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January 2016 Archives

January 2, 2016

Disney's 'Unforgettable Happens Here' campaign ramps up, includes vacation sweepstakes

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Goodbye #DisneySide. Hello #UnforgettableHappensHere. Disney Parks unveiled its new marketing campaign for 2016 in the fall, and the slogan already has appeared in TV ads and numerous promotional materials from The Walt Disney Co.

“Unforgettable Happens Here” has been described by Disney as “Around every corner, at any second or minute of every day, there’s a magical moment waiting to happen. Here, moments both big and little become stories that will be forever told and retold. And never, ever forgotten.”

The campaign aims to zero in on memories that friends and families make together at the Disney Parks. This message was highlighted in the renamed television special, “Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade,” which was called “Disney Parks Unforgettable Christmas Celebration” for 2015. In addition to the usual musical performances and Disney parade shown on Dec. 25, the production featured real-life stories of three families with personal connections to Disney Parks.

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“Unforgettable Happens Here” has its own splash page on the Walt Disney World website, and it’s loaded with tools to help customers book their perfect vacation and start making those memories. To encourage visitors, Walt Disney World has released this list of 16 reasons what 2016 will be an unforgettable year to visit.

Want a chance to win an unforgettable Disney Parks vacation? Rayovac, the official battery of Disney Parks, wants to power your Disney memories by giving away a stay at Walt Disney World. Rayovac is sponsoring the Unforgettable Walt Disney World Vacation Sweepstakes, and you can enter now through Feb. 29.

One Grand Prize will be awarded and it includes:

** One 4-day, 3-night vacation for the winner and three guests to the Walt Disney World Resort.

** Round-trip coach airfares between the United States major airport closest to the Grand Prize winner’s residence and the Orlando International Airport; and round-trip ground transfers between the Orlando International Airport and the Resort via Disney’s Magical Express transportation.

** Room accommodations (one standard room) with a maximum of four persons per room at a Resort hotel selected by Sponsor for three nights and four days.

** 16 one-day, Park Hopper passes

** Rayovac Prize Pack with an approximate retail value of $100.

** $100 gift card.

To enter, use this link:

https://www.facebook.com/Rayovac/app_425868347513802

Contestants must be 18 years old at the time of the entry, and they must be legal residents of the United States and the District of Columbia. A link to the full official rules is posted below the entry form on Facebook.



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January 4, 2016

2016 New Balance runDisney Collection debuts Wednesday

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UPDATE: New Balance revealed its 2016 runDisney Collection on Monday: the Dumbo Vazee Pace, Ariel Vazee Pace and the Red Carpet Mickey and Minnie 860v6s. The Dumbo and Ariel Vazee Pace are priced at $124.95, and the Red Carpet Minnie and Mickey 860v6s are $139.95. In addition, a kids Dumbo and Ariel 860v6 will be available for $79.95.

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Are you among the runners – and spectators -- heading to Walt Disney World this week for Marathon Weekend who have been waiting eagerly to see what the new New Balance running shoes will look like? Last year, the design was released the day before the Health and Fitness Expo began. If that holds true this year, we should see the design on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Of course, there are no promises that will be the day, but sales begin Wednesday.

For those not among the obsessed (and who may not have this annual event on their radars), New Balance, the official running shoe of runDisney, releases Limited Edition shoes that are sold only at runDisney Expos. Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is the biggest of the annual race weekends and the first opportunity to see some of the shoes that will be offered all year.

New Balance has released one clue about the theming of its 2016 runDisney Collection, and it came in the form of the photo below on its Instagram account. Followers have guessed that means the shoes will feature Dumbo, Mickey Mouse and Ursula. Remember that the entire 2016 collection will not be for sale at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.

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At last year’s Marathon Weekend, Retro Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse New Balance shoes debuted. The 2015 design paid homage to Steamboat Willie, the 1928 black-and-white cartoon that introduced most audiences to Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie. The men's Retro Mickey 990v3 sneaker came in black and white with musical notes around the front sole, classic images of Mickey and Minnie and character signatures. The women's Retro Minnie 990v3 sneaker was gray and white with the same features. They were priced at $185 per pair and met with mixed reviews. Later, another set of Retro shoes, style 860v5 dubbed “performance shoes,” were introduced for $135 a pair. Runners looking for neutral shoes loved them, but others who liked the bold colors of previous designs were disappointed.

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The 2015 New Balance runDisney collection also featured the Tinker Bell Fresh Foam Boracay, which were green and yellow running shoes with glow-in-the-dark pixie dust. They debuted at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland in May and were priced at $140. In celebration of Disneyland’s 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration, the Donald Duck Fresh Foam Boracay shoes were introduced at the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend in September. Elements of Donald are hidden throughout the shoe, including a black tab on the heel that mimics the signature ribbon on Donald’s hat. The Donald Duck Fresh Foam Boracay shoes also cost $140.

