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September 2013 Archives

September 3, 2013

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit should have a meet-and-greet at Walt Disney World


This week's Limited Time Magic Celebration at Disney California Adventure focuses on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream is featuring a special Oswald-inspired ice cream sundae in a Trolley Car Cup, and stores are highlighting their Oswald merchandise.


Seeing again that Oswald mostly is represented at the Disney Parks in North America in merchandise makes me wonder why he doesn't have a larger presence. Since The Walt Disney Co. regained the rights in 2006 to one of Walt Disney's first animated characters, Oswald slowly has been making a name for himself with a new generation of fans. (Walt drew Oswald between 1927 and 1928 along with Ub Iwerks for Universal Studios.)

Most notably, Oswald has been featured in all three Epic Mickey video games. As such, Oswald is quite grumpy about being forgotten all this time and he's a little jealous of his "younger brother," Mickey Mouse. Still, the rabbit loves to have fun and is funny when he wants to be, and, ultimately, he tries to make the right choices.


With the games' promotion, we've seen Oswald's image appear on more merchandise, including T-shirts, plush animals, watches, pins and even last summer's rabbit-ear hats at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) that later were introduced in the Disney Parks. My son proudly wears his hat each time we go to the theme parks, and inevitably, other guests and cast members will comment, saying how fond they, too, are of Oswald.

Surely, the next step would be to have Oswald as a meet-and-greet character in the Disney Parks. Some Oswald fans have suggested that he be a black-and-white character who adds color, such as his blue shorts, during appearances. What a great idea! That concept reminds me of Animator's Palate on the Disney Wonder; it is an amazing experience to see the animation change from stark black and white to a rainbow of hues.


And it would seem that near the Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet in Town Square Theater at Magic Kingdom would be the logical spot for an Oswald meet-and-greet location at Walt Disney World. After all, there's already a nod to Oswald and the characters' close relationship with a drawing of the pair posted in Mickey's dressing room. At Disney California Adventure, perhaps there is a spot near the rabbit's namesake store on Buena Vista Street.

Given the range of topics Oswald animated shorts covered during the early Disney years, there are a host of other locales that could be used just as appropriately at either the Magic Kingdom or other Walt Disney World parks. Face it: If cute little teddy Duffy and his, well "¦ questionable "¦ historical contributions to Disney's history and lore could lead to him having a meet-and-greet site at Epcot, then surely Disney's original creation deserves the same prestige at one of the parks here, as well.

So, fans of Oswald, tell us what you think! If you could design a meet-and-greet area in the Disney Parks with the Lucky Rabbit, what would it be like? I know we all agree it should have started already.

For a class project, my son assumed the persona of Walt Disney, and he chose Oswald and Mickey as symbols of Walt's accomplishments.

September 5, 2013

'Doc McStuffins' inspires health and wellness tour with free activities for families


The lovable Disney Junior character Doc McStuffins is on the road and soon may be visiting your hometown for some free family fun.

"Doc McStuffins" debuted last year on the network dedicated to programming for kids ages 2 to 7. Doc, whose real name is Dottie, likes to imitate her mother's work as a physician with her own patients -- her stuffed animals. Doc has the magic touch, though, and when she gives Stuffy, Hallie, Lambie and Chilly check-ups, they come to life. The episodes revolve around a wellness theme, and during the show's credits, Doc even gives advice about staying healthy.


Naturally, this theming is the perfect tie-in for The Walt Disney Company's initiatives on healthy living. Specifically, Doc McStuffins has spearheaded the "So Much You Can Do...to Take Care of You!" campaign, which is being promoted by a national tour of the Doc Mobile. The 27-foot Airstream trailer is designed to educate and entertain young kids, with activities such as an area for kids to perform a check-up on their own toys. There also will be age-appropriate health lessons with a focus on nutrition, physical development and fitness.

Doc McStuffins herself will greet fans in select cities along the Doc Mobile tour route. The character debuted at the D23 Expo in August. Stops include:

Friday, September 6
Dallas/Fort-Worth, Texas
Fort Worth Museum of Science & History
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuesday, September 10
New Orleans, Louisiana
Audubon Zoo
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday, September 14
Atlanta, Georgia
Centennial Olympic Park
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuesday, September 17
Washington D.C.
The Yards Park
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Thursday, September 26
Los Angeles, California
The Grove
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday, September 28
Phoenix, Arizona 7:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Community Center

The second season of "Doc McStuffins" debuts Friday, Sept. 6. at 10 a.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel and 4 p.m. ET/PT. Guest voice stars for season two include: Geena Davis ("A League of Their Own"), Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development"), Tony Hale ("Arrested Development"), Molly Shannon ("Saturday Night Live"), Tony Award-winning actress Sutton Foster ("Anything Goes") and Peter MacNicol ("Grey's Anatomy").

September 7, 2013

Discovery Cove deal gives Florida residents more time at SeaWorld and Aquatica


This week, Discovery Cove announced a Florida-resident deal that really is a great value. My family took advantage of this offer last year, and we think it was worth every penny.

Through the end of the year, Florida residents can book the Dolphin Swim Day for $219 per person. That's about half the price during peak times, such as the summer, when visitors from out of state pay as much as $399 per person. What also makes this Florida-resident deal so sweet is that it includes unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park through Jan. 31, 2014, after your day at Discovery Cove.

