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May 2013 Archives

May 11, 2013

3 Levy restaurants host kids cooking school at Downtown Disney this summer


UPDATE: The June 22 class is full, and a second cooking school has been added on June 29. To register for the later date, call 407-828-8996.

How are foodies born?

Everyone loves delicious food, but the truly dedicated -- those adventurous eaters who look forward to tastings, new restaurants and different recipes -- may also enjoy cooking and learning to create tasty dishes in their own homes. And for them, it's never too soon to start.

Levy Restaurants is again offering a summer cooking school for kids ages 6 to 12, who may be the foodies of the future. The kid-friendly cooking class takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Fulton's Crab House, Portobello Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck Café.

"It never ceases to amaze us each year how excited the kids are to learn about cooking," said Steven Richard, area chef for Levy Restaurants and former executive chef at Portobello. "There doesn't seem to be a minimum age requirement to be a foodie."

Time to learn how to eat the Yummy Gummy Dessert Sushi these chefs created at Wolfgang Puck Café.

Budding chefs will be guided through preparing one recipe at each restaurant: Mini Crab Cakes at Fulton's, Ravioli Gigante with Tomato Basil Sauce at Portobello and Yummy Gummy Dessert Sushi at the Wolfgang Puck Café. And then the kids will be able to eat the dishes they are learning to prepare from each restaurant's executive chef and culinary team.

"We're bringing back the Dessert Sushi and Ravioli by popular demand," said Richard. "The kids seem to enjoy the hands-on manipulation of food the most, such as ravioli assembly and sushi role assembly."

Young chefs pause before they work with fresh pasta at Portobello.

Aside from learning how to make something delicious to eat, children learn valuable skills when they learn to cook, Richard said. They develop a better understanding of organization, nutrition, and even math skills when it comes to measuring ingredients.

"Cooking is about planning your work and working your plan. Staying organized is key to professional cooks and that carries over to home cooking," he said. "Also, for me, cooking and feeding people is an important part of life. It's something that every culture shares. I think it's a positive thing to nurture a curiosity in cooking at an early age."

So, how do parents build on the enthusiasm for cooking that their children gain from the Levy event?

"Most of the good home cooks that I know are defined by a short list of things they do very well. I would stick to simple but satisfying items like a the tomato sauce that we do with the kids at Portobello. It's an item that can be built upon by combining with a simple pizza dough recipe or meat balls. You can apply it to a number of dishes like lasagna and chicken ptarmigan," Richard advises. "Follow your curiosity and cook what you like."

The Levy cooking school is $37 per child. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis until the event is full. To sign up, call 407-828-8996. Parents are welcome to stay with their children during the cooking school or enjoy the four hours on their own at Downtown Disney. Levy also offers group cooking classes at all three locations for adults, which can be booked through the same phone number.

May 14, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3


Marvel's "Iron Man 3," the likely conclusion to the popular film trilogy, hit theaters this month, and it's clear why it's already an early summer blockbuster. The characters are easy to relate to, the lead actors possess star power, and the special effects are mesmerizing. Still, parents of children younger than 13 should consider whether "Iron Man 3" is appropriate for younger kids.


In this installment, Robert Downey Jr., of course, returns as industrialist Tony Stark (who, as most everyone knows, transforms into Iron Man thanks to the mechanized creations developed in his lab). In this latest film, Stark must use his suits to battle a terrorist called the Mandarin. In the process, he struggles with an identity crises of sorts, wondering who he is without his superhero talents when his artificial intelligence sidekick J.A.R.V.I.S. powers down and Stark must soldier on to protect the country and his loved ones. The storyline of saving the U.S. president is far less believable, though, than the parallel tale of Stark's personal journey.

