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June 7, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation offers its guests a variety of outdoor and indoor recreation



Walt Disney World resorts are known for their recreational offerings, and the new Art of Animation hotel is no exception.

The centerpiece for the new hotel that is themed around four animated movies -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" -- is The Big Blue Pool in the Nemo courtyard. At 12,000 feet, the pool is the biggest on Disney property, excluding the ones at the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and it is designed to be enjoyed by guests of all ages.


A zero entry at one end allows swimmers of varying abilities to wade in gradually. In the shallow water there, kids can splash under the dripping-water tentacles of four pinkish-purple jellyfish structures. The deepest area of The Big Blue Pool is the center at 4 feet, 9 inches. Perhaps the coolest feature, however, is the underwater sound system -- a first at Disney World. Guests who dive beneath the surface can hear Disney music and even messages from the "Finding Nemo" characters.

Like the recreation courtyards at other Disney resorts in the value category, the theming is larger than life. Imagineers want guests to feel as though they are experiencing the area from Nemo's point of view. It's difficult not to feel dwarfed when you're standing next to a 30-foot-tall Crush or a Mr. Ray sculpture with a 26-foot wingspan. Being immersed in the animated story is what sets this resort apart from others.


Other characters from "Finding Nemo" come to life in the adjacent Schoolyard Sprayground. Nemo and his father, Marlin, sit atop a 16-foot-tall sea anemone they call home in the movie. Tad, Chicken Fish, Sheldon and Pearl squirt water from the perimeter of the splash pad. Just beyond the sprayground is Squirt's Righteous Reef, a dry playground with three slides and a soft landing spot at each.


Cast members host family friendly activities, such as Bingo, water basketball and hula hoop games, poolside each day from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The most popular events -- The Big Blue Pool Party at 3 p.m., the Righteous Dance Party Extravaganza at 4 p.m. and Arts & Crafts at 4:30 p.m. -- occur when many guests return to the resort from the theme parks. At 9 each night, a Movie Under the Stars is shown on a huge inflatable screen near the pool. Guests can swim or relax in lounge chairs for the show. My almost-8-year-old-daughter was eager to dance to hit Disney songs and to make a shark-themed picture frame during her afternoon at the pool. She reluctantly took a break for dinner before donning her swimsuit again for the evening movie.

Older kids might enjoy the ping-pong tables on the Mr. Ray side of the pool, including one that allows for four players. (Family-style gaming seems to be a recent trend, with DisneyQuest installing a four-person air hockey table and a four-player Pac Man system.)

With so many activities to choose from, my elementary-school-age children soon forgot they were ever concerned that there wasn't a water slide at the pool. And when Art of Animation's other wings open this year, two additional swimming pools and a playground will be available to guests. The "Cars" section opening June 18 will house the Cozy Cone Pool, and "The Little Mermaid" wing will have the Flippin Fins Pool beginning Aug. 10. The Elephant Graveyard play area will be located in "The Lion King" courtyard on Sept. 15.

Guests visiting the swimming pools and playgrounds at Disney's Ar of Animation will want to remember to bring two things -- towels from their rooms because they are not distributed at the pools and their room keys because the new recreation areas are gated.


If it's a rainy day or you just need a break from the Florida sun, head inside Animation Hall for other recreation options. Many consider shopping a fun pasttime, and the Ink & Paint Shop offers resort-specific merchandise as well as popular Disney World souvenirs. Just outside the gift shop is Pixel Play Arcade for those who love to game. To play, guests must purchase a digital points card and choose how much money to load on it, beginning at $5. The arcade houses old-school favorites and newer attractions. A smart addition is the group of plush benches and small tables at the front for waiting parents.


Out in the lobby, tucked next to the front doors, is an area where guests can learn to draw various Disney characters step-by-step. An animator is there from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday to lead guests through the process. Classes start on the hour and are free. This is a popular activity at DisneyQuest and at The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Of course, it's a perfect fit for Art of Animation.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

June 9, 2012

Disney helps protect ocean wildlife and you can, too


Yesterday Walt Disney World celebrated World Oceans Day with various education stations and interactive activities for kids inside Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Even if you missed the event, though, you still can learn about ways in which Disney is helping to protect and promote the world's oceans.

