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May 2016 Archives

May 3, 2016

Should Disney special-event merchandise only be sold at the event?


For many, if not most, travelers, a fun part of the vacation experience is bringing home a souvenir or two. We love to have something tangible to remind us of our time spent exploring new places. And there’s no doubt that Disney merchandise is some of the most popular – for personal use and for collectors. From the seemingly unlimited supply of Mickey Mouse plush and T-shirts to the high-end Dooney & Bourke bags and Pandora jewelry, Disney Parks (and other Disney properties) offer something for just about everyone.

Special Disney events, such as the Halloween and Christmas parties and park anniversaries, usually mean a new line of commemorative products will be offered for a limited time at the place where the special event is taking place. There is some degree of exclusivity because these items can only be purchased at the events they represent. (Secondary-market sellers are another story.)

Last summer, my family and I made our first trip to Disneyland during the 60th anniversary celebration of the resort, which continues through Sept. 5. Of course, we purchased merchandise from the Disneyland Diamond collection, knowing it was special and something we could only get there. In fact, some of the Diamond products were so popular that they remained out of stock when we visited – nearly three months after the celebration started.


So, imagine our surprise – and disappointment -- this past weekend when my daughter spotted her Diamond edition mouse-ear headband for sale at the Magic Kingdom here in Orlando. It wasn’t labeled as Disneyland 60th anniversary merchandise, rather it was mixed in with other Disney Parks mouse-ear hats and headbands. This certainly was possible because this particular item doesn’t have any wording indicating it was made for the Diamond celebration. Still, it clearly was designed with the anniversary in mind – the bow is blue (the color of the themed merchandise) and bedazzled with fake jewels (diamonds).


Seeing her carefully chosen souvenir from a special event so readily available at another location felt like a betrayal of sorts. There is a reasonable expectation by people attending special events that the exclusive merchandise will not be sold elsewhere by Disney – and certainly not just passed off as regular park merchandise. What makes the exclusive merchandise special is not just the limited quantities of products, but the fact that you experienced the event. To me, it’s kind of like going to your city’s arena for a professional basketball game and being able to buy T-shirts for any of the concert tours that have stopped there in the last year. It doesn’t make sense to make the merchandise available to people who don’t attend the special event, and it takes away something from the people who do.

And, frankly, diluting the exclusivity doesn’t necessarily benefit Disney, either. Sure, the company has the potential to sell more of a certain item because more units are available at more locations, but it might not be in as much demand because buyers know it’s not an “exclusive.”

Do you agree or disagree? Is “exclusive” merchandise more desirable to you? Would you be less likely to buy the merchandise if it were available elsewhere? Tell us in the comments, please.


May 5, 2016

Disney's 'Zootopia,' large collection of bonus features to be released June 7


Fans of Disney’s Zootopia don’t have much longer to wait until they can enjoy the animated movie at home. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ hit will be available on June 7 on Digital HD, Blu-ray, Disney Movies Anywhere, DVD and On-Demand platforms, and most versions come with a slew of bonus features.

My family and I loved the movie, and we vigorously recommend it to fellow movie-goers. Here’s an excerpt from my review:

Zootopia” is easily one of the most entertaining animated movies released recently. It offers – as clichéd as it sounds -- laughs for all ages, with the antics of a bunny and fox in a whodunit caper filled with pratfalls, slapstick and action comedy. But it also surprises adults with clever references to pop culture and film noir, as well as a few wry asides at even Disney, itself. And it offers important and timely messages about some serious real-world topics without a heavy-handed delivery.


Certainly, the film itself is worth the purchase price, but Disney is giving consumers who purchase the movie on all platforms except DVD the following extra material:

** Zoology: The Roundtables – Ginnifer Goodwin hosts an in-depth look at the movie’s characters, animation, environments and more.

** The artists at Disney Animation give a rare and in-depth look at the complexities of bringing an all-animal world to life from the ground-breaking technology behind the characters’ fur and clothing to the varied and vast environments of Tundratown, Sahara Square and the Rainforest District as well as the deep thought and research given to bringing 64 unique animal species to life through animation.

** The Origin of an Animal Tale – Follow the story’s development from its origins to a big story shift that turned the film upside down. In this feature-length documentary, filmmakers give a candid look into the difficulties of creating the story of Zootopia and the bold decision to switch the main character late in the production process, putting one resolute rabbit center stage. (I wrote about this angle after participating in roundtable interviews with Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore at Animal Kingdom Lodge.)

** Research: A True-Life Adventure – The filmmakers traveled the globe to find inspiration for the diverse characters and amazing city of Zootopia. They reflect on the importance of research and how a deep dive into animal behavior at Disney Animal Kingdom theme park and a deep immersion into animal society on the African savanna shaped and inspired the characters of Zootopia and changed the filmmakers’ lives forever.

** Z.P.D. Forensic Files – Find the movie’s hidden Easter Eggs. Every city has its hidden gems, especially when it has been created by the filmmakers of Disney Animation who love nothing more than sprinkling hidden references to some of Disney’s greatest animated features throughout the story.

** Scoretopia – Academy Award-winning composer, Michael Giacchino spotlights five of cinema’s greatest percussionists and how they brought an organic, animalistic sound to his powerful and emotional music score.

** Deleted Characters – Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore introduce citizens of Zootopia who did not make the final cut.

** Deleted Scenes:

Alternate Opening – Young Judy Hopps rescues a fellow classmate and realizes she can reach beyond a life in carrot farming to a future in law enforcement.

