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June 2015 Archives

June 2, 2015

How Walt Disney World seasonal passholders can make the most of last week before summer blackout

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Sunday, June 7, is a not-so-magical day for many local Walt Disney World passholders. For Florida resident seasonal passholders, it’s the last day they can enter the theme parks until the blackout lifts on Aug. 14. So, for their last week of playing tourist, here are some new and limited-time attractions these visitors might not want to miss.

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** Hollywood Studios: Star Wars Weekends. It’s the fourth of five weekends dedicated to the popular science-fiction franchise. The key to being able to see and do as many of the themed activities as possible is arriving early. And by that, I mean well before the park opens at 8 a.m. each day. Guests interested in celebrity autographs (Ray Park, Jeremy Bullock, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor for June 5 to 7) should plan to line up between 6 and 7 a.m. to get wristbands to exchange for Fastpasses for the day. Once the park opens, kids interested in the Jedi Training Academy should sign up right away. It’s also a good idea to arrive extra early for the 11 a.m. motorcade, which features the celebrities and dozens of Star Wars characters. In addition to all the special presentations and character meet-and-greets, the event ends with the special Symphony in the Stars fireworks presentation. Finally, don’t forget to stop by Mickey Avenue (between One Man's Dream and Toy Story Mania) with your annual pass and ID to collect your complimentary Star Wars poster. (For more details about Star Wars Weekends, be sure to check out all our blogs and videos on AllEars.Net)

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** Animal Kingdom: Harambe Market. This new open-air marketplace with African-inspired street foods just opened. There are four walk-up windows: Kitamu Grill (grilled chicken skewer, ground beef kabob flatbread), Boerewors Sausages (fried in curried corn batter), Chef Mwanga’s Ribs Shop (Spice-rubbed KARUBI Ribs) and WanJohi Refreshment (specialty cocktails, beer, wine). For a complete menu with prices, see our dining page. Seating is outside, though there is shade. A photo gallery can be found here.

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** Epcot: Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out” preview. Walt Disney World guests can view a special preview of "Inside Out" at the Imagination Pavilion theater at Epcot throughout June. The short sneak peek repeats every 15 to 20 minutes and features in-theater effects and an exclusive introduction from the filmmakers. Critics who have seen early screenings of the much-anticipated animated movie from Pixar have already given it rave reviews. “Inside Out” opens in theaters on June 19.

** Magic Kingdom: Passholder favorites. Although there aren’t any seasonal events or new attractions at Walt Disney World’s signature park for the summer, are there passholders who don’t want to revisit all their favorites before taking a break? Whether it’s foods, such as Dole Whips and turkey legs, or roller coasters, such as Space Mountain and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, passholders are sure to have a must-do list for their last day before the summer break. And who could pass up the classic nighttime presentations of the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes fireworks?

And for Florida residents with seasonal passes, there are ways to get your Disney fix during the dog days of summer. Perhaps the best way is to visit the hotels. Guests are welcome to grab quick-service snack, such as a Dole Whip at the Polynesian Village or Mickey waffles at Art of Animation. With a dinner reservation at a resort on the monorail loop or the Boardwalk area, you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the fireworks. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, guests can taste the flavors of Africa while viewing the animals from the lobby balconies. And, of course, there is Downtown Disney, which is being transformed into Disney Springs. This entertainment district has movies, bowling, video games, boat rides, shopping and restaurants all in one place.

And there’s another place that Florida residents with Walt Disney World seasonal passes know well, of course. When it’s 95 degrees and 60 percent humidity, the locals know that it’s a small price to pay for a Disney fix and a cool respite with summer passes to Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks.



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June 4, 2015

Orlando's American Girl store to host red-carpet movie screenings for 'Grace Stirs Up Success"

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Like so many other girls, my 10-year-old daughter loves just about everything about the American Girl brand. She reads the magazines and books, creates crafts, and, of course, plays with the dolls she owns. Having a much-anticipated American Girl store open in November in Orlando – there are only about two dozen total in the United States – was a dream come true and has increased opportunities for her and like-minded girls to participate in local experiences with their dolls.

