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September 1, 2012

2012 Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party - What's new and different!



Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World's Magic Kingdom will have a few new treats for guests this year.


Last year, Mickey's Toon Town Fair was closed during the September and October party dates, which cut down on the square footage of the party and forced the relocation of some treat stations. But what a difference a year makes. With the opening of Storybook Circus in the same location comes the return of Alice & Mad Hatter's Treat Party between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland. The Alice in Wonderland-themed walkway contains cool, lighted decorations and enough candy to satisfy any sweet tooth.


In addition, there will be a candy stop near the Fantasyland train station, and the Dumbo the Flying Elephant and The Barnstormer attractions in Storybook Circus will be open during the party, a Walt Disney World spokesperson told me. The twin Dumbo carousels are especially beautiful at night with their lights and water shows.


Last year, Br'er Rabbit's Laughin' Place Candy Patch was added near Splash Mountain in Frontierland and it will remain again this year. This treat trail also is well-themed, as you would expect from Disney, with jack-o-lanterns featuring "Song of the South" characters. The queue did seem to back up more quickly here than the Alice & Mad Hatter's Treat Party.


The balloons marking the candy stations will have a new look this year -- lighted Mickey pumpkins will take Goofy Candy Company's place.


Disney planners hope to make the wait for Mickey's Boo to You! Halloween Parade more pleasant for guests by adding some pre-show entertainment on Main Street, USA, and in Town Square that will include music and "streetmosphere." Guests will be invited to join a line dance during the Not-So-Scary Street Jam! The featured song will be "Calling All the Monsters" by China Anne McClain.

Here's a look at the dance steps, if you want to practice so you're a pro on party night:

The Boo To You! parade, which is performed twice each night, is one of the highlights of the party and guests typically stake out their spots for the first time more than an hour before it starts. The parade features characters only seen during this event, such as ghosts and gravediggers from the Haunted Mansion, and it starts with a the Headless Horseman galloping by.

Other party favorites will return, including the Happy HalloWishes fireworks show, The Villains Mix & Mingle stage show, dance parties and meet--and-greets with rarely seen Disney characters. I'll be attending Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party the first week and bringing parents tips for making the most out of their haunted night with the kids.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party takes place from 7 p.m. to midnight September 11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28, 30; October 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31; and November 2. Prices vary depending on date, time of purchase and discounts. For complete ticket details, see the AllEars.Net information page.

September 3, 2012

Great Irish Hooley wraps up today at Raglan Road at Downtown Disney



At Walt Disney World, you don't have to wait until March to celebrate everything Irish. Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant at Downtown Disney is hosting its first Great Irish Hooley this holiday weekend and there are lots of fun family activities on tap for today, the final day.

My 8-year-old daughter and I were invited to experience the Hooley, a traditional Irish social celebration, on Saturday, and it was something we both enjoyed. Despite being Orlando residents, we had never been to Raglan Road. Many of the festival's offerings are available on a nightly basis, but there also is some special entertainment for Labor Day.


When you first approach the restaurant at the front of Pleasure Island, you'll notice that it is huge and includes an outdoor patio and a gift shop. One of the best things about Pleasure Island is that many of the restaurants have the outdoor spaces for guests to have a drink and listen to live performances, and Raglan Road is no exception. It's a casual atmosphere, where parents can feel comfortable bringing their children.

Today's patio stage musical lineup:

12 to 2 p.m.: Danny Burns, performs a unique blend of Irish ballads and contemporary Irish music.

3 to 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.: The Raglan Rogues, a Dublin band that plays Irish folk and traditional tunes.

6 to 10 p.m.: FullSet, an Irish band kicking off its U.S. tour promoting its debut album.

The main stage inside Raglan Road features:

12 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.: Johnny "Snaggs" Norton, Dublin entertainer who has toured worldwide with Riverdance. Performances include sing-along songs.

8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.: Creel, the popular house band that normally play Mondays through Saturdays.


But even better than the music, in our opinion, are the Irish dancers. They perform nightly at the restaurant and invite guests to join them. During the festival, guests will have even more opportunities to learn some fancy footwork. Irish dancer and choreographer Ronan McCormack of the original Riverdance cast leads dancers and guests through different traditional and contemporary styles of Irish dance during the "From Our Roots to Riverdance" workshops. These sessions take place today from 2 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. on the patio stage and really are not to be missed. I found the demonstrations fascinating and beautiful. My daughter was not shy about hopping up on stage when McCormack asked for volunteers to try a broom dance.


Inside the restaurant, guests can participate in a Ceili -- a structured set-dancing event that was the precursor to today's popular country line dancing -- from 3 to 5 p.m. The area in front of the main stage is cleared out so more guests can join the fun. My daughter jumped at the chance to try this as well, and she discovered that the professional dancers were very patient with the amateurs of all ages.


For those wanting to display their Irish spirit, complimentary Celtic face-painting is offered inside the restaurant from noon to 10 p.m. during the festival.

Appetizer sampler: Scallop Forest, Heaven on Earth, Nom Nom Wings and Dalkey Duo.

And that's just the entertainment! This is a restaurant known for its authentic Irish dishes and new creations with a Celtic twist. Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon serves up popular entrees such as beer-battered fish and chips, Shepherd's pie with a contemporary twist and Kevin's Heavenly Ham. There also are plenty of options for those with special dietary needs, such as vegetarians, those who need gluten-free dishes, and guests looking for lighter dishes. Children can pick from traditional Irish fare and typical American comfort food on their menus. Raglan Road also boasts an extensive collection of beer, whiskey, wine and specialty cocktails. (See the complete menu on AllEars.Net.)

Beefy Murray: Beef curry pie with spinach, potatoes, mushrooms & apple chutney.

Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner is 3 to 11 p.m. with a bar menu available after 11 p.m.

Beer flight for tasting.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Raglan Road during its Great Irish Hooley. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my review.

September 6, 2012

New Phineas and Ferb interactive experience opens at Downtown Disney



Phineas and Ferb, characters from the Disney Channel hit show, are turning up in yet another spot at Walt Disney World. Now, guests don't even have to go into the theme parks to meet up with the animated versions of the duo and their counterparts Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Agent P.


Phineas and Ferb & YOU: A Brand New Reality is a virtual experience set up adjacent to Bongos Cuban Cafe on the West Side of Downtown Disney. Guests queue up in a themed area, and when their turns arrive, they step into a fenced area to interact with the characters on a large screen before having their photos taken.


There are 20 different pre-programmed scenarios, including dancing "The Platypus Walk" to getting caught in Dr. Doof's Freeze-inator. My daughter had the honor of "pushing" Perry the Platypus (Agent P) in a stroller. Cast members help position each guest in the photo area to compose the image, which then can be retrieved and shared online afterward.



Each experience at Phineas and Ferb & YOU: A Brand New Reality lasts only a couple minutes, which keeps the line moving and the wait down. It's so simple that guests of all ages can have fun participating, and it's free. Clearly this is not a complex attraction, but it is great for killing time while guests are waiting for dinner or a movie nearby. And, of course, a Phineas and Ferb merchandise cart has been set up in front of the experience.




Phineas and Ferb & YOU is open from 2 to 9:30 p.m. daily through December 1. If you're looking for a more three-dimensional experience with the characters, the pair actually meets guests daily at Hollywood Studios near the exit to Muppet Vision 3D. Also, guests also can find Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz at Agent P's World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, which opened this summer. (To read my review of the new Epcot attraction, please click here.)

Expect to see a lot more of Phineas, Ferb, Perry and others from the hit Disney Channel animated series in the days ahead. After all, they will appear in their first feature-length, 3-D movie next summer. Various web reports have stated that, though the characters will be animated, the film will be a live-action theatrical release and that it, like the TV series, will feature musical numbers.

September 8, 2012

Disney apps offer a variety of gaming experiences


Gaming continues to be a big part of the Disney experience for many kids today, and a handful of new iOS apps offer youngsters the fun of skills competition, creating artwork and the joy of make-believe dress-up magic.

And, of these four apps below, three are free for iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, too.

Disney Fish Hooks

Based on the Disney Channel animated show, the free Disney Fish Hooks app takes players inside Freshwater High. Users play as Milo, making and popping bubbles to navigate the treacherous waters of his nemesis, Randy Pincherson. To win, you'll need good timing to bounce off turtles, surf whirlpools, fly through tubes and free fall. In addition, puzzle-solving skills will help unlock five of Milo's best friends, and users then can use them as players in the game.

Disney Fish Hooks offers 50 levels, and at each one, players can collect apples to increase their scores. If you have Fish Hooks fans at your house, this is a fun way for them to interact with the characters. Gamers overall seem to like this app, though some online have said glitches cause a lot of hang-ups. Parents, be aware that Randy does make some mean comments, such as "You're a dork!" It's rated for ages 4 and older.

Disney Pixel'd

Pixel'd is a free drawing and animation app that has been updated this summer. It allows users to create original pixel art or to color Disney character outlines from Mickey and friends, Disney Princeses, Cars, Bolt and Vintage Mickey. Artists will hear each pixel "pop" as the picture is created, and then an easy-to-use animation system brings the art to life. There are three drawing layers on the canvas, 20 frames for creating animations, and adjustable shape tools. Plus, users can choose the width of the marker and the color palette is almost endless.

Other features include Buddy Draw, which allows the user to connect with a friend via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to work together; and a gallery of your artwork can be maintained in the cloud. If your children really enjoy drawing and coloring -- and mine do -- you can purchase expansion packs for more character stamps and fills. This app also is for kids 4 and older.

Disney Fairies Fashion Boutique

Disney Fairies Fashion Boutique is similar to many other popular apps that allow players to decorate their own spaces -- in this case, a fashion shop, with different themes. Then, players design stylish outfits for fairy customers, including Tinker Bell and her friends. They can choose from 500 clothing and accessory patterns and even customize the pieces with 100 different shades of dye. Attract customers for the completed outfits and earn Pixie Dust and Style Points.

This is just the kind of app my daughter enjoys, and I'm sure she's not alone. Know that this free app only works on iOS devices that are 4.0 and higher (iPhone 4/iPhone 4S; iPad2/ iPad (3rd generation); and iPod touch (4th generation). It is rated as a 4+ app, too.

Disney Princess Dress-Up: My Sticker Book

This is the only app in the bunch we recently tested that wasn't free or recently updated. Still, it probably will be money well-spent for families with little girls who like to play dress-up.

My 8-year-old was excited about the Disney Princess Dress-Up: My Sticker Book app when she saw it in iTunes, so we decided to give it a try. As the title indicates, this app allows users to dress the Disney princesses for their royal weddings and other special occasions.

Your little princess can choose to dress Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Tiana, Aurora, Cinderella or Snow White. Each scenario begins with a short story that leads to the player compiling an outfit -- from a selection of dresses, costumes, gloves, shoes, purses, crowns, flowers, bows, necklaces and hats. My daughter says this is especially fun because some of the clothes are ones not usually paired with each character. She also liked the feature that allowed her to take a photo of herself and use it within the app.

Disney Princess Dress-Up: My Sticker Book has a $3.99 price tag, and it, too, is an app for children 4 and older.

