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December 2016 Archives

December 1, 2016

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration is part land, part sea in 2017

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Many mom bloggers received an unexpected gift last week that inspired even more gratitude than usual during the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s because highly sought-after invitations to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration were sent out – months earlier than they have been in the past.

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This year's conference takes place Feb. 7 to 12, and it features a first – half of the conference takes place on a Disney Cruise Line ship. The first two nights are spent at Port Orleans Riverside at Walt Disney World and the following three nights are onboard the ship. The conference day is scheduled for when the ship has a day at sea. Next year will be the eighth year for the conference, with all but one held in Florida. (The exception was a year when Disneyland hosted the conference.)

Participation in “The Most Magical Social Media Conference of the Year” is by invitation only, although there might be some ways to increase your odds. (More on that below.)

The Disney Social Media Moms Celebration is a conference for bloggers who get professional communication advice from a range of speakers from national companies. Some of the past speakers have included wedding designer David Tutera; Matt Jacobson, head of market development at Facebook; Chris Brogan, president of Human Business Works, New York Times best-selling author and consultant; Ridley Pearson, the author of the "Kingdom Keepers" series for young adults and many other novels; and Rene Syler, former CBS' The Early Show Anchor and webmaster of goodenoughmother.com.

The multiday event also includes elements of a press junket, allowing conference attendees to experience what's new at the Disney Parks and, this year, Disney Cruise Line. Plus, it's a celebration that includes many fun family dinners and experiences. Participants pay their own way to the conference and a discounted registration fee that typically includes a stay at a Walt Disney World resort, theme park tickets and dinners for the family, and meals for the blogger. This year, it includes a three-night stay in a cabin with a veranda. The cost this year is $1,400 for the invitee and one guest. The invitee may bring up to two additional guests at a cost of $400 per guest.

For years, the big question has been how to get invited to the conference. And, unfortunately, there is no definitive answer, except that it involves a lot of pixie dust.

I was among those fortunate enough to be invited to the 2011 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, and I learned as much from my fellow bloggers as the amazing speakers. Moms who blog about Disney and other Orlando theme parks (like me) actually were in the minority. Most participants were mom bloggers who write about their daily experiences with their families, while some had specialized blogs for travel and other niches. It's a small group -- somewhere between 150 to 200 bloggers and their families attend.

Although most of the invitations for 2017 have gone out -- there may be some last-minute emails if some participants are unable attend -- those interested in attending in 2018 might be able to increase their chances by getting involved online and in person.

** Begin by following and interacting on social media (when appropriate) with Maria Bailey, who helped create the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. She is known as "the" authority on marketing to moms. She and her company, BSM Media, Inc., still are very involved with the conference. You also can connect with her by registering as a mom blogger at MomSelect.

** Be sure you are following on social media the Disney organizers behind the magic: @DisneySMMoms @DisneyParks @WaltDisneyWorld @DisneylandToday @DisneyCruise @DisneySports @runDisney @leannej (Leanne J. O'Regan, Walt Disney World Director of Social Media) Follow the hashtag #DisneySMMC to see what’s happening at the conference.

** Try to attend a Disney Social Media Moms Celebration on the Road. These mini conferences take place during the summer in a handful of cities throughout the United States. They are a good way to network and promote yourself to the organizers of the big conference at the Disney Parks. Although the 2017 dates have not yet been announced, keep checking the official Disney Social Media Moms Celebration site.



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December 3, 2016

Star Wars fans can see Rogue One unlimited number of times with Regal's Ultimate Ticket

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Talk about knowing your audience! Regal Cinemas is offering Star Wars fans the opportunity to see the upcoming “Rogue One” as many times as they want while it is in its theaters with one all-inclusive ticket.

Limited to 1,000, the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Ultimate Ticket costs $100 plus shipping and allows its owner to see “Rogue One” one time each day through June 15, 2017, or the end of the movie’s run in Regal theaters -- whichever comes first. The card will be accepted for all film formats, including 3D, RPX and IMAX.

The Regal Ultimate Ticket is only available for sale online at REGmovies.com. (Crown Club members can cash in their credits to enter for a chance to win a Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Ultimate Ticket by visiting MyRegal.com.) The collectible ticket features the movie title laser cut through anodized steel, plus gold etching and the distinctive black gloss Rebellion insignia. Each card is personalized, with the cardholder’s name inscribed permanently on the back.

