The Enhanced Portrait Session is a one-hour booking with a choice of locations throughout Walt Disney World. This package not only includes the professional photographer but also an assistant, who helps with the poses and lighting equipment. Afterward, your portrait retouching and artistic enhancement are included. Because of that additional work, it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for a private website to be created for you to view, share and order your photos. In addition, you receive a 6-inch by 6-inch book of your photos with your family name. The Enhanced Portrait Session costs $350. You can choose to purchase the digital images on a CD for an extra $100.

With both packages, you also can order additional prints of your photos through Disney World. Portrait sizing starts at an 11-by-14 for $120 and goes up to a 24-by-30 for $275. You also can order print collections. For example, you can purchase two 8-by-10, two 5-by-7, and eight wallet-size prints for $75.

A few tips for making the most of your portrait session:

** Try to schedule your photos to take advantage of the golden light of the early morning or afternoon, especially if you choose the Mini Portrait Session. Beware of Orlando's almost-daily afternoon showers in the summer, however.

** Consider booking your portrait session for the beginning of your vacation, so you have time to reschedule if the weather or children are not cooperating.

** Keep clothing simple and coordinate whether the style will be formal or casual to keep the focus on the subjects' faces and not their outfits.

You can reserve a time with Disney Fine Art Photography & Video by calling 407-934-4004.

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August 5, 2014

Disney Cruise Line continues to improve its Navigator app

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If you haven't sailed on a Disney Cruise Line ship in the past year, you may be surprised to learn that Navigators -- the printed daily schedule of activities that are left in staterooms each night -- now are available on a free app that connects to the ship's WiFi at no charge.

I'm among those who have not had the opportunity to test the app for themselves, but I have to think this is a step in the right direction for many passengers. Even if guests prefer to turn off their phones to save money or "disconnect" while cruising, the reality is that cell-phone cameras now are used more than any other type of camera, so a lot of us are carrying our phones around the ships anyway to document our vacations. Why not check the day's schedule digitally instead of also toting around the mangled paper navigator?

The appropriately named Disney Cruise Line Navigator App launched last September on the Disney Fantasy and now can be used on the Dream, Wonder and Magic. If you are planning a cruise, download the app — available for free in the Apple App Store for iOS devices and Google Play for Android devices — before you arrive at the port. You can set a fun countdown clock, which was added during one of the upgrades in the fall. (The app is designed for smartphones but also functions on tablets. The app does not work on BlackBerry or Windows phone devices.)

Once onboard, turn your phone to airplane mode and connect to the ship's WiFi network. The DCL-GUEST network is complimentary for app use only. If you use the network for other functions, such as e-mail, surfing the Internet or texting, you will be subject to charges. You can pre-purchase blocks of time, if you wish to use other functions on your smartphone or other devices.

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So, what exactly can you do with the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App? The cruise line says you can "share details on everything from operating hours, Disney character experiences and ports of call to onboard activities, dinner menus for Main Dining locations and deck plans. Guests can even bookmark their favorite activities for easy reference." An update in June added "reminders," a feature that sends a reminder 15 minutes before the start of an activity you favorited. In addition, guests can see other details found in the paper Navigator, such as the drink of the day, the evening's suggested dining attire, and even a weather forecast. Perhaps one of the best features is that passengers can view details for the entire sailing, not just the next day, as they would with a paper Navigator.

One exception is while the ship is docked at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island. The network is disconnected there and cached content is displayed.

One thing that the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app does not do is store and display information about activities you have booked, such as meal times, excursions, spa appointments. It is not customizable, like the My Disney Experience is at Walt Disney World. That's a shame, because many regular guests during the past year have come to rely on the My Disney Experience app for keeping track of everything they have planned while on property. Still, we just bet that upgrade is coming, especially because Disney Cruise Line has said they are continuing to add features to the app with each upgrade.

It doesn't appear that Disney Cruise Line is planning to phase out the paper Navigators any time soon. That's good news for those who don't have smartphones or guests who don't want to use them while onboard. Or maybe you're like me and would prefer to have both options. I would use the app on the ship and save the paper Navigator for my scrapbook!

What would you do? Tell us in the comments.




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July 29, 2014

Where to find "Frozen"-themed backpacks

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It's that time again -- the time when parents jam the aisles at discount and office-supply stores to purchase items off long lists of school supplies for their children for the upcoming school year. And if trying to find a very specific type of folder or notebook isn't enough to send parents screaming, how about trying to find a backpack with a child's favorite Disney character when they are not plentiful?

One year, my son absolutely was set on having a Mickey Mouse-themed backpack. It couldn't be just any backpack, though. It had to look like it was designed for an older child -- no Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, thank you very much -- AND it had to have wheels. I searched high and low, and all my physical trips and Internet searches that year yielded slim pickings. I finally hit upon a backpack that met all the criteria on eBay. You would have thought I had won the lottery!

Sure, I could have told my son that what he wanted just didn't exist. But I remember the thrill of carrying my new book bags and backpacks when I was a child, so I like being able to find what my children want to carry every day of the school year.

This year, I would expect there are a lot of "Frozen" fans who are looking for backpacks depicting the royal sisters Anna and Elsa or Olaf the Snowman. Not surprisingly, the Disney Store already is sold out. There was a shortage of consumer goods after the animated movie "Frozen" was released and audiences fell in love with the film. Clearly, The Walt Disney Company underestimated its popularity. Merchandise sold out as soon as it hit the shelves, parents stood in line for lotteries of the few restocked items, and the company even airlifted the goods from its factories in China to its distribution centers. Eventually it seemed as though the supply chain finally caught up with the marketing machine.