September 10, 2012

Sneak peek: New Fantasyland's Enchanted Tales with Belle





Guests who were disappointed when "Storytime With Belle" in the Fairytale Garden was discontinued have a lot to look forward to when its replacement officially debuts on Dec. 6 in the Magic Kingdom.

Enchanted Tales with Belle, part of New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World, was open to guests during select times this past week while cast members tested the new interactive experience. This marked the first time that guests were invited beyond the new castle walls, and we were fortunate to be offered the opportunity to take a first look at the new attraction.



After passing under the archway, my children and I walked through winding paths, eventually lining up in front of the cottage of Maurice, Belle's father. The top of Beast's castle is visible high up the mountain in the background, giving guests the impression they have stepped right into the story, Beauty and the Beast. (The Beast's castle will house Be Our Guest restaurant, which opens Nov. 19.)



While in line, guests will notice many clever details, including a well, lanterns, wooden buckets, a wheelbarrow, wagon wheels and even chairs built into the walls of the queue. Cast members dressed as townspeople greet visitors along the way. There is a FASTpass entrance, though cast members I spoke to weren't sure where the ticket distribution will be located.




Guests enter Maurice's cottage in the main room where they will see a cozy fireplace, stacks of books everywhere -- Belle does live here, after all -- and even a portrait of Belle as a young girl with her mother. Belle's mother never is mentioned in the story, so it's wonderful to see what she looks like. (Guests using FASTpasses will skip this room, I'm told.)


From the hearth, guests are admitted to Maurice's workshop in groups of about 45, according to a cast member. This area has even more detailed theming, giving guests plenty to study while they wait in front of the magic mirror. Maurice's drawing board and sketches are evident, his tools are scattered throughout the space, and his creations are perched on shelves and hanging from the ceiling.



Then the cast member announces, "Take me back to the day Belle and Beast fell in love." The lights dim, and the mirror that Beast is said to have given Maurice undergoes an amazing transformation and becomes a magic portal into Beast's castle. What appears to be a solid wall is now an entranceway into a room where Wardrobe awaits the group. A cast member explains that children and adults alike are invited to play parts in the retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which will be a surprise for Belle.


A talking Wardrobe interacts with the group as the cast member hands out props and selects participants for the reenactment. The great thing about this experience is that there appears to be enough parts for every child in the room, so no one who wants to participate will be left out. Encourage your child to volunteer because the payoff with Belle is worth it. (More on that to come.) There are certain character roles that are filled each time -- Beast, Suits of Armor, Mrs. Potts and Chip, Dungeon Bars, Footstool, Horse, Laughing Frames. We also saw Plate and Silverware used.



Once the parts are assigned, the actors and the rest of the group are led into one of two identical libraries. (Of course, you're not supposed to know there are two libraries, but we went through Enchanted Tales with Belle twice and happened to get the different rooms. My children are old enough to notice everything was opposite what they had just seen. Not to worry, though, because we all know they need two rooms to get all the guests in place and then Belle can go back and forth between the libraries more quickly.)


In the library, Lumiere directs the audience to sit on benches while the actors are moved to the front of the room. The lights are dimmed, so everyone can yell, "Surprise!" when Belle enters the room. Then, cast members help the guest actors deliver their simple lines to Belle. The experience is interactive for the audience, as well, when guests are invited to howl with the wind, shiver in the dungeon and gallop with a horse. Belle then leads the actors around the room to the peppy song, "Be Our Guest."


The play concludes when Belle dances with the guest portraying Beast. The first boy we saw in this role was very young and sweet as Beast. The second was older and easily embarrassed, which gave the audience a chuckle. My 8-year-old daughter portrayed Footstool and Horse on different visits and enjoyed every minute. Being a little more reserved, my 10-year-old son chose to just watch. He was amazed by the magic portal, but not as interested in a Disney Princess experience.


Afterward, cast members introduce each member of the "production," and Belle presents them with bookmarks. As Lumiere says, the token "is in appreciation to mark the occasion." A Disney PhotoPass photographer takes posed photos of Belle with each individual actor (and also captures action shots during the experience.) On the way out, guests are given special Enchanted Tales-themed PhotoPass cards so they can see all the images from their specific session.


Our wait time for Enchanted Tales with Belle was about 25 minutes, but it's sure to be longer when the attraction officially opens and word spreads about how truly magical the experience is.

September 13, 2012

Periwinkle joins Tinker Bell in Winter Woods of Disney Fairies meet-and-greet



It's beginning to look a lot like winter in one corner of the Magic Kingdom. Tinker Bell's Magical Nook in Adventureland, home to meet-and-greets with the Disney Fairies, has taken on a sprinkling of snow and ice, along with the usual pixie dust.

The new environment has been created especially for frost fairy Periwinkle, who joined the character lineup at Walt Disney World on Sunday. Periwinkle makes her first appearance in the newest Disney Fairies direct-to-DVD movie, "Secret of the Wings," which will be released on Oct. 23. In the meantime, Periwinkle and her long-lost sister, Tinker Bell, are signing autographs and posing for photos with guests daily.


Much of the experience is unchanged from when it moved from the now-defunct Mickey's ToonTown Fair section of the theme park. The queue winds through the main room, where there is fairy art on display. It's interesting, but certainly not enough to capture little ones' attention for the duration. (Waits of 45 minutes are not unheard of at the Magical Nook.)

When guests reach the front of the queue, they are escorted around the corner to line up in front of the tall grass that frames the entrance-way. In the fairy room, the sets are designed on a large scale so that guests feel like they are the size of the fairies. It works, but I found the technique that was used in ToonTown more fun. There, guests walked down a long hallway where the scale changed from human-sized to pixie-sized before they entered the fairy room.


