Downtown Disney Archives

September 6, 2015

Raglan Road offers free craft beer tastings during Great Irish Hooley this weekend



As if The Great Irish Hooley isn’t reason enough to visit Raglan Road at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) during the holiday weekend, this year the restaurant and pub is offering complimentary samplings of limited edition craft beers.


Ireland’s Rye River Brewing Company created four beers especially for the festival and transported them to Orlando:

** Raglan Road Saison
** Raglan Road Fruit Salad Weiss Beer
** Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA
** McGargles Jims C02 Stout

Through Monday, Sept. 7, guests can participate in beer talks and tastings at 1 and 5 p.m. each day. Each class is led by a brewmaster from Rye River and expected to last about 45 minutes. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to show up early because space is limited and seats will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

My husband and I were among the first to taste the beers on Friday, the first day of the Hooley, which is an Irish party. In this case, it’s a four-day Irish celebration that marks the halfway point to St. Patrick’s Day. Although I am not a big beer drinker, I was game to try the specialty beverages. My husband enjoys various styles of beers – and some more than others. For example, he routinely drinks IPAs and occasionally stouts, so he especially enjoyed several of the offerings at the tasting at this year’s Hooley. But he also was pleasantly surprised by another variety of beer being offered as part of the tasting, too.


First, he said the Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA was one of the smoothest Indian Pale Ales he’s ever had. It was described by Rye River Brewing Company founder Niall Phelan as an “American-style” IPA single malt with a 7.1 percent ABV. He discussed the IPA’s citrus tones before the tasting, and my husband said they came through clearly and refreshingly. It was one of his favorites, even though he typically likes a more hoppy taste that comes from a traditional IPA.


The so-called Fruit Weiss beer, or wheat beer selection, was one that my husband said he’d never typically order in a bar – until he tried it at our tasting. The beer had a refreshing taste of watermelon that was light-tasting and flavorful without being too sweet or syrupy, he said. It definitely answered the challenge put out by Raglan Road of creating drinkable beers for the Florida heat and humidity. My husband even persuaded me to try it and I found it to be enjoyable, as well.


The one beer variety my husband panned was the Saison. It was good, he said, but it was just much too sweet for his taste. Though the brewers described the complexities of flavors in the beer, my husband remarked that it might be something he would drink with a dessert and not with a main course.


The Uncle Jim’s Stout, though, was a pleasure for him. Infused with a rich aftertaste of tones of chocolate and coffee, it finished smooth. Though you could compare it to the well-known Guinness, it seemed to a standout that might even surpass that iconic Irish brand of stout, my husband said. Clearly, he was impressed.

Phelan had a surprise for those who love to try new beers. “Being Irish, we changed our minds at the last minute. Because [the IPA] is so good we decided to release it,” he said. It will be available in mid-October across Florida, in Chicago and in New York in bottles and draft.


The Rye River beer sampling is just one part of The Great Irish Hooley, which is in its fourth year at Raglan Road. My daughter and I attended the first year, and she loved all the family friendly activities. Kids are again invited to learn how to dance with the amazing professionals who perform in between sets of the nine different bands that are playing this weekend. Plus, there is complimentary face-painting for the young and the young-at-heart. And, of course, you won’t want to miss the authentic dishes by Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon.

“Ten years since opening, and four years since our first Hooley – we’re still going strong, and we’re excited to share our traditions, as well as the best of Irish bands and entertainers,” says John Cooke, a Raglan Road founding partner and Dublin native.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Raglan Road for a media preview of the craft beer samplings. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


January 30, 2015

Where to watch the 2015 Super Bowl at Walt Disney World


If your weekend involves the Super Bowl and Walt Disney World, that alone should make you feel like an MVP. To make sure you aren't left fumbling around for a place to watch Sunday's game or Monday's celebratory parade, we've got all the details and plenty of suggestions.

Those who don't care to watch Seattle battle New England -- or the commercial debuts or half-time show by Katy Perry -- can take advantage of the almost-deserted theme parks. Super Bowl Sunday is actually one of the least-crowded days at Walt Disney World, so make the most of it! The weather is expected to be nice, with only a small chance of rain.

Should you be in the other camp and among the millions of fans looking forward to the big game -- or just vacationing with someone who is a football fanatic -- there are plenty of places to catch the game on television screens at Walt Disney World. Probably the first one that comes to mind for many folks is the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk because of its sports theme, 100 television screens, and traditional "game day" food. Consequently, the ESPN Club fills up early -- folks have been known to arrive hours early to secure a spot. ESPN Club opens at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The restaurant does take reservations for its VIP packages, but those already are booked. However, you can call 407-WDW-DINE to check if there are any cancellations if you want a guaranteed table.

The ESPN Club is not the only place to watch the Super Bowl on Disney property, though. At Downtown Disney, Splitsville will have the game on its flat-panel screens, and the first floor will be open to walk-in visitors. Guests can order off the regular menu and bowl at normal prices. Planet Hollywood also will be showing the Super Bowl, while serving its usual menu.

In past years, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has had two viewing locations open to the public -- ESPN Grill and the Jumbotron at the Welcome Center. The Grill is open again this year from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and will be showing the big game. The complex has not announced whether the Super Bowl will be shown on the Jumbotron because there are other sporting events scheduled in the complex.

And then there are plenty of viewing locations at the Walt Disney World hotels, starting with the comfort of your own room. NBC will be carrying the 49th Super Bowl in the Orlando market. Want to join your fellow fans? Most of the pool bars and hotel lounges also will have the game on, though they may not have multiple screens.

