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April 2, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando opens Manatee Rehabilitation area to all visitors


Much of SeaWorld Orlando’s rescue and rehabilitation work is housed beyond the theme park in a 5-acre Rescue Center that is not part of most visitors’ daily experience. However, that is changing with the company’s new focus on showing how it helps animals in need. One of the first steps in SeaWorld’s campaign to “turn the park inside out” is the opening of the Manatee Rehabilitation area this past week.


Recuperating manatees have been housed in a natural-looking pool behind Turtle Trek for years. Visitors walk down ramps to enter the attraction and once inside, they have floor-to-ceiling underwater viewing of the manatees. When visitors exit the attraction, they can observe the huge sea cows from the surface of the pools. On Wednesday – Manatee Appreciation Day – the sea cows could be seen gliding through the water and surfacing periodically to eat the lettuce a SeaWorld team member was tossing into the pool. (Manatees can stay underwater, but must come to surface to breathe because they are mammals.) There even were adorable baby manatees that had been orphaned in the pool.


“All the manatees here at SeaWorld are rescued animals,” said John “J.P.” Peterson, supervisor of animal care at SeaWorld Orlando. “There’s a moratorium on breeding, so no one breeds manatees in captivity.”

The new Manatee Rehabilitation area connects the manatee pool outside Turtle Trek with two medical pools that have long been part of the Rescue Center. (Guests who pay an extra charge for a behind-the-scenes tour have been able to see the center, which previously included the pools. The cost for the tour is $29 for adults and $9 for children ages 3 to 9. The tour still exists, but the medical pools are open now to all regular SeaWorld visitors. For more about the behind-the-scenes tour, see my previous blog post.)


“This new opportunity that our guests have actually allows them to not just see the manatees that are getting better and are almost ready to be returned, but we are allowing you to come back to our rehabilitation pools,” Peterson, who can be seen on ABC’s "Sea Rescue," said. “These animals might have come in a day ago or week ago or they might be a long-term-care animal that we’re having to work with. This allows our guests to come up and watch us work with them, understand them, and know the plight of these animals. Also, it shows what SeaWorld and the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) are doing together to help these animals.”


Of the two rehabilitation pools, one has a false bottom, which allows the SeaWorld staff members to easily lower and raise the manatees for medical care. Right now, two manatees inhabit that pool: Trooper and TM1606.

“These manatees typically require a little more care. One in here has some signs of cold stress, which essentially is like hypothermia in humans. They become kind of lethargic, they might stop eating or get some infections,” said Mariana, who is with SeaWorld’s education team. “The other one, Trooper, wasn’t eating the way he should have so he lost a lot of weight. Because of that, we needed to monitor them more closely.”


The new walkway and patio between the pools features displays that list dangers to manatees in the wild; solutions that all beachgoers and boaters can implement; and how to correctly dispose of fishing lines so they will not become a hazard to marine animals. There also are videos telling the stories of the rescued animals and even one of the park’s rescue vehicles used to transport injured animals is parked nearby.


SeaWorld has rescued nine manatees so far this year and has returned 12, Peterson said. “Last year’s animals we were able to get out to warm areas during the cold seasons so they can learn their migration routes. The animals coming in this year, hopefully we can get them turned around and back out even quicker. Our entire goal is to rescue these animals, rehabilitate these animals and return them.”

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the opening of its Manatee Rehabilitation area. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my story.


April 5, 2016

Playlist Live 2016 brings YouTube celebrities to Orlando this month


In just a little over two weeks, Playlist Live 2016 kicks off in Orlando, and a limited number of tickets still are available. Registration for the YouTube celebrity meet-ups opened on Saturday, however, and many were filled to capacity in just minutes. Dan and Phil, former BBC Radio 1 hosts, and llama-lover Twaimz (“The Llama Song”) were among the most popular creators hosting meet-ups.

My 13-year-old son, who is going to Playlist Live for the second year, said trying to get into the popular meet-ups is worse than registering for a runDisney race! I didn’t think anything could produce that same level of angst, but he was at his computer ready to go at the appointed time and still did not get his first choice. (He is happy with his alternate meet-ups, though.)


Playlist Live started six years ago in Orlando as a way for attendees to learn more about video production from experienced creators. It has grown to include meet-ups with popular stars, Q&As and short performances from featured guests, musical performances and a dance party, and an inflatable joust and interactive games. The three-day convention takes place at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

And there’s a definite Disney connection -- other than the proximity to Walt Disney World. Maker Studios, a multi-channel network and YouTube video supplier, was purchased by The Walt Disney Company two years ago. In December 2015, Maker Studios became a subsidiary of the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media division. Maker Studios is a sponsor of the convention, and one of its co-founders, Shay Carl Butler, has his own popular family video blog, The Shaytards.


The Shaytards, some of my son’s favorite YouTubers, will again be making appearances at Playlist Live 2016. Other popular creators from Maker Studios who will be at the convention are Bratayley, a family of video bloggers; Ed Bassmaster, who is known for videos of his pranks; and Bart Baker, a creator of musical paradies.

For many of today's teens and tweens, social media stars are the celebrities they most want to meet, and Playlist Live gives them the opportunity to do just that. Parents again will have their own lounge, much like similar facilities at rock concerts, so they can be on site if their children need them, but they're not tagging along with their cool offspring.

