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April 2013 Archives

April 2, 2013

It's curtains for Disney Channel Rocks! at Disney's Hollywood Studios after April 6

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Like Disney Channel viewers around the globe, my elementary-school-age children were die-hard "High School Musical" fans. They eagerly anticipated each of the sequels and the accompanying soundtracks. I'm pretty sure we single-handedly supported the merchandising branch of the franchise with all the clothing, costumes, Barbie-type dolls and dance mats that littered our play room.

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Unlike many other "High School Musical" fans, though, my children also are fortunate enough to live in Orlando and have annual passes to Walt Disney World, where they regularly could see a live musical production based on each of the movies at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Since 2007, the theme park has offered guests the opportunity to see their favorite "High School Musical" songs performed -- and even participate in the show by learning dance steps from the professionals.

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The first moving stage show was High School Musical Pep Rally (which ran January - September 2007). It was followed by High School Musical 2: School's Out (September 2007 - September 2008), High School Musical 3: Senior Year (October 2008 - September 2010) and, finally, Disney Channel Rocks! (October 2010 - April 2013). Through each production, the anthem "We're All in This Together" remained a constant, and I'm sure, brought back memories for fans.

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Disney World recently announced that the current show, Disney Channel Rocks!, will have its swan song on April 6. Although I certainly can understand the decision -- much of the material is dated, even with the addition of "Camp Rock 2" songs in the fourth version of the production -- I have to admit I also was a little sad to hear the news.

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I remember when seeing the pep rallies that traveled down Hollywood Boulevard and stopped in front of Mickey's Sorcerer Hat was a must-do each time we visited Hollywood Studios. My children had their favorite viewing spot and loved to participate. And, clearly, they were not alone. But as their interests and ages have changed, they have moved on, and I suspect that's the same for many "High School Musical" fans.

So, what's next for Hollywood Studios? Disney World hasn't announced what entertainment, if anything, will take the place of Disney Channel Rocks! It would seem that Disney's Channel's "Shake It Up" would be a natural fit with its story of a televised dance show, if theme-park officials want to keep the elements of music and dance that appeal to young Disney fans.

In the meantime, take a look back at each of the four "High School Musical" pep rallies in the videos below.

High School Musical Pep Rally (2007):

High School Musical 2: School's Out (2007):


High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2010):

Disney Channel Rocks! (2010):

April 4, 2013

Tour Disney Fairy houses at Epcot Flower & Garden Festival and learn how to create one at home

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One of my family's favorite displays at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is the Pixie Hollow Garden. Sure, the topiaries of Tinker Bell and her fellow fairies are amazing, but what we really like to study are the miniature fairy houses.

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Near each topiary is a representation of what that fairy's house would be like. The tiny dwellings are imaginative in their use of everyday household items. One of the most memorable uses a roller skate as its base. Other miniature model homes that have been displayed for multiple years feature water cans and teapots. A Disney landscape artist said they use these objects because they help illustrate the size of fairies.

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The Epcot horticulture team has been creating these shelters since 2009, and there are some new fairy houses each year. That's largely because Pixie Hollow Garden has grown each year with annual direct-to-DVD Tinker Bell movies that feature new characters. This year, however, is the first since 2008 that a new Tinker Bell movie will not hit the shelves. ("Quest for the Queen" is expected in Spring 2014.) So, the theming highlights Tinker Bell and her long lost sister, Periwinkle, who was revealed in "Secret of the Wings" in October 2012. In fact, their topiaries are the focal point at the entrance to this year's garden.

Last year, Pixie Hollow Garden offered a special Winter Woods section that was made to recall the hues of snow and ice with beds of blue and white flowers. In years past, the garden contained a play structure for younger kids. This year, however, the play structure has been separated from the fairies; it still remains near the Test Track Walkway but has been re-imagined as a Radiator Springs outdoor area. The fairies have moved into the Butterfly House, which is located on the opposite side of the park. (Take a photo tour of the lifelike topiaries and even more images of the tiny houses in the AllEars.Net gallery.)

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Like other aspects of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, the fairy houses can be replicated at home. Disney's April issue of "Family Fun" magazine shows readers how to create a miniature house, called a Toad Abode, with very little construction involved. The editors suggest buying a small birdhouse and placing it in a shallow plastic plant saucer with small flowers and moss that are appropriate for your area of the country. (Be sure to drill drainage holes in the saucer beforehand.) Then, accessorize with doll furniture, small toys or craft-store items, such as a miniature fence.

