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June 3, 2014

What 'Frozen'-themed experiences would you choose to add at Walt Disney World?

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More than seven months after the big-screen release of "Frozen," the demand for all things related to the movie still is overwhelming at Walt Disney World.

About a month ago, the meet-and-greet for Anna and Elsa was moved from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom in an effort to tame the outrageously long wait times to meet the film's stars. Unfortunately, even adding the FastPass+ option at Princess Fairytale Hall did not diminish the standby queue, which regularly stretches for three- to five-hour waits.

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In another attempt to accommodate the eager "Frozen" fans, Disney officials this week have extended the hours that the royal sisters will greet guests at the Magic Kingdom. Instead of being replaced by other princesses for the evening, Anna and Elsa will remain in their post for the duration of each day's operating hours.

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Norway's darlings also have a new role in the Festival of Fantasy Parade, which debuted in March. The pair can be seen on the first float, the Princess Garden. Watch closely because they are on a slowly rotating turntable at the back. This allows many more guests to catch a glimpse -- and maybe a wave -- from the sisters.

Still, "Frozen" fans want more opportunities to interact with the movie's characters when they are at the epicenter of Disney, and that got us thinking about the possibilities. We have a few suggestions for "Frozen"-themed attractions we'd like to see at Walt Disney World. (To clarify, these are NOT plans in the works; we are just playing Imagineer and invite you to do the same.)

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First, it would seem to be a natural fit for Elsa and Anna to take over the Princess Storybook Dining at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion. After all, that's where the movie takes place and the venue already is set up for this type of experience. Perhaps, Kristoff could join them. Then, of course, Walt Disney World would need to relocate Princess Storybook Dining, which in and of itself is very popular because it's one of the few locations where guests can dine with the Disney Princesses.

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Rumors have persisted that Maelstrom, the boat ride also located in the Norway pavilion, will be replaced by a Frozen-themed attraction. A trip through Arendale, anyone? The trolls already are there. Disney officials have not made any official announcements about Maelstrom, though.

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And how about giving lovable snowman Olaf his due? Blizzard Beach, Disney World's water park, would be the perfect place. The theme there is based on the story that a freak snowstorm led to the development of Florida's first ski resort. However, the snow quickly melted, leaving behind a watery wonderland that is now the water park. So, a snowman who longs to experience summer would be right at home here. We'd all love a character meet-and-greet, but to date, Olaf only has been available as a statue for photo opportunities. If that holds true, there is a perfect vignette that could be transformed as a "Frozen" backdrop at the front of the park.

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If Disney could catch up with the demand for Frozen merchandise, we'd also love to see the "Frozen" packages at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique become permanent offerings. When they were offered during the promotion of the movie, the "Frozen" packages included a choice of the Anna or Elsa wigs, shimmering makeup, face gems, nail polish, a Princess sash and a Princess cinch bag for $59.95 plus tax. The Anna or Elsa costumes and crowns were added for an additional charge -- about $65 plus tax for the gowns and $18 plus tax for the crowns.

Have an idea for a "Frozen"-themed attraction at Walt Disney World? Tell us in the comments.



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June 5, 2014

Volunteer opportunities for kids at Walt Disney World's sports events

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It's almost summer, and for many kids, that means lazy days of hanging out with friends by the pool or at the beach. But older kids and teenagers also may be looking for volunteer opportunities to fulfill the service requirements that many high-school diplomas and college applications require. And that made me wonder: Does Walt Disney World offer volunteer positions?

The Walt Disney Co. does, in fact, have a strong network of cast members called VoluntEARS, who help in their communities. That program, however, is designed for employees and their families only. So, what's a kid who loves Disney to do?

The program runDisney actually offers a variety of volunteer opportunities during its races several times a year at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The minimum age varies, depending on the task, with 12 being the youngest age allowed. Some volunteer opportunities require the participant to be at least 15 years old.

The next runDisney weekend in Orlando is The Twilight Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend with races on Saturday, Oct. 4. Volunteer registration has not yet opened, but look for it on the runDisney website a few months before. Volunteers younger than 18 must have parental or guardian consent, and volunteers younger than 15 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. Minors must have adults complete waivers for them.