World Oceans Day was proposed in 1992 at the United Nations' Earth Summit and officially recognized by the world body in 2008. Since then, a couple of organizations charged with protecting the world's oceans, The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network, have coordinated celebrations each year in an effort to promote a better understanding of the importance of the seas.

A cast member explains why coral needs to be protected.

At one booth inside The Seas, a cast member explained how The Walt Disney Ço. is helping to protect coral reefs near Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas, by relocating sea urchins that help control the algae there. At another booth, guests could see the teeth of various sea animals and learn how they have helped the animals survive. At still another site, kids could play a game with cast members with the goal of teaching them about ocean conservation.

A dolphin's teeth.
A whale's vertabrae.

But my kids and I found the area dedicated to sea turtles the most interesting - and if you missed World Oceans Day, you still can get involved with these projects and make a difference.

Cast member Leslie Wells explains Disney's role in sea turtle conservation.

At three Disney sites, you can contribute to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund's sea turtle conservation efforts through the Adopt-A-Nest Program. You can do so at the gift shop at Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends; the Out of the Wild shop at Animal Kingdom; and at Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

The adoption program, which launched on July 5, 2007, offers guests adoption packages for $50 that include a Disney Worldwide Conservation Hero Button, a "Finding Nemo" themed keychain, and an adoption certificate that lists the species of turtle and the date the eggs were laid in the nest. Guests can use their certificate numbers to track online their nest's success and possible hatchings at

Proceeds from the program benefit turtle and beach conservation efforts throughout the state of Florida.

A model of a sea turtle's nest illustrates the process of the eggs hatching.

At Disney's Vero Beach Resort, guests also can take guided tours of the beach during turtle nesting season, which runs approximately May through October. Turtle Troop, the tour arranged by the resort, is a popular summertime activity. And because visitors and residents to the Treasure Coast are aware of the precarious nature of baby sea turtles - only about 10 of the dozens of eggs laid in each nest will survive to adulthood - they tend to be the ones adopting the nests, a cast member said. Disney's Vero Beach guests are invited to use the same beaches where the sea turtle nests are marked and located.

In addition, trained Disney cast members monitor a stretch of coastline at Disney's Vero Beach Resort, collecting important data on sea turtle nests in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In August, The Walt Disney Co. will participate in the Tour de Turtles, which is a marathon of sorts for migrating sea turtles. Disney describes the event this way: "For at least three months, Tour de Turtles will follow multiple sea turtles, using satellite-tracking technology, as they travel from their respective nesting sites to unknown foraging grounds, with the goal of being the first to complete the 2,620 km marathon. By tracking sea turtle migrations, scientists can learn more about these mysterious mariners and the routes they take. Just as with human marathons, each turtle swims to raise awareness about a particular "cause" or threat to their survival."

You can follow the Tour de Turtles at

From "Finding Nemo" to "The Little Mermaid," many Disney films and theme-park attractions have offered entertainment based on ocean settings and the animals who live there. But through various ongoing conservation and awareness programs, Disney clearly is going a step farther and educating as well as entertaining its theme-park guests and fans.

June 12, 2012

Disney brings Highland Games of 'Brave' to Epcot



The much-anticipated opening of Disney-Pixar's new animated movie, "Brave," is still more than a week away, but Walt Disney World has added another experience to get kids interested. Brave - The Highland Games Tournament can be found at Epcot through July 8.

Guests who stroll down Future World West walkway toward World Showcase will see a banner announcing the games and then will notice the PlayBooster play equipment from the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival has not been taken down. Hooray! Each year I wonder why Disney doesn't keep the cool playground intact all year. In a park that has a lot of appeal for adults and older children, the play structures for ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12 are a great place for younger kids to burn off some energy.