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Finally, wait for the fairies to move in. Though you're not likely to see them, you'll be alerted to their presence when things have been moved around in the saucer.

RELATED LINKS:

** Kids tour Epcot Flower & Garden Show TRYit food booths

** My Yard Goes Disney' host Brandon Johnson takes guests behind the scenes of backyard makeovers at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

** Gardens of the World Tour

** Oz-themed play structures

** Check out our extensive Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Information!

April 6, 2013

Hands-on fun with Innoventions attractions can make Epcot guests feel like superheroes

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Sometimes, there's nothing more magical than hands-on interaction fun with a Disney Parks attraction, and that's the idea behind the Innoventions concept at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. And this week brought news about one of Marvel Comics's biggest superheroes making his ironclad effect on the West Coast.

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In California, the collection of interactive displays -- modeled after the World's Fair -- at Disneyland will gain an Iron Man exhibit on April 13 -- and will, of course, promote the upcoming the upcoming "Iron Man 3" movie. Iron Man Tech Presented by Stark Industries will include Tony Stark's Hall of Armor exhibit and a simulator that will allow guests to fire repulsor blasts just like Iron Man.

As popular as that promotional display is certain to be with theme-park guests, what would be a real blast is if rumors of a Stark Expo overlay of the entire Innoventions attraction comes to pass. MovieFone reports that the upcoming Iron Man Tech exhibit actually is a beta test for the overhaul of the site and, if it is successful, construction could begin in 2014.

My family -- and many others, I'm sure -- would like to see a Stark Expo, or even just Iron Man Tech, come to Orlando. Unfortunately, it won't happen because of the Marvel licensing pact with Universal Studios Orlando. Iron Man will only be seen at Walt Disney World in merchandise and the new monorail wrap.

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Still, our two Innoventions pavilions here in Orlando have a lot of fun to offer kids, even if the exhibits don't revolve around a popular super hero who is part of the Avengers project and routinely saves the world.

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At Innoventions West, families with elementary-school-age children won't want to miss The Great Piggy Bank Adventure and Where's the Fire? exhibitions. The Great Piggy Bank Adventure teaches children the importance of saving money and planning for the future with concrete examples, and guests actually carry their piggy banks from game to game. Where's the Fire? includes an interactive game house, where teams search to find the fire hazards in their home, and the Play It Safe Maze, where children 5 years old and younger can learn how to exit their homes in a fire. Both of the exhibits are so entertaining that kids may not even realize they are absorbing valuable information.

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Innoventions West also contains a video game section, where kids can play the latest games for free, and a character meet-and-greet area exclusively for Disney Visa card members. (See a full description of Innoventions on the AllEars.Net resource page.)

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At Innoventions East, roller coaster fans shouldn't pass up the opportunity to design their own attraction and ride it virtually at The Sum of All Thrills. This is not an attraction for the faint-of-heart, and there routinely are long lines attesting to its popularity. Test the Limits Lab is good, clean fun for all ages and temperaments -- though those needing to work out a little frustration may find the experience more cathartic than others. The test lab's six kiosks allow Epcot visitors to get a hands-on feel for how UL annually tests the safety of more than 18,000 products. Guided by cast members, guests can "implode" television screens, put vacuum cleaners through their paces and even drop 55-gallon barrels on firefighters' helmets to see whether they can withstand the impact.

Sure, the Walt Disney World Innoventions attractions might not feature the latest technological creations from Stark Industries, but the idea behind them are the same here as what guests at Disneyland enjoy. The hands-on fun is as entertaining as it is educational. And, who knows? After successfully saving money, escaping a fire or even riding a roller coaster of their own creation, the participants might even feel like superheroes in a way.

April 9, 2013

How fans can be Kingdon Keepers for a day at Walt Disney World

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This weekend, my 10-year-old son set out to be a Kingdom Keeper at the Magic Kingdom using the self-guided quest in Birnbaum Guides 2013 Walt Disney World edition. We didn't encounter any villains, but we did have fun with a new challenge in a favorite theme park.

