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October 1, 2013

Step into a cranberry bog at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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Before this year, I hadn't really given much thought to how cranberries make their way from farms to my Thanksgiving table. But after stepping into more than 1,000 pounds of the fruit at Walt Disney World, I was curious.

Ocean Spray's cranberry bog is back at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for the third year, and if you've attended the festival, you've probably walked right past it on the central walkway leading to World Showcase.

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Cast members in waders stand knee-deep in the colorful bog, demonstrating how rakes are used to turn the fruit during wet harvesting. Cranberries actually grow on long vines in marshy areas, not underwater as some people might think. The night before the harvest, growers flood the area with up to 18 inches of water. Then, they use the rake-like tools to loosen the cranberries, and the fruit floats to the surface.

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So, what you're seeing at Epcot are the loose cranberries floating in water -- the final step of wet harvesting a crop. (Cranberries also can be picked dry, which is done with large machines that comb the berries off vines.) The festival schedule of September through November coincides with the annual harvest of cranberries in North America.

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On the opening night of the festival, Ocean Spray hosted a reception IN its cranberry bog for media, which I attended. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but it sounded like a unique opportunity I didn't want to miss. When it was my turn to enter the bog, I was given red knee socks (cute!) and asked my shoe size. Apparently the one-piece waders are sized according to the boots. Ladies, don't you wish all clothing was sized in that fashion?

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Once I slipped on the overalls, it was off to the bog. It was somewhat surreal to be standing in the midst of waves of cranberries as Epcot visitors stopped to ask questions and take photos. The waders kept me completely dry -- until the rain started -- and moving in the water was not difficult.

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In fact, Deb Wills and I were invited to sample foods made from cranberries while standing in the bog. To represent United States cuisine, we were served Seared Free Range Chicken with Craisin Moonshine Pearls and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Craisin Ketchup. Both were delicious! Deb also interviewed Disney chef Damon in the bog about the versatility of cranberries:

And we explored the many culinary uses of the fruit, too. Outside the bog, we tried cranberry dishes from other countries: Cranberry & SeaSalt Cured Wild Salmon with Maple Sugar Crystals and Craisin Glazed Pork Belly with White Cheddar Maple Grits from Canada; Artisian Cheese Stuffed Mini Craisin Brioche and Craisin, Bacon and Brie Potato Gratin from France; Craisin Infused Five Spice Char Kobe Beef with Sriracha and Craisin Vegetable Fried Rice from Japan; Mole Shrimp Quesadilla with Cranberry Salsa and Pulled Chicken Craisin Tamales from Mexico; and English Mustard Dusted Scotch Egg with Cranberry Marmalade and Beef and Craisin Shepherd's Pie from the United Kingdom.

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Guests at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival can visit the Hops & Barley Marketplace through Nov. 11 to taste the Craisin Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Anglaise, which is a vegetarian dish. At the bog, visitors are invited to pick up a free sample of Craisins (dried cranberries).

Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 growers, many of whom have been in the business for generations. Below, Deb talks with Todd May, a fifth-generation cranberry farmer, from Canada.

Do yourself a favor, and stop at the bog and learn more about cranberries and how they are harvested. You just might develop a whole new appreciation for a traditional American holiday side dish.


October 3, 2013

Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party is a delicious way to view Wishes fireworks

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My 11-year-old son has had many special experiences at Walt Disney World because we live locally and are annual passholders. But one event he hadn't been to and *really* wanted to attend was the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party. Disney fireworks are among his favorite attractions, and to be able to see them from the perfect vantage point while eating unlimited sweets -- well, that was the perfect birthday celebration recently.

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None of my family had been to the Wishes viewing party, so we weren't sure what to expect. We spent the day at Magic Kingdom, and when we noticed cast members beginning to set up in the evening, we stopped to ask a few questions. My son was assured that the tables were pre-assigned, based on when guests made their reservations.

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I had called every day for more than a month before the reservations were available for booking in the Disney system. During that process, cast members gave me different answers about how soon the reservations can be booked, but the most common answer was between 30 and 60 days out. None of the cast members could give me an exact date -- as they do with restaurant reservations -- so I continued my calling campaign.

If you are interested in the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party, you might have to resort to the same plan because it is very popular and typically sells out quickly. My persistence paid off, though, because I secured a reservation for our preferred night and we had a front-row, center table.

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One thing to know, though, is that many attendees will get up from their tables when the fireworks begin and stand along the wall facing Cinderella Castle. They are not permitted to drag chairs over there, however.

So, given that your table is pre-assigned and you still will have a good view of the fireworks, there really is no reason to line up early for the party. Folks did begin a queue about 7:30 p.m., and they began entering the area about 7:45 p.m. on a night that Wishes were scheduled to start at 9 p.m.

There are two buffets with an identical selection of desserts, plus a fruit bar, beverage station and ice cream sundae table. There was a small line for food when guests first entered Tomorrowland Terrace, but it dissipated quickly as everyone chose their first round of goodies. After that, we were able to walk up to the buffets without a wait for the rest of the night. I'm told the space holds 200 people, and there were about 160 guests attending on our Saturday night in September.

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Among the desserts included: Tiramisu, Mango Shooters, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies with sprinkles, classic cheesecake, fruit tart, banana creme tart, key lime tart, chocolate peanut butter tart, chocolate-dipped strawberries, crisped rice treats, brownies, vanilla and chocolate cheesecake, custard and canoli. There appeared to be something for everyone! Drinks were raspberry lemonade, Minute Maid light lemonade, iced tea, water, coffee, white milk, hot tea and hot chocolate.

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While we were enjoying our sweets, we could see the Main Street Electrical Parade pass by in the distance and then watch Celebrate the Magic, the castle projection show. Tomorrowland Terrace is not the ideal vantage point for either if you haven't seen them, but for repeat guests, it was nice. And, of course, this location has a great view of the fireworks, which is the main attraction. It is slightly to the right of the castle, but we could see everything, and a highlight is when Tinker Bell flies down from the castle and straight to Tomorrowland Terrace.

The desserts are plentiful and were refilled repeatedly for about an hour, or 8:45 p.m. in our case. Then, guests can help themselves to what is left until Wishes ends. By that point, we were stuffed! Even so, cast members encouraged my kids to take cookies with them. Throughout the evening, cast members repeatedly cleared our table and were helpful. Overall, we really enjoyed the dessert party. It is expensive for a family, but not having to fight crowds to see the fireworks is priceless.

