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November 2012 Archives

November 2, 2012

Epic Mickey sequels go on sale early at Disney World's Festival of the Masters

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Fans of the best-selling Disney Epic Mickey Wii game can play the sequels at the upcoming Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney and then purchase them more than a week before their United States release date.

Disney Interactive Studios again will host a booth at the free annual outdoor arts festival. The sequel to the Wii game, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, will be released on all console platforms on Nov. 18, but guests who stop by the booth will be able to play Epic Mickey 2 on Xbox, PlayStation 3 Move and Wii platforms.

Another sequel, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, is designed for Nintendo 3DS systems and also will be available for guests to test drive. It, too, will be released on Nov. 18. Experts will be on hand to help guests get the hang of the side-scrolling game that allows them to choose their journey. (To read more abut the games and my interview with Warren Spector, please see my previous story.)

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And though the graphics in the Epic Mickey games certainly qualify as art, the booth will offer guests other ways to become immersed in the art of the Disney video games. Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who are the stars of the games, will be featured in an original painting by David Garibaldi, the performance artist.

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Plus, Disney artists will be on hand to create complimentary character sketches for guests. When we visited the first booth in 2010, my son was thrilled to receive sketches of Mickey and Oswald. Our artist, Jason Peltz, was happy to discuss with us how he got his start as an artist, which was a wonderful bonus since my son has a strong interest in art, and certainly, all things Disney.

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This year the artists will draw Mickey, Oswald, Gremlin Gus, Horace Horsecollar, Elliot (Pete's Dragon), Lonesome Ghost, Clarabelle Cow, The Mad Doctor and Peg Leg Pete. Each guest may request one sketch.

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At the first booth, we heard guests ask repeatedly about Epic Mickey-themed merchandise, but none was being sold. Disney listened and this year, fans can buy Oswald ear hats at nearby stores. Also, those who purchase any of the Epic Mickey sequels during the Festival of the Masters will receive a collector's pin of Mickey and Oswald.

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The Epic Mickey booth will be located adjacent to Once Upon a Toy Store on the Marketplace side of Downtown Disney. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. November 9 and 10 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. November 11. There no charge for admission or parking at Festival of the Masters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can also buy Epic Mickey games through the AllEars.Net Amazon store here.

November 3, 2012

Get in the game with Disney's 'Wreck-It Ralph'

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Expect to be immersed in another world from your childhood when you see Walt Disney Animation Studios' newest animated film, "Wreck-It Ralph." Much like the clever and funny "Toy Story" series, "Wreck-It Ralph" allows audiences a look at what goes on with our playthings when the kids aren't around. Yet this time it's a view behind the screens of video games to expose what happens after the kids leave the arcade.

The story is about Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the bad guy in the Fix-It Felix, Jr. game. As his name indicates, Ralph's job is to destroy things that the other residents of Niceville, especially hero Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer), have built. After 30 years of being an outcast, Ralph is fed up and decides to try to prove he, too, can be one of the good guys so that he will be accepted by the other game characters.

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Ralph's quest takes him to other game worlds in the arcade, and the journey is one of rich detail -- both in the animation and the writing. Game graphics cleverly morph from the eight-bit displays of the '80s to the detailed scenes of today's first-person point-of-view sets. The vibrant colors really make the animation pop, and Director Rich Moore, perhaps best known for "The Simpsons," uses the 3D effects well without overwhelming the audience.

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Adults will get a kick out of appearances from characters in games of their youth -- from Q*bert and Sonic the Hedgehog to various Pac-Man gobblers and their ghost enemies. At one point, Ralph is even eating the bonus-point cherries from Pac-Man as he travels through the electrical cords of the arcade to other stand-alone video games.

Children can enjoy the movie for the surface story, which in itself is entertaining. But parents can appreciate some of the jokes that might go over the kids' heads -- especially in the make-believe land of Sugar Rush where police officers are shaped like donuts and King Candy's Oreo guards have a chant that will have "The Wizard of Oz" fans laughing in recognition.

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Ralph's search for hero status starts at Hero's Duty, a military-style game, where he meets Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) and attempts to earn a medal. There is no mistaking Lynch with her over-the-top comments and crazy analogies that her "Glee" character made famous. Ralph finds out that not all games are created equal when she barks at the soldiers, "The kitten whiskers and tickle fights stop now."

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He ends up in cart-racing game Sugar Rush, where he makes his first friend, Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a 9-year-old glitch in the game. She's another strong female figure, but this one needs Ralph's help. Ralph learns to navigate her world and their friendship, and they encounter a few speed bumps along the way. Falling Mentos at Diet Cola Hot Springs play a pivotal role in the clash of good and evil in Sugar Rush, and ultimately, the movie. In the end, Ralph gets his chance to shine, and audiences are in for a sweet treat.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of "Wreck-It Ralph." This did not influence my review, and my opinions are my own.


