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June 2, 2016

Dory After Dark events give 'Finding Nemo' fans chance to see 'Finding Dory' before release


“Finding Nemo” fans in select cities – including Orlando and Lake Buena Vista -- have a special opportunity to see the highly anticipated sequel, “Finding Dory,” before it opens on June 17. Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios have announced a one-night Dory After Dark event, which starts with a screening of “Finding Nemo” and then is followed by “Finding Dory,” on June 16.

The Orlando event takes place at Regal Waterford Lakes beginning at 9 p.m. There will be a short intermission after “Finding Nemo” and then “Finding Dory” begins at 11 p.m. Tickets for the double feature are $19.99. Members of the Regal Crown Club, which is a free program for frequent customers, can purchase tickets for $17.99 and will receive a concession coupon. AMC Disney Springs 24 hosts the other Central Florida event, which also starts at 9 p.m. Tickets for that location are $31.95. Both screenings will be in 3D, and tickets are on sale now.

Dory After Dark is a celebration that invites fans to dive in with Dory, Marlin and Nemo, plus new friends Hank, Destiny and Bailey. Guests will receive an event-exclusive Dory After Dark reusable bag and an “I Speak Whale” button. There also will be opportunities to share the experience throughout the evening with custom Snapchat filters.

More than 90 locations in North America will take part in this one-night event. Click here to see the full list.


The official description for “Finding Dory” is as follows:

“Finding Dory welcomes back to the big screen everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who’s living happily in the reef with Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks). When Dory suddenly remembers that she has a family out there who may be looking for her, the trio takes off on a life-changing adventure across the ocean to California’s prestigious Marine Life Institute, a rehabilitation center and aquarium. In an effort to find her mom (Diane Keaton) and dad (Eugene Levy), Dory enlists the help of three of the MLI’s most intriguing residents: Hank (Ed O’Neill), a cantankerous octopus who frequently gives employees the slip; Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who is convinced his echolocation skills are on the fritz; and Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a nearsighted whale shark. Deftly navigating the complex innerworkings of the MLI, Dory and her friends discover the magic within their flaws, friendships and family.”

On a related note, Disney Parks will be celebrating “Speak Like A Whale Day” on June 11 at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. According to the Disney Parks Blog, special events that Saturday will include:

** Guests at both resorts and aboard Disney Cruise Line ships will receive complimentary buttons to celebrate the day.

** At the Downtown Disney District at Disneyland and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, families can dive into “undersea” themed activities, including a live DJ, games and giveaways. Young guests can attend “Whale Speak University.”

** At The Seas with Nemo & Friends in Epcot, guests can learn about the real-life counterparts of the characters from the film and see them in their massive 5.7-million-gallon saltwater aquarium home. Experts from Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment Team will be on hand throughout the day to help guests find Dory and her friends and get a closer look at their world.

** Dory, Destiny, Bailey and Hank have joined Crush at the Turtle Talk with Crush attraction at Epcot and Disney California Adventure.


June 4, 2016

Walt Disney World passholders: What not to miss before blackout starts Monday


Monday, June 6, is a not-so-magical day for many local Walt Disney World passholders. For Florida resident silver passholders, it’s the last day they can enter the theme parks until the blackout lifts on Aug. 12. So, for their last weekend of playing tourist, here are some new and limited-time attractions these visitors might not want to miss.


The original Soarin’ reopened last weekend and will have its swan song through June 16, the day before Soarin’ Around the World opens. Why you’ll want to see it again: The original Soarin’ is being shown on new digital screens and projectors, which give much sharper images than the old celluloid ones. (We saw Soarin’ Over California at California Adventure last summer after the projectors debuted there, and the difference was noticeable to visitors who are used to the older models.) Plus, a third theater has been added at Walt Disney World, so (we hope) that means shorter lines!

Last month, “Turtle Talk with Crush” at The Seas With Nemo & Friends added new characters from the upcoming Disney-Pixar movie “Finding Dory.” When Crush swims up to the “Human Tank,” he’s joined by Dory; Destiny, the whale shark; Bailey, the beluga whale; and Hank, the “septopus.” Plus, Squirt joins the fun for the first time.

The newest characters to meet guests at Epcot are Joy and Sadness from the movie “Inside Out.” Look for them in Innoventions West in Future World at the front of the park. Joy and Sadness greet guests at the console of Headquarters, but the queue first leads guests through Riley’s long-term memory and her Islands of Personality.

