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January 2015 Archives

January 1, 2015

#DisneySide campaign to reward lucky fans with stay in Cinderella Castle suite, home parties


Don't be surprised if you see #DisneySide more prevalent on your social media networks in January. The Walt Disney Company has at least two new initiatives that are part of this marketing campaign in January - and both focus on rewarding Disney fans with some pretty amazing prizes.

#DisneySide actually began in earnest in 2014. Social Media Director Thomas Smith initially wrote on the Disney Parks Blog that a person's "Disney Side" is "the side of you that says 'yes' more often, laughs louder and lives life to the fullest. It's the side of you that embraces fun and comes out to play the moment you step through the gates at Disney Parks."

During the last year, the company offered a number of contests and meet-ups for Disney fans to express their creativity and their love of the brand. And the new year brings new opportunities.


Beginning today, Disney Parks is giving away a Walt Disney World vacation every day during the month of January. As if that's not exciting enough, each of those five-day, four-night vacations includes one night's stay in Cinderella Castle - the most coveted suite on property!

To enter the Disney Flip Side sweepstakes, you must be a registered user of Disney.com. (Registration is free.) Then, click on http://parks.disney.com/disney-flip-side-sweepstakes. Each day is considered a separate contest legally so each user can enter once every day in January. Participants must be residents of the 50 United States, D.C., Puerto Rico or Canada and must not be a minor, as defined by their place of residence.

The vacation prizes also include five-day Magic Your Way tickets with Park Hopper and Water Parks & More options; $500 Disney gift card; personalized Disney Side gift basket; Glass Slipper gift inspired by the upcoming film, "Cinderella"; and round-trip coach airfare for those living more than 250 miles away from Walt Disney World.


Disney also is repeating its Disney Side Home Celebrations. Families were invited to apply -- the deadline has been extended through this week -- to host at-home Disney parties during January or February 2015, and winners are being notified on or by Monday, Jan. 5. (If you still want to apply, go to http://bit.ly/13zjsKh) For their parties, hosts receive a box of goodies for at least 10 parents and 10 children. The package includes party favors, decorations, games, activities, recipe ideas and a special hostess gift. In exchange for taking part, winners agree to share their experiences online and offline.

This time, the latest Disney Side Home Celebration kits are tailored to each family's current stage. "Whether your preschooler is gearing up for her first spin on the teacups, your tween is busy scouting out the best "selfie" spots in the Magic Kingdom, or you're excitedly planning a family reunion trip that includes everyone from grandparents to great aunts, there is a Disney Side @Home Celebration experience perfect for your Disney lovin' crew," according to the application.

"And just like each visit to Disney Parks, the latest Disney Side Home Celebration opportunity provides new ways for you to connect with your family and friends over your love of Disney." Of course, that means plenty of photos will be posted online to show off their Disney sides.


January 3, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Expo begins Jan. 7 and is free to public


runDisney's most extensive collection of races - Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend - begins Wednesday. If you're not participating as either a runner or a chEAR member, you might be like my family as been in the past and want to avoid all the traffic and road closures.

However, if you have an interest in fitness, there is one aspect you might want to check out and it's completely free - except for your inevitable spending spree, that is. The runDisney Health & Fitness Expo takes place Jan. 7 to 10 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and it's open not just to registered participants but to the public. Even the parking is free! (How often can you say that at Disney World?!)


The Expo serves as the headquarters for race weekend, but it's also a showcase for the latest products and even a site for running seminars and celebrity speakers. My husband and son are registered for their first race later this year, and they're excited to check out the Expo as they continue their training.

If you are running this weekend, the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is where you'll need to go to pick up your race packet (race bib, timing device, race shirt, etc.) during Expo hours. Race packets must be picked up the actual person who is registered. He or she will need to show identification and turn in a waiver at that time.

Hours are as follows:

Wednesday, January 7, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thursday, January 8, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, January 9, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 10, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.


Participants and guests who are in a shopping mood can choose from runDisney race-specific T-shirts, as well as Marathon Weekend gear, new MagicBands and Tervis Tumblers. In addition, vendors will be selling the latest in fitness apparel, footwear, sunglasses, high-tech gadgets and nutritional products.