Wild Times! Pitch – Nick desperately pitches the bankers of Zootopia on funding Wild Times!, an amusement park made exclusively for the predators of Zootopia and a sure-fire, money-making scheme for Nick and his friends.

Alternate Homesick Hopps – After a frustrating first day on the force, Judy has a conversation with her parents. See how this scene changed from a heartfelt conversation with her parents to tough love when her parents discover their daughter is only a meter maid and not a “real cop.”

Detective Work – Judy borrows a fellow police officer’s computer to conduct research, which turns out to be no small task.

Alternate Jumbo Pop – In this early version of the story where Nick was the main character, the filmmakers and Jason Bateman were able to take hustling to a new level.

Hopps’ Apartment – When Judy’s entire family pays her a surprise visit they are shocked to discover the company she’s keeping.

The Taming Party – In this emotional clip from an early version of “Zootopia,” Judy attends her first “taming party” and gains a deeper understanding of the plight of the predator.

** “Try Everything” Music Video by Shakira

The Digital HD version will include an exclusive extra – an International Character Reel in which viewers can see the variances in news reporters in Zootopia around the world. DVD buyers will only get the Scoretopia and Shakira music video bonus features.

In addition, various retailers have special offers, as well. If you pre-order “Zootopia” through DisneyStore.com, you will receive a complimentary set of four lithographs from the movie and a coupon good for $10 off a purchase of $40 or more during the period of June 7 to 19. Target buyers can get a retailer exclsuve wih special packaging and more than 15 minutes of content featuring interviews with the voice cast and first cuts of the film. Plus, each pre-order qualifies for a $5 Target gift card.

Visit our Amazon Store with all things Zootopia!


May 7, 2016

Why Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is worth new, higher prices


On Thursday, Walt Disney World announced substantial price increases for its seasonal hard-ticket events, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and a lot of complaining followed on Twitter and other social media channels. I have to say, though, that the higher prices and tiered ticket system really are not unexpected, given all the recent pricing decisions put in place at the resort. Plus, I still think the Halloween party in particular offers enough special entertainment and time in the Magic Kingdom – if you manage your night well – to make it a must-do event if you are vacationing during that time. Here’s what you need to know.

First, not all tickets are created equal. For the lowest ticket price and least-crowded nights for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, choose dates in September. Also, there are advance-purchase, Walt Disney World annual passholder and Disney Vacation Club discounts. The least expensive adult ticket is $67 plus tax for an advance-purchase, annual passholder or DVC ticket for many of the September party dates. The most expensive is $105 plus tax for a same-day-purchase ticket on Halloween. That’s a difference of $38 if you are eligible for annual pass or DVC discounts. If you’re not, you still can save $33 with an advance purchase for many September dates. (See the complete pricing structure on our AllEars.Net resource page.) So, it would make sense to attend one of the earlier parties, if possible, for substantial savings – especially for a family or large group.

Next, understand that your party ticket allows you to enter the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m. – even though the party activities don’t begin until 7 p.m. The party ends at midnight, but Main Street, U.S.A., stays open another hour, so if you plan to use that time wisely, you could get nine hours in the park for the cost of your ticket. That’s a pretty good deal, especially for the party tickets that cost less than a one-day ticket for Magic Kingdom.

So, how do you maximize those nine hours of fun? I’ve written several blog posts with touring plans that my family and I have followed. We have been attending Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party for more than a decade. Here is the latest.


New this year is the opportunity to have a table-service meal during the Halloween party. Walt Disney World has announced that Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table and Crystal Palace restaurants will remain open for dinner. Reservations can be made now, but you must have purchased tickets to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party to make a reservation during party hours.

For a couple years now, Be Our Guest quietly has taken same-day, walk-up reservations for a limited dining window on party nights. Because it still is one of the most difficult restaurants on Disney World property to book, I would recommend this tip to families who were willing to sacrifice party time for the opportunity to eat in Beast's Castle. For my family and I, the tradeoff of losing time we could be participating in the Halloween activities has never been worth it. Still, I can understand how the new policy could benefit guests, especially if they can eat at the start of the party so they do not miss the exclusive (and incredible!) parade and fireworks.


The Happy HalloWishes Dessert Premium Package returns to the Halloween party, offering guests reserved (and less crowded) viewing of the Happy HalloWishes fireworks and Mickey’s Boo To You parade as well as a themed dessert party. At $69 plus tax per adult, you will be paying almost as much as you did to enter the park for these privileges. (That $69 is in addition to your admission ticket into the party.) There are too many other things my family and I could do at Walt Disney World with the $300 to make this experience worth it to us. Plus, although it would be nice to have the reserved seating, we don’t need more sweets on a night we already are trick-or-treating, which is included in our admission. If I wanted to do a dessert party at the Magic Kingdom, I’d save it for another night.

The higher prices and tiered ticket system have been implemented for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, too, and my advice about maximizing your party dollars and hours holds true for those events, too. However, the big difference between the two holiday parties is that much of the Christmas entertainment at the party will be performed in the Magic Kingdom with regular park admission during the week before Christmas and the week before New Year’s Day, and the Halloween entertainment can only be experienced at the party. That, in my opinion, makes Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party worth the admission price. As a local annual passholder, I’m a lot less inclined to pay for the Christmas party when I already have access to the Christmas entertainment with my pass. Still, visitors who are not visiting during the last two weeks in December can enjoy the holiday entertainment beginning in November if they attend a party.