Hollywood Studios

There is a lot of construction at Hollywood Studios these days, but even so, silver passholders who are Star Wars fans may want to make a trip. The current fireworks show, Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular, that debuted in December is set to end June 16. It will be replaced by a new nighttime show that also will be Star Wars-themed and involve more than just fireworks – video projections, lasers and special effects. Still, Symphony in the Stars is a satisfying end to a day dedicated to Star Wars entertainment, including the re-imagined Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple experience for children, the live stage show “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” and Star Wars Launch Bay where guests can meet Kylo Ren,
Chewbacca and Jawas.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has the most new attractions and entertainment for silver passholders to experience. All the Awaken Summer offerings began last weekend, and I wrote about my first impressions on a previous blog post. “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” – Animal Kingdom’s first nighttime show – is a limited-time engagement and will be replaced with Rivers of Light when it is ready. At this time, no date has been announced so it’s unclear how long we will have to view “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic.” Be sure to stop by and see the five-minute projection shows on the Tree of Life and the “awakening” of the tree that take place after dark. Passholders also might want to check out Kilimanjaro Safaris at night, Discovery Island Carnivale, Harambe Wildlife Parti or The Nomad Lounge and Tiffins restaurant. Extended summer hours run through Labor Day, Sept. 6 as of now, though I’m told they likely will be extended.

Magic Kingdom

Although there aren’t any seasonal events or new attractions at Walt Disney World’s signature park for the summer, are there passholders who don’t want to revisit all their favorites before taking a break? Whether it’s foods, such as Dole Whips and turkey legs, or roller coasters, such as Space Mountain and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, passholders are sure to have a must-do list for their last day before the summer break. And who could pass up the classic nighttime presentations of the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes fireworks?

And for Florida residents with silver passes, there are ways to get your Disney fix during the dog days of summer. Perhaps the best way is to visit the hotels. Guests are welcome to grab quick-service snacks, such as a Dole Whip at the Polynesian Village or Mickey waffles at Art of Animation. With a dinner reservation at a resort on the monorail loop or the Boardwalk area, you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the fireworks. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, guests can taste the flavors of Africa while viewing the animals from the lobby balconies. And, of course, there is Disney Springs. This entertainment district, which just opened its Town Center, has movies, bowling, video games, boat rides, shopping and restaurants all in one place. Finally, let’s not forget Disney’s water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, for a great way to cool off during the hot Florida summer!


June 7, 2016

Free Summer Play Days start at Disney Store locations nationwide


There’s a saying that many parents can relate to: “The days are long, but the years are short.” That seems especially true when our children are young; just making it through the day can seem like a huge accomplishment! With summer upon us, parents everywhere are searching for activities and entertainment to keep their little ones occupied – and to maintain their own sanity -- without breaking the bank.

Disney Store locations nationwide – including Orlando’s only retail site at Florida Mall – are again offering a summer’s worth of free daily activities and giveaways for kids ages 3 and older. Summer Play Days take place now through Sept. 5 and feature Story Time; Trivia; How to Draw Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars characters; and Showtime, where kids can become Junior Avengers or learn the ways of the Force.

Plus, on each Wednesday between June 8 and Aug. 31, kids who participate in that day’s Summer Play Day activities can collect free Tsum Tsum-inspired wristbands featuring different Disney characters. Characters from “Finding Dory” will be the first available in June. Like the plush Tsum Tsums, the wristbands can be stacked. Here the wristband distribution schedule:

June 4: Dory
June 8: Hank
June 15: Destiny
June 22: Bailey
June 29: Nick Wilde
July 6: Judy Hopps
July 13: Mike Wazowski
July 20: Sulley
July 27: Mickey Mouse
Aug. 3: Pluto
Aug. 10: Lumiere
Aug. 17: Cogsworth
Aug. 24: Stitch
Aug. 31: Olaf

Guests who have collected all of the character bands at the end of the summer will receive an exclusive Ultimate Collector Set, which contains – Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse Tsum Tsum character wristbands. Cast members also will be distributing a limited Otter Tsum Tsum wristband spontaneously throughout Summer Play Days as a special magical moment for guests.


Last month Disney Store launched its newest plush Tsum Tsums: characters from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Dory,” including Dory and Nemo. On June 21, a new Star Wars Tsum Tsum collection featuring characters from “The Force Awakens” will be available at Disney Store locations. Look for Rey, Rey with goggles, Finn Stormtrooper, Finn in pilot jacket, Kylo Ren, BB-8, Captain Phasma, Poe Dameron and a First Order Stormtrooper in the mini plush size. There will also be a big BB-8 Tsum Tsum and medium Tsums featuring Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma and BB-8.


June 9, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando's Summer of Mako begins Friday with coaster's grand opening


SeaWorld’s newest roller coaster, Mako, opens tomorrow (Friday, June 10), and the theme park is also kicking off a host of related activities and entertainment called “Summer of Mako.” Through Aug. 7, the new event celebrates Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster with experiences for all ages.