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New Balance first released Limited Edition runDisney shoes in 2013. The 860v3 sneakers were designed in the bright red, yellow, black and white traditional colors of modern Mickey and Minnie. They have since been retired. In 2014, the styles were designed to recall Sorcerer Mickey and Goofy (men's) and Cinderella and Minnie Mouse (women's). Due to popular demand, a limited number of the four New Balance 860v4 shoes were made available at the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and at the 2015 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland Resort. They were priced at $125 per pair.

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Guests who would like to try on - and possibly purchase -- the New Balance running shoes must make an appointment through a virtual queue. Starting Wednesday (Jan. 6) at 6 a.m., adult runners can sign up at NBvirtualqueue.com using their bib numbers, and all other guests can sign up at 6 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 7), Friday (Jan. 8) and Saturday (Jan. 9).

New Balance's rules last year stated that customers could reserve one pair of running shoes per reservation. They would be able to choose up to five more pairs in the booth and could purchase a total of six pairs of runDisney Collection footwear per event weekend. Rules for 2016 had not yet been posted at the time of this writing.

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

Last year, stand-by lines for New Balance shoes were not allowed during the first few days of the Expo. By Friday night, New Balance was allowing a queue to form.



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January 6, 2016

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2016 Expo begins Wednesday and is free to public

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It’s January, and many of us are tackling a New Year’s resolution of creating a healthier lifestyle for ourselves. If you’re like me, you can use all the inspiration you can get. Fortunately for us, Walt Disney World is hosting its largest runDisney Health and Fitness Expo – beginning today -- and it’s free and open to the public!

The expo is part of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, runDisney's most extensive collection of races, that runs Jan. 6 through 10. The expo takes place for four days at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and even the parking is free. (How often can you say that at Disney World?!)

The Expo serves as the headquarters for race weekend, but it's also a showcase for the latest products and even a site for celebrity speakers. My husband and son are running the 10K on Friday, so we will be visiting the expo to pick up their race essentials and pre-ordered merchandise. (Because this weekend encompasses so many races, locations within the complex for packet pickup, shirt and gear bag pickup, and commemorative merchandise pickup are different. Please refer to the official race guide.) These rules are the same for everyone, though:

** You must pick up your own race packet in person and have photo identification and a signed waiver to do so. (If you forget to print your waiver at home, you can do it at the expo.)

** Legal guardians of minors must sign the waivers for minor participants, though the kids don’t have to be present to pick up their bibs.

** Race packets must be picked up no later than the day prior to the race. They cannot be picked up on the day of the race.

Hours are as follows:

Wednesday, January 6, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thursday, January 7, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, January 8, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 9, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

While my husband and son are taking care of business, I will scope out the runDisney and race-specific merchandise that’s for sale in two locations within the complex – The Josten’s Center and The Field House. These locations are where you can purchase the “I did it” T-shirts for each race, as well as other merchandise commemorating individual races. We learned from experience that a lot of this merchandise sells out quickly, often on the first day, so if you’ve got your heart set on something, don’t delay in getting to the expo. Here’s a sneak peek at some of what will be offered:

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In addition, Disney is introducing a new line of runDisney labeled items, such as apparel, backpacks, various styles of hats, Tervis Tumblers, license plate holders, mugs, Christmas ornaments, vehicle decals and magnets and more. Take a look for yourself:

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Another must-see is the tradition of a new Dooney & Bourke pattern that sports a Disney race design. The 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend pattern has been released on three bags: tote ($268), a backpack ($248) and a wristlet ($108). They can be pre-ordered at this page through Jan. 13. Shipping is complimentary and begins March 31.

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Other vendors will be selling the latest in fitness apparel, footwear, sunglasses, high-tech gadgets and nutritional products. Something everyone seemingly wants to get a glimpse of are the Limited Edition New Balance running shoes that are especially designed for runDisney. The 2016 designs were unveiled on Monday, and they depict Minnie and Mickey on the red carpet, Ariel and Dumbo. Because of popularity, New Balance requires customers to sign up for appointments in its virtual queue. Wednesday is only available to registered runners, but anyone can make reservations for Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, walk-ups will be welcome. You can get all the details in my previous blog.

There is plenty to do on the expo floor, even if you are not a shopper. There are photo spots set up with aerial photos of each race course as a backdrop; guests can be among the first to see medals for all the upcoming runDisney races displayed; and runDisney coach and Olympian Jeff Galloway is available to take photos and sign autographs for runners. Many of the vendors offer giveaways and samples, as well, and there are unique products you might not find elsewhere. Both of my children enjoyed walking around the expo last year -- and that was before either of them had completed a runDisney race.

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Good luck to all of this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend runners!



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January 9, 2016

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin, to launch digital TV series

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Fans of Winter the dolphin, who starred in “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2,” soon will be able to see the famous dolphin in a digital television series filmed at and around Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The first episode of “Rescue-Clearwater” will be released on Feb. 1.

“Rescue-Clearwater” is being billed as “the real-life follow-up to the ‘Dolphin Tale’ movies.” Produced by, told by and featuring the Clearwater Marine Aquarium team, the new online TV series shows the work that they do every day to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine animals. Plus, shows will feature cameos by “Dolphin Tale” actors Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel), Nathan Gamble (Sawyer) and Austin Highsmith (Phoebe).