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The Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party costs $25.99 for adults and $13.99 for children ages 3 to 9. You can make reservations at 407-WDW-DINE, and pre-payment is required. Walk-ups are welcome if the dessert party is not sold out.

October 5, 2013

Ordering a custom cake at Walt Disney World

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I had long heard how beautiful and delicious the celebration cakes created at Walt Disney World are, but until recently, had never ordered one of the special confections. My son celebrated his birthday at Walt Disney World a few weeks ago and I decided to surprise him with a custom cake. Because our family was staying at the Caribbean Beach hotel, our order was handled by the Boardwalk Bakery.

Custom cakes have to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance in most cases, and it is recommended that orders not be placed more than three weeks ahead of time. I began the process by calling the cake hotline at 407-827-2253, which connected me to cast member who was eager to help me design a cake that would wow my son.

First, I had to determine the size of the cake. With just our immediate family of four partaking, it didn't have to be big. Guests, however, can choose from a 6-inch round cake (serves 5), an 8-inch round cake (serves 8), a 10-inch cake (serves16), quarter sheet cake (serves 10-12), half sheet cake (serves 50) and full sheet cake (serves 100). I was advised that the chef would need an 8-inch cake for the design I was considering.

Cake flavors vary by location, though we were not looking for anything exotic for an 11-year-old boy. I ordered a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream filling.

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And then the really fun part began -- designing the look of the cake. The cast member suggested that I send her photos of what I might like, and she could find out if the chef could replicate it and give me a price quote. I was prepared for her request because I had Googled Walt Disney World custom cakes the night before and spent a happy hour gazing at the amazing desserts.

Many of the Disney World cakes that feature characters are created by printing a two-dimensional image that is then either laid flat or propped upright on the top. This is great if you want to include a photo of the recipient. But I really wanted the characters on my son's cake to be three-dimensional, which meant I had two choices: bring my own figures to place on the cake or choose a character shaped in solid white chocolate. I chose a white chocolate Stitch, which would have a matching scroll-like piece for the Happy Birthday message.

To achieve the bright, tropical colors and accents associated with Lilo and Stitch, I decided to have the cake covered in a smooth blue fondant, rather than the typical buttercream icing or whipped frosting. My son had never tasted fondant, so I wasn't sure if he would like it, but I knew it would enhance the appearance. (For the record: The fondant wasn't his favorite, but it didn't detract from his love of the cake. He tried it and then focused on eating the inside, which also had the buttercream filling.)

In my online perusal of Disney World's cakes, I found that some of the most amazing are sculpted "Mad Hatter" cakes. These are quite expensive, but you can get the basic look without the over-the-top price and multiple layers because Disney chefs are willing to use elements from the cakes and incorporate them in other designs. That's how I found the look I wanted for my son's Stitch cake. I asked that the surfboards and flat flowers be created in red and yellow, rather than the pink and orange I saw on a girl's cake. The chef also duplicated the fondant roping at the base of the cake.

So, what did the cake of my son's dreams cost? It was $32 for the basic 8-inch custom cake; $30 for the fondant covering the cake and the cutout surfboards and flowers; and $30 for the white chocolate Stitch figure for a total of $92 plus tax. It was by far the most expensive cake I've ever ordered or eaten since my wedding day, but it also was *exactly* what I envisioned.

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Having never ordered a custom cake at Disney World, I was unsure if the cake would look like what I pictured, especially when I was asking for modifications. I honestly can say the cake exceeded my expectations, and my son was thrilled. Truly, if you can dream it, they can do it.

Here are a few tips if you choose to order a custom cake at Walt Disney World:

** The more detail you can provide the better the chances you will be happy with the finished cake. Photos and even sketches can help chefs bring your creation to life. Spend some time looking at Disney World cakes online, taking screenshots that you can email with your order.

** Disney underestimates the number of guests each cake will feed. Our 8-inch cake supposedly would be enough for eight people. We easily had enough for 14-16 people, and those were normal size pieces, not small ones. So, if you are deciding between two sizes, the smaller might work for you. We were able to refrigerate our leftover cake, and it tasted fresh for many days.

** If a custom cake is not in your budget, Walt Disney World offers many other options, including cakes that are available upon request at most table-service restaurants.

** The Disney Food Blog has answers to many frequently asked cake questions.


October 8, 2013

SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular brings treats to theme park

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Everybody knows that Shamu loves buckets of fish. And kids? Well, they love bags of candy.

This month, both will enjoy their fill.

SeaWorld Orlando kicked off its Halloween Spooktacular with a splash this past weekend, taking guests into the "FantaSea" of the fall holiday. The celebration, which features trick-or-treating, takes place from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in October.

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My family and I think it's fun to stroll down the Underwater Fantasea Path, which runs along Bayside Pathway, past the stadium and Wild Arctic, and through Shamu's Happy Harbor. The walkway offers a street-festival atmosphere with 12 trick-or-treat stations, games of skill, characters, face painting, snacks, cookie decorating and Penelope's Party Zone. (Penelope Pumpkin is SeaWorld's signature Halloween character.)

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Certainly the young and the young-at-heart are welcome at SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular, but know that many of the activities are planned for the preschool set. In Penelope's Party Zone, for example, children can participate in story time with the Princess Penelope, make easy crafts and play simple games.

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On the eight party dates, a special show is presented in the Seaport Theater: Sesame Street's Countdown to Halloween. Favorite characters from the popular television show -- including Elmo! -- take the stage and invite young guests to dance and sing along with them four times a day.

In addition, Count von Count from "Sesame Street" hosts a Spooktacular Breakfast at 9:30 a.m. each day of the Halloween celebration. The price is $24 for adults and $14 for children ages 2 to 9. Pass members are eligible for a 20 percent discount by reserving ahead of time online.

Perhaps one of the best things about the Halloween Spooktacular is that it is included in regular park admission, unlike Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, which require separate tickets. Both locals and visitors can experience the fun of the season without the scary bill.

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Also, Halloween Spooktacular is an opportunity to see many, many characters at SeaWorld in elaborate and beautiful costumes. Unlike at Disney World, face characters and furry characters are not a common occurrence at SeaWorld, but they come out in full force for the Halloween celebration. Look for princesses, mermaids, stilt walkers, fish along the walkway, and Dolly the Dolphin, Shamu, and Pete and Penny Penguin in the party zone.

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Who can resist trick-or-tricking in a theme park? Candy sponsors for 2013 include AirHeads, Tootsie Roll, Jelly Belly jelly beans, M&Ms and more. We learned last year that trick-or-treating is only open to families. When I asked, a SeaWorld customer service representative said that adults typically will not be given candy, unless they are accompanied by children.

