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May 2014 Archives

May 1, 2014

DisneyBound encourages fans to put together outfits that mimic Disney characters' costumes

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A recent trend called "DisneyBounding" has Disney fans paying homage to their favorite Disney characters with fashion -- and without breaking the bank to purchase fancy costumes.

The term took root when blogger Leslie Kay started a Tumblr page about a year ago to showcase the Disney-inspired outfits she put together. It's a place, she says, "where fashion geeks and Disney nerds collide." Kay, a self-professed fashionista and Disney fan, searches for just the right clothes and accessories to create a character look. Then, artist Phillip Light creates an illustration for her website, and links to online stores are added so admirers can purchase the looks they love.

Kay says, though, that DisneyBounding isn't all about spending the big bucks on an extravagant outfit. "DisneyBound is meant to be inspiration for you to pull together your own outfits which work for your body and wallet, whether from your closet or local mall," she writes on her Tumblr page.

For a quick peek at some of the amazing outfits, take a look at DisneyBound on Instagram and Pintrest.

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DisneyBounding has other advantages, too. Unlike with traditional cosplay, DisneyBounding allows Disney fans to create sophisticated outfits that some might not even recognize as mimicking those worn by Disney characters. They can go about their day, looking great, and not feel like they are wearing a costume. DisneyBounding can be as obvious or subtle as the wearer chooses.

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Plus, let's face it, most Disney costumes for adults are only available in the fall as Halloween approaches. What if you have a Disney-themed trip or party planned the rest of the year? DisneyBounding could solve your problem. DisneyBounding also would be a great solution for all ages when there is a shortage of popular character costumes in retail stores. Many desperate parents could have used DisneyBounding last fall after "Frozen" premiered in theaters. Disney underestimated the demand for Anna and Elsa costumes, and its stores are just now restocking.

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When my children were much younger, I pulled together a couple of Halloween costumes based on Disney characters out of necessity. My kids had their hearts set on dressing up as certain characters and no costumes were available for purchase at that time. It certainly wasn't called DisneyBounding back then!

The outfit that most stands out in my mind was one for my son, who wanted to be Shane from "Camp Rock," when his sister was Mitchie. It took a year for Disney Consumer Products to catch up to the movie's popularity, so I filled in on costume duty. Finding black jeans and Converse sneakers was no problem, but locating a gray-and-black striped sweater like the rock star Joe Jonas wore in the movie was next to impossible. I tried every store I could think of before I finally found one at a consignment shop. My son's costume definitely was on the subtle side that year.

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Today, maybe DisneyBounding makes things a little easier.

Because of the variety of characters Kay styles on her website, it's difficult to discern which one is her favorite. "People ask me that all the time, but my most favorite thing about Disney is Walt himself. As a creative, driven person, I can't help but look up to him as a role model," the DisneyBounding founder writes. "However, my favorite princesses are Ariel and Rapunzel, I love Jack Sparrow, would want to be best friends with Stitch and I've had a lifetime love for Winnie the Pooh."



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May 3, 2014

Coming this fall: Disney Infinity 2.0 with Marvel super heroes

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As most gaming enthusiasts expected, Disney Interactive announced this week that Marvel's Super Heroes will be assembling in the second edition of the popular Disney Infinity video game.

Which characters can we expect to see when Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes is released in the fall? The Avengers' Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Hawkeye will debut first. Eventually, Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will feature more than 20 new interactive figures from across the Marvel universe.

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Disney Infinity 2.0 also will have "original storylines penned by award-wining Marvel comic writer Brian Michael Bendis and an all-new Toy Box mode that makes it easier for players to create and share their one-of-a-kind levels and mini-games with family and friends. In addition, all characters and power discs from last year's release of Disney Infinity will be compatible with the Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes Toy Box," according to a press release.

One change, however, is that Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will not be available for the Wii or Nintendo 3DS systems, as the original version is. Instead, new gaming platforms have been added - Playstation 4, Xbox One, iOS tablets and smart phones. The Marvel version also will be compatible with Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PCs, which were platforms for the original game, as well.

"Marvel Super Heroes fit perfectly into Disney Infinity, and with them we are pushing the platform's limits of creativity and imagination," said John Blackburn, Vice President and General Manager of Avalanche Software. "We've enhanced and redesigned the gameplay to match the Marvel characters, while also making it easier than ever for players to express and share their own creativity."

Forbes.com offers some specifics about the new game play: "The Toy Box is getting a bump in Disney Infinity 2.0 as well with new structured, franchise-themed adventures that players can customize and play using any in-game character from across the Disney Infinity universe. A new Creator tool helps players build worlds faster and easier.

"New pyramid-shaped discs deliver franchise-themed games to the Toy Box, too. Build and customize your games by using Toy Box toys of your choice and play through each game using any Disney Infinity character to complete missions. Gameplay is enhanced with new combat and more destructible game worlds along with a new set of Marvel gadgets and vehicles.

"Bring [existing Disney Infinity figures] into the new game and they get a level cap increase from level 15 to 20 along with skills that are chosen using the Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes skill tree. Finally, the power discs. New circular and hexagonal Power Discs add costumes and Area of Effect attacks. Hexagonal power discs will add new weapons, vehicles and sky and terrain customizations."

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Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will be sold as a Starter Pack, which includes the video game; three collectible characters, Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow; a Disney Infinity 2.0 base; two Toy Box game discs; a Marvel's The Avengers play set piece; and a web code card. Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes currently is rated "RP" by the ESRB.



