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February 2014 Archives

February 1, 2014

Where to watch the 2014 Super Bowl at Walt Disney World

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If you find yourself at Walt Disney World on Super Bowl Sunday (that's tomorrow, for those who are not professional football fans!), what's a guest to do?

Those who don't care to watch the game -- to the commercial debuts or half-time show by Bruno Mars -- can take advantage of the almost-deserted theme parks. Super Bowl Sunday is actually one of the least crowded days at Walt Disney World, so make the most of it! Even with the new limited FastPass+ system, you should be able to easily experience many attractions, and the weather is expected to be sunny and warm.

Should you be in the other camp and among the millions of fans looking forward to the big game -- or just vacationing with someone who is a football fanatic -- there are plenty of places to catch the game on television screens at Walt Disney World. Probably the first one that comes to mind for many folks is the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk because of its sports theme, 100 television screens, and traditional "game day" food. Consequently, the ESPN Club fills up early -- folks have been known to arrive hours early to secure a spot. The restaurant does take reservations, which many guests don't know, a cast member told me. So, call 407-WDW-DINE to check if there's a spot for you.

The ESPN Club is not the only place to watch the Super Bowl on Disney property, though. There are quite a few restaurants at Downtown Disney that will be hosting fans: Bongo's Cuban Cafe, Wolfgang Puck Cafe, House of Blues, Paradiso 37, Plant Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe and Fulton's Crab House.

Plus, Splitsville is having a Super Bowl-ing Party for adults ages 21 and older who want to see the big game on its 40 flat-panel screens. For $75, each person will receive complimentary appetizers and open bar from 6 to 9 p.m. Open bowling is an additional $20, and part of the proceeds will go to Orlando-based Clean The World Foundation, a non-profit organization that collects and recycles soap and shampoo products from the hospitality industry and distributes them to impoverished communities worldwide.

In past years, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has had two viewing locations open to the public -- ESPN Grill and the Jumbotron at the Welcome Center. The Grill is open again this year, but it closes at 9 p.m., so that might not be your best choice, given that the game is unlikely to be over by last call. (Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.) The complex has not announced whether the Super Bowl will be shown on the Jumbotron because there is a softball game scheduled on the field earlier.

And then there are plenty of viewing locations at the Walt Disney World hotels, starting with the comfort of your own room. Fox television station will be carrying the 48th Super Bowl in the Orlando market; that's Channel 11 at Walt Disney World resorts. Want to join your fellow fans? Most of the pool bars and hotel lounges also will have the game on, though they may not have multiple screens.

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Finally, if you're going to be at the Magic Kingdom on Monday, be sure to check the Times Guide because you might be able to see your favorite player in person. The Super Bowl MVP traditionally comes to Disney World and will be feted in a celebratory parade down Main Street, U.S.A.

Some guests can continue their Super Bowl celebration all year with an offer from the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. Residents of both Washington and Colorado will receive a free night at the Walt Disney World hotel when booking two nights at the standard price before Feb. 28 for stays through Feb. 3, 2015. Some restrictions apply. To make reservations, call 1-800-227-1500 and mention their home state.



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February 4, 2014

First look at new Tinker Bell movie, 'The Pirate Fairy'

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It looks as though the creators of the Disney Fairies franchise have found a way to draw more interest in the already-popular, direct-to-DVD movies, perhaps especially from the young boys in the family. The fifth installment is titled "The Pirate Fairy," and what boy doesn't like pirates?

The latest movie featuring Tinker Bell and her friends is scheduled to be released on April 1, and Walt Disney Home Entertainment has been sharing more details recently. For starters, here's a synopsis of the story line:

"When a misunderstood dust-keeper fairy named Zarina steals Pixie Hollow's all-important Blue Pixie Dust, and flies away to join forces with the pirates of Skull Rock, Tinker Bell and her fairy friends must embark on the adventure of a lifetime to return it to its rightful place. However, in the midst of their pursuit of Zarina, Tink's world is turned upside down. She and her friends find that their respective talents have been switched and they have to race against time to retrieve the Blue Pixie Dust and return home to save Pixie Hollow."

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Directed by Peggy Holmes, "The Pirate Fairy" stars the voices of Tom Hiddleston as Captain (James) Hook and Christina Hendricks as Zarina, and brings back Mae Whitman, Megan Hilty, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symoné, and Anjelica Huston.

Interestingly, "Project Runway" winner and fashion designer Christian Siriano was chosen to design Zarina's signature outfit. He told USA Today: "It's so cool to see how the animators bring the clothes to life-how a sketch comes to life in the animation world. You have to think about where she'd get items for her outfits. Old rings from a chest that she might have found, rope, a hairpin for a sword, leather from an old shoe for her corset, a lot of netting and cotton fabric from the ship's sail."

