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February 2, 2017

Sneak peek: SeaWorld Orlando's new Seven Seas Food Festival

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Last weekend, I was invited to join SeaWorld Orlando pass members at a sold-out preview of foods and beverages that will be served at the upcoming Seven Seas Food Festival.

Beginning Feb. 11 and continuing on Saturdays through May 13, guests can visit the new food festival, which features some of the same components that they have come to love at the theme park’s other festivals – special food to purchase and enjoy and concerts that are included in the day’s admission.

However, this festival will run concurrently with the Viva La Musica and BBQ festivals. That’s possible because the Seven Seas Food Festival will take place around the lake, throughout the entire SeaWorld Orlando park, and it won’t be limited to the Bayside walkway (where other festivals are contained).

There will be 11 coastal markets and each will feature food with beer and wine pairings from Asian, Caribbean, Latin, European, Polynesian and North Atlantic locales. Visitors can expect to pay $4 to $6 per dish and about $4 per beverage sample. They also have the option to buy Food & Brew Sampling Lanyards. The 10-item lanyard costs $40 plus tax and the 15-item lanyard is $55. Both are good for the duration of the festival, so they can be used on multiple visits. The lanyards are available for purchase online now.

“[The Seven Seas Food Festival] will show what we can do at SeaWorld that is not only about hamburgers and hot dogs. It’s a little bit more,” Executive Chef Hector Colon told me at the pass member preview.

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I think SeaWorld visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the offerings, based on what my children and I sampled at the preview. The dishes really are unlike what we’ve come to expect at SeaWorld, and with so many choices – 60 food items, 55 local and international craft brews and 13 wine pairings -- most people will find something to suit their tastes.

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Our favorites were the Braised Short Ribs with the Jalapeno Corn Grits, Candied Smoked Bacon, Aged Balsamic Demi & Crispy Fried Onion Strings; the Churrasco Grilled Shirt Steak with Chimichurri & Garbanzo Frito; and the Grilled Corn on the Cob with Cheese. The short ribs were fall-apart tender and paired perfectly with the candied bacon and crispy onion strings. Although my children and I aren’t big fans of grits, I’m told they were tasty, too. The grilled steak was full of flavor – with and without the spicy chimichurri sauce – and the corn-and-cheese combo had us going back for seconds. I’ll definitely be looking for these dishes at the festival.

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We also tried the Grilled Venison Sausage Slider with Caramelized Red Onions, Sweet Red Peppers & Whole Grain Mustard; and the Shrimp cake with Jicama Slaw & Key Lime Mustard. We didn’t dislike these dishes; we just liked the others better!

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For dessert, we had three choices: Bacon and Hushpuppies Cormeal Fritters with Honey Butter; Grilled Cheese Pound Cake with Cheddar Cheese & Raspberry Sauce; and Dark Chocolate Guinness Mousse Parfait with Baileys Infused Whipped Cream. My children and I definitely liked the pound cake with cheese and raspberry sauce best. My son already is counting the days until he can have it again, and I’m sure I’ll be joining him in line. We also really enjoyed the hushpuppy fritters, which were delicious with the honey butter.

Chef Hector admitted to having a sweet tooth, and he agreed with our dessert choices. “I like the pound cake with a lot of raspberries or the hushpuppies are really great. They are sweet and salty at the same time and with the honey butter, it’s something you must have.”

Pass members at the preview also were able to sample Red Sangria; non-alcoholic Sangria; Watermelon Slushy with Soja (ginger liqueur); and Frozen Lagoon punch with Lychee liqueur.

See the full menu for SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival here.

SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival begins at 11 a.m. every Saturday -- Feb. 11 through May 13 -- and continues through park close. Like all special events at SeaWorld, the Seven Seas Food Festival is included with park admission.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the pass member preview of the Seven Seas Food Festival. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.



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February 4, 2017

Orlando's Paws in the Park fundraiser includes Disney fun for families

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

On Saturday, Feb. 11, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando hosts its annual event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lake Eola. Paws in the Park includes a pet walk, vendors, demonstrations, agility contests and a kid zone from Walt Disney World. The centerpiece of the annual event is the dog walk that serves as a fundraiser for homeless pets and other initiatives of the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

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Registration is ongoing now and it’s free. Participants can join as packs (a group of people who commit to raising at least $500 total) or as individuals. Walkers can even register the day of the event and do not have to have dogs accompany them to participate.

There is no minimum fundraising requirement for individuals, but incentives are given for collecting amounts from $75 to $5,000. They include such prizes as Paws in the Park T-shirts and dog bandanas; VIP access to the Dog Lure Course, Splash Dogs and Dog Agility Course; and VIP Shelter Star pins and access to the VIP reception. (Registration fees count toward fundraising totals.) This year's top individual fundraiser will win two Walt Disney World theme-park tickets with the Park Hopper option for two days.

The walk begins at 9 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m., and the other activities go until 1 p.m. On the main stage, visitors can see the following presentations beginning at 9:05 a.m.: a "bubble release" led by Pet Loss Center to pay tribute to pets that have touched our lives; “Dogs With Jobs”; a performance by the Orlando Gay Chorus; and music by John Frank.