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Throughout October, children with creative costumes may be chosen as "Super Starfish of the Day." They and their families will be given VIP treatment, including limited wait times for rides, reserved seats at shows, lunch vouchers and souvenir photos with Shamu.

SeaWorld has added a Spooktacular Dance Party this year, similar to its dance party during Summer Nights. Children are invited to gather at the front of the park every night an hour before closing time to join in with line-dancing favorites as bubbles fill the evening air.

So, if you're ready for Halloween weeks before it appears on the calendar, check out SeaWorld Orlando's Halloween Spooktacular. And while you're there, watch Shamu perform a few tricks and treats, too.


October 10, 2013

Chase VIP Lounge takes guests inside American Adventure Parlor during Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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This year, some guests at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival have the opportunity to step into one of Walt Disney World's private party spaces -- free of charge.

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The Chase VIP Lounge has moved from the Festival Center in 2012 to the American Adventure Parlor this year, and it is open to all Chase card members. Each card member may bring as many as nine guests. To access the space, there is a queue in front of the building, slightly to the right, where you can present your card.

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A cast member told me the lounge can accommodate 100 people. When capacity is reached, they let in guests as others exit. Those wishing to burn off some of the calories they have consumed at the festival can choose to climb stairs to the third floor, while the rest of us opt for the elevator.

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Upstairs, you'll be greeted by another cast member who will explain that complimentary drinks are available to the right in the Thomas Jefferson Dining Room. My family and I were excited to see two Coca-Cola Freestyle machines plus regular and decaffinated coffee, and guests are invited to drink to their heart's content. Beer and wine also are available for purchase.

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This room typically is rented for intimate wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners and farewell brunches. The dining room, which is reminiscent of Monticello during the late 1700s, can seat 50 guests. The main focal point of the area is a large curio cabinet filled with fine china and period artifacts.

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Moving out of the Thomas Jefferson Dining Room and to the left of the elevators is the colonial-style Main Living Room. It features comfortable couches, antique furniture and two cozy fireplaces. While the space functions as part of the Chase VIP Lounge, it offers guests two charging stations for a variety of mobile devices, Disney-themed board games and televisions. For weddings, the space typically is where guests would enjoy cocktails and appetizers. Beautifully appointed bathrooms are available at the far end of the space.

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The Main Living Room boasts sweeping views of World Showcase Lagoon and the America Gardens Theatre, where the Eat to the Beat concerts take place. Disney Chase card members are offered preferred seating at the concerts or all Chase card members can get preferred viewing of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth fireworks, while wristbands are available. When I stopped by the lounge at 2 p.m. Sunday on the festival's opening weekend, only seating for the first concert was unavailable. There were plenty of wristbands available for the fireworks area, which is a roped off area in front of the Italy pavilion, on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

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The Chase VIP Lounge is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. It stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Like to see "hidden spaces" at Walt Disney World? Take my photo tours of other private lounges: Living Seas Salon and Siemens VIP Center.


October 12, 2013

What you need to know about changes to Disney's PhotoPass

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Walt Disney World is in the process of changing its website and policies for its professional photo program, called Disney's PhotoPass.

The first thing to know is that all photos taken at Walt Disney World after Sept. 4, 2013, appear on the new MyDisneyPhotoPass.com, rather than the existing DisneyPhotoPass.com. (Disneyland, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Aulani photos still appear on the old site, as well as photos taken before Sept. 4 until they expire.)

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The new website is part of the new My Disney Experience planning tools and requires the username and password you created during registration for the My Disney Experience program. It has been designed to work with the MyMagic+ system.

Be aware that the rules have changed about the length of time you have to view and order photos. On the new site, photos will expire 45 days after the date they were taken. (Previously, photos expired 30 days after a guest entered his or her PhotoPass number on the website, and guests had 30 days to prior to that to link the photos to the website.) The new policy means that photos from the same vacation will disappear on consecutive days, rather than a single day.

Users still will be able to purchase an extension for the expiration date, but the only option will be for an extra 15 days and it only can be done once. So, for $19.95, your photos will be accessible for 60 days rather than 45 days.

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Expect that photos at Walt Disney World still will be taken the same way -- by those familiar cast members wearing khaki photographer's vests who will hand you a Disney's PhotoPass card. Guests who are using the new RFID-embedded MyMagic+ bands will be able to scan their bands at some locations and have the photos transferred to their accounts without having to enter the PhotoPass number manually.

However, some guests are reporting difficulty grouping photos linked by Magic Bands and photos linked manually to order one vacation DVD. You may need help from the folks at Disney's PhotoPass Customer Service to resolve that issue initially. There are detailed email request forms on the website to move this process along. I recently filled one out and, when I didn't hear back after several days, I called for help. I was told the Customer Service cast members were a week behind in answering emails, but the person who answered the phone was able to help me during my call.

Guests can purchase a PhotoPass+ DVD that gives them unlimited photos from Disney Parks, including those from dining and attractions. It's normally $199.95, but guests can get the discounted rate of $149 when they pre-order at least 14 days before their vacation. A PhotoPass Archive Disc, which does not include photos from dining and theme-aprk rides, is $169. The pre-order price is $119. Get the link for discounts and more details about PhotoPass+ here.

Finally, there's one more important thing to remember when having your photo taken by a cast member: Don't forget to say, "Cheese!" I've heard this technique is highly endorsed by a certain mouse in the parks.

October 15, 2013

Winter from 'Dolphin Tale' lives at nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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When it comes to sea life, Orlando might best be known for Shamu and Ariel. But just a short drive away to the state's West Coast is another famed sea-life celebrity who offers a chance for families to have a fun outing and to learn a few things, as well.

About a 90-minute drive from Orlando's tourist corridor is Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a working marine hospital that is home to Winter the dolphin, who starred in the hit family movie "Dolphin Tale."

Winter's real-life story is a bit different from what was portrayed in the film. Winter, a months-old calf who was caught in the ropes of a crab trap, actually was found by fisherman James Savage on the East Coast of Florida in the Mosquito Lagoon area of Canaveral National Seashore in December 2005. Savage freed Winter, expecting her to swim away. When she didn't, Savage called for help.