Still, once inside, guests will now feel as though they stepped into Pixie Hollow and Winter Woods, where Tinker Bell meets Periwinkle. Tinker Bell is wearing her winter costume, complete with long sleeves, tights and boots. Her wings light up, which fascinated my daughter, and they had a talk about how that happens.


Periwinkle's set looks more wintery, with blue and while elements, like her costume. There also are snow drifts and powder on the trees, and the lighting helps set the tone for a few shivers.


Disney World officials plan to change the Magical Nook sets and fairies seasonally, a Disney spokeswoman told me. Periwinkle is expected to be available for the winter season, and no end date has been announced so far.

On a related note, I'm told that Disney World will not host complimentary screenings of "Secret of the Wings," as it had with other movies in the Tinker Bell series. For several years, passholders were invited to sign up to preview the movie on a large screen inside one of the theme parks.

September 15, 2012

New 'Finding Nemo' film will find new fans with 3D



When I heard that the Disney Pixar classic "Finding Nemo" was being converted to 3D format, I wondered if anyone would really return to the theater and pay to see this animated movie again almost a decade after its release. I got my answer at a recent screening, though, when I actually overheard children say they'd never seen the film.

I was shocked to hear this, given how my elementary-age children have practically grown up watching the movie, one of the first feature-length films they were exposed to at an early age. We've watched the movie countless times on DVD in the car and at home. Most of their friends have, too, and if you've seen it you probably understand why. It is, simply, a beautiful film to watch and a well-told and humorous story to take in, whether you are 5 or 45.


For all the laughs found in this humorous movie, it does touch on big life themes to which most any parent can relate. I found myself saddened during the familiar opening scene in which Nemo's mother dies, and Marlin's search for his lost son Nemo is filled with emotion familiar to any distraught parent. It's tough to be indifferent to a movie that is so engaging, no matter how many times you've seen it.


Parents certainly can relate to Marlin, the overprotective and borderline OCD father, and kids can identify with Nemo and his need to rebel. Of course, forgetful Dory and cool surfer dude Crush the sea turtle certainly have won places in our hearts as well. Seeing them come to life on the big screen was a treat, I'll admit, for me and my son. When "Finding Nemo" was released in 2003, he was only a year old and certainly didn't go to see this in the theater.


But what of the 3D effects? I loved the depth that was added to the undersea shots. The colors are brilliant and the details stand out, such as the texture of Marlin and Nemo's sea anemone home. Plus, it really feels like Nemo is swimming among the viewers. Throughout the movie, the underwater shots are some of the best -- with lifelike bubbles, a more menacing Bruce the shark and images formed by the school of fish. My 10-year-old son's favorite 3D scene was the one where Marlin helps Dory through the cloud of dangerous jellyfish.

For the most part, "Finding Nemo 3D" doesn't resort to the stereotypical gimmicks of having objects in the movie jump out into the audience, which is what my son expected after his multiple trips through the MuppetVision 3D attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's really the same movie you've come to love, only visually more compelling.

"Finding Nemo 3D" is preceded by a new, hilarious Toy Story Toon called "Partysaurus Rex." Meek Rex breaks out of his shell one night, makes friends with the bath toys and becomes the popular character at a nightclub he orchestrates. This third Toy Story Toon is really clever and will have audiences laughing out loud.

Here's a preview:

"Finding Nemo" will be released in Digital 3D™ for a limited theatrical engagement on Sept. 14, 2012, and will be released for the first time ever in high-definition Blu-ray™ and Blu-ray 3D™ on Dec. 4, 2012. Pre-Order now from Amazon:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of "Finding Nemo 3D." My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my review.

September 18, 2012

Tips for families attending Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party


My family has attended Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party every year for almost a decade, and although we have tweaked our touring plan for the evening as changes to the party come and go, it essentially remains the same. Here, I offer our tried-and-true strategies for maximizing fun for young kids during this year's five-hour party.


To begin, know that kids and adults alike will dress up in costumes for the party, so get planning! These can be as elaborate or simple as you like, but remember that because this is a family night, gory costumes and the like are not welcome. However, ingenuity is on display. We have seen so many clever Disney-themed costumes over the years -- from a Dole Whip to FASTPasses to entire families dressing as characters from a single movie. Our most attention-getting costume was one worn by our son who went as Ghost Mickey one year.


For the last two years, my own children have enjoyed having an afternoon makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirate's League. That means we have had a couple of princess and pirate costumes, which never go out of style at Disney World! Both salons stay open later than usual on Halloween party days to accommodate extra guests. The BBB was running pretty close to on-time this year, but we waited more than 30 minutes past our appointment time at The Pirate's League. Because of this, I would recommend giving yourself plenty of time in between reservations for either place and/or restaurants. And be sure to make reservations early because they tend to fill up quickly on party days.


That brings me to my next tip: Even though the party doesn't start until 7 p.m., the folks at the Magic Kingdom typically will allow you to enter before the actual party starts, usually between 4 and 4:30 p.m. You are not guaranteed early entry, but I have not heard of anyone being turned away during the last several years. If you already are in the park with a day pass, you can go to the front gate between 4 and 7 p.m. to show your tickets and get a wristband, which is required for the party. Cast members in party attire also will be stationed in several locations in the park, and you can visit them for wristbands as well.


