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July 2014 Archives

July 1, 2014

What you need to know about taking food into Walt Disney World


Walt Disney World is full of tempting treats, to be sure, but purchasing every snack, drink and meal on property during a vacation can get expensive -- especially with young kids. That's why many visitors choose to bring at least some of what they plan to consume with them. (Of course, there are other reasons for toting food, such as medical and dietary needs.) With very few exceptions, Disney allows guests to bring what they want to eat into its theme parks. Here's what you need to know.

First, the exceptions I mentioned above include glass containers and alcohol. The folks at the baggage-check tables at each Disney World theme park absolutely won't budge on these items, so don't even try to slip that beer into the Magic Kingdom. A exception to the exception is glass baby food jars, which are allowed.

There is no limit on the quantity of food that each guest, or family, can bring in. If you can carry it in a cooler, or multiple bags, that are each no larger than 24 inches by 15 inches by 18 inches, you are set. Be aware that no coolers with wheels or wagons are allowed. (Strollers and motorized scooters are the only wheeled items permitted at Walt Disney World parks.)

Still, Disney's policy is generous compared to other local theme parks. SeaWorld Orlando, for example, only allows guests to bring in baby food or those items needed for a restricted diet. Universal Orlando's published policy on outside food states the following items are permitted inside its parks: bottled water, small snacks that do not require heating, any food necessary for medical purposes, any food needed for dietary needs, baby food, and insulated bags that are no larger than 8.5 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches.

As an Orlando resident with elementary-school-age children, I almost always take food and drinks into Walt Disney World. When my kids were very little, we filled the bottom of their stroller with small coolers that housed toddler meals and other necessities. As they outgrew the carriage, we transitioned to backpacks for everyone, including an inexpensive cooler backpack that my husband usually wears. The bottom portion is insulated, and we typically take along juice pouches for the kids as well as any snack items that could melt. Because space is at a premium in the backpack, we don't use it for bottles of water. Instead we bring reusable containers that we fill at water fountains or with cups of ice water that are handed out at counter-service restaurants.

We have brought an entire meal -- sandwiches, chips, drinks -- in the backpack cooler on days when we expect to eat two meals in a park. This definitely helps keeps costs down and it saves on time. But if you don't want to carry your meal all day, each Disney World park does have lockers for rent that typically cost less than $10 for the day.

You may be wondering where to eat your meal if you do bring it with you. Disney allows guests to grab any available bench or table at a counter-service restaurant, whether it is indoors or outside. If it is during an exceptionally busy period and cast members are seating guests after they have purchased food, you may be asked to try another spot.

If you do bring an insulated backpack or soft-sided cooler, the bonus is that after you have consumed what you brought into Disney World, you will have a place to store any perishable treats you want to take home.


July 3, 2014

Character pirate dinner at Disney's Vero Beach is a treasure


If you're a regular at Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line, you may be looking for a new Disney experience in Florida. A short drive to southern Indian River County could reward you with the treasure you are seeking.

On Florida's so-called Treasure Coast, Disney's Vero Beach Resort, which is a Disney Vacation Club property that also is open to hotel guests, is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It is the only Disney property in the area that is directly on an oceanfront beach. And this beach is special because it's near Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which is where many of the protected species of sea turtles come to nest in the summer.


In fact, sea turtles are so prevalent along this coastal area of the state that it's no surprise that the sea turtle is the resort's logo. And two exciting events centered on sea turtles take place on the beach in front of Disney's Vero Beach. Summer turtle walks, which are led by guides permitted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Service, take guests in small groups to see sea turtles nesting on the beach in the darkness of night. Turtle walks only take place in June and July and are open to resort guests only. (There are, however, other locations along the Treasure Coast for turtle walks that are open to the public. You can read more about them here.)

Also, at the end of July, the Tour de Turtles kicks off at various beaches around the world, and Disney's Vero Beach Resort is home to one of them. This "race" is a fun way to raise money for sea turtle preservation while collecting data about the species. You can read more about the Tour de Turtles here.

Its location on a Florida beach is not the only thing that makes this Disney property unique. In the summer -- from April 21 to September 1 -- the resort's main restaurant, Shutters, pays homage to the region's history of pirate lore and hosts a character pirate dinner on Monday nights. There are no pirate-themed character meals at Walt Disney World, though they are a signature event on Disney Cruise Line ships. So, if your child loves pirates, this could be the landlocked place for you!

Reservations are strongly recommended for the pirate dinner, but I was able to book a table for my family of four the day before, even during a holiday week. The pirate dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m., and we chose to dine at 5 p.m. because we had plans for a Brevard County turtle walk later that night.



Shutters is transformed into a pirate's lair with large skull-themed flags throughout the restaurant, which complement the regular nautical decor. Servers wear pirate costumes, and each table is set with eye patches and skull-themed bandanas to encourage guests to get in on the dress-up fun, too. Plus, the kids receive coloring pages that can be used for collecting autographs from Pirate Goofy and Pirate Donald Duck. We appreciated that thoughtful gesture because my son left his autograph book at home.



Because we were among the first diners seated, we also were among the first to be visited by Goofy and Donald. Unlike at some of the busy character meals at Walt Disney World, the two were in no hurry to leave our table and even stopped by again on their way to other tables. Toward the end of our meal, kids were called to the replica ship at the entrance to the restaurant to take the pirate oath with Pirate Goofy. Afterward, he handed out a treasure map to the young swashbucklers.