We spent our day at Discovery Cove in late September for our children's birthdays and then had four months to enjoy Aquatica and SeaWorld. This deal is a great way for locals to sample all the SeaWorld Orlando parks. Plus, the crowds are light, for the most part, which makes each experience all the more enjoyable. We were a little chilly swimming in January, but that didn't stop my 8-year-old and 10-year-old from diving right in and having a blast, that's for sure!

Here's a quick look at what $219 buys:

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive park, which means your ticket provides breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks and alcoholic beverages; wetsuit and equipment for snorkeling; and lockers, towels and sunscreen. Discovery Cove only admits 1,300 guests per day, so the park is never overcrowded.

Guests wade with stingrays (that have been debarbed), snorkel among exotic fish in a saltwater lagoon, feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary, float down a lazy river and relax on white-sand beaches. The highlight of the day for many is, of course, a 30-minute interaction with dolphins that includes holding onto the dolphin's dorsal fin for a short swim. (Florida residents who do not want to participate in the dolphin interaction can purchase a Resort Day pass for $149 and get the current deal with SeaWorld and Aquatica.)


SeaWorld's Aquatica water park is themed to feature sea animals, of course, and its centerpiece attraction is Dolphin Plunge, which takes riders through a tank of black-and-white Commerson's dolphins. There are a variety of tubes and slides, two family raft rides, a lazy river, body-surfing rapids, and two separate kids' play areas. As with SeaWorld, there is an all-day dining option in one of the three restaurants. (You can read more in my review.)

SeaWorld Orlando

See SeaWorld's signature Shamu show, feed a dolphin, pet a stingray, brave some monster roller coasters or play in the kids' area all in a day at the Orlando theme park. The newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, opened in May and features the park's penguins and a ride. The South Pole area also houses a new restaurant, an exclusive Coca-Cola drink, and a gift shop.

Florida residents who opt for the Discovery Cove deal also can experience Halloween parties that include trick-or-treating and Christmas celebrations with amazing decorations and special shows at SeaWorld at no additional charge. This definitely is another selling point because Disney World and Universal Orlando both require separate tickets for holiday events.

Perhaps the only downside to the Discovery Cove deal is that parking is not included for SeaWorld or Aquatica. But the $14 charge is a small price to pay for all you're getting.

September 9, 2013

Disney Parks Moms Panel application process begins today



Get ready, get set, type! The application process for the 2014 Disney Parks Moms Panel begins today, and those interested have until lucky Friday, Sept. 13, to express their interest.

The Disney Parks Moms Panel has evolved from its inception in 2008, but its goal remains the same: to provide vacation-planning advice from adults in families that are interested in and knowledgeable about the Disney properties. For the most part, the panelists' jobs are to answer a number of written questions each week, though there also are some public appearances by the group. In exchange, The Walt Disney Co. provides the selected panelists with a paid trip to one of the Disney properties for training, which is required. In the past, the trip has been scheduled during the first half of December and includes the panelists' immediate family members.

If you are the one all your friends turn to when they plan Disney vacations, this may be a golden opportunity for you! To get started, visit MomsPanelSearch.com this week. If the application process is the same as in recent years, you can expect to answer written questions in the first round. About a month later, applicants are notified whether they have been selected for the next round, which requires submitting a short video and answering more written questions. The final round consists of a phone interview.

Competition for a coveted spot on the Disney Parks Moms Panel is intense -- thousands apply each year and only about 20 new members are chosen. Beginning last year, applicants also were asked to declare a speciality -- Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, runDisney, Adventures by Disney, Disney Vacation Club and youth sports at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The name of a panel, though, is a misnomer. Over the years, dads and grandparents have joined the roster; it's not limited to just moms.

Unfortunately, there is no magical formula to being picked to provide the best answers about the Mouse. I can tell you, though, that several factors weigh heavily in the evaluation process:

** Writing ability. Your application must be flawless, with no grammar or spelling errors or typos. After all, your job is going to be providing written answers for the Disney website.

** Accuracy. Double-check your Disney facts to make sure things haven't changed since your last experience. This will be vital when you are answering questions online for families planning Disney vacations.

** Your personality. Disney is not hiring publicists or copy writers for this panel. Instead, the company is looking for engaging personalities who can express themselves clearly in an enthusiastic way.

Get to know the current Disney Parks Moms Panel at http://disneyworldforum.disney.go.com/panelists.aspx You also can see the types of questions they answer -- which are pretty much about anything and everything!

Good luck to everyone who applies for 2014
. Please let us know how the process goes and if you are chosen to advance in the application process.

September 11, 2013

New Haunted Mansion Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card released at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party


Disney World is giving attendees at its 2013 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties another treat: an exclusive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom spell card.

This is the second year for such a card, which only is given out at the parties that require separate admission. For those who haven't tried Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, which debuted in February 2012, it is a role-playing scavenger hunt throughout the various lands of the theme park. The ultimate goal is for each player to join Merlin in defeating the Disney villains. Participants can start or stop at any point in their day, and even continue the same game on different days if they retain their key cards. (Read more about Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom on my previous blog post.)


