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November 4, 2015

2015 Food & Wine Classic at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin


This past weekend, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort hosted its sixth annual Food & Wine Classic, two evenings of sampling appetizer-size portions of food, wine and beer in an outdoor atmosphere with live entertainment. Each night has a different menu at the 12 food stations that represent restaurants and chefs that are part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.


This was my third year covering the Food & Wine Classic for AllEars.Net, and it’s an event I look forward to every year. The atmosphere is decidedly adult, though there aren’t age restrictions for participants, and it feels more relaxed than other nearby events. It’s not as crowded at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is on weekends, and the event lasts for three and half hours (an hour longer than Party for the Senses), which means less rushing from one food dish to another. If you haven’t tried this event, I recommend putting it on your calendar for next year. It’s a great date night! Official dates for 2016 have not yet been announced, but it typically is held the last weekend in October.

Guests can begin the evening with a one-hour, hands-on seminar, if they choose. Topics include wine blending, Italian wines, champagne, beer, mixology, tequila, pasta making, sushi and sake, wine and cheese pairing, and the Brazilian cocktail, caipirinha. Beverage seminars are $45 per person, and pasta-making and pairing seminars are $60 per person.


My husband had attended the “Beer, Please” seminar in the past and enjoyed it so much, he couldn’t wait to go again this year. Presented by instructors Brian Exner, general manager of Il Mulino, and D.J. Robertson, food and beverage purchasing manager at the Swan and Dolphin, the hourlong event featured a sampling of eight different beers and an explanation of what made them drinkable and how to best pair them with the right foods.

The class this year, like the one he attended two years ago, started off covering the basics of beer ingredients, styles and definitions used by brewers. Then the class sampled various beers, starting with the lightest and working their way through to darker and more bitter brews. Their tables were arrayed with various snacks, from cheese to pretzels to bacon and bread and more, and the class participants were taught about how various types of beers were better paired with certain food groups.

A highlight of the session was when one of the brewers from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Founders Brewing discussed the process for creating their newest Imperial Red IPA called reDANKulous. It was the one of the darkest and bitterest of the selections but also one of the most popular with the beer-loving group.


The session concluded with a beer-lovers dessert of a dark beer poured over chocolate ice cream to create a unique beer float. It might sound extreme, but my beer-loving husband said it actually was a sweet treat that took advantage of the dark brew’s cocoa flavors.

The food and beverage seminars wrap up just as the causeway between the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin opens at 5:30 p.m. for the main event. In past years, we saw consistently long lines at stations for delicacies from celebrity chef Todd English, Kimonos, Cib's Smoke Shop and Shula's Steakhouse. This year, these stations plus eight more returned and the lines seemed much more manageable. Don’t get me wrong: There’s always a line for Shula’s, but it moved quickly!

Among our favorite dishes from the new offerings on Friday night:

Cib’s Smokehouse: Southern Fried Chicken, Creamy Polenta, Pickled Turnips, BBQ “gravy”
Garden Grove: Blackened Salmon, Red Beets, Green Apple, “Sauce Troisgros”
Fountain: Vegetable Slider, Pickled Vegetables, Homemade Ketchup, Caramelized Onion Relish
Todd English: King Crab & Hickory Smoked Mozerella Fritters, Vanilla-Cognac Remoulade
Chef Laurent Branlard’s Desserts: Eclair with Caramelized Banana Cream and Coconut Streusel
Chef Laurent Branlard’s Desserts: S’more Sundae

And, of course, our must-haves from returning favorites:

Picabu: Taqueria-corn tortilla with Barbacoa of Beef or Organic Vegetables
(Topped with cheddar cheese, lime wedge, lettuce, onion, shaved radishes, pico de gallo and hot sauces.)
Bluezoo: Shrimp Cocktail Steamroller
Shula’s Steakhouse: Carved Prime NY Strip, Mashed Potatoes, Sauce Bordelaise

As the name indicates, the Food & Wine Classic is also all about the beverages. AllEars.Net Founder and Owner Deb Wills also attended the event on Friday, and because she is more of a wine aficionado than me, I asked her thoughts about the offerings. Here’s what she had to say: “One great thing about the Classic is the selection of wines available to sample from around the world. If there is a region or type of grape you want to learn more about, this is your chance. It is impossible to try them all, so I check out the list online, prior to the Classic, and make a list of those that interest me. [There are 40 wine stations, each with at least two selections.] I particularly enjoyed tasting the wines of Italy, including the Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, and also the wines from Washington state, such as the Canoe Ridge, Expedition Merlot.”


Guests who prefer beer to wine had plenty of beverage options, as well, if they chose to upgrade their Food & Wine Classic tickets to include the Beer Garden for an additional $20. The Beer Garden was located on the Crescent Terrace near the canal with a view of the nearby Boardwalk. The area, under a canopy of shade trees, was populated with various beer and food vendors. My husband enjoyed some familiar beers from brewers such as Sam Adams, Magic Hat and Lagunitas Brewing, as well as some micro-brews from regional breweries, too. Along with the great-tasting beer offerings were warm pretzels and various mustards, and vendors offering German Style sausage and Weiner Schnitzel, too, for a perfect beer-pairing snack. My husband would have been happy to linger in this section of the festival all night, he said.