The pirate dinner is served family style, which means all the food is brought to your table and then you can request refills on any or all items until you are full. The menu includes: cornbread, rolls, oak-grilled chicken, brisket, BBQ pulled pork, roasted potatoes, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, baked beans, coleslaw, cupcakes and non-alcoholic beverages. My husband and I found the meal to be like a typical summer barbecue -- we each liked some items more than others. It was entirely acceptable, but nothing we would rave about. Perhaps, then, the value was in the experience, which both of our children, ages 9 and 11, thoroughly enjoyed.






The price of the all-you-care-to-eat pirate character meal is $26.99 for adults and $12.99 for children ages 3 to 9. When compared to a similar experience at Walt Disney World, that is a bargain.

Florida's Treasure Coast gets its name, in large part, from the bounty of gold and silver that was lost offshore from the 1715 Treasure Fleet that was bound from the New World to Spain. How fitting that Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers a unique treasure, too, for those who want a quick getaway from Orlando but not the magic of Walt Disney World.


July 5, 2014

Disney Store hosts free events based on "Planes: Fire and Rescue" for kids in July


Beginning today, Disney Stores nationwide are celebrating Dusty and friends with free "Planes: Fire & Rescue" events on Saturdays in July. No registration is necessary.


At the events, children ages 3 and older can train to become Aerial Fire Fighters while learning about the story of "Planes: Fire & Rescue," which will be released in theaters on July 18. Kids will be taught these skills by store cast members:

** Fly low: Using a tarp, kids crawl under or walk as low as they can without touching the tarp.
** Parachute manipulation: Kids will toss a smokejumper with a parachute in the air and try to land it on a target.
** Rescue - Find and rescue deer (John Deere tractors) hidden in the store and bring them back to Piston Peak Air Attack Base.

Each participant will receive a certificate and character stickers -- Dipper, smokejumpers and Dusty -- to place on the certificate as each activity is finished. In addition, each child who completes the exercises will receive a "Planes: Fire & Rescue" balloon from Party City.

Training takes place at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. today (July 5) and July 12 and 19. Central Florida's only Disney Store, which is located at The Florida Mall, will be participating in the scheduled events.


Of course, Disney Store carries a large selection of merchandise from the upcoming animated movie, and it's already available. Parents can pick from backpacks and lunch boxes, T-shirts, pajamas, jackets, die-cast toy planes and helicopters, dishes and more. After perusing the selection online, I have to say one of my favorites is the boys' costume, which consists of a one-piece orange-and-gray coverall inspired by Dusty Crophopper, a headset that includes aviator sunglasses and cool sound effects, and coordinating sneakers.


I'm also tempted by the Duffy the Disney Bear Fireman that is available online and in Disney Parks. We spotted him recently at Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace. Unfortunately, the fireman costume is not sold separately from the bear, though.

Kids who can't wait for the sequel to "Planes" can even purchase the storybook for "Planes: Fire and Rescue." The story picks up when Dusty is forced to switch from air racing to fighting wildfires -- for now, anyway.

You can read my review of "Planes" here, and I'll be bringing you my thoughts on the sequel, as well. The original "Planes" was aimed at very young viewers, and didn't offer their accompanying adults as much entertainment value. With a new director and presumably longer time for production work on the new film, though, I'm hopeful that "Planes: Fire and Rescue" will soar a little higher.


July 8, 2014

Is the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package at Disney's Hollywood Studios a good value?


Less than two weeks ago, Walt Disney World announced its new "Frozen Summer Fun -- Live at Disney's Hollywood Studios" event, and those of us with "Frozen" fans in our families began planning our visits to the theme park so we could see and do all the movie-themed activities.

And then, a few days later, the resort released the news that a Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package would be available. If you're like me, you started thinking about whether you could justify the cost because being able to skip the almost-certain long lines would make your day much more enjoyable. Here are some things you may want to consider.

Frozen Summer Fun runs through Sept. 1, and the premium package is available each day (unless it sells out). The cost is $59 for adults and $34 for children ages 3 to 9; both prices include taxes. So, for my family with children who are 9 and 11 years old, that would be $211. That's on top of park admission prices. Is it worth it?

The premium package includes refreshments and reserved viewing for Anna & Elsa's Royal Welcome procession in the morning, reserved seating at one afternoon showing of For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, and a nighttime dessert party in a reserved area for viewing of the Frozen fireworks.

Know that you *can* see the procession, the show and the fireworks without purchasing the package, if you don't mind waiting in lines or on the curb of Hollywood Boulevard. This package is similar to the one offered during Star Wars Weekends. My family did not purchase that premium package, and we found ourselves in thick crowds who all want to see the same things. Remember: Hollywood Boulevard does not have the same capacity for waiting guests as Main Street, U.S.A., in the Magic Kingdom -- and even that currently is being revamped to accommodate more visitors.

So, you are paying to be able to skip the crowds in the hot Florida sun and also to have more time for other entertainment in Hollywood Studios. But the food and beverages that come with the Frozen Summer Fun premium package -- especially the dessert party -- are actually a step above what they serve at comparable hard-ticket events and shouldn't be discounted as part of the value of the package.