Volunteers -- or as runDisney calls them, "sports enthusiasts" -- are typically assigned to areas on a first-come, first-served basis. For this weekend, they may choose to work at Disney's Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run or The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 -Miler if they are at least 12 years old. These jobs typically consist of filling cups with fluids and handing them to the runners or passing out medals at the finish line. Teens who are at least 15 years old may volunteer to work at Disney's Kids' Races or the Expo & Packet Pick Up on Friday, Oct. 3, or Saturday, Oct. 4.

Volunteers will receive confirmation in the mail of the shifts for which they have been scheduled about a month prior to the event.The mailing also will include further information on parking, directions, and other useful information.

Organizers of runDisney recognize that even though its Sports Enthusiasts are volunteering for their own personal reasons, they could not host the races without the volunteers' help. As such, volunteers are given "appreciation," for their time on the track. Each person receives a snack and one commemorative piece of apparel for the event.

In addition, volunteers at the expo, kids races or 5K are eligible to earn points toward a complimentary theme-park ticket. Each hour of service completed is equal to one point, and it takes 16 points to earn a day's admission to Walt Disney World. Earned tickets are mailed within 60 days of reaching 16 points. However, if you complete a shift at the 10-miler, you will receive a theme-park ticket for that day's volunteer effort at the end of your shift.

Sports Enthusiasts also are needed for events held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World. Currently, volunteer registration is open for the Amateur Athletic Union National Club Championships for Track and Field. Volunteer positions for start/finish line, field events, clerk's tent and awards tent are available for ages 16 and older from July 5 to 13. One point will be awarded for each hour of service.

Questions? Call the Sports Enthusiast Information Line at 407-938-3880, or email wdw.sports.enthusiast@disneysports.com.



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June 7, 2014

Be among the first to try Disney Infinity 2.0 video game at Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney

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Disney Infinity fans, get ready to take the new 2.0 game for a test drive. Although the latest version of the game won't be released until fall, Disney Interactive will have "sneak peek" demonstrations of the game at Downtown Disney in Orlando for Car Masters Weekend, which is June 14-15. Admission is free.

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Last year, guests were invited to take part in a similar hands-on preview of Disney Infinity at a Disney Interactive booth near Bongo's Cuban Cafe on the West Side. There were four gaming stations set up, allowing guests to try different aspects of game play with a variety of character pieces. Game designers and developers were on hand to guide guests through Disney Infinity. After visitors played the game, they were given the Dash collectible figure. My son was especially thrilled to get his hands on what he hoped would arrive as a birthday gift.

Of course, for Disney fans and serious gamers, the attraction of a new version of DIsney Infinity is that it will introduce new and exclusive characters. Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will debut The Avengers' Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Hawkeye first. Eventually, Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will feature more than 20 new interactive figures from across the Marvel universe.

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This week, it was announced that two popular Disney characters also will be available in the fall for Disney Infinity 2.0. The feisty Merida from the animated film, "Brave," joins the lineup and offers unique gameplay options. "Between her sharp sword and bow combo attacks with ricocheting arrows, she can upgrade her aim with elemental freeze arrows, freezing enemies in front of her then following up with rapid shots showing off her impressive athletic skills as an archer and sword fighter," according to Disney Interactive.

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Maleficent, the wicked yet misunderstood villain from the live action film of the same name, will come to life for gamers, as well. Her magical powers are described this way: "To defeat enemies, Maleficent has the ability to utilize projectile and area of effect attacks that affect multiple targets within a specified area, brambles that she summons from the ground and ravens that she can call on to attack targets."

For more details about gameplay in Disney Infinity 2.0, please see my previous blog post.

Gamers who have collected many of the figures and discs from the original version of Disney Infinity will be happy to know that they will work with 2.0. 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.



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June 10, 2014

New at SeaWorld Orlando: Summer Shamu show and pass member exclusives

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SeaWorld Orlando is getting ready to launch an all-new Shamu show as part of its annual Summer Nights celebration, and the theme park is offering its pass members the opportunity to get a sneak peek and special seating all summer long.

"Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night" officially debuts on June 21. Pass members can preview the new show at 8:45 p.m. June 20 at Shamu Stadium by obtaining a wristband earlier in the day near the SEA Garden. Distribution begins at 4 p.m. Each pass member may bring two additional guests to the preview, but each person must have park admission. Pass members also will receive a commemorative gift (while supplies last). Then, through August 10, pass members can make online reservations for special seating.

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SeaWorld describes the new "Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night" this way: "[It's] an all-new, high energy show featuring new, original music and production elements, as well as new killer whale behaviors." The new orca presentation also will debut at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld San Antonio.

"Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night" replaces the previous summer show, "Shamu Rocks." Based on comments from SeaWorld employees who have attended dress rehearsals of the show, visitors who may think they will miss "Shamu Rocks" won't be disappointed with the new show.

I will be attending the preview of "Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night" at Summer Nights and will bring you a full report soon.

SeaWorld Orlando also will introduce another new summer show, "Generation Nature LIVE." It highlights SeaWorld's Animal Ambassadors and animal care experts -- what the theme park calls its "everyday heroes" -- who dedicate their time, passion and commitment to helping wildlife in need.

The theme park launched its Generation Nature initiative, which partners SeaWorld Kids with youth ambassador Bindi Irwin, daughter of famous 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin. The conservation campaign aims to empower kids to make a difference with animals and nature and share their actions on multi-media platforms. GenN includes a website, digital apps, video blogs, online games and activities that highlight a new animal each month, such as polar bears, tigers, manatees and animals in back-yard habitats. You can read more about it on my earlier blog.

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In addition to the new shows, guests can see Clyde and Seamore in Sea Lions Tonite. My family and I think this is one of the best shows at SeaWorld. Talented sea lions, otters and a walrus parody favorite SeaWorld shows and attractions with a little help from their trainers. The popular show is laugh-out-loud funny, and even includes an Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin joke and a gentle poke at The Mouse, too.

On the Fourth of July, there will be reserved seating at the Lakeside Patio for pass members to view the fireworks. Seating begins two hours before the presentation and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

SeaWorld Orlando stays open late for Summer Nights. Guests can experience other attractions and roller coasters until 10 p.m.



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June 12, 2014

Disney-themed ideas for Father's Day gifts kids can make at home

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Father's Day is just around the corner, which means moms of young children everywhere might be scrambling to finish those homemade gifts featuring handprints and footprints or kids' artwork. We all cherish those, to be sure. But if you're looking for some new ideas for crafts -- especially those with a Disney theme -- let me offer some easy and inexpensive ideas that can be completed in time for Sunday's celebration.

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For the Star Wars fan, Freeze Pop Sabers will help banish The Dark Side and keep everyone's hands from freezing in the process. No Carbonite here! This clever idea is in the June/July issue of FamilyFun magazine.

The directions:
For each, cut a 3-inch by 4-inch rectangle from gray felt. Fold it over a freeze pop and use fabric glue to seal the side and bottom edges. Clamp the fabric closed with binder clips or clothespins, if needed. Slip the felt off the pop. Glue on stripes and dots of black and colored felt. When your pop is frozen and the glue is dry, you're ready to battle the heat!

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I can't tell you how much I love this next gift, which is a free sheet of printable coupons. Dads who spent their vacations criss-crossing the theme parks of Walt Disney World to gather the old paper FastPasses will appreciate this present, as well. The twist on the time-honored tradition of giving fathers the gift of doing his household chores is that the coupons are designed to look like paper FastPasses, which were retired earlier this year.

The directions:
On Disney's Spoonful.com, go to this printable PDF, which includes six DadsPasses. You cannot edit the file, but there really isn't a need to. The expiration date is 2112, meaning the passes are good for Dad's lifetime. Just don't give him any trouble when he's ready to cash them in!

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Does the father in your family enjoy video games just as much as the kids? If so, the kids can create a personalized storage box for all your Disney Infinity figures and discs.

The directions:
This craft can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. Start with a box that is the size of a shoebox or larger. Cover it in plain craft paper or construction paper of various hues. Then, let your child decorate it. You can use pictures from the game pieces' packaging, stickers that show Disney characters or your child's own artwork. The possibilities are infinite!

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Turn an ordinary visor into a mouse-ear hat. Whether you're planning a trip to Walt Disney World or just want to show your appreciation for The Mouse, this hat will provide protection from the sun and rock Dad's Disney side at the same time.