For those not familiar with the term "Kingdom Keepers," it comes from a popular series of books by the same name from author Ridley Pearson. The Kingdom Keepers are students who protect the theme park from Disney villains, known as Overtakers in the books.

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In 2011, Disney Youth Education Series (YES) launched the first Kingdom Keepers Quest, a self-guided tour that Pearson helped design to create an immersive experience for the series' fans at Magic Kingdom. Because that program also has educational components -- such as building skills in problem solving, creativity, language arts, mathematics and critical thinking -- it is offered to groups of students.

Fans who weren't visiting the Magic Kingdom with their schools, though, were disappointed and had no such opportunity -- until this year's Birnbaum Guide was published. So, what can fans like my son expect from the individual self-guided quest?

"[The quests] are all me, so they're the same feel," Pearson told me recently. "I think that because of space limitations, they're certainly truncated. " They may be a little more difficult in YES, but those take 3 to 4 hours, and this one takes, maybe, an hour and a half."

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Don't be fooled, though. Birnbaum's Kingdom Keepers Quest is not simple -- at least not for a fourth-grader and his mother. We didn't have any difficulty finding the various locations in Magic Kingdom that the clues describe, but some of the codes and word play took multiple readings to decipher. This was especially true of the first quest in the set of five. Fortunately, you can solve the quests in any order and then put the clues together for the final answer, so we did skip the first one and save it for the end.

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Embedded in each quest are passages from "Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark," the first book in the series, which hint at some of the answers. And, if you have a smartphone and download an app, there are extra goodies you can unlock in the Magic Kingdom to help entertain and guide you through the quests. I don't want to give those surprises away, but the ones we saw were pretty darn cool. Plus, smartphone users can tackle an additional Expert Challenge Quest.

Can't get enough Kingdom Keepers? You're in luck. Disney Youth Education Series currently is testing a new quest for school groups at Animal Kingdom that will launch soon. Individual fans will get their own Animal Kingdom quest in the 2014 Birnbaum Guides for Walt Disney World, which will be released this fall.

"I'm just finishing now a new [Birnbaum quest] for 2014 that is four pages of Magic Kingdom and four pages of Animal Kingdom," Pearson told me. "I think we'll build that out as the years go forward."

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In the meantime, fans can meet Pearson this week when he appears at Walt Disney World to sign copies of the latest book in the series, "Kingdom Keepers 6: Dark Passage," which was released April 2. For details on these events and more about what's in store in the next Kingdom Keepers books, please see my earlier blog post.

April 11, 2013

Entire family can participate at Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and runDisney events

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As most runDisney fans know, registration opened this week for the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, the group's flagship event that will be held Jan. 8 to 12. Because the weekend has become so popular, runDisney announced it has added races and made changes to better accommodate the growing number of runners who routinely make this a sell-out event.

Marathon Weekend, and many of the other race weekends, aren't just for serious runners, though. They are designed to make running (and walking!) fun for all ages and abilities. Of course, trained athletes travel to Orlando from all over the world to run 26.2 miles through the four famous theme parks that make up Walt Disney World. And many do so with the purpose of fundraising for a charity, just like our own Team AllEars, which raises money for breast-cancer research. Deb Wills presents the team's amazing contributions in May at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Washington, D.C., in May.

But children and families with little competitive experience also are welcome to challenge themselves in a fun way, too. Disney Kids Races are held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Track & Field Complex on Thursday, Friday and Saturday during Marathon Weekend. Specifically, the races are at 11 a.m. on Jan 9, 10 and 11, and they are planned for specific age groups. Babies 12 months and younger can crawl in the Diaper Dash. Toddlers ages 1 to 3 will race for 100 meters; kids ages 4 to 6 run for 200 meters; and children 7 to 8 years participate in the 400-meter dash. Any child 13 years and younger can participate in the Mickey Mile at 12:30 p.m. on those three days. Parents are invited to run with their children, if they would like.

That last little detail caught my eye as my family considers entering some runDisney races for the first time. My husband enjoys running, and recently, my 10-year-old son has expressed an interest in training with him. This is in no small part motivated by his love of all things Disney, though my son also is interested in running because, well, he's a 10-year-old boy. I'm certain that having his dad alongside him during his first race would give him a boost of confidence and be a great experience for both of them.