The coaster itself is a hypercoaster, “which means it’s all about speed, tight turns and that weightless feeling you get at the top of each hill. Its design and engineering was inspired by the real mako shark – one of the ocean’s fastest shark species,” according to SeaWorld Orlando. You must be at least 54 inches tall to ride the coaster, which is the same requirement as the park’s two other big coasters, Manta and Kracken. The grand opening of Mako takes place at 9 a.m. Friday, and park guests are invited to attend.Take a look at our behind the wall story .

Here's a video (filmed and edited by SeaWorld) of my daughter on Mako, and much of it is point of view, so you can get a feel for whether you're as brave as a fifth-grader. On Saturday, I’ll have another blog post about what to expect on the ride with interviews from park experts.


Like any new theme-park attraction, Mako is sure to draw big crowds for the foreseeable future. One way to beat the crowds is to become a SeaWorld annual pass member and take advantage of perks in June that allow those guests to ride the coaster without long waits. Among them:

** Each pass member can reserve a complimentary, one-time use of Quick Queue for Mako on a date between June 11 and 30. Register online. This is limited to 500 pass members per day.

** On Tuesdays and Saturdays from June 18 to Aug. 13, pass members can get into the park early at 8 a.m. to ride Mako before it opens to other guests at 9 a.m.


Mako is the centerpiece of Shark Wreck Reef, a two-acre realm that also includes Shark Encounter, Sharks Underwater Grill, shops, shark and shipwreck theming and educational experiences featuring sharks. Shark Wreck Reef is designed to make guests feel like they’re underwater and part of the group of sharks that have taken over a shipwrecked reef. Renowned artist and conservationist Guy Harvey has painted a large mural of a mako shark swimming with fish in the Shark Wreck Reef and also has exclusive special merchandise for sale at SeaWorld Orlando.


During the “Summer of Mako,” visitors can touch a shark at the new Shark Touch Pool located near the Wild Arctic attraction. They will have the chance to learn about and interact with brown-banded bamboo sharks, white-spotted bamboo sharks and epaulette sharks. (This experience is included in park admission and does not have an additional charge like some of the feeding experiences.)

Guests can join the frenzy as they race around SeaWorld Orlando to find some of the tallest, fastest and longest creatures that call oceans home with a park-wide, text message-based scavenger hunt. Those who complete the Mako Challenge will have $1 donated to the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund on their behalf.

For the limited-time event, SeaWorld is introducing new food and beverage offerings, including a honey vanilla mako shark cookie; a SeaWorld exclusive Coca-Cola Freestyle mix, Mako Blast (and Diet Mako Blast); a specialty alcoholic beverage only available at Shark’s Underwater Grill; and Mako American Red Ale, a SeaWorld exclusive brew available in several locations around SeaWorld. My family and I love South Pole Chill, the exclusive Coca-Cola Freestyle mix that was introduced with the opening of Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, so we can’t wait to try Mako Blast.

Pass members can take advantage of other special offers related to Mako in June, as well:

** Stop by the new pass member lounge and purchase an exclusive Mako T-shirt for $10 plus tax.

** Get 10 percent off the price of a ride photo to commemorate your first experience on the fastest coaster in Orlando.

** Purchase admission for guests for half off. Each pass member can buy up to six tickets at the discounted rate through Dec. 31, 2016. The tickets must be used by Dec. 31, too.

Other popular summer entertainment returns this year, including extended hours (closing at 9 p.m.); Shamu’s Celebration: Light Up The Night; a block party along the Waterfront area; and concerts and fireworks for Fourth of July weekend.


June 11, 2016

What SeaWorld Orlando's ride designers want you to know about Mako hypercoaster


SeaWorld’s new Shark Wreck Reef and Mako hypercoaster are designed for high-speed thrills and all-out fun for theme-park guests, but there also are a lot of educational aspects to the realm, as well. Riders can get a firsthand lesson about science concepts such as velocity and G forces while speeding around the track. Plus, visitors can learn about shark conservation through games and a park-wide scavenger hunt.


My own children spoke with some of the experts involved in the creation of these new experiences: Mike Denninger, vice president of theme park development and design; Brian Morrow, vice president of theme park experience and design; and Jim Kinsier, assistant curator of fishes. Here’s what they had to say about the newest additions to SeaWorld Orlando.

From an engineering standpoint, where is the best place on the coaster train to ride?


Denninger: Back row is always where you’re going to get the most forces. The reason is because as you come over the hill, the front of the train is going over and the back is still coming up so it slows down the front slightly. But as you get to the bottom of the hill and go through the valley, the front has already gone through that element so there is more velocity pulling the train, so you get more forces in the back.

What can kids learn about physics from the Mako coaster?