The directions:
Purchase an inexpensive plain foam visor and a sheet of self-adhesive black foam from your local craft store. Cut out four circles of the same size and two small rectangle tabs. Place the rectangles between each pair of the circles on the edge and stick together. The rectangles will serve as tabs to be inserted through small slits on the visor. Once the ears are in place, tape the tab on the underside of the visor with colorful duct tape. This idea is modified from one on Disney's Spoonful.com

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Of course, no celebration is complete without cupcakes! Disney's Spoonful.com features these adorable beach-inspired Mickey Mouse cupcakes that are perfect for any summer holiday.

The directions:
Cut a square of freezer paper that is slightly bigger than the top of your cupcake -- about a 3.5 inch square. You'll notice that one side of the paper is shiny and one side is matte. On the matte side, draw or trace your design. Using a sharp craft knife, cut out your design. (This is a job for adults!) Frost your cupcakes with a knife or spatula. Lay your stencil, shiny side DOWN, on top of the frosting and press gently around the edges to prevent leaks. Pour graham cracker crumbs all over the top of the cupcake and then shake it gently over a bowl to remove the excess.

Happy Father's Day!



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June 14, 2014

Richard Petty Driving Experience introduces new Cars-themed junior ride-alongs at Walt Disney World

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UPDATE: Congrats to Christina Santiago who won the cool Poster! Email on its way.

Finally, guests at Walt Disney World can find out what it feels like to be part of the world of Disney-Pixar's "Cars." Although we haven't gotten our own Cars Land on the East Coast yet, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is putting youngsters inside cars designed to look like racers from the Piston Cup in Pixar's "Cars," and they can feel the exhilarating speed portrayed in the movie.

Beginning today at the Walt Disney World Speedway, kids ages 6 to 13 can choose the new Junior Ride-Along experience, which allows them to ride with a professional driver for three laps on a 1-mile course in cars that bring characters Sage VanDerSpin and Aiken Axler to life.

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In the movie, No. 80 VanDerSpin races for Team "Gask-its" and is the youngest winner of the Junior Piston Cup Pro Series. Axler is the No. 28 Nitroade racer who captured the Vitoline Rookie of the Year honors in his first full season of Cup competition. The two full-size custom character cars were created by "Cars" creative director Jay Ward, who was at the Orlando track on Friday to introduce them to media.

Petty Holdings initially began its relationship with Pixar when Richard Petty became the voice of "The King" in the original "Cars" movie.

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Long before the kids get in the real-life cars, though, they go through a multi-step process of safety instruction that is reassuring to both the young riders and their parents. First, kids must be at least 48 inches tall -- there is a fun mural for families to make sure their youngsters measure up -- and meet the age requirements.

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Richard Petty Junior Ride Along


Richard Petty Junior Ride Along

Then, each child suits up in a coverall to protect him or her from any parts of the car that may have heated up in the Florida sun. A soft, knitted cap goes under the snug-fitting helmet, and a HANS (Head and Neck Support) device is fitted around the neck and attached to the helmet. Inside the car, each person wears a five-point harness, which can be seen in the video below. In addition, the seats for this children's program were custom-built by The Joie of Seating, which makes racing seats for professional drivers.

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Watching your child get into a car that will travel at about 100 miles an hour is not something most parents take lightly. However, the emphasis on safety at the Richard Petty Driving Experience and the experienced professional drivers make this a very controlled racing event, which set my mind at ease.

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Richard Petty Junior Ride Along


Richard Petty Junior Ride Along

My nine-year-old daughter, who has never met a roller coaster she didn't like, was excited about the new themed Junior Ride-Alongs. She said she really enjoyed traveling in the blue VanDerSpin -- the faster, the better. The best part was crossing the checkered finish line, which made her feel like she was in the "Cars" movie.

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Fans who want to take home a souvenir of their once-in-a-lifetime experience can purchase a video like the one below for $49.

The new Piston Cup Cars Junior Ride-Along costs $59 plus tax. Parents must be present with their children and sign a waiver for them to participate. The Walt Disney World Speedway also offers ride-alongs for those 14 and older in other stock cars for $79 plus tax.