November 6, 2012

Disney Cruise Line's holiday season begins in just 2 weeks

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It's difficult to believe that Disney Cruise Line could pack any more magic into its sailings, but it happens during the holiday season, which begins in less than two weeks with Thanksgiving week cruises.

Passengers who will be giving thanks at sea can enjoy traditional activities, if they choose. A bountiful Thanksgiving Day feast will be served in the dining rooms, and Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and their friends will be dressed in their Thanksgiving finest. Football games will be broadcast live on the ships' outdoor jumbo LED screen, Funnel Vision, located near family pool on each ship.

Those cruises set sail:

** Nov. 17 -- Disney Magic, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 17 -- Disney Fantasy, a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 18 -- Disney Wonder, a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise
** Nov. 21 -- Disney Dream, a four-night Bahamian cruise

I'm paying just a little more attention to the cruise activities this Christmas because I'll be onboard the Disney Fantasy in December, during its inaugural holiday season. I'm really excited about seeing the ship all decked out! (Photos included in this blog are from Jason of disneygeek.com He sailed on the Disney Dream during its first holiday season last year. With the Fantasy being its sister ship, I would expect many of the same types of decorations.)

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Did you know there are more than 300 custom-designed holiday decor pieces on each ship? For the Fantasy, that means 39 Christmas trees, ranging from 2 to 20 feet. The tallest is the centerpiece in the atrium lobby that sparkles with more than 20,000 white LED lights. There are 27 Christmas wreaths onboard Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, including some up to 5 feet in diameter.

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You think garland is a pain to hang? Try putting up 931 feet of it on the Fantasy! That's almost enough greenery to stretch stem to stern.

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Of course, Disney Cruise Lines' decorations are themed to each room, much like guests do in their own homes. There are bright colors in the kids' clubs, holographic foliage for the teen and tween spaces, and elegant accents for the adult areas. Customized ornaments include a paint brush and palette in Animator's Palate, Mr. Potato Head in Oceaneer Club and colorful tropical fish in Cabanas.

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Guests sailing on Disney Cruise Line ships in December can experience many Christmas activities, including two special celebrations in the atrium lobby. "King Triton's Tree Lighting" takes place the first night of each cruise. Guests onboard the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder will have a holiday edition of the character farewell, "Til We Meet Again."

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Throughout the cruise, families can take part in holiday crafts, such as decorating stockings, building gingerbread houses, making holiday cards and creating holiday animation cells. Plus, there are storytellers sharing tales of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. There's even a special story about celebrating the holidays on a ship.

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Holiday favorites will be served in the restaurants, too.

The holiday spirit even extends to Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. Guests will be greeted by "snow flurries," holiday carolers, and Christmas trees. Kids can participate in holiday-themed activities and crafts.

On Christmas morning, Santa Claus and his elves will have surprises for all the kids, along with cookies and milk, the ships' lobbies.

Christmas and Hanukkah services will be held on the ships.

Voyages that include New Year's Eve will have a special party to ring in 2013, and guests will receive sparkling wine in commemorative flutes.

To see a preview of Disney Cruise Line's first holiday merchandise line that will only be available on ships, please read my previous blog post.

November 8, 2012

Taping of Orlando segments of Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade expected later this month

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It may just be the start of November, but the folks at Walt Disney World and Disneyland are busy planning and taping segments for this year's Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade, which airs -- you guessed it! -- on Dec. 25.

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Over the weekend, several musical acts performed at Disneyland for the ABC special. Lucky guests saw Ross Lynch from Disney Channel's "Austin & Ally" sing "Christmas Soul" on Main Street, U.S.A.; Backstreet Boys recorded "Christmas Time Again" in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle; and TobyMac took the castle stage to perform "Christmas This Year."

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Mario Lopez is the Disneyland host, and Maria Menounos and Nick Cannon are rumored to anchor the Walt Disney World segments. The trio shared hosting duties last year, as well. Neither resort announces its lineup of performers or the taping schedule ahead of time.

However, the Christmas special traditionally is taped in California in early November and in Orlando the first weekend in December. That looks like the case again this year. According to an organization representing hundreds of student musicians and dancers scheduled to perform in the parade, taping will take place Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1. Sunday, Dec. 2 is earmarked as the rain date.

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Typically the Friday date is dedicated to recording the featured musical acts performing in front of Cinderella Castle and on Main Street. Saturday focuses on the parade itself. Last year, though, Justin Bieber taped his song on the Castle stage early Saturday morning, likely to avoid crowds of park-goers.