What do YOU think? Does the new pricing still make the Halloween or Christmas Party "worth it"? Will you be buying tickets for the 2016 parties?


May 10, 2016

Circle with Disney gives parents some control over kids' Internet usage


Parents, do you limit your children’s Internet screen time? Or do you have the best of intentions but find it difficult to monitor? It can be a full-time job tracking what and when your children are online. But Disney and partner Circle Media think they have the answer for you: Circle with Disney. This device allows parents to limit what kids can access online, when they can go online, and how long they can be online.

At the end of 2015, Disney began promoting the tech device, which retails for $99 and connects to a home’s Wi-Fi router to monitor the activity of each device connected to the router. This includes game consoles, smart TVs, laptops and tablets, as well as cell phones that are using Wi-Fi. (If phones are using cellular data, Circle with Disney cannot as of yet affect that.)

Parents control the device through an iOS app that offers a range of controls based on individual profile settings or preset filters that are designed for certain ages. Ads can be blocked, and search engines will eliminate adult content from appearing as a choice. Devices can be given bedtimes and awake times, too, to limit late-night usage or encourage morning usage to allow parents a little more shuteye. Adults also can pause Wi-Fi access in the house manually if, say, you have company and want kids to pay attention to the visitors instead of the screens.

At first glance, Circle with Disney seems like it could be a useful tool for some parents and some situations. I have not tried the device, so I cannot speak to how easy it is to implement. But knowing that each family situation is different – and changes over time as children mature – I can see how such a device from a trusted brand would be attractive to some families.

My husband and I, however, have chosen not to set electronic filters and limits on any of our family’s electronic devices. Instead, we try to educate and monitor our kids’ activities online ourselves by giving them rules to follow based on mutual trust. This certainly is easier during the school year, when our children are very busy with activities and homework and don’t have a lot of time leftover for Internet surfing. For us, it would be more of an issue in the summer. Even though they are busy with sports and other activities, my 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son have more time for YouTube videos and Netflix shows when they don’t have school. Both of these sites can be monitored with Circle with Disney, as well as social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, Snapchat – the fastest growing and most used instant messaging software by kids – is not part of the Circle with Disney system, unfortunately.

In addition to trust issues, parents also should be concerned about any such device saving private data. Circle Media founder Jelani Memory has said in interviews her company and Disney are not collecting and storing families’ online actions for their own benefit, such as marketing. Still, we all know that any Internet usage leaves a digital footprint that has the potential to be traced.

For families seeking help with parental controls online, Disney with Circle may fit your needs if you are an Apple product user. (The app is not yet available on Android devices.) Two nice bonuses: There is no subscription, or monthly, fee for the service, and users have access to Disney content online.


May 11, 2016

Disney Infinity to be discontinued; Disney stops self-publishing video games


The Walt Disney Company announced during its quarterly earnings report on Tuesday that it is discontinuing the Disney Infinity video game. Some industry experts suspected as much when the company did not announce a new version of the game – Disney Infinity 4.0 – this year as it has done each year since the game debuted in 2013.

“We have two final retail releases coming, including three new characters from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ later this month, and the ‘Finding Dory’ Play Set launching in June,” wrote John Blackburn, Disney Infinity senior vice president and general manager, in a message on DisneyInteractive.com.

“From the beginning, Disney Infinity was built for you — our fans — and I wanted to take a moment to thank you not just for your support over the years, but for creating a community that made Disney Infinity more than just a game,” Blackburn wrote.

Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger said during the earnings report that the company will stop self-publishing video-game titles and instead license its characters to other production companies. That does not mean another company will assume the production of Disney Infinity, however.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Avalanche Software, the studio that developed the three versions of Disney Infinity, was closed and almost 300 workers were laid off.

When Disney Infinity was launched in 2013, it did well and Disney fans were really excited about collecting all the Disney figures. At D23, the mega convention for Disney fans held in Anaheim, Calif., that year, Disney Interactive gave attendees at its presentation a limited edition Sorcerer Mickey Mouse figure. Many of the 5,000 figures showed up on eBay and actually were selling for hundreds of dollars.

But don’t expect that kind of frenzy on the secondary market with the announcement of the end of Disney Infinity. Iger reportedly said that the decision to cancel the game is tied to a $147 million second-quarter loss blamed on a surplus of unsold products.


The strength of Disney Infinity is in its ability to allow players to create their own stories and solutions to obstacles. Disney Infinity is played with a console gaming system, physical characters and the Disney Infinity Base. Players can save the characters, vehicles, upgrades and gadgets they collect in their adventures in the virtual toy box. The toy box can be accessed at any time in the game to create one-of-a-kind experiences, even mixing items from the different movie franchises.

Multiplayer toy box expansion games allowed users to play with all of the Disney, Disney-Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars characters in their collections from Disney Infinity 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. The enhanced toy box includes Toy Box Takeover (action-adventure) and Toy Box Speedway (kart racing).


"Disney Infinity is the only game where fans can play with Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars characters together in one experience," James Pitaro, president of Disney Interactive, said in a press release.

Disney Infinity 3.0 is available on PlayStation4, PlayStation3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles, as well PCs and iOS and Android devices.

Are you a Disney Infinity Fan? What is your reaction to the news?