Reservations are not necessary for ride-alongs, which are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. For additional questions, visit DrivePetty.com or call 1-800-237-3889.

If you have visited the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World or have questions about the junior ride experience, tell/ask us about it in the comments for a chance to win the poster pictured below. A winner will be chosen at random and notified by June 20, 2014.

Richard Petty Junior Ride Along

RELATED LINK:
Automotive Designer Chip Foose talks about working with Pixar and Disney on the Cars franchise. Foose designed Ramone in the first Cars Movie.

DISCLAIMER: My daughter and I were guests of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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June 17, 2014

Muppets' Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog to perform at televised Fourth of July concert

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Muppets fans will want to tune in on July Fourth to see what fireworks develop between Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog, who have been invited to celebrate America's 238th birthday with viewers of "A Capitol Fourth."

The stars of the recent release of "Muppets Most Wanted" will be performing the Oscar-nominated song "Rainbow Connection" with the National Symphony Orchestra. The PBS holiday special, which is in its 34th year, is broadcast live from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It airs on PBS from 8 to 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday, July 4, as well as to U.S. troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network. The program also can be heard live over NPR member stations nationwide.

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"I love Washington D.C. Not only was it built on a swamp, but this is where I got my start in show business - on a local TV show in 1955," said Kermit the Frog in a press release. "Being in D.C. is like coming home."

Recording artist and songwriter Phillip Phillips also will headline "A Capitol Fourth," performing his hit single "Raging Fire." The show will be hosted by Emmy Award-winning television personality Tom Bergeron and also will feature performances by Frankie Valli, Patti LaBelle, Jordin Sparks, Michael McDonald, Sara Evans, Kendall Schmidt and Kelli O'Hara. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, five-time Academy Award-winning composer John Williams will conduct his special new arrangement for orchestra and chorus of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"Moi is thrilled to be part of this glorious patriotic celebration," Miss Piggy said.

Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted" will be available for purchase on Blu-ray Combo Pack, Digital HD, DVD, Disney Movies Anywhere, and On-Demand on August 12.

Want to get your red, white and blue vibe going early with the Muppets? You always can check out the MuppetVision 3D show at Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios before the Fourth. After all, there you will get a glimpse of a production number that Sam the Eagle calls "A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America."

Well, you'll see parts of it anyway, before the chaos kicks off and the fireworks really explode, though not as planned. If you want something more star-spangled and less debris-splattered, you'll probably do better by watching the "Capitol Fourth" presentation.



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June 19, 2014

What does it take to be a Disney Dreamer and Doer?

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During the last several weeks, about 400 students in Central Florida were named Disney Dreamers and Doers. These students were chosen by their schools for actions they have taken to inspire other students this past school year. What does it take to be named a Disney Dreamer and Doer (and why would your child be interested in applying)?

Although I've written about these awards for years, I was especially interested this year because my son, who just graduated from fifth grade, had his heart set on applying for the honor. He is a well-rounded child who gets excellent grades; is involved in his community through sports, Scouts and the arts; and has a leadership position at his school. But would that be enough to compete with all the other equally outstanding classmates at his elementary school?

The official 2014 rules give these examples of student contributions: "strengthening their families; conservation/environmental projects; helping others; safety; school achievement in spite of barriers; improving their schools; serving as a role model for siblings/friends; or other positive actions."

My son's accomplishments were enough to make him stand out -- due in large part to his ability to describe those experiences in a cohesive essay and have his teacher endorse that essay to the principal. At my son's school, the student essays are judged without names to try to eliminate any bias. And then the month's wait for the announcement of the winner began.

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When the big day came and my son's name was called at the awards announcement, it was such a sweet moment -- not only because of the immense pride I felt for all that he had accomplished but because I knew how much this particular award meant to my son, who dreams of one day working as a Disney Imagineer. He will always cherish this honor and the special medal and certificate he earned.

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Aside from the honor of the recognition, each of the 400 winners at schools across Central Florida also was given four theme park tickets to use during the next year.

In addition, each Disney Dreamer and Doer was entered in the competition for Disney's Shining Stars. These awards are given to 15 students -- one each at the elementary-, middle- and high-school level in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties. Shining Stars receive Disney World annual passes for their immediate families for one year, Mousecar statues (Disney's version of the "Oscar" featuring Mickey Mouse), and certificates noting their accomplishments. Disney officials, not school principals, choose the Shining Stars.