The store at Florida Mall is hosting several special events this summer, which would be cause enough to celebrate, but many are low-cost and free to the public, too. When we stopped in the Orlando store last week, we found out about a fabulous event that is taking place this month to celebrate the release of the newest American Girl movie.

It has become a tradition during the past several summers for a new American Girl movie to be shown on television and released for purchase. This summer, the movie is “Grace Stirs Up Success,” which is based on the Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas, and her adventures in a trilogy of books. (The third in the series, “Grace Makes It Great,” was just released for summer.) In the books and the upcoming movie, Grace takes on the start of a baking business, an unexpected trip to Paris, an out-of-control dog and the desire to help her family out of a jam.

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Our local American Girl store is hosting two VIP screenings of the movie on June 19, one at 11:30 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m. The event begins by checking in at the store, where each person receives a goody bag. (In past years at similar events at other stores, the goody bag contained a doll-size popcorn, a movie poster and a take-home craft. No word yet on what this year’s goody bag will contain.) Then guests board a bus to the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, where they will walk a red carpet and pose for photos. They will have about an hour to an hour and a half to enjoy themed activities and crafts. Upon entering the theater, each guest will receive a small popcorn and drink. And the best part: Tickets to this event are just $10 apiece!

To attend one of the VIP movie screenings, you must make a reservation by calling 1-877-247-5223 and pre-pay for your party. The reservations are non-refundable and non-exchangable.

If you can’t make one of the screenings. “Grace Stirs Up Success” will be available on Digital HD on June 9 and for sale on Blu-ray and DVD formats on June 23.

American Girl stores also are promoting reading this summer with their new “Truly Me” events that will be held three times in each city. For those in Orlando, mark your calendars for June 11, July 9 and August 13. Girls are invited to stop in the store anytime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on those dates to make a bookmark, sign an inspirational poster, and explore the titles for summer reading. All participants will receive a doll-sized Truly Me tee (while supplies last). This event is free and open to the public.



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June 6, 2015

'Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’' coming to theaters nationwide June 16

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Disney-Pixar fans, especially those who cannot wait to see the new animated film “Inside Out” when it opens on June 19, can attend an early screening that also takes viewers behind the scenes in Pixar Animation Studios and offers a slew of other visual and take-home goodies.

Fathom Events, the company that may be best known for producing concert movies, is presenting “Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ “ on June 16 at 600 theaters throughout the United States. The one-night event begins at 6 p.m. CT and 7 p.m. ET/MT/PT/AK/HI and will include 15 minutes of exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from Pixar Animation Studios, the new “LAVA” short and a screening of the full-length feature “Inside Out” in 2D. In addition, there will be a question-and-answer session with director Pete Docter, producer Jonas Rivera and the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler, via satellite from their Australian tour, which will be live in ET /CT zones and tape-delayed everywhere else. Audience members can tweet their questions ahead of time using #InsideOutAllAccess.

Event attendees also will receive a limited edition “Inside Out” commemorative poster and lanyard that includes a special code for access to digital extras on DisneyMovieRewards.com. (Membership to Disney Movie Rewards is free and is required to access the bonus content.)

“Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ “ is being shown in Central Florida at AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Dine-in Theatres Downtown Disney, AMC Universal Cineplex 20, Cineplex Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes and Regal Winter Park Village. Admission prices are set by individual theaters, and the majority of Orlando-area locations are charging $25 general admission for all ages. However, the two theme-park theaters -- AMC Dine-in Theatres Downtown Disney and AMC Universal Cineplex 20 – have tickets that are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and $18 for children ages 2 to 12. Tickets for “Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ ” are now available at FathomEvents.com and at participating theater box offices.

This special event is expected to last two hours and 30 minutes.

The movie's official description states, "Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions - Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind, where they help advise her through her everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to her new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school."

Critics who have attended early screenings of “Inside Out” have praised Pixar’s latest effort. You can see some of their comments in my previous blog.



