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February 2013 Archives

February 2, 2013

Don't miss seeing Oscar-nominated Disney animated short 'Paperman' online

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Just in time for Valentine's Day -- and the Oscars -- a touching Disney animated short is available online.

"Paperman," which was widely seen in theaters with screenings of Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" in November, has been released on YouTube. The six-minute short is set in the 1940s and follows a couple after their chance meeting on a train platform. When the man spots the woman in an office high-rise across from his own, he determines that the best way to get her attention is by sending paper airplanes across the street to her. As you can imagine, this appears to be a hopeless mission.

Directed by John Kahrs, "Paperman" is a black-and-white cartoon that seamlessly mixes hand-drawn and computer-generated animation. "Wired" explains how Kahrs developed this combination: "[He] told 'Cartoon Brew' that the origin of 'Paperman' 'really came out of working so much with Glen [Keane] on 'Tangled.' After looking at the work of Keane - a classic Disney animator who worked on 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and The Beast' and 'Aladdin,' among many other projects - Kahrs found himself with a new appreciation for traditional animation and drawing techniques. 'I thought, Why do we have to leave these drawings behind? Why can't we bring them back up to the front of the image again? Is there a way that CG can kinda carry along the hand drawn line in a way that we haven't done before?' "

In addition, the use of a single color, red, incorporated in one image is effective in conveying the romantic longing that is such a universal emotion.

In fact, the simplicity of this Walt Disney Animation Studios film is appealing to all ages. My elementary-school-age children were engaged with the story, as were many of the other kids in the theater waiting to see "Wreck-It Ralph" -- and it is a wordless film. For those not interested in the romantic angle, the mystery of the paper airplanes and the tornado they create certainly is entertaining. When the cartoon reached its satisfying ending, our theater erupted in applause from the young and the young-at-heart.

How could you not smile after viewing this film?

Paperman is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Animated Short Film. It is competing against "Fresh Guacamole," "Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare," "Head Over Heel" and "Adam and Dog."

Three other Disney films have been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film: "Brave," "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph." They are up against "ParaNorman" and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." And Disney's new franchise -- "Marvel's The Avengers" - competes in the Best Visual Effects category against "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "Life of Pi," "Prometheus" and "Snow White and the Huntsman."

The Oscars will be awarded on Feb. 24.

RELATED LINK:
Walt Disney and Pixar Studios

February 4, 2013

Celebrating the 2013 Super Bowl at Magic Kingdom with Disney parades and "soup-er" special foods

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Football fans who were visiting Walt Disney World this weekend could get into the spirit of the big game with a few Super Bowl-themed activities in the Magic Kingdom.

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On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Super Celebration pre-parade show kicked off the popular "Celebrate a Dream Come True" parade, which begins at 3 p.m. near the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom hub and travels down Main Street U.S.A., through Liberty Square and into Frontierland. Make no mistake -- it was a quick show -- but the folks seated and standing around us seemed to enjoy it. (Scroll to the end of this post for a video of Saturday's pre-parade.)

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When we caught the event, game-day music and a banner announced the arrival of Disney cheerleaders, football player Goofy riding in a convertible, the local Olympia High football players and a float pulling referees Chip and Dale with an announcer. With multiple playoff appearances, the Titans were chosen to march in the parade. As the pre-parade show traveled past guests lining the curbs, the announcer encouraged the audience to root for their favorite Super Bowl team -- the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens.

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The pre-parade show was part of Disney's Limited Time Magic campaign for 2013, which offers different experiences at the resort for short periods of time. This week's promotion -- like any good Super Bowl party -- also includes a food component. Through Feb. 9, Cosmic Ray's, a counter-service restaurant in Tomorrowland, has added "Soup-er Bowls" to its menu. The Lobster Bisque and Tomato Basil Bisque represent the teams playing Sunday.