New to the Food & Wine Classic this year (and included in the all-inclusive ticket, which costs $105 when purchased in advance) was the Carnival Corner. This area, set back behind the promenade, featured five food trucks. Each served a specialty item: Texas-Style Corn Dogs, Funnel Cakes, Nitro Kettle Corn, Cabot Creamery Mac & Cheese, and Wines. My husband and I sampled each of the dishes (minus the funnel cake) and enjoyed them. It was a fun area, but we couldn’t help feeling like we were wasting our calories on these snacks when we could be eating the delectable offerings from the hotels’ restaurants instead! But perhaps we were not the target audience for the Carnival Corner; most of the younger crowd seemed to hang out here.

Regardless of what your taste might be, though, there’s a good chance you’ll find something unique and satisfying at this event, and I definitely recommend that you consider setting aside some time next fall for this food-lovers event.

DISCLAMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin at its Food & Wine Classic. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.


November 5, 2015

Holiday offerings in Disney collections from Pandora, Vera Bradley, Dooney & Bourke, Vans


Halloween is like a ghost of Christmas past, so bring on Christmas present and the joy of shopping! Some of my favorite brands with Disney collections have revealed their holiday products, so I’m here to tempt you with a look at the goods, or should I say, goodies.


Although I certainly had heard of Pandora charm bracelets, I didn’t realize that I NEEDED one until the jewelry company teamed up with The Walt Disney Company about a year ago and introduced a line of Disney-themed charms. Pandora retailers nationwide offer a robust line, but what really interested me was the collection of Disney Parks charms exclusive to Walt Disney World and Disneyland. They depict the park icons and attractions and make great keepsakes.


Two new holiday charms were released this past weekend at the resorts and also are available online at DisneyStore.com: Mickey Mouse Holiday Wreath Charm and Minnie Mouse Holiday Bow Charm. Each costs $75. Two Limited Edition charms – available only until Dec. 31 – also were released: Mickey Mouse Pavé Charm and Minnie Mouse Pavé Charm. Each retails for $90. The Mickey bead is a sterling silver charm with 37 clear cubic zirconia, 6 micro bead-set and 177 pavé-set black crystals and black enamel. The Minnie Pavé Charm is also a sterling silver charm with 31 clear, 6 micro bead-set, 19 pavé-set red cubic zirconia, 156 pavé-set black crystals, and black enamel.


Two additional charms will be released on Nov. 13 at Disney Parks, but shoppers who use the Shop Disney Parks app can order them on Nov. 6. A bead honoring “Wishes” Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom and one celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” make their debut this week. The Fantasia charm is a limited release product and will only be available while supplies last.


Finally, you might also consider the relatively recently released charms for the 20th Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which depicts Chef Mickey, and the four charms designed for the Diamond Celebration of the 60th anniversary of Disneyland. They all now are available online.

The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley

Last month, Vera Bradley Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Barbara Bradley Baekgaard visited Walt Disney World for the release of two new patterns in the Disney Collection by Vera Bradley. “Mickey Meets Birdie” is a black-and-white pattern with hot pink accents that comes in 10 styles, including the popular Hipster Bag, a Zip ID Case and a Vera Bag (tote).


Steven Miller, Merchandise Communications Manager at Walt Disney World, described on The Disney Parks Blog the inspiration behind the pattern: “Barbara Bradley Baekgaard’s chic home has always been filled with beautiful bright colors, patterns and design pieces – many of which contain scenic landscapes and birds. When Barbara’s first grandson, Christopher, visited her home as a child he would point out all the birds in each room and repeat, ‘Birdie, birdie, birdie.’ One day, after several visits and ‘bird watches,’ Christopher was asked which grandparent he was visiting and he enthusiastically replied, ‘Grandma Birdie!’ The name was quickly adopted by all of Barbara’s 14 grandchildren and family. Barbara loves Disney, so [Mickey Meets Birdie] is the perfect representation of a match made in heaven!”


The second pattern released in October is “Preppy Poly,” and it is offered in Violet and Tango Red. The solid colors have a subtle pattern of the classic three-circle Mickey Mouse shape. Four styles are available: Backpack, wallet, tote and crossbody bags.

Most of the products in both patterns are available at Disney Parks and online.

Dooney & Bourke

Dooney & Bourke, the maker of popular high-end handbags, continues to release new Disney-themed patterns for different seasons and events at Disney Parks. Most recently, three bags debuted at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival: a Satchel ($248), Tote ($268) and Letter Carrier ($198).

New Disney Dooney & Bourke bags typically are released for runDisney weekends, as well. But because the upcoming Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend falls during the Food and Wine Festival, these are the only bags introduced. They are available for purchase in the Festival Center at Epcot through Nov. 16. They are not for sale online as of yet.


At the beginning of the summer, Dooney & Bourke also debuted its Disneyland Diamond Anniversary Celebration collection, but the four bags have only recently been added to the online store, in addition to the California parks. Now, more customers can choose from the Letter Carrier, Crossbody Satchel, Shopper and Wristlet styles.


For the fall season, Dooney & Bourke released a new version of its Haunted Mansion pattern that replicates the famous wallpaper inside the attraction. Choose from Crossbody, Crossbody Pouchette, Shopper Tote, Satchel and Weekender bags at Disney Parks and online.


