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May 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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April 19, 2016

Disneyland offers special 'Celebrate Girl Scouts' programs in April, May, June

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Disneyland is celebrating Girl Scouts of all ages in April, May and June with Disney Youth Education Series programs offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Individual girls or their troops can register now for special events at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

If this sounds exciting – and who wouldn’t like learning at a theme park? -- don’t delay because some programs already are sold out.

Saturday programs take place at Disneyland Park. Those that still are available for Cadets, Seniors and Ambassadors include:

Culinary Experience in Disneyland Park (May 14, June 25): “Take a behind the scenes tour of some of Disneyland Resort Food and Beverage Operations. Learn how Disney meets and exceeds the demand for the high volume quality meals we serve to millions of people. Get a peek behind the curtain into how we receive, store, prepare and serve Guest meals. Gain an understanding of how we work with other companies, vendors and operating partners, showcasing our Disney Difference.”

Disney’s Approach to Leadership and Teamwork (May 14, June 4, June 11, June 25): “Discover your personal leadership style by exploring Walt Disney’s leadership styles, past and present, and discover how through small and simple acts great things can be accomplished. Exercises designed to reinforce courage, curiosity and constancy aim to give participants the confidence to set goals and accomplish their dreams.”

Marketing the Story of Your Visual Brand (May 14, June 4, June 11, June 25): “Disneyland Park will serve as the backdrop for this exploration of photography, public relations & marketing and its relationship to story. Scouts will discover their artistic eye and come to understand the technical and creative elements that result in images with impact that connect people, places and events. The iconic environment provides scouts with the opportunity to discover and apply the art of storytelling through the art and science of photojournalism.”

One Saturday program at Disneyland park is just for Daisies, Brownies and Juniors:

Energy and Waves Physics Lab 101 (May 14, June 25): “Discover light and sound as forms of energy and how to use them in practical application. See first-hand how these elements are a vital part of creating world class attractions and how Disney uses these physical properties to entertain and amaze guests from all over the world. As they travel through the park, scouts will come to understand some of physics most noted historical figures and their impact on the field.”

Sunday programs take place at Disney California Adventure. Each targets a different age group of Girl Scouts.

For Daisies only – must be ages 5 to 7 years old and have an adult chaperone stay with them for the entire duration of the program:

Exploring the Golden State (May 1, May 15, June 5, June 12, June 26): Learn about California’s rich history including the influencial Dreamers who have shaped the Golden State. Explore the people, events, hopes and dreams that have shaped the Disneyland® Resort’s home state.

For Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors:

Creating a Leadership Legacy (May 1, May 15, June 5, June 12, June 26): Discover Walt Disney’s secret of making dreams come true. Scouts will become confident in their ability to accomplish their goals and be motivated to achieve the impossible. Scouts will also be challenged to develop personal core values, have the courage to step out of their comfort zone, and identify their personal leadership legacy.

Each program is approximately three hours long, and troops and individual Scouts can expect to experience the events with other Girl Scouts. “Exploring the Golden State” is about two hours in long. Particpants must be at east 7 years old, with the exception of “Exploring the Golden State,” which is designed for ages 5 to 7.

To attend one or more of these sessions just for Girl Scouts, each girl and each chaperone must purchase a Youth Education Series ticket package. They can choose from a one-day, one-park ticket for $85; one-day, park-hopper ticket for $124; two-day park-hopper for $168; three-day, park-hopper for $205. An additional Youth Education Series program can be added to a multi-day ticket package for $44 per participant. No taxes or service charges will be added. These prices include a Disney Youth Education Series “Celebrate Girl Scouts” participation patch and Disney Youth Education Series string backpack.

One complimentary chaperone ticket will be issued for every 10 paid Scouts. One complimentary troop leader ticket will be issued for every 30 paid students. The same discounted pricing is available for additional guests visiting Disneyland on the same day. These additional guests, including non-participating youth, will not be permitted to attend the programs but instead can explore the park.

For more details and to receive a registration form, email DLR.Celebrate.Girl.Scouts@disney.com or call 714-956-6454 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.

Although Walt Disney World is not offering the “Celebrate Girl Scouts” program in 2016, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops with 10 or more participants can register for regular Youth Education Series programs year-round at DisneyYES.com. The Orlando resort offers such unique programs as going backstage at Cirque du Soleil, discovering marine life conservation, everyday chemistry, exploring careers in zoological sciences, and the evolution of technology, to name a few subjects.



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September 19, 2015

Magical Moments on our first trip to Disneyland

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Disney theme parks and resorts are known for the “Disney Difference,” an often intangible factor that sets Disney Parks and Resorts apart from other entertainment experiences. Part of the “Disney Difference” can be attributed to the excellent level of service that cast members provide, but perhaps the seemingly random and unexpected experiences that cast members perform for guests contribute to this reputation, as well. Over the years, we’ve had many such experiences here at Walt Disney World, and on our recent first trip to Disneyland, we had several such “Magical Moments,” too.

On our first morning in Disneyland park, I wanted to take the quintessential Disney family photos in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, so we stood in line for a PhotoPass photographer. When we got to the front of the line, I explained that it was our first visit and I wanted to capture several images with various combinations of family members. This Disney photographer turned my request into a mini photo shoot, capturing each child separately, together and with my husband and me. Then, he noticed the kids were wearing birthday buttons and asked them to do special poses to indicate how old they are. We received a fun collection of family photos because the photographer was willing to spend a little extra time and work with us, rather than take the same old shots. It helped, too, I’m sure, that we were in front of the castle right after the park opened so it was not very crowded.