One item everyone wants to get a glimpse of are the Limited Edition New Balance running shoes that are especially designed for runDisney. The 2015 design hasn't been released yet, but there are many eager fans waiting. When they were introduced in 2013, the men's shoes were designed in Mickey Mouse colors and the women's version clearly was influenced by Minnie Mouse. In 2014, four runDisney New Balance shoes debuted in a rainbow of colors. They all cost about $125 a pair and have sold out quickly in years past.


Another must-see is the tradition of a new Dooney & Bourke pattern that sports a Disney race design. The 2015 WDW Marathon Weekend pattern has been released on five bags. Prices range from $159 to $269 for the crossbody, letter carrier, Smith bag, slim wristlet and satchel styles. They were available for pre-order.

The Expo also will showcase a Speaker Series that includes appearances by celebrity runners and seminars on training, running and nutrition featuring speakers and panelists from the running industry.

Here is the schedule:

11 a.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant
12 p.m. Sport Science for Runners presented by Florida Hospital Celebration Health
1 p.m. Dopey Challenge Strategy Panel
2 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
3 p.m. How to Get The Most From Your Marathon Experience presented by Cigna
4 p.m. Don't Make Dopey Mistakes presented by Clif Bar
5 p.m. Dopey Challenge Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
6 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham

10 a.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
12 p.m. Tips and Tricks to Prepare for Race Day (runDisney nutritionist Tara Gidus, running coach Jenny Hadfield, and creator of Disney Bound Leslie Kay)
1 p.m. Come on get 'Appy! presented by Cigna
2 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham
3 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
4 p.m. Sport Science for Runners presented by Florida Hospital Celebration Health
5 p.m. Don't Make Dopey Mistakes presented by Clif Bar
6 p.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant

10 a.m. Motivation and Inspiration - How To Keep Yours Going presented by Cigna
11 a.m. Tips from the World Marathon Major Race Directors
12 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
1 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
2 p.m. Runner's World Challenge Strategy Session Bart Yasso, Warren Greene and Budd Coates
3 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin and Dave McGillivray
4 p.m. Jeff Galloway, official runDisney training consultant

11 a.m. Pain Prevention and Management for Runners presented by GoodSense
12 p.m. Fashion Show & Sports Bra Science 101 presented by Champion
1 p.m. Information For Runners and Spectators (runDisney Panel)
2 p.m. One Step at a Time Sean Astin, Dave McGillivray & John Bingham
3 p.m. Tips and Tricks to Prepare for Race Day (runDisney nutritionist Tara Gidus, running coach Jenny Hadfield, and creator of Disney Bound Leslie Kay)

Good luck to ALL the participants but especially our own Laura Gilbreath (twitter: @AllEarsLaura) and Lee Zimmerman (twitter:@leezimmerman)


January 6, 2015

What to know about traffic and crowds during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend


Planning to visit Walt Disney World this week, either as a day guest or during a multiday vacation? You probably already know this week is Marathon Weekend -- the largest runDisney event of the year -- at the resort. That doesn't necessarily mean you should avoid the theme parks, however, if you aren't participating.

Here's what you need to know before you step foot on Disney property, though.

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend takes place Wednesday, Jan. 7, through Sunday, Jun. 11. The aspect that most affects visitors is not the crowds but rather the vehicular traffic around the various parks.Β 

First, know that all races except the kid races start and finish at Epcot. Because the 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon kick off so early -- 6:15 a.m. for the 5K and 5:30 a.m. for the others, the starts typically do not affect many guests unless they are heading to an early breakfast reservation.

The 5K course is set only through Epcot, while the 10K course begins on roads surrounding the park before traveling through the park and extending through the Epcot resort areas. Both the 5K and the 10K start from the Explore parking lot on Thursday and Friday, respectively, and finish at the Wonder parking lot, which is returned to normal use at 9 a.m. when Epcot's Future World opens for the day. So if you are heading to Epcot for rope drop on Thursday and Friday, give yourself extra time. Once you are inside the park, however, the races should be finished and the crowds are not expected to be excessive.

The half marathon and marathon begin and finish in the same place at Epcot, though the courses are longer, of course. The half marathon goes through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on Saturday. The full marathon leads runners through Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Hollywood Studios (in that order) on Sunday. These courses definitely require additional road closures, so be prepared for traffic delays or to find alternate routes into the afternoon hours. Also, for these two races, guests are likely to see runners on marked courses inside the theme parks through mid-afternoon while guests are there. This really shouldn't impede guests' experiences, although they are asked not to step in front of runners.