As part of Brave - The Highland Games Tournament, the play area has been labeled the Training Ground for the games. Tents designated for each Scottish family participating in the tournament have been erected along the perimeter, adding much-needed shade and seating for the adults in the summer.


Disney has given parents another bonus as well -- free enhanced wireless in the play area. Because it started raining when my children were testing their skills, I didn't get a chance to try the Wi-Fi. If you have, please tell us about it in the comments.


Across the walkway, kids can try their hand at several traditional Scottish games. First, they spin wheel to find out which of the four families from the movie "Brave" they will represent: MacGuffin, Dingwall, Macintosh or DunBroch. Upon learning their identities, children receive clan "crests" (buttons) to wear and take home.


Then, they head into a tent for a quick archery lesson. A cast member dressed in plaid helps kids aim a rubber-tipped arrow at the target. This event is set up just like the Merida play-and-greet at Magic Kingdom, and kids seem to love it. Each child gets one shot before moving onto the Haggis Flip, a game in which they pound mallets onto devices that launch beanbags. The goal when playing Haggis Flip is to get the beanbags into stationary baskets. After that, it's on to the Cake (a.k.a. beanbag) Toss. Images of Merida's mischievous triplet brothers decorate these targets. Finally, kids will attempt the Mini Caber Toss, in which they throw logs. Don't worry: The logs are awkward to hold but not heavy and not real, so no one gets hurt!


After the games, kids can make rubbings of their clans' Rune stones, and they each receive a set of six "Brave" postcards.


The giant sand sculpture in the area has been transformed from one advertising DisneyNature's "Chimpanzee" to one promoting "Brave." It's worth stopping for a look because the details are incredible. Another photo opportunity is available across from the sand sculpture, where several "Brave" posters are nestled in the flowers.


Brave - The Highland Games Tournament is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Be aware that some parts of the attraction, such as the Training Ground, close during rain.

June 14, 2012

Ideas for celebrating Father's Day at Walt Disney World



It's not too late to plan a fun-filled Father's Day weekend at Walt Disney World -- and there are even some last-minute bargains to be had. From traditional pastimes in the most magical of locations to experiences created only by Disney, dads are sure to appreciate their happy day at The Most Magical Place on Earth. Let's consider some of the things most dads enjoy - fast cars, sports, beer and spending time with their loved ones.


If your dad or husband is into fast cars, visit the Walt Disney World Speedway and let him get inside a NASCAR-style stock car for three laps with a professional driver. Ride-alongs through the Richard Petty Driving Experience start at $109 and do not require reservations. Looking for a splurge? Put him behind the wheel, starting at $449. (My husband, who is not a NASCAR fan, has experienced the ride-along and was surprised by how much he enjoyed it.) By booking ahead of time at 1-800-237-3889, you can get the ride-along for $59 for Father's Day. Also, any drive experience qualifies for a second one at half off, if booked in advance this week.

The Exotic Driving Experience -- allowing guests to drive supercars by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche -- is new to Walt Disney World Speedway this year. It is not available on Father's Day, but you can purchase a ride for later in the month by calling 855-822-0149. Prices range from $169 to $419. (Read more about these thrilling experiences at

Is your man more comfortable in the stands? Make sure you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios and watch the "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" that is performed multiple times each day. This is a fun look at what it takes to film stunts, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. FastPasses are available for the 40-minute show.


Men who love to golf can choose from five courses on Walt Disney World property: Disney's Palm and Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista, Osprey Ridge and Oak Trail. Last year, Arnold Palmer Golf Management took over the operation and maintenance of the courses. (Greens fees for the 9-hole Oak Trail are included in Disney World premium annual passes.)