We always go early, which gives us time to take a family picture in the Halloween photo spot on Main Street, U.S.A. and have dinner so we don't waste precious party time. One thing to be aware of, though, is that some restaurants close early on party days. And by that, I mean they close even before the 7 p.m. witching hour rolls around. We were surprised to find Columbia Harbor House closed at 5:15 p.m. last Friday. Be sure to take a look at Jack's blog for a list of which restaurants will open during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

This year, one of the new party offerings is a Halloween card for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game that debuted earlier this year. Even if you don't plan to play the game during the party -- and we didn't -- it's worth getting the special card since that's the only time it is offered. We saw folks lining up outside the Main Street fire station as early as 6:30 p.m. We got in what appeared to be a rather long line about 6:45 p.m., but it moved quickly, and we had our cards within 15 minutes. Cast members designated a separate line for guests who just wanted to pick up the card and not start a new game and that certainly helped. Know that you will need to have your Halloween Party admission tickets, which will be punched, to claim SotMK Halloween cards.


After that, the party was in full swing, and we headed off to visit the must-see characters and trick-or-treat. Many parents of little kids choose to see the first Mickey's Boo To You! Parade at 8:15 p.m., but it is jam-packed every year. Guests stake out their places more than an hour ahead of time. I certainly understand that little ones might not be awake for the 10:30 p.m. parade, and this is one that's not to be missed. For our family, however, it's more important to get out into the park.


We hit the treat trails -- one between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland and the other near Splash Mountain -- so the kids can gather a bunch of candy quickly. There also are individual treat stations throughout the park. Cast members are generous when they put handfuls of candy in each bag, and, for those who have asked, there is plenty of chocolate and other yummy treats in those barrels. The thrill of actually trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom is one that doesn't lose its appeal in our house.


Once the candy stash has been established, we usually stop for any special character photos my children have requested. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are wearing their Halloween costumes in the Town Square Theater. This year, Duffy the Disney Bear has moved from his photo spot adjacent to City Hall and can be found at the Liberty Belle boarding area in Frontierland. In his place, Phineas and Ferb are greeting guests at the prime location in Town Square. Captain Jack Sparrow is in Adventureland, and the Seven Dwarfs are near Splash Mountain. The Disney Villains will pose with guests after each Mix & Mingle dance show on the Castle Forecourt Stage.

We also usually take time to ride a few attractions because there is just about no wait. How can you resist a five-minute wait for Space Mountain and walking right on to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at night, even if you have been on both coasters more times than you can count? My daughter likes to visit the dance parties, as well, in Tomorrowland and Frontierland.


Then, our goal is to be back on Main Street, U.S.A. by 9:30 p.m. for the special Happy HalloWishes fireworks, followed by the Villians Mix & Mingle and then the second parade. When all that wraps up, we usually join the crowds and head out about 11 p.m. This year, though, my 8-year-old and 10-year-old got a second wind so we stayed until the bitter end, hitting a few more rides and candy spots.

A little bit of planning and strategy before you attend the Halloween festivity will go a long way toward helping you and your family enjoy all the party offers. Now isn't that not so scary?

Please share your tips in the comments.

September 20, 2012

It's easy to be Finding Nemo at Walt Disney World


If you or your children enjoy Nemo and his ocean friends, Walt Disney World offers plenty of opportunities to visit his Big Blue World. And, with the recent theatrical release of the 3D version of the film, now is the perfect time to dive right in and continue to experience the joys of the film.

We are in the middle of the limited-engagement theater release of "Finding Nemo 3D." If your children, like mine, were too young to see this Disney-Pixar classic when it first was released in theaters in 2003, now is your time to experience this colorful marvel on the big screen. The 3D effects really enhance an already wonderful movie. (This version is expected to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 4.)


In support of the movie, Disney Publishing Worldwide has released two apps -- Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe and Finding Nemo Interactive Comic. In the storybook app, young readers will experience the story with a special set of effects, including underwater sounds, the ability to create bubbles and a Whale Chat with Dory. Like other Disney storybook apps, this one has different reading levels and allows kids to record their own voices reading the story. There also are new versions of kid favorites such as finger-painting pages, games and puzzles. Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe is $6.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.


Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is aimed at older kids, ages 7 to 12, because it's an advanced interactive graphic novel. It includes concept drawings by Disney Pixar artists who worked on the original film, sound effects and even step-by-step drawing lessons. Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is $1.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, too.



Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? There are several ways to visit with Nemo. The new Art of Animation Resort opened in May, allowing guests to feel like they have stepped into the movie. The Finding Nemo family suites are aptly themed and cleverly designed. From plastic coral chairs for the dining table to bathrooms fit for Bruce and friends to the school-of-fish artwork, every detail recalls "Finding Nemo." The Big Blue Pool, or main pool, has larger-than-life statues of many of the characters, and even offers music underwater, jellyfish figures that drip water, and a splash pad where Nemo's friends shoot water. In the restaurant and lobby, guests will find concept and landscape art from "Finding Nemo."


At Epcot, The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion is the place to be. A ride by the same name takes guests on Marlin's journey to find his son as they travel under the sea in clam-mobiles. Much of the dark attraction projects the animated characters on the aquarium, but there also are some very cool effects, such as the moving jellyfish and riding the EAC with Crush. Outside the pavilion, guests will hear the sea gulls chirping "Mine! Mine! Mine!" and there is a great photo opportunity with statues of Nemo and friends.


While inside The Seas pavilion, guests also can interact with the popular surfer sea turtle at Turtle Talk with Crush! This attraction uses 3D animation and allows Crush to talk back and forth with kids in the audience. During the 10-minute show, Crush tells jokes and performs some on-screen acrobatics.


At Disney's Animal Kingdom, guests can experience a 30-minute Broadway-style show called "Finding Nemo - The Musical" at Theater in the Wild. This amazing performance showcases talented actors, singers, dancers and acrobats who use large, colorful puppets and animated backdrops to retell the story of "Finding Nemo." It also features the original song, "Big Blue World," which was written for this show and also can be heard at the end of The Sea with Nemo & Friends ride. "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" offers the only opportunity for guests to meet the Nemo characters; performers may bring their puppets back out to the stage after the performance and talk with guests.

