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March 2017 Archives

March 2, 2017

runDisney news: Guaranteed 2018 Princess Half Marathon Weekend registration, 2017 Virtual Running Shorts Series


Participants still on a runner’s high from this past weekend’s runDisney 2017 Princess Half Marathon Weekend might be excited to learn about two new opportunities from runDisney.


First, runners can receive guaranteed race registration for the 2018 Princess Half Marathon Weekend, which takes place February 23 through 26 and does not go on sale to the public until May 2. As anyone who is familiar with the crazy rush to register before races fill up knows, this is a valuable offer. Plus, 2018 is an anniversary year for several of the Princess races, which historically has meant special medals and merchandise and larger crowds. It will be the tenth anniversary for the Princess half and the fifth anniversary for the 10K and the Glass Slipper Challenge (the 10k plus the half).

To take advantage this offer, a runner must book a Magic Your Way Package, which includes a stay at a Walt Disney World hotel and theme park tickets, by March 5. That’s Sunday, so you need to get to stepping if you want to know that you have a spot in the runDisney Princess races next year. (Participants will receive an email with instructions about how to register once they book their travel packages.)

Here are the prices for the 2018 Princess Half Marathon Weekend races:

Disney Glass Slipper Challenge -- $340
Disney Princess Half Marathon -- $195
Disney Princess Enchanted 10K -- $120
Disney Princess 5K -- $80
Kids Dashes and One Mile Run -- $20 to $30


The second runDisney opportunity involves the return of the Virtual Running Shorts Series for the summer, and the races go on sale to the public on April 11. The series includes three 5Ks you can complete during specific time frames from whichever course you choose, whether that’s through your neighborhood, on the treadmill or at your local park.

This year, the Virtual Running Shorts Series will have the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando as its celebratory charity, meaning it can use the races as both a platform to create awareness and to raise funds for research.

Prices for the 2017 Virtual Running Shorts Series have not yet been announced, but last year each 5K cost $39 per person and the series challenge was $142. In 2016, each registration included a virtual bib and a Mickey finisher medal. The series challenge came with each of the individual medals plus a fourth medal and a tumbler.


March 4, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando to debut new Dolphin Days show, plus Discovery Cove deals


SeaWorld guests have two new dolphin experiences to look forward to soon at the Orlando theme park. Plus, a new deal at Discovery Cove gives SeaWorld and Aquatica pass members the opportunity to experience an all-inclusive day with a dolphin swim at a deep discount.

A new show called Dolphin Days will debut at SeaWorld Orlando on Saturday, April 1, replacing the popular Blue Horizons after its eleven-year run at Dolphin Theater. SeaWorld describes the new show this way: “The audience will learn more about the individual personalities of each Atlantic bottlenose dolphin while witnessing the special bond they share with their trainers. A soaring rainbow of macaws and other tropical birds will also delight guests, uniting the mysteries of the deep oceans with the wonder and beauty of the skies above.”


The new Dolphin Days also will give young guests interactive opportunities. During each show, one lucky young volunteer will be selected from the audience to learn firsthand from the training team in an up-close encounter with one of the dolphins and a green-winged macaw.

During the show, all guests will learn how they can help protect dolphins in the wild. Revamping its dolphin show is another example of how SeaWorld is shifting the message of its animal shows to one of conservation and not just entertainment.


Dolphin Days won’t be the only place to learn more about dolphins. The park’s new Dolphin Nursery will open in time for summer, offering an interactive educational experience for guests to see dolphins up close. Large-scale acrylic windows will give guests better viewing opportunities, including multiple levels to give kids a face-to-face perspective with dolphin calves. New slide-out areas and a lifting floor will also allow for easier access to mom and baby for the veterinary and animal care teams. Plus, the next generation of multi-purpose digital displays will allow SeaWorld educators to share information about dolphin behavior, biology and conservation with our guests by interacting with video from the team’s educational and animal care content.

SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove water park is offering pass members a deep discount on its all-inclusive tickets. Those who want to experience a dolphin swim will pay $169 per person and visitors who choose to just enjoy the other amenities will pay $99.

Every admission comes with an all-you-care-to-eat breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks and alcohol for those 21 and older. In addition to food and beverages, your admission includes complimentary parking, the use of a wetsuit (short and long styles are available) and life vests, a locker for the day, samples of sunscreen that is safe for the dolphins, the use of a mask and snorkel (and you keep the snorkel), unlimited towels, changing facilities with complimentary body wash, shampoo, conditioner and the use of a hair dryer, and bags to take home your wet swim suit.


My family and I have been to Discovery Cove twice and thoroughly enjoyed each visit. Here is what you can expect from the dolphin swim experience, and here are details about all the other fun things to do at Discovery Cove.

My daughter, who one day plans to be a marine biologist, has been inspired with each visit to a SeaWorld park and its interactive experiences. We especially look forward to the new dolphin show and nursery.