Check out “Rescue-Clearwater” on the first day of each month on SeeWinter.com or the aquarium’s YouTube channel. There will be 12 episodes, each lasting 22 minutes. Fans can sign up on the CMA website to receive emails with sneak previews and exclusive news about the show.

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not the first, though, to recognize that there is a growing audience interested in learning about the behind-the-scenes work that animal-care teams do every day. SeaWorld has two animal-rescue television shows that air nationwide on ABC affiliates on Saturday mornings. Both have been nominated for Emmy Awards.

The third season of ”The Wildlife Docs” once again highlights the veterinarians and animal-care specialists at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Host Rachel Reenstra takes viewers behind the scenes with these professionals to experience the daily wellness and preventative health programs and groundbreaking medical procedures. This season’s highlights include an annual check-up on a rock hyrax, a small African cat with skin allergies, and caring for an injured Nile crocodile.

The fifth season of “Sea Rescue,” which continues to show inspirational stories of marine animal rescue, rehabilitation and return to the wild by the animal care teams at SeaWorld, began in the fall. Hosted by Matt Gutman, this season’s stories include rescue efforts from several different oil spills, 20 manatees trapped in a storm drain and a pelican that landed in the middle of a busy highway.

An entire episode has been devoted to the work of rescue teams up and down the coast of California, including SeaWorld San Diego. Thousands of sea lions stranded this year due to starvation and exhaustion, and this mass stranding required flying additional zoological staff in from other SeaWorld parks to keep up with the rescue efforts.

During the second season of “Sea Rescue,” one show was dedicated to Winter’s rescue. Some may not know that in real life, Winter was found by a fisherman and the first responders were marine mammal experts from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, who took over supporting the badly injured dolphin until SeaWorld's rescue transport team could arrive to drive her to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

From the start, Winter was bringing groups of people together and inspiring them. Now, you can have a front-row seat (from the comfort of your home) to more of these incredible stories of marine animals.



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January 12, 2016

Review: Jungle Skipper Canteen at Disney World's Magic Kingdom

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The Magic Kingdom’s much-anticipated, new table-service restaurant -- Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen – opened last month. As the name suggests, the theming is an extension of the classic Jungle Cruise attraction, located nearby in Adventureland. And if that weren’t enough to pique your interest, the eatery’s décor and menu offer tributes to the wildly popular (and now closed) The Adventurers Club from the former Downtown Disney.

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My family and I were among those excited to dine at the first new sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom since Be Our Guest opened in 2012. Our first opportunity was when we were in the theme park on New Year’s Eve. Sounds impossible, especially because Skipper Canteen isn’t taking reservations, right? We actually didn’t think it was that bad because we were prepared to wait to try something new. The wait aside, the overall dining experience didn’t live up to our expectations, however, and we left feeling it was a waste of time and money for our family.

Skipper Canteen currently works on a walk-up system; no word yet on when (or if) the restaurant will take reservations. We stopped by in the late morning, and the wait was about 40 minutes. When we returned about 8:30 p.m. on quite possibly the busiest day of the year at Walt Disney World’s signature park, the wait was an hour. So, we checked in and were given a pager and invited to hang out in the “open air” rooms. Given how hot and humid the Florida weather was that day, we were wishing for air conditioning. To be fair, though, not many of the Magic Kingdom table-service restaurants offer inside waiting areas.

The 222-seat Skipper Canteen has three themed dining areas: the Crew Mess Hall, which is the largest room; The Society of Explorers and Adventurers (or S.E.A.) Room, which is accessed through a hall lined with bookcases; and the Falls Family Parlor (or the Jungle Room). This set-up reminded us of that at Be Our Guest – one large dining room and two more intimate seating areas. Unfortunately, unlike Be Our Guest, the large seating area just is not as interesting or appealing as the smaller rooms. Yes, there are jungle-exploration artifacts wherever you look, but it just doesn’t feel as immersive as the smaller rooms do. My children and I just kept picturing this room as the former space for meeting Tinker Bell. I would recommend requesting one of the smaller dining rooms, but know that could increase your wait time.

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As of this writing, Skipper Canteen serves the same menu for lunch and dinner, and it’s one based on “the bold, flavorful cuisine of Asia, South America, and Africa,” according to the Disney World website. For the most part, though, we didn’t find our dinner selections to be very flavorful, which obviously was disappointing when we invested significant time in the experience. Plus, the cost was not inexpensive for a family of four.

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Our meal began with Ambasha bread that is served with a sweet, honey-based dip. Our family was divided on the combination of flavors; two of us enjoyed it and the other two were fine to pass after a taste. The bread is complimentary with all meals.

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We first ordered Amazon Annie’s House-made Arepas, described as “a trip down the Amazon with Slow-cooked Beef, Black Beans, Tostones, and Queso Fresco” for $9.50. This appetizer was the best thing we ordered; even the kids (ages 11 and 13) enjoyed the sampler.

