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July 2, 2013

Actors from Disney Channel's 'Teen Beach Movie' kick off Typhoon Lagoon beach party

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Here's a look at the Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party Kick-off In July at Typhoon Lagoon with Garrett, Kent and Chrissie:

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Last week, Disney introduced a new summer beach party at Typhoon Lagoon, and with it, three of the stars of the upcoming Disney Channel original film, "Teen Beach Movie."


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Actors Kent Boyd, Garrett Clayton and Chrissie Fit


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Actors Garrett Clayton, Kent Boyd and Chrissie Fit surprised guests at the water park on Friday when they appeared with a high-energy DJ spinning remixes of retro tunes on the stage by the clock tower adjacent to the wave pool. Joined by other costumed bikers and surfers, the trio made their way into a crowd of mostly kids to dance, hula hoop and toss beach balls.

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Although the stars won't be there every day, "Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party" continues multiple times a day through Sept. 1. (A placard in front of the stage list daily times.) The beach party also offers other traditional summer activities, including relays on the sand, a water balloon toss and a limbo challenge.

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"Teen Beach Movie" is a modern take on classic beach party movies that premieres July 19 on Disney Channel. It stars Ross Lynch ("Austin & Ally") and Maia Mitchell ("The Fosters") as Brady and McKenzie, surfers who take the last wave of summer, one that mysteriously takes them into a classic beach party movie, "Wet Side Story."

Garrett plays the romantic lead in "Wet Side Story," and he and Kent are surfers in the movie who battle bikers such as Cheechee (played by Chrissie) for control of the local hangout. I spoke to the three actors when they visited Typhoon Lagoon about what it was like to make a new kind of musical for Disney Channel.

First, I wanted to know how the young actors identify with characters that are inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s.

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Chrissie explained the process: "To get into character, I really had to get to know the movies we were paying homage to, so I watched 'Beach Blanket Bingo' and 'Gidget.' I got a sense of what it would be like to be a surfer or a biker. Then it was the little things that would make Cheechee special -- her style, her hair, her voice, a little laugh. I think it came together really well."

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Garrett agreed that creating his surfer/teen movie star persona meant finding the right combination of details. "When I first thought about making Tanner, I thought -- without offending anyone -- what does a surfer sound like?" he said. "I drew from Tony from 'West Side Story,' which kind of gave Tanner his heart. ... There are touches from 'Grease' and all these classic and vintage movies with Frankie Avalon. You watch the movies and the delivery of lines, and it's very specific."

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Kent said playing Rascal was a little closer to home for him. "Rascal is a surfer dude who gets in a little trouble. He's kind of really outgoing and he's always doing the crazy, silly things. He's very energetic -- off the walls. Definitely in a group setting, if you watch him, he is just spastic in the way he moves. He has a signature move with the claws out. He likes to make everyone laugh, and I feel like that's a shared quality."

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They may not have firsthand knowledge of beach party movies, but the young actors certainly got to experience a similar tropical locale when they were making "Teen Beach Movie" in Puerto Rico. The beach scenes were filmed at the governor's beach in Fajardo on the east side of the island, and the interiors were built and shot in a studio in San Juan.

"I'm Cuban, so I speak Spanish and that's what I love -- to get lost in the island, the food, the music, the people, the beaches," Chrissie told me. "I saw El Morro [the fortress] when I was in Old San Juan. " We also went to El Yunque. I hiked up the waterfall twice -- beautiful -- and saw the bioluminescent bay. That was unreal. I had never been to Puerto Rico before, but I'd always wanted to go."

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Already, "Teen Bech Movie" and its stars are being compared to the "High School Musical" franchise on several levels. For starters, Garrett bears an uncanny resemblance to Zac Efron, who played the male lead, Troy, in the trilogy.

"I think because no one has seen [the movie], they see that there are four leads and it's a musical and there are resemblances with cast members to Corbin Bleu, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, people assume that, but there is so much more," Garrett said. "I think when people actually see the plot line, they'll see it's worlds apart."

But it's not just the musical genre or the actors' looks that lend themselves to the "High School Musical" comparison. The marketing campaign is considerable: a 10-city mall tour by the actors, promotions at One Direction and R5 concerts, and licensed products in apparel, home décor, fashion dolls, bedding, lunch kits, and school supplies. Clearly, Disney Channel is hoping to create a franchise as popular as "High School Musical."


July 3, 2013

Places for Disney fans to celebrate Fourth of July outside the theme parks

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It's the day before the Fourth of July and, if you're still on the fence about how you and your family will celebrate our nation's birthday, here are a few last-minute ideas for those who want to spend it with fellow Disney fans outside the theme parks.

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground has a full day of events planned for Independence Day, and some are open to the public and other Walt Disney World guests, space permitting. The annual golf cart parade gives guests staying at Fort Wilderness the opportunity to show off their patriotic spirit and decorating skills, and others the fun of seeing an amazing show of creativity.