In the morning before the processional, guests will be offered Mickey premium ice cream bars, frozen lemonade cups, frozen strawberry lemonade cups, and Dasani bottled water, Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite. If you figure one treat and one bottle per person, that adds up. At snack carts in the park, the Mickey bars are $4 and the frozen lemonade cups each are $3.75. Bottled drinks are about $2.50 each. So, for my family of four, that would be about $25 plus tax. But reports so far indicate that package participants are not limited to one of each item, so if you get a bottle of water to take with you afterward, you are saving more money, assuming you would have purchased the drink anyway. For those playing along, that would be another $10 or so for my family.

Many folks will be happy to know that alcoholic drinks are included in the Frozen Summer Fun dessert party. For comparison: Epcot's IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party includes two sparkling wines and a smaller assortment of desserts and costs $49 for adults and $29 for children ages 3 to 9. I think this example really illustrates the value in the Frozen offerings. The Epcot experience is only slightly less expensive and it doesn't offer as many selections at the dessert party or include the reserved seating and treats at the morning parade or afternoon show.


So, what do you get at the Frozen dessert party? Adults can quench their thirst with one of these three alcoholic beverages: Iced Summer, a combination of rum, blue curaƧao liqueur, pineapple juice and a splash of Sprite; Iced Coffee, a mixture of Baileys, Kahlua and coffee; or Warm Winter Grog, which contains citrus vodka, lemonade and ginger beer. In addition, sodas, bottled water and coffee or tea are available. Let's say that each adult in the family has two alcoholic drinks, and the average price of a cocktail or specialty coffee is about $10. That could be a savings of $40.

If your kids are like mine, they always ask for the brightly-colored -- and expensive -- drinks when we're visiting the theme parks. That desire will be satisfied at the Frozen dessert party with the choice of two virgin specialty drinks: Troll Juice, lemonade and blueberry Monin syrup; and Olaf's Summer Sunset, passion fruit, orange and guava juice, and peach Monin syrup. The latter sounds a lot like the POG juice that 'Ohana is so well-known for! These types of drinks typically cost $5-$6, so if my children try each drink, that would have cost at least $20.

And we haven't even discussed the sweets yet. The Frozen dessert party offers a selection of wonderfully-themed goodies: large Anna and Elsa cupcakes; Olaf cake pops; Anna yogurt push-pops; and a chocolate fondue station with fruit, marshmallows and cake. In addition, there are other dessert-party staples, such as Key lime tarts, brownie bites, lemon icebox cookies, Rice Krispie treats, strawberry shortcake and cookies. Plus, items from the Walt Disney World ice cream carts are available, including the Mickey bars, Mickey ice cream sandwich, chocolate-covered banana, strawberry bar and orange bar. It's difficult to put a price on this, but if I estimate two desserts per person at about $5 each, we would have spent $40 on sweets.





So, based on my estimates, if my family of four had purchased the food and beverages included in the premium package individually at Hollywood Studios, we would have spent about $135. That means we are paying $76 for the reserved seating and viewing for four people at three Frozen events. To some, that may seem expensive, especially if they would not ordinarily spend that much on snacks and drinks in one day at a theme park. Others may find that a bargain for peace of mind and some breathing room at what are sure to be very popular events. We'd love to hear what you think.

Tell us in the comments and share a review HERE~

To book the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package, you must call 407-939-1939. It cannot be booked online at this time.

Special thanks to MouseSteps.com for use of the photographs.


July 10, 2014

Disney Cruise Line's Fantasy sails Saturday on voyage with Dooney & Bourke events


Disney Dooney & Bourke fans who don't mind booking last-minute travel just might be interested in the Disney Fantasy cruise that leaves Port Canaveral (an hour's drive from Orlando) on Saturday, July 12. The sailing offers several special events featuring varied interactions with the renowned handbag company, which has had a partnership with The Walt Disney Company for the past five years -- and there still are cabins available.

The Disney Cruise Line website shows several categories of staterooms with verandahs available at this writing. (For a quick and convenient price quote, contact AllEars.Net advertiser Mouse Fan Travel at MouseFanTravel.com.) The Disney Fantasy is sailing to the Eastern Caribbean on a seven-day itinerary, which includes stops in St. Maarten, St. Thomas and St. John, and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island.


The cruise begins with the launch of the new Dooney & Bourke pattern (above) sold exclusively on the Disney Fantasy during this sailing. Later, the pattern will be available on the other three Disney Cruise Line ships, as well. Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager at Walt Disney World, said when announcing the cruise recently that the pattern will be available on several popular styles of bags, including the totes and Crossbody bags.

On the days at sea, which are Sunday, Monday and Thursday, events are planned around the Disney Dooney & Bourke brand. Ian Ray, director of new product development for Dooney & Bourke, will kick things off by hosting a special presentation that highlights the history and future of Dooney & Bourke at Disney Parks. The presentation takes place at 11 a.m. Sunday in the Buena Vista Theatre on Deck 4.

Ray also will meet with guests in the White Caps merchandise location each evening. Purchasing limits will be in place. This is the current policy for Disney Dooney & Bourke and Disney Vera Bradley bags at Walt Disney World, as well, where the limit typically is two bags of the same style per customer.