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June 9, 2015

Disney on Ice revamps '100 Years of Magic' to include Frozen characters

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Feld Entertainment has announced it will be unveiling a new Disney on Ice production this fall – and, as is tradition, the national tour will kick off in Orlando. “100 Years of Magic” is coming to the Amway Center for six shows Sept. 4 to 6, and tickets can be purchased through a pre-sale now. (Code word: FREEZE)

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The initial announcement indicates that a variety of popular characters will be part of the show: “Be charmed by a cast of over 50, with Mouse-ter of Ceremonies Mickey Mouse, sweetheart Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Disney Princesses including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow White and Tiana. Relive the magic of Disney’s “Frozen” with Anna, Elsa and the hilarious Olaf as they discover that true love is the greatest magic of all. Sing-along to over 30 unforgettable songs including “Let It Go,” “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and “Hakuna Matata.” Exciting moments from Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Disney’s The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and more will leave the whole family with memories to last a lifetime.”

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“100 Years of Magic” actually is a revamped version of the show that first debuted in 1999 as a celebration of what would have been Walt Disney’s birthday in 2001. The production, which was choreographed by Emmy Award winner Sarah Kawahara, has been overhauled several times since then to add new Disney characters.

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In 2014, Feld Entertainment brought the “Frozen” characters to its lineup with a production dedicated to retelling the wildly popular animated movie. The show is impressive with beautiful ice skating, amazing costumes, cool special effects and audience interaction. (You can read my full review here.) Now, the show’s stars – Elsa, Anna and Olaf – join the long-running production “100 Years of Magic,” which has a much broader look at Disney’s classic stories.

Disney on Ice continues its commitment to encouraging children to lead healthy lifestyles with Stonyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt as a sponsor and a Disney Magic of Healthy Living dance-along before each show.

Central Florida residents and visitors will be among the first to see the new “100 Years of Magic.” For years, Ellenton, Fla.-based Feld has used Lakeland and Orlando as a starting point for new Disney on Ice productions, and this tour is no exception. From here, the production moves to Virginia and Rhode Island.

Tickets go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. June 16 at the Amway Center box office or through Ticketmaster. Seats range from $25 to $100 plus fees per seat. “100 Years of Magic” is about two hours long, including an intermission.



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June 13, 2015

Last days to enter Disney World's Coolest Sleepover Ever contest for chance to win night in Cinderella Castle

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Summer is all about lounging around – at the pool and in our pajamas. And Walt Disney World is giving four lucky Disney fans the “Coolest Sleepover Ever” -- inside the Cinderella Castle Suite at the Magic Kingdom. Interested? Make this your weekend project because you have until Sunday night to enter.

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Participants are asked to show their Disney Side by taking a photo of a summer outfit or treat inspired by Walt Disney World and posting it on Twitter or Instagram. Be sure to tag your photo with #DisneySummerContest. Entries will be judged on creativity, originality and relevance to the contest. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Outfits may be inspired by attractions or stories at the Orlando resort.

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You can check out the competition at http://coolestdisneysummer.com. Entries so far include handmade character costumes, visitors posing at Walt Disney World, delicious desserts and DisneyBounding.

Want to increase your chances at winning this rare prize? You can enter as many times as you like, as long as each entry is a new creation and a new photo on both platforms. Also, your entry must be a photo that has not been previously posted on Instagram and Twitter or entered in any other contest. In other words, you cannot go back and just add the hashtag to photos on your accounts. Videos posted to Instagram and Twitter are not eligible. Wording must be in English.

Contestants must be 18 years old and legal residents of the 50 United States, District of Columbia and Canada (excluding the Province of Quebec). Residents of Puerto Rico are not eligible to enter. For a complete list of official rules, click here.

In addition to the Coolest Prize Ever – the stay in Cinderella Castle – the top prizes include vacations at Walt Disney World. The Grand Prize winning entry for each social media platform (Twitter and Instagram) will win a five-day, four-night Walt Disney World vacation with flights, accommodations, five-day park hopper tickets, and a special Frozen Summer Fun VIP experience. The First Prize winning entry for each social media platform will win the same package without the Frozen experience. The Second Prize winning entry for each social media platform will win a Coolest Summer Ever gift basket.