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Both children also tried the non-alcoholic Schweitzer Slush, “Frozen Apple Juice and Passion Fruit topped with Bursting Green Apple Boba Balls. First concocted by the noted explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush” for $5.50 without the souvenir cup or $14.50 with the cup. This seemed liked a slam-dunk because they both love apple juice and frozen drinks, but only the younger child enjoyed her concoction.

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For dinner, I ordered the "A Lot of Steak" Salad, “Thai-marinated Flank Steak tossed with Hearts of Romain, carrots, red peppers, cucumbers, red onions, cherry tomatoes and Asian dressing” for $18. Our Jungle Skipper – um, server – promised that I wouldn’t be sorry because it was quite tasty. Although I appreciated the vote of confidence, I didn’t end up agreeing with him. I found the salad to be pretty bland and certainly nothing to write home about. Frankly, I rave about the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad at Columbia Harbour House to anyone who will listen, and I wished with every bite I were eating that instead.

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My husband tried the Grilled Lamb Chops, “Seasoned with a North African Berber Spice Blend served with Green Lentil Stew” for $25. He remarked how the presentation of the thin slice of meat seemed to be much the flavor of the dish: uninspired. Even though he finished off his selection, he considered the cost and the long wait for the table and decided, it wasn’t something he would stand in line again to get. And the spare serving even left him hungry enough to order another menu item at another restaurant in the park later in the night.

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My son and daughter each ordered Char Siu Pork, “Marinated grilled pork tenderloin medallions served with Chinese broccoli and choice of five-grain or white rice” for $23. My son said he thought he would like this meal because he loves barbecue and Chinese food and this seemed like a combination of the two. Unfortunately, it was not, and the flavor was not one he could stomach. My daughter felt the same way, and I have to admit after taking a taste, I didn’t like it either.

We asked our server if my son could exchange the dish, and he agreed, after warning us that we’d have a wait for whatever he ordered. We said we understood and asked if he could have the children’s portion of the Sizzling Savanna Grilled Flank Steak, which was served with steamed broccoli and fingerling potatoes. My son did like that better, but afterward he said the steak at Be Our Guest was a lot tastier. My daughter opted to stick with the pork, thinking it would grow on her. It did not, and we ended up getting her a meal at Columbia Harbour House afterward.

At this point, I would caution parents to check the children’s menu and discuss it with their youngsters. Typical kid favorites are not available at Skipper Canteen; even the mac and cheese is not what you’d expect on most American menus. When we asked about substituting the sides because broccoli and rice are served with many of the meals, we were told there weren’t many other options, and certainly not French fries. It seems like a punishment for everyone involved to try to force a child who doesn’t like broccoli to eat it at Walt Disney World, of all places.

By this point, we were just turned off by the food and didn’t even want to try dessert. However, other diners were excited about the Kungaloosh! -- a name of a drink at The Adventurers Club – which was “an African-inspired chocolate cake with caramelized bananas served with cashew-caramel ice cream topped with coffee dust” for $8.

Skipper Canteen accepts the Disney dining plan. Have you dined on the “World Famous Cuisine”? Tell us about your experience in the comments.



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January 14, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando promotes animal care, conservation at upcoming Wild Days

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

For my daughter, Wild Days are a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the animals she wants to one day help. We have made it a point to attend Wild Days each of the past two years. But even if you are not a future marine biologist, the special events make these days worth a visit to the theme park. Here are some of the highlights:

Wild Weekend with Jack Hanna -- Jan. 16-17

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** See renowned animal expert “Jungle Jack” Hanna at a show at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Nautilus Theater. Hanna talks about his unique travels and personal experiences, as well as interacts with animals during his presentation. Visitors can meet Hanna after the show. (This show is indoors, so no need to worry about the weather!) The show is included in regular park admission.

** In addition to Hanna's shows that are open to all guests, visitors can choose a more intimate gathering with the TV personality and conservationist at a breakfast or a dinner at Sharks Underwater Grill. Both meals include a meet-and-greet with Hanna, a family photo and reserved seating for one of Hanna's shows. Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday costs $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9. Dinner on Saturday is $59 and $49, respectively.

Penguin Lovers Weekend – Jan. 23-24

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** SeaWorld Animal Ambassador Julie Scardina talks about her lifelong love of animals and the parks’ commitment to wildlife conservation at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Nautilus Theater. Scardina has worked at SeaWorld for more than 30 years, beginning as a trainer with sea lions and otters. In her current role as an animal ambassador, she has traveled to all the continents, including Antarctica, which is home to the greatest number of penguins in the world.

** Meet a Penguin at Glacial Collections, the gift shop in the Antarctica section of the theme park. When my family and I did this last year, we saw a pair of penguins were playing in a small, elevated area in the store. Visitors were asked not to touch the birds, but the setup was great for up-close observation and photos. There was no charge for this interaction.

Sea Rescue Weekend – Jan. 18-19

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** SeaWorld has rescued more than 27,000 animals over 50 years, and these amazing animal stories are featured weekly on the popular Saturday-morning ABC TV series “Sea Rescue.” Hear first-hand accounts of marine animal rescues, rehabilitations and returns by SeaWorld’s Animal Rescue Team, heroes and partners featured on the show. This presentation takes place both days at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Nautilus Theater.