March 7, 2017

At Epcot, meet Captain Ron, a beagle who detects sea turtle nests


Great news: Captain Ron is making his return to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival! Captain Ron is a dog who is a member of Disney's sea turtle conservation team trained to sniff out sea turtle nests along the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort so that scientists can mark the nests to protect them.

Guests can see a short presentation and then meet Captain Ron several times each day on March 31, April 1 and April 2 at the festival center. My now-12-year-old daughter met Captain Ron last year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


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

This special dog and his trainer, Pepe Peruvero, can be seen helping the sea turtle conservation team patrol the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings from late June through the end of August. Captain Ron, a 3-year-old pocket beagle, joined the team in 2015.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Captain Ron and Peruyero will be in the Festival Center at the Fresh Epcot Stage at noon and 3 p.m. March 31 through April 2. The presentations will last about 20 minutes and then guests can meet Captain Ron for a photo and talk with Peruyero.

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

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


March 9, 2017

Disneyland offers new summer performing arts workshops for kids ages 7 and older


Does your child dream of being a performer in a Disneyland parade or wonder what it takes to act in a Disney stage production? This summer, kids ages 7 and older have the opportunity to find out.

Young performers can learn from the professionals at Disneyland in a new program being offered at the resort. The Disney Performing Arts Open Enrollment program allows individuals to participate for the first time in workshops that previously were only open to groups of students.


The six workshops take place on three days: July 21, 22 and 23. Kids can choose from the following courses:

** Acting 101 (Ages 7 and up): Performers learn how to create characters, improvise and project professionalism onstage using proven performance techniques that will boost the confidence of any actor.

** Dance 101 (Ages 7 and up): Performers learn a Disney production number, develop confidence and receive valuable critique as they learn the importance of individual contribution to the success of an ensemble.

** Soundtrack Session: Vocal (Ages 7 and up): Performers record music from Disney films in a simulated film-scoring studio while learning the importance of sight-reading, listening and rehearsing. (Offered at two times)

** Musical Theatre Premium Workshop (Ages 11 and up): Students will develop performance skills in dance, vocals and acting through performing a scene from a Disney Entertainment offering. Created for intermediate to advanced musical theatre students.

** Parade Premium Workshop (Ages 11 and up): Performers learn a production number based on a Disney Parade, gain insights, and receive valuable information on what it takes to become a performer in a Disney parade.

** Technical Theatre Premium Workshop (Ages 11 and up): Students will develop skills for technical theatre, by taking an exclusive backstage look at the special effects and technical complexities of a Disney Entertainment offering. Created for intermediate to advanced technical theatre students.

The standard workshops last about 90 minutes, and the premium courses have about three hours of learning time.

The cost of each workshop is based on the ticket package a participant selects. The least expensive option is the 1-Day, 1-Park Disney Performing Arts Workshop Package, which is $106 per person and includes one standard workshop. The same package with park-hopping privileges between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure is $149. A two-day park hopper package with one standard workshop is $187. Add $10 for a premium workshop instead of a standard workshop. Packages that have park-hopping for three, four and five days include two standard workshops. Prices are $223, $269 and $310, respectively. To add a third workshop, each participant pays $20 for a standard course and $30 for a premium class.

Registration is open now. To access an application, go to http://disneyurl.com/PerformingArtsOpenEnrollment

For questions, contact Disney Performing Arts Open Enrollment at 714-956-6454 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. PST Monday through Friday. You may also email your inquiries to dlr.dpa.open.enrollment@disney.com.

I observed a Disney Performing Arts workshop at Walt Disney World, and it was full of fun and magical surprises. If you want to get an idea of what to expect, you can read my account here.


March 11, 2017

How your teen (and you!) can volunteer at Walt Disney World


Teenagers who would like to volunteer and earn community service hours at The Most Magical Place on Earth have several opportunities coming up.

Registration is now open for the 2017 Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games on May 20 and 21 at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.


Disney volunteers, also known as Sports Enthusiasts and Volunteer Ambassadors, can work at events held at the facility or at runDisney races held on Disney World property. In general, they must be at least 14 to volunteer and those younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult. For the Special Olympics, volunteers younger than 18 do not have to volunteer with an adult. All minors must have a parent or guardian's permission and a signed waiver.

For the 2017 Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games, volunteers still are needed to help with the games on Saturday. There are waitlists for other shifts that involve serving meals and helping with “Healthy Athletes.” Volunteer shifts are typically assigned on a first-come, first-served basis with volunteers receiving assignments about 30 days before the event takes place.

The only event on the summer calendar for Sports Enthusiasts is AAU National Club Championships for Track and Field, which takes place July 7 to 15. Volunteer positions will be available for start/finish line, field events, clerk's tent and awards tent. Registration will open on April 4. Keep an eye on this website if you are interested.

For runDisney races, volunteers may work at the Health and Fitness Expo or kid races located at ESPN Wide World of Sports or at the start/finish line or along the course of races that go through the parks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The next runDisney event in Orlando is the Walt Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which includes the half marathon, a 10K, a 5K and kid races. All events take place Nov. 2 to 5. Registration for volunteers opens several months in advance, but it is not available yet.