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May 6, 2014

A Perfect Petals Brunch features Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and new Disney collections

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On Sunday, I attended A Perfect Petals Brunch, featuring The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley, at Epcot. The highlight of the event was the ability to be one of the first to purchase bags with the new Mickey's Perfect Petals pattern. But guests enjoyed quite a few other treats along the way.

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When my girlfriends and I stepped into World ShowPlace, we felt as if we had stepped into the ultimate ladies' brunch (though we did see some supportive men in attendance, as well.) We checked in and were greeted by servers with trays of mimosas while we waited for the doors to open. To capture our imagination, there was a beautiful photo opportunity showing a lighted Cinderella's coach parked in gardens blooming with Vera Bradley's Perfect Petals flowers.

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Plus, there was a display with the next pattern in The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley: Bouncing Bouquet. This pattern has a white background with bright pinks, oranges, yellows and greens, and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are peeking out from among the flowers. Overall, it reminds me a lot of the Just Mousing Around pattern, though that one has a pink background. The display showed the pattern on the Large Duffle, Campus Backpack, Hipster, Vera and Large Cosmetic bags. In addition, there was a Smartphone Wristlet displayed in a coordinating fabric. Bouncing Bouquet will be available later this spring when the Marketplace Co-Op opens at Downtown Disney.

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As we were welcomed into the large space that is World ShowPlace, we saw tables dressed in the companion fabrics to the Mickey's Perfect Petals pattern. The tablecloths were the same pattern as the new wristlet, and the napkins were made from Flower Shower, which looks just like Perfect Petals but without the classic Mickey symbols. Cast members were quick to tell guests that the cloth napkins were theirs to take home. Our name tags, menu and other printed materials all showed the Mickey's Perfect Petals design, too.

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Then, the meal began with seasonal fruit and berries, breakfast breads and Danish, juice and water. Our main course was roasted artichoke, sundried tomato quiche paired with seared free-range chicken breast with lobster cream sauce. They were served with oven-browned potatoes with Nueske's bacon and leeks and grilled asparagus. Finally, we were presented with a white-and-milk-chocolate Mickey Mouse dome with citrus and whipped cream for dessert. It was a delicious as it was beautiful.

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As our plates were cleared away, Disney's own fashionista, Isabella, warmed up the crowd with trivia questions and a few Vera Bradley giveaways. Then, it was time for a question-and-answer session between Isabella and Vera Bradley co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard. Baekgaard talked about her history with Walt Disney World, which began as a child when her family lived on Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach and traveled to the resort.

I was surprised to learn that Baekgaard performed in water ski shows when she was in high school. Cypress Gardens, which was located in Winter Haven, also had a show in Miami Beach, she said. A photo shown at the brunch showed Baekgaard on skis at the base of a pyramid with her sisters.

"We [also] did ski jumping," Baekgaard said. "I had one routine where I climbed a stepladder that was on a disc that turned around while on skis."

I had the good fortune to interview Baekgaard when she visited Walt Disney World last year to launch The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley, so I had heard some of what she talked about at the brunch, especially the history of her company and their commitment to fund-raising for breast cancer research. You can read more about those topics in my previous blog post.

Baekgaard had a strong bond with her mother and this occasion was billed as a Mother's Day event, so some of the talk focused on Baekgaard's mother's role in the Vera Bradley company, which is named after her.

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"My mother was great. She was my total inspiration because I didn't go to design school. I just grew up in the house of Vera," Baekgaard said.

"She was an Elizabeth Arden model. Actually, she was in high school in St. Louis, and Elizabeth Arden, the person, came to the cosmetic counter where my mother was working and discovered her. She said she had the perfect oval face and was very beautiful. Elizabeth Arden took her to New York as her model."

Vera Bradley worked as a sales representative for the company that was named after her, her daughter said.

"When Mother died [as a result of an automobile accident], it was very fast and she looked beautiful so it was an open coffin. We did make clothes at the time, and a lot of her customers that she sold to came to the funeral. We had her laid out and she had on a Vera Bradley outfit, but it was in one of our new patterns and we hadn't released it yet. "One of her customers walked up to the casket and got a little carried away. All of a sudden we hear, 'Is that the new blue?' I thought that was so perfect because she was selling even at the end. She would have loved that."

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Baekgaard spoke for about 15 minutes, and I really wished that part of the event could have been longer. I would have loved to have heard more about her life and her company.

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After her talk concluded, servers brought out gifts for each guest. The scene was reminiscent of Oprah's Favorite Things show on television, and certainly the closest I'll ever get to being in that audience! Inside our gift bags, we found a three-piece cosmetic bag set in the Flower Shower print.

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Guests then were encouraged to pick up their pre-ordered merchandise; visit the boutique for a selection of Mickey's Perfect Petals and past Disney-patterned bags; and have their photos taken with Baekgaard. Baekgaard took her time greeting guests and signing autographs on Perfect Petals cards designed just for the occasion, and she was happy to introduce her granddaughter, Maggie.

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Mickey's Perfect Petals merchandise that was not sold at the brunch will be made available when the Marketplace Co-Op opens at Downtown Disney later this spring.



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May 7, 2014

Last-minute Mother's Day presents from Disney Floral & Gifts

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Did Mother's Day sneak up on you when you meant to order something from the Disney Parks or make a brunch reservation on Disney property? Don't worry! You can still recover nicely from your absentmindedness with the help of Disney Floral & Gifts.

The service helps create memorable moments for mothers celebrating at Walt Disney World and Disneyland or at home. There are several pre-packaged gift collections, or you can create your own from a large selection of containers and gift items.