Playlist Live 2016 takes place April 22-24. A Standard Pass, which is good for full access on Saturday and Sunday, costs $136.99. A Business Pass includes the Saturday and Sunday programming, as well as Friday for the Business Day and Insight Track, and is $236.99. (The Business Day and Insight Track are small-group sessions led by popular YouTube personalities and designed to teach attendees about starting their own You Tube channels.) A Parent Pass, with access to the parent lounge, is $135.99. Prices were lower when tickets were first released and have increased as the conference has approached.


April 7, 2016

Skip packet pick-up at next runDisney expo – for a price


runDisney quietly has introduced a new service for its next race weekend, which takes place next week at Walt Disney World. At the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side weekend, runners can choose to skip packet pick-up at the runDisney Health and Fitness Expo and collect their bibs, race shirts and pre-purchased merchandise at the courses on race days.


As you might – and should – have guessed, the new VIP Race Day Packet Pick-up is not free. It’s another upcharge offering in the steady stream of Walt Disney World experiences that are being sold for additional costs. The price is $39 per race packet, and the service is available for the 10K, Half Marathon and Dark Side Challenge. (Those running the 5K cannot purchase this service.)

If you want to purchase the VIP Race Day Packet Pickup, you must do so by 8 p.m. EST April 11. Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side weekend runs April 14-17. The VIP Race Day Packet Pickup service is a separate transaction from race registration. You can find the option by clicking the link under “Runner Info” and “Packet Pick-Up” on the official runDisney website. There are a limited number of VIP packet pick-up packages for sale, and no refunds will be issued once the packages are purchased. You must upload your completed waiver during the checkout process.

Here’s how it works:

** The VIP Race Day Packet Pick-up will be open from 3:30 to 5 a.m. April 16 and 17.

** You must have a valid ID in order to pick up your packet (driver's license, passport, Military ID, Government issued ID.) You are the only person who can pick up your packet.

** Because you are collecting your shirt and commemorative items, as well as you bib, before the race, you will need to either check the items in your gEAR bag (also provided that morning) or find other options, such as handing them off to a chEARing friend or stashing the items in your car if you drove.

** No shirt exchange will be available at the VIP tent.

Some runDisney participants noticed that the website originally also had language that offered packet pick-up and delivery to Disney hotels for the same price of $39 per adult runner. Packet pickup for each additional minor staying in the same room would be $15. However, this option has since been removed from the website.

So, is the VIP Race Day Packet Pick-up worth the price? It’s certainly a matter of perspective. Some commenters in online forums pointed out that the $39 would be well worth it to them because they would not have to arrive at Walt Disney World as early, allowing them to avoid taking an extra day off work. Some said the $39 was a small price to pay to have more time in the theme parks. Other runners, especially those with families, said the total cost would be too steep and they would make time to go to the expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

What do you think about the new VIP Race Day Packet Pick-up packages? Tell us in the comments.


April 9, 2016

Ideas for celebrating the DVD release of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'


As "Star Wars” fans surely know, the newest movie, “The Force Awakens,” was released on DVD and Blu-ray this past week. And that has many of us eager to enjoy the film again at home and perhaps escape to the Death Star or the Millennium Falcon, depending which side you identify with.

Young children have the opportunity today to take on their favorite "Star Wars" personas at Disney Store locations nationwide, which are hosting a free Star Wars Adventure Event for children ages 3 and older. “Join the Resistance and take part in defense training with Stormtroopers, Millennium Falcon flight training and more,” according to the official description. The Star Wars Adventure Event will take place at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Central Florida’s only Disney Store at Florida Mall will be offering the event. Lineups are not allowed more than 30 minutes before the event begins.

For older children, like my own, the "Star Wars" celebration will be centered on a family movie night. We’ll pull out the sleeping bags and blankets and pop popcorn for the experience. Of course, my husband and I will pause the movie at certain points to tell the kids what it was like when we saw the original “Star Wars” movies in theaters in the 1970s and ‘80s.


But I also found some clever Star Wars-themed ideas on the Disney Family Fun website that I plan to incorporate in our evening, as well. Families can print out Star Wars Bingo cards and use their own coins or pebbles for markers. But instead of calling out a letter, players will mark a character’s image the first time he or she is spotted on screen. I like this idea because it might help maintain interest in a movie for family members who have already seen it and have different levels of devotion to the franchise.


Disney Family Fun also offers simple recipes for Star Wars themed desserts, too, that go beyond just a cupcake. How about an R2-D2 Berry Parfait? I know my daughter will love this treat, and it’s healthy, too! Here’s how to create your own droid dessert:

1. Start by putting 3-4 spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt into the bottom of the jar.

2. Next, put a layer of blueberries. Try to keep the layer of blueberries even from the front to the back so your layers stay straight.

3. Put another layer of vanilla yogurt (2-3 spoonfuls), then another layer of blueberries.

4. You'll need one more layer of vanilla yogurt (2-3 spoonfuls), then 1 more layer of blueberries.
5. Now, you'll need to make the vanilla yogurt gray for the top (and last layer) of yogurt. In a small mixing bowl, scoop 2-3 spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt. Add 5 drops of blue food coloring, 5 drops of yellow food coloring, and 5 drops of red food coloring. Mix the yogurt and coloring together until you get a nice gray color.