In his role as Stark, Downey Jr. delivers another polished performance. He IS Iron Man; there is no room to wonder if another actor could play the superhero better. Downey is at his best with his snappy comments and cocky attitude. He makes the audience want to be Iron Man, too -- or at least Iron Man's best friend or girlfriend. But in this film, we also get a glimpse of Stark's vulnerability as he questions his choices when he can't rely on his Iron Man suits to save those around him, and that's when he shines like the Silver Centurion armor.


Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), has a bigger presence in "Iron Man 3" than in previous films. For the first time, she gets inside an Iron Man suit on the big screen, and when she does, watch out! Potts offers a strong female role model for young girls, as a smart and powerful woman who solves her own problems. Everyone needs a helping hand sometime, though, and she knows when to accept to Stark's aid.


Don Cheadle expertly reprises his role as Col. James Rhodes. Cheadle, too, has become closely associated with his character, who suits up as War Machine. In the movie, though, he is renamed Iron Patriot in an effort to appeal to the American public. This leads to several funny incidents in "Iron Man 3."

In addition to the acting performances, the appeal of "Iron Man 3" is its special effects. Director Shane Black gives audiences explosions, alien appearances and CGI in spades. Perhaps the most amazing effect, though, is when the pieces of each Iron Man suit zoom to Stark and assemble around him. Those scenes are quite believable and even offer a few laughs at times.

"Iron Man 3" comes to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion. It has been assumed that this is the final film in the series, especially because Downey Jr. has fulfilled his contract for his role as Stark. Black manages to leave the door open, though, with a small note in the credits that states, "Tony Stark will return." Perhaps in "The Avengers 2"?

"Iron Man 3" is rated PG-13 with good reason. There is profanity sprinkled through some scenes and suggestions of sex, as well as strong plot devices involving global terrorism, post-traumatic stress disorders and drug use. As a parent, though, I would be more concerned about the amount of violence young children will see with all the guns, explosions and hand-to-hand combat. Added to all this, there are very graphic scenes when the bad guys burn from the inside out because of an experimental regenerative process utilized by Mandarin. It really is the stuff of nightmares. If your young child loves Iron Man but isn't ready for imagery and themes like this, you might be better off sticking to the Stan Lee comic books for now.

Of course, there's also the Disneyland attraction, Iron Man Tech presented by Stark Industries, where guests can be fitted virtually with the Iron Man suits and see them on display for a limited time.

May 16, 2013

Disney Worldwide Publishing, Lilly Diabetes expand global collaboration


Disney Publishing Worldwide has announced it is expanding its outreach to children with type 1 diabetes through a series of custom books that have been co-created with Lilly Diabetes, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co. The books, which debuted in 2011, are being translated and made available in 18 countries through doctors' offices.

The Disney group entered a partnership with Lilly Diabetes two years ago to educate children and their families about the disease -- and to help them find a sense of normalcy in their lives. Now, the two companies aim "to reach even more families who have been impacted by type 1 diabetes - emphasizing what they can do instead of what they can't do, and offering stories of familiar characters, such as Mickey Mouse and his friend, Coco, the fun-loving monkey who has type 1 diabetes," said Lilly Communications Director Kelley Murphy.

Coco's adventures can be found in two titles that are part of the popular children's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series, "Coco Goes Back to School" and "Coco and Goofy's Goofy Day." The latter is the first to be translated for global distribution. In "Coco and Goofy's Goofy Day," Coco shows Goofy that she can attend his birthday party, enjoy the treats and activities in moderation and still have fun. Goofy is the one who struggles with limiting himself on his special day.




A third book starring Coco will be released this summer. "Coco's First Sleepover" was written to help children and their families prepare for the child's first night away from home after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes, which often has an onset in childhood, have high blood sugar levels, usually because their bodies do not produce enough insulin or respond to the insulin that is created. They must monitor their condition daily and adjust medicines, food and exercise accordingly.

To that end, another Disney book in the series is a cookbook, "Dishing it up Disney Style," with healthy recipes for the entire family to enjoy.

