« November 2014 | Main | January 2015 »

December 2014 Archives

December 1, 2014

Details on Disney Store's Cyber Monday deals

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

disney-store-magical-friday-cyber-monday-deal.jpg

DisneyStore.com, which carries a selection of products from Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line, will be participating in today's Cyber Monday with great deals.

With the code CYBER, shoppers can get 25 percent off $100 or more; 20 percent off $75 or more; or 15 percent off $50 or more, plus free shipping with purchases $75 and more.

In addition, the site is extending its Magical Friday sale, which has marked down hundreds of items by 40 percent, through Monday.

Disney Parks products include jewelry, traditional mouse ear hats, Beautifully Disney makeup, golf accessories, clothing, spa products, cell phone cases, the Jack Skellington collection and toys, such as the monorail and Cinderella Castle play sets. Dooney & Bourke and Vera Bradley bags are not included in the sale.

There is a wonderful selection of holiday merchandise from Disney Parks, including the new retro collection that everyone is raving about. Look for an assortment of stockings, advent calendars, figurines, nutcrackers, greeting cards and ornaments.

Of course, Disney Store carries its own merchandise, too. Shoppers can find "Frozen"¯-themed items, as well as gifts with classic characters Mickey Mouse and friends and Marvel super heroes. Plus, this is the first holiday season that Disney Store will offer an exclusive assortment of Stars Wars merchandise, including all-new detailed die cast vehicles inspired by the original "Star Wars"¯ saga.

Disney Store also carries an assortment of favorite Disney Junior characters, including Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First.

There is an expanded holiday collection, including pajamas for the whole family, Christmas sweatshirt and plush characters dressed in their holiday finest.

Too many choices?

Check out Disney Store's "Most-Wished-For Toys"¯ listing. You can search by price or gender. Gift-givers will find a selection of merchandise at a range of prices that work with any budget, including holiday ornaments for $8, classic Disney Princess dolls for $10 and Toy Story Talking Action Figures for $20. For guests looking for extra special gifts, Disney Store also offers deluxe items, such as a line of beautiful costumes featuring Elsa, Anna, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and others ($89.95 - $99.95).

To add convenience for online shopping, Disney Store is piloting a new feature this season, giving guests the flexibility to reserve gifts online and pick-up in stores. Guests can also take advantage of Disney Store's free 'buy in-store, ship to home' service.

In stores, shoppers can use Apple Pay, a new payment service that allows for a faster and more convenient way to pay. Using the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay simplifies the check-out process for guests and Cast Members alike. For online and mobile shopping, Disney Store also updated its free mobile app to include Apple Pay as a payment option, allowing for a faster check-out experience.

Guests who prefer to shop online or on-the-go will find a streamlined and user-friendly experience on Disney Store's Mobile Site and App. Through the Mobile Site, users can receive timely message alerts for new arrivals, in-store events and promotional offers.




Instagram

December 4, 2014

Is runDisney's Expedition Everest Challenge on your calendar?

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

As Orlando residents and longtime annual passholders, my family and I have experienced much of what Walt Disney World has to offer. One thing we have not tried, however, is runDisney races. That's about to change, though.

My husband has enjoyed running for many years, and recently our 12-year-old son has expressed as interest, too. I attempted to register them for the Family 5K at the Marathon Weekend in January, but I wasn't quick enough. Deb Wills had the same trouble, as well, unfortunately. We both were surprised to learn that many of the races that weekend sold out in hours!

So, our family regrouped, and my son decided he wanted to make his running debut at the Expedition Everest Challenge on May 2, 2015, at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Registration opens to the public at noon on December 16, but one of the perks of being an annual passholder is being able to register for runDisney events in advance. For this particular race, Disney passholders could begin registering at noon on Dec. 2. By that evening, though, the passholder spots were full.

I'm told that most runners attempt this particular race in teams of at least two people. That's because the challenge is more than just running a 5K - as if that wouldn't be enough of a challenge for some of us! After the runners finish the required 3.1 miles, they tackle an obstacle course and then a scavenger hunt. Upon crossing the finish line and collecting their medals, they can join a post-race party in Dinoland, U.S.A., which is included in the entry fee. The party features a DJ, and food and drinks can be purchased. Expedition Everest is open, as are Kali River Rapids and the rides in Chester and Hester's DinoRama.

runDisney-expedition-everest-challenge-medals.jpg

Team members have to be at least 9 years old, and if one team member is younger than 13, he or she has to be participating with an adult. The Expedition Everest Challenge is one of the few runDisney night races. It starts at 10 p.m., and the post party continues until 2:30 a.m.

This is the 15th year for the Expedition Everest Challenge, and it appears that it will be the last. The official runDisney page describes the 2015 race this way: "Take a final run on the wild side and uncover the mystery of the clues! Get your bragging rights as one of the final runners who faced the Expedition Everest Challenge before it's too late!"¯

Runners on various public message boards have speculated that this will make the Expedition Everest Challenge more popular, so be prepared to get online quickly on Dec. 16.

Registration will be available at runDisney.com. The race costs $125 per person or $240 for a two-person team. Entry fees include the challenge with Disney characters, a short-sleeve tech shirt, personalized race bib (if registered before March 3), a finisher medal, post-race refreshments, and the after-party festivities in the theme park. Friends and family members can purchase tickets to the after-party event for $49 for adults and $25 for children ages 3 to 9. Prices increase after March 23, 2015.