6. If the gray looks too dark, add 1 spoonful of vanilla yogurt at a time until you get a light gray color.

7. Then, put 2-3 spoonfuls of the gray vanilla yogurt as the top and final layer of your parfait.

8. Take a napkin, wrap it around 1 finger, and clean off a small space near the front of the jar.

9. Place a raspberry or strawberry in the clean space you just made. Your R2-D2 Berry Parfait is complete!

10. Optional: Place the lid on the jar. Take a piece of blue felt and place it on top of the lid. Trace the top of the lid onto the felt. Cut out the circle you just made on the blue felt. Take a piece of tape and tape it to the top of the lid.


Of course, if you are in Orlando and want to immerse yourself in the galaxy far, far away, Walt Disney World is the place to go. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to the Star Tours simulator attraction, which has a new sequence from “The Force Awakens”; Jedi Training Academy, where young padawans can find out if they can command The Force and challenge Darth Vader; Star Wars Launch Bay, where guests can meet Chewbacca and Kylo Ren; the new stage show “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away,” which debuted last week; and the night-time fireworks, “Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular.

For those in a shopping mood, there is plenty of merchandise at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but visitors can also check out the Star Wars Galactic Outpost store at Disney Springs – without paying for Disney admission or parking. Can’t make it there? The Shop Disney Parks app sells 140 Star Wars-themed items directly from the parks. I recently ordered a BB-8 dress and mouse-ears hat for my daughter and they arrived within days. The process was so much easier for me than running around the parks looking for the correct size.

Another unique Star Wars shopping opportunity exists next week at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World. The runDisney Health & Fitness Expo will be held there April 14 to 16 in conjunction with the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side weekend. The expo is free and open to the public. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be race-specific merchandise on sale, as well as vendors who sell running gear and all sorts of Star Wars items.

Finally, Star Wars fans got a glimpse into the future of the franchise when the trailer for the next movie, “Rogue One,” was released Thursday. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a spin-off that takes place just before the original “Star Wars” movie. And isn’t that the perfect excuse for another family movie night to watch the original trilogy?


April 12, 2016

'Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away' show begins at Disney's Hollywood Studios


It’s been almost a year since Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosted the last of the now-discontinued Star Wars Weekends. And just when many fans were missing the annual opportunity to immerse themselves in the sci-fi galaxy, the park has introduced two new experiences for Star Wars fans.

A new stage production – “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” – and a stormtrooper procession debuted last week as part of the summer’s “Star Wars Awakens” entertainment offerings. My family and I were in the park and experienced both this past weekend on our own, not as part of a media event.


Although there are no published times for the stormtrooper procession, we happened upon it at 4 p.m. when we were arriving near the stage at the end of Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Chinese Theater. Captain Phasma from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” leads a platoon of First Order stormtroopers on a march from Star Wars Launch Bay to the stage multiple times each day. Once there, she instructs the stormtroopers about what is expected of them -- sort of a training exercise, if you will. The whole “show” lasts about five minutes, but it does give guests and Star Wars fans a sense of the foreboding First Order.


“Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” revisits iconic moments from the film saga with movie clips and appearances from popular Star Wars characters like Darth Vader, Darth Maul, C-3P0, R2-D2 and Chewbacca. However, the only characters from the most recent installment are Kylo Ren and BB-8. Although that is somewhat disappointing to fans of the newest trio of heroes, it is the lovable droid’s first appearance as a character at Walt Disney World. My 11-year-old daughter was really happy to see BB-8, but she would have loved to see Rey, as well.


Overall, “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” was not what my family and I were expecting – or hoping for. The production is heavy on movie clips and the characters don’t do much more than a few poses on the stage. There isn’t a lot of interaction between the characters, and it feels pretty superficial. I guess we had been spoiled by “Hyperspace Hoopla,” a stage show that capped off each day during Star Wars Weekends. That show included a large number of Star Wars characters in a mashup of dancing and pop-culture references. It was very creative and well-executed. And the new show just isn’t.

It feels like a placeholder until the new immersive and detailed Star Wars Land opens. The best thing I can say about “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” is that it does give audiences the opportunity to see some of the beloved Star Wars characters that otherwise won’t be making appearances (as far as we know) this summer.

For its first week, “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” took place five times a day – at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. at Center Stage. Be sure to get there early, especially if you have small children, because it will be tough for them to see the stage from more than a few rows back.


April 14, 2016

50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios serves up delicious dishes & entertainment


Who doesn’t love comfort food from time to time? Guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios can enjoy a traditional “home-cooked” meal and the environment of a much simpler family meal time – the 1950s – when they choose to dine at the 50's Prime Time Café inside the theme park at Walt Disney World.


My family and I snagged a last-minute reservation for this table-service restaurant on Saturday, and we were not sorry afterward. It had been years since we’d eaten there, but the 50's Prime Time Café remains consistent -- each time has been an entertaining and delicious meal. I definitely will continue to recommend the 50's Prime Time Café to guests of all ages.


Your dining experience begins when you check in at the desk inside the restaurant, which is located near the front of the park, just off the first block of Hollywood Boulevard. You are invited to wait in the Tune-In Lounge, which immediately immerses guests in that retro experience. Feel free to watch black-and-white clips from popular television shows circa 1955 on floor-model sets. Kitschy wallpaper, orange and teal pleather seats, multi-light floor lamps and bi-level end tables make you feel like you are in your grandmother’s house.


The lounge actually serves the full restaurant menu, plus there are plenty of adult beverages at the bar and shakes to go. You won’t want to skip the house specialty – a peanut butter and jelly shake.


When your table is ready, the host or hostess will take your party of “cousins” into one of many kitchens. You’ll be seated at a Formica table with views of built-in shelves and cabinets full of ‘50s knick-knacks, tea towels, vintage-looking curtains and more retro TV sets.