If you want to spend time with the man of your family while he enjoys the game, why not try Disney World's family friendly miniature golf courses? Winter Summerland, located adjacent to Blizzard Beach water park, has 36 holes of wonderfully themed putting greens. Fantasia Gardens, located near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel, offers putting greens and a par-3 course. Cost is $12.52 per 18 holes for adults and $10.39 for ages 3 to 9. Passholders receive a 50 percent discount. Also, the second round on the same day is half off for all guests.(AllEars has more details about the courses here and here)


Drinking around the World

Dads who want to sample alcohol of different origins might want to consider an adults-only afternoon or evening at Epcot. With eleven countries represented in the World Showcase, there are quite a few options. Among the perennial favorites: La Cava del Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion for unique margaritas; Sommerfest in Germany for an Oktoberfest beer; Les Vins des Chefs de France cart in France for the Grand Mariner Orange Slush and the Grey Goose Citron Lemonade Slush; and the Rose & Crown Pub in the United Kingdom for various ales and lagers that can be combined.

Not going into a theme park on Sunday? There are many Disney hotels and restaurants that house cool lounges and bars. The Disney Food Blog gives us a list of the Top 10 here.

Family time

Maybe Dad's biggest desire for his special day is to make some unique memories with his children at Walt Disney World. At the Magic Kingdom, fathers might enjoy watching their daughters be transformed into the princesses of their dreams at the Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique. He also might like to see his sweet little girl change into a menacing pirate at the Magic Kingdom's Pirate League.


Others might like to share their love of trains with their kids, learning more about them through Disney's "The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains" tour at Walt Disney World (ages 10 and older).

Perhaps dinner and a show about fatherhood would be just the ticket. If so, "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" is a Broadway-style performance daily at Disney's Animal Kingdom sure to entertain everyone in the family. Nearby, Flame Tree Barbecue offers the traditional favorite meals with outdoor terrace seating, and it gives Dad a break from manning the grill for a change. (See the menu here.)

These are just a few - and, granted, stereotypical - ideas, but there are so many more possibilities for celebrating Father's Day at Walt Disney World. With your imagination and all that Walt Disney World offers, you can create a very special day.

June 16, 2012

Casey Jr. splash pad cool addition to Disney World's Fantasyland




Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station in the Storybook Circus section of Fantasyland opened Friday (June 15) to little fanfare, but families have a lot to be excited about. This new water play area in the Magic Kingdom offers a great respite from the Florida heat, and its design is a welcome improvement on the old Donald's Boat.


Casey Jr. is the steam engine that brings the circus to town in the movie "Dumbo," and that theming continues at Walt Disney World. The engine and tender appear to have pulled onto the turntable with four boxcars, each carrying a different animal -- giraffes, elephants (of course!), monkeys and camels. Guests will notice the subtle evidence of train tracks between the water play area and the nearby bathrooms, which are located in a building modeled after a roundhouse.


The soaking station brings the circus to life with its many sounds and the bustling activity of the water jets coming from the moving animals (and other sources). My kids are certain that the elephants shoot more water than the other animals because their trunks have multiple streams -- or so they say. About every 10 minutes, Casey Jr. begins his stationary journey, and guests will notice the locomotive sounds and the misting from the engine increase as he reaches his destination.


As we've come to expect with The Walt Disney Co., there is an incredible attention to detail in Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station. Casey Jr. opens and closes his eyes. One of the monkeys is wearing a hat that is actually a white Mickey Mouse glove. The elephant car has baskets of lettuce and bananas attaching for feedings. The detached boxcars even have aged chains trailing from the bottom, presumably where the cars would have been attached to one another. There is a lot to appreciate about this next step in the Fantasyland expansion project.


The most important thing to know about this attraction: You WILL get wet. And I do not mean just the kids frolicking in the splash pad. Parents sitting around the perimeter might be surprised to find themselves doused by a stream of water or mist blowing in the wind. Certainly, parents who are chasing after toddlers can expect to be just as wet as the little ones are because of the water shooting from so many angles and locations.


So, my best advice is to plan ahead and bring swimsuits and towels or an extra change of clothes for anyone who might be venturing near Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station. Also, be sure to pack sunscreen because there is not a lot of shade near the attraction. For those who find they don't have everything their little ones need, a nearby merchandise cart sells towels, water shoes, hats, sunscreen and more.