If that's not reward enough, Mickey Mile Race participants receive a Disney Kids Race T-shirt, a finisher medallion (who can resist that bling?!), Mickey Mile finisher certificate, a personalized bib if registered by Nov, 1, 2013, post-race refreshments, and a ChronoTrack B-tag timed race. Registration, which must be completed in advance, is $30 for the Mickey Mile and $15 for each of the dashes.

Families also can stick together for the Disney Family Fun Run 5K, which takes place at 6:15 a.m. Jan. 9 at Epcot. There is no minimum age for this race, but strollers, baby carriers and other assistive devices are not permitted. During this race, participants get a taste of the Disney entertainment experienced during the longer races with characters appearing throughout the course and at the family reunion area. The $60 registration fee per participant includes a T-shirt, finisher medallion, race program, iGiftBag, personalized bib, and on-course and post-race refreshments. (This race is so popular that it was 65 percent full at the time of this writing and has since sold out.)

Even if everyone in the family isn't into running, the entire family still can participate in some way. After all, spectators can join several different levels of the ChEAR Squad, in which they can cheer on their family members as they compete in various races. Each level has its own unique package of souvenirs, too.

Plus, runners and their families also are offered opportunities to enjoy a Pasta in the Park Party with runner-friendly foods and special viewing area for Illuminations; post-race breakfasts; and a Cool Down Party at Downtown Disney at additional costs throughout the weekend.

If ever there was a magical motivation to put down the TV remote, get off the sofa and lace up those running shoes to practice this summer, the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend has to be it. So, get set, go!

April 13, 2013

AT&T U-verse puts live Disney network shows online and on mobile devices

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Good news for Disney fans who subscribe to AT&T's U-verse services in their homes: The company announced this week that a set of new apps will allow viewers to watch Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior live on their iOS, Android, Xbox and Kindle Fire devices.

The new mobile streaming is available at no extra charge to customers who purchase cable packages that include the three Disney networks. Plus, on-demand content will be included with the service. "Phineas and Ferb" on the go? Yes, please! The ability to watch "Shake It Up" while waiting for an appointment or riding in the car? My kids, like many other Disney fans, will be thrilled.

The apps fall under the WATCH umbrella of products from AT&T, which recently launched the WatchESPN service. The new streaming apps -- called WATCH Disney Channel, WATCH Disney XD and WATCH Disney Junior -- are billed as "kid-friendly," though it's hard to image that most of today's children who grow up with technology will have difficulty operating any apps. Once the WATCH apps are downloaded, users will need to sign in to verify their U-verse accounts and then they'll be on their way to watching their favorite TV shows.

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AT&T U-verse customers who prefer to watch the Disney programs online on their desktop computers can access the networks at WATCHDisneyChannel.com, WATCHDisneyXD.com and WATCHDisneyJunior.com.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, AT&T's U-verse isn't the only provider to offer the Disney WATCH apps. Others include Comcast and Cox Communications. In addition, this week it was reported that Verizon FiOS TV subscribers will get access to Disney's WATCH apps soon, as well.

Disney Channel fans have a lot to look forward to with new seasons of "Good Luck, Charlie" and "A.N.T. Farm" poised to premiere; Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts coming in June; the original summer film, "Teen Beach Movie," scheduled for July; and new seasons ordered for "Austin & Ally" and "Jessie."

April 16, 2013

Girl Scouts can celebrate and learn at Walt Disney World this summer

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Walt Disney World is taking summer camp for Girl Scouts to a whole new level with its Girls Unite: Dream, Act, Change adventures for girls in grades kindergarden through twelfth grade.

Girl Scouts and their troops can participate in Disney Youth Education Series programs designed just for them at the Orlando theme park from May 25 through June 30, and registration is open through May 1. Girls Unite offers educational activities in the areas of leadership (dream), science & technology (act), and conservation (change) that are tailored to grade levels and give participants a taste of a different Disney park for each course.