The deadline to enter is by midnight ET Sunday.



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June 16, 2015

What is it like to volunteer at Give Kids The World Village?

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Almost a year ago, my family and I were invited to a blogger event at Give Kids The World Village that was designed to educate writers about the charity that is located near Central Florida’s theme parks. The 70-acre nonprofit resort treats children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to weeklong vacations, including complimentary accommodations in the Village's villas, meals and theme-park tickets. (You can read more about all the amazing things this organization does in my previous blog.)

Fast forward about six months and my 12-year-old son is inducted in National Junior Honor Society, where there is a requirement of completing a certain number of volunteer hours per year. He had been involved in plenty of community-service events through Cub Scouts, but this was an opportunity for him to choose how he’d like to donate his time. And he was so impressed with what he had seen at Give Kids the World that he asked if we could spend time helping families at there. With his love of and knowledge about our local theme parks, I knew this would be a good fit for him and keep him inspired to help others. At my son’s age, most volunteer jobs require a parent to be present the entire time, which also was a good motivation for me to get started, too. Give Kids the World Village fills more than 1,500 volunteer shifts each week, so we definitely could find a way to be useful there.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions some might have about volunteering at Give Kids The World Village is that it’s a sad or depressing experience because the kids are so sick. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. The goal of these vacations is to give each family a break from their worries and allow them a carefree time to make memories together. I have yet to see a family that isn’t excited to be staying at the Village, and most are vocal about their gratitude for the opportunity and for the staff and volunteers who help make it possible. Pair that with the whimsical resort and all the exciting activities, and it’s hard not to smile when you’re there.

More than half of all Wish children request a trip to Orlando attractions, and Give Kids The World Village continues to grow to meet that need. At the end of May, a major addition to the Village opened -- the Towne Center -- and my son and I were able to see it for ourselves when we volunteered last week.

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The first floor of the 53,000-foot Towne Center has been designed as a food court and seating for families staying at the Village. Now, all the dining options are available in one place: Boston Market and Perkins menus, plus pizza, a salad bar, and more. Guests can choose to eat in or carry out their food.

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When my son and I worked our first shift, the signature peppermint tables from the Gingerbread House have been relocated, and the main dining room even has a stage so evening entertainment can move indoors when inclement weather strikes.

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So, what types of work do volunteers do at Give Kids the World? As I mentioned, there are a lot of positions to fill each week, which means there is a great variety of jobs for adults – and you get to pick where you’d like to work, based on availability. You can sign up to accompany characters from Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal and the Nickelodeon Hotel to meet children, set up for the weekly Halloween and Christmas celebrations, work in the La-Ti-Da Spa, operate the carousel, and so much more. Volunteers my son’s age are more limited in their choices because of safety issues, so we mostly work in food-service areas.

But, still, even that job brings can bring a lot of enjoyment and personal satisfaction.

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One of the most popular places to volunteer is the Ice Cream Palace, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Children and their families are encouraged to have ice cream as often as they would like. In fact, it's suggested -- quite often -- that ice cream makes a great breakfast. Who can argue with that? My son and I were thrilled to finally be able to work at the Ice Cream Palace. It’s so popular that the shifts book up months in advance, almost like the reservations at Be Our Guest restaurant at Walt Disney World! It was well worth the wait, though, and I even got to surprise my son with my ability to make a decent banana split and milkshake.

A few things to know about volunteering at Give Kids The World Village:

** You must be at least 12 years old, and volunteers ages 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult.

** Anyone who is not an approved volunteer, including other children in your family, may not accompany you to a shift.

** You must complete a two-hour volunteer training session before you can begin working at the Village.

** If you have a group of volunteers, coordinators will work with you to schedule them together if you would like to stay together during your volunteer time. It’s common to see local and out-of-state groups from churches, schools and other organizations donating their time together.

** Volunteers do not enter the guests’ villas, and jobs such as housekeeping, dish-washing and other heavy cleaning are done by paid employees. You may be asked to do light cleaning, such as wiping down counters or vacuuming in public areas, however.