When "Finding Nemo" was released in 2003, it was an immediate hit with filmgoers and critics alike. Its compelling storyline of parenthood resonated with family audiences, as did Nemo and Marlin's epic quest set against the timeless theme of loss and redemption. As with most all Pixar films, its visual beauty on the big screen was, and remains, unrivaled. Now, some nine years later, fans can continue to experience the film's characters and themes here in Orlando.

Just keep swimming. There's no telling what you might see.

September 22, 2012

An inside look at the exclusive Siemens VIP Center at Epcot



When you've walk underneath Spaceship Earth, you probably think you know all about what's inside the structure that houses the geodesic sphere and the ride's post-show attractions.

But there's one area that isn't seen by the vast majority of visitors to Epcot.

Today, I'm giving you a look inside the Siemens VIP Center, a place at Epcot not usually seen by most guests because it is reserved for Siemens employees and their customers. I was invited inside the exclusive space for a Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion media event. (My interview with game creator Warren Spector and new details about the second wing of the 3DS game are coming Monday.)

The Siemens VIP Center is located above the post-show gaming area of Spaceship Earth, one of Walt Disney World's most recognized icons and one that Siemens sponsors. To access their lounge, employees use a special door inside the first-floor gaming area. Once inside, they enter a passcode they have been assigned on the company website prior to their visit, and doors open to a small lobby.


Here, guests will get their first glimpse of one of the defining elements of this private space -- the lighting. Siemens, a company that operates in 194 countries, owns lighting manufacturer Sylvania, and it's apparent in the LED displays in the downstairs lobby and in the main spaces on the second floor.

The color palette is infinite, said Director of Operations Jim McCaskill, and the system can be programmed to use a specific shade if it's needed. Typically, though, they stick to about a dozen colors.

"Blue is most popular for dinners and evening events. During the day, we run an orange in meetings because light orange works best for reflectivity when you're writing and working," McCaskill said. "Occasionally we'll do multiple colors or a sequence."



Employees and their guests can choose to take stairs or an elevator to the second floor, where they will be greeted by a receptionist and enter the open-area lounge. There, they can help themselves to complimentary beverages and even learn a little more about their company through interactive exhibits.

"Like anybody in a big company, you may just know your sector and may not really understand some of the others," he said.


One touch screen displays Siemens information, as well as park data, including the weather and wait times for attractions. Another uses facial recognition software from security systems to dress up the viewer in various disguises. That screen also allows the user to take a turn at programming the colors in a walkway on the floor that leads to the large meeting space.


This room, whose doors proclaim "Innovators at Work," is much larger and offers sweeping views of Epcot's Future World. When it's not being used for customer meetings, product launches or dinner parties 180 days a year, the meeting space also is open to Siemens employees.



"We have a very large contingent of Siemens employees in the Orlando area, in the energy sector out by UCF, and in addition to that, we have so many international travelers," McCaskill said.




Although Siemens employees and customers make up most of the guest list in the lounge, they are not the only ones who can take a break there.

"From Day 1, we have opened up the Siemens lounge to Give Kids The World (an Orlando charity that provides theme-park experiences for seriously ill children). Those families have a lot of challenges in the park, and sometimes they just need a quiet place to come and rest," he said.

Siemens also has started a new program this year in cooperation with Shades of Green, a Walt Disney World resort for military personnel. The company offers members of the Armed Forces passes to the lounge when they buy their discounted tickets at the resort. McCaskill said he sees about 25 military families visit every few days.

The Siemens VIP Center operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. In addition to Spaceship Earth, Siemens sponsors IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

September 24, 2012

2 new Epic Mickey video games explore more Disney worlds




Warren Spector

Two is always better than one, right? Especially if you're trying to form alliances in a cartoon wasteland?

During a media presentation last week in Orlando, the creators of Epic Mickey revealed more about the characters in one of the video game sequels and allowed a lucky few the opportunity to play Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for 3DS. Warren Spector, founder and creative director at Disney Junction Point, and Peter Ong, creative director at DreamRift, were even on hand to describe the new mechanics and classic Disney movies that appear in the game.

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion starts much the same way the original games do, with Mickey delving into Cartoon Wasteland, a sort of purgatory of forgotten Disney characters and icons. This time, though, he is trying to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel, who can take on the shape of many Disney villains, in the castle, which has been relegated to Wasteland.


That storyline and the 16-bit graphics are an homage to Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a popular Sega game released in 1990, said Spector. "Everyone is going retro now with 8-bit graphics, but I couldn't wait to get out of the 8-bit era," he said. "16-bit times, those were good times, so that's where we're going."

Peter Ong

In his quest, Mickey must travel through different wings of the castle that are based on various classic Disney films. The first wing centers on "Peter Pan" and features such images as Never Land and Captain Hook's ship the Jolly Roger. But perhaps the biggest announcement came when Ong unveiled the second wing Thursday -- scenes from "Aladdin."


"With the levels in this wing of the castle, it was really important for us, as it is with every room in the castle, to make sure that the visuals that we created were as realistic as possible and directly translated from the Disney classic film that we're drawing from," Ong said. "We actually got their feature animation department to give us actual source working images from the original movies."


Players can expect to experience the final battle scene in Aladdin, the crowded Agrabah streets and the magical Cave of Wonders.


Another first for Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is the appearance of the fortress, where side quests take place. The player helps a character, and in return, gets a reward that helps him or her back in the platform level. Plus, as the player helps the character, he or she evolves until into a fully realized character in the platform game.

