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October 1, 2015

Epcot Food and Wine Festival event lets you choose the perfect burger

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At a new premium event at this year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, guests can help determine the best gourmet burger created by Disney chefs– after an evening of sampling, of course! The Rockin' Burger Block Party offers sliders that are inspired by recording artists who have left their mark on the beverage world, and those drinks are paired with the burgers. A DJ spins the musicians’ most popular tracks, adding to the evening’s upbeat atmosphere (and synergy).

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AllEars Editor Deb Koma and I were invited to cover the first of three Rockin’ Burger Block Parties this festival season on Sept. 25 for AllEars.Net. When we checked in at World Showplace for the two-hour party, and we were given wristbands and programs and offered glasses of champagne. There also was a fun backdrop for those who wanted to take photos while they waited.

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Inside the event space, we could clearly see the various admission options. Those who chose Nosh Pit seating for $199 (plus tax, including gratuity) were allowed early entry and guaranteed a private reserved table, a specialty cocktail toast, a premium bar and the closest seating to the stage in a sectioned off area. Reserved seating at $119 (plus tax, including gratuity) included a reserved table on the main floor, early entry and the cocktail toast. General admission at $99 (plus tax, including gratuity) does not guarantee a seat but does include all the food and beverage stations.

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When we entered the dining space at World Showplace, the stations were open and ready to begin serving the early arrivals at 6:45 p.m. As media guests, Deb and I first were part of a group interview with the party’s celebrity chef host, Andrew Zimmern, of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” and two related shows on the Travel Channel. You can see Deb’s interview in the highlights video below:

Then, Zimmern took the stage to address the partygoers. He explained that the hamburger in America is a food from Germany that we Americans adopted about 120 years ago. Although it has been called an American tradition for more than a century, the hamburger has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as a food trend in the last five or six years, he said.

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Partygoers who wanted to get started slowly could check out the Finger Foods Station, which included cheeseburger spring rolls, spicy sticky pig wings, vegetable pot stickers and lentil samosa. Most guests, however, seemed ready to dive into tasting the 14 different kinds of burgers. And even though the sliders and their side dishes are not huge portions, there is a lot of bread, so some of our friends used the strategy of splitting each slider in half to save room to sample all the varieties.

First up: Chef Carlos’ Smooth Burger (ground turkey and grape jelly burger with cheddar cheese, bacon and smooth peanut butter on a toasted bun) and Chef Tony’s Grouper Burger (grilled grouper patty topped with butter lettuce, vine-ripened romato and lime aiolo on a griddled bun). I enjoyed the combination of flavors on the Smooth Burger and would have gone back for seconds if there weren’t so many sliders to try! Deb did not care for the Grouper Burger, and I am not a huge fish eater, so I skipped it.

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Chef Carlos' Smooth Burger

These burgers were paired with Maestro Dobel Tequila; Ciroc Vodka (Moscow Mule, Red Berry and Pineapple); Florida Orange Groves Winery (White Sangria, Key Lime Wine and Blackberry Wine); and Red Stag by Jim Beam and EFFEN Vodka (All Summer Long Cooler and American Dream). The musical connection: Ciroc Vodka is promoted by Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, and Effen Vodka is repped by rapper 50 Cent.

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Chef Mikko's Bourbon Burger

The next grouping was Chef Mikko’s Bourbon Burger (Bourbon BBQ burger topped with cheddar cheese, fried onions and chipotle aioli on Parker House bun); Chef Marianne’s Sicilian Burger (pan-seared branzino patty topped with pecorino cheese, blood orange, raisin, onion jam and dried prosciutto on griddled bun); The Chew Burger (all beef sirloin, shortrib and brisket patty, cheddar cheese, carmelized onion mustard and sweet hot pickles on mayo toasted sesame bun); and Chef Jarrod’s Backwoods Burger (Grilled Cervena patty topped with Black Diamond cheddar, fried onions and juniper port wine ketchup on toasted bun). By far, my favorite burger in this group was Chef Mikko’s, although I also enjoyed The Chew burger, which had hints of the traditional burger toppings.

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The Chew Burger

These four burgers were paired with Jim Beam Bourbon (Devil’s Cut, Kentucky Fire and Apple varieties) and Sauza 901 Tequila, which is Justin Timberlake’s label. Who knew?!

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Chef Reynold's Chicago Burger

Traveling from the Midwest to the West Coast, we had Chef Reynold’s Chicago Burger (grass-fed beef patty topped with all-beef hot dog, relish and Hawaii cheese sauce on a poppyseed bun) and Chef Keith’s Cali Veggie Cheese Burger (Morningstar Farms bean burger topped with vegan cheese, marinated avocado and sriracha heirloom tomato ketchup on a vegan buttered bun). I’m not a huge fan of veggie burgers so I wasn’t tempted by Chef Keith’s creation. I did try the Chicago Burger but didn’t care for the slice of hot dog on the patty. Once I removed that, I enjoyed the burger more.

Also in the grouping was the Sweets Station, which featured cinnamon roll fireball bread pudding with cream cheese glaze, snickerdoodle crusted apple custard crisp and Vahlrona chocolate ganache brownie. All three were delicious, but quite a few people at our table were raving about the bread pudding, and I had to agree it was the best of the three offerings.