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A Magical Wish is a gift to encourage the woman who has supported you to go after her own dreams. This gift is presented in a pixie-dusted box, topped with blue satin ribbon. A black velvet jewelry box inside holds an exclusive Swarovski crystal and silver-plated bracelet featuring three charms with the words "Dream, Wish and Believe." A magical wand and wish card are also tucked inside to remind her she has all she needs to create something magical. The price is $129.95.

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The Mother's Day Collection - Grand Family Celebration consists of an adorable insulated tote bag filled with treats for the whole family, a photo frame and a colorful bouquet of flowers. The bag is stuffed with goodies such as Minnie's Bake Shop Cookies and chocolate covered pretzels, and the arrangement includes red, yellow and fuchsia roses, plus white stargazer lilies. The cost is $191.95. Both the tote bag with treats and the flowers can be purchased separately, as well.

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The Mother's Day Collection - Royal Princess Celebration is a sweet set of gifts for a woman who loves pink and all things royal. An arrangement of pastel pink roses and carnations is accompanied by a delicious Cinderella Castle milk chocolate box with three conversation chocolates that remind mom to wish, dream and believe. She'll also discover her very own sparkling tiara. The cost is $152.95.

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If your budget is smaller, why not treat your mom to a Disney Balloon Bouquet in spring colors with an attached box of Mickey Mouse-shaped white, dark and milk chocolates for $49.95. My Fairy Tale Bouquet is an arrangement of roses and lilies topped with a light-up mirror in the shape of Cinderella Castle for $68.95.

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Think you know exactly what your Disney-loving mother would like? Use the Custom Gift Builder service to design the perfect present.

Disney Floral & Gifts delivers throughout Walt Disney World and also to many locations off property. Visitors can call 407-827-GIFT for more information regarding the delivery service area, and orders can be placed up to 2 p.m. for same-day delivery. You also still have time to place orders for at-home deliveries for Mother's Day, but certain products are excluded, such as fresh floral, fruit, balloons, bottles of liquid (including alcohol) and chocolate are for local delivery only. Choose next-business day shipping and order by noon EST Thursday to receive a gift in time for Mother's Day, which is Sunday.



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May 10, 2014

Take the plunge on Ihu's Breakaway Falls at SeaWorld's Aquatica

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Orlando's tallest, steepest water-slide attraction opened yesterday at SeaWorld's Aquatica. Are you brave enough to give it a try?

My 9-year-old daughter was -- and there were plenty of adults who wouldn't step foot onto Ihu's Breakaway Falls during a media event Thursday! Few theme-park rides frighten my daughter, but this one made her think twice before climbing 126 steps to the 80-foot-tall platform. I believe she mostly was apprehensive about not being able to wear her goggles to see better because she normally wears glasses on dry land. The "thrill" part of the ride didn't paralyze her, as it would some kids.

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After taking in the amazing view of SeaWorld and Aquatica, my daughter stepped into the clear chamber as the rhythmic drumming of a heartbeat beat in the background. When she was ready, she crossed her arms and legs, gave the team member a thumb-up sign, and waited for her countdown to start. Then, the bottom dropped out and she plunged at a rate of 20 to 24 feet per second before splashing into a spiral speed slide. (During normal operation of the attraction, three riders will be in position, one in each breakaway box, and they won't know who will drop first, adding to the anticipation.)

My daughter emerged at the bottom of the water slide all smiles. She was shaking a little from the adrenaline, but she was not upset by the experience. She said she expected it to be a scarier than it was, so she was fine once she had experienced it. Still, this attraction is not for the faint of heart or anyone with ongoing medical conditions.

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My daughter first rode the orange slide, which drops more than three stories and is the longest of the four slides, at 420 feet. Each translucent tube slide offers riders a different experience. The green slide has the shortest drop, but it's still a 28-foot fall. And the blue slide is the steepest of the trio that start with breakaway boxes.

Next, my daughter tried the purple slide, which does not have a breakaway box. It does start from the same platform, though, and it has the steepest incline. She said she liked that slide best and she rode it multiple times. Neither slide, however, caused the dreaded wedgie, she was happy to report.

See a first-person point-of-view video of Ihu's Breakaway Falls:

Although it may seem like hours for those who are frightened, the ride really only lasts about 7 seconds total, I was told. Most of us can talk ourselves through that, right?

What to know before you go:

** Riders must be at least 48 inches tall to experience Ihu's Breakaway Falls. The maximum weight allowed is 300 pounds.

** Nothing can be carried on this ride, including cameras.

** Riders cannot wear items that may come loose, such as goggles or jewelry.

For the opening weekend, Aquatica is testing a fun green-screen photo opportunity. Visitors can pose individually or with their friends and family, and their image will be placed in the promotional artwork for the attraction. The cost is $15 per image. That price buys you a 6 x 8 print, and the image also is sent via email or text to the recipient. Additional images for the same person are $5. The Ihu's Breakaway Falls photo booth is the first of its kind at the water park, which doesn't have professional photographers stationed throughout the park.

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On the day before the official opening of Ihu's Breakaway Falls, there was a small selection of branded merchandise.

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To take a look at all the other attractions that Aquatica has to offer families, please see my previous post.

One-day admission to Aquatica is $46 for adults and $41 for ages 3 to 9. The Splash and Save ticket, which must be purchased in advance online and is good through May 31, is $28 per person.



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May 13, 2014

Try a Florida turtle walk this summer or learn more about it at SeaWorld and Walt Disney World

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This summer, my family is going to experience a unique Florida event, one that both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld support, but it doesn't take place in a theme park.