Among this year's Shining Stars are a student who learned to give back after living in a homeless shelter; a student who organized book drives for needy kids; a student who raised money through crafts for a local children's hospital; a student who excelled in science education with a goal of creating clean, unlimited power sources; several that overcame personal obstacles to succeed in school; and others who advocated for other causes.

Today's students are doing amazing things to make the world a better place, and Walt Disney World is doing its best to inspire them based on the sage advice of the company's founder: "If you can dream it, you can do it."



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June 21, 2014

June is the time to plan your Christmas trip to Walt Disney World

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Christmas won't even wait until July for those who are planning a holiday visit to Walt Disney World. That's primarily because making dining reservations is a priority for most guests, and in order to secure a table at some of the most popular restaurants, it must be done as soon as the booking window opens. And that time is now.

All visitors can make reservations for table-service restaurants up to 180 days in advance. Guests who are staying at Disney hotels can book dining reservations for their entire stay up to 190 days from the day they check in for the length of their stay.

Recently I have just spent several days making reservations for the holidays, and even at 180 days prior to my preferred dining dates, I still couldn't get some reservations. And that, unfortunately, is the new normal. Be forewarned that it's almost impossible to get a Be Our Guest reservation unless you are staying at a Disney resort and are able to book ahead of the general public. Still, there's always the possibility of a last-minute opening -- especially the day before -- because Walt Disney World's dining reservation policy imposes a $10 per person fee if the reservation is not used or cancelled one day in advance. So keep calling 407-WDW-DINE and checking online at My Disney Experience.

In addition to dining, there certainly are other aspects of a December vacation at Walt Disney World to lock down now. As I mentioned, choosing to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel can give visitors an advantage in booking dining reservations -- if it's done enough in advance. Not sure which hotel to choose? Of course, that is a personal preference and one that relies heavily on your allotted budget. If you want to control your spending by staying in a value or moderate resort, though, you should be aware that there usually is a large number of kids and coaches staying at a couple of the value and moderate hotels during the first half of the month. That's because the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade taping, which features a grand-scale production number on Main Street U.S.A., typically takes place the first weekend of December, and the Pop Warner youth football championship is hosted by ESPN Wide World of Sports during the second week.

Other reservations you should consider making in June are for special Christmas entertainment offerings. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party takes place on select nights in the Magic Kingdom in November and December and requires a separate ticket. Many of the nights are discounted if purchased in advance. Annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and members of the U.S. military also receive further discounts if they purchase their tickets in advance. Finally, be aware that even the early dates may sell out, so if you need to go on a certain night because of your touring plans, don't wait to buy your tickets at the gate. The first night of the party sold out last year! Tickets went on sale at the beginning of May for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party dates.

Epcot's Candlelight Processional is the very popular retelling of the Christmas story that includes a mass choir, live orchestra and celebrity narrators. It's performed three times each night from the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 30. Guests line up hours beforehand just to secure a seat in the open-air theater. However, there is a way to avoid those lines. Lunch and dinner packages are offered, which guarantee the participant reserved seating at one of the performances and a designated viewing area for holiday fireworks that night, in addition to the meal. Packages are expected to go on sale soon.

Christmas events at Walt Disney World probably seem like a long time away now that the first days of summer are here. But if you're planning a vacation here during the winter holidays, take the time now to book those special events that will mean the most to you and your family. Otherwise, you might find yourself missing out on some of the experiences that help make the holidays so magical at The Most Magical Place on Earth.



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June 23, 2014

Review: SeaWorld's Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night and Generation Nature LIVE

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SeaWorld's Summer Nights kicked off Saturday -- the first official day of summer -- with two new shows. My family and I were invited to the final dress rehearsals on Friday for Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night and Genreation Nature LIVE, and I have a lot to share with you about them.

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Let's start with the theme park's new evening orca show, which replaces the popular Shamu Rocks. It's definitely worth the wait for Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night, which is the final show of the day and usually starts at 9 p.m. Featuring new, original music, ever-changing lighting and colorful backdrops, the show does indeed feel like a celebration. It even has its own DJ, who guides the evening's entertainment.