All three Wild Days weekends feature these additional offerings:

** “Ocean Discovery” killer whale presentation – Guests can learn more about killer whales, also called orcas, and other species of whales during an interactive, 30-minute presentation. "Ocean Discovery" is new this year and different from the daily “One Ocean” shows at Shamu Stadium. (Check a park map for daily times.)

** “Inspiring Stories” pre-shows – Animal trainers describe how caring for SeaWorld’s resident animals has helped with the rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals that need help. “Inspiring Stories” take place at the beginning of three of the park’s popular shows: "Blue Horizons," "Pets Ahoy" and "Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High."

** Explore Zones – More than 14 interactive education stations can be discovered throughout the park, featuring games and hands-on experiences that teach guests about animals and what they can do to protect the wild world in their own lives.



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January 15, 2016

Disney fans will find speakers, demonstrations from theme parks at Orlando Science Center's Otronicon

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Otronicon, the annual four-day Orlando Science Center event celebrating technology, starts today. Disney fans will find plenty to inspire them, including an interactive exhibit presented by Walt Disney World that takes participants behind the scenes of some of the resort’s most popular attractions.

Now in its eleventh year, Otronicon has grown from a conference for video gamers to one that encompasses the many forms of technology that we use in our everyday lives. This year, an emphasis has been placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Many, if not most, of the exhibitors are local companies with a vested interest in the development of STEM programs and jobs in Orlando. They support the concept of “made in Orlando, played in Orlando.”

To that end, two professionals from Walt Disney World will be speaking on Sunday, giving listeners insight into their fields. At 2 p.m., Elaine Schomburg-Lafleur, a project manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will be a panelist discussing “Women in Tech.” Schomburg-Lafleur has been with Disney since 2003 and is an active member of the Society of Women Engineers. At 3 p.m., Michael Tschanz, director of Technology and Analysis (a department within Design and Engineering) will present “Using Simulations to Develop Creative Storytelling.” Tschanz leads a team of more than 70 cast members who develop detailed mathematical and physics models for transportation, ride and animatronic systems.

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Disney's Imagineers also demonstrate “Storytelling through Technology” each day throughout the event. The exhibit promises to take visitors on a journey “through technology and time” that highlights “technologies used to bring the animated figures and visual effects featured at some of Walt Disney World’s most iconic attractions and shows to life.” Participants also can explore a “color and play” station, where they can add color to favorite Disney characters and then see them come to life through the use of augmented reality technologies.

Video games still make up a large part of the event, too. Families can take part in daily competitions hosted by Powder Keg Games; visit the Japanese Video Game Room sponsored by Florida Anime Experience; and even experience an Hour of Code (programming) each day. Otronicon 2016 also features state-of-the-art medical and military simulators from Florida Hospital for Children and Lockheed Martin, respectively.

Admission to Otronicon is $19 per day for adults and $13 per day for children ages 3 to 11. Admission to Otronicon is free for Science Center members. Hours for Otronicon are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 15 (today) and Jan. 16 (Saturday); and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 17 (Sunday) and Jan. 18 (Monday).



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January 19, 2016

Celebrate 10th anniversary of Disney Channel's 'High School Musical' with TV special Jan. 20

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Has it really been 10 years since the first “High School Musical” movie debuted on Disney Channel? My family and I remember it like it was yesterday, and I know we are not alone in our fond memories of the trilogy. The official anniversary is tomorrow (Jan. 20), and most of the cast returned to East High over the weekend to tape segments for special telecast of the movie that begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Disney Channel also will air “High School Musical 2” on Thursday.

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Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella Montez), Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay Evans), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan Evans), Corbin Bleu (Chad) and Monique Coleman (Taylor McKessie) gathered on Saturday to reflect on their “High School Musical” experiences, The Walt Disney Co. announced online. Although Zac Efron (Troy Bolton) was not present, he will appear in a pre-taped message to fans, the company website reported.

“High School Musical” was a surprise hit in 2006 that garnered 7.7 million total viewers in the United States, which was a record at the time for any Disney Channel show. When the sequel, “High School Musical 2” was released a year and a half later, it captured 17.2 million viewers, setting a new record for the highest number of viewers for Disney Channel and all basic cable shows. And the music was so popular that it became the first TV movie soundtrack to reach No.1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

Directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the “High School Musical” trilogy was credited by many as the vehicle that introduced a new generation to musicals. Not only did kids enjoy watching the musical, they wanted to perform it, as well. Disney Theatrical Productions licensed the script for local student theatre productions through Music Theatre International (MTI). In its first 15 months (2006-07), an estimated 2000 middle and high schools produced a licensed amateur stage production of “High School Musical,” according to Disney.