Participants must register by 5 p.m. July 3 at the Bike Barn for the parade that begins at 9 a.m. July 4. Golf carts will make their way from the Hitch-and-Unhitch area near the front of the campground down Fort Wilderness Trail to Pioneer Hall. Guests and visitors are welcome to line the route to see the procession. At 10 a.m., awards will be handed out at Pioneer Hall, and Goofy, in his finest Fourth of July attire, will be available to greet guests for an hour. Cast members told me that everyone is welcome to attend these events, if the campground is not closed because it has reached capacity. Other facilities, such as the pool and the campfire, are reserved for guests staying at Fort Wilderness.

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Of course, those with dining reservations also are welcome at the resort. In fact, a popular evening is to frequent a Fort Wilderness restaurant for dinner and then wander down to the beach for the Magic Kingdom's Disney's Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky fireworks. This year, Fort Wilderness has added some activities for those waiting for the nighttime show. The Independence Eve Beach Party includes:

5 to 6 p.m.: Beach games
6 to 7 p.m.: Bingo
8 to 8:50 p.m. Beach Party Boogie
9 p.m. Fireworks

Last year, my family attended Mickey's Backyard BBQ, which is an outdoor meal with traditional picnic foods, a live country band and Disney characters. We enjoyed this experience at Fort Wilderness with friends, but it might not be everyone. (Check out my review here.) Afterward, we all watched the fireworks from the beach. The view is somewhat obscured compared to some of the other resorts, but that did not diminish our enjoyment.

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Other years, we have planned dinner and fireworks viewing at the Polynesian and the Contemporary. Here is a look at what they have to offer. All three resorts (plus the Grand Floridian) have the added bonus of being able to see the Electrical Water Pageant. At this late date, it may be tough to get a dinner reservation for tomorrow, but don't discount cancellations. Guests must cancel most reservations 24 hours in advance or pay a fee, so it's worth a call to 407-WDW-DINE. You definitely will need a reservation to get into the restaurants -- standbys are almost unheard of -- and to park at the resorts on such a busy day.

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The town of Celebration, located in Disney World's back yard, is joining forces with MegaCon to host its first Sci-Fi Fourth of July on Thursday. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with DJ Tami and performances by Oliver's Queen and Orlando singer and "American Idol" contestant Jordyn Kane. At 7:30 p.m., participants can compete in a costume contest to win prizes by dressing as their favorite movie-themed characters.

In addition, Celebration's Town Center will feature a KidZone with an assortment of inflatable games for kids and teens, such as a jousting area and bounce houses, face painting and more.

A patriotic celebration begins at 9 p.m. with a tribute to veterans, singing of the national anthem and a synchronized fireworks spectacular set to a Sci-Fi themed soundtrack. Admission and parking are free.

July 6, 2013

Review: Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Breakfast at Disney's Polynesian

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One of the highlights during my family's stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort this week was the Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Character Breakfast. My son was really looking forward to this experience -- which we had never done before -- because he would get to meet with his two favorite characters, Mickey Mouse and Stitch. I was looking forward to sharing the experience with my family and good friends. Plus, I was eager to enjoy my favorite Mickey waffles, too.

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The Best Friends breakfast is served from 7:30 to 11 a.m. daily at 'Ohana on the second floor of the resort's Great Ceremonial House. Our reservation was for 10:30 a.m., and even with the holiday crowds, we were seated on time. Entering the restaurant, the host explained that the word " 'Ohana" means "family" in Hawaiian, and the meal would be served family-style. That started as we passed a kitchen counter and my daughter was asked to carry a basket of sweet breads to the table. She was happy to help, given how delicious the bread appeared.

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A good number of tables at 'Ohana are situated near large picture windows that offer views of the grounds and Bay Lake. (If you're having dinner at 'Ohana close to the time of the fireworks, you may want to request a table near the windows. There is no guarantee that the request will be granted, but the cast members do try to accommodate as many diners as possible.)

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Soon after being seated, our server arrived with a fruit platter and we were offered our choice of coffee, milk and juice. The juice is a smooth blend of passion fruit, orange and guava that is delicious. Then she brought a huge bowl that contained scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits, breakfast sausage and smoked bacon for us to share. There was plenty for the six of us, though our server told us she would bring more of any foods we requested. And then she returned with what I had been waiting for -- a bowl of Mickey waffles. (See prices and more photos of the breakfast on the AllEars.Net menu page.)

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The food, the service and the setting for tropical-themed breakfast were all excellent. But the character meet-and-greet segment of our morning was very much like an Experiment 626 adventure gone wrong.

We had just about finished eating before we saw the first of four characters: Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto. At first, we thought the timing was perfect. My husband and I have been to plenty of character meals at other Walt Disney World sites where we were getting up and down so frequently as the characters arrived at our table that we rarely ate much of the meal as we tried to take photos and arrange autographs.