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The soundtrack for "The Pirate Fairy" also boasts the work of a well-known artist. Natasha Bedingfield, who has been nominated for a Grammy, performs an original song called "Who I Am," and the album will feature her previously released track, "Weightless," as well.

The fourth movie in the series, "Secret of the Wings," debuted in 2012 and reunited Tinker Bell with the sister she didn't know she had.

"The Pirate Fairy" may have a presence at Walt Disney World, as well. Tinker Bell and one of her fellow fairies greet guests each day at Tinker Bell's Magical Nook in Adventureland. That set and the characters changed for "Secret of the Wings," so we may have something to look forward to this spring. Plus, I'm curious to see how the fifth Tinker Bell movie may influence the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival because the pixie-size houses and fairy topiaries are some of my favorite parts of the annual event.

"The Pirate Fairy" will be available to purchase on April 1 on a Blu-Ray combo pack and Digital HD. In the meantime, fans can watch trailers and play games on the movie's official site. Merchandise already has begun to reach the shelves at stores such as Disney Store and Target.



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February 6, 2014

Disney Infinity Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse finally available to public

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THE most anticipated collectible figure so far for Disney Infinity -- Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse -- finally is going to hit shelves at most gaming retailers on Sunday. However, one retailer already is magically selling it this week. Through Feb. 8, the game piece is being sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.

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The demand for this figure began last summer when it was introduced at the D23 Expo, which is a bi-annual convention for Disney enthusiasts held at the Anaheim Convention Center. Attendees at the Disney Interactive panel were surprised to receive the game piece after it was unveiled to the audience at the conclusion of the presentation.

Only 5,000 were created for D23 and distributed before the game even launched. Many of those pieces quickly made their way to eBay, where they were listed for more than $100 each. The only other way fans could get their hands on the hot Sorcerer's Apprentice figure was to purchase the Infinite Bundle, which was a holiday item that included 13 Disney Infinity characters (including Mickey Mouse), two play sets, and one toy box pack for $199.99 plus tax.

Now, however, Disney Infinity players in North America can bring the Mickey Mouse figure home for the much more reasonable $12.99 plus tax. Mickey Mouse is a universal character, meaning it can be used on any of the various console platforms -- Wii, Wii-U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo 3DS.

For those not familiar with Disney Infinity, here is a simple explanation of how the game works and what the pieces do. Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse is a single character, meaning it works only with other toys in the Toy Box. (There is no "world" for Mickey yet, because he is not part of a play set. Instead, you create your own world with what you have collected in your toy box.)

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"Mickey's Magical Escape" is a Toy Box adventure that the character unlocks. Each player helps Mickey escape from the castle while it is surrounded by the iconic brooms. Mickey can use either of his tools to accomplish this objective. The Magic Burst gives Mickey a surge of energy to confuse and escape his enemies, and the Magic Sweep allows Mickey to jump over the broomsticks. This adventure is a timed one, and the quicker you help Mickey escape, the greater your reward. Players who make like Houdini in less than 1:45 minutes earn a gold medal. If Mickey makes it out in less than 2:30 minus, the silver medal is yours. Take up to 7 minutes and you'll take home the bronze.

It is rumored that Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse will become part of the Infinite Crystal series that is sold only at Toys R Us. The Crystal figures look different in the game, have the ability to earn bonus health and experiences, and have their own statues in the Hall of Heroes.

Mickey Mouse also is represented in Disney Infinity with his car on one of the Series 1 Power Discs. When placed on the game base, this disc allows the player to drive Mickey's red jalopy in the Toy Box mode. Doing so changes the music of the game to the familiar "Mickey Mouse March."

As you would expect with the most famous mouse in the world, this game piece lives up the expectation that only Mickey Mouse can deliver. My elementary-age son enjoyed playing with the character and, of course, gave it a centerpiece display among all his other Disney Characters whenever he stored the pieces near his gaming console.

You can read more about Disney Infinity here.

DISCLAIMER: I received a review copy of Disney Infinity's Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse. My opinions are my own.



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February 8, 2014

Celebrate true love with a Disney Cruise Line wedding

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With Valentine's Day right around the corner, many of us are thinking about ways to celebrate love. Wedding ceremonies are, of course, a very public declaration of romantic love, and since 1995, Disney has taken the celebrations to a whole new level. Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons is known for the elaborate and customized destination weddings that its consultants plan at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But what if your dream is to be married in a more exotic locale? Disney Cruise Line can make that happen, too.

I have seen brides onboard when I was sailing on two different Disney ships and wondered about the planning. After all, organizing a traditional wedding can take months of work that often is stressful for some because of all the decision-making and efforts to stick to a budget. (If you've forgotten what was involved or have yet to go through it, I recommend watching "Father of the Bride.")