The Four Seasons Orlando is having a Super Bowl celebration this Sunday, February 1st at PB&G beginning at 4 p.m. PB&G is the southern-style lakeside casual restaurant. There will be a special game day menu, bar games, TVs for each pavilion, beers from each team's city and special cocktails to represent each team. No reservations needed. Valet parking will be validated ($5 per car)


Finally, if you're going to be at the Magic Kingdom on Monday, be sure to check the Times Guide because you might be able to see your favorite player in person. The Super Bowl MVP traditionally comes to Disney World and will be feted in a celebratory parade down Main Street, U.S.A. Arrive early, though, because it gets crowded.

Some guests can continue their Super Bowl celebration all year with an offer from the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. Residents of both Washington and New England (valid New England states include Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) will receive a free night at the Walt Disney World hotel when booking two nights at the standard price before March 1 for stays through Feb. 3, 2016. Some restrictions apply. They also will receive a complimentary automatic room upgrade. To make reservations, they can call 1-800-227-1500 and mention their home state.


December 29, 2014

Ideas for celebrating New Year's Eve outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World


Walt Disney World's theme parks certainly know how to host splashy New Year's Eve parties. It would be difficult to top the lavish food, top-notch entertainment and spectacular fireworks. But if your family has younger kids who might not make it until midnight or you're looking for a less crowded celebration, here are some suggestions for other ways to ring in 2015 Disney-style. Most of these do not require advance planning, so you can even decide on Dec. 31 what your family wants to do.

Raglan Road

At Downtown Disney, Raglan Road offers live entertainment on two stages, plus dinner and late-night menus inside the restaurant and on the patio. But what makes this especially appealing to families may be the complimentary champagne toast at midnight in Ireland (7 p.m. EST) and again at midnight in Orlando. Obviously those under age 21 won't be partaking, but the celebration itself is fun. My daughter and I have had several enjoyable experiences at Raglan Road and definitely recommend it. Parking in the new parking garage is complimentary, and there is no cover charge for the evening.

Dinner and fireworks viewing at a resort hotel

Although it may be tough at this late date to get a reservation at one of the table-service restaurants at the hotels on the monorail loop - Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian - it is still possible to dine there and then view the fireworks. To do so, you'll need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which costs $17 for the day if you're not staying on property or are an annual passholder, and then take the monorail or a bus to the hotel of your choice. (Because of the heavy holiday crowds, guests who are not staying at the hotels or those who don't have dining reservations will not be allowed to park in those lots.) Guests can eat in the quick-service restaurants at the three hotels and then view the fireworks from various public viewing areas, such as the fourth floor lobby or monorail platform at the Contemporary. Be aware that some hotel viewing areas are restricted to patrons of specific high-end restaurants.

Walt Disney World kids activity centers

If the adults in your group want to experience their own celebrations at Walt Disney World, the children can spend a fun evening in one of the resort's activity centers, which will have extended hours on New Year's Eve. The four locations open at 4:30 p.m. and will have the last pickup at 1:30 a.m. (Children will be able to rest or sleep when they get tired.) I'm told that the centers will not have special activities for the holiday. Still, when my daughter has spent time in the centers, she thoroughly enjoyed all the choices of entertainment. The centers welcome children ages 3 (must be potty-trained) to 12. The cost is $15 per hour per child, with a two-hour minimum. Dinner is included for those who are in the club during the time it is served. At the time of this writing, there still was space available in all four locations, but reservations are recommended. For more details, see the AllEars.Net resource page.

Celebration Town Center

The town of Celebration, located just outside the gates of Walt Disney World, hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" -- a flurry of soap bubbles -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. The last "snowfalls" of the season happen on Dec. 31 at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic. This event does not have a New Year's Eve countdown, but it does offer a last taste of the holiday season with gorgeous decorations, ice skating, "snow flurries," carriage rides and a variety of restaurants for dinner.


For the last several years, DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, has hosted a family friendly event on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year, and there is no word on whether the party will resume next year. Still, the attraction is a fun place to let pre-teens and teens spend time enjoying electronic gaming fun while parents check out some of the more adult offerings at Downtown Disney.

Celebrate early

The Magic Kingdom displays its New Year's Eve fireworks on Dec. 30, as well as Dec. 31. Fantasy in the Sky starts at 11:50 p.m. both days. Although it still will be crowded in the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 30, it definitely will not be as bad as it is on New Year's Eve. This might be a way to see the fireworks early and then enjoy a quieter New Year's Eve. If you are staying at a Disney resort, there also usually are family friendly activities planned for guests.

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!


December 3, 2013

Disney World's Limited Time Magic allows guests to donate Duffy bears to Toys For Tots


When the winter holiday season arrives, many parents look for concrete ways to demonstrate to their children the importance of giving to those who are less fortunate. For some, that mission is accomplished through their places of worship. For others, it is through community groups and charities.

One donation method, though, that is easy for children of all ages to grasp is the nationwide Toys For Tots program. Participants donate new, unwrapped toys during the months of October, November and the first part of December, and then the gifts are distributed during the second half of December. Toys For Toys, which is run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, aims to inspire hope in youngsters "that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens."

Local campaigns are conducted in more than 700 communities in all 50 states, including Orlando. And for this week, Walt Disney World is offering a special Limited Time Magic deal to benefit Toys For Tots. For each $5 donation from a guest, Walt Disney World will give a 17-inch Duffy the Disney Bear to Toys for Tots.


I really love this promotion for so many reasons. Most importantly, these donations will put new "friends" in the hands of many children who really need them. Time and again, parents watch their children bond with special stuffed animals -- teddy bears or other loveys -- and the animals provide a sense of security and comfort. Imagine what they could do for children in families where futures are uncertain.