For years, Walt Disney World invited various groups, such as passholders and sports volunteers -- and even the general public, to apply for free tickets to the tapings. In exchange, ticketholders agree to be in the audience for a block of time. Last year, only cast members were eligible for the tickets, and several Disney employees have indicated their registration already has begun this year.

But even if you don't have one of the complimentary production tickets, you still may be able to take part in the tapings -- or at least see some of the acts. The Magic Kingdom opens to the public at 8 a.m. on Nov. 30 and 9 a.m. on Dec. 1 and 2. Passholders and guests who pay admission may enter the park, and if there is room in the roped-off areas for the pre-selected audience -- which usually happens later in the afternoon -- they may be allowed to join cast members.

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A word of warning: This is an actual television production, which means that songs are sung multiple times and individual floats are sent down Main Street over and over again to get the correct camera angle. That means you most likely will spend more time waiting than viewing the events, and you shouldn't expect to see a seamless concert or parade.

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I speak from experience when I say this can be a tedious process when you have young children. If you're determined to take part, though, I'd suggest bringing plenty of snacks, drinks and electronics to occupy the kids during the wait. Still, it can be a unique opportunity. When else would my daughter stand feet away from Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers while they serenade the crowd with Christmas songs?

November 10, 2012

Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Trolley ... with seasonal Magic Kingdom shows

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As my family and I made our way down Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom a couple weeks ago, we saw the park's old-time trolley stopped and performers dancing on the pavement. There's nothing unusual about that, if you're in the Magic Kingdom before lunchtime.

What was different, though, was the music and the show itself. I expected to hear "The Trolley Song" ("Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley ""), but instead unfamiliar, less peppy music blared from the speakers. Apparently, with little fanfare, Walt Disney World introduced a fall trolley show -- and it may be one of several new seasonal trolley shows.

The new show featured two alternating songs: "Harvest Moon" at the first and third stops and "Autumn Leaves" at the second and fourth stops. (The trolley's current schedule has stops planned for 8:20, 9:15 and 10:10 a.m. and noon.)

The performances still featured the six couples, but in this Main Street Trolley Show, they were dedicated to the season with choreography that shows them mimicking falling leaves and kissing a scarecrow, while singing about the "magic of autumn." New costumes reflected the rich seasonal hues of orange, gold, brown, purple and green.

But with Main Street, U.S.A. now trimmed for the holidays, the Trolley Show changes again to its Christmas version. The performers don their green and red attire, the props are holiday-inspired and the trolley car is decorated with greenery, ornaments and bows.

This is one holiday performance that is included in regular admission to the park and cannot be found at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. In fact, those who enter Magic Kingdom in the afternoon will miss it.

Not so long ago, my husband and I -- both night owls -- would drag ourselves out of bed, pack up two small children and drive the 45 minutes from our home to Walt Disney World earlier than we are accustomed to because our son loved the Main Street Trolley Show. He won't admit it now, but he was fascinated by the performances and the unusual mode of transportation. (In between performances, the trolley ferries guests from one end of Main Street, U.S.A. to the other.)

My son's interest forced me to slow down and appreciate another layer of entertainment at Walt Disney World that I might otherwise have bypassed on my way to my favorite rides.

To read more about the Main Street Trolley Show and see a video that includes four camera angles of the traditional show, see Jack Spence's blog.

November 13, 2012

Review: Lunch at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland

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Did someone say, put our service to the test?

During a recent passholder preview of New Fantasyland, I was excited to find Be Our Guest open for lunch AND dinner. With Be Our Guest dinner reservations booked into March, this was a rare opportunity to dine at Magic Kingdom's newest restaurant. Given that each meal has a separate menu and different service, my family and I decided to dine there twice in the same day -- and we were happy we did. Today, I'll tell you about our lunch experience and then I'll be back with a separate blog post about dinner.

First, lunch is a step up from other Disney World counter service restaurants in that guests order their food and then it is brought to their tables by the waitstaff. No juggling trays, bags and kids at the same time! As we entered Beast's castle, we were directed into the Armory Room for a short wait. We were entertained there by the Suits of Armor who talk to each other and to guests. Plus, the lunch menu is displayed on waist-high screens for guests to peruse.

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At the end of the hall, guests are greeted by a cast member at a podium who asks about the size of your party and hands your group a small red monitor with a rose motif on the top. It actually contains Disney's new RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology and allows cast members to identify you inside the castle, and most importantly, bring your lunch to the correct table. Rose in hand, you will be directed to a manned kiosk or unmanned touch screen to order, depending on your preferred method of payment.

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Although we were directed to a manned kiosk, which would seem to cut down on ordering mistakes, we still ended up with problems with our children's meals. First, the cast member did not explain that kids have an option to substitute side dishes, and we missed the fine print. My daughter ordered the Mickey Meatloaf, which is served with broccoli and zucchini, and my son chose the slow-cooked pork with sauteed green beans and mashed sweet potatoes. Both would have preferred French fries with their meals.