Happily, a Disney Cruise Line wedding is one that can be accomplished with just a little planning and a set budget, so the two of you can focus on starting your new life together. Ship weddings really are geared toward couples who will have a small number of guests in attendance. In fact, the basic packages allow for eight guests, though you can add more at an additional charge. And although brides have choices to make, they are not open-ended because of the limitations of being at sea for the wedding. And perhaps that is just as valuable as having numerous choices -- because once the choices are made, the couple can relax and leave the rest in the Disney consultants' hands.

Disney Cruise Line offers two basic cruise ceremony packages -- one that allows the couple to have their ceremony onboard for $3,000 and one in which the couple marries on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, for $4,000. Those rates are in addition to the price of the cruise. Included for the onboard ceremony:

** On-site ceremony coordinator to coordinate your ceremony day events
** Choice of personal fresh floral for the couple (You may also opt to include floral for your bridal party, available at an additional cost)
** Solo musician (pianist) for the Ceremony and Cake & Champagne Celebration
** Officiant to perform the ceremony
** Cake & Champagne Celebration onboard the ship which includes an elegant 2-tier wedding cake with keepsake cake topper, one bottle of champagne and one bottle of sparkling cider (non-alcoholic) for the toast, served by host or hostess
** Dinner for the couple at Palo on night of ceremony
** Disney Cruise Line Commemorative Ceremony Certificate
** Steaming for the couple's ceremony attire
** The ceremony couple will also receive a $100.00 onboard stateroom credit that may be used towards merchandise, spa treatments, other onboard activities and port adventures. (Any unused portions are non-refundable and non-transferable.)

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For those who get married on Castaway Cay, the package also includes transportation for the couple and their guests from the ship to the ceremony location, which usually is at Pelican Point, overlooking the water with the docked ship in the background. The Cake & Champagne Celebration still takes place onboard the ship.

Photography packages for both types of ceremonies cost extra.

Now for the smaller decisions " If you get married onboard one of the ships, you'll choose between two venues -- a private outdoor patio or an elegant lounge tucked away from the other guests. That was easy, right?

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Brides select their bouquets from six designs that have been created not only for their beauty but also for their ability to stay fresh during the cruise. (Some weddings do not take place until the end of the vacation, but everything must be loaded onto the ship when the guests embark.) Choices include:


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** Solid French Rose Bouquet - Available in red, white, ivory, hot pink, lavender, yellow and orange. You may combine up to 2 colors.

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** Tropical Bouquet - Made with eye-popping shades of hot-pink, orange and yellow

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** Oceanfront Elegance Bouquet - A beautiful all-white arrangement of roses, lilies and hydrangeas

** Garden Bouquet - Delicate pastel shades of lavender, green and white with violet accents

** Orchid and Rose Bouquet - Red roses with fuchsia and green orchids

** Calla Lily Bouquet - Available in crystal white, garnet glow, majestic red, orange mango and Florex gold. Colors may not be mixed.

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The groom's boutonniere is made to match the bride's flowers. Plus, there are more floral options that can be added to your package: crystal accents for the bride's bouquet; adding flowers for other members of the bridal party, and even a basket of rose petals for the flower girl; floral cake toppers; rose wands; orchid leis; and island-inspired décor of palm branches, shells and floral tiki torches for Castaway Cay.

Two decisions made and two to go! The wedding cake is a two-tiered confection iced in white fondant for a classic look. Couples choose the cake flavor, fillings, and the design from these four options:

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** Touch of Character - The familiar 3-circle Hidden Mickey emblem adorns both tiers

** Touch of Whimsy - Cutout dots of different sizes stud both tiers

** Touch of Romance - Wreaths of roses trim the base of each tier

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** "Under the Sea-" Beautifully molded white chocolate seashells and starfish adorn an otherwise-plain 2-tier cake, emblematic of your romantic wedding at sea. (This is considered an enhancement therefore is available at an additional cost.)

A cake topper is included, but couples are welcome to bring their own, too.

Finally, you can select your music for the ceremony and celebration from a set list of traditional and Disney-themed music, or you can bring your own music on a CD.

One thing to note is that the actual marriage takes place on embarkation day as a civil ceremony with an officiant because the ship's officers are not able to legally marry couples.

So, for all the unwed couples enjoying their flowers and boxes of chocolates next week, remember: If you do decide to take another step in proclaiming your love to one another, wedding bells don't have to be in your future. Maybe a ship's horn will be, though.

To get started planning, call Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons at 321-939-4610 or visit the website, https://www.disneyweddings.com/cruise/



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February 11, 2014

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration invitations go out to hopeful bloggers

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If you're an avid follower of family bloggers on social media, you likely saw the hashtag #DisneySMMoms show up quite a bit in your news feeds last week. That's because invitations for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration were sent out on Feb. 3, and the ecstatic and the disappointed were ready to talk about the most magical of gatherings.