Tweens also will be offered books that address their concerns about sharing their type 1 diabetes with their peers. Among them are "Up for the Challenge," "Power Forward," "Running Interference" and "Hannah Montana - Uptight, Oliver's Alight"; the first two are being translated into languages other than English. Two new titles for kids ages 9 to 13 also will be introduced this summer: "Superstar Dreams" and "Covering the Bases."

In another effort to reach more families, the first three books that are being translated and the cookbook will be posted online when a new website is completed in August or September, Murphy said. In the meantime, Disney is hosting content from dietitians, psychologists, nurses and families on its website, spoonful.com/type1. It offers tips for everyday challenges and includes recipes and printable resources.

"Lilly Diabetes' objective is to bring safety, health, comfort and a bit of magic to children worldwide," said Andrew Hodge, international vice president of Lilly Diabetes, in a statement. "We saw the positive impact our collaboration with Disney Publishing Worldwide had on families living with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. over the last two years, and we are excited to expand our reach globally."

Lilly introduced the world's first commercial insulin and continues to market related medicines.


And though guests at Disney Parks won't see the Coco character, the little monkey already is having a positive effect on some.

One AllEars.Net reader whose 9-year-old daughter who lives with type 1 diabetes said the resources were invaluable in her family's planning for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. "Coco carries her diabetic supplies in a backpack and wears a diabetes bracelet, too," said Sheila Meyle. "Thank you Disney and Lilly Diabetes for bringing this very important issue to the public's attention and making a friend of Mickey's seem as normal as all the kids with diabetes want to be."

AllEars.Net has a section about how to plan for a vacation at Walt Disney World when someone in your party is living with diabetes. Plus, we have updated and complete menus for all the resort restaurants, so you can plan meals in advance.

May 18, 2013

Disney introduces Princess-inspired quinceañera dresses and offers celebrations at theme parks


Following the popularity of wedding dresses inspired by the Disney Princesses, a new collection of special-occasion gowns that hint at royalty has been developed for girls celebrating their 15th birthdays. The Disney Royal Ball Quinceañera Dress Collection debuted this week from Disney Consumer Products and Ashdon Inc.

Similar to a "Sweet 16," a quinceañera is a coming-of-age celebration for Latina girls. It often includes a religious ceremony and a lavish reception with family and friends. During the party, the birthday girl dances a waltz with her father and changes from flat shoes to high heels to signify the transition to womanhood.

"The Disney Royal Ball collection is designed to create a royal statement and a lifetime of memories," said Nick Yeh, CEO of Ashdon Brands, in a press release. "The gowns are fun to wear and fit wonderfully into traditionally festive environments, providing a magnificent and special way for Quince girls to realize their very own princess-inspired dreams."

The debut line features 21 gowns - two styles for each Disney Princess and a special new gown, "la Corona de la Princesa," that will be added to the line each year. Girls can pick from designs that represent the personalities of Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Tiana. Disney's newest princess, Merida from "Brave," does not yet have her own quinceañera gown.


The Disney Royal Ball Quinceañera Dress Collection is available at specialty and formal-wear retailers in the United States and Canada. The dresses come in a range of colors in sizes 0-20 and are priced from $530 to $999. To see all the gowns, view the photo gallery.

In 2007, Walt Disney World added quinceañera parties to its booming party-planning business. Associates at Disney's Catered Events create custom celebrations for these milestone birthdays, which can be just as over-the-top as Disney weddings with Cinderella's glass coach and footmen, a tiered cake and character appearances.

Base pricing starts with a per-person charge for the venue, plated meal with cake, and background music. These fees begin at $85 per person. Enhancing the decor, food, music or more increases the cost, of course.


The venues for the balls so far have been Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Boardwalk Inn & Villas, Yacht & Beach Club Resort, Contemporary Resort, Coronado Springs Resort and the American Adventure Rotunda at Epcot. Guests certainly are not limited to these locations, however. Event planners work with the guests to design dessert parties, private viewings of theme-park fireworks or other special occasions. If you can dream it, Disney planners will do their best to make it happen.