The first responders were marine mammal experts from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, who took over supporting the badly injured dolphin until SeaWorld's rescue transport team could arrive to drive her to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Winter's caregivers and veterinarians have said they were unsure if she would survive the night, but the spunky dolphin fought to survive as she was given round-the-clock care. She recovered from many of her wounds, but the injuries to her fluke (or tail) were too great, and part of it died and fell away. Winter was quick to adapt, though, and began to swim from side-to-side like a fish. Her veterinarian, though, worried that the way she swam would hurt her spine over time. If you've seen "Dolphin Tale," you know that a very special prosthetic tail was developed just for Winter, and over the course of a year, it was refined and the dolphin learned to swim with it.

Today, Winter is thriving in her new home and is a source of inspiration for many kids and adults dealing with disabilities and other challenges. Winter's fans can visit her and the other rescued animals at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

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Like so many others, my daughter fell in love with Winter and that prompted us to visit the hospital in 2011 and again last month on her birthday. If you're considering a similar trip, here's a little bit of what you can expect from the experience. First, know that this facility is a working hospital and not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.

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There is a gift shop, of course, and plenty of opportunities to purchase various photo packages, such as what is made available by the green-screen attraction at the aquarium's entrance. There, kids and families can strike a pose and then have Winter's image superimposed over theirs. It sounds hokey, yet the result can be quite humorous and is one of the pictures my daughter enjoyed the most.

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Also, if you're going for the day (which is recommended, given the drive time), know that the dining opportunity is limited to an outdoors counter-service grill that serves sandwiches and pizza and the like. The kids might be OK with this, but if the parents want something more, there are a couple of nearby cafes off the property (across the street, actually), and a trolley service runs to other parts of Clearwater if you'd rather eat elsewhere.

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On our first visit two years ago, we watched Winter and the other resident dolphins swim, feed and play on their own. There also was a scheduled show, starring Winter, that allowed trainers to explain the prosthetic tail and take Winter through a few tricks. Dolphin fans could see the other dolphins in a high-flying show on the upper deck of the hospital. At that time, only special groups were allowed to touch Winter, something my daughter longed to do.

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Fast forward two years, and the rules have been relaxed. The aquarium allows three visitors per day to touch Winter during a photo opportunity. The privilege is pricey -- $140 for an individual or $160 for a group of two to four participants -- and it's over in minutes. You are not paying for an interactive session with Winter, just a photo. Remember, though, that the experience is largely a fund-raiser for the aquarium, allowing staff to continue its care of Winter and other animals and to pay for rescue efforts. Short as the experience was, my 9-year-old daughter was thrilled with her birthday present and vowed never to wash the hand that had touched Winter.

The other experience that does allow interaction with Winter is Winter's Assistant Trainer, a 15-minute event during which the participant works with one of Winter's trainers during an actual training session. The activities range from cognitive behavior lessons and painting to physical therapy and preparing Winter's prosthetic tail. Winter's Assistant Trainer costs $449 per person and includes admission to CMA, a T-shirt and one professional photo.

There also are several experiences available with other dolphins at the facility:

** Trainer for the Day -- 3-hour experience is $295 per person and includes T-shirt, towel, bag and photo
** Wade with dolphins -- 60-minute experience is $249 per person and includes T-shirt and photo
** Paint with a dolphin -- 15-minute experience is $225 per person and includes T-shirt, photo, the artwork and VIP seating during the presentation
** Dolphin encounter -- 30-minute experience is $125 per person and includes T-shirt and photo
** Photo opportunity with other dolphins -- $40 for individual or $60 for a group of 2 to 4 participants

Because Winter was preparing to film "Dolphin Tale 2" when we visited last month, she was not performing in her regular show or even staying in her usual pool. The 8-year-old dolphin was busy learning new commands from her trainers, while her home pool was being spruced up for the movie. In fact, CMA has closed through the end of the year for filming but will be open during holiday periods. The next chance to see Winter is Nov. 29 and 30 and Dec. 1. (You can see the complete calendar at seewinter.com)

Admission, if purchased online, is $12.95 for children ages 3 to 13, $15.95 for seniors ages 60 and older, and $17.95 for adults. CMA also houses sea turtles, stingrays, river otters, and one of two pelicans who played Rufus in the movie. There even are other smaller forms of sea life and its habitat that guests are encouraged to touch during several informational sessions presented by CMA volunteers.

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Included in your ticket is transportation and admission to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure in downtown Clearwater. This location shows images, recreations and actual props from the movie. My daughter was excited to see some of Hazel's actual clothes from the movie as well as recreated scenes. Especially realistic is The Hurricane Experience, a walk-through attraction in which participants go into a replica of Sawyer's house and feel it move from the force of the storm.

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While CMA is closed for filming, Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure remains open. Tickets are $6.95 for children ages 3 to 13, $8.95 for seniors ages 60 and older, and $9.95 for adults.

October 17, 2013

Kid-friendly foods at Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Although my elementary-school-age kids are like most others, a little bit of Disney magic this time of year turns them into discerning foodies.

Every year, Epcot's Food and Wine Festival transforms my children, ages 9 and 11, into adventurous eaters. One child usually is a bit pickier than the other, but you wouldn't know it when it comes time to sample the dishes at the international marketplaces at Walt Disney World.

As my kids have gotten older, they have come to appreciate, and even look forward to, the annual festival almost as much as my husband and I do. So far this season, we have eaten our way around the World Showcase twice. Here, I'll share their favorites -- some they agreed on and others they didn't. Of course, every child's palate is different, but perhaps this guide will help your family find some new favorites you might not have considered.

We'll travel clockwise around the promenade, as the marketplaces are numbered. Although we have visited the festival two times, we still haven't tried all the foods. On both trips, we started at the Hawaii marketplace with the Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($3.50). Everyone in my family loves this item, though the kids prefer theirs "naked" (without the chutney and mayo).

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The kids bypassed the Scotland, Terra and Brazil marketplaces in favor of the Argentina booth. There, they indulged in the Beef Empanada ($4.25). Because of a wonderful Latin restaurant near our house, both of my children eat empanadas on a fairly regular basis. When comparing the two versions, they noted that the Epcot empanada does not have cheese with the beef and instead appeared to have beans mixed in. But that did not deter them from eating their entire servings!

Moving past Australia, Mexico and Singapore, they chose to stop at the China stand for the Silky Spun Ice ($3.95). This marketplace offers three flavors that are rotated on a weekly basis -- strawberry, coconut and mango. Strawberry was the flavor du jour during our visit, and both kids enjoyed the treat. I took a taste, expecting the creaminess of ice cream, but it's really more of a smooth version of shaved ice. I didn't care for the texture. However, Deb Koma tried the coconut version earlier in the festival and declared it one of her favorites.