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Perhaps the most sought-after experience in the Super-Bowl themed week is the ticker-tape parade that occurs on Monday in the Magic Kingdom. A player from the winning team traditionally says, "I'm going to Disney World!" after the big game. He keeps his promise the next day by riding in a motorcade with football-themed Mickey Mouse and friends as he greets the park's guests and talks to reporters.

Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco, Super Bowl MVP, will be in the parade today, Monday, at the Magic Kingdom.

Limited Time Magic events typically are announced each week on Fridays for the coming weeks. Social media discussions about the promotions seem to indicate that the weeks when special characters have been made available, such as Long Lost Friends week, are the most popular.

RELATED LINKS:
** Limited Time Magic Walt Disney World

** Limited Time Magic Disneyland

** Limited Time Magic Videos

February 7, 2013

2013 is a crowning year for Disney princesses at Disney World and Disneyland

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Some might say that 2013 is the year of the Disney princesses. After all, gorgeous new locations are being designed for the royal ladies at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and they open this year.

On the West Coast, Disneyland Fantasy Faire is the new area where guests can meet, interact and learn the stories of the Disney princesses. (Laura Gilbreath recently previewed the new site and her blog has lots of details and photos.) Fantasy Faire, which has multiple buildings and even a food component, is set to open March 12.

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Here in Florida, we await the opening of Princess Fairytale Hall, a single addition, rather than the multiplex like what is planned for California. No official date has been announced, but press materials have indicated it could be late this year before we see the redesigned space. Princess Fairytale Hall is taking over the spot where Snow White's Scary Adventures was housed. Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Tiana, Rapunzel and other royals are expected to relocate to this area in the Castle Courtyard.

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And that leaves many Disney fans scratching their heads. If you've been in the Magic Kingdom during the last month, you no doubt have noticed the tower from "Tangled," starring Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, that now clearly can be seen from the Haunted Mansion queue. It has been constructed near new village-type buildings. So far, though, word is that those buildings will house the restrooms that currently are near Peter Pan's Flight and a D-Tech Me princess store. The move would allow Imagineers to use the old space to create an interactive queue for the Peter Pan attraction.

Wouldn't it be logical for a Rapunzel meet-and-greet near the tower? And how could you beat that photo backdrop? Early plans for New Fantasyland did call for separate cottages and meet-and-greets for many of the Disney princesses, but some concepts were scrapped and others shifted to make room for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, which was a latecomer and largely seen as an addition needed to appeal to boys.

As a mother who has stood in her share of lines to meet characters at Disney World, I certainly can appreciate the advantages of having one line to meet many princesses at Fairytale Hall. Still, I like the idea that meeting a favorite character can be an experience -- and not just a photo-op. That's the model for New Fantasyland with Enchanted Tales with Belle and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and Ariel's Grotto, and it works for our family.

Regardless of where we all end up visiting with the Disney princesses, there is news this week about some of their well-recognized dresses. Belle debuted a new look this week at Disneyland, with a complete makeover from head to toe. She wears her new elegant attire at Ariel's Grotto Princess Celebration in Disney California Adventure and is expected to also appear in it at Disneyland Fantasy Faire. Walt Disney World Resort guests will see the new ball gown starting Feb. 10, when Belle visits Princess Storybook Dining at Epcot and during Enchanted Tales with Belle in New Fantasyland.

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And for little girls who still love to dress up, there is a new Disney Princess costume accessory available at Castle Couture, located behind Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. It's a winter white, furry wrap that closes with a piece of velcro covered by the Disney Princess logo. The stole is an elegant way for girls to stay warm on those chilly days or nights, and it goes well with most of the Disney Princess costumes. It comes in sizes small/medium and large/extra large. A cast member told me the wrap only is available seasonally and it actually hasn't been sold for the past several years.

February 9, 2013

Sneak peek: Disney toys to debut at American International Toy Festival 2013

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Want a sneak peak at what you may be buying for kids' birthdays and holidays later this year, Disney fans? The American International Toy Fair 2013 begins Sunday in New York City, and plenty of Disney toys will be displayed before making it to store shelves soon.