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My own children were not quite 2 and 4 years old in early 2006, and although they didn’t necessarily understand the story, they loved the music and choreography. Like so many other viewers, they couldn’t get enough! To their delight, Walt Disney World introduced a production to reprise the catchy tunes. It started with a “High School Musical” float that traveled up Hollywood Boulevard and stopped in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat. Cast members who looked like they stepped off a “High School Musical” set jumped down from the float to sing the popular songs and teach dance steps to kids in the audience.

The first moving stage show was High School Musical Pep Rally (which ran January - September 2007). It was followed by High School Musical 2: School's Out (September 2007 - September 2008), High School Musical 3: Senior Year (October 2008 - September 2010) and, finally, Disney Channel Rocks! (October 2010 - April 2013). You can see videos of each stage show in my previous blog post. Through each production, the anthem "We're All in This Together" remained a constant, and I'm sure, brought back memories for fans.

As such, we’ll be among millions watching the anniversary special, I’m certain. Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, summed up the appeal of the "High School Musical" franchise in his statement, “Seeing the cast of ‘High School Musical’ back together again reaffirms what made it special 10 years ago. It’s their optimism, their dedication and their extraordinary talent — as a group —t hat made this such an exceptional movie and cultural phenomenon. Ten years later, the movie continues to delight audiences around the globe, not just for its memorable song and dance numbers, but for its universal themes that continue to resonate with fans everywhere – express yourself, believe in yourself and always follow your dreams.”



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January 21, 2016

Introducing 2016 Disney Parks Moms Panel and upcoming website changes

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Disney fans on social media channels have been taking note for several weeks as excited tweets and posts reveal those who had been given coveted spots on the 2016 Disney Parks Moms Panel. This month, however, The Walt Disney Company has officially revealed the full panel, and there are fewer new members than in past years. In its ninth year, the Disney Parks Moms Panel, which answers online readers’ questions about planning Disney vacations, will be working with a revamped website.

Competition for a spot on the Disney Parks Moms Panel is intense -- thousands apply each year. In fact, this year’s panelists were chosen from a “near record number of thousands of applicants last fall,” wrote the panel's creator, Disney Parks Director of Social Media Leanne O'Regan, on the Disney Parks Blog.

Only 10 new members were chosen this year, compared with 22 new panelists in 2015. They join more than two dozen returning members of the Disney Parks Moms Panel. The Disney Parks Moms Panel has evolved from its inception in 2008, but its goal remains the same: to provide vacation-planning advice from adults in families that are interested in and knowledgeable about the Disney properties. The Disney Parks Moms Panelists not only help plan magical vacations for guests heading to Walt Disney World, but they also answer questions about Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, Adventures by Disney, runDisney and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Despite the name, however, panelists are not just limited to those who are mothers -- dads and grandparents have been chosen, as well.

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Here are the newest members and their areas of specialization:

** Brandy Robinson; Euless, Tex. (Disney Cruise Line)
** Erin Karsman; Pittsburgh, Pa. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Jackie Psarianos; Richmond Hill, Ont. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Jennifer Reeves; Columbia, Mo. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Kiki Wong-Yee; Carmichael, Calif. (Disneyland Resort)
** Korliss Datcher; Birmingham, Ala. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Nancy Murphy; Alpine, Ut. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Priscila Noriega; Miami, Fla. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Ricardo Stella; Plainsboro, N.J. (Walt Disney World Resort)
** Sally Bulavko; El Paso, Tex. (Disney Vacation Club)

The new panelists have diverse careers, and among the group are a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, realtor, professor, event planner, IT tech and digital marketing consultant. Three of the new panelists also speak Spanish and will be able to assist Spanish-speaking guests with questions, too. The Disney Parks Moms Panel is available in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

The Disney Parks Moms Panel members will be interacting with Disney guests on a redesigned website that is set to launch “later this winter,” according to a Disney news release. The Walt Disney Co. is improving navigation of the website, which is optimized for mobile devices, with a new topic search structure that allows users to access more than 150,000 questions asked by previous visitors and answered by the panelists. As always, visitors can get their own questions answered using the "Ask a Question" feature. In addition, the website will reflect a sense of community by showcasing trending topics and the most popular topics, allowing families to learn from each other's past experiences and inspire the creation of new memories.

"2016 is poised to be an exciting and transformative year for the Disney Parks Moms Panel," O'Regan said. "Not only are we welcoming ten motivated and diverse professionals to our esteemed forum, but we are also preparing to debut a new website experience in the coming months, streamlining the trip planning process and paving the way for what should be the most magical time of our guests' lives."



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January 23, 2016

Walt Disney World creates family fun at Orlando's Paws in the Park fundraiser, festival

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Love animals? Join Walt Disney World and other sponsors of Orlando’s Paws in the Park on Valentine’s Day weekend for some family fun that includes your furry babies.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando hosts its annual event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lake Eola. Paws in the Park includes a pet walk, food trucks, vendors, demonstrations, agility contests and a kid zone from Walt Disney World. The centerpiece of the annual event is the dog walk that serves as a fundraiser for homeless pets and other initiatives of the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

Registration is ongoing now. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals for $10 each. Walkers can even register the day of the event and do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate. All registrants receive admission to Splash Dogs Dock Diving, the Doggie Fun Zone and the Canine Sports Arena at the event.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $25 to $1,000. They include such prizes as dog bandanas, Wolfgang Bakery dog biscuits, event T-shirts, car magnets, sports water bottle, drawstring backpack, and six-month and one-year supplies of Frontline Plus. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.)