Guests can begin planning a quinceañera at Disneyland by calling 714-520-7072 or at Walt Disney World Resort by calling 321-939-4648.

Through June 7, QuinceañerasMagazine.com is hosting La Corona De La Princesa sweepstakes, offering one reader the chance to win the Disney Royal Ball Quinceañera gown of their choice, a VIP weekend trip for two to Southern California, a $1,000 cash prize and more. The top 10 finalists will receive a Disney Royal Ball Quinceañera gown of their choice and a subscription to Quinceañeras Magazine. For contest details visit quinceanerasmagazine.com/articles/la-corona-de-la-princesa.

May 21, 2013

Tips for kids at Disney World's Star Wars Weekends


Disney fans, who also are Star Wars fans, know that for four weekends in May and June, Disney's Hollywood Studios turns into a mecca for all things related to that galaxy far, far away. As the event has grown, so have the number of things that are geared toward kids.

My children, who are ages 8 and 10, now enjoy the excitement of the special event weekends, but there was one year when my son joined the ranks of the intensely fascinated. That was the year his night-owl parents took him to the theme park before it opened in a bid to get Jake Lloyd's autograph. (You can read about our experience here.)

This year, we had a more casual approach to our arrival time because we weren't seeking an autograph. That was a mistake, though. The Force is not with families who do not line up outside the turnstiles at least an hour before park opening.

The two kid-centric events -- Jedi Training Academy and Padawan Mind Challenge -- require registration, which is available immediately after the rope drop in front of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Theater and ABC Sound Stage, respectively. On Saturday, all 19 sessions of the training academy and two trivia games were filled by mid-morning and the wait list halted at 70 hopeful kids, a cast member told me. So, my top tip for families who have children eager to take part in the Star Wars activities is to plan for an early arrival.

Here are our favorite must-dos for families who want to maximize their Star Wars fun:


1. Legends of the Force Motorcade and Celebrity Welcome -- Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, it's difficult not to get excited when you see this parade kick off. The familiar music and array of elaborately costumed characters create excitement, for sure. Plus, the celebrities and event hosts ride in a motorcade that culminates in a ceremony on the main event stage in front of the Sorcerer Hat. Guests wanting a curbside seat line up for this parade at least an hour ahead of time. We lucked into a spot this year about a half hour before the parade's start that wasn't half bad. Areas are blocked off near the right side of the stage for the parents of kids who are chosen for the parade, but there are spots behind them that line the front of the stage. We could not see the parade from that point, but half of the characters walked past us on their way to the stage, high-fiving my kids, and then we had a decent view of the ceremony on stage. It worked for us.


2. Jedi Training Academy -- Kids ages 4 to 12 learn how to wield a light saber from master Jedi instructors on an outdoor stage next to Star Tours. Once they've mastered the basics, they take a turn battling someone from The Dark Side. Sign-up is required for this event, but the good news is that it is a permanent feature at Hollywood Studios. If you miss it during Star Wars Weekends, the event is available year round. Robes similar to the ones the kids don for the academy can be purchased in nearby Tatooine Traders for about $50, and there is a build-your-own light saber station, as well.


3. Padawan Mind Challenge -- In this trivia contest, kids ages 4 to 11 use their mental forces to keep up with two galactic hosts on the main event stage in front of the Sorcerer Hat. Guest C3PO provides some laughs and encourages the kids as they use their light sabers to indicate answers. Registration is required for this event, which has two afternoon sessions.


4. Merchandise and character photos -- Take time to visit Darth's Mall, the huge merchandise tent that is set up back behind Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Here you'll find limited edition Star Wars items; Star Wars Weekends 2013 merchandise; photo opportunities with Luke, Leia, R2D2, C3PO, and the Rancor; and the "cast yourself in Carbonite" experience that was inspired by a scene from "The Empire Strikes Back." My daughter loved being able to meet Leia and R2D2, who played along when she gave him her princess crown, and my son added to his collection a special Jedi Mickey plush that marks the 30th anniversary of "Return of the Jedi." There also are many character meet-and-greets with those from The Alliance, The Empire and Mickey and pals seen dressed in Star Wars costumes throughout the park.