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Their meals also came with desserts, which the cast member did not enter into the system, and consequently, were never delivered. My son also never received his apple juice, and a server told him to pick something else from the beverage station, even though he wanted the juice. Clearly, there are some bugs that are being worked out by the staff as the restaurant prepares for its official opening.

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Once our order was placed, we were free to choose a table in the Ballroom, West Wing or Rose Gallery. It was a tough choice, but we opted for the far end of the Ballroom, where we could see the "snow" falling outside the windows. Beautiful! We were invited to collect our silverware, which is metal and not the plastic that is typical of counter-service restaurants, and drinks from a station that included Coca-Cola products, coffee, hot chocolate and iced tea. Then, while we waited for our food, we toured the other rooms.

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The centerpiece of the Rose Gallery is a large-scale replica of a music box made by Maurice and showing Belle and Beast dancing. The walls are decorated with portraits from the tale and other pieces of art. This is the only room with banquettes, if you prefer that type of seating. Also, the Rose Gallery only is open for lunch.

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The West Wing is Beast's hideaway before Belle's love tamed him. It's dark and foreboding, and the furnishings appear to have been ravaged by Beast's frequent fits of anger. Thunder can be heard in this room, making it louder than the others. When the last petal on an Enchanted Rose drops and the thunderstorm is upon the room, a portrait of Belle's handsome prince changes to an image of Beast. (Read more about the design of restaurant from Imagineers here.) Photos will be included on my dinner review because we were seated in the West Wing.

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Returning to the grand Ballroom, our food was being delivered via trolley after just a short time. My husband ordered the Quinoa, Shallot and Chive Salad, and I had the Vegetable Quiche, and we were pleased with the flavors of each meal. Both were served with baby lettuce coated with Champagne vinaigrette, which was fantastic. (This dressing is served on a side salad on the dinner menu, as well.) We found our lunch selections to be delicious.

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Even with the problems with the kids' meals, we'd certainly give Be Our Guest another try for lunch. (See the full lunch menu here and here.) After all, our lunch experience was during a "dress rehearsal." Plus, our children were so engrossed in their surroundings that they even forgot that cupcakes were included with their meals. Other parents, I'm sure, can agree that's quite a testament to how much fun they were having in the imaginative surroundings.


November 14, 2012

Review: Dinner at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland

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At a recent passholder preview of New Fantasyland, my family and I were thrilled to discover Be Our Guest was open for dinner that evening. Reservations were being accepted outside the restaurant for that night only.

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Cast members were accommodating when we asked to be seated in the West Wing. Because it's such a small dining room compared to the Ballroom, there are no promises made that guests will get a table there, but the hostess will take a request when you check in and are given a pager. The Ballroom and the West Wing are the only two dining rooms open for dinner.

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Entering Be Our Guest for dinner was an entirely different experience than when we queued up for lunch. Our host led us directly through the great hall, where cast members lined the entrance to the Ballroom and wished us "Bon Appetit!" As we entered the Ballroom, it was obvious the lights had been dimmed, and the atmosphere was a little more formal. Tables were set with electric candles and red cloth napkins folded into the shape of roses. As we were led to the West Wing, we noticed that the food trolleys now lined the walls and were filled with desserts.

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We chose the West Wing because we wanted to experience the thunderstorm and its effects on the Enchanted Rose and Beast portrait. (See my previous post for more details about the entertainment in the West Wing.) This, coupled with the fact that the doors to the kitchen exit into the West Wing, make this dining room louder than the Ballroom. That didn't bother us at all, but please be aware if you have young children or someone with hearing issues, this might not be the best spot for you to dine. (When my son was a toddler, the thunder at Rainforest Cafe really scared him.)

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Once we were seated and perusing the menu, my husband and I were having difficulty narrowing our selections because everything sounded so delicious. My eight-year-old daughter, however, was struggling because she didn't see any of the traditional kid favorites and she can, at times, be a picky eater. (See the kids' dinner menu here.)

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And there is the dilemma for some parents: Their little girls may be excited to step into Belle's world but disappointed when they can't fully enjoy the experience because the kids' menu is a little more grown-up than their palates. Our server handled the situation beautifully, though, when we explained the situation. She asked a chef to come to our table, and he was very helpful about finding a solution. In my daughter's case, he offered the baked au gratin macaroni that is usually served with the adult pork chop and paired it with French fries. My daughter was satisfied, and we were pleased about the restaurant's flexibility.

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My son chose the thyme-scented pork rack chop with au gratin macaroni and seasonal vegetables and raved about it. My husband and I found it to be quite tasty, too, when we sampled the portion he was unable to finish. One caution: The pork was heavily seasoned with pepper.