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Next door in South Korea, we all shared the Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce ($3.75) and the Lettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw ($3.50). I had tried the Kimchi Dog at two previews and loved it. I suspected it would be too spicy for my kids, but they wanted to try it because I had raved about the dish. For the record, I was correct. My daughter did like the lettuce wrap with the Kimchi Slaw, however.

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They skipped over the Africa and Cheese marketplaces and queued up in Germany both times for the Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll ($5). This comes with mustard on the plate, but my children asked for the dish without it and ate every bite of the bratwurst. They also thoroughly enjoyed the Apple Strudel with Werther's Original Karamel and Vanilla Sauce ($3.50).

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Chef Jens Dahlmann, executive chef at Epcot, also recommended the Schinken Nudel, which is Pasta Gratin with Ham & Cheese ($3.25), in Germany for kids. He told me his own children, ages 11, 8 and 4, love it.

A few steps down the promenade at the Poland marketplace, kids will find two tasty options. "Zapiekanki, a Polish pizza you could say, is a crunchy piece of bread and cheese and mushrooms and house-made ketchup on it. Great textures and great flavors for the kids," said Chef Jens. "Also, pierogies sit well, too. Who doesn't like pierogies with kielbasa?"

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In Italy, my kids liked the Ravioli de formaggio all'emiliana ($5.75), which is offered in generous portions. They bypassed Hops & Barley, eager to get to the Florida Local marketplace and chow down on Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles ($3.75). My children removed the pickles, of course.

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One of the biggest surprises was that my son really liked Morocco's Harissa Chicken Roll ($4.95), in spite of its spicy flavor. He selected that dish on both visits.

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Soon, New Zealand gave way to Belgium, where our quest for sweets was met with Belgium waffles with Warm Chocolate Ganache and Whipped Cream ($3.25) or Berry Compote and Whipped Cream ($3.25). Delicious!

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In France, my kids dove into the Boeuf Bourguignon (Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes -- $5.50) both times. Then, we had to walk off some of the great food without stops in Ireland, Canada or Greece. (Canada is offering the always-popular Cheddar Cheese Soup and "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon.)

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At the Refreshment Port, my daughter and I -- both pineapple lovers -- enjoyed the new Dole Pineapple Fritters ($1.99). The stand also offers Fried Shrimp or Chicken Chunks with Dole Pineapple Sweet and Sour Sauce, which are likely to appeal to kids.

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Finally, at the Desserts & Champagne marketplace, both children tried the Frozen S'mores drink ($3). My children love s'mores and will even make them in the microwave at home if the mood strikes, but they were not wild about this drink. They both mentioned they preferred the fruit-flavored smoothies served in the marketplaces of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.

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I'm sure we will find that repeat visits to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will reveal new favorites for my kids as they explore more offerings. As long as they -- and your children -- can have fun with a sense of adventure, there's no telling what flavors will become their favorites.

You can see complete menus for the marketplaces of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival here.


October 18, 2013

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin's pastry chef talks about sweet selections at Food & Wine Classic

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Foodies who enjoy sampling gourmet foods paired with fine wines and beers likely have already visited this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. But this weekend, they have another opportunity waiting for them at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, where the fourth annual Food & Wine Classic takes place along the causeway between the hotels.

I spoke with the resort's executive pastry chef, Laurent Branlard, about his role in creating the mouth-watering desserts that will be available at the Classic. A native of France, Branlard began his pursuit of a culinary career at age 16 in Paris. He moved to the United States about 15 years ago and has been at the Swan & Dolphin since 2002. During that time, he won the World Pastry Team Championship not once, but twice. Branlard is responsible for the dessert menus at all of the hotel's 17 restaurants and lounges, including Todd English's bluezoo, Shula's Steak House and Il Mulino New York Trattoria, as well as banquets at the Walt Disney World Resort.

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Intense

The dessert menu at this year's Food & Wine Classic differs each night. Guests tonight can sample O Saint O -- an orange cream-filled puff, milk chocolate covered orange cooked and whipped vanilla cream; Tropic -- passion fruit cream, mango papaya pineapple compote, coconut cake and mango vanilla sauce; and Intense -- flourless chocolate sponge and Arriba 72% chocolate mousse. On Saturday, guests will be offered Dome -- milk chocolate mousse and caramel cream center, hazelnut dacquoise sponge, milk chocolate glaze; Bla -- blueberry compote, lemon creme Fraiche Panacotta, almond pound cake; and Raspberry S'More -- raspberry marshmallow, raspberry compote and white chocolate cream on cinnamon sable dough.

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Raspberry S'More

Here's what Branlard had to say about this weekend's event:

What are you most excited about at this year's Food & Wine Classic?

Every year I'm very excited because it's a good opportunity to showcase our desserts not only to our hotel customers but also to people coming from town. For me, it's always great! It's also an opportunity to do the desserts we like to do because it's up to us to decide what we want to serve, so it's exciting.

How do you determine what the desserts will be?

I like to bring some French influence to the desserts. On Friday, we have O Saint O. It's a mini version of a classic French dessert that I tweaked a little bit. So I bring desserts that come from my background but that everyone will recognize. Of course, I always have a chocolate dessert because you cannot do a menu without chocolate. People like chocolate!

In the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin restaurants, do you find that kids like different desserts than adults?

I like to tweak the desserts a little because I know that American kids have a palate that's a lot determined by what they eat every day ... When it comes to sweets, it has a lot to do with what they find in the grocery store. I try to understand what they're used to, so they don't have a shock when they eat my desserts. In a chocolate dessert for kids, I'm going to tone down the cocoa percentage so it's not too strong, too bitter for them. But I will still use a really intense and dark chocolate.

We do it a little bit different, but not too much because that's the way we function. I like to educate about food. Like my son: I always wanted him to grow up very fast as far as taste goes. For me, it was very important that he understand right away what is good food.

Is there a particular dessert that you think is a favorite for kids and also for adults?

That's a tricky question "¦ always chocolate desserts. In bluezoo, for instance, we do a molten chocolate cake. It doesn't matter what you put on the menu, you know that about 50 percent of the dessert sales will be the molten chocolate cake. It's a moist, soft chocolate cake, so kids will order it, too. You can't beat that.

How do you appeal to the palates of tourists not just from the United States, but all over the world?

In general, globally the dessert world has evolved and especially in America these past 10 years. People are more aware of what's going on as far as European flavors. It's all mixed now. I don't think the customer makes a big difference as far as taste choices.

Where can guests go to get your desserts served at the Classic during the rest of the year?