Here is the fine print:

** Allow 2 to 3 weeks for personalization and shipping.

** Limit one card per order. Due to personalization, multiple cards require separate transactions.

** Your "shipping" contact name will be the personalized name etched on the card.

** Photo ID matching that name will be required for redemption.

** Cards are not transferable to another individual.

** Present card at the box office for admission ticket. Not valid for online ticket purchases.

** Replacement cost is $50 plus shipping and handling.

** Regal Crown Club members earn 10,000 credits (per ticket) with purchase. As long as you use the email address associated with your Regal Crown Club account, points will be added to your Regal Crown Club card 3-4 weeks after your receive your Rogue One Ultimate Ticket.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in theaters Dec. 16. The official description reads, “In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something bigger than themselves.”



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December 6, 2016

Chef Morimoto and Chef Art Smith host progressive dinner at Disney Springs

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It was a night for foodies to celebrate – and eat and drink, of course! And I was fortunate enough to join them to cover the first progressive dinner between two top Disney Springs restaurants with their celebrity chefs as the hosts.

On Saturday, guests took part in the Sake and Shine dinner that started at Morimoto Asia and finished next door at the Shine Bar portion of Homecoming Kitchen. Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Chef Art Smith not only oversaw the meal, but they circulated among diners and even gave each other cooking lessons that served as demonstrations for the participants, as well.

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We began our evening at 7:30 p.m. at Morimoto Asia, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary at Walt Disney World. We gathered on the upstairs terrace, taking advantage of the cooler Florida temperatures, to sample a three-course Pan-Asian feast.

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The fun began when Chef Morimoto announced he would be teaching Chef Smith how to make sushi. First, he showed Chef Smith how it was done, slowly laying out the ingredients on the seaweed before rolling and slicing. Then, Chef Morimoto waited for Chef Smith to take a stab at it. He good-naturedly did so, before Chef Morimoto informed him that he would be teaching the diners how to make sushi, too. Eight lucky participants took turns stepping up to the table and learning from the chefs.

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Then we all got to sample some of Chef Morimoto’s delicacies. Paired with the restaurant’s sake, we tasted Spicy Tuna, Shrimp Tempura, California and vegetable rolls, as well as a variety of Nigiri, including Tako (octopus), Hamachi (yellowtail), Kanpachi (amberjack), Maguro (Tuna), Mizudako (live octopus), Sake (salmon) and Lion Fish. I had never tried sushi, but I decided that if I were going to take the culinary plunge, this would be the place to do so. And I’m happy I did because I actually enjoyed the rolls and ate all the pieces I was given. I was less inclined to finish the Nigiri, largely because it prominently featured large strips of raw fish.

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Our second course was Alaskan King Crab and Nantucket Bay Scallop “Ankake” over crispy noodles. The contrast of the textures in the thick seafood sauce and the crunchy paper-thin noodles made this dish really appealing. And the large portion size was more than I could eat. I wish this were on the regular dinner menu at Morimoto Asia. The second course was paired with Morimoto’s Sobe Ale, which is available as a draft in the restaurant.

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Our third and final course was a Five Spiced Braised Beef Short Rib with Sansho Peppercorn Sauce and Wilted Dou Miao. This short rib was so tender that it fell apart on the fork and was just delicious. Although this particular dish is not on the Morimoto Asia menu, the chef does offer Morimoto Spare Ribs (pork ribs with cilantro and hoisin sweet chili glaze). Our beef short rib was paired with a Primus red wine blend.

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By this point, it was 9:30 p.m. and the progressive dinner originally was scheduled to end at 9 p.m. The chefs seemed to be in no hurry to end the evening, however, and we all walked across the courtyard to Chef Smith’s Shine Bar that is connected to his Homecoming Kitchen restaurant. On our way out, we each were handed the evening’s menu, which had been autographed by Chef Morimoto and Chef Smith. What a thoughtful and much-appreciated gesture!

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At Shine Bar, Chef Morimoto and Chef Smith mingled with guests, posing for photo after photo. We were invited to sample the varieties of Moonshine-based cocktails at the bar, including MoonShine Mash (made with Mrs. Sutton’s Watermelon Likker), Sweet Tea Shine and MuleShine (made with White Lightning).

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Then, Chef Smith challenged his friend and fellow chef to learn how to properly ice one of his Hummingbird Cakes. Chef Smith is known for his version of the popular Southern dessert, which is a pineapple-banana cake with cream-cheese frosting. When he was the personal chef for Oprah Winfrey, she gave many of his creations to friends as birthday cakes. Chef Smith’s Hummingbird Cake also was the most popular dessert at his Chicago restaurant, Table Fifty-Two.