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The state burgers and sweets were paired with Margaritaville Brewing Co. (Landshark Lager); The Dreaming Tree wines (Everyday White Wine, Crush Red Blend and Chardonnay); assorted hot beverages; and Little Rocker Station (specialty non-alcoholic beverage). Jimmy Buffett is affiliated with the Landshark Lager from Margaritaville Brewing Co., of course. (It's made by Anheuser-Busch, but it's sold in his restaurants.) The Dreaming Tree wines are Dave Matthews' (of Dave Matthews Band) label. Deb had the "Crush" Red Blend and said it was a nice, full-bodied red – her favorite wine of the night.

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The next trio of burgers were Chef Judi’s Truck Stop Burger (mixed grill burger topped with fried egg, bacon grease fries and nacho cheese sauce on griddled bun); Chef Melissa’s Thai Shellfish Burger (shrimp and scallop burger topped with spicy thai slaw and cilantro lime mayo on sesame bun); and Chef Hanson Oklahoma Burger (grass-fed burger topped with BBQ pulled pork, cheddar cheese and onion fried on toasted Parker House bun). For me, and many other nearby diners, it was the Oklahoma burger, hands down, that got our vote from this group. Although the other sliders offered interesting combinations of flavors, Chef Hanson had the best toppings. Deb said the Oklahoma burger was in her Top 5 of the night.

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Chef Hanson Oklahoma Burger

This group was paired with Hanson Brothers Beer Company (Mmmhops Pale Ale) – no surprise there; The Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Seasonal and Rebel IPA brews); and Voli Vodka (International Love Cosmopolitan, Voli Black and Voli Mango Coconut). Hanson is, of course, famous for its single "Mmm Bop," so the play on words for the brothers’ beer refers to that song. Voli Vodka is promoted by singer Pitbull.

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Finally, the last of the burgers were Chef Nanor’s Middle-Eastern Burger (spiced lamb and feta cheese burger topped by pickled watermelon rind and Za’atar aioli on buttered bun); Chef Eggie’s Mallorcan Burger (coffee-crusted beef short burger topped with smoked gouda, garlic potato strings and sangria ketchup on medianoche roll); and Chef Dale’s Asian Cheese Burger (CVAP chicken duck burger topped with butterkase cheese, bulqogi braised pork belly and sweet Thai chili sauce on sesame bun). The Asian Cheese Burger was a crowd favorite, for sure.

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The last grouping was paired with Niche Import Co. (Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir and Sweet Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir); Casa Noble Tequila (Margarita and Casa Noble Reposado Tequila); and Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum (Mai Tai and Red Head Rum, also called Macademia Nut Rum). Deb said she did not recommend the Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir. She tried the Maragarita and I tried the Mai Tai, and both mixed drinks were exactly what you would expect in terms of flavor. Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum is from Sammy Hagar, formerly of Van Halen.

At the end of the evening, guests were encouraged to vote for their favorite burgers by placing a guitar pick in a jar at the desired station. At our party, it was a tie between Chef Mikko’s Bourbon Burger and Chef Dale’s Asian Cheese Burger. The tie was broken by a vocal vote of the audience, when advocates of the Bourbon Burger outyelled fans of the Asian Burger. A trophy then was presented to Chef Mikko’s team. On our way out of the building, guests were given more of the guitar picks as souvenirs.

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There are two remaining Rockin' Burger Block Parties on Oct. 8 and Nov. 6. The cast of The Chew will host the event on Oct. 8, and "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro will be in the spotlight for the Nov. 6 party. Tickets can be purchased by calling 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its Rockin’ Burger Block Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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October 3, 2015

Tips for families at 2015 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Many visitors consider fall the best time to visit Walt Disney World, and one of the main reasons is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Who doesn’t like to eat, right? Some families with children may be deterred by the unusual foods, the crowds and the cost. All of those factors can be managed with a little forethought, however.

I am a planner, for sure, but when I go to the Food and Wine Festival, I don’t like having the entire day pre-planned. Instead, I like to know what my options are and have some alternate activities in case things don’t go as expected. Here are a few tips that have worked for my family through the years that I hope you will find helpful, as well.

1. The day and time you visit the World Showcase promenade makes a huge difference in how your experience will play out. The best time to go is on a weekday when the majority of the food booths open at 11 a.m. This is the least-crowded time, because locals tend to crowd the festival on weekends and evenings. If you cannot avoid a weekend visit to Epcot, then at least try to be in the park when the marketplaces start serving. And if you arrive sooner, you can check out the four kiosks that have expanded into Future World, which opens at 9 a.m.

2. Once you have chosen your festival day, use FastPass+ to book three attractions for the day. You don’t have to use them, but you just might be happy to take a break from eating and the Florida heat (or afternoon rain). For this reason, I would book FastPasses in the middle of the afternoon. And new to FastPass+ this year is the option to reserve a seat at an Eat to the Beat concert. Guests without sampler packages sometimes wait in line for hours, so if there is a performer you want to see, this could be a good solution for you.

3. When you get to Epcot, purchase festival gift cards that include the wristband. If your children are old enough to trust, allow each to wear one of the gift cards. My kids always get a kick out of paying, and it’s easier for my husband and I, too. If you do not want your children handling the money, the wristlet gift cards are still a good idea for the adults because it means not having to dig through your purse or wallet to pay at each marketplace. Swipe and then eat!

4. Get a festival passport for each family member. Each marketplace will stamp the passport (for free), and kids love collecting the ink. Plus, if you are a Walt Disney World passholder, you can get your passport stamped at Innoventions each day you visit the festival. On the third visit, cast members reward you with a collectible 20th anniversary wine glass.