Another Magical Moment also happened on that first day. My family and I each wanted to get a complimentary “First Visit” button to wear for the week, so we stopped by Guest Relations. Imagine our surprise when we were told they had run out! How was that even possible, we wondered? The cast member could only recommend that we ask in each shop on Main Street, U.S.A., and at attractions throughout the park because they sometimes have their own stock of buttons to hand out. So, to appease my disappointed children, we began to pop into each store on Main Street and ask cashiers about the buttons. Each time, we were told they, too, were out of stock. About halfway down the street, however, a cast member said she didn’t have any at the counter, but if we would wait there, she would go search for some. We agreed, and it wasn’t long before she returned with buttons in hand for us.

On our second day, we also had the good fortune to be part of two Magical Moments. As I mentioned in my previous review of the Carthay Circle World of Color dinner package, we were surprised that after we placed our order, a server opened the doors to a balcony overlooking the Pixar Play Parade, which was traveling past the restaurant. We were invited to go outside and watch. It was a great vantage point, and the characters even knew to look up and wave to us.

But by far the most magical experience of our trip was meeting Alfred, a monorail pilot at Downtown Disney station. We had asked if we could ride in the front compartment with the driver, knowing we would have to wait a little longer because of the demand. But we knew it would be a special experience, and something we all would remember, because guests are no longer allowed to ride in the front car of monorails at Walt Disney World. However, the wait turned out to be a little longer than we expected – about 40 minutes -- because if a family was riding with the pilot when the monorail pulled into the Downtown Disney station, they were allowed to remain in the compartment until the ride terminated in Tomorrowland. Still, we were not upset. But Alfred was paying attention to our wait time and apologized, offering our family FastPasses that were good for any ride in either park to help make up for the time we spent waiting at the monorail station. We were stunned and happily surprised! Then, Alfred called the other monorail station and requested that the next train not bring passengers in the first car so that we could board. Besides his generous actions, Alfred entertained our kids and shared with us fun stories about his time at Disneyland and also what he knew of the monorail system at Walt Disney World, which made the wait pass quickly. Then he ushered us into the pilot’s car of the monorail, allowed the kids to take photos in the driver’s seat, and drove us himself to the Tomorrowland station.

These Magical Moments may not have seemed like much to the cast members who were making them happen, but to us, they were everything. They truly exemplified the Disney Difference.



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September 17, 2015

What types of souvenirs do you buy at Disneyland?

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Entering the gift shops at a Disney theme park can be an exciting, over-the-top experience for a first-time visitor. There are so many cool things that you didn’t know you needed until you see them! Few people can shop without a budget, so we must choose things that will be the most meaningful to us, and that certainly varies from person to person. I enjoy seeing what other people select as their treasures, so I thought you might like to hear what we brought back on our first trip to Disneyland. We were, of course, tempted by all the beautiful 60th anniversary merchandise!

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Autograph books

Our first purchase -- on Main Street, U.S.A., no less – was a Diamond Celebration autograph book and pen set for each child. We had reservations for several character meals during our vacation, so we knew they would be put to good use, and the 60th anniversary design made them all the more special. While we were in The Emporium, we also picked up two of the Disneyland pressed penny sleeves and a free guide to locating the pennies, including some designed just for the D60 celebration.

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Mouse-ear hats

Next, both of my children decided they wanted to spend their own money on a souvenir mouse-ear hat. My son really wanted a Diamond Celebration mouse-ear hat, but, unfortunately, that design was sold out. Instead, he decided to get a Made With Magic mouse-ear hat that lights up and syncs with the colors and the beat of nearby night-time shows. It also has a 60th anniversary patch, so it was a good compromise. My daughter chose a Minnie Mouse ear headband with sequined ears and a bejeweled blue bow, also part of the Diamond Celebration collection.

T-shirts

Of course, we couldn’t leave a Disney theme park without T-shirts! Each person in our family chose a T-shirt, and my children decided to get an extra item of clothing. The kids and I each selected a different Disneyland Diamond celebration T-shirt. My husband picked out a Disneyland Oswald shirt, while my almost-13-year-old son chose a different Oswald shirt and my almost 11-year-old daughter got an Ariel hoodie.

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Trading pins

Although both kids collect trading pins, my son was more interested in adding to his collection with pins commemorating our vacation. He selected pins to represent his favorite attractions in each park and the Diamond Celebration.

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Starbucks mugs

My son also wanted to finish his collection of Starbucks “You Are Here” mugs from Disney Parks, so he spent his money on one from Disneyland and one from Disney California Adventure. And then he discovered a special Diamond Celebration mug from Starbucks and more of his spending money was committed to the cause.

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Build A Bear

My daughter, on the other hand, had her heart set on the Diamond Celebration Build A Bear plush at the Downtown Disney store. She saw the special edition stuffed animal displayed in the window early in our vacation and never forgot about it. We persuaded her to peruse the selection of other souvenirs at the resort before she committed such a large chunk of her money to this particular item. She agreed and ultimately decided that this was a valuable souvenir for her. The bear itself has D60 diamond pattern lining on the ears and feet, as well as a soft blue nose. My daughter purchased a D60 T-shirt and mouse-ear hat for the bear.