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Despite that daunting history, Chef Morimoto took on the task of playfully icing a Hummingbird cake and then we all sampled slices. Guests also were invited to taste Chef Smith’s signature Shine Cake, a butter cake that is soaked with Moonshine syrup, and visit a strawberry shortcake bar. (Florida strawberries typically start their short harvest season in December.)

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The evening wrapped up at about 10:30 p.m., making what was scheduled for 90 minutes a three-hour event. The first Sake and Shine dinner was lively and leisurely at the same time. Both chefs said they would like to pair up again for another progressive dinner, so be sure to follow them and their restaurants on Facebook, which is where these types of announcements typically will be made.

The cost of the event was $225 per person (including tax and gratuity). The tickets were available on the Patina Group’s website, which is another resource for food news.

DISCLAIMER: I was a media guest at the Sake and Shine dinner. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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December 8, 2016

Moana stars in Disney's Hour of Code program for Computer Science Education Program

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Disney is using its newest film heroine to help reach out to children during Computer Science Education Week this week through December 11. Disney has launched “Moana: Wayfinding with Code,” a free online tutorial that offers an introduction to the basics of computer science, featuring characters from the Disney animated film. In conjunction with the launch of “Moana: Wayfinding with Code,” Disney also announced other partnering initiatives.

All 487 Apple stores worldwide are hosting block-based coding for young coders workshops featuring “Moana: Wayfinding with Code” tutorials during their Hour of Code sessions through 11.

In addition, Code.org will feature “Moana: Wayfinding with Code” tutorial on its site and will educate thousands of teachers and community leaders about how to use the Disney tutorial in their lessons.

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Created in close collaboration with Code.org, the “Moana: Wayfinding with Code” tutorial will be available in more than 180 countries and 23 languages, including Samoan Polynesian, giving children all over the world the opportunity to learn the basics of coding.

“Today’s students are tomorrow’s storytellers and with this tutorial we’re working to introduce them to the technological skills they will need to bring their stories to life,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI). “By bringing together Code.org and Disney filmmakers, we’ve created a program that we hope will inspire kids all over the world to try coding for themselves.”

“Moana: Wayfinding with Code” will also be part of direct family engagement in home and school learning. Parents and educators eager to bring new coding education to their kids can sign up today to receive the free “Moana Family Code Night Event Kit,” shipping in January. Family Code Night is a delightful high-impact elementary school event at which children and their parents do their first hour of coding, together, as part of a whole-school evening program that any school can put on. Celebrating family engagement in Computer Science education, the Moana Family Code Night Event Kit will let any parent help their principal and school or youth group put on this family computer science learning event with a theme inspired by the film. Sign up for the free kit today at http://www.familycodenight.org/Moana.

Disney will promote the “Moana: Wayfinding with Code” tutorial across its global channels in an effort to reach millions of families. Tutorial and toolkit in English and Spanish found here: Disney.com/HourofCode. Global access direct to the tutorial is at Disney.com/WayfindingWithCode.

Over the past two years, Disney has hosted two Hour of Code tutorials, featuring characters from Disney’s Frozen and from Star Wars. In total, almost 40 million students have participated in these tutorials to learn the basics of coding.

“We’ve found that kids are much more likely to try computer science if it contains topics they are interested in, like their favorite Disney stories and characters,” said Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org. “Our work with Disney over the past two years has helped Hour of Code reach record numbers, inspiring millions of children of all ages to try coding and pursue an education in computer science.”



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December 10, 2016

Celebrate Winter and Hope's rescue anniversaries this weekend at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium is celebrating the Rescue Anniversaries of its famous dolphins, Winter and Hope, this weekend and you can join the fun.

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Today (Dec. 10), visitors will learn how the CMA team rescues marine life with a mock stranding presentation at noon. Plus, each guest will receive a free Winter poster with paid admission. On Sunday (Dec. 11), each guest will take home a free Hope poster.

Winter was rescued in 2005 from a crab trap rope entanglement. Her story of determination inspired the popular film, “Dolphin Tale.” Hope was rescued five years and one day after Winter. She was found near the site where Winter was found at a similar age – just a couple of months old. After her rehabilitation, she was paired with Winter, and they have become the best of friends. Hope’s rescue in 2010 and her friendship with Winter inspired “Dolphin Tale 2,” the second film to be based on true events at CMA.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Guests can meet the human stars of the “Dolphin Tale” movies later in December when Nathan Gamble (Sawyer) and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe) visit Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s second location in downtown Clearwater, on Dec. 27 through 30. Admission to Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is included in the prices of admission to CMA and complimentary transportation is provided between the two sites.