What is the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration?

It's conference for bloggers who get professional communication advice from a range of speakers from national companies. Some of the past speakers have included wedding designer David Tutera; Matt Jacobson, head of market development at Facebook; Chris Brogan, president of Human Business Works, New York Times best-selling author and consultant; Ridley Pearson, the author of the "Kingdom Keepers" series for young adults and many other novels; and Rene Syler, former CBS' The Early Show Anchor and webmaster of goodenoughmother.com.

The four-day event also includes elements of a press junket, allowing conference attendees to experience what's new at the Disney Parks. Plus, it's a celebration that includes many fun family dinners and experiences. Participants pay their own way to the conference and a discounted registration fee that typically includes three nights at a deluxe resort, theme park tickets and dinners for the family, and meals for the blogger.

An invitation to Disney Social Media Moms has been among the most coveted for bloggers for the last five years. Although the conference organizers did have one year when registration was on a first-come, first-served basis, most years have been by invitation only. It's a small group -- somewhere between 150 to 200 bloggers and their families attend.

There is, of course, a lot of chatter on social media about how bloggers can make that list. And that's tough to answer because attendees have included bloggers who have huge followings and some who are just getting started. The annual roster of participants seems mostly to include mommy bloggers who write about their daily experiences with their families, though there are some participants who have travel or niche blogs. Moms who regularly blog about Disney and other Orlando theme parks actually are in the minority.

For the first time, the celebration is being held at Disneyland this year. Look for #DisneySMMoms to again peak on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during the conference, April 10-13. Though not every blogger can experience the event in person, we all can live vicariously through the posts and pictures and insight offered by this select group. It's just one more way fans can follow the latest news of all things Disney.



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February 13, 2014

Raytheon celebrates National Engineers Week with "Science Thrills Live" shows at Epcot

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No matter what your kids tell you, science can be fun, and one of Epcot's corporate sponsors, Raytheon, is offering theme-park guests the opportunity to discover this for themselves during special events planned for National Engineers Week, which is Feb. 17 to 21.

Raytheon, an aerospace and defense contractor that employs state-of-the-art electronics and communications systems for government and commercial projects, sponsors Sum of All Thrills in the theme park. This attraction allows guests to digitally design their own roller coasters and then experience a simulated ride in them.

But during National Engineers Week, the company also will conduct an interactive stage show called "Science Thrills Live" to demonstrate to Walt Disney World guests the exciting ways that science can be applied to objects in our everyday lives. Guests will learn about nucleation-triggered eruptions, thermoplastic recycling, and the conservation of angular momentum by watching soda explode and milk jugs melt and participating in a giant tug of war. The experiments will be conducted by actual scientists, and the show features Erika Ebbel, the host of "The Dr. Erika Show," and the founder of Science from Scientists.

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Erika Ebbel teaches students who have donned safety goggles about math and science.

The 20-minute shows are free and take place each day at 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. at the Innoventions Engineers Lab inside Innoventions West. Raytheon representatives will be handing out free T-shirts on Monday and sling bags on Tuesday through Friday.

Last year during National Engineers Week, Raytheon hosted family friendly sessions called "Coaster Crafters" that taught kids the basic physics behind designing roller coasters. You can read about it and see photos on my blog post here.

Can't make it to Innoventions at Epcot? There is an online version of Sum of All Thrills that allows users to create a roller coaster ride, pilot a jet fighter or race a bobsled -- and then relive their custom ride over and over again. A design table similar to the one used at Walt Disney World provides all the virtual tools users need to experience their own thrill ride and learn about some of the scientific concepts that make the attractions so exciting.

In another community effort to nurture interest in math and science, Raytheon also hosts the MATHCOUNTS national competition at Walt Disney World each spring. The contest brings together the nation's top middle-school students who have excelled at math. Raytheon's educational efforts are grouped under the MathMovesU initiative, which includes scholarships, competitions, interactive learning programs and tutoring.



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February 14, 2014

Free and fun things to do at Walt Disney World on Valentine's Day

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Beginning today -- Valentine's Day -- guests will find a few surprises in the Walt Disney World parks for the sweetest of holidays. Best of all -- they do not require advance reservations, booking a FastPass or even an extra charge! So get ready to impress your honey without any stress.

As is the tradition, on February 14, the Disney princess meet-and-greets also will include each young woman's prince. Being able to get photos with the royal couples is a rare occurrence, usually limited to Valentine's Day, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, so take advantage if you can! See our video of the pairs out together last year in the Magic Kingdom.

Also in the Magic Kingdom is the Cinderella Castle projection show, "Celebrate the Magic." This amazing 10-minute show has various seasonal segments, including one for Valentine's Day that was introduced last year. "Celebrate the Magic" will be shown twice tonight -- at 9:45 and 10:35 p.m. Unlike when you watch the parade, there is no need to stake out your spot on the curb ahead of time to watch this show. Just step onto Main Street, U.S.A., and enjoy the magic. The Magic Kingdom is open from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Feb. 14.