"That's really what this show is about -- moving and having a good time," said Kelly Flaherty Clark, curator of animal training at SeaWorld Orlando.

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As with the previous show, Shamu's Celebration showcases its stars performing breathtaking jumps, twists and turns, individually and in groups, under the direction of their trainers on the sidelines. But the whales also perform some new behaviors. Kayla, a 25-year-old whale, loves a challenge, according to Clark, and learned a new sequence of jumps just for Shamu's Celebration. She jumps with her dorsal fin up, then jumps with her belly up, and then returns to fin up on her third pass. Another whale gets quite a few laughs from the audience when it props up both pectoral fins on the slideout and shimmies from one side to the other.

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The slideout also provides trainers with the opportunity for more one-on-one interaction with the whales. During one of the show's slower songs, the trainer pets, kisses and even hugs the animal before signaling the orca to perform a series of up-close behaviors.

Shamu's Celebration delights in the whales' ability to get the audience wet. If you are sitting in the lower sections on either side of the slideout, you WILL get wet. Be sure to heed the multiple warnings if you have unprotected electronic equipment. The whales make multiple passes throughout the show, dousing visitors with powerful flips of their tails.

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The show ends with a bang -- quite literally -- as fireworks appear behind the stadium. Though I still wish SeaWorld offered a separate fireworks show at Bayside Stadium, I did appreciate not having to rush from one show to another to grab seats for the finale.

Shamu's Celebration is sure to be a popular ending to a day at the theme park, so be sure to get there early for a good view. Don't worry about being bored if you have a short wait because there is an entertaining pre-show presentation that gives the audience a chance to revisit music from past decades and enjoy a few laughs as cameras catch audience members caught up in the dancing.

SeaWorld's other new summer show, Generation Nature LIVE, also runs through August 10 and can be seen only on Saturdays in the Nautilus Theater. The show is an extension of SeaWorld's Generation Nature initiative, which aims to empower kids to make a difference with animals and nature. Youth ambassador Bindi Irwin, daughter of famous 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin, is the face of the campaign and can be seen in video clips at the theme-park show.

Generation Nature LIVE uses a host to introduce the audience to key experts at SeaWorld, including members of the Sea Rescue team and the veterinary staff who share their stories of interacting with the animals. Of course, the stars of the show are the animals that are brought out on stage. During our show, we saw a roseate spoonbill, a pelican and a bald eagle.


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To an adult, the show's message of conservation probably seemed a bit heavy-handed, but maybe that's not what children perceive. And, after all, they are the target audience. I know my own 9-year-old daughter was fascinated, especially by the video story about rescuing dolphins.

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"This is an opportunity to affect the next generation," Clark said. "The power of one is huge."

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Perhaps more memorable, though, is a visit to the SEA Garden outside the theater, where SeaWorld team members will introduce guests to various animals. We had a rare sighting of an Asian river otter, as well as the bald eagle from our show. Miniature ponies and flamingos can be viewed in corrals. An added bonus: Team members pass out collectible cards with information about the animals they are handling.


DISCLAIMER:
I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for its Summer Nights preview. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.



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June 26, 2014

Kids with World Cup fever can register for Disney Soccer Academy

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If the excitement of the World Cup has your child dreaming of being the next big soccer star, one way to channel that enthusiasm is with a four-day clinic at the Disney Soccer Academy. The summer camps take place at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.

Although two of the camps have finished, registration still is open for the final week, July 7 to 10. Parents can register their children, who must be ages 5 to 18, online at https://www.espnwwos.com/events/soccer/disney-soccer-academy/ or in person from 8 to 9 a.m. July 7. There is no limit on the number of players who can attend each session.

Athletes are put in groups on the field, where they are taught by licensed coaches from around the world. The focus is on technical development and playing games with small teams; kids practice their shooting, dribbling and defending skills. Plus, professional English Premier League soccer players get in the games with the kids.

"It's an opportunity for children to come and be involved with current professional players. " We have some of the top of the line stars coming out to be involved and play with the kids," said Glen Buckley, Soccer Academy director, on the Disney website.

Disney Soccer Academy is run by Midwest Soccer Academy, which has been training athletes of all ages and abilities since 1973.