Instagram

December 6, 2014

Now Snowing Nightly in Celebration gives visitors a taste of winter near Walt Disney World

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

For years, one of my family's favorite holiday traditions is a visit to see "snow"¯ just outside the gates of Walt Disney World. The town of Celebration hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" - a flurry of soap bubbles -- from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge.

The shopping district is quite festive with the "snowfall,"¯ Christmas decorations, live music on Saturdays, ice skating, horse-drawn carriages, simulated train rides, visits with Santa Claus and restaurants to fit a range of budgets and tastes.

Sound tempting? Here are some tips that I have put together after years of fun visits to this event:

celebration-now-snowing-nightly.jpg


celebration-past-snowfall.jpg

** Snow falls daily at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic.

celebration-market-street-cafe.jpg

** Crowds are heavier later in the night and on weekends. You could have guessed that, though, right? This won't affect your ability to experience the snow, but it makes finding street parking and a table at some restaurants more difficult. Some take reservations, so be sure to check if you would like to dine at places such as Cuban treasure Columbia Restaurant. Our family is fond of the Market Street CafƩ -- a diner that's perfect for an inexpensive, yet satisfying, family meal.

** Tonight's live performance, called A Celebration of Voices, features local elementary school choirs and the Stand Up Tour of young artists, including IM5 and Hollywood Ending. On Dec. 13, Radio Disney hosts its annual holiday concert featuring After Romeo and Taylor Buono. On Dec. 20, Jason Castro performs at A Countdown to Christmas. We have attended the Radio Disney concert several times and definitely noticed that those nights are popular with crowds, especially tweens and teens.

celebration-ice-skating.jpg

** The ice skating rink really is a hard plastic surface that kids use skates to glide on. The Endless Ice offers them the traditional winter experience without as many painful spills. This rink even encourages beginning skaters to use supports (that look a lot like walkers) while they learn. Skating, which includes skate rental, is $10 per 30 minutes and it's open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily.

** Horse and carriage rides are $25 for the first two passengers and $10 for each additional person. Group wagon rides are $5 per person. Plus, Holiday Home Tours can be booked by calling 321-624-6380. They are 30-40 minutes long and cost $25 per person.

** Santa Claus greets families each night from 6 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 24. (He starts 30 minutes earlier on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.) There is no charge for the visit, and photo packages start at $24.99. Pets are welcome on Wednesdays.

celebration-holiday-train.jpg

** When my son and daughter were younger, they couldn't wait to ride the Holiday Train on a short trip through town. It's $5 per person. Tickets can be purchased for $4 before 4 p.m. at Confetti, Market Street Gallery or Sanrio Surprises.

celebration-hello-kitty.jpg

** Speaking of Sanrio Surprises "¦ This little store sells everything you can imagine related to Hello Kitty and even hosts birthday parties. On most nights of "Now Snowing Nightly," Sanrio Surprises hosts story time with Hello Kitty, and then guests have the opportunity to take their photos with her. The free 10-minute activity is at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. and is limited by space, so be sure to line up a few minutes early.

If you're looking for a fun holiday getaway not far from Orlando or the gates of Walt Disney World, you'll find that the town of Celebration certainly lives up to its name during the holidays. And if you're a native Floridian, you'll appreciate a chance to have a white Christmas after all. Good luck building that bubbly Olaf snowman, though.



Instagram

December 9, 2014

A touring plan for SeaWorld Orlando's Christmas Celebration

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

SeaWorld Orlando offers so many attractions for the holidays that you easily could spend the better part of a day focusing on just the Christmas activities. So, in that spirit, here is touring plan to map out just how to do that.

My plan has an arrival time of 12:30 p.m., and I am assuming you have already eaten lunch. If you want to eat on property, arrive sooner. Also, my plan is for about 9 hours in the park. If your party is up for a longer day, arrive at park opening to experience some of the other attractions.

Here we go!

12:30 p.m.: Enter SeaWorld Orlando and go straight to the Polar Express, which is an overlay at the Wild Arctic attraction. This experience typically has long lines during the holidays, so be prepared. The Singing Conductors (seen below) perform regularly in front of the queue to keep crowds entertained. Polar Express starts with a short film, and then visitors enter a simulator for the train ride to the North Pole.

Upon arrival, they will see the Beluga whales and, around the bend, Santa Claus dressed just as he is in the popular movie. There may be a short line to meet him, so I'm allowing extra time at this attraction. There also is a beautiful Christmas tree in this area that is a great backdrop for family photos.

Moving on, you can purchase the hot chocolate made popular in the movie and see the walruses before exiting the attraction.

2:45-3 p.m.: Head to Seaport Theater to grab a seat for Elmo's Christmas Wish. This is a must-see for families with little ones. Although my own children are well past the age at which they enjoy Elmo, when they were into the red muppet, they could not get enough of him. The first show starts at 3:15 p.m.

seaworld-orlando-christmas-o-wondrous-night-gospel-singers.jpg


seaworld-orlando-christmas-o-wondrous-night-live-nativity.jpg

4:30 to 5 p.m.: Time to get in line for the 5:30 p.m. 'O Wondrous Night' performance. This is SeaWorld Orlando's most popular Christmas production, so you may want to check on the queue even sooner if you want to see a particular show. 'O Wondrous Night' is a retelling of Jesus' birth that includes gospel-style singing and dancing, puppeteers and a live Nativity. The finale with three large camels truly is a sight to behold.

seaworld-orlando-christmas-sea-of-trees.jpg

6 or 6:35 p.m.: Walk to any spot with a view of Bay Harbor and enjoy the short Sea of Trees show during which the lights on the Christmas trees in the water "dance"¯ to music. If you view the trees from the shops at The Waterfront at 6:35 p.m., you can experience "snow flurries"¯ afterward at that location.