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It quickly became apparent, however, that this morning's schedule wasn't well-paced, either. All four characters arrived in our corner of the restaurant in quick succession, which meant that guests at most nearby tables were up and trying to take photos at the same time. As anyone who has been to a character meal knows, there is no designed place for taking those photos -- you have to pose in small spaces on the fly. Still, the individual attention diners usually receive at character meals makes them a worthwhile experience for many.

Unfortunately, the character appearances at our Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Breakfast were chaotic, at best. There was only one handler for all four characters -- which a cast member told us is the new Disney World policy -- and that clearly wasn't working well on the day of our meal.

For example, characters appeared confused about where they were supposed to go. At one point, we had two characters at our table at the same time, and neither stayed long enough for me to get photos of both children with each of them. We also saw a character ignore another waiting family, which certainly was not the type of memory Disney strives to create. Having a dedicated handler for each character would have prevented these unfortunate situations.

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Before we left, we spoke to a manager about our experience, and she did bring one of the characters back to our table so we could get the photos we missed. That went a long way toward smoothing things over for my kids, who were at first upset over missed opportunities to meet certain characters or get coveted autographs. (Another downside to the new character handling policy is that often the characters need help signing autograph books. Without a handler nearby to help position books and pens, they sometimes don't pull it off well - such as this particular morning when one character signed his name over the autograph page signed by another character. The mistake left my son in tears until the manager could correct the mistake with a second signing.)

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One aspect of the character experience that did work well was the short parade through the restaurant. Kids were given maracas to shake to the beat of a Lilo and Stitch surfing song as they marched along with the characters, and they all seemed to enjoy the activity.

If 'Ohana means family, then - like in any family -- you often overlook the small things and focus on the positives. Though the character-greeting aspect was disconcerting for the adults at the table, my kids left the restaurant talking about how great it was to see their favorite characters at breakfast. In their eyes, they were still enjoying a tropical South Seas paradise just as they expected.

July 9, 2013

Auntie Kau'i at Disney's Polynesian Resort teaches guests to hula dance and make leis

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Disney's Polynesian Resort offers its guests many ways to be immersed in the South Pacific cultures it represents. For my young daughter, that meant spending time with Kau'i Brandt, better known as Auntie Kau'i, in the first-floor lobby of the Great Ceremonial House each day during our recent stay. At age 81, Auntie Kau'i is a Disney Legend, having been with the Polynesian resort almost since it opened.

She moved from the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1971 to first open the Polynesian show at Disneyland and then a similar show at Walt Disney World. She was the master of ceremonies during the shows and has served as a cultural representative at the resort since its beginning.

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Guests can find Auntie Kau'i in the lobby of the Polynesian five days a week making leis at her table in the corner of the children's area. She is quick with a friendly smile and, when asked, an explanation that the leis she creates from real flowers are given to couples celebrating honeymoons or anniversaries. (All resort guests receive cloth-flower leis when they check-in or go to an activity.) These special leis also can be custom-ordered in the adjacent gift shop for $20 apiece. Auntie Kau'i said she creates about 20 such leis each day, mostly from carnations and ribbons.

My 8-year-old daughter was fascinated with the process of making leis, and Auntie Kau'i offered her and a friend the opportunity to try it themselves with enough cloth flowers to make bracelets. The girls were surprised that the kits contained pieces of Mickey-shaped pasta to use as spacers between the flowers. Now, those are truly hidden Mickeys!

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After serving cookies each afternoon, Auntie Kau'i also teaches guests how to dance the hula. The lessons are complimentary and last about 15 minutes. Women and girls are invited to don grass skirts and are given instruments to play to accompany the ukulele music. During the lessons, Auntie Kau'i and another cast member take turns demonstrating the movements while the guests mimic them. Then, the guests put it all together for their finale. Hula time each day couldn't come soon enough for my daughter -- even with all the competing activities at Walt Disney World.

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Auntie Kau'i, who has been dancing since she was 6 years old, also teaches lessons for two hours on Saturday mornings at the Polynesian resort. These, too, are free, and Auntie Kau'i told me she has many local residents who come regularly. In fact, some of the most dedicated are practicing for the Ho'ike dance competition on July 27 and 28 at the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive. The two-day event features dance contests; vendors selling arts, crafts, jewelry, clothing, fresh flowers and hula implements; and a professional Polynesian production. Tickets can be purchased online at hoikehawaii.com.

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Auntie Kau'i clearly enjoys representing her culture on the mainland. When she was interviewed for an article in "Eyes and Ears," a Disney World cast member publication, Auntie Kau'i said, "I think I have the greatest job on earth. It is a lot of sharing [of her culture], and that is what it [aloha] is about."


July 11, 2013

Review: Spirit of Aloha luau at Disney's Polynesian Resort

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During my family's recent stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World, we had the opportunity to attend the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, which is modeled after a traditional luau. Although I have been to an authentic cultural feast in Hawaii, I was looking forward to experiencing Disney World's long-running version for the first time.