On Monday, guests can browse a sample sale in White Caps on Deck 3 that begins at 9 a.m. There will be a Dooney & Bourke Silent Auction in Preludes at 1 p.m. that day, too. Miller said that among the items up for bid will be framed patterns. On Thursday, a meet-and-greet is scheduled with Ray at 1 p.m. in Preludes.

Guests may want to hustle to clean up from their port adventures on Wednesday because Bingo is listed as one of the Dooney & Bourke events for the cruise. Possibly, that means something from Disney Dooney & Bourke will be a prize. Bingo starts at 7:30 p.m. in the D Lounge on Deck 4.

Disney Cruise Line has debuted at least five exclusive Dooney & Bourke patterns during the last five years, including one in 2011 for the inaugural sailing of the Disney Dream. I have been fortunate to receive a couple bags as gifts during my cruises. Now, who can I stow away with so I can add to my collection?


July 11, 2014

Author Ridley Pearson announces sequels to popular Kingdom Keepers series


Fans of the Kingdom Keepers series who are sad after finishing the final installment this spring won't have a longer-than-usual wait to be reunited with some of their favorite literary characters. That's because author Ridley Pearson announced on his website and social media this week that he is working on a trilogy that picks up where book seven, "The Insider," left off. And, true to the pattern of the last several years, the first follow-up novel will be released next spring. "The Return: Disney Lands" has a publication date of March 31, 2015.

Even while writing "The Insider," Pearson was clear that he was not ready to stop writing about the popular teenage characters who protect Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line ships after the guests go home.

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


The official news came as the author announced Thursday that he is again soliciting writing submissions from fans, and the best will be included in "Disney Lands." Unlike the fan participation on "Insider," which invited readers to work on a chapter at a time, this year's submissions are framed as eight writing challenges that run simultaneously with a single deadline. They are outlined on the Kingdom Keepers Insider website -- prose, poetry and even song lyrics -- and the competition has begun.

Fans can send their submissions through the website or the free Kingdom Keepers Insider app, which is available across all digital platforms.

Don't fancy yourself a writer but you enjoy the Kingdom Keepers characters? You still can read and vote for your favorite submissions online through Sept. 1.


The first challenge features the very popular queen, Elsa, from the hit animated movie, "Frozen." Your mission, should you choose to accept it: "Describe the visuals of seeing (Cast Member) Elsa in her surroundings at the meet-and-greet inside Walt Disney World's Princess Fairytale Hall. If you haven't been there, you can make it up! (or do a web search for images and then put into your own words)."

It will be interesting to see how this writing prompt fits into the novel. Pearson released this description of his upcoming book: "With the defeat of the Overtakers behind them, the five teenagers known as the Kingdom Keepers should be celebrating. By all accounts, they saved Disneyland from certain destruction. Why then did their mentor leave one last puzzle for them to decipher? The Keepers must solve a puzzle of the past, or be crushed under an evil that makes the Overtakers seem like gentle souls."

The Kingdom Keepers Insider website offers one last clue: The Kingdom Keepers are going to Imagineering school. What do you think is going to happen in this sequel?


July 15, 2014

Learn to draw Frozen's Elsa, Anna and Olaf at Walt Disney World


For children -- and adults -- who love to create artwork, Walt Disney World offers several different venues where cast-member artists teach guests how to draw Disney characters. These experiences are free (with paid admission, where applicable) and usually don't require a long wait, which makes them a perfect activity in between FastPasses and show times.

"Frozen" fans will be happy to know that some of their favorite characters have been added to the choices at the Animation Academy inside The Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios. Guests now can learn to draw Elsa, Anna and Olaf. (Don't worry: If your budding artists is not going to be at the theme park any time soon, he or she still can learn the techniques from Disney character artist Brian James Fichtner in the videos below.)

Both of my children enjoy the drawing sessions, and recently they asked to join in the fun again. Drawing classes are offered every 30 minutes on the hour and half-hour. The classroom inside the Magic of Disney Animation is quite large -- everyone in our queue got a seat on the first try -- and the setup is fun, with each student sitting on a stool at a slanted drawing board, just like a "real" artist.


We found out that, at the Animation Academy, the character subjects are selected based on guests' requests. However, if a character already has been drawn that day, the cast-member artist likely will opt for a different member of the Disney family to keep things interesting for repeat visitors. (This is different from Animation Academy inside Disney Quest at Downtown Disney, where the classes take place on the hour and there is a posted schedule of which characters will be the artists' subjects.)

The artists guide guests through the process of drawing a character, line by line. And the pencils they provide purposely do not have erasers. As the cast member explains, they want guests to understand these drawings are sketches. The pencil strokes are done lightly until the end, when the guests then go over their finished products with bolder markings.

Speaking of finished products, each guest leaves the Animation Academy with a pretty cool souvenir. Guests are invited to autograph their work at the end of each session, but they also could visit the subject of their sketch for a character signature if that character is in the park.

If you missed the class for the character you really wanted to be able to draw on your own, Walt Disney World sells books that teach visitors how to create Mickey Mouse and his pals from scratch.


July 17, 2014

Adopt a cat or dog from a shelter and receive two tickets to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens


SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is known for Shamu and thrill rides. And it's also known for its rescue and rehabilitation of thousands of marine animals during the last 50 years.