5. HyperSpace Hoopla! -- End the day by viewing this hilarious dance competition in which Star Wars characters try to outdo each other in a dance-off set to popular music hits. This event has become so popular over that years that guests line up in front of the main stage well beforehand. (See the AllEars.Net Hyperspace Hoopla! video.) Disney also broadcasts the Hoopla on the large adjacent screen at American Idol Experience, and folks sprawl out on the cement to watch. My son and I were among them, and it was a pleasant way to see the show without being sandwiched in between all the other guests.


Let me know your tips for kids at Star Wars Weekends, by leaving a comment below.

May 23, 2013

Disney Pixar's Monsters University inspires merchandise, eye-opening deals


Fans of Disney Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." have less than a month until the prequel, "Monsters University," hits theaters on June 21. In the meantime, The Walt Disney Co. is kicking its promotion into high gear with lots of merchandise and eye-opening deals. Here is a look at the latest from Mike and Sully. (And, of course, AllEars will have team coverage of the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter at Walt Disney World and Disneyland on Friday. Stay tuned for our reports!)


Monsters University Storybook Deluxe app

Disney Publishing has released a new app in its Storybook Deluxe series that is a companion to the upcoming prequel film. Like its counterparts, this animated storybook is interactive, offering kids the opportunity to participate in the story by touching the screen in various ways. They also can choose to read the story themselves or turn on narration.


The app also includes the tools for each user to create his or her own Monsters University ID badge. Kids ages 6 to 10 are invited to take a photo of themselves with their mobile devices or select one already stored there and then "Monsterify" it by adding various effects for eyes, ears, horns and more. That never gets old! There also are five games, but they all work on the same principle: The player must dodge objects on his or her journey to the simulator kid, who must be made to scream.

As I've written before, I think the Disney storybook apps are great portable tools for young readers and Disney fans. On this app, I wish there were more variety in the games, but the badge option is pretty entertaining. Monsters University Storybook Deluxe sells for $6.99 in the iTunes App Store for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad Mini.


Monsters University soundtrack

The "Monsters University" soundtrack is set to be released on June 18 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for $14.99. The 20-song CD features an original score composed and conducted by Randy Newman, who recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Disney Visa Card members can claim a special deal through June 17 -- pre-order a download of the "Monsters University" soundtrack for just $7.99 with their credit cards. The deal is good after the release date, too, through July 31.


Monsters University movie tickets

Disney Movie Rewards members who purchase specific Disney-Pixar DVDs can earn free vouchers for admission to "Monsters University." Members must purchase "Monsters, Inc." 5-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition; "Monsters, Inc." 3-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack; or "Monsters, Inc." 3-Disc DVD Combo pack to earn a $10 voucher. The "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo" DVDs are worth $8 movie tickets when the codes are entered disneymovierewards.com. This offer is valid through July 31.

You also can earn free movie tickets for Monsters University from Kellogg's. Find codes printed inside specially marked cereals and enter them on the Kellogg's Family Rewards website. It takes 6 codes to earn one e-Movie Cash ticket good for a Disney movie. Participating cereals include Krave, Mini-Wheats, Rice Krispies, Apple Jacks, Crunchy Nuts, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops and Crispix.


Monsters University Sweepstakes

There's still time to enter the Monsters University Sweepstakes, which will award a grand-prize trip for six people to Walt Disney World. The vacation includes roundtrip airfare, a stay at Art of Animation resort, 5-Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper, a VIP tour guide for a day and a $650 Disney Store gift card. First prize is a $1,000 Disney gift card.