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

In addition, volunteers are eligible to earn points toward complimentary theme-park tickets. Each hour of service completed is equal to one point, and it takes 16 points to earn a day's admission to Walt Disney World. (The exception is shifts that are worked on a runDisney course, which earn one ticket per four- to six-hour shift.) Earned tickets are mailed within 60 days of reaching 16 points.

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

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

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


March 14, 2017

Walt Disney World's Raglan Road hosts family-friendly St. Patrick's Day festival beginning March 16


St. Patrick’s Day is Friday and that means celebrating all things that are Irish at the nearest pub, right? We here at AllEars.Net are, of course, partial to Disney’s own authentic Irish restaurant and pub, Raglan Road at Disney Springs. Raglan Road will be celebrating the holiday Thursday through Sunday (March 16-19) with its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival.


Deb Wills, Linda Eckwerth and I were invited to a preview of the event, where we were able to experience the entertainment and food and beverages that will be on tap this weekend. If you’re expecting green beer, you will not find it, but if you want to celebrate the Irish culture as it is done in The Emerald Isle, Raglan Road is the place to be.

First, and perhaps more importantly, the beer. Raglan Road will be serving a unique lineup that not only features traditional Irish stout beers like Guinness, but also five adult beverages that are exclusive to Raglan Road from local producers. And one beer – Paddy’s (NOT PATTY’S) Pilsner -- was crafted just for the Mighty Festival and will only be available this week.

Paddy’s (NOT PATTY’S) Pilsner comes from Orange Blossom Brewing and is the brewery’s original honey pilsner infused with blood orange extract. It has a light, citrus flavor.

Paddy’s (NOT PATTY’S) Pilsner

“We went through different flavor profiles, and we felt that blood orange would cater to the masses the most,” said Aaron Ledger, director of sales for Orange Blossom Brewing Company. “Then we experimented with different measurements to make sure we had the right balance, and the folks at Raglan Road paired it with food to make sure that worked.”

Planted Strawberry & Lime Hard Cider

We also sampled the other beverages that are exclusive to Raglan Road: Bloomsday Pale Ale, also from Orange Blossom Brewing; Tri Wishes Grand Irish Red, Crooked Can Brewing; Miriam’s Irish Coffee Stout, Coppertail Brewing Company; and Planted Strawberry & Lime Hard Cider, Keel & Curley Winery.

Bloomsday Pale Ale is a refreshing ale full of citrus and other fruit flavors. It’s the kind of beer that can be refreshing on a Florida summer. The Tri Wishes Grand Irish Red just won an award for the top Irish Red Beer in the state, and we can see why. It is a smooth red that finishes clean. Miriam’s Irish Coffee Stout tasted like a full-bodied stout that lives up to its name with more than a hint of coffee. I am not much of a beer drinker, but I did enjoy the Planted Strawberry & Lime Hard Cider, which was sweet and smooth that makes it great with for both entrees and deserts.

Braised Lamb Mini Pie
Lemon Herb Crusted Atlantic Cod and Paddy's Pilsner


Beer Battered Monk Fish Fillet with Hand Cut Chips


Shepherd’s Pie

During the Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival, Raglan Road will be serving its full menu created by Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon. At the preview, we sampled several dishes that will be available. There was, of course, a twist on the traditional Shepherd’s Pie, which is made with beef and lamb, root vegetables, red wine jus and topped with mashed potato. Delicious! We also tried the Lemon Herb Crusted Atlantic Cod over Creamed Leeks, which is similar to the The Cushy Cod on the menu. The Braised Lamb Mini Pie with Minted Pea Puree is one of the Pies to Try on the regular menu. Finally, the Beer Battered Monk Fish Fillet with Hand Cut Chips and Tartar Sauce was a slightly different take on the traditional Fish and Chips that usually is made with cod at Raglan Road.

Bread & Butter Pudding and Trifle Sinful

And then there was dessert, each more delicious than the next. We sampled the Bread & Butter Pudding, which was served with crème anglaise and butterscotch sauce; the Dunbrody Kiss, a chocolate mousse covered in chocolate ganache with a crunchy base; and the Trifle Sinful, a freshly baked Swiss roll, Gran Marnier, fresh berries, custard and cream. All three desserts are available on the regular Raglan Road menu. (To see the complete restaurant menu, visit the AllEars.Net page.)


Raglan Road features live entertainment every night, but there will be even more acts to enjoy during the festival. There are two stages – inside the pub and outside on the patio – where native Irish (and some Americans) will perform. At the preview, we enjoyed seeing the Byrne Brothers play musical instruments (button accordion, banjo, mandolin, whistle and bodhran), sing and dance. Brothers Luca, 12, Finn, 10, and Dempsey, 7, amazed us with their talents, and they have been wowing audiences in Ireland. Don’t miss them at the festival! They are scheduled to perform at 4:30 p.m. Thursday on the patio; 1 and 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday inside the pub; 2:30 and 5:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday on the patio; and 4:30 p.m. Sunday on the patio.