The 2013 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party card is a Monster Spell featuring the Hitchhiking Ghosts from the Haunted Mansion. According to Disney World, "Players can use the card to direct poltergeists to scare away any Disney villains they may come across on their journey." The card states it gives the user the ability to use a flying attack, a flying boost and a flying shield. Plus, it triggers a different effect for each quest. Most spell cards only utilize one effect per character. In addition, users with MagicBands say that added to the effects of the spell card.

After the first Halloween party of the season on Tuesday, Twitter users reported that the 2013 cards were gone by 10 p.m. However, party attendees also were reporting that distribution of the cards began about 4 p.m. -- before the Halloween party officially started at 7 p.m. -- for those who already had checked in and had their party wristbands and tickets.

The Halloween Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards are distributed at the Firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A. Last year, there were long lines at the Firehouse location when the party started, which likely is why distribution began early -- to disperse the crowds, just as Disney officials try to do with early admission to the Halloween party itself.


Apparently, when cast members ran out of the 2013 Halloween cards on Tuesday, they began handing out the 2012 version of Chip 'n' Dale. That Animal Spell card gives the mischievous pair a bag of tricks to battle Disney villains.

The moral of this Disney story of the exclusive Haunted Mansion Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards is to get to the distribution location early in the party if the game pieces (and collectibles) are important to you. Happy Haunting!

September 13, 2013

Food trucks to bring favorite Disney Parks, Epcot International Food & Wine Festival dishes to Downtown Disney


This year, fans of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival may be a little less sad when it ends because they'll still be able to find some of the most popular dishes from the event on Walt Disney World property. New food trucks, featuring old and new favorite foods, will be rolling into Downtown Disney as soon as mid-November.

Each of the four food trucks is themed to one of Walt Disney World's parks:

** The World Showcase of Flavors truck from Epcot is expected to feature items from the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, such as Grass-Fed Beef Sliders (new this year), Pierogies with Kielbasa and Lobster Rolls.

Grass-Fed Beef Sliders
Pierogie with Kielbasa
Lobster Roll

** The Enchanted Fare truck from the Magic Kingdom will serve favorites from Disney Parks around the world. Disneyland enthusiasts already are salivating at the promise of Hand-Dipped Corn Dogs being available on the East Coast.

Hand-Dipped Corn Dog

** The Superstar Catering truck from Hollywood Studios will look like an old city diner and offer a variety of meatball options, such as the Lamb Meatball Flatbread with Tzatziki.

** The Namaste Café truck from Animal Kingdom plans to serve Butter Chicken, Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs and Tandoori Spiced Shrimp.

Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs

Foods will be priced between $8 and $15 per serving, with the shrimp and ribs likely to be among the most expensive. Also, the food trucks will accept quick-service credits of the Disney Dining Plan.

"We're very excited, and we expect for the food trucks to be a big hit at Downtown Disney and on Disney property," Walt Disney World Chef James Kleinschmidt told me Thursday. "We do have an existing food truck out at ESPN Wide World of Sports that's used for large events out there. But this is kind of taking the trucks to a new level. "¦ Just the sight of them is going to be amazing."

The four Disney World food trucks will park at the West Side of Downtown Disney, near the Cirque du Soleil theater and House of Blues restaurant, from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays until Disney Springs is completed in 2016, Kleinschmidt said. "We're in deep construction with the island [for Disney Springs]. West Side has the biggest open area, and we have a lot of people funneling through that side," he explained.

When construction moves to the West Side, a dedicated food truck park has been planned for the grassy area adjacent to Bongo's Cuban Cafe, he said. Even after that space has been transformed, the trucks still will have to move each night, as other community food trucks do.

Still, the Disney World trucks largely will remain on property, though Kleinschmidt said there may be special Disney and community events that put the trucks on the road. Expect to see them at the 2014 Marathon Weekend, for example.

"Disney has taken this on to kind of diversify our offerings and be able to be mobile as well," Kleinschmidt said. "It's an ever-growing trend. I was just at a Food Truck Rally this past weekend, and there were 22 food trucks there, which tells you that it's not going away."

Of course, food truck rallies are known for long lines, but as Kleinschmidt points out, Disney World is known for its effectiveness in managing lines. He says he thinks the one-stop dining experience will appeal to a variety of guests. Many visitors already come to different parks for their favorite foods, and soon they will be able to go to Downtown Disney and sample what they were craving. An added bonus: No admission needed!

September 15, 2013

Tour Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland before it opens


The newest addition to the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, Princess Fairytale Hall, opens this week, and it truly is fit for royalty. I previewed the princess meet-and-greet with my family at a recent Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween event, and we were enchanted by the experience.

Princess Fairytale Hall, which has been built in the space previously occupied by Snow White's Scary Adventures, is located just behind Cinderella Castle in what is called the Castle Courtyard. As you would expect of Disney Imagineers, the transition appears seamless. Guests who are not aware of the park's history would be hard-pressed to know the new attraction hasn't always been there.