This sweepstakes is open to Disney Movie Rewards members age 13 and older and ends June 2. Members may enter once for free and then up to 99 additional times by redeeming DMR points or by mailing a 3.5 x 5 postcard with the appropriate information for each entry. (See website for official rules.)

May 24, 2013

SeaWorld's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin opens





Just as it did with Turtle Trek, SeaWorld Orlando is again educating and entertaining its visitors about a particular species by telling a story through the point of view of one animal. This time, though, the experience is more immersive, including a restaurant and other themed areas.

The new Antarctica section of the park opens today (May 24) and its centerpiece ride, Empire of the Penguin, takes visitors on a journey with Puck, a baby penguin. Much like last summer's new TurtleTrek, Empire of the Penguin appeals to its audience by showcasing one animal's battle against nature and then allowing guests to observe the animals in their habitat.

This formula seems to work well, combining cutting-edge technology with the thrill of seeing rare animals up close. TurtleTrek introduced guests to Orlando's first 3D 360-degree dome theater in 2012. Empire of the Penguin offers guests another industry first: wireless, trackless navigation for cars in the attraction.

Each simulator ride car allows guests to choose one of two levels of exploration - Wild Expedition or Mild Expedition - for various degrees of ride intensity. Designers say each version also has multiple variations for a feeling of unpredictability.


"When our little hero penguin learns to waddle and slide, we'll feel what it's like as the car moves and reacts to the storyline. When he takes his first swim or barely escapes danger, our guests will feel as if they're right there with him," said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment creative director.



I rode the mild version of Empire of the Penguin at the media preview of Antarctica and was enchanted by it. The smooth ride offers plenty of surprises and moments to "ooh" and "ahh" during Puck's journey. Morrow said kids are drawn to the brilliant colors and playing hide-and-seek with Puck. My 8- and 10-year-old are eager to experience it for themselves. (Can't get enough Puck? The character meets guests outside the ride.)




Deb Wills rode the Wild Expedition and compared the motion of the ride vehicle to that of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. She said the movements are mostly gentle, but there is a bit more spinning, so those sensitive to motion sickness may want to stick with the mild ride.

Empire of the Penguin is being touted as an adventure that the whole family can experience together, regardless of ride preference. As the mother of a child who does not like thrill rides, I certainly appreciate this planning. There is only one ride queue, so families remain together until it splits just before guests listen to the pre-show and board their simulators. Of course, the vehicles dock at the same location in the penguin habitat and families can see the amazing little birds together. Child swap also is available for Empire of the Penguin.




In addition, the content of the ride is appropriate for all ages. In one scene, Puck is chased by a leopard seal and the music is bit ominous. It's not nightmare material, however. "This is not a scary ride, though there are real animals that behave in real ways," Morrow said.

Any guest who is able to sit unaided can ride Empire of the Penguin. Children who are shorter than 48 inches must be accompanied by another guest. To ride the Wild Expedition, children must be 42 inches tall.




The penguin habitat at the end of the ride really does give guests a bird's eye view of these rare flightless wonders. You'll see about 250 Adelie, gentoo, king and rockhopper penguins swimming, preening and possibly nesting. And you will feel like a penguin, too, with temperatures that hover around 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the enclosure.



SeaWorld educators, such as Senior Aviculturalist Michelle Hartman, line the path in front of the penguins to answer guests' questions. She explained that a new Penguin Up-Close tour will begin in June. The one-hour experience allows smaller groups of guests to interact with the penguins, even petting them and posing for photos, for an additional charge. (Currently, penguin interactions are only available with the Behind The Scenes Tour.)



Finally, visitors can warm up in an adjacent underwater viewing room. The three levels allow for multiple vantage points. This room also will host groups of children, typically Scout or school groups, who book sleepovers.