Denninger: We take you on a physics journey when you ride Mako. This is all about accelerations and forces, so as you drop the first hill, gravity is all there is pulling you down so the forces of the coaster as it goes through the elements of the ride, which are all really crafted specifically to deliver different forces on you, forces that counteract gravity, make you feel like you’re floating.

How is the engineering of the ride inspired by a mako shark?


Morrow: You wouldn’t believe, but it’s pretty straight forward: We go online and we look at videos of mako sharks swimming … and we also have our own footage of mako sharks that we shot in the wild. We learn how these animals move, how they hunt, how fast they can move and how they chase their prey. And most importantly for a mako shark, it’s highly unique: It can breach up out of the water and dive back in. And, to us, this movement feels a lot like a really good hypercoaster.

What do you wants guests to know about sharks?


Kinsier: Sharks are largely misunderstood. A lot of guests will ask us if they’re dangerous. Well, in fact, they are not. Even though there are folks who get bitten by sharks every year, it’s a very, very small percentage. When you consider the fact that there are billions of hours spent in the water, swimming or scuba diving, the chances of seeing sharks are very minute. In fact, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning or fall off a ladder or something of that effect than to get bitten by a shark.

Once guests are educated, how can guests help with shark conservation?

Kinsier: The key to the whole realm here, with Mako and the Shark Encounter and where we are now, the shark restaurant, is that we want people to understand the importance of sharks. So, one thing that people can do is that if they eat seafood or buy seafood, make sure it comes from a sustainable source. One of the issues of shark loss in the ocean is bi-catch. That’s where fishermen go out and catch other species of fish for food and they accidentally catch the sharks. That’s a great way for folks to help with conservation.

Shark Encounter also has a brand-new exhibit called “Rising Tide,” which is very significant because it teaches our guests how we’re trying to sustain and breed tropical fish for the fish hobby, where people go into pet stores and buy different species of fish that are collected from the wild. The Rising Tide initiative is to get groups of people to come up with methods to be able to raise these fish and prevent us from collecting them from the wild.

Are there any hidden features in Shark Wreck Reef that visitors should look for?

Morrow: Shark Wreck Reef is a place where the ships have fallen to the bottom and the fish and the barnacles have come back, and so have the sharks. So, while you’re walking around the land, count 45 different sharks, all different species. We’ve actually identified them as well, so you can see the diversity of sharks as well – from the world’s longest shark, a whale shark, is in the pavement (big hint) and the smallest shark is a pup shark, six inches long, is actually very close to the whale shark, and everything in between, including the mako sharks, which are represented in the sign [above the attraction entrance].

Do you have any tips for beating the lines for Mako?

Denninger: We have Quick Queue for this ride and I would recommend it.

Morrow: Get here early. Get here early. Get here early. We open the park at 9, but I’m guessing they will be opening the gates earlier each morning to deal with the crowds. That’s the best way to get in early. Mako is a high-capacity, thrill-ride machine so we can run a lot of people through her, but there’s going to be a high demand because it’s been a long time since Orlando’s had anything this fast, this tall or this long.

DISCLAIMER: My family and I are annual pass members at SeaWorld Orlando. However, our admission was complimentary and we were given access to ride Mako and interview team members on Mako media day.


June 14, 2016

Tween reporter's first impressions of SeaWorld Orlando's new Mako roller coaster



My 11-year-old daughter has not yet met a roller coaster she didn’t enjoy, and SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako hypercoaster is no exception. She rode it several times during a media preview day and again the next day with her dad. Here are some of her thoughts about the new attraction, which is Orlando’s tallest, longest and fastest coaster to date:

** The hypercoaster lives up to its hype. Both my daughter and my husband rode it repeatedly and found it thrilling. The first 200-foot hill is the tallest – and most nerve-wracking – in Orlando, and the series of hills afterward deliver on airtime.

** My daughter said that she especially enjoyed the end of the Mako ride when the trains travel through Shark Wreck Reef, the new area of the park dedicated to shark education. At night, visitors on the ground will see lights that flash to simulate fish dispersing when a mako shark is hunting its prey.

** Others may like that 90 percent of the almost mile-long ride takes riders over water, according to Mike Denninger, vice president of theme park development and design. This supports the idea that riders are supposed to feel as if they are a mako shark.

** My daughter rode in the front row and the back row of a Mako train (two times each) on media day, and she said she liked the back better because it’s a more exciting ride. Ride designers explain why here. She recommended, though, that if guests are nervous about this coaster, they should choose a center row for more stability.

** Both my husband and my daughter, however, like SeaWorld’s Manta better than Mako because they like the inversions and corkscrew features. That’s personal preference, of course.