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The actors have made several appearances at CMA during the last few years to promote “Dolphin Tale” and "Dolphin Tale 2.” My then-10-year-old daughter was fortunate to be able to meet them during one such trip two years ago, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to talk with the stars of her all-time favorite movies.

If the meet-and-greets work the same way as ours did, the actors had a limited time to meet fans, so no autographs were permitted. However, you could take photos, and CMA had one of its photographers there, as well. You have the option to purchase those images afterward. The meet-and-greets were included in the price of admission.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It's not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find at the working hospital is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tale 2," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.

Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure shows images, recreations and actual props from the movie. My daughter was excited to see some of Hazel's actual clothes from the movie as well as recreated scenes. Especially realistic is The Hurricane Experience, a walk-through attraction in which participants go into a replica of Sawyer's house and feel it move from the force of the storm.



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December 13, 2016

Here's where you can meet Santa Claus at Walt Disney World

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Santa Claus has been listening to wish lists for about a month now at Walt Disney Springs, and if you haven’t checked if you’re on the Naughty or the Nice List, what are you waiting for? You can find the Jolly Old Elf at various locations around the resort at different times.

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As is a long-standing tradition, Santa’s Chalet is stationed at the Marketplace at Disney Springs, the former Downtown Disney shopping and dining district. It’s located to the side of the stage, across from Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. There is no cost associated with Santa’s Chalet, and you are not obligated to buy Disney’s photos. Cast members will use your camera or cell phone to take photos, and professional photographers will capture the moment, as well. If you have purchased a Memory Maker package or have certain Walt Disney World annual passes, free downloads of the photos are available with your account.

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If not, the Disney PhotoPass prices are reasonable, compared with visiting Santa at many malls and events. I speak from a decade's worth of experience of meeting Mr. Claus when I say this. You can order a download of your favorite photo on My Disney Experience for the regular price of $15. Once you download the photo, you can make as many prints as you wish.

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Don’t be put off by the long wait times posted at Santa’s Chalet at Disney Springs. All guests are asked to check in at the entrance, and they will be placed in a virtual queue and given a pager. So, even if Santa may not be available for another two hours, you won't have to spend that time in a physical line. You can shop, grab a bite to eat, or even just rest your tired feet. I'm told the pagers work from Fulton’s Crab House to Earl of Sandwich. Guests are asked to return to the podium within 10 minutes of being paged.

Santa Claus will be at the Disney Springs Chalet from noon to 10 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. Santa Goofy takes over Dec. 25 through 30 during the same hours.

Despite his busy schedule before Christmas, Santa Claus will be making other appearances at Walt Disney World. It would seem impossible, but the Big Man can be found in these additional locations:

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** Epcot: Santa and Mrs. Claus meet guests and pose for pictures for 90-minute sets at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. daily through Dec. 24 at The American Adventure. Plus, each country in the World Showcase also features storytellers who describe local holiday traditions. In many countries, the storyteller is a representation of Santa, such as Pere Noel in France and Father Christmas in England.

** Hollywood Studios. Step inside Once Upon a Time to find Jolly Old Saint Nick greeting good girls and good boys in a glamorous area from 10 a.m. to closing (with some scheduled breaks, of course) through Dec. 24. If the wait is longer than 30 minutes, guests are given pagers that work along Sunset Boulevard so they can do other things besides standing in line while their spots are held in a virtual queue. This location is new for 2016.

** Magic Kingdom: Santa meets with guests during the day through Dec. 24 and at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, where he also makes an appearance at the end of Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade. Admission to the party requires a separate ticket.

If he's not called back to the North Pole, Santa likely will visit most Walt Disney World hotel lobbies in the evening on Christmas Eve.



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December 15, 2016

Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt is fun, free game at Disney Springs

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Here’s a Christmas experiment that you can help ensure turns out to be anything but a disaster.

Building on the popularity of various types of scavenger hunts throughout its theme parks, Walt Disney World has introduced a new such game at Disney Springs for the holidays. Through Jan. 8, guests can play Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt.

This scavenger hunt takes participants from the West Side of Disney Springs to the Marketplace in search of the presents Stitch forget to buy because he lost his Christmas shopping list. At the end, there is a reward (beyond the personal satisfaction of finding each item). It probably goes without saying by now, but there is no admission fee for Disney Springs and parking is free.