6 to 7 p.m.: Stroll through the Christmas Market, the pathway that runs from the dolphin nursery to Bayside Stadium. This area is jam-packed with fun holiday offerings. See large-scale trains travel through an elaborate display; warm up by a fire pit; listen to roaming carolers; take holiday-themed photos; try your hand at games of chance; shop at the toy kiosks; and sample holiday food and beverages, including hot toddies for the adults.

seaworld-orlando-christmas-shamu-stadium.jpg


seaworld-orlando-shamu-christmas-miracles.jpg

7 to 7:15 p.m.: Start making your way to Shamu Stadium for the night's only performance of Shamu Christmas Miracles at 7:45 p.m. Although the killer whales make an appearance at 7:45 p.m., there is an amazing pre-show by a solo saxophonist that you won't want to miss. The orca show itself is worth seeing, combining the animal's feats with an engaging holiday story.


seaworld-orlando-christmas-winter-wonderland-on-ice.jpg

8:15 p.m.: Don't delay after the Shamu show - make your way straight to Bayside Stadium for the best show of the night, Winter Wonderland on Ice, which begins at 8:30 p.m. There is a pre-show here, too, but you likely will miss it if you go to Shamu Christmas Miracles. The main production, which features ice skating to traditional Christmas songs, is my family's favorite holiday experience at SeaWorld Orlando. It's such a feast for the senses that you won't want to look away. Stay seated after the finale for Holiday Reflections, a fountains and fireworks show.

Please be sure to check a daily schedule sheet when you arrive at SeaWorld Orlando because show times are subject to change. Remaining dates for SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration are Dec. 12-14 and Dec. 19-31.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando to experience its Christmas Celebration. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

Related links:
Santa's Fireside Feast: http://land.allears.net/blogs/kristin-ford/2012/11/santas_fireside_feast_begins_w.html



Instagram

December 11, 2014

Disney Publishing launches digital education apps for young children

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

When my children were younger they were big fans of Disney Publishing's storybook apps. These apps allow young readers to be immersed in popular Disney stories -- and practice reading -- because of the many interactive features. Now, it appears that Disney Publishing is building on its success by introducing Disney Imagicademy, a new technology-driven learning initiative designed for families with children ages 3 to 8.

Disney Imagicademy exposes children to fundamental education concepts using familiar Disney characters. The curriculum was developed with the help of education and early-childhood-development experts.

The first five of the 30 app-based experiences are available today exclusively on the Apple app store. In addition, there is a companion app out for parents that will help them guide their child's learning. The apps cover key subject matters that are important for early childhood development, including math, creative arts, science, language arts and social and emotional skills.

disney-publishing-imagicademy-app.jpg

Among today's releases is Mickey's Magical Math World, an iPad-exclusive app that features five math activities: "Mickey's Super Rocket Shapes," "Donald's Number Launcher," "Minnie's Robot Count-Along," "Daisy's Bedtime Countdown" and "Goofy's Silly Sorting." Each experience features progressive early math concepts, including counting forward and backward, sort and classify, skip count, numbers and shapes recognition, reason and logic and more.

disney-publishing-imagicademy-parents.jpg

The companion app, Disney Imagicademy Parents, gives parents real-time updates about their children's progress, the ability to reward accomplishments digitally and remotely through digital high-fives, and opportunities to inspire non-digital learning through ideas tied directly to concepts children are exposed to in the apps.

The second set of digital apps in the Disney Imagicademy line-up is Mickey's Magical Arts World. Focused on creative arts, the suite will be available for download in January.

Physical products and learning toys will be available in time for back-to-school shopping in 2015, featuring brands such as, including Smart Toy, Kid Designs, Wonder Forge and Mercury Active.

"Disney Imagicademy's integrated program connects children's apps, a parents app and physical toys to create a unique family experience that helps inspire a lifelong love of learning,"¯ said Jeffrey Sellinger, senior vice president of Disney Learning, in a news release. "The physical and digital worlds are coming together in nearly every industry, and with Disney Imagicademy, the learning field is no exception."



Instagram

December 13, 2014

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter the dolphin, offers special holiday events

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

Although I focus on Orlando's unique family attractions, I've written about Clearwater Marine Aquarium and its most famous resident, Winter the dolphin, several times since I became a blogger for AllEars.Net. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know this is in part because CMA is a place that my family and I enjoy spending time together. But a bigger motivation for me is that I know my daughter is far from alone in her love of Winter, and I want our readers to understand what they can gain from squeezing in a visit to Clearwater when they are in Orlando for a theme-park vacation.

dolphin-tale-2-dvd-winter.jpg

The release of the "Dolphin Tale 2" DVD this week has given me another opportunity to share with fans, new and seasoned, what is new in Winter's world this month.