Epcot also hosts a Pasta in the Park Party on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at World Showplace, the facility located in World Showcase. This event also includes reserved viewing for the IllumiNations fireworks but not general admission into the park so it should not affect crowd levels.

On Sunday, a post-race Cool Down Party is scheduled for 2 to 8 p.m. at Downtown Disney Marketplace, which already is difficult for drivers to navigate because of the ongoing construction. It's probably advisable to avoid the area during that time unless you really have an overwhelming need to be there.

All these Marathon Weekend activities will affect Walt Disney World transportation. Although early buses are scheduled for participants, runners and their groups also will be using the regular routes later in the day and night, so allow extra time if you need to reach your destination by a certain time.


January 7, 2015

New Balance releases 2015 Limited Edition runDisney shoes today


Runners -- and a good number of spectators -- heading to Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend have been waiting eagerly for New Balance to release the 2015 design for its Limited Edition runDisney shoes that will be sold at the Expo, beginning today. They finally got a glimpse of the sneakers on Tuesday, and judging from an abundance of comments on several online message boards, many were disappointed with this year's design.


The 2015 design pays homage to Steamboat Willie, the 1928 black-and-white cartoon that introduced most audiences to Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie. The men's Retro Mickey 990v3 sneaker comes in black and white with musical notes around the front sole, classic images of Mickey and Minnie and character signatures. The women's Retro Minnie 990v3 sneaker is gray and white with the same features. They are priced at $185 per pair, according to New Balance.

The overwhelming complaint I've read seems to be that although the sneakers are true to theme, they are visually unexciting because of the neutral colors. runDisney fans are expressing their preference for styles that have been offered the last two years -- bold colors.


New Balance first released Limited Edition runDisney shoes in 2013. The 860v3 sneakers were designed in bright red, yellow, black and white to mimic the traditional colors of modern Mickey and Minnie. They have since been retired.


Last year's styles were designed to recall Sorcerer Mickey and Goofy (men's) and Cinderella and Minnie Mouse (women's). Due to popular demand, a limited number of the four New Balance 860v4 shoes will be available at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and at the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland Resort (Jan. 15 - 18.) They are priced at $125 per pair.

The new Retro designs only will be sold at runDisney events throughout the year, beginning today at the Marathon Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.

Guests who would like to try on - and possibly purchase -- the 2014 and 2015 New Balance running shoes must make an appointment through a virtual queue. There will be no stand-by lines at the Expo. Starting today (Jan.7) at 6 a.m., adult runners can sign up at NBvirtualqueue.com using their bib number, and all other guests can sign up Thursday (Jan. 8) at 6 a.m. Adult runners also can sign up at 6 a.m. Friday (Jan. 9) and all other guests on Saturday (Jan. 10). According to New Balance's posted rules, customers can reserve one pair of running shoes per reservation. They will be able to choose up to five more pairs in the booth and can purchase a total of six pairs of runDisney Collection footwear per event weekend. Only two of the six can be the new style 990v3.

When it's close to a guest's reserved time, he or she will receive a text and then must return within an hour or risk losing the shoes that were saved for that appointment. If the reserved shoes do not fit, the sales associate will check for other sizes. Customers can keep an eye on general inventory levels at NBVirtualQueue.com. The New Balance red tent is located near the west entrance of Josten's Center.

Not happy with this year's selections? New Balance tweeted this on Tuesday: "We've decided to try something different with our release schedules and are planning some exciting surprises for 2015. Stay tuned." Runners were speculating online that the company may be planning to release new shoes for each race.


January 10, 2015

Walt Disney World adds magic to Paws in the Park fundraiser and festival


Pluto is showing his love for his fellow furry friends in Central Florida at the Paws in the Park fundraiser and festival at Lake Eola on Valentine's Day. Hosted by the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, the annual family friendly event includes a pet walk, food trucks, vendors, demonstrations, agility contests and a kid zone from Walt Disney World. Plus, Pluto's owners are offering a fabulous prize to the top individual fundraiser.