To get started, guests can pick up a complimentary booklet with directions on how to find the gifts Stitch planned for his ’ohana (family): Lilo, Nani, David, Cobra Bubbles, Jumba, Pleakley, Mrs. Hasagawa, Moses Puloki, Mertle, Elena, Teresa and Yuki. Locations to get the free booklet are the Disney Springs Welcome Center, Once Upon a Toy, Super Hero Headquarters and the information desk inside World of Disney. The various starting points allow players to join the game at any point in their shopping and dining experience.

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My 14-year-old son tried the new Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt recently on his own and enjoyed it. He said the game leads participants into 12 different stores on the hunt for pictures of Stitch with the gifts he has chosen for his ’ohana. Some pictures are just inside the doors while others are deep inside the stores. Unlike Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game, which takes place outdoors during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt is indoors except for walking between stores so the game easily can be played during the day or at night.

You also can modify the difficulty level of the game if you play with more than one person. The booklet gives written and visual clues and also lists the actual stores to look inside, so you could work off just the clues if you have an individual who is keeping the store locations secret. Hint: One store is a sweet spot; be sure to collect your free chocolate! Hint No. 2: Another store is located near the new Christmas Tree Trail, so you might want to take a few minutes away from the game to check it out.

As the players find each picture of Stitch and his gift, they paste a sticker that depicts the same image on the appropriate spot in their booklets. If your children are at all competitive, like mine, I would recommend having them take turns with the clues to keep the game a friendly endeavor. Of course, each child can complete his or her own booklet and receive a prize, too.

When you finish, head back to one of the starting locations to collect your prize, a Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt button. Happy Holidays!



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December 17, 2016

How to survive the Christmas and New Year's crowds at Walt Disney World

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The busiest time of the entire year at Walt Disney World – the week before Christmas and the week before New Year’s Day – begins this weekend. And although being in a Disney theme park during the holidays is truly magical, it is also extremely crowded. So, it’s more important than ever to have a strategy and backup plans so that you don’t end up feeling like the Grinch when the crowds seem overwhelming.

Here are some tips for managing your expectations and coping with the crowds at Christmas:

** Know that the Magic Kingdom is likely to be the most crowded of the four parks at Walt Disney World on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and be prepared for long lines and wait times. More than a decade ago, my husband and I spent Christmas Day at Magic Kingdom with relatives who could only visit that day, and we waited in some three-hour queues! (Epcot will be the second-most-crowded on New Year’s Eve.)

** Because of the Magic Kingdom’s popularity during this time of the year, it often reaches capacity in the morning, especially on Dec. 25 and 31. The park is closed to incoming guests in phases, and guests with one-day tickets arriving for the first time that day are among the first to be turned away. Guests who are re-entering the park, hopping from another park, have dining reservations, are staying at a Disney resort or are annual passholders increase their chances of being allowed back in.

** Be sure to book and use your FastPass+ selections for each day. This guarantees you’ll have a much shorter wait for at least three attractions, which will cut down on the frustration of long lines. After the initial three FastPass+ selections are used, guests can visit kiosks in the park to add additional selections for available space on attractions.

** Consider making dining reservations for table-service restaurants. This could be a welcome respite from the crowds that certainly will extend into the counter-service restaurants. Many experienced Disney World vacationers may laugh at this statement; after all, they booked their dining reservations for the holidays six months ago. It’s true that many, if not most, places may appear full. However, guests must cancel 24 hours beforehand if their plans change to avoid a $10 per person fee. So, be sure to check the reservation system a day or two before your desired date to see if a table has opened up.

** Even with dining reservations firmly booked, pack some snacks and bottled water to have on hand. This is especially important for families who have young children who will not be able to wait in long lines for snack vendors. Walt Disney World allows guests to bring in most foods and beverages -- except items in glass containers (excluding baby food) and alcohol.

** Give yourself plenty of time to secure a spot for holiday entertainment. The same Christmas parade, fireworks and stage shows that are offered during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are shown in the Magic Kingdom during normal operating hours during the peak two-week holiday period. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Holiday Wishes fireworks and Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration begin on Dec. 23. It’s an added value to your ticket, but everyone else wants to experience this entertainment, too.

** It's tough to keep little kids from melting down in long lines so plan ahead to keep them entertained. Electronics, such as a parent’s cell phone or other handheld gaming device, are worth their weight in gold. Download some children's apps ahead of time. Be sure to pack the cords, too, so you can recharge the devices if needed. (You also can buy portable rechargeable batteries in the theme parks.) Pull out your family's copy of Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets and see how many classic Mickey icons you can spot in the queue. Or tuck a new coloring book and crayons or word-search book and pen in your bag.