For families who can afford extras, like vacations at Walt Disney World, this offer gives them an easy way to share some of the Disney magic with those who are less fortunate. It's easy to make a simple donation and show children how it can help others. It's also a great teachable moment to ask your child to spend $5 of their own souvenir money to help other kids have a better Christmas and learn an easy lesson about personal sacrifice. Or, if children are too young to have their own money, parents can explain that instead of mom and dad enjoying a particular treat in the theme parks that day, they are donating the Duffy the Disney Bear instead.

The 17-inch Duffy the Disney Bear retails for $30, so guests can feel good about the value of their donations, too.

And, as teachable moments go, don't forget to note a historical aspect of the program either. Point to the Toys For Tots train logo at the collection site and ask the kids if they know where it was created. Then tell them how, in 1948, the logo actually was created by Disney animators as Walt Disney Studios joined with other Hollywood filmmakers to support this worthy program. That Disney-created artwork has been used ever since.

Donations for the Duffy bears are being accepted at Once Upon a Toy or World of Disney at Downtown Disney Marketplace though Dec. 8. In addition to subsidizing the plush bears, Walt Disney World is donating $200,000 to Toys for Tots this holiday season.


June 18, 2013

Disney Infinity: My kids preview game with help from artist, designer


Disney Interactive Studios invited gamers and Disney guests on both coasts to play its much-talked about new gaming system, Disney Infinity, this past week for the first time. At E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, players formed long lines to try their hands at the game that has been compared repeatedly to Activision's Skylanders. In Orlando, the game was set up for two days at Car Masters Weekend at Downtown Disney's West Side.


There was no way my 10-year-old son wanted to miss out on the opportunity to preview Disney Infinity two months before its Aug. 18 North America release date, so we headed to Walt Disney World and braved the crowds Sunday afternoon. When we arrived, the line to play the game was shorter than I expected, especially considering that people who played the demos were given the Dash ("The Incredibles") character piece, which will sell for $13.



The Disney Infinity booth had four gaming stations set up -- two for playset-only mode and two for Toy Box mode. We asked to play the Toy Box version each of the three times we stood in line because that is the key difference between Disney Infinity and Skylanders. The Toy Box allows players to mix Disney and Pixar characters and environments, each creating their own unique games that they can share with their friends. Play-set mode, by comparison, puts the game characters in their own self-contained world that is appropriate only to their movie or TV show franchise.




Jared Bald, senior designer for Toy Box, was among the staff at Downtown Disney showing visitors how to play the game. He said the developers he has worked with for the last two years compare the Toy Box in the game to a physical toy box, albeit one that holds many more of toys, but the fascination by young players is the same. "Give kids hundreds of toys on a living room floor and they will play for hours," he said. "There is no end to what they can do with Disney Infinity."

It took my son, who is an avid gamer, a few minutes to get acclimated to the game, but once he did, he was excited about the Toy Box option. He especially wanted to race his sister's characters in vehicles or on mounts. Could his Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster beat her Cinderella Coach?

Disney Infinity concept artist Ben Simonsen

Ben Simonsen, a concept artist on Disney Infinity, said that designing the vehicles was, in fact, one of his favorite aspects of working on the Disney Interactive project. He said that my son's interest was indicative of what they had seen by other players at the demonstration: Kids seemed to be more focused on interacting with other players than progressing through a goal-oriented game. And Disney Infinity allows for that, to be sure.


My 8-year-old daughter had one question, though, when encountering anyone affiliated with Disney Infinity: Will there be any Disney Princess characters? So far, none have been announced, but the coach vehicle and Cinderella Castle are available, as well as an environment from "Tangled" with Rapunzel, in the Toy Box. Although no one officially could confirm that any of the royal beauties will join the gaming system, it was suggested that they would be a logical progression, given their strong market brand.

Disney Infinity will have another booth with demo stations on Aug. 16 near Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace. A Disney World cast member said that she hopes the game will be available for purchase at that time, and she expects developers to be there to answer questions and sign copies.

To read my previous articles about Disney Infinity, please click here and here.

Disney Infinity at E3

June 11, 2013

Disney Infinity debuts at E3 today and possibly at Downtown Disney later this month


With only two months until the scheduled launch of Disney Infinity, the highly anticipated gaming system that is expected to give Activision's Skylanders a run for its money, the marketing is ramping up. Participants at the three-day E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles that begins today will be among the first to play. It had been previously announced that the gaming platform would be available to guests at Orlando's Downtown Disney last week, but that didn't happen.

Disney Infinity allows players to place physical versions of their favorite Disney characters onto an Infinity Base and seemingly transport them into the virtual worlds of Monsters University, the Incredibles, Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Lone Ranger. What sets Disney Infinity apart from Skylanders -- and other Disney Interactive games -- though, is its Toy Box feature, which allows users to mix various Disney and Pixar stories and characters.

Disney describes the Toy Box concept this way: "Unlock virtual toys from each play set - characters, buildings, weapons, gadgets and more - and bring them into the Toy Box where you can mix them all up to create your own game. In the Toy Box, there are no rules and you can create any adventure you want."


Disney Interactive will be offering E3 participants the opportunity to try all of the announced play sets and the Toy Box mode at its 18 demonstration stations. In fact, when they approach the booth, those same attendees will feel as if they have stepped onto a life-size version of the Infinity base that lights up.