They are not available in the hotel. They are specially designed in smaller portions for the Food & Wine Classic. We [repeat] them sometimes when we have VIP parties and things like that. People that come often to the Swan & Dolphin in our restaurants might recognize what we do, but the way that they are served is very different than what we do in the restaurants.

Will you be out on the causeway or in the kitchen during the Classic?

I will be in both locations. I will be back and forth. Usually I spend a good amount of time on the stations. I always like to spend time with the guests.

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Looking ahead, the holiday season is traditionally associated with wonderful desserts and sweets of all kinds. Can you give our readers a preview of what they can expect at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin?

[The holiday desserts] are usually something traditional with a twist for Thanksgiving and Christmas. [The pastry chefs] also put up the display in the Swan lobby and we have very large chocolate pieces -- Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a train and a nutcracker. We decorate with gingerbread houses everywhere, in the restaurants, to get in the Christmas spirit.

For now, guests can sample Branlard's desserts at the Food & Wine Classic, which begins at 5:30 tonight and Saturday and goes until 9 p.m. Wristbands, which allow unlimited food and beverage tastings on the causeway, are about $80. Guests also can choose to purchase a la carte tickets as $2 apiece; most items take two to six tickets each. The Food & Wine Classic also is offering one-hour beverage seminars, plus a new pasta class, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The cost of those is $60 per person.

The Food & Wine Classic will feature plenty of alluring samples of main-course selections, and different wine and beer pairings, too. But the desserts alone just might be the sweetest part of this delicious event.

October 21, 2013

Glow With The Show ear hats debut at Magic Kindom

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Less than a week ago, Glow With The Show ear hats debuted at Walt Disney World during a Fantasmic performance. On Saturday, the hats began working with the Celebrate the Magic castle projection show and the Wishes fireworks presentation at the Magic Kingdom, and my children and I were in the thick of the crowds on Main Street, U.S.A., to witness the first displays.

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Our experience with the new light-up mouse-ear hats began earlier in the day when I purchased one for each of my children at The Emporium. The hats are available in one design (for now, at least) -- a multicolored pattern of Mickey Mouse faces on the cap and two "ears" that illuminate. Each Glow With the Show hat costs $25.

This seemed a bit pricey to me at first. But when I thought about buying a child a basic mouse-ear hat with an embroidered name and also purchasing a light-up toy for the night-time parade and activities, I realized I easily would exceed that amount. And I'm sure I'm not the only parent who would love to have one less purchase per child to keep track of at a theme park. (For the record: You can replace the AAA batteries yourself when necessary.)

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The hats, which debuted a little more than a year ago at Disneyland, can work independently, in cooperation with other hats worn by your group, and with certain night-time shows. Glow With The Show ears will light up individually when turned on. If you bump them with another hat and stay near the guest wearing that hat, the patterns of lights will appear synchronized. This is a fun discovery for wearers.

However, the real "oohing" and "aching" comes when you see the ears synched with a large-scale show, such as Celebrate the Magic. We stood in the hub near Cinderella Castle for our first viewing, and we had a decent view of the show and enough Glow With The Show ears in front of us to see the new effects. Of course, the farther back on Main Street you stand, the more ears you're likely to see.

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You'll quickly notice the ears of each hat match colors in the show and flash to the beat of some of the songs. One of our favorite effects was during the "Tangled" recreation in Celebrate the Magic when the lanterns appear to glow and float into the air and the ear hats matched the lanterns. Also visually pleasing was when the ears glowed red while the castle was bathed in blue with the projected white stars, mimicking Sorcerer Mickey's hat during Wishes. Take a look at some of the scenes from Celebrate the Magic in the video below:

Currently, Glow With The Show ears are synchronized with Celebrate the Magic and Wishes at Magic Kingdom (and the Halloween versions at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on Oct. 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31 and Nov. 1) and Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studies. Beginning Nov. 8, the hats will work with The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios and Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season at Magic Kingdom.

Glow With The Show ears can be purchased at The Emporium, The Chapeau and merchandise carts at Magic Kingdom and at Beverly Sunset, Once Upon A Time, Mickeys of Hollywood, Head to Toe and merchandise carts at Hollywood Studios. Hats purchased at any Disney park -- including Disneyland -- will work at all Disney World parks that are part of the program.

October 22, 2013

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin 2013 Food & Wine Classic - Review

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Disney foodies are in their element during the month of October. There is, of course, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which stretches for 46 mouth-watering days. This month also finds the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hosting its two-night Food & Wine Classic.

I attended the event on Friday for the second year, and it really is a fun, and potentially more affordable, event. There are many similarities between the food and beverage celebrations: an outdoor setting, live entertainment, seminars, and lots of appetizer-size portions of delicious foods, as well as samples of wine and beer.

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Although children are welcome at both events, there definitely is a more adult atmosphere at the Food & Wine Classic. We saw only a handful of children at the event. (Camp Dolphin, the kids club inside the Dolphin, is a great place for kids to have a night out while you do the same. We chose that option for our children last year.)

Each night has a different menu at the 12 food stations that represent restaurants and chefs that are part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. Both years we saw consistently long lines at stations for delicacies from celebrity chef Todd English, Kimonos, Cib's Smoke Shop and Shula's Steakhouse.

English was out for several hours greeting guests and posing for photos with them. Meanwhile, his food station offered participants Tuna Tartare with Sexy Scallions, Nitro Aioli Miso Crackling Oyster Shooter, Huckleberry Champagne Vinegar, Huckleberry Foam Rock Shrimp Tacos with Creamy JalapeƱo Slaw, Pickled Onion and Micro Cilantro. The tuna dish was a firm, meaty fish that would appeal to seafood lovers, but the Nitro Aioli Miso Crackling Oyster Shooter might take a little bit more exposure before the less adventurous can get acclimated to its unique flavor. Seeing its presentation, though, was half the fun of sampling it.

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Shula's Steakhouse, known for its pricey cuts of beef, was serving carved prime rib and roasted garlic mashed potatoes with horseradish creme fraiche and watercress both nights. I'm sure it won't surprise you when I say it was delicious!

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Cib's Smoke Shop gave guests a taste of flavorful meat with Texas-style beef brisket, brioche purse, rhubarb pudding and garlic chips on Friday and hand-crafted bacon, black-eyed pea puree and maple fluid gel on Saturday. Everyone in our group gave the brisket high praise.

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Kimono's, a sushi restaurant, offered a Dragon Roll (crispy shrimp, tuna and avocado) on Friday and a spicy yellow fin tuna with nori seasoned rice on Saturday. I never really have developed a taste for sushi, but my friends encouraged me to try the Dragon Roll. It was tasty, and my friends who love sushi declared it among the best they've ever tried.