First, the DVD. It, of course, contains the cinematic release, but "Dolphin Tale" fans will be pleased to find a slew of bonus features, as well. (You can read my review of the movie here.) Viewers can see what real-life rescue and rehabilitation work at CMA is like, and it's inspiring -- just like a visit a CMA, which is a working animal hospital. Those interested in movie-making will find fascinating the bonus short that reveals how underwater scenes in "Dolphin Tale 2" were filmed. In another segment, Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack, is shown meeting Winter. As with other meetings between the famous dolphin and people with disabilities, it's touching to witness. Finally, there's a blooper roll. Fans of Winter and the film franchise clearly will enjoy this latest DVD release.

But if you find yourself in Florida during the weeks surrounding Christmas, CMA even has some special events that will take you beyond simply watching Winter's story on the screen. Holiday Mini-Camps are offered from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 21-23 or Dec. 29-31.

dolphin-tale-2-winter-holiday-camps.jpg

The official description of the camps is as follows: "Join us as we learn all about our Florida marine life and their cold water cousins through fun-filled interactions with some of Clearwater Marine Aquarium's resident animals. Discover how blubber and fur work to keep animals warm, prepare treats to lift our rescued animals' holiday spirit and spend time out on the water, seeing animal adaptations in action. Tour behind-the-scenes areas, participate in a fish feeding session, play educational games and make crafts, as we compare animal adaptations here in Florida and in the coldest regions of the world. Have a Holly Jolly holiday full of fun at Clearwater Marine Aquarium!"

The three-day price is $199 for members and $240 for non-members. Single-day prices are $75 for members and $90 for non-members. There is a waitlist for the Dec. 29-31 combo session. You can register on the CMA website.

dolhin-tale-2-nathan-cozi-austin-lauren.jpg

As if that isn't enticing enough, two of the "Dolphin Tale 2" actors will be visiting the aquarium, and visitors will have the chance to meet them. Nathan Gamble, who plays Sawyer, will be at CMA Dec. 27-30, and Austin Highsmith, who plays Phoebe, will be there Dec. 20-22. My daughter was over the moon when she met both actors during a visit this past summer. If the meet-and-greets work the same way as ours did, the actors had a limited time to meet fans, so no autographs were permitted. However, you could take photos, and CMA had one of its photographers there, as well. You have the option to purchase those images afterward.

During the summer, Gamble and Highsmith joined Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who played Hazel, for a question-and-answer session with Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates that we attended. You can view it here.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. Whether you're a local resident looking for a little different holiday experience for the family this year or an out-of-state visitor who has never been this close to Winter's home, the holiday mini-camps and the actors' visits are good excuses to take a road trip and experience one more mid-Florida attraction that makes this state so unique.



Instagram

December 17, 2014

What's new at Disney World's Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in 2014?

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

disney-world-osborne-lights-7.jpg

Who doesn't like to admire holiday light displays? It's fun to see how the neighbors decorate, especially if that Orlando neighbor is Walt Disney World.

My family and I joined AllEars editor Deb Koma and contributing photographer Jason Dz of DisneyGeek.com for a stroll through the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios this past weekend. No matter how many times we see this display, which Walt Disney World acquired in 1995, it's never boring. Still, the folks at Disney try to offer a little something new each year for the many returning visitors.

** This year, the song "What's This?"¯ from "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas"¯ has been added to the playlist. Jack Skellington's image also can be seen on the canopy of lights over Brownstone Street as the song comes to a close. Like a challenge? See if you can spot Jack in another location on the street, as well. (Skellington dressed as Sandy Claws meets guests during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for this first time this year. See the AllEars.Net video here.)

disney-world-osborne-lights-2.jpg


disney-world-osborne-lights-3.jpg

** If you are an avid hidden Mickey hunter, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is the place for you! Not only are there almost 80 hidden Mickey symbols, but cast members are adding more through the last day of the show, which is Jan. 4. That means that each visit has the potential to be a different experience.

disney-world-osborne-lights-5.jpg

** When the lights arrived in Orlando from Jennings Osborne's home in Arkansas, a lighted purple cat from the family's Halloween display was mistakenly included. Each year, cast members hide the cat in the Christmas display. This year, however, they are moving it within the display each day. Happy hunting!

** New Made With Magic light-up items, such as a wand, a Mickey glove and a Minnie ear headband - as well as the original Glow With The Show ear hats - are synched with the dancing lights. The accessories are sold at carts on the Streets of America for $25 each, but if you purchase them in one of the merchandise stores ahead of time, you can apply any discounts you might have, such as one for having a Walt Disney World annual pass or a Disney Vacation Club membership.

Here's a recap of some of my best tips from previous years, which still apply to this year's show. I hope they will help you make the most of your experience.