** You will leave Give Kids The World feeling like you made a difference – and you will be correct!

If you are interested in volunteering, you can get started at https://www.gktw.org/volunteer/, where you also can see a full list of the positions available.



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June 18, 2015

Meet stars of 'Dolphin Tale 2' at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in July

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If you or someone in your family loved the “Dolphin Tale” movies, next month might be the perfect time to visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the film was shot and Winter and Hope, the dolphins, live.

The young stars of the movie -- Nathan Gamble (Sawyer), Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe) -- are visiting the aquarium again, and fans can meet them. Zuehlsdorff will be at CMA July 19 through 22; Gamble, July 22 through 25; and Highsmith July 25 through 28. So, July 22 will be the only day when visitors can meet both Zuehlsdorff and Gamble, and July 25 pairs Gamble with Highsmith.

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The trio of actors has made several appearances at CMA during the last year to promote "Dolphin Tale 2," which was released in theaters in September 2014. My 10-year-old daughter was fortunate to be able to meet them during one such trip last summer, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies.

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. The meet-and-greets were included in the price of admission.

Last summer, the three actors joined Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates for a question-and-answer session with that we attended. You can view it here.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It's not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find at the working hospital is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tale 2," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.

Included in your ticket to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is transportation and admission to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure in downtown Clearwater. This location shows images, re-creations and actual props from the movie. For a complete explanation of what you can do at the two locations, see my previous post.

NOTE: Prices and operating hours were correct at the time of that blog’s publication, but they have since changed. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at seewinter.com at a discount or in person at the box office.



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June 20, 2015

Olympian Rowdy Gaines hosts World's Largest Swimming Lesson at SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica

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For the sixth consecutive year, SeaWorld Orlando’s Aquatica water park hosted a swim lesson a little different from the ones it offers all summer long. This lesson was part of an attempt to break the record for the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, which was set last year with 36,564 participants in hundreds of aquatic centers, pools and water parks around the globe.

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This was the sixth year that Aquatica has hosted the event, and 149 children took part, including my 12-year-old son. Although my son swims competitively and doesn’t need basic swim lessons, he wanted to see which skills were required for the 30-minute certified lesson for his age group, 10 and older. Among them were practicing swimming freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke; floating on his back; and streamlining off the wall. The “skill” he liked best, though, was jumping off the elevated side of Big Surf Shores pool, which is not allowed during normal operating hours at Aquatica.

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My son also had the remarkable opportunity to interview three-time Olympic gold-medal swimmer Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines, who was hosting the swim lesson. Gaines spoke to my son about the importance of learning to swim early in life and how that shaped his life. As a native Floridian, Gaines grew up around water and learned to swim at a young age. However, he didn’t begin swimming competitively until he was 17 – after he tried out for five other sports. “Is there any other sport than swimming?” he asked. “I can’t think of anything!”

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Still, he explained that learning to swim is more than just learning a sport, it is vital to children’s safety. He repeatedly said that as soon as kids learn to walk, they should learn to swim. The reason couldn’t be clearer: SeaWorld’s press release states that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death of children ages 1-14. Furthermore, research shows that if children don’t learn to swim before the third grade, they likely never will. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson is designed to draw attention to this issue, and encourage participation in swimming lesson programs.

You can see my son’s interview with Gaines below:

Aquatica invited the public to sign up in advance for the attempt to set a new Guinness World Record and also allowed water-park visitors to sign up on the spot. Admission to Aquatica was required to participate, and guests who did so received certificates and rubber bracelets for their efforts. Plus, their names were logged for the official entry should a record be broken.

DISCLAIMER: My son and I were guests of Aquatica for the World's Largest Swimming Lesson. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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June 23, 2015

Disney Channel's 'Teen Beach 2' movie, soundtrack and related shows debut this week

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“Teen Beach 2” premiere week is finally here, and that’s no small event for Disney Channel viewers or the cable channel itself. After all, the first “Teen Beach Movie,” which debuted in 2013, had 13.5 million viewers, making it the second highest-rated TV movie of all time, according to Variety.com.