After spending more than an hour in the water, my almost-8-year-old daughter proclaimed that we have to visit Casey Jr. every time we go into the Magic Kingdom.

June 19, 2012

Epcot's VISION house: A Disney World attraction for adults, older kids



The recent rain in Central Florida finally helped me persuade my kids and their friends to check out VISION house, a new attraction in Epcot's Innoventions that opened on Earth Day this year. Like many younger guests, they didn't want to take time away from rides and favorite activities for a tour, but the wet weather forced our group to slow down a bit and try something new.

VISION house replaces the House of the Innoventions, both showplaces for new and updated products for the home. The concept behind VISION house is sustainable living through environmentally friendly building choices.


The experience begins outside the house, where there is a clubhouse for little kids to play while their parents are waiting for a tour. You also can walk around the side of the house and see different aspects, including the family's electric hybrid car parked outside.

The first thing we noticed when we entered the house was the openness and lack of barriers. Unlike with its predecessor, VISION house is set up so guests are welcome to touch the fixtures and finishes of the home. Our group of kids took that invitation seriously, trying out the beds while the hostess explained the rooms' features. Another difference is that the innovative home systems and products are available now; they're not concepts envisioned for the future.


The five elementary school children in our group were most fascinated with the futuristic toilet in the master bathroom. They are of the age, of course, when bathroom humor runs rampant, especially among the boys. I have to agree with them, though, because the high-tech toilet from Kohler is pretty awesome. It has its own remote-control system, and users can warm their feet and seat, listen to music and raise the seat without touching it.

Overall, though, this attraction really is aimed at adults who, as homeowners, have a vested interest in the products or, perhaps, teens or college students studying home design or architecture. My kids didn't care that an electronic system can change the temperature of the house and its lights remotely, but my ears perked up at the possibility of saving on the electric bill.


Still, even for those guests who would like to follow the practices of green building, the costs can be prohibitive. Both options -- starting from scratch or retrofitting a home with many of these products -- are expensive. I did take to heart the hostess's suggestion that recycling furniture by passing it down through the family "reduces strain on resources and is a great source of family memories." Like the Monteverdes, the fictional family who lives in the VISION house, the Fords eat at a kitchen table that came from my childhood home.

To read more about the opening of VISION house, see Deb's blog post.

June 20, 2012

Disney aims to better kids' health by banning junk-food ads, improving theme park meals



Earlier this month, The Walt Disney Co. announced the next steps in its Magic of Healthy Living campaign: banning most junk-food advertising on its programs for kids and helping guests recognize healthy food in its theme parks and at retail stores with new labeling. I applaud and appreciate these moves.

Established in 2006, Disney's nutrition guidelines are aligned to federal standards by promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar. The new advertising standards will affect Disney XD, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Saturday morning shows on ABC stations, Radio Disney and online programming. The stations and websites have until 2015 to meet the new guidelines.

As a parent, I believe it is my job -- not Disney's -- to help my children eat healthfully and learn about proper nutrition for when they are old enough to make such decisions for themselves. But I've seen firsthand how susceptible children are to marketing that occurs during their favorite televisions shows or by their favorite characters, and I welcome this help with open arms.

The influence of television advertising was apparent to me again this week when my elementary-school-age children asked several times if we could eat at Subway this week. When I asked why, they explained that the current kids' meals toys are from Disney-Pixar's upcoming movie "Brave." (Disney made a conscious decision to limit its involvement with fast-food restaurants in 2006 by halting the licensing of its film characters for McDonald's Happy Meals.)

"The emotional connection kids have to our characters and stories gives us a unique opportunity to continue to inspire and encourage them to lead healthier lives," said Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co., in a press release.