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Category 1 luau seating

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Categories 2 and 3 luau seating

The event begins when the check-in opens at the Great Ceremonial House about 45 minutes before show time. The luau is offered twice each night -- at 5:15 and 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In general, seating is based on the category of table you select when you book the luau. For example, we paid for Category 1 seats (the most expensive) and were in the second tier of tables off to the side of the stage. A cast member told me the front row and the center tables were released to those who checked in before me. So, checking in as early as possible is key for getting those seats.

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Also, getting to the lobby early means you're less likely to have a long line ahead of you for the professional group photos being taken there. There is no obligation to purchase the photos, so why not get a shot of the family wearing leis in front of the waterfall? A PhotoPass photographer will bring prints of the photo to your table at the end of the meal. One package is offered: a 5 x 7 and four 4 x 6 prints of your group, plus a stock photo of the luau performers, for $35. We chose to buy the package, even though it was expensive, and my husband appreciated that I stopped asking him and the kids to pose in front of the waterfall afterward!

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After photos, guests can wander back from the Great Ceremonial House to Luau Cove, a short walk along the waterfront and beside the beach toward the Grand Floridian. Once seating begins, it moves quickly, but there is quite a queue in the beginning. A hostess explained that the meal is served family style, so we should ask if we would like more of any of the foods brought to our table. Also, she said, kids meals could be ordered separately (at no additional charge).

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The appetizers were waiting for us at our table: pineapple-coconut bread, mixed greens with honey lime vinaigrette, mango slaw, soba noodle salad and fresh pineapple. My husband and I enjoyed trying each item, but our young kids zeroed in on the bread and waited to see what was coming next.

Unfortunately, that's when our experience really went off course. It took our server at least 15 minutes to stop by to take our drink orders, and he was very rude and rushed in that first interaction. The inappropriate behavior continued when we tried to ask for more pineapple and bread and order a kids meal for my 8-year-old daughter. I have never been treated so poorly by a cast member in all the years I have been going to Disney World, and I was shocked at how he was behaving. So, as the stage production was beginning, I left the table to find a manager and ask for another server. That took quite some time, and the manager was of no help, either, stating that he could not reassign our table to another server. He offered no solutions himself.

So, I headed back to my table disheartened and angry that I would have to continue dealing with our server for the two-hour experience. There was no incentive for his behavior to change because the gratuity is included in the price of the luau, which is expensive, even with the inclusion of alcoholic beverages. The total for our family of four was about $250. (See full pricing information on the AllEars.Net resource page.)

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By now, I had missed the set-up for the show, so I had no idea what was going on, and the main courses already had appeared at our table. They included Aloha pulled pork, BBQ pork ribs, roasted chicken, jasmine rice with nori and a vegetable medley. My 10-year-old son was happy with the ribs, and my daughter settled on baked chicken nuggets. My husband and I tried each of the dishes, but weren't overly impressed with any of them.

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We tried to focus on the dinner show, which tells the story of Auntie Wini hosting a fun-filled luau to welcome home one of the local girls who has been living on the "mainland." It moves along slowly, but seeing the Hawaiian Wedding Song and the Birthday Hula performed are fun touches. Audience members are invited to join the professional dancers several times near the stage.

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The main attraction, however, is the final third of the show, which features traditional dances from Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Hawaii. The dancers and the costumes are mesmerizing, and who could look away when the Samoan fire knife performer takes the stage? A dessert of warm pineapple bread pudding with caramel sauce is served during this act, and we found it to be the best part of the meal.

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Still, our server's behavior, though out of character for most Disney cast members, certainly affected our evening and left my husband and I with little spirit of aloha (which means love in Hawaiian). We walked out of the open-air restaurant feeling like the dinner show was overpriced for what we received. Our kids weren't as aggrieved as we were, so perhaps the show is best recommended as a tropical -- though expensive -- diversion for youngsters after a long day in the theme parks. Aside from this, though, it's hard to think that our family will be saying aloha to this show again any time soon.

July 16, 2013

Disney on Ice: Princesses & Heroes tickets on sale for Orlando dates

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One of the longest-running and popular Disney On Ice productions, "Princesses & Heroes," is returning to Orlando in September, and tickets went on sale this weekend.

Feld Entertainment describes the show this way: "Join Ariel as she yearns to explore the world above the waves and Prince Eric breaks Ursula's slithering spell to reclaim his one true love. See Prince Philip defeat the evil Maleficent as she transforms herself into a fire-breathing dragon in a race against time to rescue Sleeping Beauty's Aurora. Be there to discover a whole new world with Jasmine and Aladdin. And, watch in awe as the dreams of Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Rapunzel and Tiana all come true."

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It would appear that "Princesses & Heroes" has been slightly reworked since its inception in 2006 when my family saw it at Amway Arena. Back then, it was called "Princess Wishes: Princesses & Heroes." Rapuzel and Tiana were not part of the show because their animated movies had not yet hit the theaters, and they had not been named official Disney Princesses. Clearly, their overwhelming popularity has earned them roles in the production, replacing Mulan.

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In addition to beloved Disney characters, guests also can expect to see plenty of special effects -- from pyrotechnics when the dragon breathes fire to laser lighting to amazing acrobatics and tricks by the professional skaters.