Perhaps the most extensive Disney toy collection at the show is from the upcoming animated movie, "Monsters University," which is a prequel to the popular 2001 Pixar feature "Monsters, Inc." "Monsters University," from Disney-Pixar, tells how Sulley and Mike met at University of Fear before they became friends.

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Sulley Monster Mask

Disney Consumer Products has created action figures, vehicles, play sets, plush figures, preschool and remote control items to help kids re-create key moments from the film. For example, Scare Off Sulley from Spin Master is a plush animal that uses animatronics and sound-and-light detection technology to change play modes and sense the environment. The Sulley Monster Mask from Spin Master is powered by children during play, reflecting their movements with its movable mouth and eyebrows.

"Monsters University" will be in theaters in June.

Another robust line of toys tied to an upcoming animated film is that from DisneyToon Studios' "Planes," which is due out in August. "Planes" is a comedy packed with action and adventure starring a crop-duster named Dusty, a small-town dreamer who longs to enter the most epic around-the-world air race despite his fear of heights.

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Disney Planes Pilot Pals Dusty Crophopper Remote Control Plane

Disney Consumer Products has said this merchandise will be much like the kind in the "Cars" franchise. It will introduce die-cast vehicles, play sets and the Planes Tilt and Fly and Planes Air Race Trackset from Mattel. "Planes" fans also can take to the skies with the deluxe Dusty Plane from Thinkway, complete with an infrared remote-control feature that allows kids to program action sequences.

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Glinda's Signature Tiara and Light Up Wand

Toys based on the much-anticipated "Oz The Great and Powerful" have been designed with the fantasy and colorful characters of the film in mind. The new product line features role play items, such as Glinda and Wicked Witch costumes for adults; Glinda and China Girl costumes for girls; fashion accessories, such as Glinda's Tiara and light-up wand; designer fashions and shoes; and Oz collectible dolls. "Oz" has a March release date.

"The Lone Ranger" has inspired six new LEGO sets that will be for sale in April. The building sets will include iconic characters, such as John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger), Tonto and the Lone Ranger's white stallion, Silver.

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Sofia the First Talking Magical Amulet

Moving from the big screen to the small one, Disney Channel will debut toys from its well-received children's programming block, Disney Junior. New toys will feature characters from "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," "Minnie Mouse Bow-toons" and "Sofia the First." Be on the lookout for Minnie's Pet Salon and Cheerin' Minnie from Fisher-Price; pirate LEGO play sets; and dress-up costumes, including Sofia's magical amulet, from JAKKS Pacific.

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Tink's Tikki Treat Stand

Popular brands Disney Princess and Disney Fairies will have new offerings, as well. Tinker Bell and her friends go on a tropical vacation in Palm Tree Cove this spring. JAKKS Pacific has created a new 4.5" doll line and play sets, featuring pool and beach accessories, Rosetta's Beach Buggy, Tink's Tikki Treats Stand and Tink's Pixie Paradise Pool.

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Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle

In June, Mattel will unveil the Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle with a bedroom for Rapunzel and a spiraling hair "elevator." It also features fairy tale-themed rooms for Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White that come to life with the Disney Magic Mirror App. When girls scan labels on the castle with an iOS device, they unlock and trigger activities in each princess' room and around the outside of the castle. Last month, it was revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that such technology will play a large role in the next generation of Disney-branded toys.

Finally, expect a new line of Ariel-themed merchandise in the fall when "The Little Mermaid" Diamond Edition is released on Blu-ray DVD.

February 12, 2013

Celebrate platypuses, valentines and Black History Month with Disney Channel and Disney XD

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Disney Channel is educating its young viewers about Black History Month and celebrating Valentine's Day with two new campaigns this month that aim to get kids thinking about the world around them. In addition, the countdown to National Platypus Day has begun.