Perhaps the most fun part this meal (besides eating) is that your server is not above gently scolding diners who do not mind their manners. Put your elbows on the table? You’ll be told to rethink that. Need to make a trip to the bathroom? Don’t think you’ll escape and return without being asked if you washed your hands – no matter how old you are! The server may also “help” stragglers finish their meals by using the “airplane technique.” Years ago, my father was cajoled into pantomiming the motions to the nursery rhyme, “The Little Teapot.” Talk about funny!


But the real reason you’re there is to eat, right? Our family chose Mom’s Old-fashioned Pot Roast, Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken and Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie. My daughter had A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes, which included the pot roast, fried chicken and traditional meatloaf. Truly, none of us had a bad thing to say about any of our meals. The pot roast, which is served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, brown gravy, carrots, celery and onions, is my go-to meal and one that is always satisfying. Afterward, we indulged in traditional desserts of warm apply crisp a la mode and Dad’s Brownie sundae. Both were generous portions and definitely enough to share. To see the fill menu for the 50's Prime Time Café, see our AllEars.Net menu page. There is also a children’s menu.


50's Prime Time Café is a popular restaurant, so I strongly suggest making reservations. We were able to make a same-day reservation because we were willing to eat a late dinner (at 9 p.m.) that overlapped with the Star Wars fireworks. Incidentally, when the fireworks started, my children stepped outside and had a decent view of the entire show. And, if you have a window seat, you might even see parts of the fireworks show from inside, too.


April 16, 2016

Review for parents: Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’


Disney’s remake of “The Jungle Book” is one that appeals to a new generation of audiences, but it takes a more serious tone than the 1967 musical film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s stories. Sure, the movie has amusing moments and amazing action sequences, but parents of young children will want to heed the PG rating because there are some scary and dark scenes.

The strength of “The Jungle Book” is, of course, in the adventures of Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi), a “man cub” who grows up in the jungle. In this live-action version, he is adopted by a pack of wolves. Panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) saves Mowgli after he becomes an orphan and entrusts his care to pack leader Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and mama wolf Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o).


The movie opens with Mowgli practicing wolf skills -- learning to run fast enough to outrun predators and to leap between fragile tree branches as another means of escape. These sequences make good use of 3D effects, which enhance the entire movie, making it worth your while to pay a little extra for the 3D version of “The Jungle Book.”

Although Sethi clearly is the lead character of “The Jungle Book,” it could be argued that the star is the collection of digital effects that go way beyond the convincing use of 3D photography. The newest technology has allowed filmmakers to create an environment so lifelike that audiences quickly immerse themselves in the film and assume the jungle is a real place.

“Live-action” is something of a misnomer for this movie, however, because Sethi is the only full-fledged actor in a movie that is mostly computer-generated imagery (CGI). However, a cast of well-known actors lend their voices to the animals of the jungle. We are introduced to many at the beginning of the movie when they gather at Peace Rock. Typically, the rock is submerged, but when water is scarce and it becomes visible, all species know that they can come to drink at Peace Rock without fearing attacks from predators.

Tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) chooses to ignore this rule of survival and shows up at Peace Rock to threaten Mowgli, setting up his pursuit of the man cub throughout the film. The tiger is so menacing, it’s easy to forget he’s not real. He appears when you would expect him to – and often when you don’t, so be prepared to jump in your seat a few times. Parents may find these scenes are good times to take little ones to the bathroom.


Director Jon Favreau ("Iron Man" and “Elf”) skillfully leads audiences on a journey through the jungle after panther Bagheera decides that Mowgli must return to the human world for his own safety. Along the way, he befriends Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), and we are treated to the pair frolicking to the famous song, “The Bare Necessities.” Although the lighthearted scene is most welcome in a landscape of serious action, it does seem a little out of place, too. Mowgli must go on to escape encounters with the freakishly gigantic King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) and slithering python Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

As readers of my previous reviews know, one of my pet peeves about Disney movies is the almost-certain use of death to propel the story forward. There is no denying that “The Jungle Book” has its share of deaths, but they don’t feel gratuitous or drawn out. Instead, the audience will find the ending fitting, especially when they see Mowgli come full circle.

My 11-year-old daughter thoroughly enjoyed the movie. She did get startled by some of the action, but she didn’t have any lasting fears. My 13-year-old son, however, found the tone of the movie to be too serious to be entertaining. It was no “Zootopia” or “The Lion King,” he said. Although “The Jungle Book” does have a happy ending, the villain is not a singular entity that can be neatly banished. Rather, the multiple predators of the jungle are a constant threat to those weaker than them. And perhaps that leaves us all a little uneasy. Still, I enjoyed the movie, and I suspect many moviegoers – adult and older children – will feel the same way.

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


April 19, 2016

Disneyland offers special 'Celebrate Girl Scouts' programs in April, May, June



Disneyland is celebrating Girl Scouts of all ages in April, May and June with Disney Youth Education Series programs offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Individual girls or their troops can register now for special events at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

If this sounds exciting – and who wouldn’t like learning at a theme park? -- don’t delay because some programs already are sold out.

Saturday programs take place at Disneyland Park. Those that still are available for Cadets, Seniors and Ambassadors include:

Culinary Experience in Disneyland Park (May 14, June 25): “Take a behind the scenes tour of some of Disneyland Resort Food and Beverage Operations. Learn how Disney meets and exceeds the demand for the high volume quality meals we serve to millions of people. Get a peek behind the curtain into how we receive, store, prepare and serve Guest meals. Gain an understanding of how we work with other companies, vendors and operating partners, showcasing our Disney Difference.”