Little girls are able to find Elsa and Anna costumes, but it looks as though the backpacks may be another story. If you act now -- and don't mind hitting up several stores -- there are some back-to-school items with the "Frozen" characters that can be found.

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Head to your nearest Target for "Frozen" backpacks and folders. The pink and purple backpack features Anna, Elsa and Olaf and "super lights." It seems to have the basics -- a main compartment, a front compartment, two outside mesh pockets (for water bottles) and padded straps. It sells for about $20. Target also had two-pocket folders that show Olaf on the cover. Both of these items are available in stores only, not online. You can, however, order and pay for the backpack online and then pick it up at a store that has them in stock.

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DisneyStore.com does still have an aluminum water bottle in stock that would pair nicely with the backpack. It features Anna, Elsa and Olaf, and is priced at about $9. The official backpack and lunchbox -- the only ones with a pretty gray background -- already are sold out. EBay would be your best option if you like this set.

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Kohl's offers a Frozen backpack and lunchbox set that display images of Elsa and Anna for about $30. This backpack has features similar to the one sold at Target, but it does not have a separate front compartment or an image of Olaf. The lunchbox is a basic square-shaped insulated bag. The set is available online and in stores.

The best deals can be found at Toys 'R' Us, if you are not picky about the size of the backpacks. The toy store carries a backpack and lunchbox combination that is almost identical in design to the one sold at Kohl's. It sells for about $15, which is half the price. However, this version is only 13.9 inches by 9.7 inches by 2 inches, and the Kohl's backpack is 16 inches by 12 inches by 5 inches. For pre-schoolers, the smaller size may be perfect. Elementary-school students are likely to need the larger size, though.

Toys 'R' Us also carries a backpack like the one sold at Target that includes Olaf in the design. It comes with a coordinating lunch box for about $15 for the set. It, too, is the smaller sizes described above, while the Target version is larger.

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Toys 'R' Us also offers a third small "Frozen"-themed backpack depicting Anna and Elsa for about $15. It can be paired with an offer for a free lunch kit, which also is a different version of the royal sisters. All the Toys 'R' Us merchandise can be purchased online, shipped to a local store or bought in a store, if available.

Walmart.com does list Frozen backpacks, but they already are sold out. Your best bet is to check local stores.

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Amazon.com has a variety of Frozen-themed backpacks and lunch boxes from different sellers, including the only ones I've seen with images of Kristoff and Sven. Prices vary by seller.

"Frozen" merchandise may be some of the hottest items when it comes to school supplies, but if you act now, you won't be left out in the cold.



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July 25, 2014

Free, family friendly fun at this weekend's Tour de Turtles kickoff

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Tour de Turtles kicks off this weekend on the East Coast of Florida, and the state's visitors and locals alike have several opportunities to join in the fun surrounding the marine marathon.

Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is an interesting way to learn about the long migration of sea turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Tracking is done through satellite telemetry, with transmitters sending signals each time a turtle surfaces to breathe. Those who follow along at tourdeturtles.org will be exposed to the science and geography of sea-turtle migration. At the same time, researchers hope to gain more knowledge about the migratory practices of the endangered species because so much still is unknown.

This is the seventh year for Tour de Turtles, and there will be between 10 and 13 sea turtles representing four or five different species. The turtles leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including one in front of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, during the last part of July and will be tracked for three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.

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Disney's Vero Beach Resort

As in past years, two Loggerhead turtles will begin their marathon in front of the Disney hotel. Resort guests and the public are invited to watch, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, July 26. In addition, their human supporters are invited to stay for a free beach party that will include appearances by royal sisters Anna and Elsa from "Frozen" and a photo opportunity with Olaf, the snowman who longs for summer. There also will be turtle-themed activities, of course. A cast member told me that the public is welcome to park at the resort, walk through the lobby and out onto the beach for the kickoff and party.

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Barrier Island Center

From 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is hosting a party to benefit the animals and their habitat in Brevard County. The party takes place at the Barrier Island Center, located at 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach. It will include heavy hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $20 online when purchased in advance or they will be available at the door for $35. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Questions? Call 321-723-3556.

On Sunday, July 27, there is another opportunity to watch more turtles begin the race. This group will be leaving from the beach start gate near the Barrier Island Center at 8 a.m. Spectators are asked to arrive 30 minutes early. From 8:30 am to 9:30 am, there will be fun family-friendly activities. This event is free and open to the public, and T-shirts will be available for $20. Parking is limited here, too.

In addition to the education and research components, Tour de Turtles also raises money for additional research and conservancy efforts through sponsorships of each turtle. Several branches of The Walt Disney Company have been annual sponsors of Tour de Turtles: Disney's Animal Program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

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2014 Tour de Turtles art

Individuals can contribute, too, by adopting a turtle and its cause. A secondary competition among the turtles on the migration marathon focuses on how much money they can raise for separate causes. A donation of $30 ($40 outside the United States) to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) comes with a personalized adoption certificate, a logo decal, a colorful magnet, STC’s Sea Turtle Conservation Guide and a one-year subscription to the Velador, STC’s newsletter.

If you can't make it to either of the launches, you still can follow the race at tourdeturtles.org beginning Aug. 1. Updates also will be posted on Twitter @conserveturtles and Facebook at www.facebook.com/conserveturtles.



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