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One of our favorite numbers was The Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea" because the upbeat song brings all of Ariel's friends out on the ice. Plus, a few lucky audience members were chosen to ride in a boat on the ice. (That might be a reason to splurge on the front-row seats!) And don't get up to go to the concession stand during Cinderella's story or you will miss her beautiful coach, which prompted "oohs" and "aahs" at our show.

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Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell serve as presenters between the princess segments, creating seamless transitions. The production lasts about two hours and 15 minutes, which includes an intermission.

Disney On Ice: Princesses & Heroes takes place at Amway Center at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Sept. 14; and 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 14. Prices range from $8 to $55 plus fees per ticket, and everyone 2 years and older is required to have a ticket.

Looking for a discount? Audience members who sign up to be a preferred customer at DisneyOnIce.com can receive advance notice of tickets and exclusive offers.

July 18, 2013

What makes Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon water park unique

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With its almost year-round warm weather, Central Florida is a natural location for an abundance of water parks. However, even though many places charge similar admission prices -- about $50 per day -- not all water parks deliver the same experience.

Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach certainly are among the best-themed with the creative back stories Imagineers are known for and the rich details embedded in the slides and landscapes. We have been going to both water parks since my children were babies and have thoroughly enjoyed each park in its unique way. And it's important for first-time visitors to understand that, though both Disney water parks offer fun ways to cool off in the Florida sun, each is different in ways that go beyond their themes. (See tips for families in my previous article.)

Recently, my family and I spent a day at Typhoon Lagoon. From the family raft rides to the lazy river, from the play areas for toddlers to the downhill tube slides, many of the park attractions there were similar to what you might find at Blizzard Beach. Yet others were not.

Here are some of the unique aspects of Typhoon Lagoon that are different from Blizzard Beach.

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1. Crush 'n' Gusher: Disney's first water coaster opened in 2005. This thrill ride propels visitors up and down hills on three separate flumes before plunging tube riders into a pool. (The same technology later was used on Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy to create the AquaDuck.) Riders can choose to go solo or partner with up to two others at a time on Crush 'n' Gusher. A cast member told me that the triple-rider rafts go the fastest, which makes sense because of the additional weight. There is a minimum height requirement of 48 inches.

Those who can't -- or won't -- ride the water coaster can hang out near Hideaway Bay, which is the pool Crush 'n' Gusher empties into. One half is open to swimmers. It's a zero-entry pool that's perfect for little ones to splash in without the crowds or waves of the big surf pool.

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2. Surf pool: Speaking of the surf pool, the centerpiece at Typhoon Lagoon is a 2.5-acre pool with varying wave patterns. The gentlest waves roll in, letting swimmers bob up and down, while the 6-foot waves are forces to be reckoned with. Both are fun experiences, but be sure to keep young children well-supervised in the surf pool.

Though Blizzard Beach also has its own wave pool, the surf pool at Typhoon Lagoon is much larger, the waves are more natural and the central location of the pool in the middle of the park offers a much better overall setting from which to enjoy the attraction and plan your day's activities.

On Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings before Typhoon Lagoon opens, surf lesson are conducted in the pool. The lessons include a half-hour of land instruction and 2.5 hours in the water. The class is limited to 13 students and two instructors. The cost is $150 per person, which does not include admission to Typhoon Lagoon after the surfing lesson. Other family members, however, are allowed to enter the water park to watch the surf lessons. Surfers must be at least 8 years old to participate.

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3. Shark Reef.
Swim with leopard and bonnethead sharks, stingrays and schools of blue tang fish (like Dory from "Finding Nemo") in this man-made reef. Guests are provided with snorkels, masks and life jackets at no extra charge for a short swim across the saltwater pool. This is a great introduction to snorkeling, and my whole family has enjoyed it. Guests must be able to float across the 10-foot-deep pool themselves, and lifeguards do not allow swimmers to turn around once they have started. The sharks are nothing to fear, though, because they are passive and stay at the bottom of the reef. The water is kept at 68 degrees, so it is a little chilly, but it's not uncomfortable once you are moving.

Snorkelers who want to explore Shark Reef further can rent a SAS (Supplied-Air Snorkeling) system at Hammer Head Fred's Dive Shop and be admitted to the other side of the pool. No certification is required to participate. The cost is $20 per 30 minutes.

A third option is available to those who want to see the marine life without getting wet: The reef is divided by an overturned sunken tanker with viewing portholes.

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4. Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party:
Through Sept. 2, guests at Typhoon Lagoon can join a beach party four times a day -- usually at 11 a.m. and 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m. -- near the surf pool. To promote Disney Channel's "Teen Beach Movie," the water park has planned the gatherings that feature a high-energy DJ spinning remixes of retro tunes and activities such as hula hooping, tossing water balloons, sand races and limbo challenges. Costumed bikers and surfers (mimicking those in the movie) will interact with participants. My 8-year-old daughter is always drawn to these types of parties and was excited about this Limited Time Magic event at Typhoon Lagoon.