New this year are complimentary screenings of "Blank - A Vinylmation Love Story" at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The film is a 39-minute, stop-motion, animated short that tells the story of an unpainted Vinylmation figure in search of his lost soulmate. It's the first of 12 episodes created by Disney Interactive Entertainment on the fifth anniversary of the collectible figures.

Show times are 11:30 a.m. and 1, 2:30, 4 and 5:30 p.m. today (Feb. 14) through Monday (Feb. 17) in the Premiere Theatre. Walt Disney World passholders can attend a special screening at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 and Feb. 16, and Disney Vacation Club members can attend a screening at 10 a.m. Feb. 15 and 17. Both groups are welcome to attend any of the other shows, which will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no charge for the movie, but theme-park admission is required.

Can't make it to Disney World for Valentine's Day weekend? "Blank - A Vinylmation Love Story" can be seen online for free here.

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If you fall in love with the figures, Disney is offering some special merchandise for a limited time at Hollywood Studios and online at http://www.DisneyStore.com/Blank. Through Feb. 23, guests can purchase 3-inch, create-your-own Blank and Bow figures, T-shirts and D-Tech on Demand cases for the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5/5S. In addition, Hollywood Studios will be selling just a few sets of 3-foot Vinylmation figures that resemble Blank and Bow. One pair will be signed by the Disney Interactive team who worked on the short. There also will be 50 blank, 3-inch Vinylmation figures with custom artwork by Disney Design Group artist Thomas Scott.

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February 17, 2014

Unique Disney Fairies houses to be sold at Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

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Among the many things my family and I look forward to each year at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is the area dedicated to the Disney Fairies. What began as a promotion for the direct-to-DVD movies has grown from topiaries of each fairy to include a collection of tiny fairy houses, and the popular pieces have moved from a small Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden to inside the butterfly tent so they could be enjoyed by more guests each year.

My children and I love studying the small houses, which debuted in 2008, to see how the fairies have used everyday objects in new ways to create their homes. One of our favorites incorporates a roller skate, and another sprite took up residence in a teacup she embellished. (You can see photos of several of the fairy houses from past years on my blog here.)

Imagine my delight in learning that guests can purchase some of these houses for the first time for just two weeks during this year's Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. From March 22 to April 6, the creators and their one-of-a-kind pieces will appear in the Garden Oasis merchandise area in one of the pergolas near the Mexico pavilion. These clever garden homes actually are created for the horticulture department at Walt Disney World by Florida artists Vikki Yarborough and Ronda Maseman.

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"We are sisters that have been feeding off of one another's ideas and imagination, creating things together for many years," the two wrote. "Our current path began with making various props for gardens -- wind chimes, stepping stones, scarecrows, bird baths, mosaic garden animals, topiaries covered in seeds and homes to attract fairies. The Prop Duster Dept. was born when someone said we make props dusted with pixie dust. The fairies then asked for more, so we took a side path to create these fantasy homes."

Yarborough and Maseman work just like the fairies do -- by recycling objects that humans have discarded and by collecting things from nature.

"The creative process begins as other people's cast-offs found at flea markets, garage sales, yard sales, our own kitchen cabinets or garden shed. These items could be a sifter, old toy, copper tea pot, colander, bird house, paint cans, clay pots, and on the list goes. We never know what we will find," they wrote.

"Nature then provides us with " tree branches, sticks, bark, seed pods, leaves, moss, sand, dirt, shells -- anything that is found on the ground. The fairies don't want you to cut fresh stuff. We never leave the house without bringing a bag to gather the treasures we find. Then the fun begins, putting all these items together to create the homes."

Guests at Walt Disney World can see the results for themselves. The 21st annual Epcot Flower and Garden Festival begins on March 5 and runs through May 18. Most festival events are included in regular theme-park admission. The prices of the fairy houses will vary, based on the size and materials used.

And if you can't get enough of fairy creations, be sure to watch for "The Pirate Fairy," the fifth in the animated Tinker Bell movies, which is scheduled for release on April 1. Get a sneak peek here.

As magical as the fairy houses can be, the fairy topiaries were equally fun to see, as well, and they always made for a great photo backdrop with the kids. Unfortunately, I've recently learned that most of the topiaries will not appear this year as they have in years past. Tinker Bell will be located outside her butterfly house, though.



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February 20, 2014

Biochemist and pageant winner Dr. Erika talks about getting kids excited about science

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To celebrate National Engineers Week at Walt Disney World, aerospace and defense contractor Raytheon is hosting a science theater production for children this week. The "Science Thrills Live" show is produced by Science from Scientists, a non-profit organization whose goal is to improve science and technology awareness in middle-school and late-elementary students.