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My husband tried the pan-seared salmon on leek fondue, which was served with creamy saffron-crushed potatoes. The salmon was a moist and meaty serving of fish that flaked nicely on the fork. I had the grilled strip steak with garlic-herb butter, which was very flavorful and tender, and pommes frites. The portion was so large that I ended up sharing quite a bit with my husband, who certainly was not complaining. (See the full dinner menu here.)

Be Our Guest has an extensive wine list, which you can see here. Several imported beers are available as well. My husband tried a dark belgian strong ale, Chimay Blue, and said it had a subtle hint of fruit that paired well with the salmon. Beast's castle also serves two signature non-alcoholic drinks: All-Natural Fruit Punch and All-Natural Lemonade. If you choose a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet for the foamy drinks, the price quadruples. Almost $20 for a drink without alcohol -- ouch!

Although Be Our Guest is expensive, the pricing is in line with other table-service restaurants at Walt Disney World. In fact, it costs less overall than dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, which does not offer alcohol but does include a photo package. The only price that really stunned me was the non-alcoholic drink. We saw plenty of diners, including children, sipping away, though.

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Still, our dinner experience at Be Our Guest was outstanding. Our server was attentive to our needs, keeping our drinks and bread basket filled and plates cleared. She was knowledgeable about the menu, too. Of course, our favorite part of her service was when she rolled the dessert trolley to our table. Guests can choose a cupcake -- strawberry cream cheese, triple chocolate or lemon meringue (Belle's favorite) -- or a cream puff -- chocolate, passion fruit or lemon-raspberry. We all tried the triple chocolate cupcake, which was quite a sweet ending to an excellent dinner.

November 17, 2012

What's new at Disney World's Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

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There is nothing quite like The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios to put everyone in the Christmas spirit. And this year, the Disney entertainment team has added two more goodies to the experience.

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Goofy's Winter Wonderland has been set up in Tri-City Square, to the right of the huge lighted globe as you approach it from the Streets of America. It's in the location where the Nativity had been for many years. Don't worry, though, the Nativity is still part of the annual display, just as Jennings Osborne intended when he created this Christmas experience. Look for it near the Premiere Theater.

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Goofy's Winter Wonderland is the place to meet Santa Goofy and get your photo taken. When we visited on opening weekend, the line snaked back to the gift shop across from Studio Catering Co. and I thought we were in for a long wait. It turned out to only be about 20 minutes, though, before we were posing with Goofy. Cast members do explain that no autographs are allowed, so that the line does keep moving. In addition, there are Disney PhotoPass photographers stationed in key spots on the Streets of America for those who want to capture other memorable moments.

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For those not familiar with The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the display was created by an Arkansas man for his 6-year-old daughter in 1986. To her delight, he added more lights and features every year. But many neighbors were upset by the traffic the lights generated and sued Osborne, which ultimately forced him to shut down the display.

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Disney offered to acquire the lights in 1995 and has continued to expand the display over the years, adding nightly snow flurries, Hidden Mickeys, more lights -- the total is up to 5 million now, and a growing musical playlist. This year, a special arrangement of the classic "Winter Wonderland" by Disney Creative Entertainment Music Director Dan Stamper joins the lineup.

The current music includes:

** "Jingle Bells" by Barbra Streisand
** "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano
** "A Mad Russian's Christmas" and "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
** "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops
** "Christmas Is Starting Now" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy from "Phineas and Ferb"
** "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" by the Plain White T's from "Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice"
** "Winter Wonderland" originally by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith (1934), arranged by Dan Stamper (2012)

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No matter the temperature of the Florida night, my children -- and many other guests -- associate winter activities, such as seeing the lights at Hollywood Studios, with drinking hot cocoa. Disney recognizes this and offers the sweet drink at concession stands on the Streets of America. From what we saw this year, it appears to be only available in souvenir mugs for about $5 per serving. A tip for those not interested in the mug: stop by the ABC Commissary on your way to the lights to purchase a cup of hot cocoa for about half the price.

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Guests who wish to wear some lighted holiday cheer themselves can buy the popular light-up necklaces at gift shops in the park and on Streets of America. There are several varieties from past years, including the holiday string of lights and winking snowmen styles. New this year is a light-up Santa Mickey.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights begin each night at dusk, which usually means about 6 p.m. in Florida at this time of the year, and continue until park closing. The experience is included in regular admission to the Walt Disney World park.


RELATED LINKS:

** Hidden Mickeys (and Cat) in Osborne LIghts

** An Interview with Jennings Osborne, circa 2002

**Tell us Your Review of the Osborne Lights!

** Look Back at the 2007 Osborne Lights


November 20, 2012

Santa's Fireside Feast begins with Christmas season at SeaWorld Orlando

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SeaWorld Orlando has quite a few Christmas and holiday attractions, but if you want to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus without standing in a long line, Santa's Fireside Feast is the place to go.