Byrne Brothers

The Raglan Road Dancers, who perform nightly, will have patrons clapping along to their toe-tapping jigs and reels during the festival. Their fancy footwork is definitely fun to watch – and diners are even invited to join the dancers and learn some Irish dance steps. My daughter still talks about how much fun she had with the dancers on one occasion when she was younger.


And that leads me to assure other parents that Raglan Road’s Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival is family friendly. As I mentioned, the entertainment is appropriate and fun for little ones. Less adventurous eaters can select typical American comfort food on their menus if they are not up for trying traditional Irish fare. And complimentary Celtic face-painting will take place from noon to 8 p.m. each day during the festival.

Raglan Road is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day during the Mighty Festival, March 16 through 19. A cover charge of $10 will apply to each guest 18 and older on March 17 only.

Click HERE for the Official Press Release from Raglan Road!

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Raglan Road during the preview of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. My opinions are my own, and this did not affect my story.


March 16, 2017

Have you seen Magic Kingdom's 2 new must-have Disney souvenirs?


If you’re going to be at the Magic Kingdom any time in the near future, you might want to check out two new unadvertised items that have visitors waiting in long lines. With a little planning, you may be able to winnow that wait time and still enjoy the experiences.

First, there is a new “Tangled” photo opportunity that takes place in front of the Rapunzel-themed bathrooms. Anyone who has seen the elaborately themed facilities surely has wondered, as I have, why so much care was spent on bathrooms -- even ones at Walt Disney World. The area certainly lends itself to a variety of photos with beautiful backdrops.

And … now we have an official Disney PhotoPass spot. About a month ago, Walt Disney World’s photographers began a test period of taking guests’ photos holding a lantern from the iconic boat scene in Disney’s “Tangled.” Visitors are positioned with the hanging lanterns behind them and then asked to pose in a few different ways with the lantern they are holding.


This unpublicized photo op has been hugely popular, commanding hours-long lines each night. My family and I waited in the queue for an hour and 45 minutes on Saturday. The set originally was scheduled to end yesterday, but on Monday, Disney’s PhotoPass announced on Twitter that it “will be available on a nightly basis (weather permitting) until further notice!”

Things to know:

** PhotoPass photographers will bring out the lantern and begin taking photos once it is completely dark outside. They told me they need an “inky” sky for the photos to work. On Saturday, that meant they began taking pictures at about 7:15 p.m.

** On the day we were in the park, guests began lining up at about 5:30 p.m. So, our wait of an hour and 45 minutes seemed to be the average.

** I walked past the “Tangled” area in Fantasyland (between the Haunted Mansion and it’s a small world) several times throughout the night, and the only time the queue appeared shorter was in the last hour before the park closed at midnight.

** Many of us stayed in line during the Wishes fireworks, so that nighttime show was not a deterrent as it sometimes is for certain queues in the park.

The second unadvertised item is another kind of souvenir. In a promotion for the release of the live-action version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney Parks has created an Enchanted Rose tumbler. The clear plastic cup features the rose in the middle of the base, a lid with various light-up features, and a clear plastic straw.


The cups originally were for sale at Disneyland in the Red Rose Taverne, which is a limited-time “Beauty and the Beast”-themed overlay at the Village Haus restaurant in Fantasyland. They were so popular that they sold out within a day of being placed on sale at the quick-service restaurant about three weeks ago. Almost immediately, the cups, which cost about $13 in the parks, showed up on eBay and have been selling for $50 to $75 apiece. No word about when the Disneyland location will restock.

In the meantime, last week they made an appearance in Orlando and are being sold for the same price at Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. So, far there are no reports of the cups being sold out, but some purchase limits have been put in place to prevent that:

** You must dine at Be Our Guest in order to purchase an Enchanted Rose cup. Each table or reservation can purchase up to five tumblers.

** The restaurant already is so popular that guests typically have to have reservations to eat there, and reservations are made months in advance. Those who are having breakfast or lunch at Be Our Guest, which are considered counter-service meals, can pre-order their food to speed up the process and the Enchanted Rose tumblers are listed on the forms.

** If you don’t have a reservation, continue checking My Disney Experience because guests’ plans do change. Reservations must be cancelled the day beforehand or no-show guests will pay a penalty of $10 per person. So, you may be able to score a last-minute reservation.

** Occasionally, Be Our Guest has room for walk-ups, and guests can be seated without a reservation, so it could be worth your while to stop by the outdoor podium to check. This most often happens for breakfast and lunch.

Are you excited about the new Princess souvenirs at the Magic Kingdom? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.


March 18, 2017

Disney movie review: Beauty and the Beast will enchant audiences


Beast may not be Prince Charming, but Walt Disney Studios' reboot of “Beauty and the Beast” is quite charming. The live-action film stays true enough to the original story to please most Disney fans while adding enough back story material and new songs to keep audiences interested in a well-known tale.