** Cast members direct the flow of guests onto the Streets of America, and you'll be asked multiple times to walk with the crowds. This really is in your best interest, both for safety reasons and to lessen your frustration at trying to see the lights along with so many other people. You will be asked to walk past Star Tours, Pizza Planet, Muppet Vision 3D and the Phineas and Ferb meet-and-greet, before finally rounding the corner of the attraction. From there, you're on your own to explore the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at your own pace, exiting on the opposite end of the Streets of America and walking past the ABC Commissary.

osborne-lights-santa-goofy.jpg

** Guests also can enter the lights display by walking down Mickey Avenue, past Studio Catering Co. This may be the best bet for your family if you would like to meet Santa Goofy first in Tri-City Square. Goofy's Winter Wonderland debuted in 2012, and it's back again as a fun photo op. I recommend getting in line a little before 6 p.m., when he appears, because the line can grow quickly.

disney-world-osborne-lights-4.jpg

** Speaking of photo opportunities, there is so much to capture here on your camera or videocamera so you can enjoy it again at home. Don't panic, though, if you forget your equipment or find your view blocked by others. Disney's PhotoPass photographers are set up in multiple locations on the Streets of America, in addition to the Santa Goofy meet-and-greet. One of the most popular spots year after year is in front of the 70-foot Christmas tree in the center of the display. We've also seen photographers roving by apartment steps, the lighted bicycle and other fun backgrounds.

disney-world-osborne-lights-1.jpg

** Stay on The Streets of America long enough to see the lights dance and the snowflakes fall. After each choreographed song, there is an intermission of about seven minutes when the lights don't dance while other holiday music plays or characters talk.

disney-world-osborne-lights-6.jpg

** The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights begins each night at 6 p.m. with a small opening ceremony when a lucky guest "flips the switch." The attraction usually stays on past park closing, so guests can linger a bit as the crowds clear. The show is included in regular theme-park admission.



Instagram

December 18, 2014

Last-minute gift ideas for Disney fans

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

Are you a last-minute shopper when it comes to Christmas - whether by choice or necessity?

If so, don't panic! We've got you covered. Besides carrying a wide range of products, Amazon.com is known for its quick shipping. I recently browsed the site for Disney-themed items that the whole family can enjoy, and I was pleased to see some of my family's favorites are still in stock. Perhaps, they will be hits at your house as well.

Disney Classic Mickey Waffle Maker

If you're like me - or the thousands of Walt Disney World visitors who adore eating Mickey waffles on vacation - this is a fun way to keep the magic alive once you return home. My husband and children gave me this waffle maker for a gift one year (after my not-so-subtle hints), and it gets plenty of use! The list price is $59.99.


Disney Infinity 2.0 Starter Pack

This is the second edition of the popular gaming system that was introduced last Christmas. The starter pack contains Merida from Disney-Pixar's "Brave"¯ and Stitch figures; the video game disc; a Disney Infinity base; Disney Originals "Toy Box Game Discs"¯ - Stitch's Tropical Rescue and Brave Forest Siege; one Web code card; and a poster. This starter pack sells for $59.99 plus tax.

A second 2.0 starter pack is the Marvel Super Heroes Starter Pack. It includes the video game; three collectible characters, Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow; a Disney Infinity 2.0 base; two Toy Box game discs; a Marvel's The Avengers play set piece; and a Web code card. The list price for the Marvel starter pack is $74.99.

Both starter packs are made for Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox One, iOS tablets and smartphones, and PCs.




Disney's "Frozen"¯ DVD (and merchandise)

How can you not own the animated hit movie "Frozen"¯ if you call yourself a Disney fan? Let's just say that your first copy is worn out from overuse or the kids' sticky fingers, then maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to purchase the movie for a second time. You can get a new copy of the DVD or Blu-Ray version on Amazon.com for about $20 and $25, respectively. "Frozen"¯ mania does not appear to be waning any time soon, and there is quite a selection of merchandise with the characters' images, too. Even the Elsa and Anna costumes that were so difficult to find last Christmas are in plentiful supply in many variations. So expect to be playing the disc in the car player for some time to come.

Frozen Merchandise

Disney Hedbanz Board Game

Hedbanz is an easy board game that can be a lot of fun when the family is together for the holidays. How can you not laugh at the players wearing their mouse-ear hats and studiously trying to guess what is pictured on the cards they cannot see? Hedbanz is designed for ages 7 and older, and six people can play at once. The retail price is about $25.

"Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide

While everyone is together, how about taking time to dream and plan your next vacation to Walt Disney World? You can get started with Walt Disney World's official guidebook, "Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World."¯ One of the things my family and I like best about this guidebook is that it includes self-guided tours designed by author Ridley Pearson for fans of his "Kingdom Keeper"¯ series. Pearson helped create the immersive experiences for the series' fans at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. The paperback version of "Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World" sells for about $13.

DISCLAIMER: If you purchase any of these items through the links to Amazon.com in this blog post, AllEars.Net receives a small payment. This, in turn, helps us bring you all the Walt Disney World news you look forward to. Happy holidays!



Instagram

December 20, 2014

Disney Princess makeovers added to 3 Walt Disney World hotel salons

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

Hear yea, hear yea. The royal little princesses have another opportunity to look their best before parading around at Walt Disney World.

We reported last month that the dining room in Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom is undergoing renovations after the holidays and the Cinderella's Royal Table dining experience is moving temporarily to Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort. And that got us to thinking: What what would royal dining be without the opportunity for young princesses to be transformed at the nearby salon?

Of course, Walt Disney World planners have thought of this, and the Ivy Trellis Salon will begin offering the new Perfectly Prepared Princess Package on Jan. 8. (Reservations will open on December 22; call 407-WDW-SPAS.)

Much like the makeovers offered at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a popular salon run by the fairy godmothers-in-training with two locations at Walt Disney World, the new services designed for kids ages 4 to 12 focus on hair, makeup and nails.