Daisies and Brownies can choose from "Leadership of Walt Disney and the Disney Animation Process" at Hollywood Studios; "Foundations of Physics" at the Magic Kingdom; or "Observation Skills and Animal Behavior" at Animal Kingdom. Juniors and Cadettes can learn about "Personal Branding and Character Building" at Hollywood Studios; "Use of Sound and Light to Create Magic in Theme Park Attractions" at the Magic Kingdom; and "Ocean Conservation" through the eyes of a Sea Turtle at Epcot. Seniors and Ambassadors can opt for "Disney Company Leadership Strategies and Entrepreneurship" at Epcot; "Use of Sound and Light to Create Magic in Theme Park Attractions" at the Magic Kingdom; and "Conservation for Community Planning" at Animal Kingdom. (Grade requirements are strictly enforced for the programs.)

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In addition to the courses, which each last 2.5 to 3 hours, social opportunities are offered for Girl Scouts to meet and make friends with other troops. The Kick-Off Sing-Along Dinner takes place at 7 p.m. May 25 and 26 on the set of Lights! Motors! Action! at Hollywood Studios and includes a buffet dinner and character meet-and-greets.

On 10 dates during the month-long celebration, Scouts and their families also can choose to enjoy a private dessert party, the Sweets and Swaps Social, at Epcot with a special viewing location for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, the nightly fireworks show.

Scouts can create their own travel packages that range from three to six days from the educational programming and social events at http://bitly.com/GirlsUnite. Pricing for all events includes a 2013 participation patch for each Scout. Discounted hotel rooms are available at Pop Century and Port Orleans resorts for these events, though Scouts are not required to stay on Disney property.

Florida Scouts have the option of selecting a one-day package with just a single course, or with the dinner or dessert party. Annual passes and cast member passes are not valid for admission to any of the Girl Scout events.

April 18, 2013

Disney XD takes 2 approaches to Healthy Living campaign

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This month, Disney XD has involved viewers in two new initiatives that are part of Disney's Magic of Healthy Living campaign. If my elementary-school-age children are like typical viewers, though, one campaign project is more likely to make an impact than the other.

On Sunday, the network premiered the first half of "The Greatest Action Movie Ever (G.A.M.E)," a six-minute film designed to motivate kids to live healthier lifestyles. The movie is the culmination of a two-month contest on KIDZBOP.com that invited kids ages 5 to18 to submit videos that showcase their action moves and healthy eating habits in one of nine different scripted scenes. KIDZBOP.com users then voted on the 1,300 submissions to determine which real kids would star in "G.A.M.E." alongside Ryan Ochoa from the Disney XD series "Pair of Kings."

The second half of the film can be seen at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's BAM! Body and Mind website, BAM.gov, where there are additional health-related resources. Or, to see the movie in its entirety, viewers can go to KIDZBOP.com and Disney.com.

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Certainly, this seems like a winning formula for a Public Service Ad, right? The problem, though, is that the story comes off as hokey and the finished product is not remotely engaging for kids. I could barely get my children to watch the screen for six minutes, let alone digest the messages about nutrition and exercise. The battle theme reminds me a lot of the Habit Heroes exhibition at Epcot's Innoventions, which also relies on futuristic combat gimmicks.

My children are avid viewers of Disney XD and Disney Channel, so I asked them what type of show would motivate them to learn about healthy living. My son was quick to tell me about the upcoming Disney XD TRYathlon, where Disney actors compete in challenges that involve trying new foods and new moves. This summer competition resembles the popular and now-defunct Disney Channel Games, which were filmed at Walt Disney World in 2007 and 2008. The Disney XD TRYathlon offers a twist, though, in that viewers could try out to compete alongside the actors and professional athletes who also will be on the teams. An air date has not been announced, but last year's show was seen in August.

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My 10-year-old son said not only would he be willing to watch the TRYathlon, he would want to try some of the activities and foods. Recently, he and his 8-year-old sister did taste new foods that Disney chefs recommended for kids at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Each booth in the new Garden Marketplace offers TRYit dishes just for kids, and these range from Baked Goat's Brie with Kumquat Chutney to the dessert Frushi. (Find out what my kids liked best in our video and blog post.)

Certainly, Disney's Magic of Healthy Living campaign has encouraged children and families to lead healthier lives through its many initiatives throughout The Walt Disney Company. It would seem that the projects that are most appealing to kids are ones that tackle nutrition and exercise with straightforward and fun approaches, rather than contrived story lines that are devoid of the quality of entertainment that viewers of Disney XD expect.