The centerpiece of the annual event, which takes place this year on Feb. 14, is the dog walk that serves as a fundraiser for homeless pets and other initiatives of the SPCA of Central Florida. Registration is ongoing now. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals. Participation is $25 for adults and $10 for children ages 12 and younger. Walkers can even register the day of the event for $35. All registrants receive a T-shirt, doggie bandana and admission to Splash Dogs Dock Diving, the Doggie Fun Zone and the Canine Sports Arena at the event. Walkers do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $50 to $1,000. They include such prizes as dog toys, sports water bottle, collapsible bowl and commemorative pin, and six-month and one-year supplies of Frontline Plus. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.)

Packs and individuals are encouraged to attend a "pre-registration" event at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, 2727 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 on Feb. 11 to pick up their T-shirts and other prizes.

This year's top fundraising pack will win a lunch with Animal Planet star Victoria Stilwell at a dog-friendly Orlando restaurant. This year's top individual fundraiser will win a two-night stay at a Walt Disney World hotel for two people and two theme-park tickets with Park Hopper for one day.


The walk begins at 9 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m., and the other activities go until 1 p.m. Stilwell is the featured presenter at Lake Eola, and she will be demonstrating various dog-training techniques from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Families won't want to miss the Disney Kids and Family Zone, presented by Walt Disney World, which has interactive activities everyone can enjoy. In addition, nationally recognized company Splash Dogs will offer dock-jumping competitions, and local pet resort Happy Paws hosts a Canine Sports area.

Entrance to park is free, but there is a charge to participate in the event activities. Those not joining the walk who would like to experience the other activities can purchase a $10 pass.

Sponsor WFTV offers these reminders:

** All pets must be at least 6 months old and have proof of vaccinations.
** Dogs only please. No female dogs in heat.
** Pets must wear a suitable collar.
** Keep your dogs on a 6-foot leash or shorter and under control at all times.
** Water for dogs will be supplied.
** Please be considerate and pick-up after your dog.
** For the enjoyment and safety of all participants, any aggressive animal will be asked to leave the park.
** Please obey all rules of Lake Eola. No swimming in the lake and no chasing the ducks or swans.


January 13, 2015

Disney builds BeachBot that 'draws' large-scale art in sand


The Walt Disney Co. is known for its creativity, innovation and, of course, the ability to promote the characters at the heart of its brand. So, although it's unlikely to be a surprise that the company has found another way to showcase its stories, this particular new method in the news recently is sure to delight Disney fans.

Information technology news website TechCrunch.com and others reported over the weekend that the Disney Research Hub developed a BeachBot in partnership with Swiss engineering school ETH ZΓΌrich. Designed to look like an adorable turtle, the robot was created to draw large-scale images in the sand.

The website describes the process this way: "[It] works by dragging a set of pins through the sand, sort of like a rake. Each pin is individually raisable, allowing the bot to draw lines of varying thicknesses. More pins down = thicker lines drawn. The artist behind the robot starts a canvas by setting down poles, which the robot uses as markers to finely calculate its position. At that point, the robot can be passed an image file to draw automatically, or the artists can steer it manually. The Beachbot moves on a set of large, soft wheels that Disney has dubbed "balloon wheels", allowing it to move across the sand without leaving tracks or screwing up whatever it's drawn previously."


"The BeachBot is not just a lifeless, mechanical being; it is a friendly looking creature with a soul," according to the bot's official page. "The robot will be deployed at a public beach to amaze beachgoers who pass by. Not only the final picture is important, the whole drawing process will provide an exceptional, magical show."

Can you imagine walking down to the beach at your Walt Disney World or Disneyland resort and seeing characters perfectly drawn in the sand? One could imagine that there would be plenty of opportunities on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas, too. And, of course, Disney's Vero Beach Resort's pristine Atlantic beachfront comes to mind when you think about a sandy palette, too.

Before you write off the concept as a technological gimmick that is void of real-world applications, consider other similar ways that Disney cast members already create artwork in the parks and, in the process, instill a little bit of magic for both young and young-at-heart guests.

The process reminds me of the artists at Walt Disney World who use their concrete surfaces as canvasses for water art. They deftly "draw" characters on sidewalks for passersby who can't help but stop to watch the creations come to life. I know I can't resist! The bot is obviously different than a live cast member, but the "street art" concept is the same: It's fun to watch art being creating on the spot.