As families approach Princess Fairytale Hall, they will be able to choose from two queues. One leads to Rapunzel and a "visiting princess" and the other takes guests to Cinderella and her royal friend. The queues begin outdoors in a shaded area that sets the scene with heavily bricked walls and crown-shaped light fixtures that cast a slightly purple glow. Of course, Cinderella Castle and Prince Charming Regal Carousel are visible to those waiting in line outside.



Before entering the hall, guests glimpse the gallery through beautiful stained glass windows. Each has a centered image that depicts a character from the Disney film story of Cinderella. We heard other guests "oohing" and "aahing" over the whimsical designs, and with good reason, given the artistic detail and the historical significance to Disney's film past.





Once inside, guests will wind through several turns of the line. These, too, are decorated in true royal fashion with ornate iron gates, fancy chandeliers, colorful banners and beautiful arches. Most importantly for the royal realm of Central Florida -- there is air conditioning! After the last turn, guests step onto a rich carpet and enter the hall, where they will see portraits of Princesses Aurora, Jasmine, Tiana, Mulan, Snow White and Rapunzel lining the walls.



When you finally reach the front of the queue, be sure to step forward so you can take a look at Cinderella's famous glass slipper, which is illuminated in a special case. What a thrill for little girls and other princess fans!

(Last month, the Disney Parks Blog was giving away three similar Fairytale glass slippers. They are made of 100 percent lead-free crystal and enhanced with a sparkling rhinestone pavé heart. Plus, the 6-inch shoe lights up. Inside the gemstone heart on the shoe is a hidden button that you press to bathe the slipper in blue light. The slipper is available for purchase through Disney Floral and Gifts. It can be added to an arrangement for $127.95.)







Finally, it is time to meet the Disney princesses! A cast member will direct your party into the receiving room associated with your queue. The rooms are organized as exact opposites, with guests standing in a short line before meeting the "visiting" princess and then the "featured" princess. Rapunzel's meet-and-greet (on the left) is decorated in warm tones, while Cinderella's (on the right) is decorated in traditional blues. Both showcase replicas of props from the movies -- from storybooks for each princess to the king's bookends in Cinderella's room.




My daughter met Snow White with Rapunzel and Aurora with Cinderella, and her enthusiasm was not dimmed by the number of times she has already seen her royal friends. I think a large part of the thrill is the feeling that she actually has stepped into a place that the Disney Princesses frequent. We have dined at Cinderella Castle for special occasions over the years and her excitement at being in the very place where the princesses "live" was palpable. She admired everything, and even my son, when he was in preschool, wondered about the daily routines of the princesses.



Speaking of Cinderella's Royal Table, Cinderella will continue to meet with guests at the restaurant between greeting her guests at Princess Fairytale Hall.

Here are a few final tips for visiting Princess Fairytale Hall:

** To find out who the "visiting princesses" are each day, check the sign at the entrance to Princess Fairytale Hall. You also can look at the "characters" section of the My Disney Experience app or the printed daily Times Guide for the Magic Kingdom.

** On the night we previewed Princess Fairytale Hall, the queue for Rapunzel was consistently longer than the one for Cinderella. I'm not sure if this will hold true once the attraction is open, but it just might, given that it will be the only place on Disney property to meet Rapunzel.

** FastPass will be available for Princess Storybook Hall. There will be two FastPass options -- one for Rapunzel and a her princess friend and one for Cinderella and her visiting princess -- available at the distribution area near Peter Pan's Flight.

You can see more photos of Princess Fairytale Hall, which opens Sept. 18, in our AllEars.Net photo gallery and take our exclusive video tour with the Imagineers who worked on Princess Fairytale Hall.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at a media preview of Princess Fairytale Hall. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.

September 16, 2013

More Epcot International Food & Wine Festival dishes and beverages revealed


With less than two weeks until the 18th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins, I have more details about new foods, wines and beers that will be offered.

Members of the AllEars.Net staff first previewed some of the items at a Tables in Wonderland event in July, and you can read about those here. Now, Epcot Executive Chef Jens Dahlmann is sharing more tastes to tempt your palate.



At the Hops & Barley Marketplace, a Griddled Lobster Tail with Garlic Herb Butter replaces last year's lobster claw and is paired with La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Dahlmann said, "It will have the flavors of saltwater and drizzled butter -- and it doesn't get better than that!" I have to agree with him. Chef Marianne Hunnel, who is charged with finding the perfect beverage pairings for Dahlmann's creations, described the La Crema as a "match made in heaven."


In the Africa Marketplace (which has evolved from the South Africa Marketplace of previous years), guests will find a Berbere Style Beef with Onions, Jalapeños, Tomato, Okra and Pap. Though many might find it delicious, this dish was probably my least favorite of all that I've sampled. I'm not a big fan of grits, which is what pap is similar to, and the flavor of the meat just didn't appeal to me.


The Berbere Style Beef is paired with The Wolftrap Red from Africa, which is a blend of syrah, mourvedre and viognier. Deb Wills tried it at the previous tasting and said, "I have had this wine without food before and not cared for it. I tried it again to see how it went with food, and it paired well with the filet." She went on to say that fans of the viognier grape will really want to give this wine a tasting.