5. Determine which direction you will start around World Showcase by looking at the menus in the festival passport. My family and I like to study the foods, and we choose the side that has the most things we are interested in right away because we usually only make it halfway around before we are full. As you are sampling the dishes, offer to share with other family members so you will not fill up as quickly, leaving more room to try other foods and drinks.

6. Everyone likes free stuff, right? Be on the lookout for giveaways, such as packets of Craisins by the Ocean Spray cranberry bog and Ghirardelli chocolate squares in the Bean to Bar display inside the Festival Center.

7. Speaking of the Festival Center, this is a great, air-conditioned place to take a break. There are exhibits and festival merchandise to peruse, a café for a bite to eat, low-cost demonstrations, and even a free movie screening about what it takes to prepare for the Food and Wine Festival.

8. Another place to cool off and rest tired feet is the Chase Lounge inside the American Adventure. Chase Visa credit and debit cardholders can access this lounge by presenting their cards. Inside the third-floor lounge, guests can enjoy complimentary beverages, a photo booth, animation sketch classes and charging stations for devices. My children were excited just to be allowed inside private rooms that typically are not open to the public.

9. Finally, the new Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game takes family members on a scavenger hunt around World Showcase as the little chef collects ingredients for his signature dish. Maps and stickers for this interactive game can be purchased for $9.95 plus tax at Disney Traders, Festival Center, Pin Central, Port of Entry and World Traveler (International Gateway). Whether you choose to search for each ingredient or not, return your map to the redemption location at Port of Entry by November 16, 2015, to pick up a pin.

Remember that pacing yourself and taking breaks can make any day at a theme park more enjoyable, no matter what your age.



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October 5, 2015

Here's how Walt Disney World annual pass increases will affect my family

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On Sunday, Disney fans woke up to the news that Walt Disney World and Disneyland had announced a restructuring of its annual pass programs. Of course, prices have increased, but some of the benefits and the names of the passes have changed as well, which can be a bit confusing. Today, I’m sifting through the details because my family and I renew our Walt Disney World passes next month, so we have to decide which passes make sense for our use in the coming year. Perhaps my comparisons and reasoning will resonate with you, too.

First, know that these changes do not affect the Magic Your Way tickets – single and multi-day -- that many visitors purchase. Next, the monthly payment option for annual passes still is only available to Florida residents.

Finally, the discount passholders receive for renewing each year has increased from 10 percent to 15 percent. And a cast member told me that the discount will be applied to passholders who have any pass in the current program and are moving to any pass in the new program. The discount is available 30 days before your pass’s expiration date and 30 days afterward. (If you renew in the 30 days after your expiration date and take the discount, the date stays the same, so it would make sense to renew beforehand. You always have the option to purchase a new annual pass if you miss the renewal window of 60 days but you will not receive the discount.)

My family and I have had Walt Disney World passes for more than a decade, and we have tried different combinations to best suit our needs. Currently, I have a Florida resident annual pass – with no blackout dates and parking included – and my husband and two children (who are considered Disney adults when it comes to pricing) have Florida resident seasonal passes, which have blackout dates at Christmas, Easter and most of the summer and do not include parking. We paid the renewal rate of $478.19 for my pass and the renewal rate of $297.14 each for my husband and two children in 2014. (Prices include tax.) So, our total cost this past year was $1,369.61.

The equivalent pass for me in the new system would be the Platinum Pass, which will cost $584.69 with my renewal discount and including tax. It offers the same benefits of admission to four theme parks with no blackout dates; parking and one complimentary MagicBand are included; PLUS the new benefit of unlimited downloads of Disney PhotoPass photos. Or, I have the option of switching to a new annual pass that offers similar benefits to what I have now: the Gold Pass. The Gold Pass is $496.29 with my renewal discount and including tax. The differences from what I have now are that it has blackout dates for two weeks at Christmas/New Year’s and two weeks at Easter/Spring Break, but I would gain unlimited downloads of photos from Disney’s PhotoPass. So, basically, am I willing to pay an extra $88.40 for the possibility that I might go into the parks by myself during the four blackout weeks? If I stick with the Gold Pass, I am paying an $18 annual increase over last year, which is pretty typical, but that is offset by the PhotoPass photos.

Or, I have a third option – downgrade to the same passes that the rest of my family has because at least one key benefit has been added. My other family members have the Florida resident seasonal pass, which is now called the Silver Pass. The renewal rate is $351.45 including tax. The benefits are the same as before – admission to four theme parks with blackout dates for two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter and most of the summer. What’s new is that it now includes parking, which is a big deal when the rate just jumped to $20 per day for most vehicles. I guess that is what the $54.31 increase per ticket is offsetting.

So, if my family opts for the equivalent passes to what we have now, we will pay $269.43 more for the same privileges, plus Disney PhotoPass downloads, for the coming year. Although I do purchase Disney PhotoPass photos throughout the year, I don’t spend that much. However, price increases happen every year so I cannot wish away all of the $269.43. If I downgrade my pass to the Gold status, giving up admission during the four busiest weeks of the year and gaining PhotoPass downloads, I could save about $90, bringing our total annual increase to about $180. If I’m willing to give up summer entrance and PhotoPass downloads, as well, and settle for the Silver Pass, I could save about $233 on my own pass, bringing my family’s price increase to only about $36 for the year. For that $36, we would gain parking on each of the four passes.

What would you do?