And although the bot might be a high-tech creation that comes from the research labs that have dreamed up - and created -- wild ideas such as 3D printing creations, more realistic parade balloons and multi-dimensional tactile sensations with computer touch screens, the BeachBot really goes to the heart of what started Disney as we know it: the creativity and whimsy of drawing.

To make it happen in the sand with such a cute robotic creation is just another kind of magic one would expect only from Disney.


January 15, 2015

Fans invited to submit writing and artwork based on Ridley Pearson's 'Kingdom Keeper' books


Author Ridley Pearson has long celebrated the fans who have made his "Kingdom Keepers" books best sellers, even inviting them to help him write the last novel in the original young adult series that is set at Disney properties. That book, "The Insider," was published last spring.

Since then, Pearson has been at work on a trilogy that picks up where "The Insider" left off. The first book in the new series, "The Return: Disney Lands," has a U.S. publication date of March 31. The author also has been busy creating "Fairlies Adventures," a series of novellas in the "Kingdom Keepers" series. The first, "The Syndrome," will be released March 3. And throughout the creative process, Pearson has again solicited submissions from fans, the best of which will be included in the projects and their promotions.

Although some writing contests have closed, there still are some ways young adults can be involved with their beloved "Kingdom Keepers" series. Last summer, Pearson invited readers to participate in eight writing challenges that ended on Sept. 1. The deadline has been reached, but the entries (and the winners) are posted on kingdomkeepersinsider.com, so fans can have a sneak peek at what will be in the finished novel.

Pearson sums up the plot on his website this way: "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."


As for the "Fairlies Adventures," Pearson says the name comes from the "fairly human" girls Amanda, Jess and Mattie. "Over the years, they've protected and supported the five Disney guides with their paranormal abilities," he wrote.

Writing challenges still are open for the first novella on TheKingdomKeepers.com. According to the website, "If you, collectively, can decipher the clues in time, you'll unlock sneak previews and behind-the-scenes intel on this awesome new book."

Plus, artists are asked to submit drawings of Amanda, Jess and Mattie by Jan. 17 for a chance to be featured in the book trailer. Submissions should be sent to Pearson's assistant Jen at jen@ridleypearson.com. Fans can view the art as it is submitted on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/ridleypearson/fairlies/

The team has utilized fan art for projects in the past, including T-shirts for the book publicity tour.


Speaking of the tour, for the last several years, Pearson has launched each new "Kingdom Keepers" novel at Walt Disney World. No word yet on whether he will be in Central Florida for the release of "The Return: Disney Lands," but stay tuned because we definitely are watching for the announcement. In the meantime, here are some tips and thoughts about what to expect at such a popular book signing, should it come our way again.


January 17, 2015

Orlando Science Center’s Otronicon features hands-on exhibit from Walt Disney World


Video gamers can get a look behind the screen, if you will, this weekend at the Orlando Science Center's Otronicon, a four-day event dedicated to technology and digital media. As one of the exhibitors, Walt Disney World will give visitors a glimpse into how technology is used at its theme parks and how attractions are designed.

Now in its tenth year, Otronicon runs Jan. 16 through 19. The science center describes the event this way: "Discover how we will live, learn, work and play in the years to come through video games, simulation and other technology - most of which is made here in Orlando."


Disney's Imagineers present Math Magic 'Science Fair!' each day throughout the event. The exhibit has several demonstrations that will show the difference between digital and analog control for animated figures. Plus, visitors can see how simulations and mechanical engineering are used at Walt Disney World.

Last year's Disney exhibit included demonstrations of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) applications in popular Disney Parks attractions Toy Story Midway Mania, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours and Test Track. Visitors were able to get hands-on experience operating the computer programs that run some of the attractions.

Otronicon 2015 also features state-of-the-art medical and military simulators from Florida Hospital for Children and Lockheed Martin, respectively; workshops taught by industry professionals; and video-game development and competitions.

Admission to Otronicon is $19 per day for adults and $13 per day for children ages 3 to 11. Admission to Otronicon is free for Science Center members. Hours for Otronicon are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 16 -17 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 18 -19.

Can't make it to Otronicon to check the theme-park exhibit? Look for other STEM demonstrations and celebrations during National Engineers Week next month at Walt Disney World. For the last several years, Raytheon has offered extra interactive experiences for the week. Raytheon, an aerospace and defense contractor that employs state-of-the-art electronics and communications systems for government and commercial projects, sponsors Sum of All Thrills at Epcot. This attraction allows guests to digitally design their own roller coasters and then experience a simulated ride in them.