April 20, 2013

15 things for families to love about Disney's Animal Kingdom

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If we've heard it once, we've heard it numerous times: Many first-time Walt Disney World guests think that Animal Kingdom is nothing more than a glorified zoo. In fact, the misconception was so common in the theme park's early days that the Mouse, himself, ran ads for Animal Kingdom proclaiming it was "natazu."

Since the park opened 15 years ago, though, there have been additions large and small that have made the park what it is today -- a place where guests can enjoy world-class entertainment and see and learn about the animal inhabitants of the Earth. In honor of Monday's anniversary and Earth Day celebration at Animal Kingdom, I offer 15 things that kids and families love to do at Disney World's newest theme park.

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1. Kilimanjaro Safaris -- Guests of all ages enjoy this open-air ride through an African-style savanna, and its often-long lines are a testament to its popularity. Some fans were upset last year when the ride was modified to remove the Little Red poacher story, and others were excited about the announcement of zebras to the viewing areas. We recommend riding this early in the day to see the greatest variety of animals.

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2. Expedition Everest -- Thrill-seekers won't want to miss this heart-pounding coaster that takes riders backwards in the dark and down an 80-foot drop at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. This is an intense ride to escape the Yeti, but kids who love it, like my daughter, will ride it over and over again. Riders must be 44 inches tall. Be sure to get a FastPass to avoid a lengthy wait.

3. Festival of The Lion King -- The beloved story of Simba and Nala, along with Pumba and Timon, is retold in a live production with energetic music, mesmerizing choreography and amazing acrobatics. The 30-minute show repeats multiple times each day. Although there has been no official announcement, it is widely believed that the Festival of the Lion King Theater will be moving from Camp Minnie-Mickey to the Africa section to make room for the new Avatar land of Animal Kingdom.

4. Kali River Rapids -- Cool off with a whitewater rafting trip through Asia. There is nothing to be scared of on this ride -- unless you don't want to get wet! If you somehow manage to make it to the end unscathed, don't congratulate yourself too soon; kids and adults can trigger sprays of water from the bridge overlooking the rafts. Riders must be 38 inches tall.

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5. Flame Tree Barbecue -- This is my family's top pick for lunch because of the tasty food and the outdoor terraced seating. Choose from ribs, chicken, turkey, pork sandwiches and a delicious salad at the counter-service restaurant. Then, find a shaded seat near the reflecting pool or at the bottom of the winding trail to see (and hear!) the Expedition Everest riders. Years ago, a boat would carry Mickey, Minnie and their friends past some of the seating areas, which was a fun surprise for the kids, who would love for that feature to return.

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6. Tusker House -- If you're looking for a character meal, Tusker House is the place for you. Donald Duck and his friends greet guests for breakfast and lunch as they enjoy a number of buffets with African foods and American favorites. The kids buffet and the dessert bar shouldn't be missed. Dinner is served without the characters. (You can find my lunch review here.)

7. Wildlife Express Train -- This open-air train with seats designed to face outward can be an attraction in itself for young kids. It leaves Africa every 5 to 7 minutes and takes passengers to Rafiki's Planet Watch, which feels like a whole other theme park. Along the way, guests will get glimpses behind the scenes of some of the night-time shelters for the animals.

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8. Affection Section -- At Rafiki's Planet Watch, kids can visit this petting yard where they are invited to brush goats and pet other animals under cast members' supervision. This is a fun, hands-on area. As a parent, I appreciate the well-stocked hand-washing station that guests are strongly encouraged to use on the way out.

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9. The Boneyard -- This huge play area in DinoLand U.S.A. features multi-level slides, tunnels and nets for climbing. Plus, there is a fantastic dino dig area where kids can unearth bones. This play area has features that appeal to kids of all ages and has long been a favorite for my own children. A cast member mans the single entrance and exit so kids cannot leave without their parents.

10. TriceraTop Spin -- Take a ride on the prehistoric version of Dumbo The Flying Elephant. This ride operates the same way, allowing riders to control its vertical movement so they can see the nearby sights and lights.

11. Finding Nemo -- The Musical -- Guests can take in a Broadway-style show during their visit to Animal Kingdom while they relive the story of Nemo and friends. This amazing show is well worth making time for. With the announcement of a sequel to the popular Pixar movie, we have to wonder if we'll be Finding Dory at Animal Kingdom, as well.