Disney already has taken steps toward helping parents fight childhood obesity with changes it made in its California theme parks and at Walt Disney World. Six years ago, kids' meals were reconfigured so that fruits and vegetables and low-fat milk were automatically included with the meals -- unless parents opted out and asked for French fries and soda. The company says that of the more than 12 million kids' meals served last year in its U.S. theme parks, parents stuck with the healthier options 60 percent of the time.

Now, Disney is turning its theme-park efforts to further reducing sodium in kids' meals and introducing new well-balanced kids' breakfast meals.

The Walt Disney Co. also introduced the Mickey Check, a symbol that will label as healthy licensed food in retail stores, on menus in theme parks and on qualified recipes on and I think this will be helpful to parents as well as send the message to kids that nutritious foods still can be fun and tasty. My children can spot the Mickey Mouse-shaped chicken nuggets, cheese and fruit packs as soon as we enter a grocery store. Now, they'll learn a little more about why the foods they like are good for their bodies, too.

June 21, 2012

Finding art opportunities for kids at Disney World


Do you have a budding young artist in your family? If so, you might be surprised to learn that there are many opportunities for your child to explore his or her creativity while you're on vacation at Walt Disney World.

In recent years, Disney World has built on the popularity of the Magic of Disney Animation at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Inside this attraction, guests come to understand the process of developing characters for films, including seeing an artist's studio and artwork from a current film. In the attraction's Animation Academy visitors learn to draw popular Disney characters from a qualified animator.


Another location where guests can hone their drawing skills is at Animation Academy inside DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney. These 30-minute classes take guests through the process of drawing Mickey and his pals step-by-step. Be sure to check the posted schedule on the second floor when you arrive at the gaming attraction if there is a particular character you'd like to draw that day.


Afterward, guests can purchase their drawings for $5 each or a package that includes the drawing and a pin for $12. There is no other charge for Animation Academy. One-day admission to DisneyQuest is $37 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 and $43 for ages 10 and older. (For more details, be sure to check out the resource page)

Most recently, a similar activity has been built in the lobby of the new 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. Here, guests draw on paper, while at the Magic of Disney Animation and DisneyQuest Animation Academy, the characters are created on a screen.


Art of Animation classes take place on the hour Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and are free to Art of Animation guests. (For more about the new Art of Animation hotel, be sure to read the AllEars.Net overview)


If you missed the class for the character you really wanted to be able to draw on your own, the resort sells books that teach visitors how to create Mickey Mouse and his pals from scratch. New on Disney World shelves: A guide to drawing Merida and other "Brave" characters. My children have collected just about all of these books on various trips to Disney World and continue to use them at home.

In addition to taking animation classes, young artists might enjoy watching professionals at work. At Magic Kingdom, guests will find street artists waiting to draw their portraits. As with most activities at the theme park, guests are invited to watch and even ask questions. This is a good opportunity for those interested in sketching to learn what it takes to do work on the spot.

Some hotels also have "resident" artists, such as the one at Port Orleans Riverside. A painter in the lobby from 6 to 11 p.m. will create customized face and full-body images for guests. Pricing starts at $15 for a black-and-white face painting and increases to $28 for a full-color body painting.

Families who visit Disney World in the fall are in for a treat: the Festival of the Masters takes over Downtown Disney from November 9 to 11. This is open-air art show offers one-of-a-kind paintings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry and more. Animation Academy is moved outside DisneyQuest and the sidewalk art is amazing.

Plus, there are many art opportunities for kids. Last year, my son was most excited by the Epic Mickey gaming booth. Not only did he get to preview the much-anticipated game, but animators were drawing Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and giving them to guests in line. A Disney spokeswoman confirmed there will be a booth for Epic Mickey 2 at this year's Festival of the Master. Admission to the festival is free.

If you've found other art opportunities for kids at Disney World, please tell us about them in the comments.

June 26, 2012

Disney's 'Brave' storybook, comic apps loaded with cool features



Two new apps from Disney Publishing have a lot of fun to offer kids who enjoyed seeing the new Disney-Pixar animated movie "Brave." They allow readers of all ages to relive the story and to become part of the experience with interactive features.