Loggerhead sea turtle nesting season, which runs approximately May through October, gives Florida residents and visitors an opportunity to learn about the species. The turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs in holes, or nests, on the beach and then they make their way back to the ocean. Only about 10 of the dozens of eggs laid in each nest will survive to adulthood, a Walt Disney World cast member told me.

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To increase the public's awareness about the plight of sea turtles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allow a few trained and approved groups to conduct nighttime turtle walks along certain beaches in Brevard County. The walks take place in June and July, and registration opened this month. The walks fill up quickly because they are so popular, so sign up now if you are interested.

The Sea Turtle Preservation Society is one of the approved groups that conducts turtle walks in Melbourne Beach. They take place every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night in June and Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights in July along with the first Friday and Saturday in August. Children must be at least 6 years old, and a donation of at least $15 per adult and $10 per child (ages 6 to 12) is required to participate.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy also offers guided turtle walks through the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which includes Vero Beach, on Monday through Friday nights in June and July. In addition to the loggerhead turtles, endangered leatherback sea turtles nest in the Carr Refuge. Children must be at least 7 years old, and a donation of at least $15 per person is required to participate.

For both programs, turtle watchers meet promptly at 8:45 p.m. for a brief interpretive program on threats to sea turtle survival. Afterwards, participants will wait at beach crossover points with their guides while scouts search for a nesting loggerhead. Then, they take off on a beach walk that may be about a mile in soft sand. Turtle watches can last until midnight or later.

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At Disney's Vero Beach Resort, The Sea Turtle Conservancy also will kick off its Tour de Turtles in August. Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is a fun way to learn about the long migration of sea turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Tracking is done through satellite telemetry, with transmitters sending signals each time a turtle surfaces to breathe. Those who follow along at tourdeturtles.org will be exposed to the science and geography of sea-turtle migration. At the same time, researchers hope to gain more knowledge about the migratory practices of the endangered species because so much still is unknown. (Read more about Tour de Turtles in my previous blog post.)

Can't make it to the Treasure Coast to see the turtles for yourself?

You can learn more about turtle conservation on June 4 at Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Walt Disney World celebrates World Oceans Day each year with interactive exhibits inside the pavilion. I wrote about past events here.

Or, if you are visiting SeaWorld Orlando, make sure to go to the Turtle Trek attraction, which is open year round. The tanks in the pre-show area house turtles that SeaWorld has rescued and is rehabilitating. Guests move from the animal habitat into the first 360-degree dome theater, which shows a 3D film about the life of a sea turtle. The movie is from the turtle's point of view and depicts its life -- including the daily dangers -- from birth to adulthood. (You can read more about it here.) The film's message is one of conservation: That everyday heroes can make a difference in nature.

Last week, SeaWorld Orlando's Aquarium Team traveled to Hobe Sound, Fla., to return three loggerhead sea turtles, and then to Sebastian Inlet in Melbourne Beach, Fla., to return a green sea turtle. The green sea turtle was rescued by a University of Central Florida turtle monitoring group and transported to SeaWorld Orlando by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. So far in 2014, SeaWorld Orlando has rescued 29 sea turtles and returned 13 back to the water.



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May 15, 2014

What you need to know about 2014 Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World

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The galaxy has expanded with new offerings this year for Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World. Advance planning definitely is key to experiencing all that Disney's Hollywood Studios has to offer from May 16 to June 15. So, if you're prepared to master The Force, read my tips below and start scheduling your day to oppose the forces of the Dark Side. Or join Luke's father. Your choice, of course.

1. I can't say this enough: Get to Disney's Hollywood Studios before it officially opens at 8 a.m. if you want to sign up for children's events or get FastPasses for celebrity encounters. The Jedi Training Academy and Padawan Mind Challenge require registration, which is available immediately after the rope drop and are located in front of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Theater and ABC Sound Stage, respectively. Both kid events typically are full and have waiting lists by mid-morning. The system for distributing FastPasses for celebrity autographs begins outside the main gates to the right where guests must line up. You may not save a place in line for other party members, and distribution may begin before the park opens. (For more details about the celebrity meet-and-greets, see the AllEars.Net resource page.)

2. Because FastPasses for many attractions can be booked in advance online at My Disney Experience, be sure to schedule times for the Star Tours ride, and any Star Wars-themed stage shows featuring the celebrity guests, such as "Behind the Force," that interest you. For the first time in the event's history, Mark Hamill, who everyone here on Earth and in all the universes far, far away knows played Luke Skywalker in the original film trilogy, will be the celebrity guest from June 6 to 8. Guests staying at Disney resorts can book these FastPasses up to 60 days in advance, while other guests can book at 30 days out from their visit. Also, if you plan to have a table-service meal, make those reservations, too, because the theme park will be as busy as a Mos Eisley cantina during Star Wars Weekends. Resort guests can book dining reservations 190 days from the day they check in, and all other guests can book at 180 days prior to their visit.

3. Several special Star Wars-themed dining events were introduced this year. The Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast! at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant features favorite characters from the Dark Side, while Jedi Mickey's Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine offers interactions with Disney characters dressed as Star Wars characters during a buffet dinner. The Feel the Force Premium Package includes reserved premium seats for the celebrity motorcade with snacks and drinks and a reserved viewing area and dessert during the fireworks. Most of these events sold out quickly, but you can always call 407-WDW-DINE to check for cancellations. (They do not show up on My Disney Experience.)