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Cars Land

We all hated to leave Cars Land, so it was no surprise that some of us looked for souvenirs to remind us of this magical area. My daughter settled on a Mater drawstring backpack and Cars-themed keychain, while I purchased a light-up keychain replica of the neon Cozy Cone Motel sign.

Jewelry

I couldn’t resist adding a few of the D60 charms to my Pandora bracelet. Unlike at Walt Disney World, the special edition charms did not seem to be in short supply. My daughter spent the last of the money she had saved on an Alex and Ani Disneyland60 bracelet.

Club 33

Finally, we were pixie-dusted with the opportunity to have dinner at the members-only Club 33 inside Disneyland Park, and the club has it own merchandise that only can be purchased there. For this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we each splurged on souvenirs. My husband chose a baseball cap and a mug; I was excited to find a handbag and a baseball cap; and we picked out the Club 33 mouse-ear hats for the kids.

PhotoPass+

Probably the best – and most important souvenir -- for our family was the collection of professional photos we purchased with the PhotoPass+ package. For one price, we received unlimited photos taken during our vacation. (You can read more about PhotoPass+ here.)

Do you have a favorite souvenir from your trip to Disneyland? Tell us in the comments!



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September 15, 2015

Tips for gearing up for fun at Disneyland's Cars Land

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Since it opened in 2012, Cars Land has been the must-do area for most guests at Disney California Adventure. On our recent visit to Disneyland, my family and I fell in love with this section of the theme park, too. A guest – even one who didn’t ride the main attraction – would be hard-pressed not to enjoy the level of detail that makes Cars Land so immersive. It’s often been said that stepping into Cars Land is like stepping onto the movie set of “Cars” (if there were such a thing).

Guests can enter Cars Land in three ways: down Route 66, through the canyon arch by Pacific Wharf and through Bug’s Land behind Cozy Cone Motel. The first two entrances are the most spectacular.

Tip: Be sure to visit Cars Land during the day and at night for two different visual experiences. At sunset, the shops and restaurants along Route 66 light up in succession while “Sh-Boom” plays. It’s a magical moment, for sure.

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The main attraction in Cars Land is, of course, Radiator Springs Racers. This ride uses the same technology as Test Track at Epcot with guests riding in 6-person vehicles. The course takes guests up in the mountains, past the waterfall scene from the movie, into Radiator Springs and either Ramone’s or Luigi’s, and out to race on the open roads.

Tips: Radiator Springs Racers (RSR) is by far the most popular attraction at Disneyland Resort. It does have FastPasses but they often are gone for the day by 10 a.m. Because of this, guests line up for rope drop by Carthay Circle and either proceed directly to the ride or they stop at the FastPass distribution machines, which are not located near the ride. Guests staying at one of the three official Disneyland hotels can enter Disney California Adventure (and Cars Land) one hour before park opening on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, but FastPass distribution does not begin until the park opens and guests may not line up for FastPasses until then.

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The other attraction in Cars Land is Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, which features baby tractors pulling guests in trailers in a whip-around style ride. It’s great fun for all ages!

Tip: A third attraction, Luigi's Flying Tires, which was located behind Casa Della Tires shop, closed in February. A new attraction, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, will take its place in early 2016.

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There are two counter-service restaurants in Cars Land, Flo’s V8 Café and Cozy Cone Motel. Flo’s serves typical diner foods: roast beef and turkey (sandwiches), mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, milkshakes and more. Cozy Cone sells a specialty at each “cone”: churros, soft-serve ice cream, bread cones and pretzel twists, plus various drinks.

Tips: At Flo’s, there are a lot more tables behind the restaurant, and back there you’ll have a fantastic view of Ornament Valley and the Cadillac Mountain Range. Cozy Cone doesn’t have many tables, so it’s more of a grab-and-go spot. But what it lacks in seating it makes up for with its delicious soft-serve ice cream, Red’s Apple Freeze drink and adorable gasoline-can-shaped souvenir cups.

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If you want to capture photos of your family in Cars Land – and who doesn’t? – there are several PhotoPass spots and some unadvertised magic shots you can ask for. (Here’s why PhotoPass+ is a good value for your Disneyland trip.) Professional photographers are stationed at the Cars Land postcard at the entrance; on Route 66 with the landmarks in the background; at Cozy Cones Motel with Mater, Lightning McQueen or Red; and there is a camera on Radiator Springs Racers. If you can find an unattached photographer, be sure to ask for the magic shots, as well. He or she will take your group to three different locations, and when you view the photos online, a different character will appear in each.

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Finally, the gift shops along Route 66 are named after characters or things the cars encounter in the movie: Ramone's House of Body Art, Sarge's Surplus Hut and Radiator Springs Curios. You can take home everything from T-shirts and postcards to tire-shaped hats and light-up Cozy Cones Motel keychains.

Tip: Take photos of any and all merchandise you might be interested in. If you forget to go back and purchase something, you can do so with the Disneyland Merchandise Mail Order line (800-362-4533). You’ll need to be able to describe the item to the cast member so he or she can look it up. Phone lines are open from 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Perhaps what makes Cars Land so special is that it is unique; no other Disney park has a Cars Land. And the excitement of discovering something new has us all gearing up for a fun experience.