Although each camp day runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., it is not all under the hot Florida sun. Warm-up and the first training session take place from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Then, kids break for lunch, which is included in the camp cost, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. They head back out onto the field for a second training session from 1 to 3 p.m. For an additional cost of $60 per week, players can stay for a third session from 3 to 5 p.m.

If there is inclement weather, alternate activities may be planned and refunds will not be issued.

The cost of one session at the Disney Soccer Academy is $390. In addition to the instruction and lunch, the price also includes an event T-shirt and a gift for each athlete. Friends and families are invited to watch the clinics, and they pay a separate admission charge. Daily admission is $16.50 for adult guests (ages 10 and older) and $11.50 for children (ages 3 to 9). Spectators also can purchase a Length of Event pass for $66 for adults and $46 for children.

For more information, call 810-577-5291.



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June 28, 2014

Disney Junior's Jake and Sophia to kick off tour that focuses on doing good

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Recently, I wrote about the Disney Dreamer and Doer awards, which have served for more than 30 years to inspire elementary-, middle- and high-school students in Central Florida to become involved with their communities in positive ways. Now, Disney is introducing that message of service to even younger students.

Beginning next month, Disney Junior's "Pirate and Princess: Power of Doing Good" tour kicks off in select large cities throughout the United States. Designed for kids ages 2 to 7 and their families, the tour focuses on how each child can make a difference in the world by helping others and caring for nature and animals.

"Through the power of our stories and characters, we can help the youngest of children imagine a better world and reflect on what they can do to help others within their own communities," said Nancy Kanter, Executive Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Junior Worldwide, in a press release. "Our 'Pirate and Princess: Power of Doing Good' summer tour will do exactly that by engaging kids and parents in activities that not only highlight community service but also empower them to take these learnings and continue the work amongst their friends, families and neighbors."

Disney Junior's "Pirate and Princess: Power of Doing Good" events are free, but tickets are required. They are available now at https://disneyjunior.thundertix.com.

The stars of the tour are Sophia, the princess in "Sofia the First," and Jake from "Jake and the Never Land Pirates." The tour is sponsored by Disney Junior, ASPCA, Youth Service America (YSA), National Wildlife Federation and First Book, each of which hosts an activity related to the popular princess and pirate. Every tour stop will include opportunities to create a storybook at "First Book's Jake and Sofia's Storytelling Maze," share acts of kindness or service at home or school in "YSA's Enchancia Castle," participate in the "ASPCA's Sofia's Animal Friends" activities, engage in interactive lessons of environmental conservation in the "National Wildlife Federation's Jake's Beach Treasures" and pledge continued service at the "Forever Tree." Each "Pirate and Princess: Power of Doing Good" event will culminate with a musical celebration, hosted by Radio Disney, featuring special live appearances by Jake and Sofia.

Is the tour coming to a city near you? Here's the schedule:

July 17 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in Philadelphia at the Please Touch Museum
July 21 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in Washington, D.C., at The Yards Park
July 25 (8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in New York City at Riverbank State Park
July 30 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in Chicago (Joliet, IL) at Joliet Memorial Stadium
August 4 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in Houston (Sugar Land, TX) at Oyster Creek Park
August 11 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in the San Francisco Bay Area (Hayward, CA) at Kennedy Park
August 15 (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) and August 16 (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) in Los Angeles (Pasadena, CA) at Kidspace Children's Museum

Parents can visit DisneyJunior.com/powerofdoinggood to download activities inspired by the tour and get educational materials, including "Get Out & Get Moving" nature guide and YSA's "Families in Action" kit. Families are then encouraged to make a pledge of service within their community and post about it on Twitter and Facebook throughout the summer using the hashtag #PowerOfDoingGood.

Disney Junior's "Pirate and Princess: Power of Doing Good" tour is part of Disney's Summer of Service. The 2014 Service of Summer Awards, in collaboration with Disney Friends for Change, is an initiative that inspires kids and their families to make a lasting, positive change by helping people, communities, and the planet. The effort even awards top participants. Winners receive a $1,000 award to assist them in continuing their good work. To learn how you can apply for a Summer of Service award visit www.YSA.org/beinspired.



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About June 2014

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

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