"If you look around from the base, you will catch glimpses of iconic Disney characters and environments, re-imagined as toys using our unique Infinity art style. You will see new characters like Wreck It Ralph and Tonto mixing it up with old favorites like Bullseye from Toy Story and Stitch," according to the press release.

Executive Producer of Disney Infinity John Vignocchi

There also will be a photo op that features a Toy Box-like fusion of Cinderella's Coach and a monster truck in front of the famed princess's castle.

Among the Disney merchandise that fans are sure to stand in long lines to get their hands on: custom T-shirts, shirt sleeves or hoodies made from 10 combinations exclusively at the booth and pre-release Infinity character toys that will be distributed through a vending machine.

Like Skylanders, Disney Infinity will be available for a variety of console gaming systems, including Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii-U, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Disney's version also will be compatible with PC computers and mobile devices later in the year. One or two players can tackle the structured adventures, and "Toy Box" mode allows up to four players in the game.

Starter packs, which include the video game, Infinity Base, three play sets, three characters, one Infinity Power Disc and web codes, go on sale August 18 for about $75. Additional play sets are priced about $30 to $35.

Through June 23, Nintendo is hosting a booth outside Once Upon a Toy Store at Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World as part of its Wii U Tour. Guests can stop by and try at no charge a variety of Wii U games, including Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U, LEGO City Undercover and Need for Speed Most Wanted U. Disney Infinity was expected to be available, as well. Perhaps after the marketing splash at E3, it will be. We'll keep you posted; expect a review if it becomes available.

June 1, 2013

Downtown Disney's Portobello Restaurant to host Italian cooking school for adults


Chef Tony Mantuano of Chicago's Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia and Bar Toma will be hosting an adult cooking class at Downtown Disney's Portobello Restaurant on Friday, June 14.

During the two-hour Pantry Raid cooking class, Mantuano will show participants how to use ingredients most people keep on hand at home to create a variety of Italian specialties. Among the demonstrations are pickling vegetables, fresh pasta preparation, and balsamic and honey tastings.

"Like our cooking classes for children, this class will have ample participation from audience volunteers, and the dishes that are demonstrated will be served to the class," said Steven Richard, area chef for Levy Restaurants and former executive chef at Portobello. 


Also, wine will be paired with each of the dishes: Zonin Prosecco with antipasti, Bertani Valpolicella with pizza, Mazzei Badiola with pasta, and Ruffino Moscato with dessert."

Certainly, attendees at cooking classes have a desire to become better chefs themselves. I recently asked Chef Mantuano, though, what he thinks motivates adults to become creative cooks.

"I think adults are inspired by memories from their childhood and from their travels. We all want to recreate a dish our grandmother made or other family recipes. We also want to recreate them with our own little twist," he said. "I've added a few of my nonna's recipes, some with my own take, at my restaurants. I also love traveling and bringing home food memories to recreate favorite dishes or meals with my family or at one of my restaurants."


The Pantry Raid class is designed to appeal to cooks of all skill levels, and Mantuano will offer tips, tricks and strategies to take away and use at home. For beginning cooks -- who might feel motivated, yet overwhelmed, by the many possibilities -- Mantuano offers this advice:

"Start with something simple and make a cuisine or dish you already like or know. This way you know what to expect in the end.  You do not want your first attempts at cooking to be overly complicated or with cuisines you're not sure of the flavor profile. For those who like authentic Italian food, I'd suggest making a spaghetti pomodoro. Find a great dried pasta brand, such as from Giuseppe Cocco, and a pomodoro recipe online either with fresh tomatoes (in the summer) or canned San Marzano tomato puree. This is typically a simple and easy-to-follow recipe that will help build up confidence in the kitchen. From there they can start advancing with other recipes." 

Mantuano encourages budding chefs to enjoy the entire creative process involved with cooking. He said he thinks many adults actually find the most pleasure in shopping for each dish.

"I think adults like sourcing ingredients the most. Going to their local grocery store or food shop to pick out the ingredients themselves is an exciting part of the process, especially as they get to know their butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, and others," he told me. "I think the more adventurous like going to the market and seeing what is in season and then figuring out a menu."

"The Portobello Pantry Raid cooking class, which runs from 1 to 3 p.m. June 14, is $49.95 per person. The class will be capped at 32 participants to maintain an intimate experience with Chef Mantuano. To make a reservation, call 407-828-8996.

May 11, 2013

3 Levy restaurants host kids cooking school at Downtown Disney this summer


UPDATE: The June 22 class is full, and a second cooking school has been added on June 29. To register for the later date, call 407-828-8996.

How are foodies born?

Everyone loves delicious food, but the truly dedicated -- those adventurous eaters who look forward to tastings, new restaurants and different recipes -- may also enjoy cooking and learning to create tasty dishes in their own homes. And for them, it's never too soon to start.

Levy Restaurants is again offering a summer cooking school for kids ages 6 to 12, who may be the foodies of the future. The kid-friendly cooking class takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Fulton's Crab House, Portobello Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck Café.

"It never ceases to amaze us each year how excited the kids are to learn about cooking," said Steven Richard, area chef for Levy Restaurants and former executive chef at Portobello. "There doesn't seem to be a minimum age requirement to be a foodie."

Time to learn how to eat the Yummy Gummy Dessert Sushi these chefs created at Wolfgang Puck Café.

Budding chefs will be guided through preparing one recipe at each restaurant: Mini Crab Cakes at Fulton's, Ravioli Gigante with Tomato Basil Sauce at Portobello and Yummy Gummy Dessert Sushi at the Wolfgang Puck Café. And then the kids will be able to eat the dishes they are learning to prepare from each restaurant's executive chef and culinary team.