This year's new marketplace -- Scotland -- features a Vegetarian Haggis that has foodies and vegetarians talking. Chef Dahlmann described it this way: "It will taste like a beautiful, grainy vegetable patty, almost like the idea of a veggie burger, but we just make it really, really good. We serve it with neeps and tatties, or rutabagas and potatoes, so it is very traditional."


Scotland also will sell a Scottish Banoffee Tart, which is layered with bananas, whisky, whisky toffee sauce and sweet cream and topped with chocolate shavings. If you like the taste of toffee, you won't want to miss this dessert!


Beverages at the Scotland Marketplace include a Loch Lomond cocktail made with Scotch Whisky, Drambuie and Dry Vermouth; a flight of whisky, with the 12-, 15- and 18-year-old Scotch whisky; and Innis & Gunn Beer. "What's really great about the offerings is that guests who have always wanted to try an 18-year-old Scotch but didn't want to commit to a $100 bottle can taste it as part of the flight for $12 or by itself," Hunnel said.


At the Desserts and Champagne Marketplace, festival organizers are introducing Frozen S'Mores, which taste just like you would think. They are made from Nesquik with toasted marshmallow syrup and topped with chocolate, marshmallows and a graham cracker. This is a non-alcoholic beverage that was developed for kids but is sure to be a hit with the young-at-heart as well.


Finally, at the Refreshment Port, which is a permanent location near Canada, guests will find a special version of the wildly popular pineapple Dole Whip. This one is orange-flavored, and adults can add Creme de Cacao White liqueur for a flavor boost. Trust me when I say that you will want to enjoy this treat. What a great combination! Interestingly, the Cherryman Maraschino Cherry is a new product that has no artificial red dyes and is not as sweet as a traditional maraschino cherry. I really didn't notice much difference in the taste, though.

Dole has another new product at the Refreshment Port for the Food & Wine Festival: Pineapple beignets. These will be fresh pineapple rings that are dipped in bread and fried. In addition, the chicken shanks on the stand's current menu will get new sweet-and-sour dipping sauces for the festival.

There will be three Florida beers at the festival: Orlando Brewing Company is creating a brew called Sun Shade Organic Pale Ale just for the festival; the Florida Beer Company will bring its Devil's Triangle from Melbourne; and Cigar City Brewing in Tampa will serve Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale.

"I think I am most excited to get that energy [of the festival] back at Epcot," said Dahlmann. "The cast members get excited, the guests get excited, the promenade has a hustle and bustle. It's the driving energy with the love of food and wine. It's a feeling, not a particular thing. It's my favorite time of the year. It's like Christmas!"

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at a media preview for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.

September 17, 2013

Tips for making the most of your visit to Epcot's Food & Wine Festival



If you think it's hard to prepare a delicious meal for your family and keep everyone at the table happy, try doing it for thousands.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Michael Jenner, operations manager for park events content development, about the upcoming Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Here, he offers AllEars.Net readers a glimpse behind the scenes of such a large event at Walt Disney World and tips for guests on making the most of their time at the festival.

The first day that reservations are open is always crazy busy. What special events associated with the festival sell out quickly and what is still available now?

We sell about 50 percent of our inventory very quickly in the first couple hours on the first day. Our high-end events sell out, so Victoria & Albert's sells out. Our Wine View Lounge and our reserved seating for Party for the Senses has sold out. A lot of our signature dining events -- California Grill, Flying Fish -- have sold out. I would point out that for some of those events, they also are some of the smaller seating capacities. At Citrico's we have 10 seats there, so, of course, that went out. The Hibachi experience at Japan has eight seats and we do it five times, so obviously it sells out very quickly.

But there still are a plethora of events that are available: general seating at Party for the Senses, the Scotland opening dinner, our chocolate dinner, our beer dinner. Online we list what events are sold out. For culinary demonstrations, wine seminars and mixology, we hold back a certain number of those for day-of purchases, so when you come to the park and you're just discovering those events, you can walk up and there might be seats available.

Of the events that are still open at this point, what would you most recommend for a guest who is new to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival?

As a newbie to the festival, you can't go wrong with Party for the Senses. I know the reserved seating and the Wine View Lounge always sells out, but, in my opinion, that doesn't matter. You have 25 food stations and 25 beverage stations, which have at least three offerings, so you don't want to be sitting at any time. You need to be up and moving for that two hours, and you still will not get through all those stations. That is a true food-and-wine connoisseur's heaven.

You can go to every single [party], and it will be different each time. We have different chefs that come in -- Disney chefs and guest chefs -- and they each have their own unique item that they prepare. And we bring in different wineries. The entertainment is the same, the layout is the same, but the food and beverage elements are different for each one. Party for the Senses starts at $145 plus tax and park admission.

Last year's VIP Chef Tours got rave reviews from our readers. Why didn't those events return this year?

The person who made that happen was Chef Jens [Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef], and that was a lot out of his day to escort 10 people around the park. It's better for us to have him oversee the festival and the marketplaces. Really, to do it again, we would do multiple days. To be honest, we just couldn't pull him out of the operation for that long. And then to put another chef or someone else into that role, it's not the same experience. It was a nice "let's try it" but when all is said and done, 60 guests got to experience that. "¦ You never know, it might come back in future years, or at least one-offs. It's more important for us to have Chef Jens on the promenade, overseeing the marketplaces, now, though.