Finally, just in time for Halloween and Christmas, a Jack Skellington pattern was released on Shopper Tote and Wristlet bags, which also are available in parks and online.


Vans, a shoe and clothing brand that got its start in Anaheim, Calif., teamed up with Disney earlier this year to put Disney’s iconic characters on some of its most popular products, including its signature slip-on shoes and backpacks that are loved by skaters. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Disney Princesses, Ariel and Winnie the Pooh made their debut in the initial offering. Now look for 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book characters with a Villains pattern on the way. Products can be purchased at Vans stores or online at Vans.com



November 7, 2015

Compare bonus features, including new 'Riley's First Date?' short, on versions of 'Inside Out'


Like many, many other moviegoers, I thoroughly enjoyed the animated Disney-Pixar movie “Inside Out” when it was in theaters less than six months ago. My family and I looked forward to this week’s DVD release, not only so we could purchase a copy of the movie to watch at home but also because we were eager to see the bonus features.


As usual, some of the bonus features were a surprise, but perhaps the most anticipated extra footage was that of the two Pixar shorts: “Lava” and the all-new “Riley’s First Date?” “Lava” is a charming seven-minute love story about a lonely volcano. It was released in front of “Inside Out” in June, and critics have been divided on whether it lived up to vaunted Pixar standards. Some argue that the story-telling is weak, while others defend it, saying the format is just a different type of story-telling.

“Riley’s First Date?” is a brand-new short film, allowing fans to step back into the minds and emotions of 12-year-old Riley and her parents. It wasn’t attached to a movie in theaters; however, some lucky attendees at D23, the ultimate Disney convention held in August in Anaheim, Calif., were treated to a sneak preview of the short. As the title indicates, pre-teen Riley is considering her first date and that sets off all sorts of emotions for everyone who cares about her. The new short is hilarious and rings true for those of us who are parents and those of us who can remember those heady feelings of discovering the opposite sex.

“Lava” is included with all the versions of “Inside Out”: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital. “Riley’s First Date?”, however, is only available with the Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital copies.

Other bonus features, as described in the press release, include:

** Story of the Story: Director Pete Docter talks about the evolution of Inside Out, from the ideas and memories that inspired the story through the hurdles, explorations and experiences that helped shape it into the film it is today.

** Paths to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out - Inside Out filmmakers, from voice actors to animators to production crew, talk about their paths, their goals, the challenges they've faced and the lessons they've learned along the way.

** Mixed Emotions: Inside Out's filmmakers talk about how they decided which emotions to focus on in the story and how they went about creating each one's distinct personality and visual identity.

** Mapping the Mind: Inside Out's artists take you through the years-long process of designing and creating a world everyone knows, but no one has ever seen - the human mind.

** Our Dads, the Filmmakers: Elie Docter (daughter of director, Pete Docter) and Grace Giacchino (daughter of composer, Michael Giacchino) bring you behind the scenes for an inside look at the making of the film.

** Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out: Elie Docter (daughter of director, Pete Docter) and Grace Giacchino (daughter of composer, Michael Giacchino) bring you behind the scenes for an inside look at the making of the film.

** The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing: Learn more about the crucial role of an animation film editor, who helps take the story from its earliest, most exploratory versions, to the final, polished film you see onscreen.

** Deleted Scenes:
-- Riley Grows Up - In this scene from a version of the film where the primary relationship was between Joy and Fear (then named Freddie), the emotions begin to notice a change in Riley.
-- Joy's Decline - Joy's struggles to make sense of the limitations on Riley's behavior that seem to be springing up at every turn.
-- Misdirection - Joy and Freddie encounter a group of Riley's "retired" imaginary friends, including an early version of Big Bong.
-- Construction - Joy is guided through Riley's mind by a radical non-conformist, Bing Bong, outraged by the demolition of older areas like Imagination Park.

** Commentary: Commentary includes participation from directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, and producer Jonas Rivera.

** Mind Candy - A montage of toolkit and interstitials produced for Inside Out.

** Inside Out Trailers - A collection of domestic and international trailers made for Inside Out.

Of these bonus features, all (except the deleted scenes, which are a Disney Movies Anywhere exclusive) are available on the Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital versions of “Inside Out.” The DVD-only version contains just the commentary and “Lave” short as it bonus features.

Which bonus features do you like best? Tell us in the comments!


November 10, 2015

Taping of annual Christmas special begins today at Walt Disney World


Beginning today (Nov. 10), segments of the Disney Parks special that airs on Christmas morning will be taped at Walt Disney World. According to the Disney cast member web site, taping will take place through Friday (Nov. 13). In past years, the tapings typically took place at the start of December, so this is a much earlier schedule. The name of the holiday special also has changed yet again this year; the special will be titled “Disney Parks Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.”

For years, Walt Disney World invited various groups, such as passholders, sports volunteers and even the general public, to apply for free tickets to the tapings. In exchange, ticketholders agreed to be in the audience for a block of time. For the last couple of years, however, only cast members were eligible for the tickets, and that is the case again this year.