The company's message of conservation is apparent not only in its theme parks but also with its weekly national television show, "Sea Rescue." Viewers of the show and visitors at the parks learn about the safety and care of orcas, dolphins, sea turtles and more.

But SeaWorld's concern for animals also extends to the furry mammals many of us have as pets. Cats and dogs are the focus of SeaWorld's Happy Tails program, which encourages the adoption of such animals from local shelters. The company promotes the everyday rescues by offering a thank-you gift of complimentary tickets to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens in Tampa.


For each cat or dog that is adopted from a qualifying shelter, the new owner will receive two free single-day admissions to a SeaWorld park or Busch Gardens. The shelters print the tickets at the time of the adoption, and they are good for any time during the following year.

Participating shelters in Central Florida are the two locations for the SPCA of Central Florida (2727 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 and 2800 County Home Road, Sanford, FL 32772). Near Florida's Busch Gardens, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay (3607 North Armenia Ave., Tampa, Florida, 33607) is an approved organization. There also are affiliated shelters in Texas, California and Virginia.

Recent "pet parent" Kathy offered this commentary on the SeaWorld website: "My husband and myself recent adopted a 9-month-old golden/ lab mix (I think!). We are in love! She stole our hearts the minute we saw her. Isn't it funny how that works? You just know as you're walking along the rows of little faces, and then your eyes meet, and you just know they're the one. We are so grateful for the service that the SPCA provides. We would never consider bringing anything other than a shelter pet home."

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have provided homes and a second chance at life for hundreds of abandoned and neglected animals. Considered by many to be untrainable, these adopted animals now steal the stage - and fans' hearts - as stars in the parks' popular shows "Pets Ahoy" in Orlando, "Pets Rule" in San Diego and San Antonio, "Critter Castaways" in Tampa, and "More...Pet Shenanigans" in Williamsburg.

On a related note, if you are traveling with your pet to Orlando, SeaWorld does have kennels where your furry friend can stay while you enjoy the theme park. The air-conditioned kennels are staffed from park opening until half an hour after it closes. Park guests are required to bring pet food, a copy of the pet's shot record and an updated rabies tag. Guests also must return to walk their dogs during the day. The cost is $15 per day with a $5 discount for pass members.


July 19, 2014

Review of Planes: Fire and Rescue


"Planes: Fire and Rescue," which opens in theaters this weekend, helps resuscitate the "Cars"-inspired franchise of animated movies that started last year with "Planes."

The biggest difference is that the sequel has an original story line. Unlike "Planes," the movie does not position its lead character, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), to again rehash the popular racing saga of Lightning McQueen. When my family saw that movie last year, most of us agreed it felt tired and predictable -- obviously, with good reason.

That's not to say that "Fire and Rescue" isn't predictable, especially for older children and adults. It's easy to see the Disney formula at work, with the lead character facing a dilemma, then a life-threatening challenge, and finally a triumphant resolution. But this time, the journey keeps our interest a little better because we don't know how it all will play out.


In "Fire and Rescue," Dusty returns to the screen as a world racing champion, but he soon learns that his well-worn gear box is a liability for future competitions and he must find a new way to use his superior flight skills. Coincidentally, at the same time, his home airport is in need of another rescue vehicle. Without a new emergency plane on staff, the airport will be forced to close. To get certified, Dusty must train with an elite fleet of fire and rescue vehicles that are protecting national park forests from raging wildfires.

In creating this movie, Disney artists observed real aerial firefighting aircraft and smokejumpers. In fact, this version of Dusty Crophopper is based on a real-life pilot and his plane, which are stationed in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Pilot Jesse Weaver and his Air Tractor AT-802F "Fire Boss" use 500 to 800 gallons of water or fire retardant to snuff out fires.

"The Fire Boss aircraft are the ones getting the toughest jobs, because we can do them successfully and safely. We often work in steep mountainous terrain. I'll be called to do all sorts of things, because my floats create drag that helps me go slow downhill, without building up too much speed," Weaver said in a press release.

"I definitely work closely with the guys on the ground. I'll lay down a line of fire retardant and they will support that line with their hand crews, [fire] engines or whatever they have on scene."

And seeing the true-to-life depictions of those serious and life-threatening situations keeps this movie interesting. It's not the typical setting for an animated movie, and viewing the West Coast forests from the sky is exciting, especially in 3D. Those who are familiar with the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World will chuckle when they see Fusa Lodge, which looks remarkably similar to the real-life hotel here in Orlando. Even the entry to the Piston Peak National Park looks like the entrance to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.


Still, the target audience for "Planes: Fire and Rescue" is young children. As such, the bathroom humor, easy jokes and bad puns hit their mark. The kids who were in the theater at our screening were laughing out loud. Parents joined them when the background of gruff veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) is revealed. Apparently, he was one of the co-stars of "CHoPs." Cue the music and references to '70s hit television show "CHiPs."

Although "Fire and Rescue" is an improvement over the original movie, I still think both animated shows are more suited to a direct-to-DVD release. But if parents and caregivers are willing to lower their expectations from the high bar recently set by the Disney big-screen hit, "Frozen," they may find "Fire and Rescue" to be a good break from the summer heat.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Planes: Fire and Rescue" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


July 21, 2014

First Look: 2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival


A relatively recent tradition at Walt Disney World is to give Tables in Wonderland members a preview of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival about two months before it opens. Along with a growing appetite for the festival, this event, too, has increased in popularity.