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Families won't want to miss the Disney Kids and Family Zone, presented by Walt Disney World, which has interactive activities everyone can enjoy. In addition, nationally recognized company Splash Dogs will offer dock-jumping competitions, and there is a Canine Sports area.

Entrance to park is free, but there is a charge to participate in the event activities. A $20 Doggie Pass allows your pup to enjoy the Lucky Dogs Lure Course, Agility Course and the "Splash Dogs" Diving Pool at the event.

Sponsor WFTV offers these reminders:

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



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February 7, 2017

Disney to shut down Club Penguin and replace it with Club Penguin Island app

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It’s with some wistfulness that I received the news last week that The Walt Disney Company is shutting down its Club Penguin website. Disney acquired the popular kids virtual world in 2007, and my children spent a couple years enthralled with it. Apparently, though, its popularity has been waning so Disney is closing the online game as of March 29. Don’t despair if your kids still love it because Disney is introducing Club Penguin Island to take its place.

Club Penguin is like many other virtual worlds in that users play games to earn a currency to feather their nests and dress their players. In this case, penguins earn coins that they can use to purchase clothing for themselves, hats for their puffles and decorations for their igloos. Physical coins with online codes are attached to plush puffles and penguins and play sets sold in stores, and these unlock bonus items, such as extra puffles or clothes.

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Club Penguin offered two types of accounts -- free and paid. Users who pay the monthly rate have more access and more options, of course. To hear my kids tell it at the height of their obsession, you HAVE to have a paid account to do the fun stuff.

Club Penguin is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), which means millions of users are playing at the same time. Penguins can friend each other, and if the requests are accepted, users gain access into each other's igloos and can interact in other ways, such as messaging.

In addition to entertainment, Club Penguin also delivered positive messages including one about charitable giving with its Coins for Change holiday program. Disney spent millions on its Club Penguin Internet safety campaign for kids. Most recently, the website gave elementary school students a place online to have their anti-Trump protest heard.

The new Club Penguin Island game will launch in March and be solely for mobile devices. (Club Penguin could be used on desktop and mobile devices.)

“The problem for Club Penguin, which was aimed at younger children and tweens primarily, is that there are now so many apps vying for kids’ attention,” according to TechCrunch.com. “The new site, Club Penguin Island, will look to recapture kids’ interest, with a modern-day take on the original virtual world, but one’s that focused on mobile.

“Though related, Club Penguin Island is its own, standalone app – players can’t bring items or coins from the old site to the new one. Their Club Penguin membership will also not transfer over to the new property. Club Penguin Island is currently offering pre-registration, so kids can reserve their new penguin’s name in advance of its March release.”

Club Penguin Island will be available for iOS and Android mobile devices.



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February 9, 2017

Disney's marketing campaign for Marvel super heroes focuses on inclusiveness

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Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) has announced a new campaign designed to appeal to all types of buyers: “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes.” Of course, from a business standpoint, this kind of marketing strategy is important to appeal to a wide range of consumers for the variety of cool Marvel products in the pipeline. But as a mom, I applaud the inclusiveness of the campaign, which, of course, implies that the people who enjoy super heroes are as varied as the heroes themselves. In my family, it’s my daughter who loves super heroes, not my son.

The “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes” campaign is a celebration of Marvel Super Heroes – and everyday heroes – and will reinforce the idea that the best way to measure a Super Hero is by the size of their heart, according to a news release. This is yet another positive message in diversity.

“Whether you are big like Hulk, small like Ant-Man or smart and quick-to-action like Black Widow, Marvel truly has a hero for everyone,” said Paul Gitter, senior vice president of licensing for Marvel at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in the release. “From young kids to teenagers, to a casual fan or a diehard adult collector, Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes showcases that there is no singular definition for a hero and that our diversity is what makes us so powerful.”

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Having a memorable marketing campaign is critical for all the new products related to Marvel stories starring super heroes that are soon to hit the shelves and screens. Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 28. (Read my movie review here.) Also this month, Marvel Publishing launches the new Monsters Unleashed! comic series and Disney Publishing releases the first novel for young readers featuring Squirrel Girl in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World and a picture book featuring Baby Groot. On the small screen, fans will be able to catch the season 3 finale of Marvel’s Ultron Revolution and the season 4 finale of Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister Six. More Marvel favorites will be returning to television with the season 2 premiere of the Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy animated series and the premiere of new “Rocket and Groot” video shorts.

New Marvel launches will be hitting digital platforms, as well, this spring, including unique video and gaming content for all ages that will bring the “Marvel Heroes Come in All Sizes” theme to life. This month, MarvelKids.com is launching the Scavenger Hunt Game. (If your Marvel fans have not seen this website, check it out now! There are all kinds of free games and activities.) In March, Telltale Games will be debuting its new Guardians of the Galaxy console game.

Marvel fan favorite toys and collectibles will be getting a new look with the debut of six-inch Marvel Legends figures from Hasbro, new larger scale Funko collectible characters, and updated Mighty Micros from LEGO. New products will also debut this spring, including additional Tsum Tsum characters from Jakks, diecast figures from Jada Toys, and the debut lineup from new collectibles partner Schleich.

Not only will the Marvel super heroes be marketed as inclusive, from the sound of it, they also will be omnipresent. And with such a positive message, that’s a good thing.