January 19, 2015

Compare Disney's 'Big Hero 6' DVD and home-viewing options coming in February 2015


It's awards season for films, which means many of us are focused on our favorite films. Surely Walt Disney Animation Studios' animated movie "Big Hero 6" ranks at the top among Disney fans for films debuting in 2014. Next month, the feature film will be released for home and mobile viewing, and customers will have several purchase options.


"Big Hero 6" is scheduled for release on Feb. 24, and it will be available on DVD and as a Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD). The list prices are $29.99 and $39.99, respectively, though several online stores already have the titles available for pre-order at discounted prices. Both versions include a variety of bonus features.

The "Big Hero 6" Blu-ray Combo Pack offers:

** "Feast" Theatrical Short
** Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters
** Big Hero 6 Theatrical Teaser
** The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro's Journey
** Big Hero Secrets
** Deleted Scenes

The DVD-only purchase includes just the first three bonus features.


Wal-mart has an exclusive offer for the Blu-ray Combo Pack. Buyers get everything listed above, plus a separate bonus DVD, "The Science Of Big Hero 6." The bonus DVD allows viewers to explore Baymax and Hiro's high-tech world. Wal-mart's exclusive gift set retails for $39.99, but it is available for pre-order for $26.96.

Want to see the movie sooner? "Big Hero 6" will be released earlier - Feb. 3 -- on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere. It will include all the bonus features of the Blu-ray combo pack, except "Big Hero Secrets."

If you haven't seen this worthwhile family friendly animated movie, here's a short synopsis:

When the film opens, we find ourselves in San Fransokyo, a city that appears just as it sounds -- an idealized combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. San Fransokyo is the home of Hiro Hamada and his older brother, Tadashi. The brothers are both gifted in robotics technology, but Hiro is at a crossroads. He has graduated from high school at age 13 and spends his time building "bots" (short for robots) to fight in matches where owners and audience members bet illegally on the outcome. Tadashi believes that Hiro should join him at an exclusive robotics program at the nearby university and devises a plan to convince Hiro.

During an impromptu tour of the Nerd Lab at the university, Hiro meets Tadashi's eclectic band of friends in the department. They each show Hiro their ambitious robotics projects, but, of course, nothing can top Tadashi's -- the lovable, huggable Baymax. Baymax is a "heath care companion" that Tadashi has programmed to diagnose and treat 10,000 medical problems. Hiro is impressed by Baymax and the other projects and decides to apply to the school. It's at this point that events propel the kids into superhero roles. The action picks up significantly and we have a classic comic-book battle of good vs. evil.

If you'd like to read more of my spoiler-free review, you can find it here. For another take on "Big Hero 6," be sure to check out guest blogger Jeanine Yamanaka's review.

And those visiting Walt Disney World can meet Hiro and Baymax at Hollywood Studios.


January 27, 2015

SeaWorld Orlando invites visitors to learn about conservation at Wild Days events


Wild Days at SeaWorld Orlando kicked off this past weekend with two days dedicated to penguins, and I was invited to join the fun and informative experience.

Wild Days are three themed weekends designed to showcase the park's conservation efforts and inspire guests to get involved in protecting and preserving the Earth's wild animal population. Included with regular admission are interactive shows, the opportunity to meet leaders in the world of animal rescue and rehabilitation, and up-close encounters with animals.

During Penguin Lovers Weekend, SeaWorld Animal Ambassador Julia Scardina hosted several shows featuring penguins and other wildlife. Scardina has worked at SeaWorld for more than 30 years, beginning as a trainer with sea lions and otters. In her current role as an animal ambassador, she has traveled to all the continents, including Antarctica, which is home to the greatest number of penguins in the world.


"In the wild, it's a much harder life," Scardina said. "It's a very fine line between life and death for those animals, and I really saw that when I was out there."

"Penguins are having a hard time all over the world. Out of those 18 species that I talked about earlier, 13 of them are in decline," Scardina said. "And the declines are happening for a variety of reasons. They're happening because there are oil spills - and sometimes it's just oil contamination - like off the coast of South America with the Magellanic penguins. There is an estimated 40,000 that don't make it every year because they're covered in oil. There's also fishing that happens. If the fishermen are out there, they're competing with the penguins for food. If fishing is happening, the penguins have to go way farther to feed their chicks."