How do you keep the marketplace wines and the foods at the proper temperatures with the Florida heat?

The foods are prepared fresh in the marketplaces. Plus, they are not just little cabana tents. Each marketplace is a kitchen with refrigerators and grills. There is a whole compound behind Germany that we create just for the festival. There are at least 12 refrigerated semi-trailers for all the wines, and they are divided among events. The wines are kept there and then brought out to the marketplaces several times a day, so you don't have six cases of wine sitting in a marketplace waiting to be used all day long. The food items are brought out continuously throughout the day.

Since Epcot doesn't have utilidors (the underground tunnels at the Magic Kingdom), how do cast members at Epcot transport the foods and beverages continuously without being obvious?

We built these cart boxes that hide the food inside of them because you want to protect it from birds, people, etc. They're totally enclosed metal boxes that even have little lights along the top so at night people can see them, and they can see where they're going. It makes it easier and safe for our cast members as well as the guests.

Obviously, it's more crowded on the weekends than during the week at the festival. What tips would you offer for guests whose only opportunity to experience the festival is on the weekend?

Start at the back of the park, by France or Hops & Barley or somewhere back there. I will see at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, the marketplaces at the front -- Mexico, Argentina, etc. -- packed, and then I'll walk down a couple marketplaces and there's no one in line. It's a circle, so just start at a different place. A lot of people go right, even though are marketplaces are numbered the other way. As you get to the Eat to the Beat concert series [at American Adventure], it's busier at that side of the park.

Always use the passport. It's a great way of finding out what's in the marketplaces and what you've missed. You can check what you like and get the passport stamp. Guests using the Festival Center, having the festival guide and the festival passport have a greater experience.

Do guests tend to skip the Festival Center?

They do because they may not know about it. It opens at 9 a.m. with the rest of Future World, but the marketplaces don't open until 11 a.m. It's a great way to start off -- to see our wine seminars or visit our merchandise shop and collect your passport.

How early do families need to find seats at the Eat to The Beat concerts?

It depends. If you want to hit the 5:30 p.m. show, which is often the most popular show, check the line early. Some of the more popular acts have a line start at noon. But you don't have to sit in the theater to enjoy it. You can hear it around the promenade or standing close by, it's a great show.

Can you offer any tips for families who are bringing their kids to the Food & Wine Festival?

Weekdays are the best, if possible, but I know that's hard with kids in school. Or, go on a Sunday. Saturdays are awfully crowded. The Festival Center is good for kids, too. We do a seminar called Authentic Tastes three times a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays where we talk about whole ingredients -- like strawberries, sugar -- and there is a little sampling. Plus, there's the Chocolate Experience, which is phenomenal, and explains chocolate from bean to bar. Ghiradelli will be handing out chocolate samples, and our Disney pastry chefs have each created a chocolate sculpture, which is fun for kids.

I think all the marketplace menus are family-friendly because they're such small portions -- tapa size. Kids can try portions without parents feeling they have wasted a whole entree if they don't like it.

When I was a little kid, we would go to restaurants with buffets, and I was always told I had to try everything. And I loved it! I didn't have to eat it all, but I had to try it. What a great experience! That's what the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is like -- a buffet through all the marketplaces.

September 19, 2013

A family touring plan for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2013






Here's a little trick that will help make Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party more of a treat: Map out a strategy for how you'll spend your time at the party so that you can avoid lines as much as possible and see more of the holiday attractions at the event.

With some additions to the party this year, my family changed our strategy for enjoying all the special Halloween activities only offered at the event, which requires separate admission.



Although the party hours are from 7 p.m. to midnight, those with Halloween Party tickets are allowed to begin entering the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m. If you call Disney World and ask, you will be told that party hours begin at 7 p.m., but this unannounced practice has been in place for years to allow the park to disperse the arriving crowds.

My best tip, especially this year, is to take advantage of the early entry! You can use that time for a number of things, including grabbing a bite to eat or getting transformed at The Pirates League or the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, so you don't have to spend precious party time on non-Halloween events.


We arrived at the second party of the season about 5 p.m. and dedicated ourselves to activities in Town Square. There you will find a great, free photo opportunity with stacks of pumpkins framing a view of Cinderella Castle. We took a quick family photo while it was light out. A PhotoPass photographer is stationed there during the party if you want to purchase a professional photo.




Then, we headed over to the outdoor spot adjacent to City Hall where we knew Jack Skellington and Sally from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" would be greeting guests, beginning at 7 p.m. The pair are new to the party this year, and early reports were that they commanded hours-long lines. (When they appeared at Downtown Disney last year during a Frankenweenie event, the lines had three-and-a-half-hour waits.) We snagged the first spot in line.


We all wanted to see Jack and Sally, but none of us relished the idea of waiting two hours, so I tried to break up the time for my family by multi-tasking. We took turns in different lines, with some of us waiting in line at the Fire Station to collect the new Haunted Mansion card for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. The new card is only available at the party. Distribution began at 4 p.m. at the Fire Station and behind Ye Old Christmas Shoppe for guests who had their party tickets and wristbands. Even if you don't play Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom during the party -- and we didn't -- it's still worth getting the card for another visit.