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February 11, 2017

Tips for finding and buying Disney Dooney and Bourke, Vera Bradley, Harveys seatbelt bags

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Does a made-for-adults 101 Dalmatians purse set your heart racing? This Harveys Seatbeltbag collection was so popular that many of the bags minutes sold out within minutes of being posted online in mid-January.

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High-end Disney-themed purses and bags continue to increase in popularity – both those sold in the theme parks and those sold at outside retailers. And the primary and secondary markets don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Three of the most well-known manufacturers of Disney bags – Vera Bradley, Dooney & Bourke and Harveys Seatbeltbags – have been staples at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line for years now. In 2016, Coach and Kate Spade collaborated with the Mouse and debuted new lines.

I have to confess that I’m one of the shoppers fueling sales of Disney-themed Vera Bradley, Dooney & Bourke and Harveys Seatbeltbags. Although I by no means have an extensive collection, I have added pieces over the years. And I love to see the incredible creativity in each new pattern. So, if you’re a new Disney purse sister, here are some tips that you might find useful:

** Harveys bags are no longer sold in the parks, so unless you live near a store in California, you’ll need to order online. Some lines, such as the 101 Dalmatians collection, are only released online anyway. But shopHarveys.com isn’t the only resource. Be sure to also try Zappos.com and MaterialGirlhandbags.com, which also stock the brand. Follow Harveys on social media for sneak peeks of new collections and advance notice of release dates.

** Disney Dooney & Bourke bags are sold at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line plus they can be ordered online at DisneyStore.com and through the Shop Disney Parks app. Annual pass and Disney Vacation Club discounts can be applied to purchases in the theme parks and on the app. Periodically, DisneyStore.com and the Shop Disney Parks app offer additional discounts as they are doing now. Both have 10 percent off now through Sunday. And sometimes consumers will find different stock online and on the app, so be sure to check both. For example, DisneyStore.com is offering a Disney Dooney cosmetic bag for $29 with a $100 purchase. Disney Vera Bradley bags are sold in the same physical and online locations.

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** For many runDisney races, Dooney & Bourke releases a new runDisney-specific pattern on three silhouettes of bags. Runners often are invited to pre-order the bags, but they also sell them at the Health & Fitness Expo before each event. (The expos are open to public and you do not have to be running to enter.) When I went to packet pickup at Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, there were still plenty of Disney Dooneys for several days. That’s not always the case, though.

** When Disney decides to retire certain Dooney & Bourke and Vera Bradley patterns, you may see them on sale online. But if you are in Orlando, you also can visit two Disney outlet stores that carry official Walt Disney World merchandise, including these bags. The selection is more limited, but the prices are significantly discounted.

** Popular patterns and prints do sell out quickly, especially for Harveys bags because of the smaller inventory. Recently Harveys posted a survey asking shoppers which Disney patterns they would like to see become a staple in its collections. Follow Harveys on Facebook if you want to take the survey. And cross your fingers for more Disney Harveys Seatbeltbags!

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** Some Disney fans choose to use personal shoppers, which largely can be found on Facebook, for their purse purchases. If they can’t be at a store themselves, consumers want people they trust to pick the “placement” on such expensive bags. Disney Dooneys, for the most part, feature patterns with repeating icons, and each person may prefer a different image be displayed prominently. Personal shoppers will search for the desired placement on bags.

** Purse charms are a thing. I had no idea until I joined a private Facebook group dedicated to high-end Disney bags, but, boy, do I love them now. I even gave some as Christmas gifts. Etsy is the place to look for purse charms.

** Finally, although eBay might be the easiest place to buy Disney bags you missed out on, it’s not always the most economical. Many Facebook groups feature sellers of Disney merchandise who are just looking to recoup what they paid, so it might be worth your while to join a few online groups.

Happy shopping!


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February 14, 2017

Kingdom Keepers author Ridley Pearson gives readers opportunity to be Disney Imagineers

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Disney’s Imagineers have some of the coolest jobs around. Who wouldn’t want to help create the theme parks we all know and love? Well, now’s your chance to experience what they do – on a much smaller scale and from the comfort of your own home.

“Kingdom Keepers” author Ridley Pearson is inviting readers to accept a series of writing challenges in the Disney School of Imagineering, which features prominently in his latest series of Kingdom Keepers books. The challenges will center on the theme “writing for the Disney parks,” and the first assignment has been posted on kingdomkeepersinsider.com:

“A big part of being an Imagineer is paying close attention to detail. Whether you're working as a character, designing a new ride, or (in our case) writing for the parks, it's the details that make the Disney experience so special. For your first assignment, think of a detail in a Disney park, like the weather vane on the top of the Haunted Mansion, or the bulletin board in Dinoland USA (If you're stumped, try Google). Once you have a detail in mind, write a backstory for it. Where did it come from? Why is it there? What about it is significant or magical? Have there been any times it was used or involved in a part of Disney or character lore?”

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To participate, you must post your entry on the website after creating a free account. Other readers will be able to view your work and vote for their favorites.

A word of advice from KKI Brooke: “A quick note before we begin: Many of these challenges deal with actual locations in the Disney parks. If you've never been, that's okay! Google is full of blogs and maps, photos and videos, so there's no need to miss out just because you don't spend as much time in Walt Disney World as the Keepers. Even if you do go to the parks every week, take some time to do your research. Preparation is key, and you never know what you might learn.”

