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September 26, 2009

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Disney Talk – Movie Mania and Muppet Mayhem

September 19, 2009


Image © Disney.


Even more exciting news from the D23 Expo, this time concerning Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, and the Muppets.

By Blake

Originally posted September 19, 2009.

Argh, me hearties! Avast! Me hope ye be enjoyin’ yer September!

What? You didn’t know it was International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Oh, well. I’ll continue in non-pirate-talk, then.

After hearing about all of the utterly fantastic news and events that took place at last week’s first-ever D23 Expo (like the exciting announcements of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Walt Disney World’s upcoming Fantasyland expansion, Disney Cruise Line heading to Alaska, Star Tours 2 coming to both California and Florida, and so much more), one would think that to squeeze in anything else into the Expo would be impossible. Think again!

On Sunday, September 13 – the last day of the Expo – there was even more magic to be found and plenty more awesome news for Disney fans.

From the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios presentation came news of upcoming films like Rapunzel (coming to theaters holiday 2010), a new Winnie the Pooh movie (spring 2011), Cars 2 (summer 2011), and more. You can read some fascinating recaps of the Pooh and Cars 2 information over at StitchKingdom.com, as well as a summary of the rest of the presentation at D23’s website. A presentation had been held the day before for The Princess and the Frog, while a panel for Toy Story 3 was held later.

Cars 2 is coming to theaters in summer 2011. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Also on Sunday, a very special Muppets presentation took place with so much Muppety goodness that I thought I was about to explode just reading about all of it. The biggies include a new movie (titled The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made), a refurbishment of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure (yes!!!), new DVDs, a 2010 Halloween special (!), and much more. MuppetNewsflash.com does an excellent job of summarizing all of the new projects in detail.

Some of the other presentations held on Sunday included those for Toy Story Midway Mania!, Pixar in the Disney Parks, and Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place.

I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of the wonderful plans Disney has in store for the future by reading others’ reports from the D23 Expo, and to be able to look back and see that they were all announced in a single four-day event is simply incredible.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 19, 2009. Muppet image © Disney. Cars 2 image © Disney/Pixar.

Theme Park Headlines – New Frontiers

September 13, 2009

Image © Disney.

Disney Cruise Line is heading to Alaska, Star Tours is getting a sequel, and WDW’s Fantasyland is being majorly expanded.

By Blake

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

I officially and truly appreciate Twitter.

I was skeptical to the idea of it at first, but then as I started to use it to post Disney news and view more Disney information from others, I began to “get it.” However, it wasn’t until this weekend that I absolutely, positively was VERY glad that I was a Twitter user.

If not for Twitter, I would have never experienced the jittery excitement I have felt as I excitedly click “refresh” repeatedly to view the live tweets from Disney fans as they report from the D23 Expo.

There was another significant announcement yesterday (Friday, September 11, 2009) at the Disney Cruise Line presentation. Disney previously posted some online videos of Donald Duck and Goofy trying to find out where the Disney Cruise Line was headed to next. Disney answered this highly-anticipated question yesterday, revealing that in summer 2011, Disney Cruise Line is going to . . . Alaska! The breathtaking scenery of Alaska is sure to be a wonderful pairing with a Disney cruise vacation. You can view details at DisneyCruise.com/2011.

Disney Cruise Line is heading to Alaska in summer 2011. Image © Disney.

In other Disney Cruise Line news, on August 31, Disney announced some changes coming to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island that most Disney cruises make a stop at. Changes include a larger family beach, a new lunch spot, and new water play areas, to be finished in summer 2010. On top of that, two additional Disney cruise ships are currently being built – the Disney Dream (setting sail in 2011) and the Disney Fantasy (coming in 2012).

This morning (Saturday, September 12, 2009) Disney fans (both present at the Expo and those that would read the reports later), were in for some huge surprises from the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation.

Many topics were discussed, including an expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland that will include several new lands (including Toy Story Land); some details about World of Color, a nighttime water show debuting at Disney’s California Adventure in spring 2010; and the new Cars Land, opening at Disney’s California Adventure in 2012.