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A delightful surprise was Picabu's taqueria-corn tortilla barbacoa of beef, braised pork or organic vegetables. These soft tacos could be topped with cheddar cheese, lime wedge, lettuce, onion, shaved radishes, pico de gallo and assorted hot sauces. The pico de gallo added an amazingly fresh taste to the dish, and we all went back for seconds.

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My favorite food, by far, for the evening was the Panini Ice Cream Sandwich served at the dessert station. It was toasted sweet Hawaiian bread stuffed with chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The combination of the thick, chewy bread with the cold treat was unexpected and delicious. Chef Laurent Branlard also offered three beautiful and distinctive desserts each night. For more on those, see my interview with Chef Branlard.

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In addition to all the great food, there were 35 beverage stations, most with more than one wine or beer selection.

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On the Friday night we attended, beer samples were made available from Sam Adams, Tampa's Cigar City brewery and Highland Brewing Company out of Ashville, N.C. My husband enjoyed most everything he sampled from Cigar City, and his two new favorites were the Gaelic Ale and the Kashmir IPA offered by Highland. One of our friends with us said she enjoyed the Black Mocha Stout offered by the same brewery.

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The double bock by Sam Adams and the Orchard Hard Cider were praise-worthy, too. Still, my husband returned repeatedly to the Cigar City booth, just as he did at last year's event. Judging from the lines at the booth, others favored it, as well.

On Saturday, beer samples were offered from Gainesville's Swamp Head Brewery, the Colorado-based Breckenridge brewery, New Belgium and Oskar Blues.

My husband did focus more on the beers than the wines, but there certainly is a large selection from various vineyards for sipping while you stroll. He did enjoy the La Crema pinot noir. This year, the Food & Wine grouped its "pink" wines on the Crescent Terrace for a Drink Pink event in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. This festive area offered six rose wines to sample.

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Next year, when you're making plans to enjoy a fall festival of food and wine, you might want to consider going beyond Epcot for this annual event at the Swan and Dolphin. Though not as expansive as the better-known Food and Wine Festival, the Food & Wine Classic offers its own smorgasbord of unique flavors, live music, and food and drink seminars. All of this, paired with its beautiful setting between the two distinctive buildings on Walt Disney World property, makes it a one-of-a-kind experience for the senses here in Central Florida.

DISCLAMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin at its Food & Wine Classic. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.


October 24, 2013

Disney Vacation Club opens Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

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Disney Vacation Club, the time-share branch of The Walt Disney Co., opened its 12th property on Wednesday, The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Of course, one of the biggest advantages to this resort is that it is located on the monorail loop around Seven Seas Lagoon.

"It's like having your own home right here overlooking the Magic Kingdom," said Ken Potrock, Disney Vacation Club's senior vice president and general manager, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "That's what we set out to do -- welcome people home."


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Like its neighboring resort, the Grand Floridian, the Villas are designed to make guests feel like they have stepped back in time. The facade clearly matches the architectural style of the 1900s with the white walls and red tile roof. The interior spaces are appropriate as a look and feel of a bygone era, as well.

"The main idea in the storytelling [of the Villas] is that it be connected back to the Grand Floridian," Walt Disney Imagineer Debbie Peterson told me. "That storyline really celebrates a Victorian, turn-of-the-century feel, and we definitely wanted to make it a seamless transition. So, we wanted to bring the elegance, but then we also wanted to make it feel updated. And then we added some fun and uniquely Disney touches, so it's different but it's part of the same property."

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In the midst of beautifully appointed studios and villas, two such new features stand out. In each bathroom that includes a bathtub, guests will find television screens projected from within mirrors so they can catch up on their favorite shows while relaxing or getting ready to go out to the parks.

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Perhaps an even bigger wow factor is the clever way Murphy beds are disguised as bureaus in the deluxe studios and one-bedroom villas. The use of the Murphy beds makes The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian the first DVC property to accommodate up to five guests in each deluxe studio. In addition to the space-saving design, the beds offer a touch of whimsy when they are unfolded -- murals with scenes from "Dumbo" (in the deluxe studio) or "Mary Poppins" (in the one-bedroom villa).

Why were these stories chosen?

"We started researching some stories from our Disney library, and we realized that "Alice In Wonderland" and "Mary Poppins" were both themes that took place at the turn of the century, and we said that we can have some fun making these connections with the Villas," Peterson told me. "The one last story that we discovered was "Dumbo," and it's actually a Florida story, so you'll see inspiration art with "Dumbo," "Mary Poppins" and "Alice in Wonderland" throughout the resort and the amenities."

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The penguins from the "Jolly Holiday" song in "Mary Poppins" are immortalized in a bronze fountain in the resort's lobby. This centerpiece is sure to draw guests in for a closer look, but don't miss the other visual reminders of the song and movie, such as the carousel horses.

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Next door, at the Grand Floridian, guests will find the addition of a water play area for young kids that is themed to "Alice in Wonderland," plus the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, a nod to another catchy tune from "Mary Poppins." Unlike Disney Vacation Club's other monorail loop property, Bay Lake Tower, the Villas do not have their own swimming pool, kids' area or lounge. Those amenities are shared with its sister resort, which is within walking distance.

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There are 106 units in the newest DVC property, including six grand villas that each offer three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a full kitchen, a dining table that seats 12, a state-of-the-art media room and laundry facilities.

You can see a detailed description for each type of room in the new Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian on our AllEars.Net page. Videos and photos coming soon!



October 28, 2013

Review: Disney Cruise Line's Halloween on the High Seas

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Welcome, foolish mortals, to your Bahamian cruise.

This fall, Disney Cruise Line has introduced new Halloween-themed entertainment on all four of its ships. Such new features might seem to be nothing but a treat, yet -- according to some firsthand accounts -- some came off a little trickier than other holiday activities we experienced in the past.

Last week, some of my extended family members sailed on the Disney Dream for a three-night cruise. We had all been on the ship together in 2011, but they went back specifically for the new Halloween on the High Seas events. (The Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder also introduced Halloween-themed activities, but not to the same extent of the Dream.) My sister's family includes two children who are the same ages as my own, 9 and 11 years, so they focused on the activities planned for elementary-school-age children.

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The centerpiece of Halloween on the High Seas is a giant Pumpkin Tree in the three-deck atrium. This multi-day experience begins with a Caretaker character explaining about the barren tree and other Halloween customs. In addition, she tells the audience a version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" during the 30-minute activity. Finally, passengers are invited to write their names on pumpkin seed cards and to return to check on the tree the next day.