We also looked at the exclusive party merchandise in The Emporium, when it was taken out at 6:30 p.m., and we had a bite to eat while we sat in line. Although we didn't avoid the long line for Jack and Sally, we chose to do our waiting before the party started so it wouldn't affect our ability to see the fireworks, parade and other shows. The pair didn't sign autographs -- probably to keep the line moving -- but they did hand out a cool autograph card designed just for the Halloween parties. You can see it in the video below:

There are other special character meet-and-greets, too, such as Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in their Halloween costumes in Town Square Theater, Winnie the Pooh and friends in costumes in their regular location, and Snow White and all seven dwarfs near the gates to New Fantasyland.




After seeing Jack and Sally, we moved to what my daughter most wanted to do: trick-or-treating. We headed back to one of the treat trails, which have multiple candy stations, near Splash Mountain so she and her brother could get plenty of sweets. It was disappointing to see that the cleverly carved jack-o-lanterns that were themed to "Song of the South" were missing from Br'er Rabbit's Laughin' Place Candy Patch this year. Also, the treat trail that runs along the walkway between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland was reversed, with its entry near Space Mountain. The Alice in Wonderland decorations were missing from this trail, too. Both trails had fewer candy stations than in past years, which certainly is not a hardship when the candy is unlimited and included in your party admission. It just means you may have to do a bit more walking to fill your treat sack! (Guests with food allergies can exchange their candy from trick-or-treating for other goodies at City Hall.)


Next up: attractions and dance parties. Space Mountain was closed for the first Halloween party of the year because it was undergoing a series of short refurbishments. It was, however, open during the party I attended. The last refurbishment is scheduled for Sept. 23 to 26. Nearby, the new Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball was taking place on the Rockettower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland. The dance party is hosted by "Monsters University" scarers Mike and Sulley, and we saw other "Monsters, Inc." characters, as well. Woody's Happy Harvest Roundup takes place inside The Diamond Horseshoe in Liberty Square.





You definitely won't want to miss Mickey's Boo To You! Parade, Celebrate the Magic projection show and Happy HalloWishes fireworks. The debate is whether to go to the first parade at 8:15 p.m. or the second at 10:30 p.m. (Celebrate the Magic and Happy Hallo-Wishes are only presented once -- at 9:15 and 9:30 p.m., respectively.) To be sure, the first parade is always the most crowded, with folks lining up at least an hour beforehand. If you have young children, this may be the only option for you, but if you can wait, I would recommend it. The second parade is a lot less crowded and you will be able to get some trick-or-treating, dancing and riding attractions done beforehand, which might tire the kids out enough to sit without complaining during the wait for the parade. If you choose to sit near the castle, you will be able to see the Disney Villains' Dance Mix and Mingle, which is performed at 7:45, 8:50, 10:05 and 11:15 p.m. The characters perform on stage and then descend into the crowds for a quick meet-and-greet.




Finally, if all the candy doesn't satisfy your sweet tooth, the Magic Kingdom is offering specialty treats: a spiced pumpkin waffle sundae at Sleepy Hollow, ghost cupcakes at Gaston's Tavern, candy corn soft serve at Storybook Treats, Halloween cupcakes and cookies at Sweet Treats on Main Street, and Hitchhiking Ghost popcorn buckets at the popcorn carts.


Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party requires a separate ticket. Prices vary, depending on date and possible discount. For a full breakdown, see the AllEars.Net resource page.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at its Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.

September 24, 2013

Disney Collection by Vera Bradley launches at Walt Disney World, Disneyland



The wait is finally over for Disney fans who also love Vera Bradley products! The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley, which was created exclusively for Disney Parks, debuted at Walt Disney World on Saturday and at Disneyland on Monday. I was among the lucky writers who got to preview the products at World of Disney on Friday.

The company introduced two patterns -- "Just Mousing Around" with a pink background and "Midnight with Mickey" with a black background -- on eight of its most popular products: Large Duffel ($99), Backpack ($99), Vera ($99), Hipster ($70), Mini Hipster ($60), Smartphone Wristlet ($55), Large Cosmetic ($35) and Zip ID Case ($15).





Mini Hipster




Large Cosmetic and Smartphone Wristlet


Smartphone Wristlet and Zip ID Case

I asked Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of Vera Bradley and chief creative officer, about the significance of the two patterns.

"I think we knew we wanted two patterns. First of all, I have two daughters, and I know whenever I'd buy for them, I'd want to get two colors. You know, you want to get them each something without being twins," she explained. "So I think we felt strongly that there should be at least two colors. And I think one being the dark background is good, a little more sophisticated. And then the girly pink, because I think every little girl loves pink. So, we have the two different looks, but both equally as fun."

Of course, I had to ask which of the new Disney bags is Baekgaard's favorite.

"The duffel in 'Midnight with Mickey'," she said. "It's black, and I wear a lot of black. I think you could carry that and use it for travel. I look forward to walking through an airport and carrying my Disney bag. "

Large Duffel

The new Disney Collection by Vera Bradley is not the company's first collaboration with the Mouse. About 25 years ago, Baekgaard said, Vera Bradley created a Winnie the Pooh collection of baby products. (If you're curious what that line looks like, take a visual tour of eBay and you'll find some of the original pieces.) Vera Bradley introduced a new baby line this year, but it does not feature Disney characters.