This past weekend, Disney Channel and Disney XD actors began posting #ShowSomeHeart messages on their Twitter accounts. These links feature videos showing how the stars champion generosity of spirit, and they encourage acts of kindness among their followers.

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The actors participating in the campaign are China Anne McClain ("A.N.T. Farm"); Ross Lynch and Laura Marano ("Austin & Ally"); Cole Jensen and Crash ("Crash & Bernstein"); Bridgit Mendler ("Good Luck Charlie"); Debby Ryan ("Jessie"); Leo Howard and Olivia Holt ("Kickin' It"); Spencer Boldman and Tyrel Jackson Williams ("Lab Rats"); and Bella Thorne and Zendaya ("Shake It Up").

Beginning Feb. 13, the videos also will be posted on DisneyChannel.com and DisneyXD.com.

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Disney Channel also sought out personal anecdotes for its Black History Month interstitials, but these are from everyday kids who talk about their favorite heroes, sources of inspiration and dreams for the future. The "This Is Me" series was filmed at the Long Beach, Calif., Boys & Girls Club and is designed to highlight what makes kids ages 6 to 14 unique and special. In addition, black professionals are featured in some spots, such as the ones tied to the new show, "Doc McStuffins."

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Finally, the television network launched a monthlong celebration leading up to National Platypus Day on March 2. The stars of the party are, of course, the characters from "Phineas and Ferb," which includes popular secret agent Perry the Platypus. In February, the "O.W.C.A" (Organization Without a Cool Acronym) disco anthem, inspired by The Village People's iconic hit "Y.M.C.A.," debuted in music videos with Disney Channel and Disney XD actors -- and even Good Morning America anchors.

Starting Feb. 22, "Phineas and Ferb" fans are invited to visit DisneyChannel.com/platypus and DisneyXD.com/platypus to watch short "How to Draw Perry" videos depicting their favorite Disney stars, and draw and upload their very own Perry creations. In addition, a new online game, "Agent P: Return of the Platypus," will be available.

Viewers can look forward to two new episodes where Agent P (Perry) is in the spotlight on March 1 and 2. Also on National Platypus Day, Disney XD will air a five-hour "Phineas and Ferb" marathon.

February 14, 2013

What's in a name? Disney Baby offers clever suggestions

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When parents-to-be get the happy news that a little bundle of joy is on the way, picking out a name often is one of the first -- and most fun -- things to do.

But then reality sets in. The soon-to-be dad comes to realize that maybe the name of his favorite NFL quarterback isn't a good match for his new daughter after all. And mom will, reluctantly, realize that naming her son after a character in her favorite book sounds good now, but "Edward Cullen" will bring taunts and ridicule as he grows up.

Thankfully, there is help for this subject.

The Disney Baby blog frequently offers suggestions for baby names based on themes. It's clever, and for parents-to-be, it's a fun alternative to poring through thick books of alphabatized monikers. In honor of Valentine's Day, here are 30 names inspired by love, as suggested by Disney Baby:

** Aiko: The name Aiko means "little loved one" in Japanese.

** Amorette: This name is of French origin and means "little love."

** Aziz: Arabic, meaning "powerful and beloved."

** Brisa: If you're looking for a name with Spanish roots, maybe this one would fit the bill. It means beloved.

** Carys: Carys is of Welch origin and means love. This one has quite a few spelling possibilities as well.

** Charity: An English word name meaning "benevolent goodwill and love."

** Connelly: This name of Irish origin would make a cute alternative to the more often used "Connor" and means "love and friendship."