However, what you get for your money is not quite the same. As the mother of a 10-year-old daughter who LOVES the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and has been fortunate to have visited it multiple times since she was a toddler, I have a keen interest in these types of experiences. Yet my first impression of the news of the makeovers offered as the Perfectly Prepared Princess Package is that they are significantly more expensive.

disney-world-perfectly-prepared-princess-hair-nails-makeup.jpg


perfectly-prepared-princess-hairstyle.jpg

The new Perfectly Prepared Princess Package has three options:

** Princess hairdo with a souvenir tiara -- $50.
** Hair-styling plus glow make-up -- $75.
** Hair, makeup and a fancy manicure -- $90.

By comparison, the entry-level Crown Package at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique includes hair, makeup and nail polish PLUS a face gem, princess sash and tote for about $60. Even considering that the new package offers a manicure and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique only paints a child's nails, that's still a $30 difference. And, sure, that could be explained as the cost of a spa service. But does a young girl really need a full manicure when painting her nails usually is just as exciting?

Certainly, parents can pick the option of the Perfectly Prepared Princess Package that best fits their budget, but I speak from experience when I say that many girls will feel cheated if they don't get all the treatments when the other young princesses are being indulged. In addition, visitors to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique take their makeup palettes, hair accessories and nail polish home with them. I would imagine this will be the same at the salon makeovers because each princess is given a new kit for sanitary reasons. One of my fondest memories is seeing my daughter at age 4 clutching that pink Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique bag for the rest of her day at the Magic Kingdom. She was so thrilled with her goodies that she would not let them out of her sight, and she even slept with them next to her pillow that night!

Still, I have to applaud the decision to add princess makeovers to more locations at Walt Disney World. (The Perfectly Prepared Princess Package also will be available at the Coronado Springs Casa de Belleza Beauty Salon and at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort Ship Shape Salon.) That's because the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique sites are so popular that you really have to make reservations far in advance, and even then, it can be difficult to book during busy periods. So, even with the higher cost considerations, the Perfectly Prepared Princess Package gives more families the opportunity to be immersed in the experiences that their children love. And after all, that's likely a large part of the reason they chose to vacation at Walt Disney World. And if you have any doubt about how important those experiences are to youngsters, just ask the countless number of little girls in princess dresses throughout the parks on any given day.



Instagram

December 23, 2014

Be Our Guest revisited: Fantastic dining experience at Walt Disney World

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

Even two years after it opened, Be Our Guest still is the most difficult dining reservation to book at Walt Disney World. So, when I was able to secure a late-night table for a family celebration this past weekend, we all were counting the minutes until our dinner was served.

We first dined at Be Our Guest during passholder preview days two years ago, and my family and I hadn't been back since then. So, naturally, I was curious if it would live up to our expectations of our previous experience. The answer was a resounding "yes"¯ from each of the four members of my family.

Our reservation was for 9:20 p.m., and I'm told the last parties are seated at 9:30 p.m. during normal operating hours. (Be Our Guest stays open later during busy periods, such as the holidays.) Because of the timing, we were able to watch Holiday Wishes from the bridge to the restaurant, which was a new experience. It's amazing to be so close to some of the fireworks that normally are seen from in front of Cinderella Castle.

When we entered Beast's castle, we were led to the ballroom, which is where most of the seating is located. And if it isn't spectacular enough on a regular day, imagine it decorated for Christmas. There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of the wall-to-ceiling windows that showcase the snowfall effect outside, just like in the story. Garlands also were draped along the walls, creating a festive atmosphere.

disney-world-be-our-guest-christmas-windows.jpg


disney-world-be-our-guest-christmas-tree.jpg

The menu has undergone a few changes, as is to be expected, since we last visited. Popular dishes, such as the French Onion Soup and the Grilled Strip Steak, remain, however. We were happy to see the steak that is served with garlic-herb butter and pommes frites was still available because three of us had been dreaming of ordering just that! (It also is served with green beans.) It is a 10-ounce steak, which was large enough for my daughter and I to split one portion. My 12-year-old son ordered his own, though he did end up sharing with his dad. My husband again ordered the Pan-seared Salmon on Leek Fondue, which was served with served with creamy saffron-crushed potatoes. We all really enjoyed our meals.

Be Our Guest has an extensive wine list, and several imported beers are available, as well. My husband again enjoyed a dark belgian strong ale, Chimay Blue, and said it had a subtle hint of fruit that paired well with the salmon. Beast's castle also serves two signature non-alcoholic drinks: All-Natural Fruit Punch and All-Natural Lemonade. If you choose a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet for the foamy drinks, the price quadruples. Almost $20 for a drink without alcohol!

Of course, we saved room for dessert. The Grey Stuff has been added to the menu since our last visit, and we were excited to taste the fabled dessert. Our server saw that we were wearing "I'm Celebrating"¯ buttons and brought us a complimentary serving to sample. What a nice surprise! We also chose to share a Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcake, a Triple Chocolate Cupcake, a Lemon Meringue Cupcake and a Chocolate Cream Puff. My children again loved the presentation of the desserts in a rolling trolley, which makes it difficult to turn down a sweet treat - not that I'm complaining!

disney-world-be-our-guest-grey-stuff.jpg


disney-world-be-our-guest-wreath-dessert-trolleys.jpg

After dinner, we were invited to meet Beast in the library, which is the room that doubles as the checkout during lunch. This meet-and-greet was not available the last time we dined at Be Our Guest, and dinner at the restaurant is the only time and place for guests to meet Beast at Walt Disney World. We were the last family of the night to meet Beast and he patiently posed for a bunch of photos, including one the cast members suggested where the kids and Beast showed their "claws."¯

disney-world-be-our-guest-beast.jpg

My first impression of Be Our Guest was confirmed this past weekend: It is a delightful dining experience. We received outstanding service, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Although the restaurant is expensive, the pricing is in line with other table-service restaurants at Walt Disney World. In fact, it costs less overall than dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, which does not offer alcohol. Although securing a reservation can be a hassle, it is well worth the effort.