** Finally, recognize that when the Walt Disney World parks are this crowded, you will not be able to see and do everything. Managing your expectations will help set the tone for the day. Take time to explore lesser-known attractions and take breaks from the crowds and weather as needed. Just don’t leave the park unless you want to risk not be allowed back in!



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December 20, 2016

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: Late December versus early November dates

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For about a decade now, I have covered Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for AllEars.Net (and before that the Orlando Sentinel), which meant that my family and I attended one of the earliest parties in November so I could get the word out about what other guests could expect. This year, however, my husband and I decided to surprise the kids with tickets to a party a week before Christmas as part of our Advent box of family activities – and that experience was a little more different than I anticipated.

First, let me say that I expected the crowds to be heavier. The night we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was sold out, after all. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about 5:30 p.m., and crowds were thick at the front of the park especially with day guests who still had time to enjoy the park and party guests who were arriving as early as 4 p.m. to enjoy their full eight hours in the park. We decided to avoid the worst of the bumping elbows on Main Street, U.S.A., by walking along the bypass area, which normally is considered “back stage.”

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Disney cast members have done a fantastic job making the bypass area, which starts near Tony’s Town Square, appealing to incoming guests in order to reduce congestion on Main Street. Besides more room to move, guests were offered several cute party-exclusive photo ops that were staffed by Disney’s PhotoPass. Plus, we each were handed stacks of large pre-wrapped snowmen sugar cookies. My family and I promptly tucked those away in backpacks to take home because we had all the new cookies to sample during the party.

Despite the sold-out status of the party, once it started at 7 p.m., the crowds really did thin out and I can’t say we noticed much of a difference between early November and late December parties. The first Christmas parade still was the busiest, and Main Street was filled with people enjoying Holiday Wishes fireworks. But the attractions had pretty short lines, and we didn’t even encounter long lines at the cookie stations. Plus, the party-exclusive merchandise and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards were readily available.

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Eggnog and Gingersnap Molasses Cookies
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Hot Chocolate and Peppermint Bark Cookies
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Snow Cones and Snowman Sugar Cookies

Speaking of cookies, in between the evening’s holiday entertainment, we enjoyed tasting all the new drinks and cookies that were being offered for the first time. Among them were Eggnog and Gingersnap Molasses Cookies, Snow Cones and Snowman Sugar Cookies, Spiced Apple Cider and Snowman Sugar Cookies, Hot Chocolate and Peppermint Bark Cookies, and the previously offered Hot Chocolate and Snickerdoodle Cookies. Plus, the Magic Kingdom continues to offer allergy-friendly and healthy snack alternatives with apple slices and apple juice available upon request. Adding the new choices really added another fun element to our evening. My husband raved about the Eggnog and Gingersnap Molasses Cookies, while I loved the Hot Chocolate and Peppermint Bark Cookies.

One thing that never changes, at least for my family, is that we never have time to see and do everything we want to at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – even when we were leaving the park at 12:30 a.m. But having too many fun things to do is a good problem to have!



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December 22, 2016

Walt Disney World rolls out The Magic Is Endless marketing campaign

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Goodbye #UnforgettableHappensHere. Hello #MagicIsEndless. Disney Parks unveiled its new marketing campaign for 2017 in the fall, and the slogan already has appeared in TV ads and numerous promotional materials from The Walt Disney Co. Expect to see it highlighted in this week’s Disney Parks Christmas special, too.

“The Magic Is Endless” has been described by Disney as “There is a world, like no other world. Where the things we love never end. And smiles and laughter have no limits. You’ll find them in four amazing Theme Parks. Feel them in relaxing Resort hotels. And discover them in places you don’t even know exist yet.”

The campaign aims to zero in on making “endless” memories at Walt Disney World Resort – both in the expected places, such as the theme parks, and at the less-well-known experiences, such as Disney Princess makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

This message likely will be highlighted in the renamed television special, “The Disney Parks’ Magical Christmas Celebration.” In addition to the usual musical performances and Disney parade shown on Dec. 25, the production is expected to feature real-life stories of families who have experienced (or will experience) some Disney magic.

“The Magic Is Endless” has its own splash page on the Walt Disney World website, and it’s loaded with tools to help customers book their perfect vacation and start making those memories. It highlights the new 4-Park Magic Ticket, which gives the guest one admission to each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks for a total of four days. Tickets must be used within 14 days of first use or by May 26, 2017, and some blockout dates apply. The cost of the four-day ticket is $279 plus tax for ages 10 and older.