12. It's Tough to Be a Bug! -- Housed in the root system of the iconic Tree of Life, this 3D show is made for kids who don't mind the dark -- or a few surprises. My own children do not like this attraction, because of its intensity, but we know plenty of visitors who consider this a must-do on each trip.

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13. Character greetings -- Favorite Disney characters come out to meet guests daily at Animal Kingdom, but it's also fun to see the hard-to-find characters, such as Pocahontas and, occasionally, Jiminy Cricket.

14. Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade -- This whimsical parade, which takes place at 3:45 p.m. daily, brings beloved Disney characters together with a larger-than-life tribute to their animal friends. A holiday version of the parade is shown for most of November and December each year.

15. Rainforest Cafe -- One of two Rainforest Cafe restaurants at Walt Disney World is located outside the gates of Animal Kingdom. Like its other locations, this one offers the trademark sights and sounds of the jungle, plus a large gift shop. The atmosphere is a fun way to cap off a day at Animal Kingdom.

April 23, 2013

Disney's Animal Kingdom Celebrates 15th Anniversary on Earth Day

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On Monday, Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrated two festivities -- Earth Day 2013 and the theme park's 15th anniversary.

The day began with an opening ceremony at the Tree of Life that featured Josh D'Amaro, Vice President of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Dr. Jackie Ogden, Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment, as speakers. Because this was open to the public -- and held before rope drop -- it garnered quite a crowd as fans gathered to celebrate and park-goers waited to be let into the rest of Animal Kingdom. The highlight was a performance of The Lion King's "Circle of Life."

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Of course, the day featured special anniversary merchandise, including free commemorative maps and buttons to all guests. The line to purchase items such as T-shirts, Vinylmation figures and pins at Creature Comforts stretched to two hours at one point. Didn't make it to the anniversary party? One T-shirt design is available at DisneyStore.com through Thursday.

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Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund offered an anniversary button to all those who donated $1 or more to the charity. Disney matches all donations to the fund at 100 percent.

Animal Kingdom also hosted artists and photographers who specialize in landscapes and nature designs, and their work was available for purchase on Earth Day. And what birthday would be complete without a cupcake? This cute Worms & Dirt confection is for sale all week at Kusafari Coffee Shop and Bakery and Isle of Java.

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Throughout the park, visitors were able to learn more about Disney's conservation efforts with special displays. Perhaps the most fun for younger guests, though, were the five Party for the Planet stations that helped kids learn about various aspects of conservation and planet stewardship through hands-on activities.

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In Asia, the booth was located at the end of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Kids were invited to "shop" at a store and asked to find the items that are most Earth-friendly. At the end, cast members explained how to choose "green" products to make a difference for wildlife and nature. In Africa, at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, kids followed five simple clues to learn how to identify animals in the wild. Of course, one was dung, which had the children around us laughing. No surprise there since bathroom humor always is a hit among the younger set.

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Rafiki's Planet Watch hosted the other three Party for the Planet stations, and they were inspired by Disneynature films. Outside the building, guests could learn about flying creatures ("Wings of Life"). One neat tip a cast member suggested was to place a light under a sheet to attract bugs for observation. And she demonstrated devices to capture and study crawling insects, too. Inside, kids could play a computer game that helped them understand behaviors of cheetahs and lions ("African Cats"), and another tactile game to learn how chimpanzees create tools from objects they find in nature ("Chimpanzee").

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Along the way, kids were invited to address postcards to friends and family and drop them in mailboxes, and Disney would take care of mailing the cards for free. Also, kids who completed the activities at each station were given a prize, and, together, the five prizes formed a wildlife tracking kit.

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For a theme park that has spent the past 15 years promoting the safekeeping of the planet and its inhabitants, Monday's Earth Day events certainly were a natural fit.

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April 25, 2013

Disney to honor Central Florida students with its Dreamers and Doers awards

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This week, schools throughout Central Florida are putting their finishing touches on applications that will undergo the white-glove treatment by Mickey Mouse, himself. Friday is the deadline for local elementary, middle and high schools' submissions for Disney Dreamers and Doers awards.

Now in its 30th year, this award program recognizes students who have inspired others and made the world a better place. In return, Disney hopes to inspire and reward the area's student leaders with theme-park tickets and keepsakes.