Here’s another scenario to consider. Depending on our plans for summer, we sometimes buy Disney water park passes. It’s less expensive to purchase the Silver Pass (with renewal discount and tax) at $351.45 plus the Water Park Pass at $117.15 (new and including tax) for a total of $468.60. The Platinum Plus Pass, which includes 365 days admission to the four theme parks plus the water parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course and more, is $776.39. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does show that you could select the options you would use for about $300 less. As locals, my family and I often find that we don’t go to the parks as much in the summer because of the crowds and Florida heat, so applying the money from an upgraded annual pass to a water park pass makes more sense for us.

What strategies do you have when it comes to purchasing Disney annual passes?

For complete information on Walt Disney World ticket prices, see the AllEars.Net chart.



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October 8, 2015

SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular returns with 'FantaSea' celebration for 2015

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SeaWorld’s colorful – and gentle – brand of Halloween celebration has returned for Saturdays and Sundays in October. On its remaining Spooktacular dates (10-11, 17-18, 24-25 and 31), SeaWorld brings to life an underwater “FantaSea” that is full of whimsical fun and not at all scary.

SeaWorld Orlando has found its niche with the youngest of trick-or-treaters, offering an afternoon of activities that don’t interfere with bedtimes. And parents won’t have nightmares because the Halloween events are included in regular park admission, unlike the parties hosted by other Orlando theme parks.

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The centerpiece of SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular is Bayside Pathway, which starts by the dolphin nursery and winds past the stadium and Wild Arctic and through Shamu's Happy Harbor. It hosts trick-or-treat stations, games of skill, characters, face painting, snacks, Penelope's Party Zone and Penelope's Photacular. (Penelope Pumpkin is SeaWorld's signature Halloween character.) The pathway opens at noon and closes at 7 p.m., which is a change from last year when closing time was 8 p.m.

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All guests are welcome to dress up in costumes, although only those 12 and younger are allowed to wear masks. (Guests who are ages 13 and older may not wear masks or hoods in the park, and all costumes are subject to the normal dress code for the park.) In addition, face painting is not permitted on any guests unless it is done by park artists.

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Who can resist trick-or-treating? SeaWorld provides guests with sturdy bags, and team members pass out candy at various stations. Although each person only receives one piece of candy at a time, guests are welcome to go through the lines as many times as they would like. The offerings include name-brand candy and a few nutritious snacks, as well.

Along the path, there are ample opportunities for Halloween fun, but most of it comes at an additional price. Games typically are $3 per person, face painting is $12 to $15, and snack prices vary.

Penelope's Party Zone, which is housed on the Bayside Stadium stage, however, offers young guests a selection of complimentary activities. There are character interactions, such as a meet-and-greet with Penelope Pumpkin and stories acted out by other sea creatures. Children can make themed crafts, sit at easels to decorate coloring pages or dance to a DJ's spooky music.

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Perhaps the best thing about the Underwater Fantasea Path is the sheer number of characters who roam among guests and pose for photos. Unlike at Walt Disney World, face characters and furry characters are not a common occurrence at SeaWorld. But they come out in full force for Spooktacular. We’ve seen princesses, mermaids, stilt walkers, fish, as well as Dolly the Dolphin, Shamu, and Pete and Penny Penguin. When she was younger, my daughter was amazed by the process used by mermaids to enter and exit the meet-and-greet areas. They had to be lifted from carts to their seats because everyone knows mermaids cannot walk on land.

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Four times each day, guests can experience “Sesame Street's Countdown to Halloween” musical at the SeaPort Theatre: “The Count is feeling lonely this Halloween, and it's up to you and the lovable monsters from Sesame Street to get him into the Halloween spirit. Batty bats and spooky skeletons join the fun in a song filled stage show that invites you and your family to dance, play, and sing along.” It’s a rare opportunity for young trick-or-treaters to see Elmo and Abby at SeaWorld. I still have the words to “Elmo’s World” stuck in my head from when each of my children were obsessed with Elmo.

Finally, guests can start the day with the Dine With Shamu Spooktacular Brunch, which is served poolside at 10:30 a.m. The buffet includes scrambled eggs, gravy & biscuits, breakfast potatoes, sausage links, bacon, assorted breakfast pastries, muffins, fresh fruit, seasonal vegetables, salads, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, pork loin, assorted Coca-Cola products, orange juice, apple juice, milk, coffee and hot tea. The children’s buffet offers chicken nuggets with dipping sauce, hot dogs, mac & cheese, waffles with maple syrup and assorted fruit toppings. Prices are $16 for ages 2 to 9 and $28 for ages 10 and older. Each group receives one complimentary photo and cookie-decorating kits for children ages 12 and younger.

My family and I experienced a Dine With Shamu event where the food was different but the experience was similar. You can read about it here.

SeaWorld pass members can reserve seating to the Sesame Street show and get 10 percent off the Spooktacular Brunch price when they book through the pass member website.

Each night ends with a Spooktacular Dance Party that beginning at 6 p.m. in the Village Square at the front of the park.



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October 9, 2015

You're invited to celebrate birthdays of dolphins Winter and Hope at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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One of the world’s most famous dolphins, Winter, is turning 10 on Oct. 10 – that’s Saturday! -- and Clearwater Marine Aquarium is inviting you to help celebrate this weekend. The aquarium also is celebrating Hope’s 5th birthday that day. Winter and Hope were both rescued in the month of December at an estimated age of two months, which is why CMA celebrates their birthdays in October.