Prepare to be enchanted by Director Bill Condon’s look at the life of royalty in France in the mid-1700s. Our first view of the inside of Beast’s castle comes before the prince is condemned, and we see a luxe setting populated by the upper class who are dressed fabulously. The beautiful costuming continues throughout the movie, both in the provincial village and during scenes in the castle. Best of all, Belle’s gowns are just breathtaking. (An aside: Belle’s actual iconic yellow gown from the movie is on display at Hollywood Studios.)


Emma Watson steps into the role of Belle with confidence and makes us believe that she is the clever, albeit slightly awkward, girl who assists her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) with his inventions and prefers books over boys. Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is just how we know him in the animated movie – an angry animal whose gruff exterior hides his desperation at his doomed plight. And both actors make their romance believable. We fall in love with them and root for Beast to overcome what seems to be an almost-certain fate.


Equally strong are the performances by the actors playing objects that have come to life. We are first struck by the ornate beauty of Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) before being drawn into their witty banter. Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are outlandish and appropriately so, while Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack) are sweet together. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little teary when the household objects are saying goodbye to each other as the curse stills their movements. They are that endearing.


And then there are the villain Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LaFou (Josh Gad). Gaston is, of course, that horribly chauvinistic male who wants to marry Belle because he sees her as a trophy, not because he cares about her and her interests. His pursuit of Belle, though, is dogged and he relies on LeFou to help him carry out his plans. It had been announced that LaFou is the first character to have a “gay moment.”

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said in an interview with “Attitude” magazine. “And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

I appreciate and applaud this watershed moment. This particular thread is so naturally woven into the plot that it just feels like it’s always been a part of the story – and that’s how it should be. It’s not a shocking scene; just what you would expect this LeFou to do.

Likely more memorable are the other additions to “Beauty and the Beast.” We learn more about the Prince’s unhappy childhood and the fate of Belle’s mother – and the losses they both suffer help them eventually bond. Plus, we are treated to three brand-new songs: "How Does A Moment Last Forever" (two versions); "Days In The Sun"; and "Evermore.” The songs were written by Alan Menken, who also wrote the songs for the original animated movie that debuted in 1991. For this live-action version, he worked with lyricist Tim Rice.


Of course, the special effects make “Beauty and the Beast” a visual feast. CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) allowed filmmakers to create the amazing Beast’s Castle both in its heyday and in disrepair; bring to life the inanimate objects that the household staff has become; and make Beast a real, believable character. My children and I saw the movie in 3D, and that added depth definitely enriched the experience, as well.

We were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed “Beauty and the Beast” – especially after the recent spate of Disney remakes that seemed to be hit or miss on their appeal. (If you’re so inclined, you can read my reviews of the live-action versions “Cinderella” “Jungle Book” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”)

“Beauty and the Beast” is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. My daughter pointed out that she thought the gunshots might scare young children. There also is a scene with Beast battling wolves that they might find scary. Still, these scenes do not last long, and there is no blood or gore involved.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


March 21, 2017

Meet Author Ridley Pearson at Walt Disney World and get new Kingdom Keepers book early


“Kingdom Keepers” author Ridley Pearson returns to Walt Disney World this week, and fans and readers will be able to meet him -- without battling the Overtakers.

As has become tradition, Pearson will be at the Orlando resort to launch his national book tour for the latest installment in his "Kingdom Keepers" series and sequels. He will be signing copies of “The Return: Disney at Last” at two events at the resort, and readers can purchase the new young adult novel before its official U.S. publication date.

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 in 2015, 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. Then, last year, in “The Return: Legacy of Secrets,” Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby traveled back in time to experience the opening of Disneyland in 1955 and the start of the magic we know today.


Now, in “The Return: Disney at Last” Pearson sums up the plot this way: “The stakes are high—both for the past and the future. The finale of “The Return” series leaves the Kingdom Keepers with unimaginable choices to make.”

The book signings at Walt Disney World take place from 10 a.m. to noon March 24 at Mouse Gear inside Epcot and 10 a.m. to noon March 25 at Art of Disney at Disney Springs Marketplace. Park admission is required for the Mouse Gear event on Friday.

"The Return: Disney at Last" will be available to purchase at the Walt Disney World events for its list price of $17.99. Disney Vacation Club and Walt Disney World annual passholder discounts will be honored.

A wristband, which is required to meet Pearson, will be distributed to guests with each book purchase. Wristbands are available as soon as each store opens. For Mouse Gear, that’s 9 a.m. March 24, which also is opening time for Epcot. Art of Disney opens at 10 a.m. March 25. Each wristband allows the guest to get two books signed. Once the wristbands have been distributed, the line to meet Ridley Pearson will close.


My son is a longtime “Kingdom Keepers” fan, and we have attended many book signings over the years. Our tips: Don't underestimate Pearson's popularity. Get a wristband early if this is a must-do event for your group. Also, your time with Pearson is brief, so be prepared. If you'd like him to write something special in your book, jot it down ahead of time.