4. Don't leave Hollywood Studios early! The evening entertainment has changed from the popular Hyperspace Hoopla stage show to the new Symphony in the Stars fireworks. This state-of-the-art evening finale is expected to feature favorite Star Wars characters, a frenzy of fireworks and Glow with the Show elements at 9:30 p.m.

5. If you're a Florida resident, you can take advantage of the 3-day Discover Disney Ticket, which costs $129 and gives you admission to any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks for three separate days. It's good through June 6, which means you could choose to use it at the first three Star Wars Weekends or the first day of the fourth weekend. There is also a four-day option for $149. If you don't have a seasonal or annual pass, this is a great alternative because the regular price of one day's admission is almost $100 for an adult.

If the worst-case scenario comes to pass and you forgot to pre-book FastPasses, you couldn't secure reservations to Star Wars character meals and you ran into some serious delays on the planet Mustafar, there still are plenty of ways to make the day special for the Star Wars fans in your family. First, when you arrive at the park, go directly to Guest Relations and see if there are any openings for the meals you're interested in. While you're waiting in line there, use the My Disney Experience app on your smartphone to book any available FassPasses for attractions, including Star Tours. Then, stake out a place to see the Celebrity Motorcade at 11 a.m. There are so many Star Wars characters in one place that you can't help but feel immersed in the story universe. Afterward, be sure to stop by Darth's Mall for event merchandise and special interactive activities, including character meet-and-greets with Luke, Princess Leia, R2D2 and C-3PO. You will find other Star Wars character locations throughout the park, too. Treat your child to a Star Wars themed lunch pack or an amazing dessert at the counter-service locations. Finally, wrap up your day with the new fireworks show. If you're willing to brave the lines, The Force surely will be with you at Star Wars Weekends.



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May 16, 2014

Details revealed about the new Club Disney child-care center at Polynesian Resort

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Walt Disney World has been teasing us this spring with a steady stream of details about the renovations that have begun at the Polynesian Resort. Among the less-publicized changes is a complete makeover for the kids' child-care center, which is set to reopen June 14, a Disney representative told me.

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The center, which formerly was known as The Never Land Club, has been renamed Club Disney and characters from the story of Peter Pan have a much smaller role, though they certainly have not been banished altogether. The themes inside Club Disney are based on tales in classic Disney Little Golden Books including "Alice In Wonderland," "Pinocchio" and "Lady and The Tramp."

Young guests ages 3 to 12 enter the activity center through a book-page portal, I'm told, and they will find additional storybook pages decorating the walls and floor to help bring the various beloved stories to life.

In the section of the center themed to "Alice in Wonderland," children will see Cheshire Cat grinning at them from above five two-person stations set up for video game play with PlayStation consoles. Game players will perch on chairs made to look like mushrooms.

"Lady and The Tramp" is represented with a recreation of the alley scene in the story, in which the two share their infamous meal of spaghetti and meatballs. There are tables, which will be used for making crafts and also dinner, which is included in the price of child care. The adjacent Stromboli Theater shows Disney movies.

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A mural of Christopher Robin's window looking out to the Hundred Acre Wood from "Winnie The Pooh" serves a backdrop for story time and nap time. The iconic castle from "Cinderella" is a structure that has been built and furnished with royal pieces and gowns to encourage dress-up. Last but not least, a play area will allow kids to fly to Never Land to help Peter Pan take on Captain Hook.

With a month to go before Club Disney's opening, the meal plans have yet to be finalized. However, I'm told the procedure is likely to be the same as before -- children and their parents can order their dinners when they are checked in, and the food will arrive between 6 and 8 p.m. A cast member told me that kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers and hamburgers, will be available. Club Disney also is expected to offer more healthy options to suit a variety of palates, including grilled shrimp skewers, grilled chicken, grilled fish, a cucumber roll or vegetarian sushi.

The cost of having your child entertained and fully engaged so you can enjoy adult experience at Walt Disney World? Priceless, of course. In U.S. dollars, that translates to $11.50 per hour per child with a two-hour minimum.

Reservations can be made now by calling 407-WDW-DINE for June 14 and dates going forward. Cancellations must be made one day in advance or the parent will be charged $23. Walk-ups are welcome, based on availability, and you don't have to be staying at Walt Disney World for your child to be cared for at Club Disney. Club Disney will be open from 4:30 to 11:55 p.m. daily.

My children have spent time at other child-care centers at Walt Disney World: The Sandcastle Club at Disney's Yacht and Beach clubs and Camp Dolphin at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. (Read about those experiences in the links.)

Disney representatives told me that Club Disney will continue to host children's birthday parties with the same format and pricing as The Never Land Club. You can read about all the options in my story about Walt Disney World birthday parties here.



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May 20, 2014

Disney's Hollywood Studios brings Symphony in the Stars fireworks to Star Wars Weekends

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In a galaxy not so far away " Star Wars is being re-imagined and celebrated as only The Walt Disney Co. can do.

Although my family enjoys visiting Star Wars Weekends each year at Disney's Hollywood Studios, this year, we were really excited about seeing the fireworks show, Symphony in the Stars, which has replaced the HyperSpace Hoopla as each day's finale. Symphony in the Stars actually debuted in 2010 at the theme park's Last Tour to Endor special event. Since then, an abridged version has been shown as the entertainment at other one-offs, such as the Star Tours Galactic Party in 2011 and on May the Fourth in 2013, but it has not been shown regularly as it will be this year.