The page also points readers to other special offers, such as a package that includes the 4-Park Magic Ticket and four-night accommodations at select Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels, starting at $1,675 for a family of four. The package price is valid for arrivals most nights from January 3 through April 5 and April 22 through May 22, 2017. Packages must be booked by March 5, 2017.



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December 24, 2016

Celebration's Now Snowing continues through Dec. 31

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Looking for a last-minute spot to meet Santa Claus and perhaps experience some “snow” in Central Florida when the actual temps outside are in the 80s?

The town of Celebration continues its annual Now Snowing seasonal event through Dec. 31, although tonight is the last night to meet Santa before he heads back to the North Pole. The Jolly Old Elf will greet families from 5:30 to 9 tonight. There is no charge for the visit, and photo packages start at $24.99.

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

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

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

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

Other holiday activities include:

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

** Horse and carriage rides are $45 for up to four passengers and $10 for each additional person. A special Cinderella Carriage can accommodate up to six people for $65. Group wagon rides are $5 per person. Plus, Holiday Home Tours can be booked by calling 321-624-6380. They are 30-40 minutes long and cost $25 per person.

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



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December 29, 2016

Who is American Girl's 2017 Girl of the Year doll?

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She’s a mystery to thousands of girls who desperately want to know everything about her. What is her name and what does she look like? And equally as important: What makes her special and what are her talents? Her full identity is not unveiled until Jan. 1 each year, though American Girl teases its customers with clues leading up to the big reveal of its Girl of the Year doll each year.

The first two video hints posted on AmericanGirl.com this week revealed that the 2017 Girl of the Year doll is from Philadelphia and that she loves to dance. And the official American Girl website has confirmed the new doll is named Gabriela McBride.

Resourceful American Girl fans, however, have collected much more information from leaks. Several websites dedicated to American Girl news have confirmed the new doll is African American and they have photos of what they believe to be Gabriela’s outfits that will be sold initially. These unofficial images show different outfits for dancing –- teal and purple practice clothes, pink and black practice clothes and a sparkly recital outfit -- dance accessories that include a boom box, and her pet cat named Maya after the famous poet. Additional video hints will be posted on AmericanGirl.com this week.

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Each American Girl of the Year doll comes with a book that tells her story. For Gabriela McBride, it’s simply titled “Gabriela” by Teresa E. Harris. The summary on the back cover of the paperback posted on book sellers’ websites gives us insight into the doll’s story: “Gabby loves expressing herself - especially in the dance studio - but lately, poetry is becoming her art choice, and for a good reason: Gabby struggles with stuttering, and spoken word poetry helps her speech flow more freely. Still, compared to how confident she feels on the dance floor, speaking can be scary. When the city threatens to close her beloved community arts center, Gabby is determined to find a way to help. Can she harness the power of her words and rally her community to save Liberty Arts?”

Want to get your hands on the first batch of Gabriela McBride dolls? They will be for sale online and in stores on New Year’s Day. The advantage of going to a store to make your purchase is that participating stores, such as the one in Orlando, will have themed activities and crafts and a Gabriela McBride giveaway only available during the debut events. Orlando’s American Girl store is located at Florida Mall, close to the theme parks and other tourist attractions. The Girl of the Year events are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 1 and 2 and are free and open to the public.

Here is the official description of the launch events: “Gabriela is passionate about the arts, and her favorite forms of self-expression are dance and poetry. In the spirit of Gabriela, girls will have an opportunity to watch and learn as spoken-word poets share their techniques as they perform at the store. While supplies last, attendees will receive a free giveaway and a sweet treat. Girls can also take part in a fun “marquee sign” craft, in a nod to Gabriela’s love of the performing arts.”

The Orlando American Girl store opens at 10 a.m. each day, which is when the Girl of the Year sales begin. Managers do expect customers to line up outside the store before it opens, but they do not anticipate shortages of the doll, they said. Before you shop, be sure to sign up for the new American Girl rewards program.

Are you planning to attend or have you attended a Girl of the Year welcoming party at the American Girl store in your city? Tell us about it in the comments.



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December 31, 2016

What you need to know for runDisney 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

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Today marks one week until my husband and son are running their first half marathon, and it will be during the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Although they both have been participating in runDisney races for a few years now, there are some aspects of this particular event that are new to them – other than the 13.1 miles. Also, runDisney has changed and updated some of its processes for this weekend. Here’s a look at what you can expect, if you, too, are attending or participating in race weekend.

2017 runDisney New Balance shoes

One of the big draws for this particular Health and Fitness Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is the annual debut of the new runDisney New Balance shoes. This year’s collection features shoes patterned after attractions at Walt Disney World: Toy Story Mania, Mad Tea Party, Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain.