Even with the limited time he has to spend with each reader, Pearson strives to make each interaction memorable. At several events we attended, the author surprised fans by walking through the queue and greeting every person in line and even stopping to pose for photos before he started signing books. Afterward, he usually posts photos from each event on his website, which is a thrill for young readers.

Pearson also will be signing books at World of Disney at Disneyland on April 22. Details have not yet been announced.

The official U.S. release date for “The Return: Disney at Last!” is March 28, 2017.


March 23, 2017

Deadline is March 24 to apply to be Walt Disney World or Disneyland college intern


If you’re a college student who dreams of working at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, the Disney College Program can give you a sense of what that is like. But, you’ve got to hurry if you want to explore the magical possibility because the deadline for fall programs is Friday, March 24. That’s tomorrow!

The next Disney College Program terms are Fall (August through January) and Fall Advantage (May through January). There also are Spring sessions. However, there is not a summer-only program for first-time participants. Because of the high demand, those spots are reserved for DCP alumni, who will be contacted directly.

This unique five- to seven-month program allows participants to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build transferable skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication.


The Disney College Program does not include culinary or bakery and pastry positions. Candidates interested in these positions should apply for the Disney Culinary Program.

To be eligible to apply for the Disney College Program, there are four basic requirements:

** Students must be currently enrolled and taking classes at an accredited program or institution and have completed at least one semester OR have graduated within the past six months.

** Meet any school requirements for participation.

** Be at least 18 years of age by the time the program begins.

** Possess unrestricted work authorization. According to the Disney College Program website, this typically means international students must be studying on an F-1 or J-1 visa.

Students who are accepted into the program can expect to earn $10.00 to $12.31 per hour, based upon the roles they are selected to perform. Participants may also be eligible for premium pay in select roles and will learn their exact rate of pay upon receiving an invitation.


There are expenses, too, of course. At Walt Disney World, those invited to participate in the program must pay a one-time non-refundable $150 Program Assessment Fee that helps support the events and activities scheduled in the housing complexes throughout the program. They also pay a non-refundable $200 Housing and Administration Fee, which will be applied to the participant's housing costs during the first few weeks of the program.

Disney assigns housing for its college interns. Participants pay between $99 to $130 per week depending on the size of the apartment and which apartment complex a participant is assigned to live in during his or her program. Apartments have two to four bedrooms (with two or three participants in each bedroom). This cost includes all utilities, such as electricity, cable hookup, waste disposal and local phone service; as well as the various resort-style amenities featured at each complex.

At Disneyland, participants must pay $902.50 at the time of their acceptance. That amount covers the first four weeks of housing fee payments ($598) plus the Program Assessment Fee ($100) and Security Deposit ($200). “The security deposit is fully refundable upon successful completion of the housing component of the Disney College Program and a successful apartment inspection upon check out,” according to the program website.

Housing rates are $149.50 per week and apartments may be studio, one- or two-bedroom (with up to three participants in each bedroom). This cost also includes all utilities, such as the ones mentioned above.

Candidates will receive an update regarding the status of their applications no later than April 14th, 2017. According to the Disney Internships & Programs Communications Team, this email could be a request to begin the interview process, a reminder that The Walt Disney Company has their application and they may still be asked to interview, or notification that they are no longer being considered. Those who want to be considered for character performers will need to attend an audition, which may take place before interviews or offers have been extended.

To begin the application process for the Disney College Program, visit disneycollegeprogram.com.


March 24, 2017

Don't miss: Free Cars 3 Road to the Races activities at Disney Springs this weekend


A promotional tour for the upcoming Cars 3 movie is in Orlando for the weekend and it’s completely free and open to the public. Here’s your guide on what you can see and do, along with some tips for making the most of the event.

** The Road to the Races tour kicked off yesterday at Disney Springs, and it continues through Sunday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

** Road to the Races is set up in the old bus loop area, which is located outside Once Upon a Toy store on the Marketplace side. Your best bet for parking is the Lime garage, which is free.

** On the first day, we saw folks lining up about an hour before the Cars 3 area opened. I wouldn’t be surprised to see queues other days, given that the event takes place in a limited space and officials will want to manage crowds for a popular franchise.

** So, what can you and your children do at the event? One of the coolest things is the mobile Cinetransformer 90-plus-seat air-conditioned theater where you will be able to view a 10-minute (or so) film that shows some elements of how the animated movie was made and includes an exclusive clip from the actual movie. It’s upbeat and most likely will get you excited about the release of Disney-Pixar’s Cars 3 on June 16.


** Another big attraction is, of course, “meeting” Lightning McQueen and two new characters from the movie, Cruz Ramirez and Jackson Storm. All three are life-size models that guests can pose with for photos.