I attended the preview with AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills and AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth, so that we could be among the first to share our impressions about what you can expect at the 19th year of the festival. We quickly discovered that doubling the number of participants and moving the venue to World ShowPlace caused a few growing pains this year with the quality of the service, but certainly not the quality of the food.

The event began with a reception that featured food stations, as well as two open bars. Among the offerings this year were dishes and drinks from Puerto Rico, the culture that will be highlighted at this year's food and wine festival. You can read our thoughts about the island marketplace in my separate blog post tomorrow.


Among the other appetizers, Linda raved about the Sea Scallop with Spinach Cheddar Gratin and Crispy Bacon from Scotland. She said the combination of flavors was "perfect" and "very delicious."


If I am discounting my affinity for the Puerto Rican dishes, my favorite was the CraB'less CraB Cake with Pepper Slaw and Cajun Remoulade featuring Gardein. This vegan dish will be served at the Terra marketplace. Perhaps what I liked best about it was that the slaw reminded me of the Kimchi slaw that was served with hotdogs at the South Korea kiosk last year. It's spicy hot! I agree with Linda, who pointed out that while the CraB'less CraB Cake had the texture of a crab cake, it did not necessarily taste like crab.


We also sampled the Pao de Queijo, a cheese bread from Brazil, and the South Africa Bobotie with Turkey and Mushrooms. None of us had strong opinions about either dish.



Our least favorite was the Nueske's Pepper Bacon Hash with Sweet Corn, Potatoes, Hollandaise and pickled JalapeƱos. It looked delicious when it was being prepared in a skillet, but it tasted bland and was drenched in the sauce. The hash -- and other "home-grown" dishes -- will be among the offerings at the Farm Fresh stand, which replaces the Florida Fresh booth.


Our appetizers were accompanied by a selection of adult beverages. Linda and I sipped the Aulani Sunset cocktail, which is made with Sammy's [Hagar] Beach Bar Rum. The drink is similar to what is served at Disney's Hawaiian resort, though the rum from the rock musician is a new addition. We agreed we could not taste the alcohol in the drink, and we weren't sure if that was because of the quantity or the quality. Either way, it's a sweet, delicious drink.



Among the wines served at the reception was a Paperboy Red, which will be available at the Terra marketplace. Deb tasted this one and said, "The story is great. It's the first 100 percent fully recyclable wine bottle that is 80 percent lighter than glass and made with ultra-green packaging. But the great stops there. I wanted to like the wine -- who doesn't want to do more for the environment? -- but the first flavors are not pleasant. It opened up a bit toward the end of the sip, but the bad nose and start was off-putting. I even tried it later in the evening and liked it less."

Other choices included a chardonnay from The Great American Wine Company; Brut Sparkling Blac de Noir from Domaine Chandon; and Duke's Cold Nose Brown Ale, from Bold City Brewery in Jacksonville. The pale ale will be available at the Farm Fresh kiosk.

And that was just the reception; then we moved into World Showplace for a plated dinner, which also showcased dishes that will be served during the 53-day festival. Chef Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef, said there will be 35 new food offerings at this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, along with guests' favorites.



Our dinner started with a course from Greece: Vegetarian Moussaka. It seemed to be well-received by the diners around me, including Deb and Linda.

Deb said, "The Vegetarian Moussaka was excellent, and I'd swear it had meat in it! This was paired with the M-A-N Family Wine, Chenin Blanc, a South African wine. If you like Chenin Blanc, be sure to try this wine."


Linda said, "I was hesitant at first, but after a few bites started to enjoy the flavors. Even though it was vegetarian, it really tasted as if meat were in the dish. The Chenin Blanc paired very nicely. I thought it brought out some of the spicy flavors in the moussaka."


The second course was from Patagonia, the festival's newsiest marketplace. This course consisted of Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Argugula Chimi Churri. Chef Jens pointed out that this particular fish is fully sustainable and simply prepared for a light taste.

"I really liked the Patagonia Course. Salmon can sometimes be overpowering in flavors, but this had a light taste," Linda said. "The Quinoa Salad was superb! It was hard to say which tasted better -- the salad or the salmon."

Deb said she liked the Quinoa salad better than the salmon.

Then, it was time for the third course, which was my favorite. The Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice) came from the Puerto Rico marketplace. Deb enjoyed this dish as well, saying, "The braised beef dish from Puerto Rico was very good, the meat ever so tender. I will try this again." Still, Linda said that although the meat was tender, she thought the dish lacked flavor.

The Carne Guisada was paired with a sangria and a Medalla light beer. I'm not really a beer drinker, so I tried the Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, which was very smooth. If you like sweet drinks, you'll love this one.


We also were offered a taste of a somewhat new beer, MmmHops, from the band Hanson. The name is a play on the group's hit song, "MmmBop," and the pale ale is from the Hanson Brothers Beer Company. MmmHops was launched at select locations in 2013. The three brothers have been regulars at the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series, so this seemed like a logical tie-in, we were told.

Finally, the dessert trio arrived, and one of the sweets was the much-talked-about croissant doughnut, which can be found year-round at the Refreshment Port. The original Cronut was invented in New York City and is a pastry that is made by frying dough and then adding the sugar, filling and glaze. The Disney version we tried was more like a croissant doughnut hole that had a cinnamon-sugar flavor.