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Haunted Mansion
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Space Mountain

The Toy Story Mania and Mad Tea Party shoes are the 880V6 style running shoe, which cost $139.95 for adult sizes and $79.95 for children’s sizes in 2016. The Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain designs are the Vazee Pace v2 style running shoe, which cost $124.95 in 2016. Prices for the 2017 runDisney collection have not yet been announced.

Because of the popularity of the runDisney shoes, New Balance again will operate a virtual queue for its Expo customers. Guests who would like to try on -- and possibly purchase -- the running shoes must make an appointment online. Sign-ups at NBvirtualqueue.com for the first day of the Expo, which is Wednesday (Jan. 4), begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 3) and are reserved for runners only. (Appointments cannot be made without a bib number.) Sign-ups for the New Balance virtual queue for Thursday and Friday open at 7 p.m. the night before and are open to all Expo attendees. There is no virtual queue for Saturday.

runDisney Health and Fitness Expo

Speaking of the Expo, it begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but only runners who purchased a VIP Race Retreat package will be allowed entry at that time. Other runners, spectators and the general public will not be allowed in until noon on the first day. This is different from other runDisney race weekends. The Expo hours are as follows:

Wednesday: noon to 8 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Some of the most-sought-after merchandise at the Expo is the runDisney race-specific clothing and souvenirs that cannot be pre-ordered. It is only listed to be sold in one location: the back of the Jostens Center. I would expect Half Marathon merchandise to be especially popular because it’s the 20th anniversary of the race. Also, there was no pre-order for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Dooney & Bourke handbags, so expect that area to be busy, as well.

For those driving to the ESPN Sports Complex for packet pickup (and the Expo), a new parking option was introduced at the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend. Guests now can pay $10 for preferred parking, which is the closest to the complex. I understand that the extra expense is worth it to some people, but it just seems counterintuitive at an event where participants are physically active.

Earlier registration for future runDisney races

runDisney has begun selling bibs for the 2017 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend even earlier than past years. At the Expo for the 2016 Wine and Dine Weekend, attendees could buy bibs for 2017 if they purchased an entire travel package. No word yet on whether that same offer will be available during Marathon Weekend.

Even so, bibs for the 2017 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which takes place Nov. 2 through 5, go on sale to the public at noon EST Jan. 17. Disney Parks passholders and Disney Vacation Club members can register as early as noon EST Jan. 12. Not even a month later, bibs go on sale for the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend races, which take place Jan. 3 through 7. General sales start at noon EST Feb. 14, while passholders and DVC members can register at noon EST Feb. 9.

Making Memories

Finally, if you are new to runDisney races or it’s been a while since you’ve been a participant, don’t forget to plan for and check out your race photos. In 2016, runDisney switched from Marathon Foto to Disney’s PhotoPass. That’s good news for passholders who have Gold, Platinum or Platinum Plus passes, because the downloads of all race photos are included in pass benefits. My family and I have appreciated the substantial savings.

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If you are not a Disney Parks passholder with Disney PhotoPass benefits, you can purchase Memory Maker One Day or the Memory Maker package that includes all photos from your Walt Disney World vacation. Memory Maker One Day is $59 and can only be purchased through the My Disney Experience app. (Click on the three bars at the top left of the screen and then choose “PhotoPass,” not “Memory Maker.” Tap a photo and your choices will appear.) Memory Maker One Day begins at 6 a.m. ET on the day you select. The Memory Maker package is $169, but guests who purchase it online at least three days in advance of their arrival at the resort will save $20. The Memory Maker package starts at 12 a.m. on the day you first download or unlock digital content and lasts for 30 days.

Runners also have the option to buy individual photos and photo downloads. It’s free to view your photos, but you must have created a complimentary My Disney Experience account. RunDisney photos are compiled by race and bib numbers. You will need to input one of these codes to see your photos: 2017-WDWK-IDSx-xxxx, 2017-WDWW-K5Kx-xxxx, 2017-WDWW-10Kx-xxxx, 2017-WDWH-ALFx-xxxx, or 2017-WDWM-ARAx-xxxx. Enter your bib number in place of the X’s; if your bib number is smaller than five digits, place 0’s in front of it. It can take up to 24 hours for the photos to appear in your account.

Be sure to check the runDisney website about two weeks after race weekend to download and print your complimentary official finisher certificate.

Good luck, runners!



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About December 2016

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

November 2016 is the previous archive.

January 2017 is the next archive.

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