Packs and individuals are encouraged to attend a “pre-registration” event at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, 2727 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 from noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 10 to turn in donations they have collected and pick up their prizes.

This year's top individual fundraiser will win a two-night stay at a Walt Disney World hotel for two people and two theme-park tickets with the Park Hopper option for two days. (The prize is valued at $1,470.)

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The walk begins at 9 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m., and the other activities go until 1 p.m. On the main stage, visitors can see the following presentations beginning at 10:30 a.m.: “So You Think Your Dog is a Star?”, “Dogs with Jobs” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Families won't want to miss the Disney Kids and Family Zone, presented by Walt Disney World, which has interactive activities everyone can enjoy. In addition, nationally recognized company Splash Dogs will offer dock-jumping competitions, and local pet resort Happy Paws hosts a Canine Sports area.

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

Vendors still have time to apply for a spot at the festival; the deadline is Feb. 3. All documents and fees must be received by the Pet Alliance in order for a vendor to be considered confirmed. Vendors can expect an anticipated crowd of more than 12,000 visitors for Paws in the Park.

Sponsor WFTV offers these reminders:

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



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January 26, 2016

Changing Walt Disney World dining reservations just got easier

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Making dining reservations at Walt Disney World just got a little easier. The resort has added a new tool to its online site that allows guests to make changes to existing reservations, which eliminates a lot of confusion and extra steps.

The introduction of its online reservation system in My Disney Experience gave guests more flexibility about when they could book their meals for upcoming vacations. They no longer had to wait for a phone operator, and reservations could be secured even after the phone line closed each night at 11 p.m. ET.

Still, there wasn’t the same comprehensive interaction that a guest would have had with a live assistant. In order to change a reservation, a guest first had to search for the new reservation. If it were available, the online system prompted the user to cancel the old reservation before it would allow the new reservation to be booked, if the times overlapped. (My Disney Experience will not allow a guest to book multiple reservations within the same two-hour window.)

For example, let’s say you made hard-to-get reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table when the booking window opened 180 days before your visit. As your vacation approached, local friends also decided that Spring Break at Walt Disney World sounded like a good idea and they’d love to join you for dinner. In the past, you couldn’t just add four more people to your reservation; you had to cancel your old reservation before confirming a new reservation and risk losing the original booking if the new one was snapped up before you could confirm it. The same scenario would occur if your day’s schedule changed and you needed to shift your dining time.

Now, however, the online system allows you to see what, if any, other reservations are available and makes the change you select at the same time it cancels your existing reservation. That’s definitely an improvement!

Dining reservations still can be made through the phone line (407-WDW-DINE) from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET.

Here are a series of screenshots to illustrate the step=by-step process of making a change:

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In other Disney Dining news, Walt Disney World has just announced a new discount for vacationers staying at a Disney value resort this summer. The Summer Meal Offer gives each person age 3 or older one free quick service meal per night they stay. Guests must purchase a Magic Your Way vacation package at a Disney Value Resort of at least three nights in length with at least two-day base tickets. Guests must arrive between 5/29/16 and 6/30/16 or 7/5/16 and 8/13/16.

Tip: If you plan to arrive on a date not covered in these weeks, you can book a split stay to take advantage of the deal. In other words, you make two hotel reservations so that you are checking in on a date that falls in the weeks covered by the Summer Meal Offer. Also, as long as you check in on a date that the deal is offered, you can take advantage of the deal for your entire vacation, even if you stay past the dates the deal is offered.

The Summer Meal Offer is NOT the same as the free Quick Service Dining Plan that has been offered at value resorts for fall vacations for the past several years. The Summer Meal Offer is just one meal (one entrée, one dessert and one non-alcoholic beverage) per night and there is no snack or refillable mug included.

The Summer Meal Offer is valid for stays at All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, Pop Century and Art of Animation suites. (It cannot be used or stays in Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation.) You must book by Feb. 29.



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January 28, 2016

Disney movie review: 'The Finest Hours'

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Walt Disney Studios’ “The Finest Hours” delivers an exciting adventure appropriate for families that has enough action sequences to keep audiences on the edges of their seats. What it doesn’t give us, however, is another blockbuster about a tragedy at sea like James Cameron’s dramatically satisfying “Titanic,” and that’s largely due to the lack of character development.

The story certainly has the hallmarks of a Disney movie with its heroic actions and against-all-odds happy ending. “The Finest Hours” is based on a book of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman that tells the true story of the most daring rescue mission in the history of the Coast Guard.

“In 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston that was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast,” according to the film’s official description.

“Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Mass., Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.”