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New challenges will appear every two weeks leading up to the release of Pearson’s “The Return: Disney at Last” on March 28. Great news for readers in Orlando: Pearson will kick off his book tour again at Walt Disney World and guests will be able to buy “The Return: Disney at Last” before its official release date. Pearson will be signing copies at Epcot on March 24 and at Disney Springs on March 25.

The "Kingdom Keepers" books take place inside Walt Disney World and Disneyland and aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. The final novel in the original, seven-book series was published in 2014, but the following year, Pearson released the first book in a new young adult trilogy that would keep the beloved characters alive. In "The Return: Disney Lands" the five Kingdom Keepers had to solve a puzzle of the past or face a new force of evil. In “The Return: Legacy of Secrets,” Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby travel back in time to experience the opening of Disneyland in 1955 and the start of the magic we know today. No, in “The Return: Disney at Last,” the Kingdom Keepers must face unimaginable choices.

"Kingdom Keepers" fans will be happy to know that Pearson already is at work on a new trilogy set at Epcot, according to an article last week on D23.com. Pearson confirmed to me that the new series will indeed bring back familiar "Kingdom Keepers" characters as well as introduce new ones.


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February 16, 2017

Disney's Maker Studios severs relationship with YouTube star PewDiePie

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Maker Studios is in the news this week after parent The Walt Disney Company cut ties with one of its biggest YouTube stars, PewDiePie, over his anti-Semitic posts. And YouTube quickly followed suit, canceling plans for the second season of his reality series, “Scare PewDiePie.” PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, has 53 million YouTube subscribers.

The Walt Disney Company bought Maker Studios three years ago in a much-publicized deal for $500 million. Maker Studios is a multi-channel network and YouTube video supplier. It reportedly gets about 10 billion views per month across its 55,000 YouTube channels. Disney had planned to use Maker Studios as way to learn more about promoting its franchises online, as well as an acquisition of new content.

"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," according to a statement from a Maker spokeswoman, The Hollywood Reporter posted online. "Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward."

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I first wrote about Maker Studios back in 2015 when its co-founder, video blogger Shay Carl Butler, was in Orlando to attend Playlist Live 2015, a three-day convention that focuses on video production from experienced creators and gives attendees a way to meet their favorite YouTube stars. Butler has his own popular family video blog, The Shaytards, that is among my teenage son’s favorites.

The Wall Street Journal, which first broke the news about PewDiePie, also is reporting that in the wake of Maker Studios severing ties with him, the company is now looking at an uncertain future.

“The studio generated roughly $300 million in revenue last fiscal year but wasn't profitable, according to people with knowledge of the matter,” the newspaper reported.

Other sources are reporting that layoffs at Maker Studios may be coming. Maker Studios is part of the consumer products and interactive division at Disney.

Meanwhile, plans for Playlist Live 2017, which features many Maker Studios stars, are moving ahead. The event will take place May 5 to 7 at the Orlando World Center Marriott. Tickets, with early-bird discounts, are on sale now at https://www.playlist-live.com/orl-tickets/products Passes start at $130, and there are a number of new ticket options this year.

RELATED LINKS:
Disney's Maker Studios to feature Marvel characters and partner with ESPN and ABC



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February 18, 2017

Disney, Lucasfilm bring back Force Friday merchandise event for 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

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Disney and Lucasfilm want to make sure the force is with all Star Wars fans well before “The Last Jedi” – the ninth movie in the saga -- is released on Dec. 15. To that end, they have announced a sequel to 2015’s Force Friday on Sept. 1, 2017.

The hoopla begins at 12:01 a.m. when stores around the globe will open their doors with toys, collectibles, books and apparel related to the popular franchise on their shelves. The products will not be revealed ahead of time, and the Force Friday II celebration will continue all weekend.

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“The first Star Wars Force Friday event was truly unique, uniting fans across five continents in an unprecedented global live unboxing event ahead of thousands of midnight openings at retail,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in a press release. “We’re excited to confirm that Star Wars Force Friday is back for ‘The Last Jedi’. Plans for this year’s worldwide event are top secret but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga.”

As well as introducing new characters from the movie in toy form, the line will build on the success of products like Sphero’s BB-8, introducing more innovative technology to bring the characters and stories from the film to life in unique ways, according to the release.

“Toys play a unique role in the Star Wars universe, and we’re proud to have been part of that incredible legacy for the past forty years. The new line for ‘The Last Jedi’ is our most innovative yet, and we’re excited to unveil it on Force Friday II,” said Samantha Lomow, Senior Vice President at Hasbro, in the news release.

Also being revealed today is a first look at packaging for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” products which feature leading heroes: Poe Dameron, Rey and Finn. The packaging gives fans the first glimpse at what the heroes will look like in “The Last Jedi.”

Fans can stay tuned to StarWars.com for more details on Force Friday II events and can follow the conversation on social using #ForceFridayII


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February 21, 2017

Take a look behind the blooms at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival and find out what's new for 2017

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The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival begins in just one week – March 1 – and runs through May 29. Each year, the festival has gotten bigger and better with more blooms, detailed character topiaries and edible gardens. The theme park just seems to be bursting with color each spring!