Earlier this week, I talked with the founder of Science from Scientists, Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle, about her passion for getting kids involved with science. Ebbel Angle is a former Miss Massachusetts, MIT alumna, has a PhD in biochemistry from Boston University and is the host of the "Dr. Erika Show."

How do you get kids excited about science?

There are several ways. The first is to make it real, so rather than make it something that's covered in a textbook or described only as something they can imagine, you have to make it tangible. Part of the purpose of this science theater show is to make something they can see real and then correlate it back so you have real examples of scientific concepts.

The second way is by having the right people. You have to have fun, cool, charismatic folks talking about the material so you're dispelling the stereotype that all scientists are boring and have no other interests. So you have to find folks who are capable of talking to kids and getting them excited and making it understandable. Many scientists have a challenging time doing that.

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How does relaying your story as pageant participant help girls relate to you and your mission?

The purpose of it [her crown] is to show that science is not a single activity for which you could have no other interests. So for me, my secret is that I have done pageants, I play the piano, I have other interests. So whether you're an athlete or an artist, a magician or whether you like to play the kazoo, the point is that you can be a scientist or engineer and have other interests, as well. So, the messaging with the crown is "Look -- it doesn't matter what your other interests are. It doesn't affect whether you can become a scientist."

How do you reach out especially to girls and get them interested in STEM activities?

From what I've heard and from talking to girls between the ages of 5 and 13, the concerns are "Well, if I'm a scientist, no one will like me or I won't have friends" or "I'm going to be labeled a geek." No. 1: It's cool to be a geek because if you're not a geek, one day you'll probably be working for one. No. 2: Embrace who you are. " That doesn't affect whether or not you can be a scientist, a biochemist, an astrophysicist, an engineer.

So, the message to girls is "You are who you are. Be very comfortable with that. Don't let what other people say to you affect the decisions that you make. Don't let people harass you into thinking you can't do something because you're a girl. It's just the same as saying, 'You wear pink shoes, and, therefore, you can't be a scientist'."

Again, producing high-quality role models helps so girls say, "OK, that person is a scientist and they're pretty normal and have a life and other interests." And then just helping them to be themselves and encouraging them to be comfortable in their own skin and letting the rest go.

Do you find that kids are especially interested in one branch of science over others?

That's an interesting question. Historically there have been many fewer women in science, especially in engineering, than men. I think a lot of that has to do with role models. But now that there are more women in medicine, in the life sciences -- biology, chemistry -- you're seeing even more women apply. Statistics show that more women go to college than men these days, and there are quite a few in medical school and in the life sciences. But fewer in physics and computer science. I think part of that is that girls don't see many women, so as a result they have no role models.

So one of the things we try to do is find these people and say, " 'Come out, talk to kids, and say they can do it'." Maybe in the next five to 10 years we may start seeing a shift as more women [are more visible].

The trend has been very interesting even for boys. Girls outscore boys on the SAT, and their grades are better. I think there are a variety of different reasons. Boys tend to mature a little later and then they finally settle into themselves and become who they are later on. There's also a different mindset. I've noticed that men and women think very differently. As girls get older, they're less afraid to fail. Whether that's environmental or genetic, who knows? Boys don't care as much about just raising their hands and being wrong. But girls won't raise their hands if they're not totally sure.

Ultimately if the activities are good enough and the content isn't boring, I think you can encourage both simultaneously.

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Tell me a little about what are you working on in your professional life.

As the founder of Science from Scientists, I'm still involved. In Massachusetts, we send real scientists into the classroom every other week for the entire year to teach curriculum-relevant lessons. Science theater is one of our outreach programs, but our flagship program is in the schools. We want to improve both the attitudes and the aptitudes. We're looking for statewide test score improvement.

I'm also starting a biotech company. As a biochemist, I love studying diseases so that we can help people. How can we do something to cure the chronic conditions for which there are no cure -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS. The biotech [Counterpoint Health Solutions] is really geared at developing diagnostic tools as well as therapies for people who have or are in theory at risk for developing some of these conditions. So we have technology that can identify those people and then a way of helping them on the back end.

What would you like families to take away from these shows at Epcot?

This is such a great opportunity for us because we hope in the 15 minutes we have to reach the kids with science theater that we [inspire] them. We hope they wonder why a Coke bottle will spray eight feet in the air. Science is amazing and we take for granted how things work.

I think if you're a kid and you're born into all this amazing technology, you don't always appreciate just how complex and awesome it is that it exists at all. If we can at least open their eyes to start thinking about these things, they might want to be involved. I'm hoping this will at least help kids to ask more questions and to be more curious.