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To start things off, children ages 3 through 12 who bring a homemade birthday card to the aquarium for Winter or Hope on Saturday will receive $10 off general admission. (One discount per child per birthday card.) At 3:30 p.m., guests can join in singing “Happy Birthday” to Winter and Hope. If you can’t be there, you can see the song being sung @CMAquarium via the Periscope app.

On Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 1 p.m., guests can participate in party games and kid-friendly crafts. Plus, everyone can enjoy complimentary slices of birthday cake at Shark Bites Café (while supplies last).

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During the entire month of October, visitors can give Winter and Hope paper presents. All they have to do is go to the aquarium gift shop and donate $2 toward the care of the dolphins, and they will be given a paper present to sign. It will be displayed in the aquarium to show their contribution. Every donor will be entered in a drawing to win a $100 gift certificate toward a birthday party at CMA.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium also hosted a cake decorating challenge this week, inviting “Dolphin Tale” fans to “create any cake, cookies or cupcakes in honor of Winter and Hope’s birthdays and share them on Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Facebook wall utilizing hashtag #CMACakeChallenge.” Four finalists have been chosen (see below). The winner will be announced at 5 p.m. ET Sunday at the aquarium, live via Periscope and on Facebook. He or she will receive an exclusive “Dolphin Tale 2” prize package.

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Winter was rescued in 2005 from a crab trap rope entanglement. Her story of determination inspired the popular film, “Dolphin Tale.” Hope was rescued five years and one day after Winter. She was found near the site where Winter was found at a similar age – just a couple of months old. After her rehabilitation, she was paired with Winter, and they have become the best of friends. Hope’s rescue in 2010 and her friendship with Winter inspired “Dolphin Tale 2,” the second film to be based on true events at CMA.

Because of my daughter’s love of dolphins, and Winter in particular, my family and I began visiting Clearwater Marine Aquarium about four years ago. I gave a detailed description about what you can expect from your visit in this blog post. (Times and prices were accurate at the time of publication. Please check seewinter.com for current ticketing details.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.



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October 13, 2015

Tips for Remy's Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game at Epcot

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Fancy yourself a resourceful chef? Well, in this addition to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, you’ll have to hunt a lot harder for the ingredients to make this recipe a success than just going to your local supermarket.

New to this year’s festival is Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game, which has been designed for Walt Disney World guests of all ages to enjoy. This scavenger hunt takes participants around World Showcase in search of the ingredients needed to make Remy’s signature Ratatouille dish. At the end, there is a reward (beyond the personal satisfaction of finding each item)!

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To get started, you can purchase a packet that contains a map and 12 stickers at five locations in Epcot: Disney Traders, Festival Center, Pin Central, Port of Entry and World Traveler (International Gateway). The cost is $7.95 plus tax, but that includes your reward for playing. (It probably goes without saying, but you have to have park admission to play this game.)

My 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter tried the new Remy game for AllEars.Net recently and enjoyed it. As we approached each country, they immediately started looking for Remy and one of the ingredients pictured on a sticker. If your children are at all competitive, like mine, I would recommend having them take turns at each country to keep the game a friendly endeavor. Another suggestion to level the playing field is to buy as many map-and-sticker sets as you have participants, even if you only work with one, because there is only one prize per purchase.

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Ground rules in place, we found Remy’s hiding spots to be a good mix of easy and challenging, and that kept my children’s interest. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but suffice it to say that most of the Remy statues are not hidden deep inside each country’s pavilion, but rather somewhere toward the front or by the Food and Wine Festival kiosk. We began playing the game in the evening, but as we lost the sunlight, it became a lot harder to find the statues. So, keep that in mind, depending on the ages of your participants. Young children may become more easily frustrated playing at night in darker conditions. And if you plan to spend more than one day at Epcot, there is no reason you can’t resume the game another day.

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When you finish – or even if you don’t play at all – you are entitled to collect your reward: A choice of one of six Limited Release Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak pins that have the same images as some of the stickers for the game. The redemption location is Port of Entry, and you must return by Nov. 16 to collect your prize. If you prefer, you can collect your pin at the time of purchase. Parents may want to do this and just stash the pin until you finish the game.

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I asked my kids how this game compared to Disney Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure, another scavenger hunt at Epcot that opened about three years ago and is included with admission. Although many children, like my own, are naturally drawn to scavenger hunts, they both were emphatic that the Remy game was better because of the reward. So, perhaps another way to look at this experience is that you’re paying for a unique souvenir - and a Limited Release pin for $8 at Walt Disney World is a good deal -- and gaining some entertainment as a bonus.



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October 20, 2015

Tickets on sale now for 'Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie's Doorway to Magic'

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Are you and your family looking for a lot of Disney magic without Walt Disney World prices? If so, you're in luck!

“Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” presented by Stoneyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt, is coming to CFE Arena at the University of Central Florida, and tickets just went on sale. This stage show is produced by Feld Entertainment, the creators of the popular Disney on Ice productions.

“Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” debuted this year, and it is the newest Disney Live! production among the multiple shows currently on tour. “Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” is coming to Central Florida on Sunday, March 6, 2016, for two shows: one at 1 p.m. and the other at 4 p.m.

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The show is described this way: "Join Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and the comical duo of Donald and Goofy as 25 of your favorite Disney characters surprise and captivate at every turn of the knob! See the Fairy Godmother transform Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful ball gown in a split second; the Toy Story gang defy the dimensions of Andy’s toy box with the help of the green army men; and the spectacular stage debut of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider as they rise into the sky amidst the floating lanterns. With special appearances by Snow White, Tinker Bell and Aladdin’s Genie, you never know what to expect or who might join in the fun. In Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic you hold the ultimate key to unlocking your imagination."

