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September 20, 2012

It's easy to be Finding Nemo at Walt Disney World

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If you or your children enjoy Nemo and his ocean friends, Walt Disney World offers plenty of opportunities to visit his Big Blue World. And, with the recent theatrical release of the 3D version of the film, now is the perfect time to dive right in and continue to experience the joys of the film.

We are in the middle of the limited-engagement theater release of "Finding Nemo 3D." If your children, like mine, were too young to see this Disney-Pixar classic when it first was released in theaters in 2003, now is your time to experience this colorful marvel on the big screen. The 3D effects really enhance an already wonderful movie. (This version is expected to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 4.)

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In support of the movie, Disney Publishing Worldwide has released two apps -- Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe and Finding Nemo Interactive Comic. In the storybook app, young readers will experience the story with a special set of effects, including underwater sounds, the ability to create bubbles and a Whale Chat with Dory. Like other Disney storybook apps, this one has different reading levels and allows kids to record their own voices reading the story. There also are new versions of kid favorites such as finger-painting pages, games and puzzles. Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe is $6.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.

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Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is aimed at older kids, ages 7 to 12, because it's an advanced interactive graphic novel. It includes concept drawings by Disney Pixar artists who worked on the original film, sound effects and even step-by-step drawing lessons. Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is $1.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, too.

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Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? There are several ways to visit with Nemo. The new Art of Animation Resort opened in May, allowing guests to feel like they have stepped into the movie. The Finding Nemo family suites are aptly themed and cleverly designed. From plastic coral chairs for the dining table to bathrooms fit for Bruce and friends to the school-of-fish artwork, every detail recalls "Finding Nemo." The Big Blue Pool, or main pool, has larger-than-life statues of many of the characters, and even offers music underwater, jellyfish figures that drip water, and a splash pad where Nemo's friends shoot water. In the restaurant and lobby, guests will find concept and landscape art from "Finding Nemo."

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At Epcot, The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion is the place to be. A ride by the same name takes guests on Marlin's journey to find his son as they travel under the sea in clam-mobiles. Much of the dark attraction projects the animated characters on the aquarium, but there also are some very cool effects, such as the moving jellyfish and riding the EAC with Crush. Outside the pavilion, guests will hear the sea gulls chirping "Mine! Mine! Mine!" and there is a great photo opportunity with statues of Nemo and friends.

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While inside The Seas pavilion, guests also can interact with the popular surfer sea turtle at Turtle Talk with Crush! This attraction uses 3D animation and allows Crush to talk back and forth with kids in the audience. During the 10-minute show, Crush tells jokes and performs some on-screen acrobatics.

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At Disney's Animal Kingdom, guests can experience a 30-minute Broadway-style show called "Finding Nemo - The Musical" at Theater in the Wild. This amazing performance showcases talented actors, singers, dancers and acrobats who use large, colorful puppets and animated backdrops to retell the story of "Finding Nemo." It also features the original song, "Big Blue World," which was written for this show and also can be heard at the end of The Sea with Nemo & Friends ride. "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" offers the only opportunity for guests to meet the Nemo characters; performers may bring their puppets back out to the stage after the performance and talk with guests.

When "Finding Nemo" was released in 2003, it was an immediate hit with filmgoers and critics alike. Its compelling storyline of parenthood resonated with family audiences, as did Nemo and Marlin's epic quest set against the timeless theme of loss and redemption. As with most all Pixar films, its visual beauty on the big screen was, and remains, unrivaled. Now, some nine years later, fans can continue to experience the film's characters and themes here in Orlando.

Just keep swimming. There's no telling what you might see.


June 21, 2012

Finding art opportunities for kids at Disney World

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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.

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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.

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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 AllEars.net 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.

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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)

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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.

June 7, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation offers its guests a variety of outdoor and indoor recreation

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Walt Disney World resorts are known for their recreational offerings, and the new Art of Animation hotel is no exception.

The centerpiece for the new hotel that is themed around four animated movies -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" -- is The Big Blue Pool in the Nemo courtyard. At 12,000 feet, the pool is the biggest on Disney property, excluding the ones at the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and it is designed to be enjoyed by guests of all ages.

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A zero entry at one end allows swimmers of varying abilities to wade in gradually. In the shallow water there, kids can splash under the dripping-water tentacles of four pinkish-purple jellyfish structures. The deepest area of The Big Blue Pool is the center at 4 feet, 9 inches. Perhaps the coolest feature, however, is the underwater sound system -- a first at Disney World. Guests who dive beneath the surface can hear Disney music and even messages from the "Finding Nemo" characters.

Like the recreation courtyards at other Disney resorts in the value category, the theming is larger than life. Imagineers want guests to feel as though they are experiencing the area from Nemo's point of view. It's difficult not to feel dwarfed when you're standing next to a 30-foot-tall Crush or a Mr. Ray sculpture with a 26-foot wingspan. Being immersed in the animated story is what sets this resort apart from others.

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Other characters from "Finding Nemo" come to life in the adjacent Schoolyard Sprayground. Nemo and his father, Marlin, sit atop a 16-foot-tall sea anemone they call home in the movie. Tad, Chicken Fish, Sheldon and Pearl squirt water from the perimeter of the splash pad. Just beyond the sprayground is Squirt's Righteous Reef, a dry playground with three slides and a soft landing spot at each.

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Cast members host family friendly activities, such as Bingo, water basketball and hula hoop games, poolside each day from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The most popular events -- The Big Blue Pool Party at 3 p.m., the Righteous Dance Party Extravaganza at 4 p.m. and Arts & Crafts at 4:30 p.m. -- occur when many guests return to the resort from the theme parks. At 9 each night, a Movie Under the Stars is shown on a huge inflatable screen near the pool. Guests can swim or relax in lounge chairs for the show. My almost-8-year-old-daughter was eager to dance to hit Disney songs and to make a shark-themed picture frame during her afternoon at the pool. She reluctantly took a break for dinner before donning her swimsuit again for the evening movie.

Older kids might enjoy the ping-pong tables on the Mr. Ray side of the pool, including one that allows for four players. (Family-style gaming seems to be a recent trend, with DisneyQuest installing a four-person air hockey table and a four-player Pac Man system.)

With so many activities to choose from, my elementary-school-age children soon forgot they were ever concerned that there wasn't a water slide at the pool. And when Art of Animation's other wings open this year, two additional swimming pools and a playground will be available to guests. The "Cars" section opening June 18 will house the Cozy Cone Pool, and "The Little Mermaid" wing will have the Flippin Fins Pool beginning Aug. 10. The Elephant Graveyard play area will be located in "The Lion King" courtyard on Sept. 15.

Guests visiting the swimming pools and playgrounds at Disney's Ar of Animation will want to remember to bring two things -- towels from their rooms because they are not distributed at the pools and their room keys because the new recreation areas are gated.

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If it's a rainy day or you just need a break from the Florida sun, head inside Animation Hall for other recreation options. Many consider shopping a fun pasttime, and the Ink & Paint Shop offers resort-specific merchandise as well as popular Disney World souvenirs. Just outside the gift shop is Pixel Play Arcade for those who love to game. To play, guests must purchase a digital points card and choose how much money to load on it, beginning at $5. The arcade houses old-school favorites and newer attractions. A smart addition is the group of plush benches and small tables at the front for waiting parents.

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Out in the lobby, tucked next to the front doors, is an area where guests can learn to draw various Disney characters step-by-step. An animator is there from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday to lead guests through the process. Classes start on the hour and are free. This is a popular activity at DisneyQuest and at The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Of course, it's a perfect fit for Art of Animation.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.


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