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September 12, 2015

Reviews of Disneyland's most popular character meals

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Who could visit Disneyland and not meet some of their favorite characters? One of the easiest, and perhaps most efficient, way to do so is by attending meals where the characters circulate among tables rather than standing in lines in the theme parks. On our recent trip to Disneyland, we booked three character-dining meals: Storytellers Café, Ariel’s Grotto and Goofy’s Kitchen.

Our strategy for character meals was to schedule a late breakfast at each. We did this because we had dinner packages booked for some nights and evening plans on others. Also, my family and I like breakfast food, so that was more appealing than lunch in many cases. As for the time, we opted for 11 to 11:30 a.m. reservations because we were aiming for a mid-day meal. We didn’t want to take a break earlier in the morning when crowds are lightest in the parks.

The biggest downside to our plan was that we ended up being served lunch at one of the restaurants (Ariel’s Grotto) and almost missed the characters at another (Storytellers Café) – despite my following the times listed for meal service for each restaurant. So, if you enjoy breakfast, I would recommend making reservations at these two restaurants a little earlier than we did.

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Our first character meal of the trip was the Chip ’n Dale Critter Breakfast at Storyteller’s Café in the Grand Californian, which features Chip ‘n Dale, of course, as well as Kenai and Koda (Brother Bear), Meeko (Pocohontas) and Terk (Tarzan). Our reservation was for 11 a.m. with breakfast service ending at 11:30 a.m. We checked in ahead of time, but it still took a bit to get seated and by the time we entered the restaurant at 11:20, we were told by a cast member that it was unlikely we’d see the characters. Both of my children were understandably upset by that news.

As soon as we were seated, I explained the situation to our server and asked if there was a way for us to see the characters before we ate. He said he would talk to the handlers, and he did his best to facilitate our request. He did get Chip ‘n Dale to come to our table for autographs and photos. He also encouraged our children to join the dance party with all the characters, saying that they would pose for photos and sign autographs when the music ended. We were surprised by this because at Walt Disney World characters return to circulating among the tables after a group moment. But, sure enough, the critters were happy to take a minute with my children.

Once the kids had met all the characters, we turned our attention to the breakfast buffet where we found cooked-to-order omelets, Storyteller's Cafe famous caramel French toast, eggs Benedict, Mickey waffles, sausage, bacon, bagels and lox, seasonal fruit, and fresh-baked pastries. We enjoyed the food, and no one in our party left hungry! The Chip ’n Dale Critter Breakfast is $29.99 plus tax for adults and $14.99 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9.

Storyteller’s Café also serves lunch and dinner, but characters are not present for those meals. Instead, perhaps guests are able to enjoy the lodge décor of the restaurant, which was both beautiful and cozy.

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Our second character meal was at Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure. The Little Mermaid is my daughter’s favorite character, so we knew Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration was a must for our family. Our reservation was for 11:30 a.m., a time we were led to believe would still be breakfast. We arrived at 11 a.m. and were told we could not check in until 11:20 a.m. and to come back then. When we returned, I requested a table inside “under the sea.” The cast member was able to honor my request, though she claimed we were given the last table indoors. (The restaurant also has a lovely, albeit hot in the summer, outdoor patio with a lovely water view of Mickey’s Fun Wheel and Paradise Pier.) Despite the hassle, I am very glad we were seated indoors because the décor was so well themed.

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After check-in, we descended a spiral staircase to where Ariel was greeting guests. She posed for photos, which are included in the price of your meal, and signed autographs. The meal comes with one 8 x 10 image and four 4 x 6 prints. If you have purchased PhotoPass+, all the photos taken with Ariel can be added to your account. Then we were led to our table, where we found out we were having lunch, not breakfast.

Our meal was a set price of $40 plus tax for adults ($19.99 for children ages 3 to 9) for a three-course meal. Each person could choose soup or salad for an appetizer; sustainable catch of the day, pan-roasted chicken breast, grilled lobster tail salad or slow-roasted tri-tip for the entrée; and a dessert trio to wrap up the meal. The food was perfectly edible, but it was nothing outstanding, which left my husband and I feeling like we had overpaid for what we received. Our bill was about $200 and it certainly wasn’t on par with the meals we had at Blue Bayou and Carthay Circle.

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Of course, we were not paying for just the food but the whole Disney Princess experience. In addition to Ariel, my kids met with Belle, Jasmine, Rapunzel and Tiana at our table. Each princess was announced as she swept into the dining room and made her rounds, causing a wave of excitement. Overall, I’m happy we tried Ariel’s Grotto for my daughter’s sake, but I’m not sure we’d go back on any future trips.

Ariel’s Grotto also offers a World of Color dinner package, but no characters are present during that meal.

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Our final -- and best -- character meal was at Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. Goofy is the host of a meal that is very similar to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. The experience starts with each party having a photo taken with Chef Goofy. A photo package of one 8 x 10 and four 4 x 6 prints is included with your meal. If you have purchased PhotoPass+, all the photos taken with Goofy can be added to your account.

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Our reservation at Goofy’s Kitchen was at 11 a.m., but we were pleased to find out that brunch would be served until noon. That meant we could enjoy breakfast favorites and well as some heartier lunch dishes on the five stations during our meal. We were excited to try our first Mickey pancakes and Goofy’s special peanut butter and jelly pizza.

In between our trips to the buffet, various characters stopped by our table, including Pluto, Minnie Mouse and Chip ‘n Dale. And although my children had been wearing their birthday buttons all week, this was the first restaurant where the servers brought out cupcakes and actually sang to them. We were beginning to think Disneyland had a ban on singing at tables!