The 2014 version of Symphony in the Stars begins with a short pre-show led by James Arnold Taylor, voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in "The Clone Wars" and the celebrity host of Star Wars Weekends. He pays tribute to many of the Star Wars fans in the park that day with a slide show of photographs of guests interacting with characters. (To be considered for your 15 seconds of fame, tag the Star Wars Weekends photos you post on social media with #swwfinale.)

Next, Taylor introduces popular characters from both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, giving guests a final look at the some of their favorites. For those who are close to the stage in front of Sorcerer Mickey's hat, it's an excellent opportunity to get multiple characters in one photo.

Finally, it's time for the fireworks, which take place above the iconic symbol. Unlike at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom, fireworks are not presented regularly in this central location at Hollywood Studios. Even the casual observer will notice the differences in sight lines and crowd control when guests fill up Hollywood Boulevard, a noticeably smaller space than, say, Main Street U.S.A. or the promenade around Epcot's World Showcase. Plus, at just over seven minutes, Symphony in the Stars is shorter than Wishes or IllumiNations.

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Still, it's difficult not to get excited when the familiar sounds of John Williams' original music fill the air. Show Director Mark Renfrow recently was quoted on the official Disney Insider blog about his role in creating Symphony in the Stars:

"This music touches people. Everybody knows it, and when you hear it you suddenly go to a place. You go to the movies, and you remember these scenes, but you also remember how it felt when you first saw 'Star Wars.' Somehow, this particular show with this particular score feels like a reunion to me. I think that the audience will feel reunited and reconnected with this music - most shows are not like that, you're just watching the show. In this show, you're connected to it. And then because Star Wars takes place in space, you're already looking up into the sky. When the music comes to life in fireworks, you just can't help but visualize some of the things you've seen from the movies. You're immediately connected - and filled with wows."

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To be sure, there is something magical about seeing such a different kind of fireworks show in an unusual location at Walt Disney World. Guests can see Symphony in the Stars during the remaining Star Wars Weekends: May 23-25, May 30-June 1, June 6-8 and June 13-15.

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Viewing tips:

** My family and I underestimated how crowded Hollywood Boulevard would be. We arrived 30 minutes before the start of the pre-show, and the street and curbs were already filled from the stage to past the intersection with Sunset Boulevard. If taking photos of the characters is important to you, arrive even earlier and claim your spot up front. Otherwise, know that it might be difficult to see the pre-show, even on the larger screen, but viewing the fireworks will be fine anywhere on the street.

** Glow With The Show mouse ear hats work with this show, though we didn't see very many on the night we viewed the fireworks.

** Check the Times Guide when planning your day because some of the attractions close early for the fireworks.

** Be prepared to sit in traffic as you and your fellow fireworks fans leave Hollywood Studios at the same time. Star Wars Weekends and the fireworks are very popular, so there will be a mass exodus. Just don't count on the The Force to help you if decide to skip the bathroom break on the way out!



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May 21, 2014

'Disney on Ice presents Frozen' to debut in Orlando in September

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From the beginning, its creators and movie critics said Disney's animated film "Frozen" was made for a large-scale, live production. Though some speculated Broadway would be first, it looks like Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf will take to the ice before the stage. Disney on Ice has just announced a new production for 2014 based on the movie "Frozen."

Feld Entertainment will launch its new show, "Disney on Ice presents Frozen" in Central Florida in September. Tickets go on sale to the public on June 3 through Ticketmaster, but pre-sale codes are available now. (Try "SPRING.")

Central Florida residents and visitors will be among the first to see the new "Frozen" adaptation. For years, Ellenton, Fla.-based Feld has used Lakeland and Orlando as a starting point for new Disney on Ice productions, and this tour is no exception. From here, the production moves to Rhode Island, Virginia and Tennessee.

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If you have "Frozen" fans at your house, you know the enchanting story of the royal sisters that centers on Elsa's spectacular powers. So, you can imagine that it will take some real Disney magic to recreate the forces that divide the sisters before love brings them back together. The New York Times reports that "patrons could expect a blizzard created by 20 snow machines, a stage inspired by a six-sided snowflake and towering video projection panels that, among other things, would simulate the movie's jagged North Mountains."

With such dynamic sets, the directors hope to recreate the emotional journey that the movie inspired in its audiences. In addition, they will rely on Frozen's popular music -- including the songs "Let it Go," "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "Fixer Upper" -- to engage the viewers.

But, of course, the main attraction is the amazing performances by the professional skaters. I found it interesting that Patty Vincent, the director of "Frozen" on ice, told The New York Times that the Feld team worked closely with John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and the film's directors and producers to choreograph the skating. Vincent was quoted as saying, "They helped us with Elsa's style of movement - balletic, vertical - and how it differs from Anna, who is more playful and horizontal."

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Typically, Disney on Ice shows feature a large cast of characters in various vignettes to appeal to a spectrum of fans, but "Disney on Ice presents Frozen" will mainly focus on the new hit. Still, viewers will briefly see Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, who will introduce the show, and there will be special appearances by beloved Disney princesses and favorite characters from Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" and Disney's "The Lion King."

"Disney on Ice presents Frozen" will be at Orlando's Amway Center for seven performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. 7 p.m. Sept. 6; and 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7. Tickets are $16 to $65 and can be purchased at the Amway Center box office or through Ticketmaster.

To find out about other Disney on Ice productions on tour, read my previous stories here and here.



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May 26, 2014

All-night party at Magic Kingdom kept us busy until sunrise

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Staying up late is always a treat for young kids, but having no bedtime and getting to play all night in the Magic Kingdom? What a way to start the unofficial beginning of summer!