This special holiday dinner is held on select nights in November and December -- Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays -- plus each night during Thanksgiving week and the week before Christmas. The last night is Dec. 24.

My 10-year-old son and I attended the first night of the event this season, which was a new experience for us, with some friends. Typically, the price of the dinner show -- $29.99 for adults and $19.99 for children ages 2 to 9 -- includes reserved seating for A Sesame Street Christmas afterward. Guests are advised to pick up their seating passes at the Information and Reservations Counter at least 90 minutes before their meals.

Then, guests can gather outside Seafire Inn Restaurant. To the left of the main doors is a pathway along the waterfront that leads to the check-in podium and a backdrop for a complimentary family photo. Silly or serious smiles welcome!

Upon entering, guests will be seated on one of two levels in a semi-circle around a stage. Tables seat eight, so smaller groups will be placed together. The room is beautifully decorated in traditional Christmas colors, and it makes for a cozy setting with the fireplace on the stage. A server takes drink orders, and then each group is invited to visit the buffet, which has two identical lines.

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The menu includes:

Salads: Caesar Salad, Fresh Field Greens with Dried Cranberries and Pecans tossed in Balsamic Vinaigrette and Fresh Cut Fruit

Main Dish: Roasted Turkey with Gravy and Honey Baked Ham

Sides: Homemade Cornbread and Cranberry Stuffing, Sweet Potato Casserole, Mashed Potatoes, Glazed Honey Carrots, Green Bean Almandine and Macaroni and Cheese

Desserts: Pudding with Whipped Topping, Carrot Cake, Christmas Cake, Cinnamon Apple Cheesecake, Mint Chocolate Cheesecake and Hot Apple Cobbler.

Children's selections (which anyone can choose): Chicken Tenders, Hot Dog and French Fries

Beverages: Iced Tea, Coca Cola products, Coffee and Hot Tea

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Our group found the main meat dishes to be flavorful, and some individuals liked certain side dishes more than others. For example, I ate every bite of the Sweet Potato Casserole, but my friend found it to be too sweet for her taste. The salads were not among our favorites, but even the adults liked the chicken tenders. The desserts were yummy, too. Be sure to try the Mint Chocolate and Cinnamon Apple Cheesecakes and the Caramel Pudding.

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While we were dining, Santa, Mrs. Claus and some peppy elves appear on stage and begin telling stories, including Twas The Night Before Christmas. Their performances were entertaining without being so intrusive that guests stopped eating.

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Next, an elf led guests, table by table, to the stage to see Santa Claus. Each child had ample time with Santa to discuss his or her wish list. Even adults who were on the Nice List were granted time on Santa's lap, if they so desired. You may take photos with your own camera, and a SeaWorld photographer also captures the moment for those who would like to purchase a professional photo.

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Santa's Fireside Feast concludes with guests being served sugar cookies baked by Mrs. Claus herself. Then, it's off to see Elmo and friends!

Coming soon: I'll give you a look at the many other holiday offerings at SeaWorld.

DISCLAIMER: My son and I were guests of SeaWorld Orlando at Santa's Fireside Feast. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.


November 22, 2012

Disney Store starts Magical Friday sales tonight

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Like so many other retailers this holiday season, Disney Store has rolled out sales ahead of Black Friday, which it calls Magical Friday. Each day this week, Disney Store has offered special deals to its online customers.

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The online sales blitz leads up to more than 150 Disney Store locations -- including Orlando's Florida Mall store -- opening at midnight on Thanksgiving. The store will have Friday-only deals and other sales throughout the weekend. Starting tonight, customers can save $20 on each of two big-ticket items: a 10-pack of Barbie-size Disney Princess dolls is $79.50 and the Magical Cinderella Castle Playset is $69.50. Through Sunday, Disney Princess costumes that normally sell for $44.50 are on sale for $30, large plush and soft dolls are half off, and many toys will be placed at $10, $15, $20 and $25 price points.

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Disney Store officials say they expect toys inspired by the recent film Wreck-It Ralph and the release of the Cinderella Diamond Edition on Blu-Ray to be popular. Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award Winners of 2012 include Disney Store's exclusive Cinderella "Happily Ever After" Carriage Set and Cinderella Deluxe Doll Gift Set. DisneyStore.com is also the only destination where guests can buy Disney Parks merchandise outside of the theme parks.

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The newly-designed DisneyStore.com now boasts the Disney Magical Message video, a feature that allows gift-givers to record and send personalized video messages to loved ones. Gift recipients will receive an email notifying them of a special delivery, then once the gift arrives at their door, a card will provide them a site URL and a personal ID to view their "Disney Magical Message" video.