RELATED LINKS:
** Be Our Guest Menus: Lunch, Dinner, Kids

** Rate and Review Lunch

** Rate and Review Dinner




Instagram


December 25, 2014

Original cast member discusses horticulture's role in decorating Walt Disney World for holidays

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

The first time I met Heather Will-Browne, a horticulture area manager at Walt Disney World, it wasn't in person. Instead, my family and I watched her on the Travel Channel special "Walt Disney World Holidays with Samantha Brown"¯ that aired in the early 2000s. Will-Browne discusses the resort's famous hanging poinsettia balls with host Brown, and they joke about the pronunciation of "poinsettia."¯

Perhaps that seems like a very specific detail to remember, but that show has become a classic for our family - one that we watch every year along with Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch - and my children and I know all the dialogue. You see, "Walt Disney World Holidays with Samantha Brown"¯ was shown repeatedly on cable television when my son was a toddler and his love of all things Disney was just beginning. He was so happy to see his most favorite place in the world on television, and he was interested in everything the cast members pointed out.

Fast forward about a decade and I had the opportunity to actually meet Brown and Will-Browne in person on separate occasions. (I wish my son had been with me!)

But appearing in a television show about Walt Disney World is hardly Will-Browne's only claim to fame. She actually is one of the original cast members who have worked at the resort since the first day it opened in 1971. Will-Browne also is the first female cast member to work as a gardener, which she did for about 25 years before she was promoted to a manager.

Will-Browne spoke to Deb Wills in 2011 at the 40th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney World, where she discussed her memories of those early days. (See the video below.) One of her memorable moments was creating the first set of hanging baskets for Main Street, U.S.A. - the very thing I wanted to ask about when I spoke with her recently about the horticulture team's role in decorating for the holidays. I couldn't resist asking her about the television special, too.

disney-world-heather-will-browne-holiday-poinsettiaa.jpg

What do you remember when you were filming with Samantha Brown?

Many times when you have an interview and you're interacting with someone, a lot of it depends on how you click with that person, and Samantha was such an easy person to talk to. She just made me feel comfortable.

Did you rehearse that segment?

I'm not very good at rehearsing, or if I try to memorize something, I'll forget it. I always like to go off the cuff and that one was definitely off the cuff.

Did you film other conversations or scenes that did not make it into the special?

I don't think so. Many times, we'd just do one take, and that was it. It's always better if you are spontaneous.

You talk about poinsettia balls/baskets in the television special. Could you tell me how those are used now on Walt Disney World property?

We used to put the holiday [display] in after Thanksgiving. Now, we get poinsettias as early as Nov. 5. Those balls don't last a long time, so in the past when we could put them up last-minute, that made sense. Now, because we have to extend that (show) for so long, most of the baskets are the skirts. For the holiday, it's an ivy skirt, and then we leave a space in the top and we fill that with poinsettias. But we do still make some poinsettia balls and I love them! I like them better than any of the poinsettia baskets that we do.

On Hollywood Boulevard at the Studios, there are balls made out of springer wry, ferns, spider plants and poinsettias. And they are just beautiful. And those have to be started in August. The fern and the spider plants have to have a long time to grow.

How often do you have to change the poinsettias in either of those two baskets?

A lot of it depends on the weather. Many times we don't have to switch them out at all. If they are maintained, those poinsettias can last. Now, if we hit a freeze or frost or there's a hard winter, we may have to change them out. But let's hope not more than once - and if we're lucky, not at all!

What does it take to maintain the poinsettias in the baskets and the Walt Disney World landscape?

Minimal maintenance on a poinsettia basket, but a lot of it has to do with watering. You definitely want to make sure that you don't overwater or underwater it. If we get a lot of rain - something we can't control - that's a bit different. But daily monitoring is the norm, and that's part of being a gardener, especially here at Disney. It's constant attention. It's our whole philosophy about paying attention to detail. It's a judgment call about whether each plant needs to be watered each day.

How has the horticulture department's role in holiday decorating changed over the years?

I am proud to say that we are a huge part of the holiday show at Disney. If you go into the parks, you will see a lot more. Flower towers, for instance. We never used to do these in the parks. Now we have poinsettia towers at The Contemporary hotel, the Transportation and Ticket Center, and they line the bridge at Epcot that leads to World Showcase. We also have added twinkle lights to the plants. At Epcot, we have twinkle lights in a lot of the flower towers. If you go over to Italy, there is a beautiful pink flower tower, and it has the twinkle lights.

Another new thing are the holiday topiaries. This year we have snowflakes at Downtown Disney that are twinkling [on the far side of The Marketplace near Rainforest CafĆ©]. We have some "dichondra silver falls,"¯ a weepy, silvery plant that gives this whole area a wintery feel.