Brunch at Goofy’s Kitchen costs $33 plus tax for adults and $17 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9.

Be sure to check hours for each character meal before you make reservations because they vary according to the season. Meals can be booked 60 days in advance.



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September 10, 2015

Review: Disneyland's Carthay Circle World of Color dinner package

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, on our first trip to Disneyland last month, my family and I decided to splurge on two top dining experiences that allowed us premium seating for the popular night-time shows that require FastPasses. In this post, I will relate our experiences with the Carthay Circle World of Color dinner package.

Like its counterpart Blue Bayou at Disneyland, Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure is the top-tier choice for dining, and it comes with reserved admission to a popular night show, in this case to the best viewing location for World of Color: Celebrate. Unlike Blue Bayou, World of Color packages are available for lunch and dinner. We chose dinner because of our schedule and the entrée selections, but those who are more flexible might enjoy saving some money at lunch and still having the same great seating.

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Walking into Carthay Circle is like stepping back in time to the opening night of “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. That’s because the restaurant is a reproduction of the now-demolished Carthay Circle Theatre, which was where Walt Disney’s first feature-length film premiered.

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Carthay Circle restaurant’s decor reflects the romance and glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including references to the accomplishments of Walt Disney and his original animators. See Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Courvoisier cels — the only animated art ever to hang in Walt Disney’s home — and scenes from the movie painted on the vaulted ceiling of the second-floor main dining room. Seating is also available on two open-air terraces and in four private dining rooms. (The first-floor lounge has it own, separate menu.)

When we checked in for our reservation, the hostess told me they were seating on the terraces. After a hot day in the parks, we really did not want to sit outside. Plus, we wanted to enjoy the restaurant’s unique décor, so I just said we preferred to eat inside and she accommodated our request. We had a choice of an ornate elevator or a winding staircase to the second floor.

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Once there, we were seated in an intimate booth in one of the rooms adjacent to the main dining room. We actually were the first party to be seated in the room, but it soon filled with other families. Once again, we were able to make our dinner selections from a three-course, fixed menu for the dinner package. This time, however, the chef was Andrew Sutton, who also is the executive chef of the award-winning Napa Rose restaurant at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and at the exclusive members-only Club 33 at Disneyland park.

The appetizer course was the Carthay Circle Salad; entrees included the choice of lamb meatballs, chicken and spinach ravioli, parmigiano reggiano gnocchi, sustainable fish of the season, salmon, pork chop, steak or a chicken breast; and dessert was either a lemon pound cake or a dark chocolate mousse bar. For this dinner, we all tried different entrees. My husband had the sustainable fish of the season, which was served with root vegetables and Swiss chard with orange-radish salad. I chose the thick-cut pork chop, which was served with California mushroom chili and onion fondue with fresh cherries. My daughter chose an adult-size portion of the chicken strips from the kids’ menu, and my son again selected the steak, this time a grilled angus with Yukon potatoes, leeks, fresh fava beans and a Cabernet jus. We each were pleased with our selections. For dessert, we all sampled the dark chocolate mousse bar, which had three small desserts. The kids and I decided the sophisticated s’mores dessert was our favorite, hands down. It’s worth noting, too, that my husband said he enjoyed the beer selection available.

At the start of our dinner, we had a nice surprise when the wait staff opened the doors to the balcony so diners could go out and watch the Pixar Play Parade. We hadn’t had time yet to see the parade so it was great fun to view it from our unique vantage point.

For the second consecutive night, we had excellent food and service with our dinner package. Carthay Circle was the same price as Blue Bayou -- $61 plus tax for adults – which we consider pricey for a family of four. Still, it did include our World of Color reserved premium viewing. For us, it was worth it for our first-time experience at both the restaurant and the very popular show.

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As for the World of Color viewing area reserved for Carthay Circle diners: It was located in the center of the production as promised, and there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone. Most people stand for this show, unlike Fantasmic!, where they sit. There were two benches available on a first-come, first-served basis for those with disabilities.

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Cast members began admitting people to the various roped-off viewing sections about an hour before the show, which was 8 p.m. for the early World of Color. Guests are allowed to bring food and drink into the sections. About 15 minutes before the show, audience members are invited to play Fun Wheel Challenge on their electronic devices. This game asks players to match the colors on their mobile-device screens that are lighting up on the Ferris wheel. The winner is the quickest and most accurate participant, and he or she then gets to control the color patterns on Mickey’s Fun Wheel for 30 seconds. My children really enjoyed this game.

We all were impressed by World of Color: Celebrate. I had heard from some passholders that they preferred the original show better because the 60th anniversary edition was heavy on Neil Patrick Harris. I can understand that criticism, because his parts did seem to get equal time with those of Walt Disney and the history of Disneyland. Still, for Walt Disney World veterans who hadn’t seen this show, it was a treat.



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September 8, 2015

Review: Disneyland's Blue Bayou Fantasmic! dinner package

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Last month, my family and I went to Disneyland for the first time. Some AllEars readers may recall from my newsletter feature that I had booked several dining reservations on Disney property, including two dinner package reservations. We wanted to try the restaurants, but we also really wanted to ensure we had a good view of the night-time shows that require FastPasses. Here are our impressions of the Fantasmic! package we selected.