Disney’s Approach to Leadership and Teamwork (May 14, June 4, June 11, June 25): “Discover your personal leadership style by exploring Walt Disney’s leadership styles, past and present, and discover how through small and simple acts great things can be accomplished. Exercises designed to reinforce courage, curiosity and constancy aim to give participants the confidence to set goals and accomplish their dreams.”

Marketing the Story of Your Visual Brand (May 14, June 4, June 11, June 25): “Disneyland Park will serve as the backdrop for this exploration of photography, public relations & marketing and its relationship to story. Scouts will discover their artistic eye and come to understand the technical and creative elements that result in images with impact that connect people, places and events. The iconic environment provides scouts with the opportunity to discover and apply the art of storytelling through the art and science of photojournalism.”

One Saturday program at Disneyland park is just for Daisies, Brownies and Juniors:

Energy and Waves Physics Lab 101 (May 14, June 25): “Discover light and sound as forms of energy and how to use them in practical application. See first-hand how these elements are a vital part of creating world class attractions and how Disney uses these physical properties to entertain and amaze guests from all over the world. As they travel through the park, scouts will come to understand some of physics most noted historical figures and their impact on the field.”

Sunday programs take place at Disney California Adventure. Each targets a different age group of Girl Scouts.

For Daisies only – must be ages 5 to 7 years old and have an adult chaperone stay with them for the entire duration of the program:

Exploring the Golden State (May 1, May 15, June 5, June 12, June 26): Learn about California’s rich history including the influencial Dreamers who have shaped the Golden State. Explore the people, events, hopes and dreams that have shaped the Disneyland® Resort’s home state.

For Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors:

Creating a Leadership Legacy (May 1, May 15, June 5, June 12, June 26): Discover Walt Disney’s secret of making dreams come true. Scouts will become confident in their ability to accomplish their goals and be motivated to achieve the impossible. Scouts will also be challenged to develop personal core values, have the courage to step out of their comfort zone, and identify their personal leadership legacy.

Each program is approximately three hours long, and troops and individual Scouts can expect to experience the events with other Girl Scouts. “Exploring the Golden State” is about two hours in long. Particpants must be at east 7 years old, with the exception of “Exploring the Golden State,” which is designed for ages 5 to 7.

To attend one or more of these sessions just for Girl Scouts, each girl and each chaperone must purchase a Youth Education Series ticket package. They can choose from a one-day, one-park ticket for $85; one-day, park-hopper ticket for $124; two-day park-hopper for $168; three-day, park-hopper for $205. An additional Youth Education Series program can be added to a multi-day ticket package for $44 per participant. No taxes or service charges will be added. These prices include a Disney Youth Education Series “Celebrate Girl Scouts” participation patch and Disney Youth Education Series string backpack.

One complimentary chaperone ticket will be issued for every 10 paid Scouts. One complimentary troop leader ticket will be issued for every 30 paid students. The same discounted pricing is available for additional guests visiting Disneyland on the same day. These additional guests, including non-participating youth, will not be permitted to attend the programs but instead can explore the park.

For more details and to receive a registration form, email DLR.Celebrate.Girl.Scouts@disney.com or call 714-956-6454 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.

Although Walt Disney World is not offering the “Celebrate Girl Scouts” program in 2016, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops with 10 or more participants can register for regular Youth Education Series programs year-round at DisneyYES.com. The Orlando resort offers such unique programs as going backstage at Cirque du Soleil, discovering marine life conservation, everyday chemistry, exploring careers in zoological sciences, and the evolution of technology, to name a few subjects.


April 21, 2016

Celebrate Earth Day at Epcot with special meet-and-greet, family friendly activities


Many Disney fans know that Animal Kingdom celebrates Earth Day – that’s this Friday! – with its Party for the Planet. After all, Earth Day is the Walt Disney World theme park’s birthday, too. But did you know that Epcot marks the day with special events, as well? Certainly the nature tie-in is a good fit during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which is going on now.


The activity at Epcot I’m most excited about takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Guests can meet Captain Ron, a dog who is a member of Disney's sea turtle conservation team trained to sniff out sea turtle nests along the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort so that scientists can mark the nests to protect them.

“The strip of coast is one of the largest sections on Earth for green sea turtles to lay their eggs,” said Kyle Huetter, education manager of Animals, Science and Environment at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.


This special dog and his trainer, Pepe Peruvero, can be seen helping the sea turtle conservation team patrol the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings from late June through the end of August. Captain Ron, a 3-year-old pocket beagle, joined the team last summer.

“Dogs have amazing noses, and Disney is the first organization to use them for sea turtle conservation. A good nose, like Captain Ron’s, can cut egg-finding times from 30 minutes to about 30 seconds,” said Dr. Anne Savage, conservation director of Animals, Science and Environment at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

“He is trained to locate a specific scent that is attributed to newly laid eggs, as eggs smell different throughout their time on the beach. Captain Ron is being trained to provide an alert when he sniffs sea turtle egg mucus. This will allow the team to better survey the beach for nests and protect them from common threats -- foot traffic, construction activity, and even predators.”

So how did Peruyero train a dog for such a unique task?