"We're bringing back the Dessert Sushi and Ravioli by popular demand," said Richard. "The kids seem to enjoy the hands-on manipulation of food the most, such as ravioli assembly and sushi role assembly."

Young chefs pause before they work with fresh pasta at Portobello.

Aside from learning how to make something delicious to eat, children learn valuable skills when they learn to cook, Richard said. They develop a better understanding of organization, nutrition, and even math skills when it comes to measuring ingredients.

"Cooking is about planning your work and working your plan. Staying organized is key to professional cooks and that carries over to home cooking," he said. "Also, for me, cooking and feeding people is an important part of life. It's something that every culture shares. I think it's a positive thing to nurture a curiosity in cooking at an early age."

So, how do parents build on the enthusiasm for cooking that their children gain from the Levy event?

"Most of the good home cooks that I know are defined by a short list of things they do very well. I would stick to simple but satisfying items like a the tomato sauce that we do with the kids at Portobello. It's an item that can be built upon by combining with a simple pizza dough recipe or meat balls. You can apply it to a number of dishes like lasagna and chicken ptarmigan," Richard advises. "Follow your curiosity and cook what you like."

The Levy cooking school is $37 per child. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis until the event is full. To sign up, call 407-828-8996. Parents are welcome to stay with their children during the cooking school or enjoy the four hours on their own at Downtown Disney. Levy also offers group cooking classes at all three locations for adults, which can be booked through the same phone number.

December 28, 2012

Where to celebrate New Year's Eve with Disney and your kids


There are plenty of options for kids to ring in 2013 with Disney this year. If your family is visiting Walt Disney World, each of the four theme parks has special events planned for New Year's Eve. (More details on AllEars.Net.) But if you'd like to celebrate outside the parks -- which presumably would be less crowded and less expensive -- with your favorite Disney characters and personalities, here are some possibilities.

DisneyQuest at Walt Disney World

DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, is again hosting a family friendly event on Dec. 31. In addition to unlimited use of the the games, there will be two DJ dance parties, meet-and-greets with Disney characters, and a New Year's Eve countdown and confetti drop at midnight.

Tickets, which include a meal and beverage, can be purchased in advance for $50 online or by calling 407-934-7639. Space permitting, tickets also will be sold at DisneyQuest the day of the event for $60.

Although I have not been to the end-of-the-year celebration, my family has had annual passes to DisneyQuest, so I can tell you how much fun it is for elementary-school-age children. In addition to the arcade-style video games, there are many games that accommodate four players, including air hockey and Pac-Man. Plus, there are opportunities to create music and art.

Radio Disney's Noon Year's Eve

In 20 cities in the United States, including two in Florida, Radio Disney hosts Noon Year's Eve celebrations for kids who might not stay up past their bedtimes to ring in the new year.

The closest location to Orlando will be at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo (1101 West Sligh Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604) from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday. The Noon Year's Eve event is free and features the best songs of the year from Radio Disney's "Top 50 of 2012," interactive entertainment hosted by the Radio Disney 1380 Road Crew, a special countdown and a juice toast.

In Miami, the Radio Disney AM 990 Road Crew joins the New Year's Eve celebration at Bayfront Park (301 N Biscayne Boulevard Miami, FL 33132) from 6 p.m. to midnight. This is also a free party in South Florida with dancing, fireworks over Biscayne Bay and the countdown of "La Gran Naranja" (The Big Orange).

Participants at Noon Year's Eve events in Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix and Miami can enter "The Chevrolet presents: Family Ride of a Lifetime Sweepstakes." Prizes include one 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, a trip for six to Walt Disney World, and a signed Justin Bieber guitar and concert tickets.

Celebration Town Center

As I mentioned in another post this week, the last "snowfalls" of the season in the town of Celebration, in Disney World's back yard, happen on New Year's Eve. Show flies at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m., and in between, guests can hear DJ Tami perform. From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Katty Shack will entertain crowds, and the new year will be celebrated with a fireworks show at midnight. This event is free and some of the paid holiday activities still will be available.

Of course, there's always the tradition of watching Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 2013 on Disney-owned ABC. This year's broadcast from Times Square in New York features Ryan Seacrest hosting and Taylor Swift headlining the musical performances. Carly Rae Jepsen ("Call Me Maybe") and Neon Trees will perform as well.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

November 2, 2012

Epic Mickey sequels go on sale early at Disney World's Festival of the Masters



Fans of the best-selling Disney Epic Mickey Wii game can play the sequels at the upcoming Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney and then purchase them more than a week before their United States release date.

Disney Interactive Studios again will host a booth at the free annual outdoor arts festival. The sequel to the Wii game, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, will be released on all console platforms on Nov. 18, but guests who stop by the booth will be able to play Epic Mickey 2 on Xbox, PlayStation 3 Move and Wii platforms.

Another sequel, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, is designed for Nintendo 3DS systems and also will be available for guests to test drive. It, too, will be released on Nov. 18. Experts will be on hand to help guests get the hang of the side-scrolling game that allows them to choose their journey. (To read more abut the games and my interview with Warren Spector, please see my previous story.)


And though the graphics in the Epic Mickey games certainly qualify as art, the booth will offer guests other ways to become immersed in the art of the Disney video games. Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who are the stars of the games, will be featured in an original painting by David Garibaldi, the performance artist.


Plus, Disney artists will be on hand to create complimentary character sketches for guests. When we visited the first booth in 2010, my son was thrilled to receive sketches of Mickey and Oswald. Our artist, Jason Peltz, was happy to discuss with us how he got his start as an artist, which was a wonderful bonus since my son has a strong interest in art, and certainly, all things Disney.