According to a press release, “Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” opens with a burst of color, high-energy choreography and an original song titled “Magic is Here.” Director and Choreographer Fred Tallaksen said, “What makes this show extraordinary are the adventures Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy have every time they enter a different whimsical doorway and the amazing things they do in each world they visit,” says Tallaksen. “One moment Mickey and Minnie are jumping rope alongside the Toy Story gang in Andy’s room and the next they have traveled to Agrabah to unleash the power and comedic antics of Aladdin’s Genie.”

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And it sounds like some of the magic from “Mickey’s Magic Show” has made its way into the new production. The memorable scene from “Fantasia” that illustrates Mickey’s command over a lively set of brooms has been re-imagined for “Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic.”

“When the Disney characters present the illusions rather than a magician, something special happens,” said magic consultant Jim Steinmeyer in a press release. “Not only is the audience experiencing this genuine moment within the Disney stories, but the characters add to it with their presence and unique personalities.”

Plus, during the show “Mickey and friends encourage families to wiggle their fingers, stomp the ground and make some magic all around.”

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"Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic" also is coming to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach on March 3, 2016, and the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne on March 4, 2016. Both locations also will have two shows.

Tickets range from $16 to $50, plus fees, and seats still are available in all price points through DisneyLive.com, Ticketmaster.com or the venue box office. Ages 1 and older must have a ticket to attend. Flash photography and videocameras are not permitted.



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October 22, 2015

ShellieMay, best friend of Duffy the Disney Bear, now sold at U.S. Disney Parks

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Fans of Duffy the Disney Bear rejoiced Tuesday when they were met with shelves full of new merchandise – specifically those featuring Duffy’s companion, ShellieMay – at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This was the first time the popular female character was made available at Disney theme parks on the mainland United States. (Last year, ShellieMay debuted at Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii.)

ShellieMay was first introduced in 2010 at Tokyo DisneySea for a special Valentine’s Day event called Sweet Duffy. At the time, her story was very basic:

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The story has been fleshed out more this year with the introduction of a new book, “ShellieMay The Disney Bear: Duffy’s New Friend,” in the United States. In it, Duffy wishes for a best friend, much like Mickey Mouse has in Minnie Mouse. He wrote down his wish in a letter, placed it in a bottle and flung it into the ocean. With a little help, the bottle found its way to Minnie Mouse, and she decided to create ShellieMay as a gift for Duffy. When Duffy met the new bear, he placed a treasured heart-shaped seashell on a string and offered it to her as a gift, prompting Minnie to name her ShellieMay.

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ShellieMay looks similar to Duffy, who is designed with a Mickey Mouse face on a teddy bear form. Both have Mickey-shaped birthmarks on opposite sides. But ShellieMay comes with a bow headband, and her fur is tinted a very pale pink.

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On the release date in Orlando, ShellieMay was sold at World of Disney at Disney Springs, The Emporium at the Magic Kingdom, Mouse Gear at Epcot, and Disney Studio Store at Hollywood Studios. I visited Mouse Gear and chatted with several cast members about the new merchandise. The store opened at 9 a.m., and although they had restocked the shelves several times in the first two hours, ShellieMay merchandise was not sold out at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Reports on social media channels indicated a similar pattern at the other Walt Disney World stores: steady sales but no frenzied shopping.

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For sale were three versions of ShellieMay: The 17-inch bear for which costumes are made ($33 plus tax); a 12-inch bear dressed for A Day in the Park ($33 plus tax); and a 20-inch pillow pet ($32.95 plus tax). In addition, there were five costumes available: deluxe PJs that include a pillow ($33 plus tax); and Christmas Holiday, Tinker Bell, Marie the Cat and Princess Minnie Mouse (each $23 plus tax). The story book also was for sale ($5.99 plus tax). (Each guest may purchase up to five of each product.)

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Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager at Walt Disney World, shared on the Disney Parks Blog some of the ShellieMay merchandise we can expect to see at the resort, and there were a few items I did not see Tuesday. There is a 12-inch My First ShellieMay The Disney Bear plush; 12-inch pre-dressed ShellieMay as a cheerleader; Cinderella and Prince Charming costumes for ShellieMay and Duffy; and a deluxe Minnie Mouse outfit. Cast members told me today that they expect to get more and different merchandise in the coming days; shipments arrive daily!

My 11-year-old daughter, who is a Duffy and ShellieMay fan, noted the absence of a few ShellieMay products that she really wishes were available in Orlando: ShellieMay’s heart-shaped seashell necklace; ShellieMay’s original outfit of a skirt and bloomers that match her gray-green bow headband; shoes (Many of Duffy’s outfits come with shoes, but ShellieMay’s do not.); and Gelatoni, the cat Duffy and ShellieMay encounter.

Perhaps her biggest wish, however, is that ShellieMay will appear as a meet-and-greet character in the U.S. Disney Parks. Walt Disney World discontinued appearances by Duffy earlier this month.



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October 24, 2015

Disney Channel to air sequel to 'Descendants' in spring 2017

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Fans of Disney Channel’s popular made-for-television movie, “Descendants,” can look forward to a sequel, the network has announced. Although a release date was not been provided, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Descendants 2” (working title) will air in the spring of 2017.