I recently spoke with Eric Darden, who is the horticulture manager for the Flower & Garden Festival, at the Tables in Wonderland preview event about all the exciting additions this year. Darden has been a Walt Disney World cast member for 30 years and served as the foreman of the topiary team at the first Flower & Garden Festival 24 years ago.

It was a happy surprise to see a Figment topiary appear at Epcot well before the Flower & Garden Festival started. How and why did this happen?

We were originally creating a Figment topiary for Flower & Garden, but during the planning for Festival of the Arts, it became apparent that Figment was going to play a big role in that festival so we were asked if we could finish him in time. The bed is going to get significantly cleaned out for Flower & Garden. We couldn’t give everything away! This [addition] is based significantly on guests. We kept hearing from the merchandise folks that our guests just love Figment, and we hadn’t had a Figment topiary probably since ’92.

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One of the stars of this year’s Flower & Garden Festival is the Princess Belle topiary, which has undergone a transformation to make her appear more lifelike. Tell us about the process.

When we first did this with Snow White three years ago, we truly did not know if it was going to work. Now we’re in the process of making all our face characters look like this. The body is actually a sculp by a sculptor, so when you look at Belle, you’re not looking at just a topiary, you’re looking at an individual piece of artwork. And then, of course, we have the sculpted artwork and we have to have a way to attach that to the growing artwork.

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If you were looking at her frame, her dress would be too small. But we knew that ahead of time we were using 3- to 4-inch plant material on her dress so we had to make it truncated. On her torso, that’s less than an inch of plant material, so you make that true to size. [Joseph’s Coat -- botanical name Alternanthera ‘True Yellow – is used for the skirt; Creeping Jenny -- botanical name Lysimachia ‘Goldilocks’ -- makes the ruffle and bodice; and Variegated ficus is used for her underskirt.]

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Finally, we’re one of the world’s largest users of French hairpins. There are hundreds and hundreds of plants on this topiary and this is what we use to hold them in. So, literally, I would guess there are probably 1,000 to 1,500 hairpins on Belle. They are just all over the place in there.

Watering all the delicate topiaries at the Flower & Garden Festival must be a challenge. How does that work?

As we started getting more and more topiaries in the festival, it became a challenge because it takes a long time to water a topiary. Watering an extremity, you just can’t hit it once and leave. You have to keep coming back again and again, so it takes a long time to water one. When we were going from 20 topiaries to 80, we knew we didn’t have the staff to do nothing but water so, the team back at the nursery found a way to do to a topiary what’s done in your yard. Basically, if you have a house with an irrigation system, you have different zones and each of the zones will have a different type of spray head with how much water that area needs. It’s the same with these topiaries. We have lots of different tubing going to different zones and areas like extremities that dry out will have a whole lot more water than, say, the thick area of the dress. We started doing that probably 15 years ago and have gotten better and better at it. It really is what has allowed us to have so many topiaries at the festival. Otherwise, we just wouldn’t be able to maintain them.

How did topiaries become popular in Disney Parks?

Walt was visiting Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen (Denmark). This is what gave Walt the inspiration to do character topiaries. He came back and told Bill Evans that he wanted to see his characters in topiary. Bill was an extremely interesting man. Walt had hired him and his brother to landscape his home in LA. You’ve probably seen the railroad he had in his backyard – Bill and his brother did that. So when it came time to build Disneyland, it was just natural that Walt called Bill and said, “I have this new project that I want you to work on.” … He pretty much became the father of theme-park horticulture.

I met Bill and got to interact with him quite a bit as did others in the horticulture department, so we feel fortunate we had that early tie-in to Disney. Until the day he passed, he was coming here all the time, walking your area and giving you hand-written notes of ideas that you might try, which were really fun.

So, Bill told Walt it would take four to five years to create a topiary, and Walt told him he had two. He figured out how to do it with frames. Back then – and for a long time – topiaries were just green representations of Disney’s characters. For a long time, topiaries were shrubs. Back in 1994, we had to put signs out to tell our guests which characters the topiaries represented. Well, we got a new vice president who said that was no longer acceptable and we were going to try to bring our characters more to life. So that’s when we started working more with our character artists.

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How have things changed over the years with the rest of the Flower & Garden Festival?

We noticed about 10 or 12 years ago that we if wanted to double or triple the attendance in a garden, all we had to do was change it from just an ornamental landscape to an edible landscape. The first one we did this in was the garden in Canada. [When we added] an edible landscape, we tripled – almost quadrupled – the attendance in the garden. So, we knew there was a lot of demand for edible landscape even before you started seeing actual food being served at Flower & Garden.

Now we’ve found that since we’ve added food, we’ve changed our demographic. Ten years ago I would very seldom have someone in their 20s [in the Festival Center] asking me how to grow plants. Now it’s very common to have someone in their teens, 20s and 30s wanting to know how they can grow plants. They are not asking about marigolds and petunias. They were at Urban Farm Eats and saw cabbage being grown in a container and they want to know if they can do that at their own house. Well, yes you can. So, we in horticulture think if there’s a way to get the young people gardening, and there is, it’s going to be through edible plants.