Food and beverage

The Antarctica section also includes a new counter-service restaurant, Expedition Cafe. Visitors here have a choice of three different cuisines: American, Italian and Asian. Adults will find salads, sandwiches and hot entrees in each restaurant that start at about $9 each. Kids' meals were selected with crowd-pleasers in mind -- fried or baked chicken, hot dogs, spaghetti, lasagna, orange chicken, teriyaki chicken, or pepper steak -- and cost about $6 each.



Hector Colon, executive chef and director of culinary operations, explained that Expedition Cafe also will offer to-go options because "you never want to be without food in Antarctica." These will include snacks such as beefy jerk and trail mix, plus a make-your-own peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich kit for kids.

The nearby South Pole Beverage station has three Coca-Cola Freestyle machines that feature SeaWorld's exclusive flavor, South Pole Chill. It's been compared to a cream soda, and I have to agree with that assessment. Delicious! Guests have the option of purchasing a Cup That Cares for $9.95 or they can create a Cup That Cares -- much like a Mr. Potato Head for penguins -- for $15.95. Both versions contain RFID chips that allow the beverage stations to recognize the user's name and keep track of the number of refills, which it records as a measure of reducing the guest's carbon footprint. In addition, $1 of the purchase price is donated to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.

Antarctica offers both indoor and outdoor seating areas. Those who opt for air conditioning in the Sub-Zero Recreation Center will see a location themed to the scientists who live and work at "the bottom of the world," as SeaWorld bills Antarctica.


Of course, there is a penguin gift shop in this area, Glacial Collections. Surprisingly, Empire of the Penguin does not exit through the shop. At Glacial Collections, guests will find penguin-themed merchandise of all sorts, including plush versions of Puck. At the time of the official opening, though, there weren't many items with Antarctica logos, save for some T-shirts.







After almost three years in the making, Antarctica is poised to be another cool attraction at the park in more ways than one. Antarctica is included with regular admission to SeaWorld Orlando.



May 28, 2013

My family's experience at Walt Disney World's Monstrous Summer All-Nighter


How long could two kids and their parents last at the Magic Kingdom when the theme park was open 24 hours? We set out to find out Friday at the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter.

My husband and I are night owls, routinely staying up until 3 a.m. or later, so that was in our favor. However, both our 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter had a full day of school before we headed to the Magic Kingdom in the afternoon, so they were tired. But they were really excited about the event, so that adrenaline helped fuel their determination to stay awake.

When we arrived about 4:30 p.m., the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot was already about two-thirds full. I wondered if the park would close because of capacity crowds at some point, but we continued to see folks arriving all night.


Guests entering the park were given Monstrous Summer buttons and could collect a special Times Guide for the event. We headed straight into The Emporium to check out the event merchandise because I had hoped to get the kids' the All-Nighter T-shirts. Unfortunately, those only came in adult sizes and only the big sizes were left late in the afternoon. They were offered on DisneyStore.com for three days, though, so I ordered them online as we waited in attraction lines in the park.




After that, we really didn't have an agenda -- just a loose plan of what we wanted to do, based on crowds. And, boy, were there crowds! The Magic Kingdom was jam-packed during the afternoon and evening hours for this special event, which fell on a Friday and the beginning of a holiday weekend. I'm told the crowds were much lighter when the park opened at 6 a.m. and through the morning hours.

We started off by riding the railroad to Adventureland to grab FastPasses for Splash Mountain for my husband and my daughter and to check out the new A Pirate's Adventure. (I'll have a review of that later this week.) Using the FastPass system definitely was key to getting on the popular rides without having hours-long waits. Still, we couldn't help but wish FastPasses were available all night. The system shut down by 1 a.m., and the crowds really didn't thin out until about 3 a.m. Consequently, Space Mountain and other popular rides still had long standby queues well after midnight.


Earlier in the night, we had dinner at Columbia Harbour House, where just about every table was taken. I can't remember the last time I saw the counter-service restaurant so busy. From there, we let the kids decide which attractions they wanted to do. We took a break about 9:30 p.m. to have the special Monsters University-themed Eye Scream Sundaes at the Plaza Ice Cream Shop and watch the Wishes fireworks show.