The highest-rated TV movie of all time also belongs to Disney Channel: “High School Musical 2.” The highly anticipated sequel was part of a trilogy that made musicals popular with a new generation of viewers. Given that “Teen Beach 2” also is a musical, it might be difficult for the cast to avoid such comparisons.

I had the opportunity to interview Garrett Clayton, who plays Tanner, before “Teen Beach Movie” was released, and I asked him about the comparisons to the “High School Musical” franchise. For starters, it’s impossible to ignore that Garrett bears an uncanny resemblance to Zac Efron, who played the male lead, Troy.

"I think because no one has seen [the movie], they see that there are four leads and it's a musical and there are resemblances with cast members to Corbin Bleu, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, people assume that, but there is so much more," Garrett said. "I think when people actually see the plot line, they'll see it's worlds apart."

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In the original “Teen Beach Movie,” Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) were transported back in time to the 1960s, when surfer movies were all the rage. The sequel, however, brings retro surfers Tanner (Clayton) and Lela (Grace Phipps) into the modern world, which, of course, is a set-up for many comedic scenes.

“Teen Beach 2” debuts at 8 p.m. ET Friday (June 26) on Disney Channel, and it also will be released on DVD the same day. At 11 a.m. ET Saturday, the cast will host a Teen Beach 2 Beach Party, following by a replay of the movie, on Disney Channel. A special lip sync version can be seen Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

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Fans won’t have to wait till Friday to get their hands on the movie’s music, however, because the soundtrack goes on sale today (June 23). Only one track was released in advance, "Gotta Be Me," which is performed by the four main actors - Lynch, Mitchell, Clayton and Phipps - and John DeLuca and Jordan Fisher.

In May, my pre-teen children and I previewed "Best Summer Ever" and "That's How We Do" at the kickoff of the Teen Beach 2: Beach Party at Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon. Expect to see the latter song in a choreographed, large-scale production scene in the new movie. Partygoers got a taste of the dance moves, with surfer and biker characters teaching the crowd how to do "The Milkshake" and "The Jelly Belly." Most of the songs on the soundtrack are performed by the cast; after all, "Teen Beach 2" is a musical. (There is one song by Lynch's band, R5.)

"This music is a little more contemporary, more modern," Lynch told us. "The [music from the] first movie was more retro, like surf guitar." You can see our full interview with Lynch in my previous blog post.

The soundtrack from the original "Teen Beach Movie" reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and was No. 1 on the soundtrack chart, and the new album would seem to be headed in the same direction with its peppy, high-energy tunes.

Tune in for sand, sun and fun this week, and let us know your thoughts on “Teen Beach 2” and its soundtrack in the comments.



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June 24, 2015

Stay safe at Walt Disney World in Florida's heat and humidity

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We all know Florida is brutally hot in the summer, but it’s been even more so the last couple of weeks with temperatures soaring. Orlando even tied a 17-year-old record of 100 degrees one day this past week!

I was reminded last week after spending the morning at Walt Disney World just how quickly a person can go from feeling fine to feeling sick from too much sun. You may think, like me, that you are not doing anything you don’t routinely do in the theme parks, but when the mercury and the heat index rise, it’s time to re-think some of your touring strategies.

First, those visitors who like to travel light should consider that they actually could benefit from some extra gear.

** Bring a reusable water bottle and fill and drink from it often. Walt Disney World has plenty of water fountains, and counter-service restaurants will provide cups of ice and ice water at no charge. If you really don’t want to tote around a reusable bottle, be prepared to fork over $2.75 for a bottle of Dasani water. (The price recently increased on Disney property.) Experts say you should be drinking water even if you’re not thirsty to prevent dehydration.

** Bring or purchase gadgets that help you keep cool, such as personal fans and misters. Can’t bear to spend the money? At the very least, bring a few washcloths in Ziploc bags that you can wet with cold water and place on your face and neck throughout the day.

Be sure to dress for the heat and humidity.

** Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. If your favorite shirt for vacation photos is black, try to find an alternative ahead of time.

** Hats will not only help with sun protection but also keep you cooler.

** Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Plan your day’s activities with the heat in mind. Temperatures are the highest between noon and 4 p.m.

** As much as possible, avoid standing in outdoor queues and waiting for parades and outdoor stage shows. Use your FastPass selections to limit exposure.

** Do not go from waiting an hour for the parade to waiting another hour for a stage show; try to alternate outdoor activities with indoor attractions so your body can cool off in the air conditioning. The Frozen Summer Fun activities come to mind here. Instead of waiting for the royal parade and Olaf stage show consecutively, break up the time in the sun by going to the sing-along in the new Hyperion Theater.

Finally, seek out a water adventure either in the park or at an entirely new park. Plan a day at Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon water parks. Break up a day in the theme parks by going back to your hotel and enjoying a dip in the pool. At the very least, book your FastPasses for Splash Mountain during the afternoon hours!



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June 27, 2015

Tips for planning and saving at SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica water park

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It’s summer, and for many people, that means lots of water time -- whether it’s the pool, lake or beach. For Orlando visitors and locals, beating the heat often translates to taking advantage of one of the area’s many water parks.

Today, we’re taking a look at some of things that can make a day spent at SeaWorld’s Aquatica as hassle-free as possible. Plus, we’ll give you some ideas for saving money.

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The biggest expense of going to Aquatica other than consumables, is, of course, your admission ticket. If you purchase your ticket online in advance for $47, you save $10 over the gate price. You can also purchase in advance an eat-and-play-all-day ticket for $52 for adults and $47 for children ages 3 to 9. However, if you are planning to visit more than once, you might want to consider an annual pass for $108 for one year or $146 for two years. Or, if you know annual pass members, they can purchase guest tickets for half off, $28.50. (Only annual pass members receive free parking; for everyone else, it’s $13 for cars and motorcycles and $17 for RVs.)

There also are other combo offers if you and your family are interested in visiting SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens in Tampa. Or, if you splurge on a day at Discovery Cove, your ticket gives you 14 days at SeaWorld and Aquatica.

Another way to add value to your day at Aquatica is go on a Friday or Saturday from July 3 through Aug. 8, when the water park stays open later for Island Nights. Closing time is extended until 9 p.m. on those days and includes a beach party. Waterstone Grille also serves up a new, evening menu.

Speaking of food and drinks, they can add up quickly at Aquatica (or any theme park). Aquatica does offer an all-day dining plan for $26 for adults and $21 for children ages 3 to 9. Depending on how much you eat, this might be a good deal for you! Or, if you can squeeze in two meals -- lunch and an early dinner -- that could help justify the cost, too.

Just like at SeaWorld, Aquatica sells cups that can be refilled with soda or juice from the fountain machines for $1.29. The initial price varies by the style of the cup, but count on about $10, and it’s good forever. We have had some cups for years! That’s a good deal for this Diet Coke-loving mama. Even better: I recently discovered that the cups may be used interchangeably for refills at SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens. (Pass members receive 10 percent off all dining, including the refills.)

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If I could change one thing about dining at Aquatica, it would be that there would be fewer restrictions placed on bringing in personal coolers and their contents. Guests are permitted to bring in a cooler that is 16 quarts in size, and it can contain snacks in individual serving sizes that are less than 3 ounces, bottled water and baby food in plastic containers. That’s it – no sandwiches or anything that would constitute a meal is allowed. Exceptions may be made for guests with dietary restrictions. This was a big adjustment for our family because we were used to Walt Disney World’s policy that doesn’t put such tight size limitations on coolers and only forbids alcohol and glass containers.

Still, if you really want to bring your own food and drinks to Aquatica, it is possible, but you will have to leave them in your vehicle. There are a limited number of picnic tables outside the turnstiles, and guests who want to exercise this option are allowed to leave and gain re-entry to the water park.