Our first experience was the dinner package at Blue Bayou at Disneyland park with preferred viewing for Fantasmic! I had been told ahead of time that this restaurant is one of the few whose reservations are difficult to secure, so I booked it as soon as the 60-day window opened. At that time, I also requested a table with a water view, although the cast member warned me she couldn’t guarantee that. (Blue Bayou overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which starts off with the boats floating past the lovely Louisiana setting inside the restaurant.)

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Fast-forward two months. When we checked in for dinner I again asked if we could have a water-view table, and I was told that if we had checked in 90 minutes early, they could have accommodated our request. I’m not sure if we would have been willing to wait at the restaurant for 90 minutes, but I would have liked to have been given that option when I made the reservation.

Nonetheless, even though we sat toward the back of the restaurant, we had a wonderful dinner at Blue Bayou. Each meal included a choice of an appetizer, entrée and dessert from a special menu. Diners could choose from a salad, gumbo or shrimp cocktail for the appetizer; surf & turf, jambalaya, chicken breast, filet mignon, salmon, beef strip loin, portobello mushroom or lamb for the entrée; and crème brulee, chocolate hazelnut cake or apple-cranberry galette for dessert. The wait staff will take your entire order at the beginning to ensure timely service.

Our server told us up front that the surf & turf is the best value for our money because it was the most expensive dinner on the menu. Consequently, most of the people in our group did order surf & turf and said they thoroughly enjoyed it. The dinner consists of a Petite Pacific Northwest Lobster Tail and Broiled Filet Mignon, Blue Bayou Au Gratin Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables and Bearnaise Sauce. Several of us also selected the Blue Bayou Salad with tomatoes, caramelized pecans, blue cheese and cranberries. It, too, was well-received by our group. Our table ordered a mix of the desserts, and everyone was pleased. Personally, I find it hard to go wrong with chocolate cake, though I was too full from dinner to do more than take a bite or two.

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Our dinner package also included commemorative Fantasmic! seat cushions that do not come with any other Fantasmic! packages and cannot be purchased elsewhere. The design of the seat cushion is clever; when you punch out the pre-cut piece to make a handle, the piece becomes a floating keychain. So, you’re really getting two complimentary souvenirs.

After we paid the bill, the server gave us our FastPasses for the early showing of Fantasmic! The tickets indicated that we didn’t need to line up before 8:30 p.m. for a 9 p.m. showtime. That may be true for guests who don’t care where they sit for the show, but we weren’t those people, so we began searching for the queue about 7:30 p.m. And search we did! We asked four separate cast members before finally stumbling upon the correct location, which was not well-marked. (For the record, the queue starts near the river just before you get to the Haunted Mansion.)

At about 8 p.m., guests were given Blue Bayou cards and allowed to walk down the ramp and gather as a large crowd in a roped off area. At 8:30 p.m., the rope was dropped and the crowd surged forward into a single line toward the viewing area. Once we got to the viewing area, we were able to stake out seats front and center – the perfect viewing spot for Fantasmic! (By the way – seating is on the ground so that’s where the seat cushions and blanket we brought came in handy.) As an added bonus, we were able to stay in the same spot and see the Disneyland Forever fireworks 10 minutes after Fantasmic! ended.

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For sure, you pay a premium for the best viewing area for Fantasmic! and one of the most sought-after restaurants at Disneyland. It was $61 plus tax for adults and $23 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9. But we all thought the meal and the seating were excellent and well worth the price. Our only complaint was the lack of clear directions and crowd control involved in lining up to get into the viewing area. Would we recommend the package to other newbies like ourselves who want to experience both the restaurant and the night-time shows? Without a doubt.



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August 1, 2015

Why Disneyland's PhotoPass+ could be valuable addition to your vacation

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For many, if not most, vacationers, photos are among the most cherished souvenirs from their travels. That certainly is true of guests on Disney vacations, myself included. And now that we are going to Disneyland for the first time, I have been planning for these photos – choosing outfits and iconic locations and making character-dining reservations.

The first decision I made was whether we wanted to purchase PhotoPass+, a product that allows you to buy all the professional photos you have taken in the parks for one price. At Disneyland, that price is $99.95, but you can save $30 by pre-ordering PhotoPass+ at least 14 days before your arrival. There is no limit on the number of professional photos that you can have taken, although they must be taken within a 14-day period. The price also includes photos taken at Disneyland on attractions and at character meals. Plus, you receive a photo CD of more than 300 professional stock photos of Disneyland Resort. Given that individual photos cost about $15 and character meal photo packages cost about $30, opting for the photo package was a no-brainer for my family.

Knowing that we were purchasing the PhotoPass+ package, I booked dining reservations at three of the four restaurants where the dining photos are included: Goofy’s Kitchen, Ariel’s Grotto and Disney’s PCH Grill. Because of time restrictions, we opted not to eat at the Plaza Inn. (It’s also very similar to the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, so we chose experiences that are unique to California.)

We’ll also try to ride all the attractions whose photos are included in the PhotoPass+ package: California Screamin’, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. PhotoPass+ may be the push I need to finally get on Tower of Terror. Or I might just be happy with photos of the kids!

Disneyland photographers also help guests create “Magic Shots.” For one of these photos, a guest is asked to pose in a particular way for the shot. Later, when the image appears online, there will be an addition of a character or prop added to the photo. Some guests love these images, and others can do without them. I would like to have the three “Magic Shots” in Cars Land but will be happy enough if we don’t make it to the others.