And this is not just Disney seeing this. This is a trend throughout the horticulture field. Now you have nurseries that are having cooks doing demonstrations while they have all their vegetables and herbs ready to sell. I say trend, but this is a really a change. I just can’t see people going, “You know, I’m tired of eating all this good, healthy food.” We see the change directly when we’re talking to our guests at Flower & Garden festival. For so long, I think people only thought of flowers when they thought of Flower & Garden Festival.

We’re starting to see the lines blur between an edible landscape and an ornamental landscape, and you actually see that in cities that allow you to grow edible gardens in your front yard as well as your back yard. More cities are actually allowing that, just like they are allowing chickens, too.

As we’ve added edible landscapes, there has been no reduction in our ornamental landscapes. They truly have been in addition to our content at the festival. So, as you walk around, especially if you’ve been coming for years, look at the little areas– some in Italy, several in Future World and a garden by Mexico – where 5, 6, 7 years ago we just had regular landscape. But we’re trying to identify every area where we can make the park even more decorated and tell a better story. I think we’re getting there.

Some of the most popular gardens for families visiting at the Flower & Garden Festival are the ones decked out with playground equipment. My own kids have loved these areas for years! What’s new for 2017?

The biggest difference this year is that we’re having a third playground. We’re adding a little playhouse for younger children back in between France and Morocco with the Florida Fresh garden. It’s kind of a farmhouse and barn-themed area for the kids ages 2 to 5. The Music Garden Melodies on the Rose Walk is going to be the same theme with all new equipment from Landscape Structures. The playground in the Cars garden will have a couple new pieces, but it also will be similar to past years. [There will be a new character topiary -- Cruz from the upcoming Cars 3 movie – and the garden has been renamed Road to Florida 500.] We think that by adding playgrounds during Flower & Garden, it makes the park even more family friendly. It really brings those gardens to life, and it allows the parents to have more time in the gardens.

Finally, the entrance garden is always a centerpiece piece for the Flower & Garden Festival with the iconic Spaceship Earth in the background. What can you tell us about this year’s tableau?

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of our entrance displays harken back to the early shorts that Walt drew. We have found that anytime we were inspired by or even directly lifted a short that Walt did, we’d get a good show, which shouldn’t be surprising. With Walt you’re getting quality, right?

This year, we’re inspired. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Daisy are the topiary characters around the maypole. We’re calling the main entrance scene: “Welcome Spring Fun, Food and Flowers!”

Editor’s note: The festival, including all gardening programs, exhibits, concerts, complimentary English Tea Garden tours and special appearances, is included in regular Epcot admission.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland preview event for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This did not affect my story. My opinions are my own.


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February 23, 2017

Preview 2017 Outdoor Kitchens at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

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Now in their fifth year, the Outdoor Kitchens at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival are as much a part of the festival experience as the beautiful blooms. With multiple dishes and drinks at 15 kitchens, there is a lot of sampling to be done!

I attended the Tables in Wonderland preview on Sunday, where I was invited to taste many of the new foods and beverages that will be available to the public, beginning March 1. Here are my thoughts about what you will find. Of course, different people have different palates, but perhaps my suggestions will give you a starting point in your culinary journey and help ensure you don’t miss the best of what the festival has to offer!

There are two new outdoor kitchens in 2017: The Berry Basket and Northern Bloom.

“The Berry Basket is really about everything berries,” said Chef Gregg Hannon, culinary director of Epcot. “We really thought that featuring one food group, especially during springtime, or Flower & Garden, would really resonate with our guests. Spring is all about the great produce that is being harvested.”

The Berry Basket will serve a Lamb Chop with Quinoa Salad and Blackberry Gastrique; Field Greens with Fresh Strawberries, Blue Cheese, Strawberry Vinaigrette and Spice Pecans; Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepperberry Sorbet/Ice Cream; Founders Raubeaus Pure Raspberry Ale; Island Grove Blueberry Moscato; and a Twinings Berry Cocktail.

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The only dish we were able to taste at the preview was the Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepperberry Sorbet/Ice Cream, and it seemed to be a hit at our table. I can imagine it will be popular with festival-goers, too, on warm Florida days.

Northern Bloom is located near the Canada pavilion, which makes sense because this new outdoor kitchen is inspired by the country of Canada and will serve French-Canadian dishes. Look for Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Butter Potatoes, Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Applewood Smoked Bacon; Beef Tenderloin Tips, Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce, Whipped Potatoes with Garden Vegetables; Naomi Bar Trifle; a Maple Shake (non-alcoholic); a Maple Shake with Crown Royal; Unibroue Maudite; Unibroue a Tout Le Monde Saison; and Unibroue Ephermere.

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Guests at the Flower & Garden preview could sample the Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Butter Potatoes, Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Applewood Smoked Bacon, which featured produce that was sourced from Canada, Hannon said. The new craft beer, Unibroue a Tout Le Monde Saison, also was available.

“What goes better with French-Canadian food than beer, right?” said Rick DeCicco, proprietor of festivals. “So, everybody loves craft beers and we’re very proud that we’ll be featuring Unibroue craft beers at Northern Bloom. For the first time at Epcot, we’re going to have a new Unibroue called Tout Le Monde. It will be part of a beer flight which features Unibroue Maudite and Unibroue Ephermere . They are always fan favorites.”