Many fans have asked if Vera Bradley will introduce a separate pattern for Disney Cruise Line. Although that is not in the works right now, Baekgaard said, it hasn't been ruled out. The ships do sell existing Vera Bradley patterns, including "Go Wild," "Midnight Blues," "Plum Crazy" and "Jazzy Blooms."

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard


Vera Bradley is the creation of Baekgaard and her friend Patricia Miller, who launched their company in 1982 with $500 and a lot of help from their friends and families.

"I did not go to design school or take art classes. I got married right out of college, had four children in five years, and so I really did not work," she said. "[When] my daughters were leaving for college, I realized we didn't have anything really that was exciting and fun for them [to take]."

"I told my mom we were going to start a company in our basement, and I'd like to name it after her. She said, 'What kind of company?' She wanted to make sure it was something she approved of!"

"When I started Vera Bradley, it was really fun because I had no expectations, no corporate baggage to bring with me. So, I right away asked my friends and family -- luckily I was from a big family -- to help out, which they did. That became our rep organization. I had friends who were schoolteachers and stay-at-home moms, and I said, "Can you go out and sell this stuff?" And they all jumped onboard and did."

Today, Baekgaard works in one of five Vera Bradley buildings in Fort Wayne, Ind., where the company is based. The growth and success of the company have allowed Baekgaard and Miller to pledge $20 million to breast cancer research, and they are close to fulfilling that promise, she said. They chose the cause to honor Baekgaard's Marymount College roommate, Mary Sloan, who died of breast cancer.

"We were dear friends. She lost her mother and grandmother to breast cancer, as well. We are losing three generations [at a time]. We hope to break the chain," Baekgaard said.

Perhaps knowing that sales of Vera Bradley bags contribute to the company's philanthropic goals will influence your decision whether to buy a bag at Disney Parks. Then again, maybe the aesthetic is enough.

"I will carry one of the Disney bags because I think they can be sophisticated AND put a smile on your face," said Baekgaard.


The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley is on sale at Walt Disney World's World of Disney store at Downtown Disney. At Disneyland, the bags can be purchased at World of Disney at Downtown Disney District, China Closet inside Disneyland park, Elias & Co. inside Disney California Adventure and Fantasia at the Disneyland Hotel. At the end of October, the collection will be for sale online at DisneyStore.com.

September 28, 2013

Take a tour of Epcot's private Living Seas Salon


Everyday guests at Walt Disney World may not be aware that there are private restaurants, offices, suites and lounges tucked away among the buildings at Walt Disney World. These spaces are not accessible to the general public and, for the most part, also are not visible to the casual visitor.

The tradition started at Disneyland, of course, with Walt Disney's personal apartment and then Club 33, a members-only restaurant that remains an exclusive dining experience.

Perhaps the most famous hidden -- though by no means secret -- space at Walt Disney World, though, is the overnight suite in Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, which has received overwhelming attention since it was completed in 2006. During the next two years, one-night stays were given away daily to lucky families during a two-year promotion that was widely publicized.

But Epcot, with its large pavilions, is home to its share of fun and fabulous lounges, too. Some have corporate sponsors, such as the Siemens VIP Center that I visited for a media event last year, and others are run by Disney World. The latter can be booked by guests for special events.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Living Seas Salon, which is available for guest rentals. The space has been used for convention groups, weddings, bar and bat mitzvah's, local birthday parties and baby showers, said Janice Reindl, Walt Disney World Catering/Convention Services Manager.






The entrance to the Living Seas Salon is on the right side of the pavilion, where the Coral Reef restaurant is located. A cast member took us into the first-floor lobby, and then we proceeded upstairs in an elevator that offers some magical special effects during the ride. When we reached our destination, the lift opened to a small reception area where offices and bathrooms are located.





But the real show-stopper is visible at the end of a long hallway. There, guests will find a multi-level room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look into the aquarium that most park guests see from other angles inside The Seas with Nemo & Friends. More than 6,000 sea creatures representing more than 65 species -- including dolphins, sharks and stingrays -- swim by the large panoramic windows.





The ocean theme is reinforced with rich wood interior, blue and green fabrics, and shell and fish details. Plus, there is a separate bar area. The main room at the Living Seas Salon can accommodate about 100 people, though Reindl said 84 is ideal with the existing seating for the best viewing of the marine life.

So, how much will it cost you to have a party at the Living Seas Salon?

The venue is priced at $500 plus tax, and your contract includes an agreement to spend a minimum amount on food and beverages. For dinner, that's $5,500 plus 21 percent service charge and 6.5 percent sales tax; the lunch minimum is $2,450 plus the service charge and tax; and breakfast is $1,500 plus the service charge and tax. The minimum amount can include appetizers, a meal, desserts, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The venue fee is a flat rate and is not increased by the duration of the party, though Reindl told me most events last 3 to 4 hours.

Guests also can choose to enhance their experience by adding a jazz trio, character appearances or a visit from Scuba Mickey in the tank for additional costs. For questions or to book the Living Seas Salon, guests can call 407-828-3200.

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About September 2013

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

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