** Darcy: A tribute to Mr. Dracy and Elizabeth Bennett's love story in "Pride and Prejudice."

** David: David is a Hebrew name with biblical roots that means "beloved."

** Esme: This name of Persian decent means "emerald," but can also mean "esteemed and beloved."

** Ettie: A variant of the name Esther, which is a variant of the name Ishtar who was the Babylonian goddess of love.

** Femi: An African name that means "love me."

** Freya: The name of the Norse goddess of love and fertility.

** Gerwyn: Welch name meaning "fair love."

** Grianne: This Irish name means "charming love."

** Imogen: This name is Greek and means "beloved child."

** Juliet: Everyone knows that this name is associated with the famous and tragic lead character from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

** Kalila: Of Arabic origins, meaning "beloved."

** Lennan: An Irish name meaning "sweetheart or lover."

** Love: As straightforward as you can get.

** Maitea: Maitea is Spanish and means "love."

** Milena: Of Czech origin and it means "love, warmth and grace."

** Mina: A German girl's name meaning "love."

** Nayely: It means "I love you" and is of Native American descent.

** Neha: Neha is an Indian name meaning "cherished."

** Romeo: The love match to Shakespeare's Juliet.

** Shaida: Of Muslim descent and means "madly in love."

** Thaddeus: Thaddeus has Aramaic origins and means "heart."

** Valentine: A boy's name inspired by Saint Valentine, the namesake of the holiday of love.

** Valentina: The female version of Valentine.

Looking for a more formal name? Check out Disney Baby's list of names inspired by the saints (like St. Valentine). Or how about this creative list of names inspired by Disney's "Peter Pan," which was just released on DVD in a Diamond Edition.

Finally, how many shades of green can you name? Pantone says the color of the year for 2013 is Emerald, so it follows that trendy baby names may be the various hues, such as Hunter, Sage, Jade, Ivy and more.


February 15, 2013

Disney World announces 2013 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration

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Walt Disney World has announced the dates of its 2013 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration -- May 9 to 12 (Mother's Day weekend) -- and like last year, attendance is by invitation only.

For mommy bloggers, #DisneySMMoms is among the most coveted conferences. Participants learn from speakers who are experts in the fields of online publishing, blogging, communications and marketing. Chris Brogan - president of Human Business Works, New York Times best-selling author and consultant -- has been a featured speaker at the past three events. Other speakers have included Matt Jacobson, head of market development at Facebook; Ridley Pearson, the author of the "Kingdom Keepers" series for young adults and many other novels; Rene Syler, former CBS' The Early Show Anchor and webmaster of Goodenoughmother.com; supermodel Kathy Ireland; and wedding designer David Tutera.

I was among those fortunate enough to be invited to the 2011 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, and I learned as much from my fellow bloggers as the amazing speakers. Moms who blog about Disney and other Orlando theme parks (like me) actually were in the minority. Most participants were mom bloggers who write about their daily experiences with their families, while some had specialized blogs for travel and other niches. Many, though, had advice to share about everything from promoting their work to monetizing their sites. Others had valuable questions for the speakers that we all learned from.

Of course, attending a conference not only located at Walt Disney World, but also hosted by the Disney publicity team, is a magical experience. The event is limited to about 150 bloggers and their families, so it is more intimate and participants actually get to know and network with other bloggers. And Disney makes sure there is plenty of time for that with fun family dinners, time in the four theme parks and even some specialized experiences, such as touring the newest attractions on property. Last year, attendees were given a behind-the-scenes tour of New Fantasyland and an inside look at the new Art of Animation hotel -- before either officially had opened.

Disney has not yet announced when this year's invitations will go out, but many of us will be checking our inboxes faithfully until we see a discussion take off on Twitter or Facebook.

Those who don't get invited may have another opportunity closer to their hometowns. Last year, Disney's social media team launched satellite conferences called Disney Social Media Moms on the Road. Look for updates with hashtag #Disneyontheroad.

February 19, 2013

How do zookeepers at Disney's Animal Kingdom keep animals warm during a Florida cold snap?

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When Orlando residents get an icy blast of winter weather as we did this past weekend, we often are caught unaware and must be reminded of some of the precautions we need to take to protect against the cold. Among the reminders we always hear is one to bring household pets indoors.

That made me wonder how the zookeepers at Disney's Animal Kingdom cope when the cold moves in. Can you imagine bringing the giraffes or rhinos into your family room to curl up by the fire?