“I selected him out of a litter that I monitored for several weeks,” he said. “The name Captain Ron was actually selected before I even picked the dog – it’s a very funny movie that I have enjoyed in the past with a character that is very similar to my dog’s personality. In the movie, the character’s personality, and sort of offbeat exterior, is only a cover for a more sensitive, internal personality. The captain in the movie is also a problem solver. These are all characteristics that my Captain Ron has.

“Captain Ron’s training is based on a toy-reward system. He has associated the odor of sea turtle egg mucus with the response of the toy. Most dogs take several weeks to learn and are older and take much longer to master the discipline. Captain Ron was a bit of an anomaly -- it took him less than 30 minutes to imprint on the odor and approximately 4 to 5 days to begin to respond in an acceptable fashion that we could transfer out into the field.

“During the off-season we have frozen samples that are collected by the research group that allow us to train and keep him on track,” Peruyero said. “We also have an artificial beach which we have created at our facility which is approximately 30 yards around and has beach sand mixed with salt water and it also has shells, seaweeds and other distractors. This is the area that we use to train since we are well over 100 miles from the nearest beach.”

“Captain Ron's job as a sea turtle and detection expert is seasonal, therefore there's a lot of off-season time that he is just my buddy and pet. Most days he just hangs out with me at work and helps me train some other dogs. He has a tremendous personality, very even-tempered. This is something Captain Ron has naturally.”

Captain Ron and Peruyero will be near the scuba diver lockout chamber in The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot for a short presentation at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. After that, guests can meet Captain Ron for a photo and talk with Peruyero.

“Beyond Captain Ron’s abilities, if we can help make a connection to him because people love dogs, and they can see what he’s doing to help sea turtles, then we can inspire more people to care about the environment and how we can all help to make a difference,” Savage said.

To increase the public's awareness about the plight of sea turtles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allow a few trained and approved groups to conduct nighttime turtle walks along certain beaches in Brevard County. The walks take place in June and July, and registration usually takes place in May. My family and I did one of the turtle walks two summers ago, and we were fortunate to see a sea turtle come ashore and nest. You can read about our experience here.



In addition to learning about sea turtles, guests at Epcot can visit several gardens and participate in other fun and educational activities for Earth Day Weekend (Saturday and Sunday only). At the Audubon Florida Garden (located across from Cactus Road Rally with Cars characters), visitors are invited to compare their legs and “wingspan” to a bird’s. Depending on their size, guests can see what type of bird they would be -- from an ostrich or condor to a hawk or crane. Guests also can expect to see purple martins flying overhead. Currently, about 30 to 40 birds are nesting in the purple martin houses at this garden.


At the Nature Conservancy Garden (located near the end of Imagination Walkway near Music Garden Melodies play area), visitors can participate in a game to learn more about they are using resources and understanding their environmental footprints. Guests can “Leap for Wildlife” at the National Wildlife Federation Garden (located on the other side of Music Garden Melodies), where they will be challenged to see how far they can jump forward and compare their leap to that of an animal or species.


In addition, Epcot will again host some of the activities it debuted during Outdoor Family Fun Weekend earlier this month. Here are those details. Plus, on Earth Day (Friday only) at “The Jungle Book” Sand Sculpture near the African Outpost in World Showcase, cast members will be handing out complimentary buttons for the new movie.


April 23, 2016

Volunteer opportunities for teens at Walt Disney World


Teenagers who would like to earn community service hours before the end of the school year still can register to volunteer at the 2016 Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games on May 20 and 21 at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.

Disney volunteers, also known as Sports Enthusiasts, can work at events held at the facility or at runDisney races held on Disney World property. They must be at least 14 to volunteer and those younger than 15 must be accompanied by an adult. All minors must have a parent or guardian's permission and a signed waiver.

For the 2016 Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games, volunteers are needed to help with Opening Ceremonies, Healthy Athletes, Meals Assistant, Cycling, Team Soccer, Soccer Skills, Tennis Skills, Track and Field and more. Volunteer shifts are typically assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

The only event on the summer calendar for Sports Enthusiasts is AAU National Club Championships for Track and Field, which takes place July 9 to 16. Volunteer positions will be available for start/finish line, field events, clerk's tent and awards tent. Registration has not opened yet but is expected to soon, so keep an eye on this website if you are interested.

For runDisney races, volunteers may work at the Health & Fitness Expo or kid races located at ESPN Wide World of Sports or at the start/finish line or along the course of races that go through the parks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The next runDisney event in Orlando is the Walt Disney World Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which includes the half marathon, a new 10K, a 5K and kid races. All events take place Nov. 3 to 6. Registration for volunteers opens several months in advance, but it is not available yet.

Walt Disney World recognizes that even though its Sports Enthusiasts are volunteering for their own personal reasons, they could not host the races without the volunteers' help. As such, volunteers are given "appreciation," for their time. Each person receives a snack and one commemorative piece of apparel for each volunteer shift.

In addition, volunteers are eligible to earn points toward a complimentary theme-park ticket. Each hour of service completed is equal to one point, and it takes 16 points to earn a day's admission to Walt Disney World. Earned tickets are mailed within 60 days of reaching 16 points.

To get started, you must register through Active.com. You have the option to access the information as a guest or to create an account, which streamlines future registrations.

Volunteers will receive confirmation in the mail of the shifts for which they have been scheduled about a month prior to the event. The mailing also will include further information on parking, directions, and other useful information.

Questions? Call the Sports Enthusiast Information Line at 407-938-3880, or email wdw.sports.enthusiast@disneysports.com.