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The La Isla Fresca outdoor kitchen returns with three new dishes. At the preview, I sampled – and really enjoyed -- the Caribbean Conch Salad with Avocado, Mango and Onions and the Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce. The tropical flavors in both dishes were light and refreshing.

Urban Farm Eats, perhaps best known for its extremely popular Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, B&W Gourmet Farms Baby Arugula, Feta and Balsamic Reduction – which you’ll be happy to know is returning – is offering one new dish this year. The Crabless Cake with Crispy Vegetable Slaw, Lemon Vinaigrette and Old Bay Remoulade is designed for vegans but is prepared to appeal to a wide range of eaters.

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“When I think about Urban Farm Eats or ‘urban,’ I think about a city or possibly alternative eating and bringing awareness to a plant-based diet,” said Hannon. “It’s very important and also making sure it has full flavor. So, we’re using a Gardein chickenless breast. We grind it up and flake it to have the texture of crabmeat. We mix in some peppers and onions and really traditional crab cake accompaniments. We bread it and we griddle it. On top, we make an Old Bay Remoulade, but we use Vegenaise and we make a slaw with it. Most people who are slightly afraid of a plant-based diet think it’s all vegetables, but there’s a lot of protein in there. Also when you think of soy-based protein, you also most of the time get no saturated fats, which can be great for you.”

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The Florida Fresh outdoor kitchen, which is located between Morocco and France – will serve up two new dishes, and we were able to sample both at the preview. The Carne Asada with Black Bean Cake and Cilantro Lime Sour Cream and the Key Lime Tart with Toasted Meringue represent Florida well. Hannon said the Carne Asada was inspired by South Florida dishes, and the Florida Keys’ influence can be seen in the Key Lime Tart. Both were delicious!

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At Bauernmarkt near the Germany pavilion, guests can try the new Warm Cheese Strudel with Mixed Berries. Expect a generous serving of the sweet treat. Both the Cheese Strudel and the Key Lime Tart are large enough portions to share.

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Finally, those who enjoy their tea will not want to miss the new Royal Garden Tea Tour. The $15-per-person cost includes a cup of tea and assorted scones. We were invited to sample a cheddar scone with Earl Grey butter and a sweet scone with raisins, clotted cream and jam. The tours take place at 9:30 a.m. daily at the UK pavilion during the festival, and reservations can be made by calling 407-939-8687.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland preview event for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This did not affect my story. My opinions are my own.


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February 25, 2017

Review: Seven Seas Food Festival is worth a trip to SeaWorld Orlando

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Looking for a fun way to feed the family today? SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival is back for another Saturday with more than 55 dishes from global coastal markets plus craft beer and wine pairings. The markets around the park opening at 11 a.m. and the food on Bayside Pathway begins serving at noon.

Compared to many other food festivals and food trucks, Seven Seas is affordable – especially if you purchase a punch-card-style lanyard. Each punch entitles you to a food or beverage, and the lanyards can be shared among friends and family. Also, the lanyards do not expire until the end of the festival on May 13. A 10-punch lanyard is $40 and a 15-punch lanyard is $55. Considering that most dishes cost between $4 and $6 – with some more – this is definitely the way to go.

Regular readers of my blog may remember that I attended the SeaWorld pass member preview of the festival and shared my thoughts on quite a few of the dishes that everyone now can enjoy during the festival. Last Saturday, I was invited to sample even more of the festival’s offerings with my family. So, if you’re ready to eat, I’m ready to dish!

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Asian Market: Toffee Banana
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Asian Market: Mushi Gyoza
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Asian Market: Peking Duck Lo Mein
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Asian Market: Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls

We began the media event with the two markets that are tucked away off Bayside Pathway near Ports of Call. The Asian market serves Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls, Peking Duck Lo Mein, Mushi-Gyoza (steamed pork dumpling), and Toffee Banana. We enjoyed the Peking Duck Lo Mein and MushiGyoza, but the Toffee Banana dessert was the real star of the market. It’s served on a stick with a crunchy sesame seed candy glaze and a mound of vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

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Korean Market: Korean BBQ Rib
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Korean Market: Korean Beef Taco
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Korean Market: Bingsu Salted Vanilla Ice Cream
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Korean Market: Korean Sweet Potato Taco

At the Korean market, we tried the Korean Beef Tacos, Roasted Sweet Potato Taco, Korean BBQ Rib and Bingsu Salted Vanilla Ice Cream. Both types of tacos are served with Kimchi, Coleslaw and Sweet Pepper Sauce. The BBQ Rib comes with Cauliflower Fried Rice and Apple Plum Sauce. My family and I have a collective sweet tooth, though, and we all raved about the Bingsu Salted Vanilla Ice cream. It’s topped with Caramel Popcorn and tastes as delicious as it looks.

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Brew Hut: Barley Mow Quackalope IPA

Next, we ventured back out into the park, and my husband made a stop at the Brew Hut to try the Barley Mow Quackalope. He said that India Pale Ale fans will enjoy the bold, robust flavor of the IPA beer. Then, we walked past the Bayside Stadium, where soundcheck was taking place for the afternoon’s free concert. We stopped in the Wild Arctic gift shop to have our passes scanned to record our visit. After three visits to the food festival, pass members are each given a complimentary mason jar glass.