“Descendants” explores the premise that the Disney villains (and some heroes) had children. The main characters – Jay (Booboo Stewart), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Bryce) and Mal (Dove Cameron) – are the offspring of Jafar, the Evil Queen, Cruella de Vil and Maleficent, respectively. The group is granted permission by the benevolent teenage son of King Adam and Queen Belle to leave the remote Isle of the Lost where they had been banished and attend prep school with the Disney heroes' kids. This, of course, leads to a battle of good versus evil set amidst the backdrop of typical teenage angst.

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The original movie’s screenwriters, Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon, will pen the sequel and also serve as executive producers on the new project. Principal actors – including the four teens and Kristin Chenoweth as Maleficent – are expected to return, the newspaper reports.

Since its debut, “Descendants” ranks as cable television’s fifth highest-rated movie of all-time. It only falls behind “High School Musical 2” as the most-watched movie on Disney Channel. And it’s no coincidence that both Disney Channel shows were directed by Kenny Orega.

Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, said in a press release, “By almost every measure – domestically and globally – ‘Descendants’ has already become one of the biggest entertainment properties of the year, and we’re eager to delve deeper into the unfolding mythology of Auradon and Isle of the Lost. This kind of compelling, innovative storytelling, alongside our animated ‘Descendants: Wicked World’ shorts and unique transmedia campaign, continues to lay the groundwork for multiple franchise opportunities across virtually every line of business at The Walt Disney Company.”

Clearly, the fact that “Descendants” is profitable on multiple Disney platforms was integral to the approval of the sequel. Marsh told The Wall Street Journal, “What we were looking for is a metric much stronger and longer-term than the number of viewers.”

Consumers can purchase related books, the soundtrack, clothing, Halloween costumes, dolls and other toys with the ‘Descendants’ characters. And more is on the way. In May 2016, author Melissa de la Cruz will release another book in the series, “Return to the Isle of the Lost.” (She wrote a prequel novel for the movie.) Fans also can watch animated shorts based on the “Descendants” characters on TV and online.



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October 27, 2015

Last-minute ideas for Disney Halloween celebrations

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It’s less than a week until Halloween! If you’re like me and you’re wondering where the month of October went, don’t worry! We have some last-minute, time-saving ideas from Disney to get you and your family ready for the big night.

Costumes

Who said costumes have to be elaborate or store-bought? Disney Family shows readers how to make a Stitch costume in no time:

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“Put on some Elvis records and get down to crafting to create a Stitch costume headband that is truly out of this world. (Directions and template can be found here.) Complete the look with all blue everything, a lei, and, if you’re feeling wild (as Stitch so often is), some blinged-out sunglasses.”

Prep time: 25 minutes

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Star Wars costumes are especially popular this year because of the new movie, The Force Awakens, coming out in December. If you didn’t pick one up in time, here are two easy ideas for creating Jedi knight costumes for boys and girls. Disney Family offers at-home printable templates to make a quick and inexpensive Star Wars lightsaber.

Prep time: 20 minutes

When my children were little and they wanted to dress up for Star War Weekends at Hollywood Studios, I came up with a no-sew option. I purchased one cut of fleece – white for my daughter and brown for my son – that was double each child’s height. Then, I folded it in half and cut an opening in the top for the child’s head. Once on the child, I secured the fleece with funky ribbon or cording to tie around the waist. On my daughter, we styled Princess Leia buns.

Another easy alternative if you can’t find a pre-packaged Star Wars costume but don’t mind spending some money is to purchase a lightsaber toy and a solid brown or white bathrobe for the padawan costume.

Pumpkin-carving tips

Lon Smart, a creative concept artist for Disney Parks, is responsible for many of the themed jack-o’-lanterns guests see on Main Street, U.S.A., during the Halloween season. He recently spoke with Jennifer Finkley-Baker on the Disney Parks Blog and offered these tips for carving pumpkins at home:

** Draw the face with a dry erase marker. It’s easy to wipe off if you make mistakes!
** Parents should use real kitchen knives rather than the kits sold in stores because they are sturdier.
** Instead of sawing with the knife, “chug” it across for more control. Make sure you position the knife away from your body for safety.
** Undercut your shapes of your design because it’s easier to take away than to add.
** Don’t use real candles to light your pumpkin. Tea lights, glow sticks and even flashing bicycle lights are safer alternatives.

See Lon’s video and find templates of pumpkin faces featured at the Magic Kingdom here.

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Disney Family also offers print-at-home templates of beloved Disney characters for pumpkin carving here.

Haunting music

Finally, want to set the mood for trick-or-treaters or a Halloween party? Oh My Disney has created the ultimate Disney Halloween playlist on Spotify that is available for you to save to your library. It includes playful tunes, spooky villain songs and everything in between:

“They Don’t Scare Me” by Mickey Mouse
“This Is Halloween” by The Citizens of Halloween
“Jack’s Lament” by The All-American Rejects
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” by Ghosts
“Oogie Boogie’s Song” by Ken Page and Ed Ivory
“Monster Mash” by Goofy
“Poor Unfortunate Souls” by Pat Carroll
“I Put a Spell on You” by Freak on a Leash
“999 Happy Haunts” by The Happy Haunts
“You’re Only Second Rate” by Jonathan Freeman
“Friends on the Other Side” by Keith David
“I want to Scare Myself” by Tigger
“Be Prepared” by Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings

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October 29, 2015

Tips for runDisney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend

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Some Walt Disney World guests take burning the calories they consume at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival a little more seriously than others. They are, after all, visiting the resort for the upcoming runDisney weekend, which includes a half marathon, a 5K and kids races. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to sample what food Epcot’s various marketplaces have to offer, but maybe these guests will feel a little less guilty about the calories than the rest of us.