This year the artists will draw Mickey, Oswald, Gremlin Gus, Horace Horsecollar, Elliot (Pete's Dragon), Lonesome Ghost, Clarabelle Cow, The Mad Doctor and Peg Leg Pete. Each guest may request one sketch.


At the first booth, we heard guests ask repeatedly about Epic Mickey-themed merchandise, but none was being sold. Disney listened and this year, fans can buy Oswald ear hats at nearby stores. Also, those who purchase any of the Epic Mickey sequels during the Festival of the Masters will receive a collector's pin of Mickey and Oswald.


The Epic Mickey booth will be located adjacent to Once Upon a Toy Store on the Marketplace side of Downtown Disney. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. November 9 and 10 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. November 11. There no charge for admission or parking at Festival of the Masters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can also buy Epic Mickey games through the AllEars.Net Amazon store here.

September 6, 2012

New Phineas and Ferb interactive experience opens at Downtown Disney



Phineas and Ferb, characters from the Disney Channel hit show, are turning up in yet another spot at Walt Disney World. Now, guests don't even have to go into the theme parks to meet up with the animated versions of the duo and their counterparts Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Agent P.


Phineas and Ferb & YOU: A Brand New Reality is a virtual experience set up adjacent to Bongos Cuban Cafe on the West Side of Downtown Disney. Guests queue up in a themed area, and when their turns arrive, they step into a fenced area to interact with the characters on a large screen before having their photos taken.


There are 20 different pre-programmed scenarios, including dancing "The Platypus Walk" to getting caught in Dr. Doof's Freeze-inator. My daughter had the honor of "pushing" Perry the Platypus (Agent P) in a stroller. Cast members help position each guest in the photo area to compose the image, which then can be retrieved and shared online afterward.



Each experience at Phineas and Ferb & YOU: A Brand New Reality lasts only a couple minutes, which keeps the line moving and the wait down. It's so simple that guests of all ages can have fun participating, and it's free. Clearly this is not a complex attraction, but it is great for killing time while guests are waiting for dinner or a movie nearby. And, of course, a Phineas and Ferb merchandise cart has been set up in front of the experience.




Phineas and Ferb & YOU is open from 2 to 9:30 p.m. daily through December 1. If you're looking for a more three-dimensional experience with the characters, the pair actually meets guests daily at Hollywood Studios near the exit to Muppet Vision 3D. Also, guests also can find Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz at Agent P's World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, which opened this summer. (To read my review of the new Epcot attraction, please click here.)

Expect to see a lot more of Phineas, Ferb, Perry and others from the hit Disney Channel animated series in the days ahead. After all, they will appear in their first feature-length, 3-D movie next summer. Various web reports have stated that, though the characters will be animated, the film will be a live-action theatrical release and that it, like the TV series, will feature musical numbers.

August 23, 2012

What families need to know about free Wi-Fi at Disney World's Magic Kingdom


Finally! Walt Disney World has responded to the requests of so many guests who, like me, are tethered to their electronic devices. Earlier this month, free Wi-Fi became available at the Magic Kingdom.

For those of us who rely on Internet service with our smart phones and tablets, this could mean a boost in the ability to upload photos, videos and other dense data. Who doesn't want to share their memories in the making while they're visiting the Mouse? It's hard to resist in this era of constant status updates and tweets.

Be aware, though, that the new Disney Wi-Fi is not a guarantee of better connectivity because the bandwidth that's available depends on the number of users in your corner of the theme park. It does seem to help, though. On a recent visit to Storybook Circus, my family found the upload speeds to be slow in the crowded Casey Jr. area. On past visits, though, we often couldn't connect at all with our cellular service until we walked away from the splash pad and closer to the Dumbo The Flying Elephant attraction.


For my family, perhaps the best thing about the free Wi-Fi is that it allows my husband and I to better keep in touch with our kids by texting them on their iPods, which need Wi-Fi for texting. We don't think they need smart phones at their ages, but they are getting old enough to venture out from us in small ways, such as going to a nearby bathroom or kiosk, and it's comforting to have a way to contact them. (I realize many parents would not allow their children out of their sight at the busy Disney theme park, but my children have grown up there and know the lay of the land.)

Texting doesn't take a lot of bandwidth, of course, so its functionality is more reliable than than that of uploading photos or video chatting, for example. Being able to use the free Wi-Fi at the Magic Kingdom gives our family another communication tool and my husband and I some peace of mind.

Walt Disney World has said it expects to offer free Wi-Fi at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney by early 2013. All Disney World hotels have been upgraded to offer the complimentary Internet service.

July 26, 2012

Finding the magic for kids at Downtown Disney's Marketplace



If you're looking for some Disney magic without going into the Orlando theme parks, why not spend part of a day at Downtown Disney's Marketplace?

When my children were younger, one of their playgroups actually met at the open-air shopping district because there were so many free and low-cost fun things for the kids to do. And, although some aspects have changed, there still are plenty of activities to entertain the younger set.

First, be sure to bring a swimsuit, towel and sunscreen (or at least a change of clothes) for the kids because there are two areas with jumping water fountains. The larger one is located between Once Upon A Toy and Earl of Sandwich, and the smaller water feature is adjacent to the back entrance to Disney's Days of Christmas. There are benches around the fountains for parents, and bathrooms are nearby so changing afterward is easy.


Little ones are sure to enjoy the train ride and a small carousel. Each costs $2 per ride per child, but parents are free. My children always sought out the lone "teacup" on the carousel because they thought that made the ride a little more special. All that spinning made me happy I was the one taking photos!