Have a question? The Fairy Godmother will be on Twitter throughout the weekend. Use hash tag #FairyGodmother to get an answer in real time.

November 24, 2012

'Disney Epic Mickey 2' and 'Power of Illusion' -- everything you need to know!

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Just in time for the holidays, Disney Interactive has released sequels to its popular Epic Mickey video game that was released in 2010 for Wii only. "Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2" is available for most gaming consoles, including Wii, Wii-U, XBox 360, PlayStation 3 and Apple and PC products. "Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion" is a separate game developed for Nintendo 3DS systems.

If you're considering purchasing any of these games for holiday gifts and wonder where to start, here's a short primer of what to expect.

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"Epic Mickey"

The story: In the original game, gamers play as Mickey Mouse who damages and then must fix the Wasteland, a land of forgotten Disney characters and concepts. Its first resident is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of Walt Disney's first animated characters, and this marks his first appearance as a major character since The Walt Disney Co. reacquired the licensing rights in 2006.

To play: Mickey wields his paintbrush and paint thinner -- adding and erasing elements in the game. Players hold two controllers and work both simultaneously. Epic Mickey also incorporates sketches and currency called E-tickets to give players more options to elude antagonists or move ahead in the game more quickly. Epic Mickey is an open-ended game, meaning players choose how they will progress.

Tips: Younger gamers may need a period of adjustment to learn how to juggle all the elements in "Epic Mickey." The official game guidebook really helped my son, who was 8 years old when this game was released.

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Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

The story: Essentially, Oswald seeks Mickey's help in Wasteland to repair the damage done to the forgotten worlds there. As they do so, they meet a cast of characters along the way that confirm their suspicions about the Mad Doctor, an antagonist from the first game.

To play: Availability of "Epic Mickey 2" has expanded to most console platforms and computer systems, and some of the game mechanics, such as the camera system, have improved. Perhaps the biggest change in the sequel is that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is a playable character, along with Mickey. He uses a remote control to fight and has other special abilities, such as flying with his ears and detaching his feet. The pair also can work together to create some magic. The game allows a single-player option (with Oswald being computer-controlled) or a dual-player option (in which Oswald is controlled by the second player). Also, in this game version and unlike in the first one, the characters talk and sing, as well.

Tips: Think about the choices you make, because they become permanent in the game -- even when you shut down the console and start again at a later time. "Epic Mickey" creator Warren Spector has some suggestions for players who feel like they are stuck: Consider other options than battling adversaries -- perhaps cooperating with a character will move you forward; and, if all else fails, follow Gus the Gremlin. He often will lead you forward to where you will want to go.

Regarding Oswald and his powers in the game, Spector told me, "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 so in 'Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2,' you don't have to defeat anything in combat. You can befriend everything in the game -- animatronic or cartoon. You can defeat everything in the game, too. That's up to you. And we'll show you how things change as a result of that choice."

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"Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion"

The Story: "Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion" starts much the same way the original games do, with Mickey delving into Cartoon Wasteland. 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. In his quest, Mickey must travel through different wings of the castle that are based on various classic Disney films.

To play: This game was developed by Disney's Junction Point Studios and Orlando-based independent video game developer DreamRift as a side-scrolling platform and a tribute to Sega's "Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse" and its 16-bit graphics. One of the unique aspects of the game 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.

Tips: Some of the mechanics, such Mickey jumping and spinning, are the same on the console and the 3DS, though players will use different moves to complete the actions. "Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion" takes advantage of both screens on a Nintendo 3DS system. However, even young players should feel comfortable -- and not frustrated -- because visual diagrams communicate concepts for beginning readers. Plus, Jiminy Cricket acts as a guide at the beginning of the game.

Spector said, "When you play on a home console, like the Wii, you're kind of sitting there on your couch, you've got a lot of time, you can really sit there and 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. So it's a different kind of experience, and I like them both. They have some of the same characters set in the same world but they are completely different games. So I hope people like them both and will play them both."

Here's link to my previous blogs about Epic Mickey!

November 27, 2012

Polar Express, Shamu and Clyde & Seamore at SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration

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Today, I'm going to pick up where Deb left off in our coverage of SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration. As she mentioned, at the media event, we had to choose among the holiday attractions and shows because of the timing, so we decided to divide and conquer!

The Polar Express Experience

When we arrived at the park, my family and I headed immediately to The Polar Express Experience. (This is a holiday overlay at the Wild Arctic attraction.) I think I may have been more excited than my children, remembering how quickly my family fell in love with the movie when it was released in 2004.