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“The Finest Hours” has many of the same elements as “Titanic,” most notably the story of a doomed ship and its passengers and the romance that introduces us to the main characters. Unfortunately, though, the overall effect is far different. “Titanic” spends the first half of its running time letting us get to know Jack and Rose, as well as many of the secondary characters. We see their forbidden romance progress from flirtations to declarations of love. By the time the Titanic begins to sink, we are fully invested in the film’s characters and feel their desperation.

Not so in “The Finest Hours.” We don’t know much about Bernie (Chris Pine) and Miriam (Holliday Grainger) by the time he heads out to sea to face deadly storms. The movie opens with their first date, and from that we glean that he is a tentative sort of man who likes to follow the rules and she is a bold woman who speaks her mind. These characteristics again become apparent when she proposes to him at a dance and when he leaves on what appears to be an impossible rescue mission. Despite the peril, we just don’t feel much for the separated couple.

The action sequences, however, do inspire us to experience all the feelings of panic, despair and, ultimately, triumph. Certainly these adventure scenes are the strong points of “The Finest Hours.” Director Craig Gillespie (who also directed “Lars and the Real Girl” and the 2011 remake of “Fright Night”) does well with the special effects of a stormy ocean, the tanker breaking apart and the blizzard conditions that make you feel like you are actually a part of those scenes. I saw the movie in 3D, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to enjoy it.

“The Finest Hours” is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of peril.” My 11-year-old and 13-year-old children were not at all bothered by those scenes. Only one man’s death was shown in the film, and it was not depicted in a gory way. Afterward, my son (the older child) commented that he found the death scenes in Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” to be more disturbing.

And perhaps that’s the crux of “The Finest Hours.” It’s got enough action to entertain audiences of all ages, but not enough detailed drama to affect them – or keep them coming back for another heroic voyage.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “The Finest Hours” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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January 30, 2016

Walt Disney Imagineering celebrates finalists in annual theme-park design competition

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UPDATE: The team with students from Ohio University and the University of Washington won first place for its Mickey’s Magic Garden project. Second place was awarded to the team from the University of Texas, and the North Carolina State University team earned third place.

Potential Walt Disney Imagineers gathered this week in California for the final step in a prestigious talent search that began in the fall. The annual Imaginations Design Competition, sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), celebrated its 25th anniversary by doing what it does best: turning the spotlight on the next generation of talented theme-park designers.

For this year’s competition, students from American universities and colleges were given the following challenge: “Design a traveling experience that will tour small towns across the United States so families who do not have the opportunity to travel to a Disney Park can have a Park experience. This temporary venue will operate in each community for two to three days, should take no more than a day to set up and break down, and embody the kind of family entertainment that Walt envisioned when he first built Disneyland.”

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Six teams were chosen as finalists, including one from the University of Florida. The news release from WDI describes its “Extravagizmo! Mickey’s Inventor Showcase” entry this way, “Uniting the timeless magic of Disney with the excitement of progress showcased at classic world’s fairs, “Extravagizmo!” proposes an extraordinary destination inspired by the possibility of the future. Through interactive, hands-on experiences, guests would join Mickey Mouse – and a new character created exclusively for the project – in a one-of-a-kind showcase of magic and innovation.”

Other finalists are teams with students from California State University, Fullerton; Columbus College of Art and Design; North Carolina State University; Ohio State University; Ohio University; The University of Texas at Austin; University of Florida; and University of Washington. Their projects invite audiences to “embark on an adventure to enliven a black and white world; go to camp with the beloved DuckTales crew; interact with Disney environments from “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” and “Toy Story”; take a trip through Mickey’s Magic Garden; and learn what it means to be a Scarer at Monsters University.”

Each finalist team was awarded a five-day, all-expense-paid trip to Imagineering’s main campus in Glendale, Calif. In addition to presenting their projects, while there, the students have opportunities to see where and how Imagineers work; network with Imagineers; and interview for paid internships. The winning team receives $3,000 (plus $1,000 for the sponsoring universities); second place is awarded $1,000; and third gets $500.

What exactly is an Imagineer? According to WDI, “Imagineers create immersive entertainment experiences, primarily for our theme parks and resorts. Every day, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.” More than 140 disciplines exist in the organization, including artists, architects, engineers, writers, machinists, landscape designers, model makers, sound technicians, carpenters, producers, accountants, filmmakers, schedulers, estimators and more.

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Daniel Joseph
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Dex Tanksley

Disney Legend and Imagineering executive Marty Sklar founded the Imaginations Design Competition in 1991. My 13-year-old son, who hopes to one day be an Imagineer, had the good fortune to hear Sklar’s presentation “The Road to Imagineering” at the D23 convention in August 2015. Sklar introduced panelists whose paths to Imagineering varied but ultimately have led them to success. Two were winners of the Imaginations Design Competition: Daniel Joseph and Dex Tanksley. You can read about their winning projects and subsequent careers with Walt Disney Imagineering in my previous blog post here.

The project challenge for the 2017 Imaginations Design Competition will be announced this summer at disneyimaginations.com



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About January 2016

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in January 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2015 is the previous archive.

February 2016 is the next archive.

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