Last month, I was invited to experience the kick-off of the Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party when actors Garrett Clayton, Kent Boyd and Chrissie Fit visited Typhoon Lagoon. Hopefully, you'll feel like you were there, too, when you watch the AllEars.Net video of the Teen Beach Movie stars here.

These differences, of course, don't mean that you'll have more fun at one park over the other. Both are enjoyable in their own unique way, and Blizzard Beach has its own one-of-a-kind attractions, as well. What both Disney water parks share is a chance to beat the heat, make some waves and have a blast - before the summer afternoon thunderstorms strike.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for my most recent experience at Typhoon Lagoon. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my story.

July 20, 2013

SeaWorld Orlando releases 4 rehabilitated manatees at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

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On Thursday, my 8-year-old daughter and I felt like we had stepped onto the set of the television show "Sea Rescue" when we witnessed a SeaWorld Orlando team release four rehabilitated manatees into the wild.

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Although many people know that SeaWorld entertains and educates people through its theme parks, another goal of the company is to rescue and help ill, injured or orphaned marine animals. And that's where these special manatees come in. Three of the sea cows -- Pipsqueak, Nitty and Braille -- were rescued at different times last December after becoming trapped in a mosquito impound in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. They were suffering from mild cold stress, which is similar to frostbite in humans.

The fourth manatee, Asaka, was brought to SeaWorld by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) in March after rangers found she had buoyancy issues and needed treatment for wounds caused by a boat's propeller and skeg.

For the SeaWorld team, rehabilitating marine animals is a labor of love, and it's also labor-intensive.

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Pedro Ramos-Navarrette (right)

"It takes a lot of work " especially if they're orphans, it's 24/7," said Pedro Ramos-Navarrette, superviser of Animal Care at SeaWorld Orlando. "We do bottle-feeding every four hours, so we've got crews that are in from 3 a.m. for the first bottles and some stay as late as midnight to do the last bottles. Sometimes you have to tube-feed them because the animals are dehydrated. Some need antibiotics that are prescribed by our veterinary staff."

For this quartet, the work paid off. Ramos-Navarrette said, "They've responded very well to the treatment. All four animals have put on weight -- we weighed them again this morning -- and their exit weights show they have gained anywhere from 65 to 220 pounds [each]." Each manatee now weighs more than 400 pounds.

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Typically, once SeaWorld's veterinary staff clears an animal for its return to a natural habitat, it's up to the FWC to schedule the time and place for the release. This time, the agency chose Eddy Creek, which is located in Mosquito Lagoon along the Canaveral National Seashore near Kennedy Space Center. It's part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where the manatees originally were rescued.

"Usually [they] try to find an area close to or in the same water system that [the animals] came from because it's a known area to them for food availability. It's just more familiar territory," said Ramos-Navarrette, who has worked at SeaWorld for 23 years.

The nearby Indian River Lagoon, which runs along 40 percent of Florida's east coast, has come under scientific scrutiny this year because a record number of manatees, dolphins and pelicans living there have been found dead -- and no one knows why. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated the manatee deaths an Unusual Mortality Event, clearing the way for help from the federal government in determining the cause.

The puzzling and potentially dangerous phenomenon in the Indian River Lagoon shows just how important SeaWorld's mission can be for marine wildlife.

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Like other animals SeaWorld has rescued, Pipsqueak, Nitty, Braille and Asaka have been implanted with chips so they can be identified if they have to be rescued again.

"If we see them again, it means it's because they're in trouble again, so we really don't want to see them again," said Ramos-Navarrette.

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Before their release, the manatees traveled two-by-two in trucks from SeaWorld to Eddy River, and then each was carried to the shore on a stretcher manned by eight people. After some last measurements were taken, it was time for the final farewell. All four manatees were carried to the water simultaneously and allowed to swim out into the river. A couple stayed in the area for the next hour, surfacing occasionally, presumably reacquainting themselves with their former home.

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Ramos-Navarrette said the release was bittersweet. "You've gotten this animal that was at death's doorstep " healthy again and you send him back out. " This is the good part of the job when we get to put them back out."

For my 8-year-old daughter, who plans to one day be a marine biologist (and dolphin trainer!) this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a release up close. She said, "I loved seeing the manatees up close, and I really wanted to pet one. It looked a lot like the 'Sea Rescue' show when they used the stretchers to take them to the water. I was surprised they didn't use their boat named Moose."

She wants other kids to know they can help protect marine animals by taking simple steps. "People shouldn't litter on the beaches and the ocean because the manatees and dolphins can get hurt. Manatees are friendly and fat. They need our help."

July 23, 2013

Radio Disney kicks off TRYathalon tour; DisneyXD to air competition in August

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Radio Disney kicked off a national tour this weekend designed to bring the fun of DisneyXD's TRYathalon to kids across the United States. Orlando is one of the upcoming stops, and kids are invited to come out to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at 10 a.m. Aug. 31 to experience it.