Nearby, Once Upon a Toy has play areas set up among the unique Disney-themed toys. Younger kids are likely to be interested in the tables set up to build Mr. Potato Head figures with the theme-park pieces, while the older kids will gravitate to the middle of the store where Nintendo DS, Wii and Playstation Station systems allow them to test the newest Disney video games.

Kids who are into Disney pin-trading can make a stop at the pin-trading center to see what cast members have to barter for their collections. (For tips on pin-trading with kids, please see my blog post.)

Ridemakerz, the custom remote-control car shop, is located inside Team Mickey. And while these cars can be expensive to purchase, there is an area bordered by bumpers that allows guests to test their new cars or other demo cars. Taking these souped-up cars for a spin can be entertaining.


World of Disney, the largest store to carry Disney merchandise, also is home to one of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique locations. At these salons, Fairy Godmothers in Training transform little girls into Disney princesses. These experiences typically require reservations and can be pricey. But the Fairy Godmothers in Training often are circulating in the store or standing outside the entrances, and they will offer kids a sprinkle of pixie dust for free. It's a small thing, but my almost-8-year-old daughter still loves to get the glitter in her hair.

Next door is the expanded Lego Imagination Center, where kids will find tubs of LEGOs to build creations and a raised slope to race them outside. Inside, the main room features a hub of computers where kids can design LEGO structures and play games. Parents also will find another play table filled with LEGOs tucked inside a separate room.

Don't forget to stop for lunch amidst all the fun! There are several places for a light bite, plus the always-fun Rainforest Cafe or T-Rex restaurants. If you're not familiar with the concept, these two restaurants transform while guests are dining. At Rainforest Cafe, a thunderstorm shakes the jungle and animals and a meteor shower descends on T-Rex. Afterward, pop into the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop, where a cast member is always handing out seasonal samples.

Our last activity is usually to ride the water taxi from The Marketplace to West Side and back. It's free and the kids consider it an attraction, not just transportation.

I hope these ideas will be useful for guests with kids who want to dive into the Disney magic on a day they may not be going into the Disney theme parks. For my family, Downtown Disney is a fun way to get our Disney fix when the blockout dates are in effect for seasonal passes.

July 17, 2012

Tips for helping your kids start pin trading at Disney World



My son and daughter have been trading pins at Walt Disney World for almost four years now and the excitement of it hasn't dulled. As a parent, I think it's a fun hobby for them, and it adds a bit of excitement to our trips into the theme parks. I'd like to share a few tips we've learned along the way, in case pin-trading is something you're considering.

First, be aware that Disney does have some basic rules for pin trading:

** Teach your child to ask to view a cast member's pins. Do not grab at lanyards.
** Pins must be metal and represent a Disney event, character, location or icon, and be in good condition.
** There is a limit of two trades per guest with the same cast member.
** No money can be involved in the trade.
** Cast members with green lanyards can only trade with kids ages 3 to 12.


Allowing your child to approach the cast member while you listen is a great way for them to learn and practice social interaction skills in a safe, controlled environment.

The start-up costs for pin-trading may seem expensive if you're buying for more than one child. This activity certainly can be pricey for the serious collectors. But if you're just trading for fun, there are some ways to lower expenses.


First, you'll need something to display your pins. Many guests choose lanyards, which typically are the least-expensive option. You can purchase them in just about any Disney World gift ship, or perhaps you already received some as part of a Disney promotion. For example, Disney Cruise Line gives lanyards to returning cruisers and Disney World passholders received them one year as well. Another option is a soft album, and these come in various sizes and prices. The smaller ones actually have straps and can be worn as a bag or purse.

My children have multiple lanyards -- one for pins they want to save and one for pins they are willing to trade. After losing a few pins that were near-and-dear to their hearts, we invested in the locking backs -- about $10 for 10 backs. Now, though, I almost wish we had bought the more expensive album-type bags because I think they would allow easier access to the pins -- no locking backs needed -- and there would be less opportunity for loss because of the zippered closure.


The other big expense is the pins themselves. Pins in the parks start at about $7 and increase in price. This can add up quickly if you want to give your child a handful to get started. You can purchase a starter set, which contains several pins and a lanyard. Those prices begin at about $30.

But, if you're not picky about the design, many guests recommend purchasing pins on eBay for the best deal. Typically those lots contain anywhere from 25 to 100 pins, making the average cost less than a dollar per pin. Don't need 100 pins? Perhaps you can split the lot with friends. Be aware, however, that some of these sellers are offering scrappers, which are pins not authorized by Disney and cannot be traded on property.

Guests who are really into pin trading look forward to an annual event at Epcot that is just for them. This year's "Disney Trade Celebration 2012 - Mickey's Circus" takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on September 7 and 8. Event admission is $120 per person plus Epcot admission, and registration has opened. For all the details, check out here.

Also, Downtown Disney Marketplace's Disney's Pin Traders is continuing to host monthly events with Disney Design Group artists. Artist Adrianne Draude, who is behind the creation of a number of Walt Disney World pins, will be meeting with fans and signing pins from 5 to 7 p.m. on July 27, August 10, and September 28. (Be sure to subscribe to the AllEars.Net newsletter for all the latest news of special pin-trading events.)

For answers to many other questions, check out Disney's official pin-trading site, and please share your pin-trading tips and experiences in the comments.