At that point we decided to get a double-stroller for my daughter and all our stuff. She hasn't ridden in a stroller for years, but we thought she would be the first to get tired and a ride for her might allow our son to stay longer. It was a good call, even for the $31 price tag. Then we headed out to experience more attractions. Shortly after midnight, we met up with Deb Koma and her son. (There were plenty of blog meets going on throughout the park, and AllEars.Net hosted one in the morning.)


By 2 a.m., my kids had caught their second wind, much to my surprise, so we stopped by Disney's Up All Night Dance Party in front of Cinderella Castle and then got in the hour-long queue to meet Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse dressed in their pajamas. It was a long wait, but my son and daughter humored me. My daughter even changed into her own PJs for the photo.


Afterward, the line for Space Mountain finally had dropped to 45-minutes so my husband and daughter joined the queue, while my son and I rode Peter Pan's Flight and The Haunted Mansion. Then, we all stopped by Cosmic Ray's for a breakfast sandwich and made our way out of the Magic Kingdom about 5 a.m. As we were leaving, guests were still coming into the park. We headed out, though, and pulled into our driveway east of Orlando at sunrise.


Was it a crazy night? Absolutely. It was crowded in the park that night, many of the attraction lines were long, and the kids and husband got cranky at times as the hours wore on. But will my children remember the fun of being in the Magic Kingdom all night under the full moon and stars? You bet! That was a timeless memory that's worth a little missed sleep now for the magic they'll recall for years to come.

May 30, 2013

New at Magic Kingdom: A Pirate's Adventure treasure hunt


Going on a pirate's adventure never gets old, does it, mateys?



The creative forces at Disney World are banking on that with a new scavenger hunt at the Magic Kingdom called, not surprisingly, A Pirate's Adventure. Located in a small building on the outskirts of Adventureland, just past the arches connected to Pirates of the Caribbean and across from the Pecos Bill and Tortuga Tavern dining area, is the spot where would-be pirates plot their raids. After a series of simple steps on a touch-screen computer, players will head out on one of five possible quests to help Captain Jack Sparrow locate the Treasures of the Seven Seas. They are armed with a paper map and a "magic talisman" (otherwise known as a RFID-chipped card).




My 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter recently tested A Pirate's Adventure and found it to be a swashbuckling experience of map-reading, hidden clues and entertaining special effects. Each quest is fairly short -- about 15 minutes, if there are no lines -- and easy to solve. Every clue triggers a physical action, from a firing cannon to a moving skeleton, which are fun surprises for all ages. Of course, the wow factor is diminished a bit if players are waiting behind others with the same map who reveal the clues first.



Still, the game allows players to explore Adventureland, taking them to some corners of the land that they previously may not have noticed. And certainly, like other scavenger hunts at Walt Disney World, A Pirate's Adventure offers guests an experience that can be had at their leisure -- in between dining reservations or FastPasses, for example.



That widespread appeal of an attraction for all ages that doesn't have to be scheduled has led to the recent additions of several scavenger hunts in the theme parks. Epcot's Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure was reworked last summer as Disney Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. Guests help Agent P defeat his nemesis, Dr. Doofenshmirtz, by receiving assignments via a mobile phone (instead of a talisman). They, too, are rewarded with physical surprises in the countries of World Showcase.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom debuted a little over a year ago. It's a game of a different sort, though, in which guests use collectible cards to cast spells on Disney villains. The game portals are screens placed throughout the Magic Kingdom, and the game has various levels of difficulty. This game relies more on strategy than physical cues. As such, each guest's experience is different, so those waiting in line won't necessarily have the reveal spoiled for them.

Back at A Pirates Adventure, if guests help Captain Jack succeed in all five missions, they'll be welcomed as part of his new crew.

Here's a video of the game (with spoilers)

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