But even if you don't have one of the complimentary production tickets, you still may be able to take part in the tapings -- or at least see some of the acts. The Magic Kingdom, where taping takes place on Main Street, U.S.A. and the Castle Forecourt Stage, opens to the public at 9 a.m. on Dec. 10, 11 and 12 and at 8 a.m. Dec. 13. Passholders and guests who pay admission may enter the park, and if there is room in the roped-off areas for the pre-selected audience -- which usually happens later in the afternoon -- they may be allowed to join cast members.


Production may take place at other locations across Walt Disney World resort, as well. One year that my family and I had tickets for the production taping, we ended up at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to watch Celine Dion perform because it began raining and the production couldn’t continue at the Magic Kingdom. So, don’t be surprised if you happen upon a temporary production set this week!

Fans love to speculate who will be performing, but that, too, is a closely guarded secret, for the most part. Presumably, this is to help avoid overwhelming crowds that would be disruptive to other guests' park experiences.

A word of warning: This is an actual television production, which means that songs are sung multiple times and individual floats are sent down Main Street over and over again to get the desired image from the correct camera angle. That means you most likely will spend more time waiting than viewing the events, and you shouldn't expect to see a seamless concert or parade.

I speak from experience when I say this can be a tedious process when you have young children. If you're determined to take part, though, I'd suggest bringing plenty of snacks, drinks and electronics to occupy the kids during the wait. Still, it can be a unique opportunity. When else would my daughter stand feet away from Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers while they serenaded the crowd with Christmas songs a few years ago?

Taping at Disneyland is scheduled for Dec. 11 through 13.


November 12, 2015

What’s new for 2015 at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party


Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has returned to the Magic Kingdom for select nights in November and December, bringing Christmas cheer to visitors and locals alike. My children and I attended the first party of the 2015 season and I will have several reports about what you can expect. First, here’s what’s new this year at the Christmas Party.

Holiday entertainment

Most of the entertainment this year is the same as last year, and that’s not bad news! Expect to see your favorite features of the party -- characters, stage shows, fireworks, the parade and the dance party. I can’t imagine not seeing Holiday Wishes – Celebrate the Spirit of the Season! It’s my favorite version of Wishes fireworks, hands down.


There is one new addition to the evening’s entertainment, however, and you won’t want to miss it because it’s a unique show. VoicePlay performs its a cappella holiday concert four times each night (8:10, 9:05, 10:10 and 11:05 p.m.) on the Rockettower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland. The five-part harmonies are produced by Earl Elkins, Jr., Geoff Castellucci, Layne Stein, Eliezer Jacobson and Tony Wakim. The group was started 15 years ago, and now tours the country with its production. In fact, after the last performance at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, VoicePlay heads out on tour again!

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card

As has been the tradition since the interactive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game debuted in 2012, a new holiday card will be given to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party guests. It’s free, like other Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards, and available at the Fire House on Main Street, U.S.A., and behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square beginning at 4 p.m. if you have your party wristband. This year’s design features Olaf and his Snowgies from the “Frozen Fever” short and is only available at the party.

Exclusive Christmas party merchandise

Of course, there is new exclusive merchandise for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, including trading pins, a graphic MagicBand and T-shirts. There also is a passholder-only T-shirt and trading pin. The pins are only available at the Frontier Trading Post, which made for some long lines that my family and I experienced when both of my young pin collectors insisted on spending their money. MagicBands are only available at the Emporium. T-shirts can be purchased at the Emporium, Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe and Mickey’s Star Traders.


All merchandise can be purchased beginning at 4 p.m. if you have your party wristband. I really like that event organizers have made the merchandise available before the party starts at 7 p.m. Not only does this disperse the crowds a bit, but it also allows families like mine to take care of purchases without sacrificing precious party time.

Complimentary professional photos

This is the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for which most annual passholders can get free professional photos. When Walt Disney World changed its annual pass structure in October, it added free digital downloads of professional PhotoPass photos to most of the passes. (Only the Florida resident Silver, Disney Weekday Select and Epcot After 4 passes do not have the free photo download feature.) With this in mind, I would encourage you to stop and take a few professional photos. (Even if you are not an annual passholder, having your photo taken doesn’t cost anything and you can decide later if you want to purchase the photos.)


Many people use this opportunity to take photos for their Christmas cards. A word of warning: If you are counting on a photo for this exact reason, allow for the possibility of needing a retake. Take your photo early in the evening and check it on My Disney Experience to make sure it is what you expected. It doesn’t take long for the professional photos to show up in your online account. Also, you might want to plan outfits (or props) accordingly.

This is the first year for the extra Cinderella Castle turrets to be covered in holiday lights, which makes a beautiful backdrop. There's also a new photo op in Adventureland that features a Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party ornament plus an elf and a reindeer from the Christmas parade.

Jungle Cruise festivities

The Jungle Cruise has been transformed into the Jingle Cruise for the third year with a "world-famous" holiday overlay. The back story, according to Jennifer Fickley-Baker on the Disney Parks Blog: “The Skippers are homesick for the holidays and to add cheer, they decorated the attraction queue and boathouse with homemade decorations, gifts and items from back home. Boats have temporarily been renamed with holiday monikers and the Skippers are armed with seasonal jokes. (Listen carefully in the queue, too – you may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background).”