"I tried to use fortress-building in every project over the last 15 years and it's been the first thing I had to cut," said Spector. "Peter said, 'This time we're not going to cut.' "

The mechanics in Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion are unique, too. Spector and Ong took full advantage of the dual screens on a 3DS, using the bottom half for painting and thinning. These mechanics of Epic Mickey allow players to add (paint) objects and remove (thin) them from the game. Using a stylus to paint and thin didn't seem to faze my 10-year-old son, who was used to performing these actions with the nunchuk on the Wii.


In fact, he dove into the 3DS game with ease. Jiminy Cricket jumps in Mickey's pocket at the start of the game and acts as guide. "The beginning stages of game are tilted to help you learn," said Michael Veroni, art director at DreamRift, who sat down with my son to help him get started.

He said gamers as young as 7 years old can grasp this type of play. If players still are learning to read, there even are visual diagrams to communicate the concepts.

Michael Veroni

My son liked the classic run-jump-shoot format and the bitmapped graphics, and he appreciated all the perks, as well. Earning currency during the game was a familiar theme, as many of the games he plays online, on a handheld device or at home involve a currency to motivate the players.

It only took about three minutes of play before my son declared, "I want it!"

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for 3DS is a completely different game from the console sequel, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2, which is being developed for Wii, Wii U, XBox 360, Playstation, and PC and Apple computers.

"When you play on a home console, like the Wii, you're kind of sitting there on your couch. You [can] get into something that lasts a long time and is hours and hours of play with a really deep story. When you've got a handheld, at least for me, it's more like I've got 15 minutes and it's quick fun," Spector said.


In my interview with Spector, he revealed more about Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. Among the most noticeable differences is that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit becomes a playable character in the console sequel.

"He's such a wonderful little character with his own personality and his own set of abilities. What I love about Oswald's abilities in the game is that we didn't have to make a lot of stuff up. All we had to do was go back and look at those cartoons that Walt Disney and Ub [Iwerks] made in the 1920s. He used his ears as helicopter blades. He used his ears as oars and bats. He could remove his limbs and throw them around. He could remove his head and use it like a bowling ball."

"We added one thing. We added a remote control. We introduced that in the first game, and that remote gives Oswald control over the animatronic enemies and also sort of lets him reprogram electronic devices. We did that for gameplay reasons. We wanted the player to be able to control those things and not have to destroy them, but actually sort of befriend them, which plays into the idea that you have to decide how to interact with stuff."


Gameplay interaction is nothing new with this franchise. After all, it was a prime aspect of the original game. But there is something markedly unique with this new version: Oswald and other Disney characters will speak in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.

"I made, in retrospect, what was a pretty foolish decision. I decided that in the first game, nobody was going to talk, and it was really dumb. Disney fans really want those characters to talk, and they were not shy about telling us that," Spector said.

"I did it for really silly reasons. I kind of think of Oswald as almost real. It's kind of strange. I heard his voice in my head, and I heard him say, 'I'm a silent film star, and if I can't talk, no one's going to talk.' And I thought that was funny, and so I told the team that's what we were doing. There was no technical reason or financial reason. I just decided no one should talk, and it was just wrong. So, every character speaks every line of dialogue."

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two also breaks new ground in that it uses musical numbers in the story. Spector brought back composer Jim Dooley from the first game to help him create ways for players to sing during the game.

"I've always wanted to make a musical. " We have several songs and they really do advance the story and reveal emotion. It's just sort of the first step toward the crazy interactive musical of my dreams, which I will make someday," Sprector said. "I've got some ideas about how you could use songs as game mechanics in ways that don't involve beat matching or performance in the way that music games now use music."

Musical numbers, talking characters, new Disney lands to explore and conquer - it all certainly makes for great gaming for anyone who enjoyed the original Epic Mickey. But, just as with the first game, there's a sense of creativity involved that makes the game unique compared to so many others on the market today.

"Games at their best should be about players showing off how clever and creative they are. We're the interactive medium. If we limit ourselves as developers to "beat that thing up" or "solve that puzzle" we're kinda shortchanging ourselves and players," Spector said. "Really what we want to do is set up a bunch of problems and let players decide how they want to solve them. Show how clever you are when you play the game, that's what it's all about."

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be released on Nov. 18, 2012.

September 27, 2012

New Segway tour gives guests unique views of Epcot


I took my first-ever ride on a Segway through the crowds at Epcot this week, and I have to say, the prospect was a little daunting. I mean, how many guests can you clip before they expel you from the theme park?

Rest assured, though, that safety is a top priority at Walt Disney World, so cast members are not going to allow you to do anything too risky.

I was signed up to take Epcot's new "Keep Moving Forward: See the World, Share the Dream Segway Tour," which debuted on Sept. 17. This guided tour starts in Future World and then covers most of World Showcase in the three-hour experience. Beginning Sept. 28, times for the three-hour experience shift because of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival; you may start at 7:45, 8:30 and 9 a.m.


My fellow travelers and I met at Guest Relations inside the park, where we checked in, signed a waiver and were asked to select from two breakfast options, which would be ready for us after our training. The offerings include a full breakfast platter or lighter fare with a pastry and fruit, plus a beverage of your choice. I was very happy to see plenty of caffeinated options for my morning commute.


Afterward, it was time to head over to Innoventions West for our training. The seven of us first were fitted with helmets, and we listened to a cast member explain the basic operations of the Segway. Then, we had to face the thrill (or our fears, depending on how you look at it) and get on the two-wheeled vehicles.


The Segways really are not complicated to operate, but you do have to get used to balancing on a moving platform, which at first is harder than it looks. You ride forward by pressing your toes down and leaning your whole body ahead, and you stop by leaning back on your heels. (When you book this tour, the reservationist will tell you to wear flat-bottom shoes.)