"Brave: Storybook Deluxe" stays true to the story of Merida, a Scottish lass who is determined to choose her life's journey, rather than accept her fate as a traditional princess. On this app, even the narrator has a Scottish accent, which was a great touch. And as a parent, I appreciated that each word is highlighted in red as he reads, mimicking the finger-tracking strategy taught to young readers. My almost-8-year-old daughter really liked the feature that allowed her to record her own voice reading the story and then play it back.

The story is chock-full of interactive icons, such as a bear claw that scratches the page with sound when it is clicked, a needle and thread that sew a tear on the page describing mending the tapestry, and even a Will-o'-the-Wisp floats at the bottom of one page.


In addition, the story links to the six coloring pages and puzzles when they relate to particular scenes. These extra features allow users to tap colors and then apply them to outlines of characters, in the same way the coloring pages operate on the Tangled app with Rapunzel. Users also can break a page into a puzzle and put it back together again.


Kids can choose from two games on this "Brave" app. In Merida's Challenge, they help the spirited princess shoot her bow and arrow while she is riding Angus, her horse. My daughter liked this game, which seemed easy enough for even the youngest reader. In Archer's Quest, readers go on a scavenger hunt through the story, searching for three separate bundles of arrows.

"Brave: Storybook Deluxe" is $6.99 and is available on iTunes for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.


"Brave Interactive Comic" is a more advanced interactive graphic novel for kids ages 7 to 12. In the comic, each cell has some animation, plus music and sound. In addition, there are links to the concept art that inspired the movie. There is no narration option, however, which is a sure sign this is for older kids.


Probably the coolest feature on this app is the How-to-draw feature. There is a step-by-step course for users to actually draw Merida, Elinor, the triplets and Mor'Du on the screen. A line or two will appear and then the user copies it. The original (in blue) disappears and another guide appears. Young artists can use the magnifying glass to focus in on details of the drawing, and at the end, they can take a photo and save it.

I was surprised that my almost-10-year-old son who loves the Walt Disney World learn-to-draw books was not as fond of the same activity on his iPod. He said he found it difficult to maneuver, and he was frustrated when it didn't cooperate. Perhaps, he just needs more practice.

"Brave Interactive Comic" is $1.99 and available on iTunes for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Can't get enough of "Brave"? I've written about the Merida play-and-greet at Magic Kingdom and Brave: The Highland Games Tournament at Epcot. Deb reviews the movie, too.

June 28, 2012

Dumbo interactive queue for kids soft-opens at Disney World




As has been the recent trend at Walt Disney World, another attraction is set to reopen with an interactive queue. For parents like me, these are welcome additions to help break up the long waits for our impatient children. It's hard enough to wait in a long line when you're an adult, but when you're a child, it's just cruel and unusual punishment to see the magic and have to wait to experience it.

The newest interactive queue is for the relocated Dumbo The Flying Elephant attraction at Magic Kingdom, and it features many firsts. We all can appreciate that the standby line enters an air conditioned building that is themed as a tent. Ahhhh. If you choose to ride Dumbo with a FastPass -- unheard of before the ride moved to the Storybook Circus area -- you will bypass the interactive part of the queue. FastPass users still enter the front of the tent, though, and see the attraction and experience the air conditioning, if only briefly. (FastPasses currently are distributed near Mickey's PhilharMagic.)


So, how does this queue entertain Disney's younger guests? It's essentially a cleverly-themed play area with seating for parents and a pager to alert each family when it's their turn return to the queue before boarding the ride. Guests are seemingly walking into the circus tent that Dumbo experienced in the classic movie.


First, they will be met by a cast member and asked about how many members are in their party. Then they will be given a pager that looks like a circus ticket. Once entering, they will see a center ring with toys playground equipment appropriate for toddlers. Overhead, Dumbo flies in circles around the center ring.