Our department is also part of Holiday Services, and we have a brand-new Christmas tree at Downtown Disney this year with a different theme. The entire Marketplace area really looks ready for the holidays, and it's one of my favorites.

Which places at Walt Disney World do you consider must-sees for the holidays?

There is a topiary snowman between Germany and The Outpost [at Epcot] that is new this year, and he's very cute. He has twinkle lights, button eyes, arms of sticks, a top hat. This is the first time we've done a snowman.

disney-world-holiday-snowman-topiary.jpg

Also, the Grand Floridian because it's our biggest poinsettia display. People just get blown away when they see a mass of poinsettias in one area. And we help with the little things, too, like decorating the gingerbread houses with greenery and poinsettias.

We use a lot of red poinsettias because many people just feel like that's the poinsettia for the holiday. They want to see red poinsettias. But one of my favorites is a new poinsettia called Ice Crystals. Ice Crystals are used in the hanging baskets and in the flower tower at Italy. They are just very pretty. They look like they have been dusted with frost. It's a muted pinky-red and then it's got a creamy look, too. It's not red and it's not pink.

How many people on the horticulture team are involved in decorating for the holidays?

Everyone really is involved because holiday is everywhere. No matter what you are taking care of, somewhere in your day, you are taking care of something that has to do with the holiday. The tree farm nursery crew does a lot of work preparing specialty items, like the topiaries, the flower towers, the hanging baskets and then we send those to the parks. Once they are in the parks, those crews have to maintain them. So, we all touch them at some point. I just think we have a spectacular horticulture show for the holidays.

Interview with Heather regarding Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival



Instagram

December 29, 2014

Ideas for celebrating New Year's Eve outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World

kristin-ford%27s-masthead.jpg

Walt Disney World's theme parks certainly know how to host splashy New Year's Eve parties. It would be difficult to top the lavish food, top-notch entertainment and spectacular fireworks. But if your family has younger kids who might not make it until midnight or you're looking for a less crowded celebration, here are some suggestions for other ways to ring in 2015 Disney-style. Most of these do not require advance planning, so you can even decide on Dec. 31 what your family wants to do.

Raglan Road

At Downtown Disney, Raglan Road offers live entertainment on two stages, plus dinner and late-night menus inside the restaurant and on the patio. But what makes this especially appealing to families may be the complimentary champagne toast at midnight in Ireland (7 p.m. EST) and again at midnight in Orlando. Obviously those under age 21 won't be partaking, but the celebration itself is fun. My daughter and I have had several enjoyable experiences at Raglan Road and definitely recommend it. Parking in the new parking garage is complimentary, and there is no cover charge for the evening.

Dinner and fireworks viewing at a resort hotel

Although it may be tough at this late date to get a reservation at one of the table-service restaurants at the hotels on the monorail loop - Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian - it is still possible to dine there and then view the fireworks. To do so, you'll need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which costs $17 for the day if you're not staying on property or are an annual passholder, and then take the monorail or a bus to the hotel of your choice. (Because of the heavy holiday crowds, guests who are not staying at the hotels or those who don't have dining reservations will not be allowed to park in those lots.) Guests can eat in the quick-service restaurants at the three hotels and then view the fireworks from various public viewing areas, such as the fourth floor lobby or monorail platform at the Contemporary. Be aware that some hotel viewing areas are restricted to patrons of specific high-end restaurants.

Walt Disney World kids activity centers

If the adults in your group want to experience their own celebrations at Walt Disney World, the children can spend a fun evening in one of the resort's activity centers, which will have extended hours on New Year's Eve. The four locations open at 4:30 p.m. and will have the last pickup at 1:30 a.m. (Children will be able to rest or sleep when they get tired.) I'm told that the centers will not have special activities for the holiday. Still, when my daughter has spent time in the centers, she thoroughly enjoyed all the choices of entertainment. The centers welcome children ages 3 (must be potty-trained) to 12. The cost is $15 per hour per child, with a two-hour minimum. Dinner is included for those who are in the club during the time it is served. At the time of this writing, there still was space available in all four locations, but reservations are recommended. For more details, see the AllEars.Net resource page.

Celebration Town Center

The town of Celebration, located just outside the gates of Walt Disney World, hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" -- a flurry of soap bubbles -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. The last "snowfalls" of the season happen on Dec. 31 at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic. This event does not have a New Year's Eve countdown, but it does offer a last taste of the holiday season with gorgeous decorations, ice skating, "snow flurries,"¯ carriage rides and a variety of restaurants for dinner.

DisneyQuest

For the last several years, DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, has hosted a family friendly event on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year, and there is no word on whether the party will resume next year. Still, the attraction is a fun place to let pre-teens and teens spend time enjoying electronic gaming fun while parents check out some of the more adult offerings at Downtown Disney.

Celebrate early

The Magic Kingdom displays its New Year's Eve fireworks on Dec. 30, as well as Dec. 31. Fantasy in the Sky starts at 11:50 p.m. both days. Although it still will be crowded in the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 30, it definitely will not be as bad as it is on New Year's Eve. This might be a way to see the fireworks early and then enjoy a quieter New Year's Eve. If you are staying at a Disney resort, there also usually are family friendly activities planned for guests.

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!



Instagram

Return to Blog Central

About December 2014

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

November 2014 is the previous archive.

January 2015 is the next archive.

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