But that's where SeaWorld makes a difference, she explained.

"There are so many people who love animals. Almost everybody considers themselves an animal lover. But I really feel like there is so much more that animals need from us than just loving them. They need us to know about them. They need us to be experts about not only their species but also about the Earth and how we can live together on it. " And that's where I think that SeaWorld really has the ability because of the fact that we've got people who not only love animals but have an expertise in caring for them and in understanding the bigger picture so that we can not only care at the highest level for the animals that we have here but also help animals out in the wild."

Scardina didn't shy away from addressing SeaWord's critics, either.

"There are a lot of people who are very critical of SeaWorld right now -- and I'm sure they're animal lovers, as well -- but when it comes to a rescue that needs to happen, you don't pick up the phone and call an animal lover. You pick up the phone and call an expert that can go there and save that animal's life. And that's what we're able to do at SeaWorld."

You can hear more of what Scardina had to say - plus see the adorable penguins and even a baby bird -- during one of the shows in the video below.

Wild Days continue next weekend with Generation Nature Live, which features appearances by Bindi Irwin on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Irwin, daughter of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steven Irwin, is the SeaWorld Kids youth ambassador. The weekend focuses on how kids can get involved in conservation.


"Kids really are aware because they love animals and nature, but I think in some cases, they're not really getting their hands dirty and they don't quite know what to do with that passion," Scardina said. "Generation Nature gives ideas so kids can go out and physically make a difference."

In addition to the interactive shows with Irwin, the weekend includes a block party with a high-energy DJ at the SEA Garden, a whimsical storyteller, animal encounters, and special character appearances.

Guests also can dine on Jan. 31 at the Wild Days Picnic, which is an all-you-care-to-eat barbecue buffet with music and entertainment, such as animal interactions and character appearances. The menu includes chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, homemade apple crisp, sweet tea and one drink coupon good for bottled Coca-Cola beverages or Dasani bottled water. Tickets are $19 per adult and $9 per child ages 3 to 9. Beer and wine will be available for an additional cost.


The final event in the Wild Days series - Jack Hanna Weekend - takes place Feb. 7 and 8. In addition to Hanna's shows that are open to all guests, visitors can choose a more intimate gathering with the TV personality and conservationist at a breakfast or a dinner. Both meals include a meet-and-greet with Hanna, a family photo and reserved seating for one of Hanna's shows. Breakfast costs $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9. Dinner is $59 and $49, respectively.

SeaWorld's goal of increasing conservation efforts among everyday people may be a lofty one. However, it begins with education and awareness, which is what the theme park aims to impart with its annual Wild Days event.

"There are a lot of things that we can do to help animals survive," Scardina said. "Some of those things have to do with being aware that we have an impact on wildlife and it takes a bit of sacrifice on our part. " There are a billion people on the planet. If we each sacrificed a little more, we'd leave them a bit more. If we do pay attention, we can make that difference."

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the first day of Wild Days. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.


January 28, 2015

Give Kids The World Village needs your help with spring fundraisers


Central Florida's Give Kids The World charity is asking for your help with some of its fundraisers this spring.

Give Kids The World Village is a 70-acre nonprofit, whimsical resort located near Central Florida's well-known theme parks and attractions. Children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong vacations with free accommodations in the Village's villas. I toured the Village and learned about its amazing mission last summer.

This week, readers are invited to join a social media movement called "Hats Off to Keaton" Photo Contest. Through Friday (Jan. 30), Wheaton World Wide Moving | Bekins Van Lines is hosting an online photo contest to honor Keaton White, the inspiration behind Keaton's Korral, the place in the Village where the Give Kids The World children take horse rides each week.

To enter the contest, post a picture in a funny hat to the Wheaton (https://www.facebook.com/WheatonMoving) or Bekins (https://www.facebook.com/bekinsvanlinesinc) Facebook pages. The pictures receiving the most votes will win great prizes. All donations made to Keaton's Korral (www.gktw.org/keatonskorral) through Jan. 31 will be matched by the van line. The goal for the campaign match program is $22,000 and the Village is only $2,845 shy of that total.