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Gulf Coast Market: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
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Gulf Coast Market: Wild Berry Chocolate Bread Pudding

And, then, it was time to eat again! We had arrived at the Gulf Coast Market and the Polynesian Island Market. Gulf Coast serves a Cheese Grits & Shrimp Casserole and Briased Shirt Ribs, which we tried at the pass member preview, so we opted to sample the Chicken & Sausage Gumbo and the Wild Berry Chocolate Bread Pudding. My husband and I really liked the flavorful gumbo and will go back for seconds at a future date. As for the bread pudding, it wasn’t our favorite, especially after tasting the previous two desserts that were outstanding.

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Polynesian Island Market: Hawaiian Pulled Pork Slider
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Polynesian Island Market: Moco Loco
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Polynesian Island Market: Hawaiian Pineapple Dream Cake

At the adjacent Polynesian Island Market, my children were drawn to the Hawaiian Pulled Pork Slider and they enjoyed the sandwich. My husband liked the Loco Moco, which is grilled spam with white rice, scrambled egg and brown gravy. He grew up eating spam, and found the recipe to be pleasing. It wasn’t a childhood staple for me, and I just couldn’t get past the texture of the meat, no matter how well it was prepared. We all shared the Hawaiian Pineapple Dream Cake, which was moist and sweet. The portion, as with many of the SeaWorld dishes, was quite generous.

The one food my children said they could not wait to get their hands on again after trying it at the pass member preview was the Grilled Cheese Pound Cake topped with a raspberry sauce. I have to agree that it is one of the standout dishes of the festival. It can be found at the Pacific Coast Market.

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Mexican Market: Grilled Corn on the Cob with Cheese

By this point, we all were feeling pretty full, despite sharing the various foods, and we realized that we will have to return another day to the sample foods from the other five markets. We did make room for the Grilled Corn on the Cob with Cheese at the Mexican Market on our way out. It’s not to be missed.

The new Seven Seas Food Festival is a great addition to springtime activities at SeaWorld Orlando. The quality and variety of the food and beverages make this festival in itself worth a trip to the theme park.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the pass member preview of the Seven Seas Food Festival. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.


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February 28, 2017

Tips for viewing Disney's Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom

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My family and I saw Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show at Animal Kingdom, during opening weekend. Of course, that night it was crowded with everyone wanting to see Disney’s newest offering, but I wouldn’t expect that to change in the near future. Given that, here are some thoughts and tips to help you make the most of your experience:

** First and foremost, do everything you can to book a FastPass for Rivers of Light. If you do not have a FastPass, you will need to join the standby queue, and it has been hours long on some nights.

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** Know that, at least for now, Rivers of Light is not performed daily. For the next month or so, it only takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays with one show each night. Of course, Walt Disney World schedules are subject to change. In fact, for opening weekend, second show times – and more FastPasses – were added days beforehand.

** If you are unable to get a FastPass for Rivers of Light, your next best bet may be to purchase a dining package for either Tiffins or Tusker House. Both come with reserved seating for the show. See pricing and details here.

** If you DO secure a FastPass for Rivers of Light, when should you line up? My Disney Experience will recommend arriving at the Discovery River Amphitheater no sooner than 25 minutes before showtime. If you are not picky about seating, that is probably sufficient for this particular show. My family and I wanted to sit near the bottom, as close to the action as possible, so we arrived an hour ahead of time. We were not the first in line, but we still were seated in the second row. Also, know that that about 15 minutes before the show begins, there are lighting and sound effects you will not want to miss.

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** One of the perks of sitting near the bottom was that a PhotoPass photographer walked down there and handed a Rivers of Light prop to guests within reach who wanted their photos taken.

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** Another photo opportunity I discovered when we were sitting near the action was to ask the PhotoPass photographer to snap a few images of friends and family standing with the lighted floats coming into view. This only works for a few minutes before the show starts and the floats are getting into place. PhotoPass photographers will not do this once the show starts. Afterward, there is a similar small window when guests are exiting the theater that you could take your own photos with the floats in the background.

** Know that you can take food and beverages into the amphitheater, but they do not sell them inside (at least not on the night we were there). There are some cute Lotus Flower light-up food and beverage items sold at nearby stands. Look for a Glowing Lotus Blossom Bucket served with flavored chips; a Glowing Stein or Lantern served with a fountain beverage; and a Lotus Flower Glow Cube for drinks.

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** Speaking of merchandise, probably the cutest thing I saw was the new Made With Magic light-up wand. It’s shaped like an animal-themed totem pole and it interacts with the Rivers of Light show, changing colors as the elements in the show do. It also is affected by other Made With Magic items that are nearby and can be used at other select nighttime spectaculars at Disney Parks. Plus, each guest can change the colors on the totem pole manually. They are so cute that I bought one for each of my kids.

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** If you didn’t bring a blanket with you in the park, you might consider purchasing the soft Rivers of Light logo blanket as a souvenir and using it that night. It’s perfect for cozying up on cooler nights to watch the show or for getting sleepy little ones comfortable on the concrete and metal bleachers. Look for the blanket in the Island Mercantile gift shop at the front of the park.


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About February 2017

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in February 2017. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2017 is the previous archive.

March 2017 is the next archive.

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