Epcot's Segways are programmed to only go 6 miles per hour, so you're not going to be racing the monorail, but you still can get hurt if you're not paying full attention and remaining balanced. For this reason, guests riding on Segways are not allowed to have anything in their hands, such as cameras or cell phones, or any purses, backpacks or fanny packs on their bodies. There is a pouch attached to the front of the Segway where guests are asked to put such items, and the weight limit for them is 10 pounds.


During the practice session, we learned to propel ourselves backward and forward, go up and down ramps, duck under drooping tree branches, and even complete an obstacle course with cones. Not one of us fell off the Segways or crashed them into anything. Off to a good start!

Next, our tour guide led our parade of Segways out into Epcot and over to The Land pavilion for breakfast. It was exhilarating and at the same time nerve-wracking. Remember the first time you drove a car, and you worried about everything that could go wrong? I just knew some little princess was going to jump in front of my Segway and I wouldn't be able to stop in time. Of course, that never happened because the two guides with our group helped warn guests about our approach.

We rode our Segways "backstage" and parked by the door to The Land that is near the restrooms on the ground floor. We were taken to a reserved seating area and served the breakfasts we ordered. At first, I hoped we could skip the breakfast so we would have more time to ride, but I realized that after the practice, our legs and feet already were a bit stiff and sore and we needed a break. The previous Epcot tour did not include breakfast, though the price was the same.


About forty minutes later, our guide gave us headsets and we got ready to tour World Showcase. The headsets are another new addition and really worked well. They were small enough to be unobtrusive and they allowed the participants even at the back of the line to hear the guide. The tour itself takes about an hour, beginning at the Mexico pavilion and traveling around to Canada. The guide points out interesting historical facts and details about Walt Disney's plans for each country in World Showcase. In addition, the tour is designed to allow riders to test their newfound skills with such activities as "slaloming" through the columns in Italy, navigating the winding path through the miniature village in Germany and circling through The American Adventure gardens.


The guide takes everyone to one location for a quick stop and will take photos of guests on their Segways, if they wish. All too soon, it's time to return to Innoventions West and park the Segways.


"Keep Moving Forward: See the World, Share the Dream Segway Tour" is $99 plus tax. Annual passholders and Disney Vacation Club members will receive a 15 percent discount and Disney Visa Card members get a 20 percent discount.

This Segway tour is limited to those 16 and older. (Guardians must be present for ages 16 and 17.) Participants also must weigh between 100 and 250 pounds and are required to sign a waiver. To book, call (407) WDW-TOUR (939-8687).

September 29, 2012

Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World offers great NASCAR fun for kids





A new experience at Walt Disney World puts children in the front seat of a real NASCAR vehicle with a professional driver and allows them to feel the thrill of racing. Recently, my 8-year-old daughter was quick to volunteer to try it, so she could discover the excitement for herself.


Junior Ride-Alongs debuted June 17 at the Richard Petty Driving Experience location at Walt Disney World Speedway. The experience is open to children ages 6 to 13 years who are at least 48 inches tall. It costs $59 plus tax for the three laps.

My daughter, who loves to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and usually is game for just about anything, was a little nervous when we arrived at the track for her Junior Ride-Along. I think that had to do more with not knowing what to expect than with any anxiety about the speed of the car. You'll see how uncharacteristically serious she is at the start of the video below.


The check-in for all Richard Petty Driving Experiences is located at the infield, so guests drive under the track before parking in the center of the action. Once inside the building, parents will need to sign waivers for their participating children.



Then, it's time to suit up. My daughter was helped into a one-piece, long coverall to protect her from any parts of the car that may have heated up in the Florida sun. Next, we headed outside to pick up her other safety equipment. She was given a soft, knitted cap to go under the snug-fitting helmet, and a HANS (Head and Neck Support device) was fitted around her neck and attached to her helmet.

She looked like a professional before she ever got in the car!


With a little assistance, she slid into the car seat through the window. Watching her, I had flashbacks to "The Dukes of Hazard." Then she was buckled into a special five-point harness. Her seat was custom-built for this children's program by The Joie of Seating, which makes racing seats for professional drivers. Two of the 20 or so race cars at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the WDW Speedway are outfitted for children.


My daughter's friendly driver, Justin Simpson, was quick to explain that she could tell him each lap how she was feeling by giving him a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," and he would adjust his speed accordingly. Professional drivers typically go about 100 miles per hour for the Junior Ride-Alongs and up to 160 miles per hour for the adult ride-alongs.

Although she was apprehensive in the beginning, she soon was giving him multiple thumbs-ups as the car sped around the track. By the end of the ride, my daughter was grinning from ear to ear and asking to go again. The whole experience was complete in 20 minutes.



"[The Junior Ride-Alongs] are a great way for us to increase the Disney atmosphere and family experience at the track, and that's what we're all about," said Simpson, who also is the operations manager at Orlando's Richard Petty Driving Experience.

He explained that adding this experience for kids allows the whole family to participate in a sport they may follow together at home.


Fans who want to take home a souvenir of their once-in-a-lifetime experience can purchase a video like the one below for $49; photo plaques for $39 and $69; or a 5 x 7 photo in a themed folder for $17.50. Adult ride-alongs cost $99.

Reservations are not necessary for ride-alongs, which are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Although the Walt Disney World Speedway is the only location to offer the Junior Ride-Alongs so far, the Daytona International Speedway is expected to start the program by early 2013.

For additional questions, visit DrivePetty.com or call 1-800-237-3889.

DISCLAIMER: My daughter was a guest of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. This did not influence my review, and my opinions are my own.

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About September 2012

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

August 2012 is the previous archive.

October 2012 is the next archive.

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