NOTE: The 15-minute "Science Thrills Live" shows are free with admission to Epcot and take place each day this week at 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. at the Innoventions Engineers Lab inside Innoventions West. Raytheon also sponsors the Sum of All Thrills attraction at Epcot, which allows guests to digitally design their own roller coasters and then experience a simulated ride in them.



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February 21, 2014

Radio Disney hosts free concert for families Saturday in Central Florida

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Radio Disney is kicking off its first "On the Road to the RDMAs [Radio Disney Music Awards]" tour with a free concert in Central Florida on Saturday. Families are invited to come out to the Leesburg Mardi Gras Celebration to hear Mexican-American rapper Becky G and British pop rock band The Vamps, and to meet rock band Before You Exit from Orlando.

Although adults might not readily recognize these artists, chances are kids are familiar with these up-and-comers. Here's why:

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Becky G was chosen as Radio Disney's "N.B.T." (Next Big Thing) in 2013. Becky G got her start uploading remixes to YouTube, which led to her being discovered by producer Dr. Luke and later signed to his label Kemosabe/RCA Records. The music video for her debut single, "Becky from the Block," features a cameo by Jennifer Lopez and has gotten more than 8 million views on YouTube. Her EP "Play It Again" includes her new single "Can't Get Enough" featuring Pitbull. Becky G also may be recognized from her modeling photos because she has a contract with Cover Girl.

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The Vamps, signed by Island Def Jam, currently are touring with Taylor Swift on the UK leg of her "Red" tour and opened for Selena Gomez at her London "Stars Dance" tour stops. They will be performing with The Wanted on their "Word of Mouth" tour later this year. The Vamps first single "Can We Dance" debuted at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, and they are releasing their initial studio album later this year.

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Before You Exit (BYE) is a trio of brothers (Connor, Riley and Toby McDonough) from Orlando, who write and perform pop rock music. Their first EP "A Short Story" was released in 2009, and they performed their songs when they opened for All Time Low on their "My Small Package" tour. In 2013, the band released its EP "I Like That" and toured behind it with Olly Murs. They also opened at Cody Simpson's North American concerts and performed at the Radio Disney Holiday Concert in Celebration.

Much like the holiday concert, this Mardi Gras event gives kids the chance to hear live music and perhaps even attend their first concert. My own elementary-school-age children have enjoyed attending the holiday concert in Celebration for several years.

The Leesburg Mardi Gras Celebration, which takes place on Main Street in the historic downtown area, begins at 11 a.m. with Radio Disney's Orlando Road Crew hosting family friendly activities before the concert. The Vamps take the stage at 12:30 p.m., followed by Becky G at 1:15 p.m. Both The Vamps and Becky G will participate in a public meet-and-greet, starting at 3 p.m. Before You Exit will greet fans at 2 p.m.

Attendees also will have the opportunity to vote for RDMA artists via an interactive kiosk. To read more about the nominees, visit www.disney.com/RDMA

"On The Road to the RDMAs" is a seven-city tour that continues on to Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles. The road show culminates in a free Radio Disney Music Awards Pre-Show Festival that will take place in Nokia Plaza (at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles) in the hours leading up to the awards show on April 26.



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February 24, 2014

SeaWorld Orlando's water park Aquatica to open new attraction Ihu's Breakaway Falls on May 9

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As of May 9, thrill-seekers will have a new attraction to conquer in Orlando. That's when SeaWorld's Aquatica debuts Ihu's Breakaway Falls, the tallest, steepest and only multi-drop tower slide of its kind in the southern United States.

During a recent hard-hat tour of the construction site, I spoke with Bryan Nadeau, the vice president of Aquatica, about the new attraction.

"When the sun is hitting it and these guests are falling, at 20 feet per second -- you're going to be able to see these guys flying through these translucent tubes all the way around the structure," he said.

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Nadeau answered many questions that we expect AllEars.Net readers and water park enthusiasts to ask:

Just how high is high?

The platform where riders will start the body slides is about 80 feet from the ground. Ihu's Breakaway Falls will be the tallest structure at Aquatica at 105 feet overall.

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What am I getting myself into?

Riders step into one of three clear "breakaway boxes" that face each other. The see-through bottom drops out and guests plummet in a free fall that transitions into an exciting body slide.

Will I have any control over when I start my ride?

You will be asked to give the ride operator a thumbs up when you're ready to go. After that, you have to wait and see what happens. The ride operator can set the boxes to drop randomly or all together. Each guest will hear a countdown, but he or she will not know if other guests are hearing it at the same time.

Just how fast will I be going?

Riders will drop at about 20 feet per second. The free fall ranges from 27 feet to 40 feet on the three slides that are positioned at an 80-degree angle.

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What happens after the free fall?

Riders transition from a vertical position to a horizontal one and circle the structure in four loops at a speed of 16 miles per hour. The entire ride lasts 20 to 30 seconds.