But that’s not what is new. Jen recently reminded readers that the new Jungle Skipper Canteen, a restaurant under construction in Adventureland, still is scheduled to open this year. So, perhaps some lucky partygoers will be among the first to try out the new restaurant.

“Guests will be able to experience “World Famous Jungle Cuisine” in one of several unique dining rooms, including a crew mess hall and a once-hidden secret meeting room of the famed Society of Explorers and Adventurers,” Jen wrote.

In my next blog post, I’ll be giving tips for families attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.


November 14, 2015

Tips for maximizing your time at 2015 Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party


Even in Orlando, guests and residents alike can dream of a white Christmas. But the closest we may come to that impossible feat in the Sunshine State is at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World, where it “snows” on Main Street, U.S.A., and guests enjoy hot cocoa on select dates in November and December. My family and I have attended the party for more than a decade, witnessing the changes through the years. Here, I offer our best tips for making the most of your party night.

First, know that your party ticket allows you to enter the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m., even though most party activities do not start until 7 p.m. Early admission used to be a non-publicized perk and a tool to disburse the arriving crowds. Now, however, Walt Disney World touts the entrance time. You could, of course, use the extra time to experience attractions, but I think that three-hour window is best used to prepare for the party so you don't waste precious party time.

Our strategy for this time is similar to what we do at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, we take a family picture at the photo spot in Town Square. (As I mentioned in my blog post about what is new at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for 2015, many annual passholders now receive free digital downloads of Disney PhotoPass photos, so put that benefit to good use!)


Next, we pop into the adjacent Fire House to collect our “Olaf’s Snowgies” cards for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. They are complimentary and only given to party guests, although they can be used in the interactive card game at any time going forward. Then, we go next door to the Emporium if anyone in our family is planning to spend their money on exclusive party merchandise, such as pins, MagicBands and T-shirts. Both the collectible game card and the party merchandise are available to party guests who have their wristbands beginning at 4 p.m.

After those ‘tasks” have been accomplished, we either choose to have a quick-service dinner or to get in line for some of the popular characters, many of whom are only seen at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

** For the second year, guests can meet Jack Skellington dressed as Sandy Claws in Storybook Circus. Because of long lines, Sandy Claws’ sets are beginning before the party officially starts. Only guests with party wristbands will be allowed in the queue. Also in Storybook Circus are Scrooge McDuck, Santa Goofy, and Daisy Duck, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse in their holiday finest.

** Cinderella with Prince Charming and Rapunzel with Flynn Rider greet guests during the party at Princess Fairytale Hall. Prince Philip joins Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow White and her prince in the castle courtyard. These are rare appearances by the princes.

** All Seven Dwarfs pose for photos by the other nearby Fantasyland gate.

** Santa Claus hears children’s wishes in the garden adjacent to City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A.

** Talking Mickey Mouse is dressed in his Christmas clothes in his usual spot inside Town Square Theater.

** Aladdin and Abu alternate with Jasmine and Genie at the set across from the Magic Carpet ride.

For characters with long lines, it makes sense to do your waiting before the Christmas party starts so you’ll have more time to enjoy the entertainment that only takes place after 7 p.m.

If you haven't been able to secure a reservation for dinner at the oh-so-popular Be Our Guest restaurant, you might have a shot during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. A fellow blogger told me that the cast members will take a limited number of walk-up reservations, usually beginning between 6 and 6:30 p.m. If you are able to get on the list, understand that this likely means sacrificing a couple of hours of party time. You have to decide if that trade-off is worth it to your party.

Remember: the party only lasts for five hours – from 7 p.m. to midnight – so you’ll need a strategy in order to do most everything that’s important to your group. It’s unlikely that one family can do everything during that time. Our family focuses on the entertainment that is unique to the party because we can choose to experience other things at Magic Kingdom another day.


At both the Halloween and Christmas parties at the Magic Kingdom, the Wishes fireworks show and the holiday parade are always on our “must-do” list. No matter how many times we’ve seen Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, they still amaze us! It’s not the Christmas season until we’ve seen the toy soldiers march in precision formations down Main Street, U.S.A.


Because of crowds at the first parade, we usually try to wait to view the parade until the second presentation. We typically arrive on Main Street about 9:10 for the beginning of Celebrate the Magic at 9:15 and the fireworks at 9:30. When they end 20 minutes later, we grab a spot on the curb for the second parade. You’ll notice that is “snows” on Main Street during each parade. It also “snows” at the end of the evening, so if you stay until the last half hour of the party, you can step right into the “snow” and take some fun photos.


And what goes great with “snow” and wintry fun? Hot cocoa and cookies, of course! Even better, they are included in the price of your party ticket. Check the map for eight serving locations that are marked with one of these lighted candy canes. For those who prefer less sugar, apple juice and apple slices also are offered. Guests may have any combination of the four items, and there is no limit to the number of times you can go through each, or any, line.


Low on our list of party activities are the two stage shows -- A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas and Celebrate the Season -- that are presented multiple times throughout the night and the dance party, Club Tinsel, at Cosmic Ray's. All are well-done, but we just can’t make it to everything!