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The process began earlier this month when students were asked to nominate themselves by writing a 300-word paragraph describing their achievements. These achievements don't necessarily have to be academic either. The official rules give these examples of student contributions: "strengthening their families; conservation/environmental projects; helping others; safety; school achievement in spite of barriers; improving their schools; serving as a role model for siblings/friends; or other positive actions."

Then, the student had to ask a teacher to champion his or her application by writing a 75-word endorsement. The two essays were turned into the school's principal, who was asked to consider the strength, passion and caring spirit reflected in the student's writing, before selecting the school's Disney Dreamer and Doer.

Once a school's Disney Dreamer and Doer is chosen, he or she is entered in a larger competition, Disney's Shining Stars. April 26 is the deadline for schools to submit these applications. The awards are given to 18 students -- one elementary, middle and high school student in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties and from the Florida Virtual School. Shining Stars receive Disney World annual passes for their immediate families for one year. In past years, a prize patrol headed by Mickey Mouse traveled to each school to announce the Shining Stars, but that has been eliminated this year.

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"Students may be comfortable in the spotlight, or shy away from it. Some take positive action that is visible; some actions may not visible to many," the Disney press release states. "We believe all students do good things and have the potential to be a Disney Dreamer and Doer. We look forward to hearing about students in each of these categories."

Past winners have included a student who stood up to bullying and a teen who founded her own nonprofit to make a positive impact on the environment.

Schools will be notified on May 8 if their students are among this year's Shining Stars.

April 27, 2013

Disney's National Princess Week is more than merchandising

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Just because today is the last day of National Princess Week doesn't mean your young daughters can't continue to revel in the royal way of life.

First, a little background. National Princess Week began last year as a partnership between The Walt Disney Co. and Target. The goal was to create a week when little girls across the country could "celebrate the sparkle and wonder of every princess -- real, aspiring or imagined." Academy Award-winning actress, singer and best-selling children's book author Julie Andrews is the face of the campaign. She starred with Anne Hathaway in two "The Princess Diaries" movies, and has co-authored with her daughter the popular "The Very Fairy Princess" series.

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Of course, it's clear that this is a marketing campaign -- complete with new merchandise and special pricing on current Disney Princess items at Target. But that doesn't mean that families can't take the opportunity to celebrate royally with activities that don't necessarily involve a shopping trip and may even reinforce some positive messages for little girls. Andrews offers 30 ways to celebrate on her website. Here are some of my favorites, adapted to how my family would approach the ideas.

Ever since 1937's "Snow White," Disney, like no other media company, has understood little girls' fascination with princesses. Its later film adaptations of Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel and many other princesses would become cinematic and culturally iconic -- though routinely criticized in light of modern ideas regarding gender equality and empowerment.

But two of Disney's newest animated films star princesses who are strong, brave and think for themselves -- Rapunzel from "Tangled" and Merida from "Brave." These ladies do not wait for a prince to bring them happiness or to solve their problems and they learn from their mistakes and grow stronger because of them. Little girls who love the princesses might be thrilled with a family movie night, in which they are invited to dress as Rapunzel or Merida and watch one of these animated features again. And, who knows? The plots in both films might even provide a discussion opportunity between girls and their parents as they explore some of the themes of self-empowerment and the consequences of making the right choices.

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Another positive way to honor the spirit of the week is to volunteer. After all, real princesses perform charity work as one of their main duties. Find a local organization that supports a cause your family believes in and get your daughter involved. Even if it's just for one day, you have sent a powerful message to a young girl and helped your community in the process.

Of course, princesses are patrons of the arts, too, so it might be fun for your little girl to visit a museum or gallery in your hometown that you have yet to explore. You also could check out a play or musical geared toward kids. Let your child wear her favorite princess dress for the outing and see what you can learn together. Or, see if several little girls want to put on their own production of a princess story. Let them create the story line that achieves the happy-ever-after ending.

Living a life of royalty isn't all seriousness and high concepts, though. So don't forget the tiara! A tiara can be worn with any outfit and instantly makes a girl feel special. Recently, I spotted doll-size tiaras at Target in the birthday aisle. My 8-year-old daughter was so excited after seeing something similar recently at an American Girl store.

Finally, if you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World, here are 10 great ways to have fun with the Disney Princesses.


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About April 2013

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

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