On Feb. 25, supporters can attend a special fundraiser luncheon to benefit Give Kids The World at The Ice Factory in Kissimmee. Professional meat cutters from around the country will travel to Kissimmee to compete in the National Meat Cutting Challenge event to determine who will move on to the final round for a chance to win $20,000. Following the competition, Texas Roadhouse will grill the hand-cut steaks prepared during the competition for a luncheon with 100 percent of all sales going to Give Kids The World.

The cost of the luncheon is $10 per person and includes Texas Roadhouse grilled steak, two made-from-scratch sides, fresh baked rolls with honey cinnamon butter and a non-alcoholic beverage. In addition, there will be vendors and live music by the group Hayfire. Guests can RSVP with full name and number of luncheon attendees to kirsten.sands@texasroadhouse.com by Feb. 13.

Give Kids The World's biggest fundraiser, the Black & White Gala, takes place May 9 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. The evening celebration includes fine dining, auction items and world-class entertainment.

Tables purchased prior to Feb. 15 will include a complimentary room at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, 9801 International Drive, for Saturday, May 9. Tickets and tables on sale now at www.gktw.org/gala. Tables are $3,500 and premium table are $5,000. Individual tickets cost $350.

You don't have to be visiting Orlando this spring or live in Central Florida to help Give Kids The World Village by attending fundraisers. Readers can get involved in this worthwhile cause by spreading the word about the events and, of course, donations are always welcome. Both of those forms of assistance can be done from your home.


January 30, 2015

Where to watch the 2015 Super Bowl at Walt Disney World


If your weekend involves the Super Bowl and Walt Disney World, that alone should make you feel like an MVP. To make sure you aren't left fumbling around for a place to watch Sunday's game or Monday's celebratory parade, we've got all the details and plenty of suggestions.

Those who don't care to watch Seattle battle New England -- or the commercial debuts or half-time show by Katy Perry -- can take advantage of the almost-deserted theme parks. Super Bowl Sunday is actually one of the least-crowded days at Walt Disney World, so make the most of it! The weather is expected to be nice, with only a small chance of rain.

Should you be in the other camp and among the millions of fans looking forward to the big game -- or just vacationing with someone who is a football fanatic -- there are plenty of places to catch the game on television screens at Walt Disney World. Probably the first one that comes to mind for many folks is the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk because of its sports theme, 100 television screens, and traditional "game day" food. Consequently, the ESPN Club fills up early -- folks have been known to arrive hours early to secure a spot. ESPN Club opens at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The restaurant does take reservations for its VIP packages, but those already are booked. However, you can call 407-WDW-DINE to check if there are any cancellations if you want a guaranteed table.

The ESPN Club is not the only place to watch the Super Bowl on Disney property, though. At Downtown Disney, Splitsville will have the game on its flat-panel screens, and the first floor will be open to walk-in visitors. Guests can order off the regular menu and bowl at normal prices. Planet Hollywood also will be showing the Super Bowl, while serving its usual menu.

In past years, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has had two viewing locations open to the public -- ESPN Grill and the Jumbotron at the Welcome Center. The Grill is open again this year from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and will be showing the big game. The complex has not announced whether the Super Bowl will be shown on the Jumbotron because there are other sporting events scheduled in the complex.

And then there are plenty of viewing locations at the Walt Disney World hotels, starting with the comfort of your own room. NBC will be carrying the 49th Super Bowl in the Orlando market. Want to join your fellow fans? Most of the pool bars and hotel lounges also will have the game on, though they may not have multiple screens.

The Four Seasons Orlando is having a Super Bowl celebration this Sunday, February 1st at PB&G beginning at 4 p.m. PB&G is the southern-style lakeside casual restaurant. There will be a special game day menu, bar games, TVs for each pavilion, beers from each team's city and special cocktails to represent each team. No reservations needed. Valet parking will be validated ($5 per car)


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

Some guests can continue their Super Bowl celebration all year with an offer from the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. Residents of both Washington and New England (valid New England states include Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) will receive a free night at the Walt Disney World hotel when booking two nights at the standard price before March 1 for stays through Feb. 3, 2016. Some restrictions apply. They also will receive a complimentary automatic room upgrade. To make reservations, they can call 1-800-227-1500 and mention their home state.


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About January 2015

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in January 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2014 is the previous archive.

February 2015 is the next archive.

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