For the second year, Walt Disney World kicked off Memorial Day weekend by keeping its signature theme park open for 24 continuous hours, and my family and I were there. (The first such event celebrated Leap Day in 2012.)

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Like last year, we headed to the park in the afternoon, and we were entering the Magic Kingdom by about 5 p.m. My husband and I are night owls, routinely staying up until 3 a.m. or later, so we didn't think we'd have trouble staying awake. However, both our 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter had a full day of school before we headed to the Magic Kingdom, so we wondered how long they would last before they got tired or the crankiness set in. Still, they were the ones begging to go, so we were counting on the excitement (and extra helpings of sugar-laden desserts) to sustain them.

The first thing we noticed is that the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot was not as crowded as it was the previous year at the same time. A good sign, right? As we made our way under the train station, cast members handed us promotional buttons for the movie "Maleficent," which opens May 30. The theme of this year's event -- Rock Your Disney Side (featuring Disney Heroes & Villains) -- was, of course, designed to promote what Disney hopes will be a summer hit. (The same was true last year when the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter featured entertainment themed to the movie "Monsters University.")

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Inside the park, cast members at various locations were handing out paper Maleficent horns, which many people chose to wear during the event. Guests had been invited to dress up like their favorite heroes or villains, and we did see quite a few costumes, including a few of the Star Wars variety. I think I saw more people who were DisneyBounding, though. (You can read more about how to DisneyBound here.)

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Our first stop was The Emporium, where we hoped to buy some of the special event merchandise. T-shirts were available in adult sizes XS through XXXL. When we arrived last year, my kids were disappointed to find the smallest sizes already were sold out. All the sizes were plentiful in late afternoon this year, though, and we happily completed our purchases.

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For those who couldn't find what they were looking for that night, or those who wish they had purchased a T-shirt at the event, the keepsakes can be ordered on DisneyStore.com through Thursday, May 29. We used that option last year, and it worked out well. Be aware, though, that because it is a special order, it will take 4 to 6 weeks to receive your Disney Heroes & Villains T-shirts.

Merchandise Communications Manager Steven Miller talks about the special items and treats available during the Rock Your Disney Side Event.

We stepped outside the gift shop in time to see the third and final performance of the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party, which was a special version that featured characters selected by voters. Among the favorites were Mickey, Minnie, Cruella De Vil, Hercules and Dr. Facilier.

Celebrate the Magic with Heroes featuring Hercules was the first show of the day!

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Next, we made our way to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which Deb Wills earlier had reported was having a soft opening during the event. When we got there, the posted wait time was an hour, but a cast member said it likely would take less time for us to get to the front of the queue. Sure enough, it was only about 40 minutes. Because of an ongoing medical issue, I couldn't ride, but my husband and my daughter did. (I'll be writing more about their reactions this week.) The interactive queue was lots of fun.

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We took a break from the Florida heat after the Mine Train with a stop for a counter-service dinner. Afterward, by about 7:30, it was starting to feel more crowded in the park. Although it was more difficult to navigate, it also meant that many of our friends had arrived. My son was excited to hang out with his school buddies who also had arrived in the park. We used some of our FastPasses for attractions; stood elbow-to-elbow to watch Celebrate the Magic, Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade; tried the new Mickey's Kitchen Sink; and, of course, ate Dole Whips.

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I think the only thing we were disappointed to discover was that unlike last year, Mickey and Minnie were not greeting guests in their PJs. My family and I really wanted that photo as a souvenir, and I'm sure we were not alone. I think guests enjoy collecting photos of the Fab 5 in costumes they don't ordinarily wear.


However the characters were in PJs to begin the day's events!

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Speaking of characters, many rarely seen villains came out late at night, not only on two floats in the pre-parade for the Main Street Electrical Parade, but also for meet-and-greets. These were overwhelmingly popular -- so much so that the lines reached 300 minutes and had to be closed before some of the characters even came out. We saw Hades and Meg, who alternated with Pain and Panic, from "Hercules." Visitors also could meet The Bowler Hat Guy from "Meet the Robinsons," Cruella De Vil, Captain Hook, Captain Jack Sparrow, Dr. Facilier, Jafar, Lots-O and Big Bad Wolf from "Toy Story 3," Queen of Hearts, Stromboli from "Pinocchio," and Maleficent and the Snow Queen from "Sleeping Beauty."

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After our late-night meet, it was time for a few more rides. From about 4 to 5:30 a.m., the kids in our group walked right on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan's Flight, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, the Tomorrowland Speedway and the Jungle Cruise. We stopped for a very quick breakfast of French toast sticks and bacon at the Columbia Harbor House. Then it was one last trip down Main Street, U.S.A., for a photo with the clock and the Kiss Goodnight ceremony at the train station.

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We drove home as the sun was rising over Disney property. For these night owls, that was a sight as rare as a Disney villain at 3 a.m. in the Magic Kingdom.

RELATED LINKS:
** Deb's Rock Your Disney Side Part 1

** Deb's Rock Your Disney Side Part 2

** Deb Meets Maleficent!



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May 28, 2014

What families need to know about Disney World's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

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Well, heigh ho! The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opens today, and it's definitely the hot new "ticket" at the Magic Kingdom. Before you rush to grab that FastPass reservation -- or decide if the new attraction is worth the standby wait -- here is what you need to know:

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** Perhaps the most important thing to understand about this attraction is that it was not designed to be a thrill ride, but rather an experience that would appeal to (almost) all ages. With that concept in mind, Disney Imagineers developed a gentle roller coaster that many who previewed it -- including our own Deb Wills -- rank in between Goofy's Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on the nail-biter scale. Individual cars sway gently from side to side during the 2.5-minute ride, and still my husband said after riding it that the Mine Train is among the smoothest and tamest coasters at Walt Disney World.