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When they do come back to the atrium, passengers find that the seeds supposedly have grown into the 60 pumpkins that bring the dead tree back to life. The pumpkins light up during the reveal and "dance" along to music. Much like the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, this one ends with a surprise burst of confetti over the crowd.

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On the second night, the atrium is used for Mickey's Mouse-querade Party, which features games, a dance party with characters and trick-or-treating. Mickey and his pals line up before the party to pose for photos with guests and to sign autographs. Having attended dance parties and trick-or-treating at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, my sister and brother-in-law were able to compare the two Disney experiences.

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And although their children enjoyed Mickey's Mouse-querade Party, the adults found it to be chaotic and not as well-organized as the party at Walt Disney World. There was no map for the trick-or-treating, which resulted in long lines for the stations on the lobby floor, while others on the other decks went virally unnoticed. In addition, the lobby space just wasn't big enough for all the passengers who wanted to attend the event, my sister said. (Cast members told them there were 3,800 passengers on her cruise, and the ship can accommodate 4,000.)

It's understandable that Disney Cruise Line would choose that location. Obviously, planners want the Pumpkin Tree to be not only part of an entertainment experience, but also a larger-than-life decoration that guests see when they enter the ship and are crisscrossing the decks. Putting the tree in one of the theaters would hide it and interfere with other programming. And the other space for larger groups --Decks 11 and 12 by the pool and AquaDuck -- wouldn't be ideal for a stationary prop, either.

And when it comes deck parties, an unfortunate scheduling issue crops up on the three-night Halloween cruises: Mickey's Mouse-querade Party is on the same night as Mickey's Pirates IN the Caribbean party and Buccaneer Blast Fireworks. For my sister's family, this meant a lot of rushing from one party to dinner and then to the other party, with a change of costumes in between. I can't imagine they were alone in this frenzy, as many families would want to experience both signature events. On the four-night Halloween on the High Seas cruises on the Dream, however, the two parties are scheduled on separate nights.

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Passengers also can attend a special screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is shown in 3D. Guests are invited to sing and scream along, and afterward the movie's stars, Jack Skellington and his lady love, Sally, appear for a meet-and-greet. The event was offered at 2 p.m. on the second day and at 10:30 p.m. on the third day. These characters have commanded hours-long lines this year at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but reports from the cruises are that lines were minimal.

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In the kids' clubs, additional Halloween activities, such as pumpkin carving and mask-making, were on the schedule. While the little ones were having their own fun, adults could check out the spooky programming in the nighttime district, such as the Creepy Cabaret with performances by ghostly musicians and a Villainous Takeover on the dance floor. Also, on the last night, Haunted Stories of the Sea were told from the deck stage at 11 p.m.

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Halloween on the High Seas continues this week through Oct. 31.

Overall, my extended family enjoyed Halloween on the High Seas, but they thought there was room for improvement in scheduling and how some activities were arranged on the decks. Still, it was the first year for this Halloween programming, so growing pains are to be expected.

And you have to remember: The only thing scarier than being on the seas with young kids during Halloween and not having festive -- though chaotic -- fun like what was offered on the Disney Dream would be casting away on an ocean cruise and missing out on all the candy and activities completely.

Because if the happy haunts don't materialize for Halloween season, how can a youngster not think of the voyage as anything except an ill-fated one?

October 30, 2013

Ideas for carving pumpkins with Disney images

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In Walt Disney's classic film of 1950, the Fairy Godmother worked her magic on a pumpkin to transport Cinderella to the royal ball and, eventually, the fairy-tale ending of a wish come true.

This Halloween, you can show off your fandom of all things Disney by working your own magic on the pumpkin of your choosing. Luckily today, though, you won't even need a magic wand. Rather an Internet connection and a little creativity will be all that is required for you to carve the perfect pumpkin with a Disney-inspired theme.

Like many families, mine enjoys designing, carving and decorating pumpkins each year for Halloween. Unlike in my native Indiana, though, here we wait until a few days before the holiday to prevent the jack-o'-lanterns from shriveling in the Florida heat. So, this past weekend, we visited a local pumpkin patch to let the kids choose just the right gourds for their designs.

When we returned home, my husband got out the knives and carving tools, prepared to make their visions come to life. (Tip for parents with young kids: Before you do the actual carving with sharp knives that you won't let the kids handle, let the youngsters help you scoop out the seeds and insides of the pumpkin. This will give them a real sense of actually helping make your Halloween creation.) The requests from our kids ran the gamut of entertainment and life in Florida-- a Creeper from the Minecraft video game, a dolphin and Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Most years, our largest pumpkin is made to look like a Disney character, and this year was no exception.

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Sometimes, my husband draws the design freehand and others he uses one of the many Disney templates available online. Both methods can be equally time-consuming but satisfying just the same. Of course, how you choose to create your pumpkin imagery will depend on your artistic talent and the complexity of the design.

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For this year's Jack Skellington jack-o'-lantern, we used a printable template from Disney's Spoonful.com. It can be transferred by scoring the design through the template or using the image as a guide for a line drawing on the surface of the pumpkin. The website offers tips for carving, including valuable advice for first-time carvers, such as that working from the center of the face outward avoids putting pressure on the areas already carved.

Spoonful has an extensive library of Disney pumpkin templates, from a clever design for the "Toy Story" Alien and a hair-raising image of Cruella De Vil to a pixilated Wreck-It Ralph, and beautiful Disney princesses. There are 31 templates in all, and they are free. Even if you want to create your own design, the site is a great place to start to get ideas for how to tackle your project.

When my children were younger, we created a Mickey Mouse jack-o'-lantern by carving the face on one pumpkin and inverting two smaller pumpkins atop it for the ears. That style of pumpkin definitely has grown in popularity and even was seen in the decor on the Disney Dream this year.

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Perhaps the most creative Disney pumpkins, though, can be found on Main Street, U.S.A., in the Magic Kingdom, where Imagineers have carved shapes that are related to the nearby shops and attractions where you see them displayed. You can see some of the 200 pumpkins in this photo gallery on the Disney Parks Blog.

And, if you are fortunate enough to attend one of the Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween parties at the Magic Kingdom, be sure to be on the lookout for one distinctive jack-o'-lantern that you probably won't see anywhere else. It will be coming down Main Street, held in the hand of a horseman who just happens to be "¦ headless.

Happy hauntings and good luck with your pumpkin carving.



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About October 2013

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

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