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In front of the attraction, guests will find a replica of the steam engine, where they can pose for photos and a conductors quartet performs Christmas carols periodically. Visitors can choose between two queues -- one to walk straight into the arctic animal exhibit and one to board the Polar Express. While they wait, guests can watch clips from "The Polar Express."

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If you choose to board the train, your experience begins in Billy's bedroom, just like in the movie. You'll watch that scene on a screen before moving to lines for the ride. The inside of the simulator really does feel like a seating compartment on the Polar Express with its re-imagined decor. Despite the images of steep hills and cracking ice, the simulator feels smoother than when it operates as Wild Arctic. (That ride makes me a little queasy.)

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Once you arrive at the North Pole, you'll be able to meet Santa Claus; he's waiting just around the bend from a giant decorated Christmas tree. Don't delay if you want to meet Santa, though, because that line grows quickly when passengers debark the train. Elves will be happy to take photos, and there also is a professional photographer on hand.

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Then it's off to see all the amazing animals of the arctic -- polar bears, beluga whales and walruses. Along the way, you'll find a hot chocolate stand, where the sweet treat is sold for $1.99 a cup, and a place to purchase Santa photos.

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"Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas"

Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas is, like all their other themed shows, filled with plenty of laugh-out-loud theatrics as the loveable sea lions, their human friends, otters and even a walrus get ready for Santa's visit. The jokes are corny, and the pratfalls and physical humor are really just a variation of what the characters do in other shows -- yet the audiences love it as always, and for good reason. It's a show that doesn't take itself -- or, in this case, any holiday tradition -- too seriously.

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Of course, the show's mime gets the laughs started even before the show, and he carries it through to the big finale. My 8-year-old daughter was doubled over in laughter for most of the show. And, when she wasn't laughing, she was admiring the cute stage antics of the animals. This show is a great antidote for any holiday stress.

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"Shamu Christmas -- Miracles"

My 10-year-old son is a big fan of all the variations of the Shamu performances, so he could hardly wait to see the Christmas show. This one begins with a live saxophone player who meanders through the audience, drawing viewers into the show. As with summer's Shamu Rocks!, music is a driving force for Shamu Christmas -- Miracles. The show blends solemn songs with joyful tunes and finishes with a Gospel-style soloist. At the same time, trainers take the killer whales through their paces, amazing the audience with their feats.

The theme of "Shamu Christmas -- Miracles" is family -- within the Shamu family and with human families. The performance strives to show how precious children are to today's parents who desperately want them. It also explores everyday miracles, delivering an upbeat message of hope and appreciation. The show concludes with a rousing number that is designed to get the audience moving in their seats.

This is my first year experiencing SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration, and I have been impressed. My only complaint is that there are too many holiday shows to see in one night!

You can read Deb's blogs about "O Wondrous Night" HERE and "Winter Wonderland on Ice" and "Holiday Reflections: Fireworks and Fountains!" HERE. I described our experience at Santa's Fireside Feast at Seaworld HERE.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando to experience its Christmas Celebration. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

November 29, 2012

Peek inside The Legend of Jack Sparrow before it officially opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios

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The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, a new attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios, is undergoing a soft opening ahead of its grand opening on Dec. 6. My family and I were able to cast off and experience the new attraction this past weekend and get a glimpse of Disney's beloved and rum-loving pirate.

Our wait for the show was about 30 minutes in a queue outside the soundstage that formerly was home to the Journey into Narnia attraction. This is not an interactive queue, like so many recent additions at Walt Disney World, so be prepared with something for the young kids to do to pass the time -- electronic games, coloring books or small toys usually will do the trick.

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Because guests are admitted to the attraction in large groups, you'll want to keep your party together. There really is no reason to rush inside because you can see well enough from most spots. You first will enter a small room where a talking skull mounted high on the wall invites guests to join a pirate adventure.

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Then, you'll walk into the main room, which is dominated by the centerpiece that is Captain Jack Sparrow's ship, the Black Pearl. The backdrop contains large screens that will feature most of the action in this theatrical production. The scene also is fully developed with three-dimensional pirate vignettes along the walls.

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I wondered if we would be able to view actual props from "The Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, but so far there is no sign of that. The attraction does take guests through the four films of the popular franchise while they watch battles and key actions play out in front of them. And one lucky child is invited to participate in the show.

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Perhaps the most surprising element in the eight-minute show is when Sparrow appears -- the high-definition projections make it hard to believe it's not an actor interacting with the audience. It really is that good.

Parents with young children should be aware that the theater does get quite dark and the action can be loud and scary, so it may not be appropriate for all ages. If your child does like Disney's pirate franchise, The Legend of Jack Sparrow offers a taste of the swashbuckling life at a theme park that previously did not have one.

To see a video of the attraction and more photos, click here.

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About November 2012

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

October 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.