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I spoke with several of the cast members who care for a variety of animals at the theme park this weekend as they prepared for the change in temperature. I was surprised to learn that each night, regardless of weather, most of the animals at the theme park are brought inside to their own individual accommodations. Sounds like an enormous undertaking, right?

This process takes up to three hours, which is why the attractions with animals at Animal Kingdom close earlier than the other rides and shows. It's all very well-organized, though. The animals have been trained to return to their pens for dinner. So, when they hear a particular audible signal, they make their way inside. Some hungry animals, like the ones we saw from the Wildlife Express Train, line up early, waiting for the gates to open. It reminded us of guests waiting for their ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations), and we all could relate to that!

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Once inside, the animals stay in quarters that are climate-controlled for their safety for the night. In the morning, the shelters are opened and the animals are given the choice to venture out when they are ready. Animals are not forced to leave if they do not choose to do so. In addition, there are heating and cooling elements built into the animals' outdoor habitats. Some of these items are visible to guests, such as fans and misters. Others are disguised. For example, some large "rocks" actually may be hollowed out caves with heat lamps that offer a respite away from the main buildings.

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Zookeepers are aware of each animal's individual threshold for temperature changes and protect them accordingly. One of the most sensitive is the Kimodo dragon, a predatory lizard that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. (Deb spotted the Kimodo dragon on a recent walk-around at Animal Kingdom.) Most of the other reptiles, with the exceptions of the alligators and crocodiles, are permanently housed indoors at the Conservation Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch, because of the need for stable temperatures, among other concerns.

The ability to adapt to temperature variations was, of course, among the factors considered when the animals that live at Animal Kingdom originally were chosen for the park. Know that while the animals are safe and sound on a cold day, it may not be the best time to visit the park and ride Kilimanjaro Safaris because the stars of the show may be keeping warm backstage.

February 20, 2013

Kids can learn about physics behind roller coasters this week at Epcot

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To celebrate National Engineers Week, one of the sponsors at Epcot is offering short and entertaining demonstrations that teach kids the physics behind roller coasters. Though National Engineers Week has a focus of calling attention to the importance of math, science and technical skills, the goal of these sessions is to show that math and science can be a lot of fun.

Raytheon, an aerospace and defense contractor that employs state-of-the-art electronics and communications systems for government and commercial projects, sponsors Sum of All Thrills in the theme park. This attraction allows guests to digitally design their own roller coasters and then experience a simulated ride in them.

But this week, the company is taking a more basic approach to illustrating physics for Epcot's guests. In Raytheon's 15-minute Coaster Crafters sessions, teams of children use plastic hoses and marbles to learn some of the principles behind designing such a thrill ride.

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Dr. Norman Norman and his assistant, Speed, take the kids (and their parents) to a grassy area outside Innoventions East, where they explain how velocity and acceleration affect the cars on a track. This is where having some tall kids in the group comes in handy! The children are asked to hold the length of hose at different heights to create acceleration downhill and an increased velocity. In turn, this builds the kinetic energy of the marble.

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The kids are invited to make their coaster track twist and turn -- wrapping up one of the teammates -- to see how the design affects the speed. Then the two teams of children race their marbles against each other. Of course, Dr. Norman Norman and Speed cannot resist making jokes about losing their marbles. When all is said and done, the participants receive Sum of All Thrills buttons that feature Crash, Raytheon's robot.

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Coaster Crafters sessions take place at 11:15 a.m. and 1, 2:30 and 3:45 p.m. each day this week through Friday. Participants must sign up in front of Sum of All Thrills and sign several releases, but there is no additional charge for the demonstrations.

In another community effort to nurture interest in math and science, Raytheon also hosts the MATHCOUNTS national competition at Walt Disney World each spring. The contest brings together the nation's top middle school students who have excelled at math. (You can read more about it in my blog post about last year's event.) Raytheon's educational efforts are grouped under the MathMovesU initiative, which includes scholarships, competitions, interactive learning programs and tutoring.