** Also, they found Mako’s queue less enticing than that of Manta. Mako’s riders join a queue that is half outside and half inside. The inside portion features two video screens, one for safety explanations and one with shark conservation information. Compare that to Manta’s queue, which is mostly inside with air-conditioning and colorful tanks of fish.

** Finally, a reminder: Guests cannot bring bags in the queue or on the ride. Lockers are available at the start of the queue for $1 for one hour and can be purchased through a self-service kiosk. There are unattended small bins in the boarding area for phones, sunglasses and other pocket belongings.

Take a look at Mako for yourself with this video of my daughter's first ride on the attraction:

DISCLAIMER: My family and I are annual pass members at SeaWorld Orlando. However, admission was complimentary for my daughter, son and myself, and we were given access to ride Mako and interview team members on Mako media day.


June 16, 2016

Coach launches limited edition Disney collection June 17


Like many other women who are Disney enthusiasts, I have enjoyed seeing (and collecting) pieces from name-brand jewelry and handbag collections that feature images and characters from The Happiest Place on Earth. I am, of course, talking about Dooney & Bourke, Vera Bradley and Pandora. This week, we can add Coach to that list when the Disney x Coach bags launch online and in stores Friday. If you were lucky enough to be in New York City or Paris last week, you could have purchased the products in Coach stores there ahead of the rest of us!

The Disney x Coach collection is part of a series of exclusive, limited-edition projects that celebrate American pop culture and commemorate Coach's 75th anniversary.


Coach describes the collection this way: “Mickey Mouse's vibrant personality shines through the collection, with specially created sketches by Disney animators. The exclusive artwork appears on t-shirts as well as signature Coach glove-tanned leather bags including the Saddle and the Dinky.”

In addition, Coach is offering Disney-themed sneakers that feature the brand’s signature hangtag redesigned in the shape of Mickey's ears; a biker jacket with studs in the shape of a Mickey silhouette; and a recreation on a Coach bag from the 1960s with the mouse ears serving as a frame to the bag to create the classic symbol. Plus, shoppers will find oversized black leather Mickey dolls and shearling beanbags. Some pieces have a subtle nod to Disney while others are bold and beautiful.


"This collaboration brings together two iconic brands in fresh, yet timeless designs that celebrate the heritage and style of both Mickey and Coach," said Josh Silverman, executive vice president of global licensing at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in a press release. "This incredible collection is sure to delight the fashion world and Disney fans alike."

Love these looks? I’d say to start saving your money, but I probably should say, start reconsidering your budget. It would appear they are a limited time offering, which means you should buy while you can, so you might not have as much time for filling up the piggy bank as you’d like. Prices range from $25 for accessories to $1,500 for the black beanbag.


June 18, 2016

'Finding Dory': a spoiler-free movie review for parents


Dory may be forgetful, but “Finding Dory” is not forgettable. Not by a long shot.

Disney-Pixar’s sequel to ‘Finding Nemo” takes us deeper into the Big Blue World and introduces us to a new cast of characters that blend seamlessly with Marlin, Nemo and other favorites from 13 years ago. Has it really been that long since we met the clownfish?

“Finding Dory” takes moviegoers on a journey that is highlighted by laughter. I can’t remember the last movie that prompted me to laugh out loud so much in one sitting. And if our theater’s audience -- which was comprised of a mix of adults and teens on their own and families with younger and older children –- was a good example, the humor appealed to all ages.

The movie starts by giving us the back story explaining why adult Dory (voiced again by Ellen DeGeneres) has short-term memory loss. We see baby Dory, who is the cutest thing ever, and when Dory meets Marlin (Albert Brooks). Then the story jumps forward a year to when, through a series of flashbacks, Dory remembers who her parents are -- Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) – and where she grew up -- Marine Life Institute in Monterey, Calif. Her desire to reunite with her parents leads Dory, Marlin and Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence) on a long-distance swim from the Great Barrier Reef off Australia to the west coast of the United States.


This first part of the movie echos the storyline of “Finding Nemo,” and moviegoers may be tempted to think this sequel is just repurposing a tried-and-true format. Not so. Returning director and co-writer Andrew Stanton deftly shows us how this sequel joins the story that “Finding Nemo” started and then plunges us into a new world of hilarious and lovable characters. Dory’s sidekick is Hank (Ed O'Neill), a gruff, chameleon-like septopus -- an octopus that lost a tentacle -- who agrees to help her if she promises to do something for him. Along the way, Dory is reunited with a childhood friend, Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark who taught Dory to speak whale when they were younger.


Destiny’s tank mate is Bailey, a beluga whale that is convinced his sonar skills no longer work. My almost-12-year-old daughter and I especially loved this part of the movie because it really explains visually how echolocation works – something my daughter is interested in because of her love of dolphins. We also meet a pair of snippy and clever sea lions and a crazy loon at the marine institute who help Dory in her quest to find her parents.