** There are plenty of other activities to keep everyone happy, too. Even at ages 12 and 14, my kids enjoyed competing against each other to see who could change a tire the quickest and become an honorary member of the pit crew. That competition was sponsored by Coppertone. They also liked the street art booth, sponsored by Alamo Rent A Car, that invited them to color on a giant mural of Lightning McQueen and friends.


** Freebies include make-and-take cardstock Cars 3 characters (sponsored by NASCAR); samples of energy-boosting smoothies (Dole); and temporary tattoos, toothbrushes and toothpaste (Crest).

** Don’t worry if you forget your camera! At least two of the booths have cameras set up to take photos and then text or email them to you.

The Road to the Races tour will make 27 stops, including Disneyland in California right before the movie opens in theaters. To see the full schedule, go to CARS3tour.com

DISLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Road to the Races tour at Disney Springs. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.


March 28, 2017

Author Ridley Pearson shares details about Kingdom Keepers book released today


For “Kingdom Keepers” fans, the wait is over.

Today is the nationwide release date for author Ridley Pearson’s latest installment in his popular "Kingdom Keepers" series and sequels, “The Return: Disney at Last.” The "Kingdom Keepers" books take place inside Walt Disney World and Disneyland and aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. This newest young adult adventure novel is the final book in The Return trilogy.

Pearson was at Walt Disney World this past weekend to launch his national book tour for “The Return: Disney at Last,” and he was kind enough to make time in his busy schedule to talk with me and my children, who are “Kingdom Keepers” fans. This is the first part of our interview about his new novel. On Thursday, I’ll have exciting details about Pearson’s next Disney-themed project.


So, tell us about “The Return: Disney at Last.” The boilerplate was shorter than in the past, so we don’t know as much about the story ahead of time.

It’s been a long road and this is the tenth book in the series – and the final book with the Kingdom Keepers in it. It was emotional for me in a lot of ways to wrap up the series, but it became clear as I was writing the second “The Return” that we were heading for a logical end to this whole thing.

The story is bifurcated. In other words, it’s got two lanes. We’re with one set of characters in the present time and one set of characters in 1955. And the set of characters in 1955 are trying to get back to the present time. The characters in present time are trying to stop a really horrible thing from happening. And those two worlds actually merge. They come together in a way. For me, it was an interesting writing process because I was really writing two stories at once.

You give some teasers on your website of things readers will find in “The Return: Disney at Last.” Could you tell us a little more about them?

Yes! Let’s take them one at a time. Graveyards after dark: Early in the novel we go back to 1955 and realize there was a real sort of voodoo-y kind of witch doctor involved with somebody who had left Disney in a bad situation and was plotting revenge. The third book really delves into the creation of the Overtakers. Where did they come from and why did they come from there? And it all involves Barracks 14, which is in the books about Jess and Amanda and Mattie and others. It’s trying to bring all the worlds back together, and so the graveyards after dark get really creepy and eerie and they’re inspired in large part by Jonathan Stroud, who is just brilliant. He has a really terrific series [Lockwood & Co.] so I wanted to pay homage to his series. So I have my characters using some of his techniques and technologies – with his permission – because they realize these dug up graves are part of what’s going on to animate the Overtakers.

It’s a really fun story for me because in Tower of Terror before it was Tower of Terror, we’re finding out how somebody thought up and figured out how to make the Overtakers out of just animated characters. That’s a huge part of the concept.

The spider comes from the Barracks and the fact that there is a method to the madness of the Barracks. That’s probably all I should say. That’s the present-time story. So, there are two interweaving stories through the novel, all the way to the end, but I think from the beginning you start to see how they are playing out. It isn’t some big mystery, but you are starting to see the origins of everything and how we got to where we are.


At what point did you figure out this story was how you wanted the series to wrap up?

From the early days of the Barracks, I knew what was going on with them, but I wasn’t sure how I would tell the story. Once the idea for “The Return” came, which came from a reader, I knew that was a three-book series. From the day that I got the email with the idea of going back, I started figuring out what the arc of the three books would be. I don’t think I really knew until I was halfway through the third book that this was likely to end that series. And it came as something of a shock, but I realized that this was where it could end without feeling drawn out. I hope readers feel the way I do. I’m so excited about this book. I mean, I really am. I’m out of my mind about the book. I had so much fun writing it.

We’re always fascinated by the special, behind-the-scenes experiences you get to have in the parks. What types of things did you get to do while researching “Disney at Last”?

For this novel, I got an amazing tour of Disneyland, including California Adventure. I spent many, many hours inside Tower of Terror with just one other person around. It was amazing. I got all the way up into the Tower and out onto those balconies, overlooking everywhere. That world really came to life for me, and so a big part of the third book is Mattie, who is one of the Barracks 14 gals and a Fairlie, is basically stuck inside the Tower of Terror and trying to get out. A part of the book is in there and a part is going in to rescue her, and so that ride became really fun for me. That’s in present time and in the past in the same book they’re inside the hotel that this was all done at. So, the two worlds are kind of married.


What else would you like readers to know about “The Return: Disney at Last”?