Outside that ring is a large, elevated play structure covered in nets. Kids can enter and perform as acrobats by climbing the ladder to a pretend high-dive, hopping up steps that look like trampolines or moving through the "burning" building, which is a replica of what Dumbo faced during his circus performances under the big top. Once inside the play structure, there are plenty of opportunities to run, jump and swivel. When kids are ready to come down, they can exit through two small slides that are fast enough to keep older children interested. Plus, they make various circus noises each time a guest slides. Parents will appreciate that the grandstand bleacher seating allows for clear sight lines of their busy children.


One of the most interesting aspects of this interactive area is the use of light. Spotlights are used to highlight the kids' movements. For example, when a child pops out of the Human Cannonball slide, a light appears at the bottom. When another child climbs the trampoline-shaped steps or the ladder to the high-dive, each footfall is lighted. Children can even press a button to light up the pretend fire in the burning building. Be aware that ambient lighting is used overall, so it may be a little darker than you're used to -- especially coming inside from the glare of the Florida sun. The mood lighting, if you will, is continually changing during your brief respite in the tent.


My husband really liked that the pagers are shaped like circus tickets. Timothy Q. Mouse, the rodent that befriended Dumbo, announces your time to leave the play area and get back in line and ready for your ride with Dumbo. The pager system works well and guests apparently are funneled to the least crowded of two Dumbo rides. (You don't pick which Dumbo to ride.) Then, take your seat and experience the dueling elephant carousels fly high over the Magic Kingdom.

Dumbo's interactive queue is in the soft-opening phase, being open to guests at various times as cast members test different aspects. It's expected to be be open full-time in July.

June 30, 2012

Phineas & Ferb attraction opens at Disney World



Epcot's scavenger hunt through the global pavilions, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, reopened last week as Disney Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. Recently, my kids and I accepted two missions from Phineas & Ferb's pet platypus so we could check out the new version of this game.

I'm calling it a new version because Agent P is just about the same game as Kim Possible. Disney has not changed the basic clues, for the most part, within the countries. Instead, the update comes from the new characters, which certainly are more recognizable for today's young Disney Channel viewers.


Guests begin playing by stopping by one of four recruitment centers -- near Showcase Plaza, Italy, United Kingdom and Norway -- and a cast member will swipe one ticket per group and issue a F.O.N.E. (Field Operative Notification Equipment) device. If the game is not crowded, guests initially will be given three countries from which they can select a mission. After some simple instructions, you're on your way.


We noticed a welcome improvement with this version: Guests can start playing Agent P immediately, if space is available. With Kim Possible, guests received tickets indicating their start times later in the day. Agent P can accommodate about 30 guests per country at a time, a cast member told me. Guests have the option to continue playing with another mission, if slots are open.

Our roles as secret agents first took us to France, where we were charged with helping Agent P defeat his nemesis, Dr. Doofenschmirtz. Each mission has between five and ten assignments with code names. France has some cute clues, including one where the secret agents are instructed, "Say fromage!" when their pictures are taken. If you select this country, be sure to play until the end, because there is a clever surprise from Agent P on the last assignment.


When choosing the country of your mission, you might want to consider whether you'd like to play indoors or outside. In France, the assignments are all outside in the blazing Florida sun or afternoon rains. But in Mexico, where we landed on our second mission, the game was played inside the cool pavilion.

My elementary-school-age children really enjoy these types of scavenger hunts at Walt Disney World and they're big fans of Phineas & Ferb, so this was a fun attraction for them.

I think, though, that the other game of clues at Walt Disney World -- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom -- has a big advantage over Agent P. Each portal in the Magic Kingdom is a different experience for every guest because of the way he or she plays the cards. With Agent P, the clues are the same for everyone, so if a line forms during the assignments, you see the clues unlocked by the party ahead of you.

Still, Agent P is a great way to entice kids' into the World Showcase pavilions. Each mission only lasts about 30 minutes, so it's not a big time commitment, and kids of all ages can play this game, with a little help from their parents or older siblings.

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About June 2012

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in June 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2012 is the next archive.

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