February 23, 2013

Oz-themed play structures open early for Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

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One of my family's favorite parts of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival has opened early this year. The main kids' playground -- which is themed to the upcoming movie, "Oz The Great and Powerful" -- and its carnival-style game tents are up almost three weeks before the festival begins on March 6.

Disney World decided to preview the area along Imagination Walkway in an effort to promote the movie, which hits theaters on March 8. Follow the yellow brick road and pass under the Oz arch near Showcase Plaza and you will spot the downed hot-air balloon on the left, indicating you are approaching the play area. (An area to the right of the walkway in past years has housed detailed sand sculptures related to a current Disney movie. This year, guests will find the Water Wise Garden presented by RainBird located there.)

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The Land of Oz Garden where the playground is located also features fantastical art-glass poppies "planted" among beds of real flowers, which will be updated through the festival's end date of May 19. Inside the "garden," families will find play equipment from Landscape Structures. This company has been providing the play structures for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival for years.

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This year, the company chose the PlayBooster Vibe and Evos structures for kids ages 5 to 12 and the Cozy Domes with flower steps for ages 2 to 5. The Evos structure is one that veteran festival-goers will recognize: The arch has a series of suspended tire-like elements that kids must climb through. It's a challenging journey that often requires some parental assistance. The Playbooster Vibe is similar to the main structure showcased in 2012, but this version has been modified to include tall metal flowers to carry out the garden theme. In addition, one of the ramps to the structure has been adorned with a flower motif and an Oz logo.

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My children gravitate to the crowded play area each year, and my husband and I don't mind taking a break there either, because of the shade and plentiful seating. This year, one section of Adirondack chairs is designed to look as if guests are inside the hot air balloon from the movie.

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Outside The Land of Oz Garden and farther up Imagination Walkway are carnival games. Test your skill at throwing hoops around milk bottles and you'll receive an "Oz The Great and Powerful" button. Try your hand at the bean bag toss, too, and you can take home a packet of seeds to plant in your own backyard. Guests also can see silly images of themselves reflected back in fun-house mirrors or take photos with carnival backdrops.

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The Land of Oz Garden is not the only play area for kids at The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This year, the Radiator Springs interactive play zone debuts on the walkway near Test Track. "Cars 2" stars Lightning McQueen and Mater will be represented as topiaries overlooking another play structure from Landscape Structures that includes a pair of climbing rocks. This section is geared toward ages 5 to 12.

In addition, the Backyard Play Garden between Morocco and France returns. Sponsored by GoGo squeeZ, the area offers outdoor fun designed to keep the young and young-at-heart active and is a third separate area with play equipment from Landscape Structures. There you will find select items from the HealthBeat Outdoor Fitness System.

There are many other kid-friendly aspects to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, and I'll be writing about more of those experiences as this special event starts.

February 26, 2013

Don't miss Disney's Club Penguin Hollywood Party and new EP

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If you're a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that my 10-year-old son loves Disney's Club Penguin web-based video game. He can't wait to log in to the virtual world each day and see what is new, and he's far from alone. Club Penguin is the most popular online game for children. This month, my son and his friends have gotten two happy surprises: Club Penguin has launched its Hollywood Party and the site's first EP has debuted.

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If you or your child haven't visited yet, today is the last day for the Hollywood Party, which is modeled after the Academy Awards show. Leading up to the party, penguins could act in three movies -- "Penguin High 3," "High Speed Getaway" and "Return of the Space Squid" -- and work toward becoming directors. Paid members also could try to attain Superstar status and live in a Hollywood-like version of the Club Penguin Island or even work as stunt penguins.