May 13, 2016

Disney Dollars discontinued at Walt Disney World and Disneyland


The Orange County Register confirmed Thursday that Disney Dollars will no longer be sold at Walt Disney World or Disneyland after today, May 13. The California newspaper cited a statement from a Disneyland spokesperson, although The Walt Disney Co. did not make an official announcement. There is no expiration date on Disney Dollars, so bills that already have been purchased still can be used.

NOTE: A cast member at Guest Relations at Disney Springs said that location will still sell Disney Dollars on Saturday, if they still have some.

Disney Dollars are a form of currency that has been sold at Walt Disney World and Disneyland and can be used for purchases in the theme parks and Disney Store locations in the United States and Puerto Rico. They are sold in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 and feature Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse or Dumbo, on the front. The backs of the bills usually depict a scene from a Disney anniversary or historical moment. Fittingly, the bills are signed by Treasurer Scrooge McDuck.

Jack Lindquist, the first president of Disneyland, created Disney Dollars, and they first went into circulation in 1987. After 29 years, though, it would appear that gift cards and electronic payments with the company’s MagicBand technology have edged the paper money out of vacationers’ wallets.


Still, Disney fans, and even casual travelers, have enjoyed purchasing and saving Disney Dollars as souvenirs over the years.

“It’s a testimony to the enthusiasm and heart of Disney guests and collectors that Disney Dollars remain collectible today,” the Disneyland statement said, according to The Orange County Register. “We continue to offer many ways to collect cherished Disney memories in tangible ways.”

My daughter, who is now 11 years old, cherishes her Disney Dollars because of her memories of the special occasions when she received them. Both times, my family and I happened to be staying at a Disney resort – once at Walt Disney World and once at Disneyland – when my daughter lost a tooth. When that happens, Disney’s own fairy, Tinker Bell, takes over for the Tooth Fairy. My daughter was quite excited about those particular lost teeth, and we had hours of speculation about what Tinker Bell might bring her that night. She was very pleased to find the Disney Dollars in the morning (instead of the usual currency), as well as a gift with Tinker Bell’s likeness on it.

The seemingly abrupt discontinuation of Disney Dollars prompted discussions and speculation on Twitter on Thursday, and there were some reports of cast members selling more bills in one day than they had all month. Great marketing strategy, right? If you have a story about what Disney Dollars mean to you, tell us in the comments, please.


May 17, 2016

Disney reveals more details about its first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor


The Walt Disney Co. announced earlier this year that it would introduce its first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor, this summer. Her debut is planned for a special episode of Disney Junior’s “Sofia The First” and then will be followed by her own show later in the summer on Disney Channel.


Recently, Disney released more details about its newest member of the royal family. Here’s what we know so far:

** Princess Elena is a bold, caring, funny and clever 16-year-old who is ascendant to the throne in the fairytale kingdom of Avalor.

** She saves her kingdom from an evil sorceress and must now learn to rule with the support of her appointed Grand Council and some magical friends by her side.

** Elena's adventures will highlight the importance of family and family traditions.

** Elena’s character was inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore.

** The Latina princess will be voiced by Aimee Carrero (ABC Family’s “Young & Hungry”).

What’s new? Oh My Disney has revealed more of Princess Elena’s back story:

“Princess Elena’s journey began long ago when her parents and kingdom were taken from her by the evil sorceress, Shuriki. Elena bravely faced the sorceress to protect her little sister, Princess Isabel, and grandparents but in the process, her magical amulet pulled her inside its enchanted jewel, saving her life but imprisoning her at the same time. Decades later, Princess Sofia of Enchancia discovers the truth about the amulet she has worn since joining her royal family and sets out to restore Elena to her human form and help her return to the kingdom of Avalor.”

The Disney website also revealed more characters in the series:

“While Elena is the rightful heir to the throne, she is only age 16 so she will rule Avalor with the help of a Grand Council comprised of her Grandfather Tito, Grandmother Cici and Royal Advisor, Duke Esteban. With some magical friends by her side – Mateo, a wizard-in-training, and Skylar, a magical flying creature – Princess Elena’s further adventures will lead her to understand that her new role requires thoughtfulness, resilience and compassion, the traits of all truly great leaders.”

“Elena of Avalor” stories are created for children ages 2 to 7 and “will be guided by an established curriculum that nurtures multiple areas of child development: physical, emotional, social and cognitive; thinking and creative skills, as well as moral and ethical development.”

The Disney Princesses will welcome Elena to Walt Disney World in August, and families can see her in person at the Magic Kingdom. She also will visit Disney California Adventure in Anaheim beginning this fall.


May 19, 2016

Walt Disney World Golf brings back weeklong kids' camps for summer 2016


Children visiting Walt Disney World this summer also can spend a week learning from golf professionals at the “Happiest Place on Turf.” Walt Disney World Golf is offering its Junior Golf Camps for the fourth year, and registration is open now – with new discounts.

Kids ages 7 to 17 can learn from PGA professionals on the resort's championship golf courses. They will practice putting at a Magnolia course green, improve their short games and full swings near the Palm course, and play one of the courses on three separate days. There is a ratio of one instructor for every six junior golfers, and each session can accommodate up to 20 campers.

"We really want to give kids the chance to be introduced to the game or to polish their skills while giving them the 'Disney Experience' with the program," Michael Schlager, director of instruction for Walt Disney World Golf, told me.


Each weeklong session is more than just a golf clinic, he said. The "Disney Experience" means that lessons are themed to Disney characters, plus there are games and prizes. At the end of the week, junior golfers even are awarded medals for their teams' standings in the ongoing competition.