April 26, 2016

Disney Channel to air all 100 of its original movies this summer


E! News has referred to the summer of 2016 as a throwback to 2009 largely because of concert reunions among the popular Disney Channel stars of that era. Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas are taking their “Future Now” tour on the road, and Joe Jonas’s band DNCE is opening for Selena Gomez’s “Rival” tour. But now Disney Channel itself is taking us back to that heyday with its announcement that it will replay every Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) ever made to kick off Memorial Day Weekend.

In celebration of its 100th movie, a remake of the 1980s film “Adventures in Babysitting” starring Sabrina Carpenter (“Girl Meets World”) and Sofia Carson (“Descendants”) that debuts June 24, the network will air 51 of its most popular movies during the four-day Memorial Day Weekend. Encore presentations of these and every other DCOM ever made will continue through June. The movies also can be seen on the Disney Channel app and VOD (video on demand).

All 100 DCOMs will be available for sale throughout the summer on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play. The “100th DCOM Celebration” begins May 27, and the schedule is posted at the end of this blog post.


In the United States, DCOMs hold the record of six of the Top 7 original cable movies ever: “High School Musical 2,” “Teen Beach Movie,” “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie,” “Descendants,” “Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension” and “Camp Rock.” Just about all of these movies are ones that my family watched repeatedly on Disney Channel.


It’s difficult for me to believe that it’s been 10 years since the original “High School Musical” movie aired on Disney Channel and eight years since we first saw “Camp Rock.” Both of my children were young when the movies were released, but they were so in love with the characters, the music and the choreography. We had viewing parties, Halloween costumes, and just about every piece of “High School Musical” and “Camp Rock” merchandise, I think. (“Hannah Montana” was wildly popular during this time, too, but the two “Hannah Montana” movies were theater releases, rather than DCOMs.)

As a parent, I fondly remember the times we got to see some of these artists in concert at special events at Walt Disney World. In 2007 and 2008, my children and I attended the taping of the Disney Channel Games at ESPN Wide World of Sports. It aired in segments on Disney Channel and culminated with concert footage -- also shot at the Walt Disney World sports facility – that featured Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato and the Cheetah Girls. Disney gave away free tickets to the concerts both years, and we were fortunate to go the second year. We also saw the principal actors from “High School Musical” and performances by Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers at the Magic Kingdom during tapings for what was then called the “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” special.


In 2010, Kevin and Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato and other “Camp Rock” actors shot a Friends for Change segment for Disney Channel in Tampa. At the time, I worked at the Orlando Sentinel, and I was invited to interview the performers on location. That certainly was an interesting experience!

So, my family and I definitely were immersed in Disney Channel during those years, and our nostalgia most likely will draw us to watch the network during the “100th DCOM Celebration.” We also can look forward to “High School Musical 4,” for which Disney currently is holding video and in-person casting auditions.

Let the binge-watching begin! The “100th DCOM Celebration” schedule is as follows:

FRIDAY, May 27:

10:00 a.m. – “Disney’s Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama”

11:20 a.m. – “Read It and Weep”

12:55 p.m. – “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior”

2:40 p.m. – “Jump In!”

4:15 p.m. – “Lemonade Mouth”

6:15 p.m. – “Zapped”

8:00 p.m. – “High School Musical 2″

9:55 p.m. – “The Cheetah Girls 2″

11:45 p.m. – “Zenon the Zequel”

1:25 a.m. – “Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge”

2:55 a.m. – “Twitches Too”

4:25 a.m. – “Alley Cats Strike!”


6:25 a.m. – “You Wish!”

8:05 a.m. – “The Proud Family Movie”

9:50 a.m. – “Quints”

11:25 a.m. – “Horse Sense”

1:10 p.m. – “Cow Belles”

2:50 p.m. – “Twitches”

4:30 p.m. – “The Even Stevens Movie”

6:15 p.m. – “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie”

8:00 p.m. – “Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam”

9:50 p.m. – “Princess Protection Program”

11:30 p.m. – “The Cheetah Girls: One World”

1:05 a.m. – “Zenon: Z3″

2:40 a.m. – “Halloweentown High”

4:20 a.m. – “The Thirteenth Year”


6:00 a.m. – “Right On Track”

7:45 a.m. – “Full-Court Miracle”

9:35 a.m. – “Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off”

11:20 a.m. – “Brink!”

1:10 p.m. – “Double Teamed”

2:55 p.m. – “Rip Girls”

4:35 p.m. – “Motocrossed”

6:20 p.m. – “Cloud 9″

8:00 p.m. – “Teen Beach 2″

9:55 p.m. – “Bad Hair Day”

11:40 p.m. – “How to Build a Better Boy”

1:20 a.m. – “Pixel Perfect”

2:55 a.m. – “The Other Me”

4:30 a.m. – “Genius”


10:00 a.m. – “Stuck in the Suburbs”

11:30 a.m. – “Halloweentown”

1:05 p.m. – “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century

2:55 p.m. – “Smart House”

4:25 p.m. – “High School Musical”

6:15 p.m. – “Camp Rock”

8:00 p.m. – “Descendants”

10:05 p.m. – “Teen Beach Movie”

11:55 p.m. – “Cadet Kelly”

1:50 a.m. – “The Cheetah Girls”

3:35 a.m. – “Johnny Tsunami”


April 28, 2016

Walt Disney World announces 2016 Shining Stars among its Dreamers and Doers


Walt Disney World has announced its 2016 Shining Stars recipients from among about 400 Central Florida students who were named Disney Dreamers and Doers last month.