Should I ride Ihu's Breakaway Falls more than once?

That's up to you, of course, but if you do, you're likely to have a slightly different experience each time. That's because each of the four tubes -- purple, green, blue and orange -- takes a unique path.

Can I enjoy this attraction without experiencing the free fall?

Yes, a fourth slide is an open tube that starts from the same platform and does not have a breakaway box.

Can young kids who are brave enough ride Ihu's Breakaway Falls?

Like the Dolphin Plunge and Omaka Rocka water slides, there is a 48-inch minimum-height requirement.

How are animals incorporated in the ride?

Although guests zooming through this ride won't be seeing any animals -- there's no time! -- Aquatica team members will be offering animal interactions near the attraction. Ihu, the water park's colorful gecko, will be represented by a real gecko.

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Where is this attraction located?

Ihu's Breakaway Falls is being built where the cabanas were situated adjacent to the wave pool. The cabanas are being moved to the island in the center of Roa's Rapids and are expected to open prior to Ihu's Breakaway Falls.

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How can I follow the progress of construction on Ihu's Breakaway Falls?

By reading AllEars.Net, of course! Aquatica also has set up a new Facebook page just for this attraction.



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February 27, 2014

Author Ridley Pearson launches final 'Kingdom Keepers' book at Walt Disney World in March

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"Kingdom Keepers" fans who will be visiting Walt Disney World next month are in for a treat. Author Ridley Pearson will be signing copies of the final installment of his series, and guests can purchase the book days ahead of its national release date.

"Kingdom Keepers: The Insider" is the seventh book in the popular Young Adult series that takes place inside the Walt Disney World theme parks and aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. But this book was created differently than the others in the series because Pearson allowed readers to help write the book. By using a free app, also called Kingdom Keepers Insider, fans were allowed to submit ideas and actual writing to be considered for publication.

When I interviewed Pearson at the start of this process last year, he said, "I really feel so grateful to the readers that I felt it a little unfair if I was the only one who decided how this whole world was going to come to a close."

"I'm going to post a chapter every Sunday and a piece of the outline for the next week. The readers will come in and vote on things and give me suggestions and write fan fiction that I will actually clip right into the book. Then I will finish that next chapter and post it Sunday, and we'll start the process over. So, in real time, the reader will be seeing what the book is going to be as I'm writing it and help me decide where it goes. Near the end, we'll stop that and I'll finish the book on my own " It's really going to be a fun process."

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Now, it's time to see what the collaboration has produced. The book, which will be released on April 1, is described this way: "In this, the final installment in the epic Kingdom Keepers series, betrayal and ambition push the boundaries of loyalty. Chasing scattered clues in pursuit of a long-lost icon, whose magic offers a fighting chance against an evil that Walt Disney himself created, the Keepers find their hearts and minds tested in the park where it all began. Bonds that once threatened to fray are renewed under the pressure for survival. As the five are pushed to their limits"and then beyond, feelings intensify behind self-imposed walls of well kept secrets."

As he has done for the past several years, Pearson will make two appearances at Walt Disney World to promote the book. On March 26, the author will be signing books from 4 to 6 p.m. at Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace. The next day, March 27, Pearson will visit Writer's Stop at Hollywood Studios from 9 to 11 a.m.


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My 11-year-old son is a huge Kingdom Keepers fan, and we have attended several book signings. Over the years, we have collected some tips that may be helpful to first-timers. Here's what you need to know:

** Lines will begin forming hours prior to the Downtown Disney signing, so plan to be there early. A limited number of wristbands will be distributed.

** In order to get an autograph, you are required to purchase KK7 at Walt Disney World. Each person with a wristband is allowed to purchase two copies of the book. Fans who want to purchase the book but don't want to wait for an autograph are directed to a separate queue. (Passholder discounts are applicable to these purchases.)

** Regular theme-park admission is required for the event at Hollywood Studios.

** Your time with Pearson is brief, so be prepared. If you'd like him to write something special in your book, jot it down ahead of time.

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** Be on the lookout for surprises while waiting in line. Last year, Pearson took the time to walk through the queue, greeting all his Kingdom Keepers readers and posing for photos before the event started.

** If you arrive too late to obtain a wristband, which guarantees a meeting with Pearson, ask about the stand-by queue. Another group of guests are given different wristbands in case the author has time to meet additional fans during the event.

Finally, for the many fans who are sad to see this series end, don't fret too much. Pearson has indicated a new series would continue the adventures of the Kingdom Keepers.

"We were debating something considerably different for the second series, and I think it won't be all that different in a lot of ways because I'm having a hard time letting go of the characters and the readers polled are having a hard time letting go of it being about the [Disney] parks," he told me. "They'll be older. I hope it will be mostly the same characters and also set in the Disney parks."



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About February 2014

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in February 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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