Lunch also is included in the cost of the camp, which is $350 per week. (Each additional child in the same family receives a discount of $50 off the tuition. Plus, Disney cast members receive a $50 discount; Disney Vacation Club members, $25; and military personnel, $25.) On Monday through Thursday, students are served a boxed lunch with items such as a sandwich, apple, chips and a drink. On Friday, they celebrate the week with a pizza party. Each lunch hour also features a Disney movie.

Walt Disney World's Junior Golf Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. The weeklong sessions begin on June 6, 13, 20; July 11, 18, 25; and August 1 and 8. (At the time of publication, spots still are available in all sessions.) To register, call 407-WDW-GOLF or go online to www.golfwdw.com. If your child doesn't have golf clubs, a set will be provided.


"We put a focus a fun, and we give [the junior golfers] better skills," Schlager said. "They have a lot more fun if they continue to improve."

If you’re not going to be at Walt Disney World this summer but wish your child could participate in a golf clinic at the resort, be sure to check the website periodically. One-day clinics for kids are offered seasonally, and they incorporate many of the same elements as the weeklong camps. The cost is $115 for each session, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Arnold Palmer Golf Management operates Walt Disney World Golf courses.


May 20, 2016

Changes to Disney's FastPass+ you need to know for busy summer season


Just when you think you have selecting FastPasses for Walt Disney World attractions down to a science, the Big Cheese decides to tinker with the process. I’m not talking about anything as drastic as going from the paper passes to electronic ride reservations – we’ll save that for Disneyland! – but there are some recent changes that visitors trying to snag FastPasses for extremely popular attractions will want to be aware of this summer.

First, beginning this week, guests can begin booking FastPass+ selections at 7 a.m. ET (Orlando time) rather than the previous time of 12:01 a.m. ET. Visitors staying at Walt Disney World hotels can book FastPasses up to 60 days in advance, and others not staying on property but who have purchased park tickets in advance can schedule FastPass+ reservations up to 30 days before their arrival.

Those seven hours may not seem like a big deal to the inexperienced, but trust me when I say that you will want to be online at precisely 7 a.m. ET if you want to secure FastPasses for popular rides, such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, at Magic Kingdom, or the re-imagined Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot (that opens June 17) on certain days of your vacation or at specific times. Of course, not being able to obtain a FastPass+ reservation for an attraction doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to experience it. But it does enable you to more efficiently use your time in the parks because you won’t spend hours waiting for one popular experience. So, it’s to your advantage to do a little planning in advance to make the most of your vacation.

FastPass+ users are allowed to schedule up to three reservations per day in advance of their arrival. Initially, the guest had to book all three of FastPass+ reservations for the system to work. After choosing attractions, the guest was given three different choices of times for the group of rides. The guest had to select one and then change individual times if something didn’t fit his or her schedule.

As of last month, guests can book their FastPasses one at a time, choosing the specific times they want, rather than accepting the system’s suggestions. Plus, guests can select fewer than three FastPasses per day, if they prefer. All of the initial selections (up to three choices) still must be for attractions at the same Disney theme park, however.

After all the initial choices are used or expire, the guest can make another selection – from a mobile device rather than having to go to a kiosk AND it can be at another Disney theme park. Once that FastPass has been used, another can be booked, and so on. Keep in mind that availability of the most popular rides can fill up before you even arrive at the park, so booking ahead of time generally is your best bet. Still, the new flexibility in scheduling with My Disney Experience certainly is an improvement.


May 23, 2016

Times and tips for Awaken Summer entertainment at Disney's Animal Kingdom


Last week, Walt Disney World gave us a long list of dates for summer openings and when reservations can be made for all the new attractions. This came on the heels of the first wave of openings at Disney Springs, so I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I had to break out the calendar to plot everything my family and I want to see and do in the coming weeks.

We’ll be joining the crowds this weekend for the many new experiences debuting at Animal Kingdom. We have a loose plan about how to see and do everything, but, of course, it’s all new, so we’ll have to be flexible, too. Still, it’s fun to not have every moment planned out sometimes, isn’t it?

Here are some things to keep in mind, if you’ll be checking out Awaken Summer events at Animal Kingdom, too:

** Beginning Friday, May 27, the theme park -- natazu! –- has extended hours from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and that includes every day this Memorial Day weekend. The longer days take place through Labor Day, Sept. 6.

** During the extended hours, many attractions will be open, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and DINOSAUR. FastPasses for these attractions are scarce for the opening weekend of Awaken Summer events, which already is busy because of the holiday, but don’t give up. Guests’ plans change, so check My Disney Experience frequently. Also, you always have the option of braving the standby queues!

** On Friday, there are three new entertainment offerings – and none of them require (or even offer) a FastPass. Here’s what you can expect with the Tree of Life awakenings, Harambe Wildlife Parti and Discovery Island Carnivale:


Animal Kingdom’s iconic Tree of Life, which can be seen from different locations around the park, will light up at various times as “flickering fireflies magically appear and awaken the wondrous animals spirits carved into the tree’s towering trunk” in a projection show. There are several different shows throughout each evening: “Witness a graceful young doe embark on a thrilling cross-country journey. Behold love blossoming between 2 hummingbirds. See a spry fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.”