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During the 2015 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend on Nov. 6 and 7, my 11-year-old daughter will be running her first 5K, much like her older brother did earlier this year at the Expedition Everest Challenge. They both wanted to experience the Disney magic for their first races, so my husband, who also enjoys running, agreed to take them. The three will run together in the Jingle Jungle 5K on Saturday. (As athletes interested in participating in runDisney events know, the races sell out months in advance, some even within hours of the registration opening. I felt like I had run a marathon after racing the clock just to register them!)

Planning for my daughter’s first race has been a little different than getting ready for my 13-year-old son’s first 5K. For him, it was all about his time, possibly seeing some characters on the course and then celebrating at the after-party. For my daughter, the main focus has been planning her costume, which *must* include a tutu!

Many participants in past Jingle Jungle 5K races have worn Christmas- and winter-themed outfits, but there also are runners dressed as Disney characters. My daughter opted to purchase a Minnie Mouse tutu on Etsy, and she owns a Minnie Mouse Santa hat to go with it, but we are still trying to decide on her top. Of course, the most important part of her outfit is not about fashion but function -- her running shoes – and those are broken in and ready to carry her over the finish line. She will be the most stylish of my family’s three runners because I’m pretty sure that my husband and son’s idea of holiday outfits is to simply wear red shirts with their favorite running shorts!

So, for other families with first-time runners in the 5K, here are a few tips to make it an enjoyable weekend:

** Give yourself time to look around the runDisney Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex during packet pickup on Friday. It's a showcase for the latest products, including race-themed merchandise. Be aware that official runDisney merchandise specifically designed for the weekend typically sells out quickly. The Expo is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission and parking are free.

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** If you are running the 5K or half marathon, the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is where you'll need to go to pick up your race packet, and the Jostens Center next door is where you pick up your race shirt and gEAR bag. (Race packets must be picked up by the actual person who is registered, with the exception of minors whose parents can claim their packets. Each runner will need to show identification and turn in a waiver at that time.)

** The Jingle Jungle 5K takes place at Animal Kingdom before the park opens. The first corral starts at 7 a.m., and all runners must be in their corrals at least 30 minutes before the start. However, I would suggest arriving earlier than that if you want to take advantage of the themed photo ops. At the Expedition Everest Challenge in May, lines consistently had 30-minute wait times. At that race, there were no PhotoPass photographers or professional race photographers manning the sets, so be sure to have a smartphone or someone with a camera. I appreciated that my husband and son took photos before their first race because they ended up not stopping to pose with characters along the course.

** runDisney provides a clear gEAR bag to each participant that may be used for checking personal items at the race. Runners are encouraged to avoid this if at all possible. My husband did end up using the bag-check service at his first runDisney race, though, and he said lines were short and efficient.

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** If you won’t have anyone meeting you at the finish line, know that it still will be a celebratory experience with voluntEARS cheering you on and professional photographers capturing the moment.

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** Afterward, head over to Epcot – wearing your medal, of course – to indulge in some well-deserved noshing at the food and wine festival. Epcot opens at 9 a.m. and this year, a handful of marketplaces in Future World open then, as well. World Showcase, where most of the festival food is located, opens at 11 a.m.



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October 31, 2015

Planning ahead can mean big savings on Disney costumes

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This weekend, parents everywhere have Halloween costumes on their minds. I know I certainly do. And now that one of my children has outgrown dressing up, I find myself feeling a little nostalgic for the days when my now 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter wanted to look like Disney Channel stars, Disney Princesses, Disney pirates and assorted variations of Mickey Mouse when they went out trick-or-treating.

Because our family has a tradition of going to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in September, my children have long had to commit to their costumes earlier than many kids. And that led me to shopping for costumes year-round, especially when they were young enough that they didn’t change their minds as easily about what was “in” for that year. Also, knowing that my children would wear their costumes not just to the Halloween party but also on regular visits to the Magic Kingdom drove me to find costumes that would endure more than one night out.

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Over the years, my family has purchased many children’s costumes from the Disney Store (located nationally in shopping malls) and Walt Disney World. We have found both places to have high-quality products and every conceivable related accessory; for those years, it was relatively easy to find everything we needed with one-stop shopping. The drawback was, of course, that such convenience and gorgeous designs came at a hefty price tag.

But with a little planning, it is possible to save some money on the fancy princess ball gowns and official Mickey Mouse costumes. Although you may be focused on Halloween plans for this year, now is also the time to think about next year! That’s because most costumes and accessories for kids already are half off at DisneyStore.com. Not all sizes still are available, but it might be worth your time to peruse the selection.

When our children were little, one of my friends and I would wait at different local Disney Stores before they opened on Nov. 1 because that’s when the costumes used to be marked down to 50 percent of the retail price. Although we both found good deals over the years, perhaps the best was when we found adult Minnie Mouse costumes for ourselves for $20 apiece! (Baby and adult costumes are not yet on sale; check back on Nov. 1.)

Even if you’re hesitant to buy Halloween costumes this far in advance, you might consider the costumes for other purposes, such as Christmas gifts. Young children love to role play year-round – not just in October.



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About October 2015

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

September 2015 is the previous archive.

November 2015 is the next archive.

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