Here are some of the current “Magic Shots” at Disneyland:

** Bouquet of Mickey balloons, at park entrances (Disneyland and DCA)
** Tinker Bell, Olaf, Chip and Pascal, mostly near Sleeping Beauty Castle (Disneyland)
** Stitch, at Paradise Pier (DCA)
** Flo, in front of Flo’s V8 Café (DCA)
** Mater, near Radiator Springs Racers (DCA)
** Lizzie, in front of Radiator Springs Curios (DCA)
** Mike Wazowski, in Hollywoodland (DCA)

How it works:

** If you purchase PhotoPass+ in advance, you’ll receive the CD of stock photos and a voucher in the mail. On your first day, you’ll need to stop at one of the sales centers inside Disneyland or Disney California Adventure to exchange the voucher for a lanyard and PhotoPass+ card, which you’ll have photographers scan each time they take photos.

** You have 14 days from your arrival date to accumulate photos.

** Then, you have 30 days from the date each photo was taken to claim it online.

** You have an additional 30 days from the date the photo was claimed to order your Photo CD. You also have the option to download your collection of photos, if you prefer that format.

** Before you order the CD, however, you may want to edit your photos. You can save the same photo in multiple versions with various Disney borders or embellishments. Once you order the CD, you won’t have access to the Disney editing tools – unless you want to buy additional copies of photos before they expire.

One final note: Beginning this week, Disney’s PhotoPass service – meaning, all Disney Parks professional photos – will be watermarked for viewing. Once the photos are purchased, the watermark is removed from the high-resolution versions. This process is used to prevent people from taking a screen shot of a photo instead of paying for it. Many companies use watermarks, including the photo service for runDisney events, so I’m actually surprised it’s taken Disney Parks this long to implement the process. The exceptions are PhotoPass+ and Memory Maker photos, which can be seen without watermarks because the guests has pre-purchased the photos.



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July 30, 2015

Tips for packing for a Disneyland vacation

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I am an Orlando Disney vacation veteran. My family and I have had Walt Disney World annual passes for more than a decade, and we have experienced much, if not most, of what the resort has to offer in the parks, restaurants and hotels. Plus, we have sailed on three of Disney Cruise Line’s ships. We have traveled with babies, kids and now almost-teens, as well as with our extended families. I’m pretty confident that I know what to pack for both types of Disney vacations, and it’s rare that I forget something we need, as my husband will attest when he’s dragging our many suitcases everywhere.

But I feel like a novice Disney traveler now that I’m preparing to pack for our first trip to Disneyland and D23 in August. I have to figure out what we will need in an unfamiliar hotel room and theme parks for an extended stay. And it’s a lot of stuff for four people!

I have never been to Anaheim, but from what I can tell, the weather this time of the year is just slightly cooler than Orlando during the day. The real differences are the lack of daily afternoon thunderstorms and temperatures that can dip into the 60s at night. So, for my family, when it comes to packing clothes for the trip, we will stick to mostly shorts and throw in a few hoodies or jackets for the nights. As with any trip, we each will bring a couple nice outfits in case we have unexpected opportunities where shorts are not appropriate. Of course, swim suits, pajamas and the like will also go with us. Perhaps the most important items will be comfortable, supportive shoes, and we each have those purchased and broken in. I don’t expect to have time to do laundry, so I will need to pack enough outfits to get us through 10 days of travel.

The part that brings out the list-maker in me is not the clothes but all the odds and ends we might need during our stay. First, we are going to stay at a Good Neighbor hotel within walking distance of Disneyland, so we are not renting a car. Because of the lack of transportation and nearby grocery or big-box stores, I had to determine how we would get breakfast foods, snacks and drinks to the hotel.

I’ve decided that we will use the Prime Pantry service at Amazon.com, which will be a first for us, and have everything shipped to the hotel ahead of time. Prime members – or even those using the free one-month trial membership – can order grocery and household items and have them delivered for a flat rate. Each Amazon box holds 45 pounds -- or four cubic feet of household products -- and costs $5.99 to ship. As you add things to your shopping cart, the website updates how much room you have left. The advantage of using this system, of course, is that you can ship heavy things, such as my beloved Diet Coke, at a reasonable cost. If you don’t plan to order heavy items, you also could use Amazon’s free shipping for orders of $35 or more. Most hotels will hold your packages for at least a week prior to your arrival. (Make sure you put “Hold for Your Name” in the second line of the shipping address.)

Next, here are the other things for the room that I plan to bring to make our stay a bit more comfortable:

** Nightlight so we can find our way in the dark if we get up at night. (I always forget this one!)
** Electrical power strips to charge all the electronic devices each night.
** Ziploc baggies of different sizes. I can’t live without these on a trip, and I take multiple boxes.
** Sample-size laundry detergent and a stain-remover product for emergencies.
** Dish soap pads for cleaning mugs and water bottles.
** Baby wipes for sticky hands and Chlorox wipes for surfaces.
** Scissors. (Make sure to pack these in your suitcase because they are not allowed in airplane carry-ons.)