The Harambe Wildlife Parti kicks off at 4:55 p.m. when Afro-Pop musicians the Burudika Band take the stage in Harambe’s Old Square. The band usually performs during the day but will become part of the evening entertainment for Awaken Summer. Additional 30-minute sets are scheduled at 5:55, 7:30, 8:50 and 9:45 p.m. In Harambe Marketplace, guests will find other entertainment: Muziki, a drumming stilt-walker; Karibou Sisters, who perform elegant dance, acapella songs and acoustic party music; Harambe Soccer Meerkats, who engage guests in pick-up games and entertain with their skilled moves; and Harambe Village Acrobats, who climb into man-made pyramids and break away into spinning, tumbling towers.


Discovery Island Carnivale is “an exuberant dance party to end the day and welcome the night.” It begins each day at 3:45 p.m. with the first performance of the Viva Gaia Street Band. (Additional 30-minute sets are at 4:25 and 5:15 p.m.) This Caribbean street party is “bursting with cheerful music and spectacular costumes that take inspiration from the living creatures of the air, land and sea.”


** Friday also is the first official day for Tiffins restaurant to open its doors inside Animal Kingdom. Diners at the eatery will enjoy African cuisine with waterfront views – and a hefty price tag. Disney lists the price range at $35 to $59.99 per adult for this signature restaurant. The theme is travel – “including photograph collages, paintings and sculptures inspired by actual notes and field sketches of the Imagineers who created Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.” The adjacent The Nomad Lounge features small plates and a selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks at prices easier to swallow -- $15 to $34.99 per adult.


** Beginning Saturday, May 28, Animal Kingdom introduces “The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic” show along Discovery River at 9 and 10:30 p.m. each night. This show uses the space on the river and outdoor seating designed for the “Rivers of Light” show that has been delayed. According the official description, “Come along as impressions of the film’s iconic characters take you on a journey following Mowgli’s exciting, perilous and sometimes hilarious jungle encounters. Watch as barges teeming with jubilant singers, Indian musicians and colorful performers take to the waters and enhance the tale with music and song—while fellow players join in from nearby river banks. And thrill to the breathtaking sight of light displays and massive water screens projecting imagery from the blockbuster film!”

** At this time, it looks like the only character meet-and-greets that occur during the nighttime hours take place at Character Outpost with Mickey and Minnie.

AllEars.Net team members will be covering the opening Awaken Summer at Animal Kingdom this weekend. Tell us what you’d like to know in the comments, please.


May 26, 2016

Artist and conservationist Guy Harvey partners with SeaWorld Orlando, paints mako shark mural


This week, visitors at SeaWorld Orlando had a rare opportunity to observe renowned artist and conservationist Guy Harvey at work in the theme park. Harvey was painting a mural depicting a mako shark surrounded by fish in the new area of the park, Shark Wreck Reef, which will be home to the new Mako roller coaster that opens June 10.

Harvey, perhaps best known for his wildly popular T-shirts depicting marine life, also has created paintings and apparel that will be available only at SeaWorld. SeaWorld will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of such items directly to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.


“I personally have been spending the last 20 years researching sharks in one form or other for science and for my artistic renderings,” Harvey told members of the media on Tuesday. “The last five years we have focused on the mako shark, and we are about the only organization –- based at Nova Southeastern University at Fort Lauderdale -- that is doing any comprehensive work on mako sharks, which is why SeaWorld came to me for help with branding for their new roller coaster.

“And by branding, I mean, not only am I licensing the use of my artwork for the roller coaster ride and the merchandise that ensues from it, but also more importantly, from an educational aspect. We want people to know more about sharks.”

In addition to the science and research efforts, Harvey and SeaWorld also will work together to increase public awareness about ocean health and the need for shark conservation, using the Mako coaster as a platform. In the queues for the new ride, videos hosted by Harvey will show guests sharks in the wild and ways they can help protect them, as well as some of the conservationist’s actual shark expeditions.


Harvey took some time out from working on his art project to tell us more about it.

Why did SeaWorld choose a mako shark as a model for its new hypercoaster?

Harvey: “The mako shark is the smaller cousin of the white shark. They’re one of four members of that family that include the porbeagle, the salmon shark, the white shark and the mako. They are the fastest, most developed of all the sharks. … They’re also regarded as game fish by the International Game Fish Association because of their speed and their prodigious leaps; they can jump out of the water like a sailfish or a marlin.”

Are you going to ride the roller coaster?

Harvey: “I am not going to ride the roller coaster. I’m going to be honest with you: I’m afraid of heights, and I hate speed. It’s pretty hard for me to get into an airplane. Lots of people will have lots of fun, especially the young people, so I’m looking forward to a lot of excitement and thrills.”

Why have you spent so much time studying mako sharks?

Harvey: “They are highly sought after both commercially and from a recreational perspective, and so that puts a lot of pressure on the species. We reckon nearly half a million makos a year are killed in the Atlantic Ocean alone. That’s half a million sharks in one species. And we know that somewhere between 30 and 60 million sharks are killed every year worldwide. That a very high rate of attrition on the shark species. So there’s a bit of urgency involved in (a) studying but (b) getting the results of all the research out to the public.”

With the education component, will that be geared to adults only or will there be things for children, as well?

Harvey: “Most kids that I’ve met are already very sensitized about the demise of sharks. Actually, young boys just love sharks anyways. They’ve got a head start over everybody else. So we want to work on that base and inherent interest in kids and we’re definitely going to do that though the SeaWorld machine. It’s more effective than my machine. Our combined efforts are going to be reaching a lot of kids.”