Without giving away the details, watch for Hank and Dory’s stroller scene, which my kids and I found hilarious. Also, the otters steal the show with their “Cuddle Time!” toward the end of the movie, so don’t get up to go get more popcorn then if you can help it.

“Finding Dory” comes to a satisfying conclusion after imparting positive messages about family, disabilities and perseverance. You might find yourself leaving the theater asking “What Would Dory Do?” as the blue tang does when she is gaining self-confidence. Surely, you’ll be making plans to see “Finding Dory” again, as my family and I did as we walked to our car. It’s truly that good.

By the way, make sure to stay in your seat through all the credits or you will miss out.


A tip: Don’t miss the new Pixar short, “Piper,” that plays before the movie. It excels in its ability to evoke a range of feelings in those watching while conveying laughs and a good message without words.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Finding Dory” and “Piper” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


June 21, 2016

Where to see Dory, Nemo and friends at Walt Disney World


If you saw “Finding Dory” on opening weekend, you or your little ones likely have fallen in love with the characters, old and new. I know my kids and I did! The good news is that you don’t have to say goodbye to the characters at the theater. You can interact with Nemo, Dory and Crush and others and experience the Big Blue World at Walt Disney World. Here’s where to go and what to do:


This park has an entire pavilion dedicated to the ocean and its inhabitants. It’s located in the front section, Future World, and called The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Here, guests can ride on an attraction of the same name that is suitable for all ages. It’s a gentle journey in a “clamobile” that tells the story of “Finding Nemo,” complete with Dory, Bruce the shark, ultraviolet “jellies” and a swim through the EAC (East Australian Current) with sea turtle Crush and his little dude Squirt. The ride finishes with a song composed just for the attraction; I warn you that you will not be able to stop humming it afterward. But that’s not a bad thing!


The Seas pavilion also is home to Turtle Time with Crush. Guests are seated in a small theater, where Crush can communicate directly with little dudes and dudettes using his high-tech “hydrophone.” Starting in May, characters from “Finding Dory" plus Squirt joined Marlin and Nemo: Destiny the whale shark, Bailey the beluga whale and Hank the septopus. Each 15-minute show is improvised and unique.


In addition to these two attractions, guests can observe marine life in massive tanks on two different levels of the pavilion and hear various cast member presentations, including one about dolphin training and another about manatees. There's a cool photo opportunity, too, if you're brave enough to join the set! Near the exit is a gift shop that specializes in Nemo and Dory merchandise, of course.

Animal Kingdom

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, visitors can experience a Broadway-style musical that tells the story of “Finding Nemo” – and it’s included in park admission. The 40-minute show uses beautiful puppetry, original songs and creative sets to bring the story to life. There are 14 original songs composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. “Finding Nemo: The Musical” ends with the same song as The Seas with Nemo & Friends: “In the Big, Blue World.” This is the first time that Disney has taken a non-musical animated feature and transformed it into an original musical production, and you won’t want to miss it!

Art of Animation

Walt Disney World’s newest hotel, Art of Animation, opened in 2012, and the first suites and its main pool are themed with “Finding Nemo.” Stepping into the courtyard between the two Nemo-themed buildings that flank the main pool is to, quite literally, walk into the little fish's world. Imagineers and sculptors have built this recreation area so that guests are experiencing it from Nemo's point of view -- and size. Characters are built on a scale to support that premise with Crush being almost 30 feet tall and Mr. Ray having a wingspan of 26 feet.


The centerpiece of the recreation area is The Big Blue Pool, which at 12,000 feet is the biggest on Disney World property, excluding those at the water parks. Little ones also can play under the dripping-water tentacles of four pinkish-purple jellyfish structures. Go underwater and you'll hear a sound system that continually plays music and talking characters.


Adjacent to The Big Blue Pool is a splash pad known as the Schoolyard Sprayground, which has pop-up water jets on a soft, spongy landing around Marlin and Nemo in their 16-foot-tall sea anemone. There also are four separate characters that squirt water: Tad, Chicken Fish, Sheldon and Pearl. And behind that is Squirt's Righteous Reef, a dry play area with three slides and perfect photo opportunities.

Although the pool and recreation equipment are reserved for hotel guests, anyone is welcome to visit the hotel to have a meal in the Landscape of Flavors restaurant or to take a photo with the amazing backdrops. While you’re there, you also can see scenes from The Lion King, Cars and The Little Mermaid brought to life in their respective wings.


June 23, 2016

'Adventures in Babysitting' remake airs Friday on Disney Channel


On Friday, Disney Channel will broadcast its 100th original movie -- the much-anticipated remake of “Adventures in Babysitting,” which stars Sofia Carson (“Descendants”) and Sabrina Carpenter (“Girl Meets World”).