For our backpacks that we will carry into the parks and at D23:

** Refillable water bottles with filters. These can be filled at water fountains, and counter-service restaurants at Disneyland give free cups of iced tap water.
** Sunscreen.
** Portable batteries and charging cords for our phones and other devices.
** Autograph books and pens, each in separate plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
** Glow sticks, necklaces and bracelets from the Dollar Store or Target Dollar Spot.
** Band-Aids and moleskin tape for cuts and blisters.
** Blanket or sheet to help save our space for Fantasmic! and World of Color, which are shows that do not have permanent seating.
** Extra clothes to change into after water rides, if we don’t plan to go back to the hotel.
** Rain ponchos in case it rains, but mostly to keep us or our belongings dry on the water rides.

No one has ever accused me of being a light packer, but I prefer the security of knowing I have most everything I need on my vacation and knowing that I won’t have to spend a small fortune once I get to my destination on items I forgot. If you have packing tips, I’d love to hear them! Please share your thoughts in the comments.

For advice about planning a trip to “The Happiest Place On Earth,” please read my recent newsletter feature. It covers topics such as selecting a hotel, making advanced dining reservations, buying theme-park tickets and using them efficiently.



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September 9, 2013

Disney Parks Moms Panel application process begins today

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Get ready, get set, type! The application process for the 2014 Disney Parks Moms Panel begins today, and those interested have until lucky Friday, Sept. 13, to express their interest.

The Disney Parks Moms Panel has evolved from its inception in 2008, but its goal remains the same: to provide vacation-planning advice from adults in families that are interested in and knowledgeable about the Disney properties. For the most part, the panelists' jobs are to answer a number of written questions each week, though there also are some public appearances by the group. In exchange, The Walt Disney Co. provides the selected panelists with a paid trip to one of the Disney properties for training, which is required. In the past, the trip has been scheduled during the first half of December and includes the panelists' immediate family members.

If you are the one all your friends turn to when they plan Disney vacations, this may be a golden opportunity for you! To get started, visit MomsPanelSearch.com this week. If the application process is the same as in recent years, you can expect to answer written questions in the first round. About a month later, applicants are notified whether they have been selected for the next round, which requires submitting a short video and answering more written questions. The final round consists of a phone interview.

Competition for a coveted spot on the Disney Parks Moms Panel is intense -- thousands apply each year and only about 20 new members are chosen. Beginning last year, applicants also were asked to declare a speciality -- Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, runDisney, Adventures by Disney, Disney Vacation Club and youth sports at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The name of a panel, though, is a misnomer. Over the years, dads and grandparents have joined the roster; it's not limited to just moms.

Unfortunately, there is no magical formula to being picked to provide the best answers about the Mouse. I can tell you, though, that several factors weigh heavily in the evaluation process:

** Writing ability. Your application must be flawless, with no grammar or spelling errors or typos. After all, your job is going to be providing written answers for the Disney website.

** Accuracy. Double-check your Disney facts to make sure things haven't changed since your last experience. This will be vital when you are answering questions online for families planning Disney vacations.

** Your personality. Disney is not hiring publicists or copy writers for this panel. Instead, the company is looking for engaging personalities who can express themselves clearly in an enthusiastic way.

Get to know the current Disney Parks Moms Panel at http://disneyworldforum.disney.go.com/panelists.aspx You also can see the types of questions they answer -- which are pretty much about anything and everything!


Good luck to everyone who applies for 2014
. Please let us know how the process goes and if you are chosen to advance in the application process.

March 14, 2013

Disney World, Disneyland to raise minimum age of unaccompanied kids in parks

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In less than two weeks, kids and families may have to rethink some of their plans at Walt Disney World when a new admission policy goes into effect.

Guests who are younger than 14 years old will be required to be accompanied by another guest who is at least 14 years old. The new policy goes into effect on March 23, and it applies to all gated attractions at Disney Parks in the United States. That means it affects Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, DisneyQuest, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

Currently, The Walt Disney Company ticket policy states that only guests younger than 7 years old have to be accompanied by someone 14 or older. This policy clearly is outdated, and a revision makes sense.

My daughter is 8 years old, and I can't imagine allowing her to roam free at Walt Disney World -- and she knows the parks like her own backyard because we're locals with annual passes. Of course, my main concern is for her safety. Sure, Disney cast members are wonderfully helpful, but they can't personally supervise everyone in the parks. An 8-year-old traveling solo or with another child is no match for someone who might do them harm.

Another concern is that children this young do not have the ability to make good decisions, and they may misjudge situations that can get them into hot water, such as taking safety risks at the water parks or going to parts of the park at which they are unfamiliar. Plus, 8-year-olds do not know how to handle money well, so keeping track of their spending money and feeding themselves in the parks can be challenging.

At age 8, my daughter does get some freedom in the Disney parks, such as going on an attraction while I wait at the exit. However, there is no way I would split up with her for an extended period in the same park, let alone leave her and go somewhere else. I feel the same way about my 10-year-old, who is very responsible.

I understand that this policy may be more disruptive for parents of kids who are 12 and 13, because they probably can handle the parks on their own, especially if they are familiar with Walt Disney World. Perhaps a better policy change would have been one that allows children 12 and older to enter the Disney Parks on their own.

Still, some may say that, like so many other decisions, this one should be determined by the parents. If parents think their children are mature enough to spend the day at a Disney theme park by themselves at age 8, then they should have that right, some would say. In our litigious society, though, The Walt Disney Company oftentimes will be held liable by those very same parents if something happens to their children.

How do you feel about the admission policy change, and how much freedom do you give your children at Walt Disney World?

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