Will this mural rank in your Top 50 works of art?

Harvey: “It’s definitely going to rank in my Top 50 pieces I’ve done over the years. I’m not known for my murals. My very good friend, [Robert] Wyland, and I have done a lot of murals in Florida, but he’s really good at it and I’m not that great at it. He’s an airbrush master; I’m a paintbrush master. He paints mostly marine animals, and I like to paint fish. And that’s why we work together in harmony. It’s a nice piece. I’ve done really big pieces in the past, and it’s very appropriate for this setting. It’s going to become an iconic piece for all the people who come by here in the next five or ten years. There will be millions of people who pass this mural, and they’re going to leave SeaWorld with a much better impression and idea of what this animal does, how important it is, and its aesthetic beauty.

“Another important point: mako sharks cannot be kept in captivity like many of the other big ocean-going sharks. … This is the importance of art and TV documentaries: We dive with the animal in its natural environment and bring the image back to you. That’s the only way you can really interact with them safely. And they are few and far between so it’s pretty hard to find them, and people don’t realize the amount of time that we put into accessing the animal.”

What is your favorite fish to paint?

Harvey: “The blue marlin. It is the most amazing fish to catch, to dive with. They are a top ocean predator like mako sharks, but mako sharks have it on blue marlin. They’ll eat a blue marlin but a blue marlin would not eat a mako shark. So, the mako shark really is the top dog out there, and I say top dog because they’re not ambush predators like a white shark or some of the other shark species. They can outrun anything, and they can outrun a blue marlin or a swordfish and take it on. “

What drew you to marine life when you were younger and how did you decide to dedicate your life to this?

Harvey: “I grew up in Jamaica; I’m a 10th generation Jamaican. Both parents loved to sport fish. In those days – the ‘50s and ‘60s – we killed everything so it’s amazing to see the turnaround now, how catch-and-release sport fishing has taken off since then. So growing up there, I was really severely impacted by the sea. I read Ernest Hemingway’s story “The Old Man and The Sea” many times and it had a great impression on me. I began to draw that whole story in pen and ink. At that time, I was just using pen and ink. It’s kind of an illustrative form of art. And then I studied marine sciences at university and I did my PhD at The University of The West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, where I lived at the time.

“After a couple of years of having informal art shows and doing fishing tournaments, I got an introduction in Fort Lauderdale to a T-shirt company in 1986. So that’s 30 years ago to this year almost to the month, and because of that, my hobby became my profession. My profession became painting art and going around to places and doing what I’ve done for the last 30 years. But it’s come full circle because my background as a marine scientist has really helped in the formation of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova and, of course, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. We do a lot of research work now on the large biologic animals like sharks, billfishes and tunas. That’s our focus. We have gone into other work as well, like stingrays and groupers and lionfish – contemporary issues that face the Caribbean. But that’s it in a nutshell, and here I am today in my 60th year having fun.”


May 28, 2016

What parents need to know about Disney's 'Alice Through The Looking Glass'


Tim Burton’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s sequel to the beloved story “Alice in Wonderland,” will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Critics largely have panned the Walt Disney Pictures movie before opening weekend, citing everything from the plodding plot to the lackluster performances by the star-studded cast. And what they’re saying isn’t just high-brow hyperbole. Many moviegoers will find the film slow-going and wish time was speeding forward rather than backward while they’re in the theater.

Still, Alice fans of all ages – perhaps some too young for this version -- will be drawn to see "Through The Looking Glass." Here are some things for parents to keep in mind:

** “Alice Through The Looking Glass” is rated PG for good reason. There are dark story lines and several scenes that not only hint at death but also show characters saying what seem to be their final goodbyes. My almost-12-year-old daughter was not overly upset by these images, but she did want to talk with me about them after our screening because they stayed with her. These visuals would be a lot to handle for children a few years younger.


** At the core of this story is the issue of the Mad Hatter’s feelings about his relationship with his father and the fact that he never had the chance at resolution. In fact – spoiler alert -- that’s why Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) jumps back through the mirror. Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) is certain his family is alive when everyone else has presumed them dead, and Alice wants to restore Hatter’s happiness by finding them. If family relationships are a sensitive issue for kids, this might not be the movie to see. Others, like my daughter, could be fascinated by the back story to “Alice in Wonderland.”

** On the other hand, “Through The Looking Glass” embraces the message that being different is OK and being true to yourself is important. Those are always good things for tweens and teens to hear during the years of self-doubt. If you can survive childhood as someone as different as the Mad Hatter and come out on the other side with a collection of dedicated, caring friends and a job you love, then surely anyone can.


** This movie is bold and beautiful in all its fantasy costumes and special effects. Fashionistas will enjoy the visual feast, and others will be entertained wondering throughout the movie how filmmakers made Iracebeth’s head so big. The makeup is quite colorful, and Hatter’s contouring is something to aspire to (not really).

** Remember that “Alice Through The Looking Glass” is an adaptation of the literary classic “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There,” and it takes liberties with the original story. Some moviegoers enjoy a new spin on an old favorite, while other audience members prefer films that remain faithful to the text. It will be up to you to decide if this version is worth your time.

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


May 31, 2016

First impressions of new Awaken Summer entertainment at Disney's Animal Kingdom


As you probably know by now, Animal Kingdom’s nighttime activities were launched this past weekend over the long holiday weekend. My family and I made two evening visits to the Walt Disney World theme park to experience the new entertainment. Here are my first impressions and some tips if you, too, are planning a trip to Animal Kingdom.