Today’s viewers likely have parents who remember the original, which aired in 1987 and starred Elisabeth Shue. But although the 2016 version will pay homage to the original film, actress Sofia Carson told Entertainment Tonight, "This version of Adventures in Babysitting is unique because instead of one babysitter, there are two rival babysitters: Jenny and Lola," the Descendants star explained. "They're polar opposites in every sense of the word, which leads them to this incredible adventure."

The reboot of “Adventures in Babysitting” has two high school senior girls -- Jenny (Carpenter) and Lola (Carson) -- competing for a babysitting job after a mixup with their cell phones. They end up teaming up after one of the kids sneaks out, which leads to a big-city adventure. Of course, everything that could go wrong in New York City, does.

The actresses have talked a little bit in interviews about the differences between the original movie and the remake. Here’s what we know so far:

** There will be a rapping battle between the rival babysitters. In the original, the babysitter sang the blues.

** Cell phones naturally are part of most teenagers’ lives in 2016, but they were not commonplace in the ’80s. In fact, the original movie actually shows a phone booth, which today’s tweens and teen may never have seen.

** Some of the classic lines, such as “Don’t mess with the babysitter,” will be part of the new film. Carpenter also told InStyle magazine that she tells one of the kids she is babysitting, “Your parents are going to kill me.” And then he says, “Well, if they do, they should give you 10 bucks more an hour.”

“Adventures in Babysitting” will air at 8 p.m. June 24 ET on Disney Channel. (Disney Channel app and VOD users could see the movie beginning June 17.) The movie will be followed by the premiere of Disney Channel's new series "Bizaardvark."

Beginning June 25, "Adventures in Babysitting" will be available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play. On June 28, it wil be available on DVD, and the bundle will include exclusive bloopers and a complimentary magnetic photo frame.

"I hope that [fans] can watch the original movie with their parents," Carpenter told an ET reporter at the "Adventures in Babysitting" junket last month. "I think it would be incredible for this new generation to see what the old classic was like and how we're telling a re-imagined version of that."


June 25, 2016

Frozen Ever After: What parents need to know about Disney World's newest attraction


“Frozen” is one of Disney’s most successful character franchises ever, but its instant popularity seemed to come as a surprise to the company that struggled to catch up with merchandise, attractions and other ways for fans to interact with the characters. Over the past two-and-half years, Anna, Elsa and Olaf have worked their way into the hearts of children, who could not get enough of “Frozen.” Many parents, however, reached their saturation point much sooner.

This week, however, the first attraction based on “Frozen” opened at Walt Disney World, and the excitement drew crowds that were willing to wait in five-hour lines. That’s a lot of indulgent parents!


Our own Deb Wills has a report of opening day for the Frozen Ever After attraction. I rode it that day, too, and have some tips for parents.

** This is likely to be THE most popular attraction in the park this summer, so get a FastPass reservation, if at all possible. Lines for the new Soarin’ have not been as long as the queues for Frozen Ever After, so choose to visit Arendelle when making your selections. (Soarin’, Test Track and Frozen Ever After are all in the same tier, from which you can only pick one FastPass selection.)

** If you choose to wait in the long line, be prepared – for yourself and your children. Bring snacks, drinks and something for everyone to do. These days, that often means a photo or electronic tablet, but it doesn’t have to. Anything that’s portable will work, like a family card game or coloring books. One of my favorite ideas is to give kids a travel journal so they can document their vacation memories during this down time. I’ve actually seen some journals in Walt Disney World gift stores, or you can create your own. (I did this once for a Disney Cruise Line trip, and all the kids in our group used the journals at the three-course dinners.)

** Be realistic. If you have very young children, they likely are not going to be able wait peacefully in an hours-long line, even with distractions. I waited 90 minutes to ride Frozen Ever After and saw plenty of older children waiting without meltdowns. However, there also was a family with several toddlers who were miserable and making everyone around them miserable with their behavior and screaming – and the adults just would not “let it go” when they really should have.


** Frozen Ever After is what is known as a “dark ride,” meaning it’s one in which vehicles travel past illuminated scenes of a story. It doesn’t have to actually be dark, but in this case, it really is. However, the animated animatronics and other special effects generally keep the attraction lit well enough to not be scary for little ones.



** Without giving away too many spoilers, this attraction follows the same track as its predecessor, Maelstrom, which means there are two small hills. Both make the boat ride fun without being frightening. Think Pirates of the Caribbean, not Splash Mountain.