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** The minimum-height requirement for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is 38 inches, compared with 35 inches for the Barnstormer and 40 inches for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This again points to the kid-friendly nature of the ride.

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** Unlike the now-defunct Snow White's Scary Adventures, the storytelling throughout this attraction based on Disney's animated version of "Snow White" is not at all frightening. Guests are queued through a landscaped outdoor setting before heading to the mine entrance, and even inside queues are lit up by dazzling "jewels." The ride itself focuses on the lovable Seven Dwarfs rather than the Evil Queen as Snow White's Scary Adventures did, and the theming throughout the coaster is amazing and what guests would expect from a dark ride.

** In its quest to create a new experience that would appeal to the widest audience, Disney seemingly took the gender of its guests into account. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a late addition to the development of New Fantasyland. It's been said that Disney planners went back to the drawing board when they realized that a substantial amount of real estate in New Fantasyland was dedicated to the Disney Princesses (and, originally, Disney Fairies). They needed an attraction that would give boys and dads a reason to venture behind Cinderella Castle (aside from accompanying sisters and moms, of course). The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train certainly accomplished that with its adventuresome theming.

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** If the stand-by queue is not too long for your day's schedule, choose that option at least once. There are three interactive areas that are really cute, and the FastPass+ queue bypasses two of them.

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** In short, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is not a scary ride for most youngsters, and it's not boring for children and adults who seek bigger thrills. My 9-year-old daughter, who regularly rides Walt Disney World's "Mountain" coasters with my husband, thoroughly enjoyed the ride when she previewed it during a soft opening and can't wait to experience it again.

** So, where can you find your favorite characters from the ride? Snow White meets guests each day at the nearby Princess Fairytale Hall. The Seven Dwarfs come out of the mine for special appearances during Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, both of which require a separate ticket.

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** There are a couple of fun photo opportunities near the ride, as well. Guests exiting the ride will pass by the Dwarfs' cottage, and it makes a unique backdrop to remember the experience. (There are no professional photos taken on the attraction, as of this writing.) Or, have a friend or family member stand along the fence surrounding the ride, on the walkway to Storybook Circus. Have them snap the photo when your mine car crests the hill and Cinderella Castle is in the background. Really adventurous? Have your camera ready as you come out of the mountain on one of the highest drops of the ride. In front of you, you'll have a bird's eye view of the land enchanted by Belle and the Beast. To the right, Ariel's kingdom; to the left, Cinderella's Castle. Hope you have a fast shutter speed.

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** Although the stores near Cinderella Castle and on Main Street, U.S.A., carry a variety of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs merchandise, only one item so far is available that is attraction-specific. An open edition logo pin features Dopey and Grumpy and contains a swivel movement similar to the attraction vehicles created for the ride. It costs $9.95.



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May 31, 2014

Disney releases multitude of Maleficent merchandise

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It's finally opening weekend for Disney's live-action movie, "Maleficent," and the promotions are shifting focus from filling theater seats to selling the related merchandise. Here's a look at what you can find only at Walt Disney World and through the Disney Store.

The Magic Kingdom already had a decent selection last weekend for the "Disney Heroes & Villains" all-night event. Perhaps the most sought-after item is (and will be) a set a Maleficent horns.

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When my daughter and I stopped in The Emporium, we saw two types of the headgear. The large, plush horns are worn like a hat with a chin strap and cost about $25. Another version, made of colorful plastic, fit like a headband and have the ability to glow. They cost about $12.

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We also spotted quite a few "Maleficent" fans that night wearing mouse-ear headbands that also had horns attached to the top. These were introduced last fall as a Limited Time Magic item for Halloween. They cost about $24 and still are available at multiple locations at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney.

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Collectors will find several offerings, as well. Maleficent and Aurora dolls in a 12-inch size were on display in The Emporium last week. Each was about $35. (They will be available at DisneyStore.com on June 25.) On Friday, the date of the live-action movie's theatrical launch, Walt Disney World released a limited edition opening day pin.

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Movie-inspired merchandise has hit the shelves in the Disney Parks, too. Guests can shop for women's T-shirts that depict Angelina Jolie in her title role, as well as iPhone 5 and 5s cases.

In addition to The Emporium, Maleficent merchandise also is available at Beverly Sunset at Hollywood Studios. As always, Princess Aurora costumes and merchandise are carried year-round in all four Walt Disney World theme parks.

Can't make it to Walt Disney World? You can call the Walt Disney World merchandise mail order department at 877-560-6477 and ask if items can be shipped.

DisneyStore.com offers shoppers a chance to splurge with designer products from Stella McCartney Kids, such as a Maleficent dragon T-shirt for boys ($75) or Maleficent shoes for girls ($185). There is a gorgeous Aurora deluxe costume ($80) and the accompanying golden tiara ($15) from the Disney Store. Those with more modest budgets might like the themed coffee mug ($13) or the journal ($17).

Finally, let me offer a shopping safety tip: If you're browsing for "Maleficent" merchandise in the Disney store, be careful if you come across any enchanted spinning wheels on the store's shelves. I've been told the spindle can be quite sharp and dangerous.



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About May 2014

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

April 2014 is the previous archive.

June 2014 is the next archive.

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