If you arrive early for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you may also want to spend that time at two holiday-themed attractions, but know that they are available to non-party guests, too, so you may want to save them for other days at the Magic Kingdom if you are returning to the theme park on another day.


** A Frozen Holiday Wish," which debuted last year, is the short stage show in front of Cinderella Castle during which the folks from Arendelle light up the 200,000 "icicles" adorning the castle. It takes place at 6:15 and 8 p.m. daily, which means day guests can see the first show. In our experience at the 2014 and 2015 parties, both shows are super crowded in the hub because that’s where you need to be if you want to see the “Frozen” characters on stage. However, you can see the castle being lit up from anywhere on Main Street. Next time I view this show, I think I would prefer a little more breathing room.

** The Jungle Cruise has been transformed into the Jingle Cruise for the third year. This "world-famous" holiday overlay can be experienced during regular park hours, too, but if you have some time to kill, it's a fun way to get in the Christmas spirit before the party.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at a media preview of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.


November 17, 2015

Disney celebrates Dino Week with events at Disney Parks in advance of 'The Good Dinosaur' movie


Dino Week kicked off at The Walt Disney Company on Saturday, and the festivities continue through Nov. 21. It’s all leading up to the release of the new Disney-Pixar animated 3D film, “The Good Dinosaur,” on Nov. 25, of course. (Watch for my review on AllEars.Net on opening day!)

At Disney Store locations nationwide, including Central Florida’s only Disney Store at Florida Mall, kids ages 3 and older were invited to make free dinosaur-themed crafts over the weekend. For those in a shopping mood, the stores already have available a large selection of The Good Dinosaur merchandise. (Or, if you prefer, peruse the goods online at DisneyStore.com)

On Friday (Nov. 21) and Saturday (Nov. 22), Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Downtown Disney District at Disneyland will celebrate the new movie with themed activities. A live DJ will host a Dinosaur Dance Party from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. that will include special décor, photo opportunities and giveaways. As the sun sets, meteor shower lighting effects will light up the night. T-REX and Rainforest Café will also join in the dinosaur-themed fun. (Both restaurants take reservations and accept walk-up guests.)

Meanwhile, Disney Parks guests on both coasts can see a sneak peak of “The Good Dinosaur” through Dec. 4. Visitors at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World can see this advance look at clips from the film as part of the One Man’s Dream attraction on Mickey Avenue. At Disney California Adventure, “The Good Dinosaur” preview is presented at the Bug’s Life Theater with special in-theater effects.


Dinosaur fans can get in the spirit of Dino Week with Do-It-Yourself projects, such as coloring pages, best friends mugs and critter mud pie. Instructions can be found on the official Dino Week page. While there, readers also can see clips from “The Good Dinosaur,” vote on their favorite type of dinosaur, and learn how they can help feed the less-fortunate with the holiday campaign, Share the Joy.

“The Good Dinosaur” explores the premise that the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct. It stars an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.

Directed by Peter Sohn (“Partly Cloudy”) and produced by Denise Ream (“Cars 2”), “The Good Dinosaur” is the second film from Pixar to be released in 2015. (The first was “Inside Out.”) This is the first time the animation studio has released two movies in the same year.


November 19, 2015

Ideas for helping your Elf on the Shelf show Disney Side


Next week is a week that many of us parents have been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to since Christmas Day 2014: It’s the return of the Elf on the Shelf shenanigans. Dubbed Elf Scout Return Week, Nov. 27 through Dec. 4 is the time when most families welcome back their scout elves or adopt new North Pole helpers. Our elves, Sugar Plum and Blizzard, usually arrive the day after Thanksgiving.

For those who have somehow missed this very popular recent Christmas tradition, allow me to give you a brief explanation. The plush elves are sent by Santa to keep an eye on the children of the family and to report back each night whether they should be on the Naughty or Nice list by the time Christmas arrives. But the elves like to have a little fun, too, so when they return in the morning from their trip to the North Pole, they move to a different spot in the house. Often, they get into some mischief, which surprises the kids when they wake up.

The official rules: “First, a scout elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if a scout elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, a scout elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! A scout elf's job is to watch and listen.” The only exception to this rule is that children may gently play with their elves on Christmas Eve because they do not need magic to get back to the North Pole that night; they ride with Santa on his sleigh that night.

I love seeing photos of the elves’ endeavors at different houses! When I was perusing recently, it occurred to me that our Sugar Plum and Blizzard have not shown their Disney Side enough. That seems unforgiveable given our family’s love of Disney!


There are so many clever Disney-themed ideas on Pintrest, Etsy and other online sites. Here are some of my favorite Disney-themed ideas that the elves set up:

** Recreate attractions from the Disney Parks.

** Use a felt Mickey Mouse hat ornament to make an elf hat.

** Dress up an elf as a Disney Princess.

** Give a new elf a “My First Visit” button from one of the Disney Parks.

** Decorate a stack of toilet paper rolls to look like Olaf.

** Have the elf announce or count down a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

** Set up a meet-and-greet with a Disney plush character.

** Draw red reindeer noses or mustaches with a dry-erase marker on the glass of a framed photo of your family at Disneyland or Walt Disney World.

** Allow Elf to sit on the couch to play Disney Infinity.

Has your elf shown his or her Disney Side? Tell us about it in the comments!