** Children younger than 7 years old must ride this attraction with someone who is 14 or older.

** Like most Disney Parks attractions, Frozen Ever After releases its passengers and then they must exit through a gift shop. This is definitely a good place to locate “Frozen” souvenirs. You’ll find the original Elsa and Anna costumes as well as gowns from the “Frozen Fever” short; plush animals and dolls; Snowgie T-shirts; jewelry; trading pins; a collection of baby outfits; and so much more. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, a second gift shop carrying Frozen merchandise recently opened in the Norway pavilion adjacent to the Elsa and Anna meet-and-greets.


June 28, 2016

Clearwater Marine Aquarium to host members-only event with 'Dolphin Tale' stars


Over the years, I’ve written a lot about Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was made famous by Winter the dolphin who lives there and is the star of the “Dolphin Tale” movies. The nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation center for marine animals is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando and an easy day trip for Orlando locals and those vacationing in the Sunshine State.

It’s been almost five years since the release of that first movie, based on the true story of an injured dolphin that overcame great odds to survive, thrive and become an inspiration for people everywhere. At that time, in our local movie theater, my then-7-year-old daughter fell in love with dolphins, and they have been her passion ever since. Her desire to learn about and be around dolphins as much as possible has led us on many trips to Clearwater Marine Aquarium for different events.


Fellow dolphin-lovers will want to mark their calendars for a special event coming in July, but you have to be an aquarium member to attend. There is still time to join and register for the event. Details on how to do that below. But first, the event:

On July 16, Clearwater Marine Aquarium will host Summer Movie Madness Membership Night from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s a free event and open only to members. The event features “Dolphin Tale 2” actors Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel), Nathan Gamble (Sawyer) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe), who will reunite with Winter, Hope and other animal stars of the film and take members on a “backstage movie set” tour. Refreshments will be served, and members can take part in an auction of one-of-a-kind movie props, animal encounters and limited-edition merchandise.


My daughter met the three “Dolphin Tale” actors two years ago at the aquarium, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies. Zuehlsdorff, Gamble and Highsmith couldn’t have been nicer. My daughter was more than happy to wait in line for the opportunity, but it would appear that members who attend Summer Movie Madness Membership Night can skip that step and enjoy an evening of interactions.

Individual or group memberships to Clearwater Marine Aquarium can be purchased online at seewinter.com A membership is the equivalent of an annual pass, with free general admission for a year, but there are other perks, as well, such as discounts on boat tours, kids camps and birthday parties; 10 percent discount in the gift shop; and free or half-price admission to other Florida attractions that reciprocate.

Members attending the July event are invited to add a VIP Sunset Champagne Cruise to their evening. The boat leaves at 7:30 p.m. and stays out until the sun has set. The price is $30 for adults and $15 for kids.


June 30, 2016

Disney's 'Frozen' and 'Star Wars' characters to star in new computer science curriculum


The Walt Disney Company is expanding its partnership with Code.org, the nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding student access to computer science, by lending its “Frozen” and “Star Wars” characters to a curriculum for elementary-school students.

The collaboration began in 2014 when Disney worked with the organization to use Elsa, Anna and Olaf and other “Frozen” characters in a one-hour tutorial on computer programming for the Hour of Code, a campaign that takes place in December. In 2015, Princess Leia, R2-D2, Rey and BB-8 had their own Hour of Code tutorial. The Frozen and Star Wars-themed tutorials have been used more than 30 million times and are among Code.org’s most popular coding activities, according to Code.org.

Now, both franchises will be used to create courses in the 80-hour, year-round Computer Science Fundamentals curriculum on Code Studio. They will be available to Code Studio account holders – about 11 million students and 330,000 teachers – as they are developed during the next year.


“We’ve been trying to make learning fun for kids,” Code.org Founder and CEO Hadi Partovi told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally the reason why we’re working with Disney is because children love the Disney brand, the Disney characters and by integrating those characters into our lessons it makes learning to code much more engaging for the students.”

The integration of Disney characters will serve as a bridge for students as they transition from the introductory Hour of Code tutorials to a full computer science course, according to Disney’s press release. The announcement was made Tuesday at the International Society for Technology in Education Conference.

“Computer science will play a critical role in the careers of the next generation of innovators and storytellers, and we want to help open the door to students interested in this field,” said Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “By bringing Star Wars and Frozen characters to Code.org’s in-class curriculum, we hope to make these courses more fun and accessible than ever before.”

Disney is not the only large corporation getting involved with teaching children about computer science. This summer, Apple introduced “Coding Games and Programming Robots” to its lineup of free three-day Apple Camps aimed at ages 8 to 12. At this camp, kids learn the fundamentals of block coding using the Tynker app and Sphero robot. Registration for this camp and the other two at Apple stores – Interactive Storytelling with iBooks and Stories in Motion with iMovie – opened last week. You can check if your local store has any openings left here.


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About June 2016

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

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