We also sampled the Fresh Baked Carrot Cake with Craisins and Cream Cheese icing that will be available at the Hops and Barley marketplace. I enjoyed this dessert, but it might not be for you if you don't like Craisins because they are abundant in each serving.

The third dessert was the Warm Drinking Chocolate that is available at the Bean to the Bar location in the Festival Center. This thick chocolate drink is very rich. Can't wait to sample it? It's on the menu at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shoppe and Soda Fountain at Downtown Disney Marketplace.

At our event, the desserts were paired with Rose Regale, which Deb said goes well with just about any dessert.

The 19th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs from Sept. 19 through Nov. 10. It is included with regular theme-park admission to Epcot. Will you be attending? Tell us what you're most looking forward to in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own. Deb and Linda purchased tickets to attend the event.


July 22, 2014

2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival shines spotlight on Puerto Rico


Each year, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival highlights a particular culture not just with its marketplace offerings, but also special events, such as a themed dinner. This year, Puerto Rico was chosen for that honor.

Although the U.S. Commonwealth has been part of the festival in the past, Chef Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef, said that it was selected this year because of its ties to many of Walt Disney World's guests.

"As you know, we have a very large base of Puerto Rican customers. There is a lot of passion around it. They are very proud of their culture," he said. "We hope to make a splash with the whole Puerto Rican experience."

Chef Jens Dahlmann

I have to confess my own excitement about the return of the Puerto Rico kiosk to the festival. I lived on the island for several years as a child, so I have fond memories of my time there and look forward to a culinary trip down memory lane.

AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills, AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth and I attended the Tables in Wonderland preview for the 2014 festival, and we were able to taste some of the dishes that Chef Jens has prepared for the popular 53-day event.

At the Puerto Rico marketplace, there will be four foods to sample. We tried the Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice). Of the various courses, it was my favorite, which is no surprise given my familiarity with the island's flavors. Deb agreed with me, saying, "The braised beef dish from Puerto Rico was very good, the meat ever so tender. I will try this again." Still, Linda said that although the meat was tender, she thought the dish lacked flavor.


The Carne Guisada was paired with a sangria and a Medalla light beer. I'm not really a beer drinker, so I tried the Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, which was very smooth. If you like sweet drinks, this one is for you.


Chef Marianne Hunnel, content development manager of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, mentioned that there will be a third drink offered at the Puerto Rico marketplace: Ponce de Leon Lemonade. It will be a frozen drink made with lemonade and grapefruit juice, and adults have the option to add Puerto Rican rum.

Chef Marianne Hunnel

During the reception, Deb, Linda and I also sampled the Sweet Corn Sorullitos with Mayo Ketchup that will be served at the Puerto Rico kiosk. These corn fritters will be paired with fried cheese balls and served in paper cups, a representation of the "frituras," or fried foods, sold along the beaches in Puerto Rico. We all enjoyed the crispy corn fritters. Their mild flavor paired with mayo ketchup that comes in a squeezable tube that is sure to be a hit with adults and kids alike.


The other two offerings at the Puerto Rico booth will be a conch salad and flancocho. Flancocho is an island favorite that combines flan and cake ingredients for a delicious dessert.

Chef Jens describes the salad this way: "What I really love is the conch salad -- beautiful Caribbean conch chopped in small pieces with onions and sweet peppers and lemon served in a paper cone over rice. Just delicious."

For those who would like to be immersed in the Puerto Rican culture, Epcot is hosting "Experience Puerto Rico -- The All Star Island" on the opening weekend of the festival. The two-and-a-half-hour dinner will feature authentic cuisine and entertainment. Plus, there will be a selection of beverages, including handcrafted cocktails made from Puerto Rico's world-renowned rum brands. The dinner takes place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Sept. 20. It costs $99 plus tax per person, gratuity included.

Tickets for the dinner go on sale to the general public at 7 a.m. July 31. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


July 25, 2014

Free, family friendly fun at this weekend's Tour de Turtles kickoff


Tour de Turtles kicks off this weekend on the East Coast of Florida, and the state's visitors and locals alike have several opportunities to join in the fun surrounding the marine marathon.

Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is an interesting 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.

This is the seventh year for Tour de Turtles, and there will be between 10 and 13 sea turtles representing four or five different species. The turtles leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including one in front of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, during the last part of July and will be tracked for three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

As in past years, two Loggerhead turtles will begin their marathon in front of the Disney hotel. Resort guests and the public are invited to watch, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, July 26. In addition, their human supporters are invited to stay for a free beach party that will include appearances by royal sisters Anna and Elsa from "Frozen" and a photo opportunity with Olaf, the snowman who longs for summer. There also will be turtle-themed activities, of course. A cast member told me that the public is welcome to park at the resort, walk through the lobby and out onto the beach for the kickoff and party.

Barrier Island Center

From 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is hosting a party to benefit the animals and their habitat in Brevard County. The party takes place at the Barrier Island Center, located at 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach. It will include heavy hors d'oeuvres, refreshments, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $20 online when purchased in advance or they will be available at the door for $35. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Questions? Call 321-723-3556.