November 21, 2015

2 Walt Disney World kids clubs to get enhanced programming beginning Dec. 4


If you’re the parent of a child who has experienced the kids or youth clubs on Disney Cruise Line ships, you probably know that the activities go well beyond simple crafts and movies. The young club-goers have their own extensive itineraries from which to choose, and the selections are so engaging that the kids often don’t want to leave the clubs. But now, visitors to Walt Disney World won’t have to set sail to experience the same award-winning programming.

Beginning Dec. 4, two of the resort’s children’s activity centers will offer activities similar to what is available on the four Disney ships. The Sandcastle Club at Disney’s Beach Club and Lilo’s Playhouse at Disney’s Polynesian Village will introduce programming that includes cooking activities, adventures in science and character interactions for ages 3 to 12. (Children must be potty-trained to participate.) In addition there still will be toys, games, costumes for playing dress-up, crafts, dancing and storytelling.


Perhaps what Disney Cruise Line’s Oceaneer Clubs and Oceaneer Labs are best known for is their ability to immerse young passengers in the worlds of their favorite Disney characters. When I previewed the areas on the Disney Dream, I was amazed by the level of detail in Andy’s Room (from Toy Story) and Monsters Academy (Monsters Inc.), Pixie Hollow (Tinker Bell) and the Explorer Pod (Finding Nemo). Just this month, the Dream debuted new Star Wars: Millennium Falcon and Disney Infinity sections of the Oceaneer Club, replacing Monsters Academy and Explorer Pod. (The Disney Magic has an Avengers Academy.) And the activities in these areas also allow the youngsters to feel as though they have stepped into the characters’ lives.

Kids spending time in the Sandcastle Club and Lilo’s Playhouse will have a visit from Captain Hook or Chip ‘n’ Dale each evening, a Disney publicist told me. The characters will participate in a specific program in the clubs rather than a general meet-and-greet.

The pricing has changed for the Sandcastle Club and Lilo’s Playhouse. Instead of an hourly rate, these two clubs cost $55 per child from 4:30 p.m. to midnight. Your child can stay as little or long as you like, and it’s the same rate. Dinner is included.


Walt Disney World’s two other children’s activity centers – Simba’s Clubhouse at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Cub’s Den at Wilderness Lodge -- will continue with their current format, meaning the programming and pricing will stay the same. The cost is $15 per child per hour with a two-hour minimum. Simba’s Clubhouse and Cub’s Den also are open from 4:30 p.m. to midnight, and kids in the club from 6 to 8 p.m. are served a complimentary dinner of their choosing.

To make reservations, call 407-WDW-DINE.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin operates its own children’s club, Camp Dolphin, with a few differences because of its Westin ownership. Camp Dolphin opens at 5:30 p.m. each day, an hour later than the Disney World clubs, but they all close when Cinderella's coach turns into a pumpkin. In addition, children must be ages 4 to 12 to participate in Camp Dolphin.

Dinner is included for children who are in Camp Dolphin from 7 to 8 p.m. Counselors take the kids to nearby Picabu (Peek-A-Boo) restaurant, where the meals they have pre-selected from a menu of traditional kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and hot dogs, are served. Then, they are treated to ice cream from The Fountain ice cream shop.

At Camp Dolphin, the price is $10 per child per hour with no minimum. Plus, each adult who orders an entree at Shula's Steak House, Todd English's bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the hotel earns two complimentary hours for a child at Camp Dolphin. This offer also applies to an adult who purchases a spa service at Mandara Spa.

Reservations are required for Camp Dolphin. To book, call 407-934-4000 or go online to the hotel’s website 72 hours in advance.


November 24, 2015

What not to miss at SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration


SeaWorld Orlando presents its visitors with so many holiday entertainment choices that they could easily spend a day at the theme park getting in the holiday spirit. And there truly is something for everyone – from the toddler set to those who want to celebrate the religious meaning of Christmas. SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration is included with regular admission to the theme park and takes place on these upcoming dates: Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 4-6, 11-13, 18-3.

Not sure where to get started? If you have a full day at SeaWorld Orlando, you might want to check out my touring plan for the Christmas Celebration, which will help you experience most, if not all, of the holiday activities at the theme park. Perhaps you just want to spend an evening dedicated to seasonal endeavors. In that case, here are my family’s picks for what not to miss:


** Winter Wonderland on Ice. Of the five Christmas shows that SeaWorld presents, this is my family’s favorite, hands down. The ice skaters perform beautifully choreographed numbers set to classic holiday songs. Keep an eye out for some favorite SeaWorld characters, too! Fireworks also have been incorporated in the ice skating show. Unfortunately, Holiday Reflections, the separate fireworks show that followed Winter Wonderland on Ice, has been discontinued, however. A tip: Arrive early to get seats at Bayside Stadium because this is a popular evening show. Pre-show entertainment will help the time pass quickly.