Part of Disney's "TRYit" campaign planned to inspire kids and families to try a variety of new foods and exercise, the TRYathlon Road Tour features competitive challenges to encourage physical activity and to highlight nutritious foods needed to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Event activities include the Hoop It basketball challenge, Build It shape building challenge, Kick It soccer goal competition, Plate It nutritious meal creation and Dance It interactive activities with prizes from the Radio Disney Road Crew. Participants at each stop can enter to win a runDisney Vacation for four at Walt Disney World.

Other tour stops are in Philadelphia, July 27; Chicago, Aug. 31; Boston, Sept. 7; Dallas, Oct. 19; Atlanta, Oct. 26. Radio Disney expects to add more stops.

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Radio Disney's TRYathlon Road Tour is based on Disney XD's TRYathalon, which is in its second year. The competition pairs Disney XD and Disney Channel actors with kids viewers. This year Leo Howard and Olivia Holt ("Kickin' It"), Calum Worthy ("Austin & Ally"), Jake Short ("A.N.T. Farm," "Mighty Med"), Spencer Boldman ("Lab Rats") and Bradley Steven Perry ("Good Luck Charlie," "Mighty Med") team up with three student athletes and contest winners. The competition will air at 9 p.m. ET Aug. 12 and 19 on Disney XD and is hosted by Hal Sparks and Tyrel Jackson Williams ("Lab Rats").

Beginning Aug. 13, NBA superstar Dwight Howard and White House chef Sam Kass each will host a series of "TRYit" interstitials on Disney Channel and Disney XD. Howard will teach viewers new exercises to stay in shape, and Kass will give kids and families tips on healthy eating and preparing recipes. "Disney TRYathlon" stars and "Lab Rats" actor Billy Unger will join Howard and Kass in Disney's "TRYit" interstitial series.

Kids can get involved with the "TRYit" campaign at home by tracking online the new health-conscious actions they've taken. Disney hopes to record 1 million "TRYit" actions. On July 29, DisneyXD.com/TRYit also will launch a web game in which users can test their skills in three "Disney TRYathlon" challenges.

Families who are visiting Walt Disney World during the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring can taste foods that Disney chefs have earmarked "TRYits" for kids. This is a great way for families to experience the festival together and to get kids to sample foods they may not otherwise be tempted to taste. My 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter spent an afternoon this spring in World Showcase sampling the TRYits, and they really enjoyed the experience. You can read about our journey here and the video is below.

July 25, 2013

You're invited to Tour de Turtles kickoff near Disney's Vero Beach Resort

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Disney's Vero Beach Resort will help kick off Tour de Turtles 2013 at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and the public is invited to watch the beginning of this truly amazing race.

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Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is a fun way to learn about the long migration of sea turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Tracking is done through satellite telemetry, with transmitters sending signals each time a turtle surfaces to breathe. Those who follow along at tourdeturtles.org will be exposed to the science and geography of sea-turtle migration. At the same time, researchers hope to gain more knowledge about the migratory practices of the endangered species because so much still is unknown.

This is the sixth year for Tour de Turtles, and 11 sea turtles, representing five different species, will be participating. They leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Vero Beach, and will be tracked for three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.

In addition to the education and research components, Tour de Turtles also raises money for additional research and conservancy efforts through sponsorships of each turtle. Several branches of The Walt Disney Company have been annual sponsors of Tour de Turtles: Disney's Animal Program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

Individuals can contribute, too, by adopting a turtle and its cause. A secondary competition among the turtles on the migration marathon focuses on how much money they can raise for separate causes. A donation of $30 ($40 outside the United States) to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) comes with a personalized adoption certificate, a logo decal, a colorful magnet, STC's Sea Turtle Conservation Guide and a one-year subscription to the Velador, STC's newsletter.

The website, tourdeturtles.org, offers extensive lesson plans and resources for teachers, as well as online games, quizzes and puzzles for kids.

If you can't make it to the start of Tour de Turtles and your family is interested in sea turtles, consider signing up for one of the Guided Sea Turtle Walks that take place in June and July each summer on the same stretch of beach. The Sea Turtle Conservancy offers these walks through the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge to give participants the chance of seeing a nesting loggerhead sea turtle.

The walks fill up quickly because of the limited space (22 people per night) on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Reservations typically open up online at http://www.fws.gov/archiecarr/turtlewalks.html on May 1. Cost is $15 per person for the walk that takes place between 9 p.m. and midnight. Participants must be 7 and older and able to walk a mile on the beach.

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Can't wait to plan a vacation to include a sea turtle-related event? Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a Disney Vacation Club property. For a primer on how DVC works, see the AllEars resource page here.


July 27, 2013

Disney Cruise Line celebrates Halloween on the High Seas

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My family and I enjoyed sailing aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship last year at Christmastime, and that journey made the holiday a unique occasion. But as much as I love Christmas, Halloween always has been my favorite holiday at Walt Disney World, thanks to the trick-or-treating fun of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

So imagine how excited I was to hear about DCL's recent news that the cruise line is bringing a similar family friendly Halloween event to its floating properties, too, as it launches Halloween parties and activities aboard its ships this year.