During the party, players can walk a red carpet and attend a star-studded award show, where penguins who were voted the best in various categories receive their statuettes. For a limited time, the Cool Emoticon, the Cheese Emoticon and a Clapboard slate Emoticon will appear at the party, as well as Aunt Arctic. Be sure to check out the new Hollywood Party catalog, which has award-winning outfits, such as a diamond gown, a space astro suit and a rugged jacket.

For kids who are interested in the glitz and glam of Hollywood award season, this is a way for them to take part in an age-appropriate way.

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Club Penguin is exploring another aspect of the entertainment industry with its first EP, "The Party Starts Now." The album from Walt Disney Records includes all of Club Penguin's hit singles from 2012, plus a new song and a bonus track. The songs are "Anchor's Aweigh," "The Party Starts Now," "Ghosts Just Wanna Dance," "Cool in the Cold," "Puffle Party (Gotta Have a Wingman)" and "Dubstep Puffle."

Players who purchase the "The Party Starts Now" EP receive an exclusive virtual item, the 'Bling-Bling Necklace,' to wear in the virtual world.

When released in fall of 2012, "The Party Starts Now" single held the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Children's music chart for multiple weeks in a row and the corresponding music video has more than 2 million views on YouTube.

The EP is now available wherever music is sold, as well as through digital retail outlets, including iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

To read more about Club Penguin, please see my previous blog posts about Internet safety and Club Penguin's charitable donations.

February 28, 2013

New IBM THINK exhibition at Epcot is difficult for young kids to understand or appreciate

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IBM put a lot of thought into creating its new THINK exhibition in Innoventions West at Epcot. Unfortunately, the company thought more about presenting information than it did about entertaining young guests.

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On approach, THINK is inviting with all the colorful digital screens and even a theater in the round. But I have to agree with Jack's review when he said that, for the most part, kids younger than 16 will be bored. That certainly was the case with my children, who are 8 and 10 years old.

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My kids -- like most their age who have grown up surrounded by technology that they use on a daily basis -- ran up to the 7-foot monitors, ready to play whatever game was offered. One of many cast members offered to explain a giant panel and help my son and daughter get started. These huge screens are not games, rather sources of layered information that is revealed by tapping and swiping on various elements. In this case, though, the technology is not engaging enough to override what felt like a school lesson; uncovering the information did not require any new or exciting method and the material was presented in a straightforward manner that is better suited to adult learning styles.

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What did capture my children's interest is what IBM calls its "gesture wall," a wall blanketed by digital screens that change images according to guests' movement. It seemed to offer fun for the guests of all ages who walked or ran the length of the wall, creating visual changes on the screens.

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IBM also has installed simple touchscreen games that are based on the company's inventions. Guests try to move so-called Icons of Progress on the screen to form a timeline of sorts of IBM's technological progress in the last 100 years. If you're successful, your reward is one of 10 collectible buttons. Earning a prize, no matter how small, is fun for kids. Plus, participants can opt to have their photos taken and put on an electronic postcard that can be sent to two people.

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IBM's message in its new THINK exhibition, which replaces SmarterPlanet, is that progress by the human race has been led by human thought. Sure, it's not very original nor profound, yet it is important and it could be made entertaining. After all, just consider what Siemens, Liberty Mutual, Raytheon and others have done with informational demonstrations at Epcot.

The exhibition's 10-minute film, which runs continuously, offers the talking points of seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting, which are themes throughout the exhibition. But they are far too complex for young children to grasp. By the end of the presentation, my daughter had asked me multiple times to explain what the film was about.

To borrow a line from Jack, IBM's THINK is "heavy on information and light on entertainment." Unfortunately, even for adults, this makes absorbing what could be interesting information difficult -- especially when guests are in a theme park where they expect to be entertained and engaged, even while learning.

For older students, perhaps the most valuable components to the THINK exhibition are the companion iOS and Android apps that were released last week as part of last week's National Engineers Week. The apps were designed for middle-school and high-school classes and offer free science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lesson plans on TeachersTryScience.org.

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About February 2013

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in February 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2013 is the previous archive.

March 2013 is the next archive.

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