Tree of Life

I was really looking forward to seeing the projection shows on the Tree of Life, and they did not disappoint. Each show starts with fireflies awakening animals carved in the trunk and culminates in the tree bathed in a rainbow of colors as it fully awakens. Disney describes three of the four shows this way: “Witness a graceful young doe embark on a thrilling cross-country journey. Behold love blossoming between 2 hummingbirds. See a spry fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.”

Tips: Each show is less than five minutes, but there are no published times to avoid huge crowds waiting on the main walkway. The shows take place after sunset, which is about 8:30 p.m. this time of year. That means you have about two and a half hours to view the various shows. If your timing doesn’t mesh with the Disney’s, know that there is likely to be one last show right before park closing at 11 p.m.

The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic

Perhaps the most anticipated component of the Awaken Summer entertainment is “The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic” show that takes place twice each night in the new outdoor theater on Discovery River. The show was created in less than two months when it was determined that Rivers of Light would not be ready for its opening this summer. The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic features Indian-inspired, pop-style arrangements of the movie’s hit songs “Trust in Me,” “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” and a lot of Bollywood-type dancing on multiple stages, plus water screens showing scenes from the movie and some special effects on the surrounding trees. It’s an upbeat show, but it is different from other nighttime entertainment at Walt Disney World with only one shot of pyro at the end (so as not to disturb the park’s animals). Though I know reviews have been mixed, my family and I enjoyed the show. My daughter loved the dancing, and my son and I couldn’t tear our eyes away from the fire twirlers who entered on barges toward the end of the production. I did dislike waiting so long -- just as I do with Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios – to guarantee that we had a decent seat.

Tips: You’ll want to get a FastPass+ reservation or reserved seating with a dinner package for The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic for the best seating and to avoid standing for more than an hour in the standby queue. Seating opens for those with FastPass+ and dinner packages at 7:30 p.m., even though the tickets say to arrive at 8:25 p.m. We arrived about 8 p.m. and still got great seats.

Kilimanjaro Safaris at night

Kilimanjaro Safaris is my 13-year-old son’s favorite attraction at Animal Kingdom, so he was excited to have the opportunity to experience it at night. Despite the fact that Imagineers had designed an artificial sunset for the savanna, many park-goers naturally have questioned whether they would be able to see animals at night both because of the low light and the bedtimes of various species. The answer is: yes and no. Our trek departed at 9 p.m. and we certainly did not see as many animals as we do during the day. However, we did see plenty of animals because of various dim spotlights, and it was an interesting change to see which animals were huddled together to sleep and which were loners. We even saw a baby giraffe and its mama grazing. My children thought it was really cool to ride on the safaris after dark, and I suspect they are not alone. There’s something extra special about being at Walt Disney World at night, and Animal Kingdom is no exception.

Tips: Don’t waste your time trying to take photos at night; just sit back and enjoy the experience. Our driver didn’t even pause during the trek, so it was nearly impossible to get a good shot. If you can only ride this attraction once, you’ll see more if you go during the day. But if you are going to be at Animal Kingdom at night, give the ride a try for a different experience.

Discovery Island Carnivale

The Discovery Island Carnivale is a street party that takes place across from Flame Tree Barbecue, and it’s an interactive experience for children and adults alike. The Viva Gaia Street Band takes to the stage, while dancers and stilt-walkers in brightly-colored costumes create a party atmosphere. After an initial dance, they invite guests to join them and hand out colorful streamers to kids. The dancers lead everyone through some simple but high-energy steps and then finish off the set with one big conga line.

Tips: There are no official published times for Carnivale at this time, but it appears to take place at half past the hour every hour beginning at 6:30. We saw parties at 7:35 and 8:40. I’m not sure if they continued after that. There was a PhotoPass photographer circling the street party to capture images, so if you participate, be sure to ask for a PhotoPass card so you can add the photos to your My Disney Experience account.

Harambe Wildlife Parti

In Africa, near the Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Harambe Wildlife Parti kicks off several times each night with the Burudika Band in Harambe’s Old Square. Different performers join the band in the space in front of the stage, and guests are invited to gather around and watch. We saw the Harambe Village Acrobats, who climb into man-made pyramids and break away into spinning, tumbling towers. Other performers include Muziki, a drumming stilt-walker; Karibou Sisters, who perform elegant dance, acapella songs and acoustic party music; and Harambe Soccer Meerkats, who engage guests in pick-up games and entertain with their skilled moves.

Tips: Want to enjoy the lively music and rest your tired feet? Take a seat in the adjacent Dawa Bar, outside Tusker House restaurant, where you can order a drink if you want. My kids love the Jungle Juice Slushies from the Mahindi snack stand across the plaza. Made with guava, passion fruit and orange juice, the drink tastes like frozen version of the popular P.O.G. juice served at O’hanas for breakfast. Also nearby is Tamu Tamu Refreshments, which serves the famed pineapple Dole Whip -- with or without rum.

Tiffins restaurant and The Nomad Lounge

Deb Wills and Linda Eckwerth dined at Tiffins, Disney’s newest signature restaurant located inside Animal Kingdom, on Friday, its opening day. They stopped by the adjacent The Nomad Lounge for a drink, too.

Here’s a look at the new Discovery Island Carnivale and Harambe Wildlife Parti:


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About May 2016

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

April 2016 is the previous archive.

June 2016 is the next archive.

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