The students originally were chosen by their schools for actions they took this past school year to inspire other students. Each of the 400 winners at schools across Central Florida was recognized with a medal, a certificate and four one-day theme-park tickets to use during the next year.


In addition, each Disney Dreamer and Doer was entered in the competition for Disney's Shining Stars. These awards are given to 15 students -- one each at the elementary-, middle- and high-school level in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties. Shining Stars receive Disney World annual passes for their immediate families for one year, Mousecar statues (Disney's version of the "Oscar" featuring Mickey Mouse), and certificates noting their accomplishments. Plus, the students and their families are invited to attend an IllumiNations Dessert Party at Epcot on June 4. Disney officials, not school principals, choose the Shining Stars.

Among this year's Shining Stars are students who have made community contributions by assisting elderly family members, fostering acceptance among schoolmates, and helping others learn from their health challenges.

The 2016 Disney Dreamers and Doers Shining Stars are:

Lake County

Ryan Boyd, Groveland Elementary School, 4th grade
Tyler LaBelle, Windy Hill Middle School, 7th grade
Reaghan Wooster, Tavares High School, 12th grade

Orange County

Bryce Drayton, Apopka Elementary School, 5th grade
Cortez Fisher, Central Florida Leadership Charter Academy, 8th grade
Tomas Castorani Correa, Magnolia School, 10th grade

Osceola County

Ayden Nadler, Harmony Community School, 5th grade
Haley Steidley, Trinity Lutheran School, 8th grade
Carla Rivera, New Dimensions High School, 11th grade

Polk County

Markayla Wesley, Caldwell Elementary School, 5th grade
Joshua Bowen, Lakeland Highlands Middle School, 8th grade
Chanel Jackson, Kathleen High School, 11th grade

Seminole County

Kristen Spennemann, Lake Mary Preparatory Elementary School, 3rd grade
Kaitlyn Boyle, Greenwood Lakes Middle School, 7th grade
Emma McDonald, Lake Howell High School, 12th grade

So, how do you apply to become a Disney Dreamer and Doer?

It’s never too soon for students to take positive actions in their communities, but the application process historically takes place in the spring. This year had the earliest deadlines in recent years – in February – so watch for information at your school or online.

The process begins when students are asked to nominate themselves by writing a 300-word paragraph describing their achievements. The official rules give these examples of student contributions: "strengthening their families; conservation/environmental projects; helping others; safety; school achievement in spite of barriers; improving their schools; serving as a role model for siblings/friends; or any other positive action." An addition to the rules for 2016 notes: “High academic achievement and volunteer involvement can be considered but should not be the only determining factors to select a school’s Disney Dreamer and Doer.”

Then, the student asks a teacher to champion his or her application by writing a 75-word endorsement. The two essays are turned in to the school's principal by the school's announced deadline, and a school winner is chosen based on the strength of the essay. (Grammatical accuracy is not a factor.)

"Students may be comfortable in the spotlight, or shy away from it. Some take positive action that is visible; some actions may not be visible to many," the Disney press release states. "We believe all students do good things and have the potential to be a Disney Dreamer and Doer. We look forward to hearing about students in each of these categories."


April 29, 2016

runDisney adds new Virtual Running Shorts Series for summer


runDisney announced new races on Thursday – and there is no limit on the number of participants, although there still is a deadline to register. Runners and walkers now can sign up for virtual races that are scheduled to begin next month.

If you’ve never heard the term “virtual race,” it refers to a race that can be run in any location, even as part of another actual race. Basically, the participant chooses the pace (walking, jogging, running) and the location (inside, outside, on a treadmill or not).


runDisney is offering participants the opportunity to bring some of the magic of its popular races to their hometowns with its new Virtual Running Shorts Series. The series includes three separate 5Ks and a challenge to complete all three 5K races in specified time frames:


** Yellow Shorts 5K – must be completed between May 15 and June 1. Register now through May 31.

** Red Pants 5K – must be completed between June 5 and 18. Register now through June 17.

** White Glove 5K – must be completed between June19 and 30. Register now through June 29.

Virtual Running Shorts Series – all three races totaling 9.3 miles must be completed in each race’s timeframe. Register now through May 31.

Each 5K costs $39 per person, and the series challenge is $142. So what do you get for that entry fee? Every registration includes a virtual bib and a Mickey finisher medal. The series challenge comes with each of the individual medals plus a fourth medal and a tumbler. Each individual medal represents one of Mickey’s iconic fashion staples, and the challenge medal features Mickey sporting his complete ensemble.

No finishing time is required for the races in the Virtual Running Shorts Series. As with other runDisney 5K races, participants must be at least 5 years old to register, and everyone must sign waivers online during the registration process.

The new runDisney races benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization that fights blood cancers. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also was the celebratory charity of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, meaning it can use the races as both a platform to create awareness and to raise funds for research.

The official runDisney blog states: “Virtual races are becoming more and more popular in the running world with the ease of participating from anywhere. As runDisney continues to grow, we will look for more opportunities to stay connected with our runners as well as introduce a healthy and active lifestyle to new audiences.”

Do you agree – are the new runDisney virtual races good motivators to train? Or is the cost too high when you haven’t stepped foot on Disney property? Tell us in the comments why you think these races are a positive or negative addition to the runDisney portfolio.


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About April 2016

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

March 2016 is the previous archive.

May 2016 is the next archive.

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