“Disney at Last” will excite you maybe more than any “Kingdom Keepers” novel and scare you more than any “Kingdom Keepers” novel. And, I hope, satisfy you because for me it’s all about that. To me, at this point, we’re a Kingdom Keepers family, and I hope it comes to the place where, like me, the reader goes, “A-ha” and is ready for the next adventure.


March 30, 2017

Author Ridley Pearson announces new Kingdom Keepers sequels coming in 2018


Good news, “Kingdom Keepers” fans! Author Ridley Pearson told me exclusively that this week’s release of “The Return: Disney at Last” is not a final farewell to Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa and Philby. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to beloved characters – for readers and for authors – but Pearson’s next project might help ease that transition. He’s been hard at work on the first book of a new trilogy set in Epcot, and it could hit shelves as soon as February 2018.

For more details about what is in store for the Kingdom Keepers, read what Pearson had to say when my children and I interviewed him last week at Walt Disney World.


We understand that you have a new series in the works that will be based at Epcot and the Kingdom Keepers characters will continue on in it. Tell us more!

I’m not killing them off, but they are very different. I think it’s really important in these kinds of series that you don’t just parrot yourself, especially if it’s just financially driven or something. I want fresh, new ideas so the idea for this is that Walt Disney had a vision for Epcot, and it was a community of about 60,000 people with the Epcot park as its center. And so, I’ve brought that to life. We move maybe 15 to 20 years in the future, and we meet the Kingdom Keepers as adults and their kids are whom we follow. It’s a trilogy, and it’s just wicked fun.

What else can you tell us about your new Disney project?

There are touches of “Peter and the Starcatchers” in there. Again, it’s two stories at once. One of these characters, who is the child of one of the current Kingdom Keepers, gets off into a land. And I had no idea [this was going to happen] because this wasn’t in the outline and I really follow when the story leads me someplace I didn’t expect. I’ve had so much fun with that side of the story. And then the story that stays here in the park -- because I’m imagining (and working with the Imagineers and people who do tech all over the park) about what it might look like in the future -- has been so fun. And so I’ve added pavilions and I’ve way ramped up the tech. You’ll see a new night show, and I hope you’ll get to feel what it’s like to get to live right here in Epcot.

If you look at an architectural rendering of Epcot plans and you look from the air, it would look like flowers. Each petal of the flower is a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people with a little town at its center. And they go around a bigger community center and all of that feeds into Epcot as clusters. There are like eight of these around Epcot. And so one would be where Finn and Amanda live and Maybeck lives nearby but Philby is [in another]. So everyone is sort of spread out around this thing.

It’s a planned community but the kids do all sorts of devious stuff to sneak out, and the poor parents are realizing that their kids are so much like them and they wish they weren’t because they also are becoming Kingdom Keepers right before their eyes. They almost wish they could stop them because they know how risky it is.

Is there one central villain who will drive the new series?

Yes and no. There’s certainly a group of familiar villains, but there also are a lot of new villains. It’s a conspiracy group, basically. If you have reached Book VII in the first series, where the Overtakers are basically taken out, and you get to the end of the third book in the second series, which tells us how they started, one would wonder what villains could still be out there. If you dig into the heart and soul of the early books … one of the things that makes the movies work, makes the parks work in the Disney universe is that we all believe. And if you believe hard enough, it makes things real. Like when the Imagineers put Maleficent into the park at night to scare me, I’m scared. That’s really Maleficent. And so, the whole idea of the Kingdom Keepers has been that if you believe enough in the villains, they would also become real, just like Mickey and Minnie. And so, there’s a method to the madness in that if we believe … kind of like if you build it, they will come. And you have to look at another one of Walt’s dreams to understand all this, but it’s probably easier said in the book.

How far are you in the writing process?

I’m closing in on the end [of the first book].

What do you find conducive to writing the “Kingdom Keepers” novels?

I think that some people romanticize it, where you’re in a beautiful setting like this with an umbrella, working away, drinking lemonade. It’s work. So, I limit the distractions. I often try to get an office [wherever I am] with a really nice view and then my wife teases me because I just lower the blinds immediately because I don’t want to see anything else. I work at home, in libraries, in coffee shops, on planes, in the gate areas of planes. None of my novels has been published without writing it four full times, and most of them are like six full times. So, if it takes four or five months to write the first draft, which is a ton of fun, then it’s just brutal, slow, slow work to fix everything and tie it all together and get rid of the excess and trim it down and tighten up the characters for the next seven months. And then someone says, “You have to turn it in now,” and so I do. But it’s work, so I work wherever I can work.

I have always wanted to write these books here at Walt Disney World. I’ve wanted to stay at the Grand Floridian for like four weeks and come in and out of the parks and write, write, write. I’ve never had that luxury. I may get that luxury because our final kid goes off to college in the fall. If I could just get here for a month, I just know I’ll feel it, even more than I already do.


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About March 2017

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

February 2017 is the previous archive.

April 2017 is the next archive.

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