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Another expense for many guests is a locker to hold valuables. Aquatica has upgraded its offerings by trading in its key-entry lockers for ones with digital codes. No need to wear that key around the park all day and hope you don’t lose it! Plus, renting a locker is now done at self-service machines, which reduces lines. Lockers are $10 for a small size and $15 for the large space. There no longer is a deposit given back at the end of the day because you are not returning a key.

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About a week ago, Aquatica introduced another option for keeping your valuables safe – the AquaVault. This device is slightly smaller than a shoebox and made of plastic with a digital entry. It is designed to be secured to your lounge chair. It retails for about $40 in the gift shop at the front of the park and can be reused on multiple visits.

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If you want to completely avoid charges for securing items such as cell phones and credit cards, you can get a cashless wristband at Guest Services and leave your phone in your vehicle. A team member will link your credit card information to the wristband so you can charge throughout the park, and then you can return that to your car, as well.

If you plan your day at the water park, you can save a few bucks and beat the summer heat. And with as hot as it’s been lately, that’s well worth the money you save.



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June 30, 2015

Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios may be closing, but drawing lessons remain at Walt Disney World

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A cherished part of Walt Disney World has been highlighting artwork and drawing since the late 1980s, and now it is drawing to a close.

The Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios is closing, local media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, have confirmed this week. The attraction features a short movie about Disney animation; two character greeting areas; and Animation Academy, where guests can learn to draw popular characters. The Magic of Disney Animation closes on July 13, so the last day for guests is July 12.

My family and I have enjoyed this attraction on many visits to the Walt Disney World theme park, so of course we’re sad to hear it is closing. The Magic of Disney Animation is one of the park’s original attractions, and it allowed budding artists and those fascinated with animation to delve into techniques used in the field. In fact, for years, animators actually worked in bays with large windows designed to allow visitors to watch them draw. Now, guests see their work during an introductory film clip.

In addition, the Magic of Disney Animation usually offered several character meet-and-greets. Mickey, Minnie and The Incredibles were regulars, and a separate, central area with a themed backdrop was used for characters from the latest Disney and Pixar films. Currently, Baymax and Hiro from “Big Hero 6” are located there. Disney officials have not revealed where Mickey and Minnie will be relocated -- or if Hero and Baymax will continue to have a presence at Hollywood Studios.

The third component – Animation Academy, the hands-on opportunity for kids and adults alike to learn to draw from a trained cast member – is what we will miss most. I’ve written about this hidden gem for years because it’s such a unique opportunity.

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Drawing classes at the Animation Academy are offered every 30 minutes, and the subjects are chosen from requests by visitors. The classroom inside the Magic of Disney Animation is quite large, and the setup is fun, with each student sitting on a stool at a slanted drawing board, just like a "real" artist. The Disney animator guides guests through the process of drawing a character, line by line. And the pencils they provide purposely do not have erasers. As the cast member explains, they want guests to understand these drawings are sketches. The pencil strokes are done lightly until the end, when the guests then go over their finished products with bolder markings.

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

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Guests who really want this experience the Animation Academy after the Magic of Disney Animation closes can visit a second drawing school of the same name, located inside DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney West Side (soon to be renamed Disney Springs). It operates in the same fashion, except that subject requests are not accepted. Instead, there is a posted schedule of the characters to be drawn each day. To access that Animation Academy location, guests must pay admission to DisneyQuest, which is $45 plus tax for adults and $39 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9.

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A similar activity has been built in the lobby of Disney’s Art of Animation hotel. Tucked in a corner to the left of the registration desks, guests will find comfy benches and an animation station, where the instructor shows line by line on a projection screen how to bring a Disney character to life. The classes are free for resort guests. Check with the front desk for the current schedule.

Kids, teens and even adults of all talent levels usually find the drawing classes fun. And getting the chance to learn to draw your favorite character is a unique kind of entertainment you might not find just anywhere. My two kids always got a thrill whenever their “favorite” character was the featured one for the artwork session.

Animation and artwork are, of course, the basis for all of what Disney is and has become. Hopefully, whatever replaces the Magic of Disney Animation will be just as moving and inspiring for guests as this attraction was for my kids and our family.



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About June 2015

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

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