On Sunday, July 27, there is another opportunity to watch more turtles begin the race. This group will be leaving from the beach start gate near the Barrier Island Center at 8 a.m. Spectators are asked to arrive 30 minutes early. From 8:30 am to 9:30 am, there will be fun family-friendly activities. This event is free and open to the public, and T-shirts will be available for $20. Parking is limited here, too.

In addition to the education and research components, Tour de Turtles also raises money for additional research and conservancy efforts through sponsorships of each turtle. Several branches of The Walt Disney Company have been annual sponsors of Tour de Turtles: Disney's Animal Program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

2014 Tour de Turtles art

Individuals can contribute, too, by adopting a turtle and its cause. A secondary competition among the turtles on the migration marathon focuses on how much money they can raise for separate causes. A donation of $30 ($40 outside the United States) to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) comes with a personalized adoption certificate, a logo decal, a colorful magnet, STC's Sea Turtle Conservation Guide and a one-year subscription to the Velador, STC's newsletter.

If you can't make it to either of the launches, you still can follow the race at tourdeturtles.org beginning Aug. 1. Updates also will be posted on Twitter @conserveturtles and Facebook at www.facebook.com/conserveturtles.


July 29, 2014

Where to find "Frozen"-themed backpacks


It's that time again -- the time when parents jam the aisles at discount and office-supply stores to purchase items off long lists of school supplies for their children for the upcoming school year. And if trying to find a very specific type of folder or notebook isn't enough to send parents screaming, how about trying to find a backpack with a child's favorite Disney character when they are not plentiful?

One year, my son absolutely was set on having a Mickey Mouse-themed backpack. It couldn't be just any backpack, though. It had to look like it was designed for an older child -- no Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, thank you very much -- AND it had to have wheels. I searched high and low, and all my physical trips and Internet searches that year yielded slim pickings. I finally hit upon a backpack that met all the criteria on eBay. You would have thought I had won the lottery!

Sure, I could have told my son that what he wanted just didn't exist. But I remember the thrill of carrying my new book bags and backpacks when I was a child, so I like being able to find what my children want to carry every day of the school year.

This year, I would expect there are a lot of "Frozen" fans who are looking for backpacks depicting the royal sisters Anna and Elsa or Olaf the Snowman. Not surprisingly, the Disney Store already is sold out. There was a shortage of consumer goods after the animated movie "Frozen" was released and audiences fell in love with the film. Clearly, The Walt Disney Company underestimated its popularity. Merchandise sold out as soon as it hit the shelves, parents stood in line for lotteries of the few restocked items, and the company even airlifted the goods from its factories in China to its distribution centers. Eventually it seemed as though the supply chain finally caught up with the marketing machine.

Little girls are able to find Elsa and Anna costumes, but it looks as though the backpacks may be another story. If you act now -- and don't mind hitting up several stores -- there are some back-to-school items with the "Frozen" characters that can be found.


Head to your nearest Target for "Frozen" backpacks and folders. The pink and purple backpack features Anna, Elsa and Olaf and "super lights." It seems to have the basics -- a main compartment, a front compartment, two outside mesh pockets (for water bottles) and padded straps. It sells for about $20. Target also had two-pocket folders that show Olaf on the cover. Both of these items are available in stores only, not online. You can, however, order and pay for the backpack online and then pick it up at a store that has them in stock.



DisneyStore.com does still have an aluminum water bottle in stock that would pair nicely with the backpack. It features Anna, Elsa and Olaf, and is priced at about $9. The official backpack and lunchbox -- the only ones with a pretty gray background -- already are sold out. EBay would be your best option if you like this set.


Kohl's offers a Frozen backpack and lunchbox set that display images of Elsa and Anna for about $30. This backpack has features similar to the one sold at Target, but it does not have a separate front compartment or an image of Olaf. The lunchbox is a basic square-shaped insulated bag. The set is available online and in stores.

The best deals can be found at Toys 'R' Us, if you are not picky about the size of the backpacks. The toy store carries a backpack and lunchbox combination that is almost identical in design to the one sold at Kohl's. It sells for about $15, which is half the price. However, this version is only 13.9 inches by 9.7 inches by 2 inches, and the Kohl's backpack is 16 inches by 12 inches by 5 inches. For pre-schoolers, the smaller size may be perfect. Elementary-school students are likely to need the larger size, though.

Toys 'R' Us also carries a backpack like the one sold at Target that includes Olaf in the design. It comes with a coordinating lunch box for about $15 for the set. It, too, is the smaller sizes described above, while the Target version is larger.



Toys 'R' Us also offers a third small "Frozen"-themed backpack depicting Anna and Elsa for about $15. It can be paired with an offer for a free lunch kit, which also is a different version of the royal sisters. All the Toys 'R' Us merchandise can be purchased online, shipped to a local store or bought in a store, if available.

Walmart.com does list Frozen backpacks, but they already are sold out. Your best bet is to check local stores.


Amazon.com has a variety of Frozen-themed backpacks and lunch boxes from different sellers, including the only ones I've seen with images of Kristoff and Sven. Prices vary by seller.

"Frozen" merchandise may be some of the hottest items when it comes to school supplies, but if you act now, you won't be left out in the cold.


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About July 2014

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

June 2014 is the previous archive.

August 2014 is the next archive.

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