** Polar Express. This is a holiday overlay at the Wild Arctic attraction that starts with visitors entering the boy’s bedroom, like in the story, for a short film. Then they board the train (a simulator) for a ride to the North Pole. Upon arrival, guests will see the Beluga whales and, around the bend, Santa Claus dressed just as he is in the popular movie. Families can take photos with Santa and a beautiful Christmas tree in the area. Afterward, they can purchase the hot chocolate made popular in the movie, as well as the professional photos with Santa. (Guests also can purchase a package for $25 that includes front-of-the-line access to Polar Express, one 6 x 8 photo and a souvenir mug with hot chocolate.) This is a really fun experience for anyone who enjoys the classic Christmas story. Outside, don’t forget to take a photo in front of the steam engine and listen to the Singing Conductors who perform periodically in front of the attraction’s queue.


** Shamu Christmas Miracles. There is only one performance of this show, so be sure to check your times guide for the day you are visiting and plan to be early not only to get a good seat, but also to experience an amazing pre-show by a solo saxophonist. The orca show itself is worth seeing, combining the animal's feats with an engaging holiday story.


** Sea of Trees. More than 100 lighted trees in Bay Harbor are featured in this display, which usually begins at 6 p.m. each day with the first performance of the lights “dancing” to music. Afterward the lights stay on, and the “dancing” takes place several times each night. Visitors can see the Sea of Trees from any spot with a view of Bay Harbor, but they are especially beautiful when you’re walking through the middle of them on the bridge over the lake.


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

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


November 26, 2015

Review: Disney-Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur'


My 11-year-old daughter had been looking forward to “The Good Dinosaur” for quite some time and we talked about the movie a lot beforehand, so I had high hopes when we arrived at a screening this week. Unfortunately, I left the theater not feeling quite as entertained as I had hoped I would be. “The Good Dinosaur” has it moments, but overall, it left my children and I feeling like we had just seen a recycled version of another Pixar movie.

“The Good Dinosaur” is engaging at first. The premise of the movie is that an asteroid that made dinosaurs extinct never hit the Earth, and the species evolved and thrived. We meet Arlo (the film’s namesake) and his brother and sister at birth and watch them discover the world around them. The baby dinosaurs are just adorable -- all long, wobbly legs, much like colts. It would be difficult not to be drawn into their story of finding their way and “making their mark,” as their father would say.

But then the plot reveals itself as familiar with a death that is intended to propel the protagonist, Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), into his journey of self-discovery and growth. My daughter and I groaned -- out loud, I think -- when we realized we were going to suffer through another Disney death at the beginning of a movie. Enough already! Of course, the plot device did serve its purpose, and Arlo ventures out into the world to learn the lessons he needs to. Among them, he learns to trust a young caveboy named Spot, and they form an unbreakable bond.


Along the way, Arlo and Spot give us some hilarious moments, such as the time they blasted groundhogs from their underground living quarters and another when they experience unexpected hallucinations together. But these scenes feel few and far between on the arduous journey Arlo must take to get home. Of course, he encounters life-threatening dangers at every twist and turn, but how many times can one character almost fall into the river and risk being swept away? The movie wraps up with a predictable conclusion.

Although the story is weak, “The Good Dinosaur” is visually stunning. Director Peter Sohn has made sure the landscapes – the river, the skies, the plains – are picture perfect. The details and clarity of the animation are simply amazing. If only the premise were.

Perhaps our disappointment feels more pointed because Pixar already released an animated movie this year, and it was warmly welcomed by critics and audiences alike. “Inside Out” too was a visual beauty, but it also had an inventive and original story. Exploring the emotions associated with growing up in “Inside Out” resonated universally, unlike the muddied coming-of-age story that “The Good Dinosaur” delivered. Perhaps Pixar should have stuck to focusing its efforts on just one movie per year.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed "The Good Dinosaur" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


November 28, 2015

Celebration's 'Now Snowing' begins tonight with tree lighting and other holiday activities



The town of Celebration kicks off its annual Now Snowing seasonal event tonight with a tree lighting ceremony that begins at 5 p.m. Santa Claus is expected to arrive during the festivities, which last until 9 p.m.

Celebration is just outside the gates of Walt Disney World and hosts Now Snowing - a flurry of soap bubbles and other holiday activities -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. My husband and I have been taking our children to Now Snowing since they were little enough to be awed by the “snow,” and it’s always a fun evening.

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

Our family outing usually consists of eating dinner and then enjoying the entertainment. There are some wonderful places to dine, such as Cuban treasure the Columbia Restaurant, but for an inexpensive family meal, we like the Market Street Cafe. Through the years, we have learned that planning to have an early dinner helps avoid a long wait for a table (and also makes street parking, which is free, easier) on weekend nights during Now Snowing. The later it gets, the more crowded the streets become and the harder it is to find a close parking spot.

After dinner, we check out the snow and the live music. This year’s schedule:

** Dec. 5: “A Celebration of Voices” showcasing young talent from across the United States

** Dec. 12: “A Countdown to Christmas” featuring recording artists Lucy Iris and Noah Schnacky

** Dec. 19: Radio Disney Holiday with national performing artists


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

Other holiday activities include:


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

** Horse and carriage rides are $45 for up to four passengers and $10 for each additional person. Group wagon rides are $5 per person. Plus, Holiday Home Tours can be booked by calling 321-624-6380. They are 30-40 minutes long and cost $25 per person.

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


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


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About November 2015

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

October 2015 is the previous archive.

December 2015 is the next archive.

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