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The Disney Dream will see the largest share of spooktacular activities, but there will be elements on each of the other three ships in the Disney fleet, too. Beginning Sept. 22, Halloween on the High Seas will be celebrated aboard the Dream. The entertainment, as described by DCL, includes:

** Mickey's Calling All The Monsters Mouse-Querade Deck Party, a celebration in addition to Pirate Night with games, dancing and Disney characters in Halloween costumes.

** A Nightmare Before Christmas-Sing and Scream, an interactive movie experience where guests are part of the action, followed by a meet-and-greet with Jack Skellington and Sally. (A Jack and Sally meet-and-greet last fall at Downtown Disney in Orlando was hugely popular.)

** Haunted Stories of the Sea with a mysterious sea captain storyteller.

** Creepy Cabaret with performances by ghostly musicians and a Villainous Takeover on the dance floor in the adult nighttime district.

** Mask-making, pumpkin-carving and a Disney villain takeover of the ship announcements.

** Elaborate décor including a Halloween Tree that transforms throughout the cruise.

The Dream alternates 3- and 4-night itineraries. Halloween on the High Seas takes place through Oct. 31, excluding the Sept. 29 sailing.

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The other three ships -- Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder -- will offer passengers some tricks and treats that debuted on DCL in 2012. These include:

** Costume parties -- Disney characters will get dressed up for this Halloween party, and guests are invited to, as well. Expect live music, dancing and candy! Adults will have their own party and costume contest in the nighttime entertainment district.

** Spooky movies -- Halloween-themed movies will be shown in Buena Vista Theatre, on Funnel Vision by the family pool and in guest staterooms.

** Ghoulish Delights: Disney Cruise Line chefs have conjured some very special treats for Halloween, including chocolate cake with pumpkin filling, spider cakes and "Witch's Brew."

Halloween entertainment begins Sept. 21 on the Fantasy; Sept. 28 on the Wonder; and Oct. 27 on the Magic, when it comes out of drydock.

And here's something that's more of a treat than a trick: Passengers on the October sailing of the Magic not only will experience the Halloween activities, but also all the new water features -- The AquaDunk, a three-story body slide; the AquaLab; and Nephews' Splash Zone. Plus, the kids club has been redesigned with an Avengers theme; restaurants have been re-themed; and the adult clubs have been re-imagined. Read more about the Magic's changes here.

July 30, 2013

Captain Cook's at Polynesian Resort serves many of Disney World's most popular foods

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I'm pretty sure the most important thing you need to know about Captain Cook's Snack Company at Disney's Polynesian Resort is that it sells Dole Whips. (Yes, there is a place outside the Magic Kingdom where you can get that popular pineapple dessert!) But you might not be aware that some equally popular Disney foods can be found at Captain Cook's, too.

First, the skinny on the Dole Whips. For years, the only place to find the frozen, soft-serve concoction was at Aloha Isle in Adventureland. Though the stand is not heavily advertised, you know it when you see the queues, which rival some lines for popular rides. Clearly, Dole Whips have a cult-like following. Aloha Isle sells pineapple Dole Whips in a cup ($3.79) or as a float with pineapple juice ($4.99).

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When Captain Cook's was renovated in late 2006, a Dole Whip machine was installed. The beauty of this addition is that customers help themselves after paying for the bowl. There is only one size bowl and the price is comparable to those at Magic Kingdom. (Pineapple floats are not available at this location.) During our stay at The Polynesian, we saw some very skillful Dole Whip architects getting the most for their money.

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If Dole Whips aren't reason enough for you to pop into Captain Cook's, consider two other Disney favorites on the breakfast menu.

Tonga Toast, which has its own share of passionate fans, is served at the quick-service counter in Captain Cook's. For those who have never heard of Tonga Toast -- gasp! -- it's a thick sourdough bread stuffed with bananas that is lightly fried and topped with cinnamon and sugar. Tonga Toast has been served at the Polynesian since the resort opened in 1971.

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And my absolute favorite breakfast food, a Mickey waffle, is available in several varieties. A kid's meal offers two smaller Mickey waffles with yogurt and seasonal fruit. A large Mickey waffle can be purchased with or without strawberry topping. Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 11 a.m.

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Big deal, you say? Mickey waffles are served across Disney property. They are a signature food, after all. That is true. But most of the places where Mickey waffles and Tonga Toast are served require reservations because they are table-service restaurants. This also means your meal is likely to be more expensive. I like knowing there is a spot where I can pop in at my leisure without a lot of planning and be served the Disney foods I love.

During slower periods, you may be able to park at the Polynesian if you tell the parking attendant you are going to Captain Cook's. At busier times, it may be necessary to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and walk or ride the monorail to the resort.

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About July 2013

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

June 2013 is the previous archive.

August 2013 is the next archive.

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