July 10, 2012

Disney World's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers Merida makeover



Through July 28, both Walt Disney World locations of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique are offering a special makeover -- The Merida Package -- in honor of the star of Disney-Pixar's "Brave." This magical makeover includes a fiery and curly Merida wig, shimmering makeup, face gems, princess sash and princess tote bag for $54.95.

Essentially, this is the Coach package with the wig substituted for an up-do. (The wig sells for about $18 in the Magic Kingdom's Emporium and the cart outside the Merida meet-and-greet if you want to purchase it separately.) One little girl we met had been to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and selected the Disney Diva hairstyle with a red hairpiece instead of the wig to pair with her Merida dress. This is a great option for when The Merida Package ends or for those who think a wig might be too hot in the Florida summer heat.

My daughter chose the Disney Diva hairstyle during her visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in the fall and loved it. I have been impressed with the durability of the hairpiece, which my daughter and even her American Girl doll have worn several times since then. (You can read more about our experiences at the Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique in a previous blog post.)


Girls who select The Merida Package can have their nails painted for an additional $5, and they keep the two bottles of royal nail polish afterward. Princesses-to-be also can opt to purchase the Merida dress and crown at the Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique at an added cost. However, little girls also are welcome to wear or bring their own Merida gowns and accessories to the salon, which can save their Fairy Godmothers a bundle.


The Disney Store, with locations in malls across the country and an online presence, sells the same green Merida gown you will find in the Disney Parks for about $15 less ($65 versus $50), though the wig is comparable in price. In addition, Disney Store sells Merida's blue formal games dress for the same price as the green version, her gladiator sandals for $16.50 and a light-up wand for $10.50; none of these are available in the theme parks. (One caveat is that the sandals only go up to size 2/3.)


If you're looking for less expensive options, try Target or Toys R Us, which both sell complete Merida costumes. Toys R Us carries a blue dress and a green dress for $24.99 each; a set of glow Wisp earrings with a crown for $9.99; and an archery set for $24.99. The wig, which is priced at $14.99, is free with a $30 Brave purchase through July 21, 2012. At Target, the blue dress is $5 cheaper, and the store also sells the green version. The wig and jewelry-and-crown set are priced similarly, but there is no offer for the free wig with purchase.


If you choose to surprise your child with a dress you already have purchased, she still will be given the royal treatment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique inside Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom and inside World of Disney at Downtown Disney Marketplace. In fact, she'll be able to use the royal changing rooms at either salon, which is a fun way to start her transformation.

Reservations are recommended for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and can be made by calling 407-WDW-STYLE.

June 21, 2012

Finding art opportunities for kids at Disney World


Do you have a budding young artist in your family? If so, you might be surprised to learn that there are many opportunities for your child to explore his or her creativity while you're on vacation at Walt Disney World.

In recent years, Disney World has built on the popularity of the Magic of Disney Animation at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Inside this attraction, guests come to understand the process of developing characters for films, including seeing an artist's studio and artwork from a current film. In the attraction's Animation Academy visitors learn to draw popular Disney characters from a qualified animator.


Another location where guests can hone their drawing skills is at Animation Academy inside DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney. These 30-minute classes take guests through the process of drawing Mickey and his pals step-by-step. Be sure to check the posted schedule on the second floor when you arrive at the gaming attraction if there is a particular character you'd like to draw that day.


Afterward, guests can purchase their drawings for $5 each or a package that includes the drawing and a pin for $12. There is no other charge for Animation Academy. One-day admission to DisneyQuest is $37 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 and $43 for ages 10 and older. (For more details, be sure to check out the resource page)

Most recently, a similar activity has been built in the lobby of the new Art of Animation hotel. Tucked in a corner to the left of the registration desks, guests will find comfy benches and an animation station, where the instructor shows line by line on a projection screen how to bring a Disney character to life. Here, guests draw on paper, while at the Magic of Disney Animation and DisneyQuest Animation Academy, the characters are created on a screen.


Art of Animation classes take place on the hour Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and are free to Art of Animation guests. (For more about the new Art of Animation hotel, be sure to read the AllEars.Net overview)


If you missed the class for the character you really wanted to be able to draw on your own, the resort sells books that teach visitors how to create Mickey Mouse and his pals from scratch. New on Disney World shelves: A guide to drawing Merida and other "Brave" characters. My children have collected just about all of these books on various trips to Disney World and continue to use them at home.

In addition to taking animation classes, young artists might enjoy watching professionals at work. At Magic Kingdom, guests will find street artists waiting to draw their portraits. As with most activities at the theme park, guests are invited to watch and even ask questions. This is a good opportunity for those interested in sketching to learn what it takes to do work on the spot.

Some hotels also have "resident" artists, such as the one at Port Orleans Riverside. A painter in the lobby from 6 to 11 p.m. will create customized face and full-body images for guests. Pricing starts at $15 for a black-and-white face painting and increases to $28 for a full-color body painting.

Families who visit Disney World in the fall are in for a treat: the Festival of the Masters takes over Downtown Disney from November 9 to 11. This is open-air art show offers one-of-a-kind paintings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry and more. Animation Academy is moved outside DisneyQuest and the sidewalk art is amazing.

Plus, there are many art opportunities for kids. Last year, my son was most excited by the Epic Mickey gaming booth. Not only did he get to preview the much-anticipated game, but animators were drawing Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and giving them to guests in line. A Disney spokeswoman confirmed there will be a booth for Epic Mickey 2 at this year's Festival of the Master. Admission to the festival is free.

If you've found other art opportunities for kids at Disney World, please tell us about them in the comments.

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About Downtown Disney

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Downtown Disney category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

DisneyQuest is the previous category.

ESPN Wide World of Sports is the next category.

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