Then, the first major shocker was revealed – Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland is going to get a massive expansion, growing twice as large as it currently is. It’s going to be amazing.

Some of the outstandingly exciting changes to Fantasyland include two identical Dumbo rides to speed up the wait (complete with an interactive queue) and a new area based on Pixie Hollow from the Disney Fairies movies. Additionally, there seems to be a large emphasis on the princesses, especially in new, unique ways that guests are going to be able to meet them. It seems that each princess character greeting specific to each princess’ personality. For instance, guests will be able to dance with Cinderella, celebrate a party with Aurora, and experience storytelling with Belle. (I’m guessing this is the already-open Storytime with Belle, just relocated?) I think it’s a very creative idea to try out different character greeting formats other than traditional meet & greets.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant is getting an interactive queue in Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

There are also going to be several expansive new attractions added to Fantasyland. A new ride based on The Little Mermaid is going to be built called Ariel’s Adventure, and will be similar in style to other Fantasyland attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It will take guests into Ariel’s world to tell her story, and is going to be like another Little Mermaid ride coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Ariel’s Adventure will be a new ride based on The Little Mermaid, and will open in Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

Additionally, the Imagineers are building two new restaurants based on Beauty and the Beast – Gaston’s Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant. Be Our Guest will be located inside the Beast’s castle, a new area where guests will be able to eat in several themed settings directly from the movie. This place seems like it’s going to be awesome!

However, a down side of the Fantasyland expansion is the unfortunate closure of Mickey’s Toontown Fair. One of my favorite areas in the Magic Kingdom, Toontown opened as a temporary land to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday in 1988, and was later decided to be a more-than-temporary addition to the park. Some of the attractions in Toontown are Mickey’s Country House, Minnie’s Country House, Donald’s Boat, and The Barnstormer. Some good news is that The Barnstormer might be staying despite the Fantasyland changes. It will certainly be sad to see Toontown leave. It’s one of the most cleverly themed and detailed sections of the Magic Kingdom and it will definitely be missed.

The first phase of the Fantasyland expansion (including the princess elements) will open in 2012, while the Pixie Hollow section will open in 2013.

Lastly, there was one more significant announcement at the Parks and Resorts presentation, but it was delivered with the help of Darth Vader and 50 storm troopers. Coming in 2011 to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios (in Walt Disney World) and Disneyland is Star Tours 2, which is sure to delight many Star Wars fans. The attraction will replace the currently-existing Star Tours simulator ride, and will be a new 3-D experience.

I don’t think there have been many events that have been so jam-packed with exciting Disney news like the D23 Expo. I’ve had such joy reading reports that others have posted about the fun happenings that have occurred so far. The Disney Cruise Line Alaskan voyages, Fantasyland’s expansion, and the new Star Tours 2 are all sure to be guest-pleasing experiences. Those Imagineers know how to dream.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 12, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Talk – Expo Excitement

September 13, 2009

Image © Disney.

Everyone from Kermit the Frog to Miley Cyrus to Captain Jack Sparrow made appearances during the Walt Disney Studios presentation at the D23 Expo.

By Blake

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

What is Disney magic? Is it endearing music? Classic characters? Famous celebrities? The promise of enchanting things to come in the future?

Whatever it is that you personally pinpoint as the source of Disney magic, there’s no denying that it’s being put to use in full force at the outstanding D23 Expo, currently taking place in Anaheim, CA. While I’m not there, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading reports from the various events taking place. Disney magic is being used so much that ALL of the above examples have already been implemented, and the convention isn’t even over yet. The Expo’s Walt Disney Studios presentation was certainly no exception.

The presentation took place yesterday, September 11, 2009, and was hosted by Dick Cook, Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios.

Among the highlights of the presentation were a 20-minute medley of classic Disney songs performed by a live orchestra, a performance by Miley Cyrus of “The Climb,” and sneak peeks of upcoming Disney films. On hand to promote upcoming titles were Robert Zemeckis, director of Disney’s A Christmas Carol; John Travolta with family members Kelly Preston and Ella Bleu from Old Dogs; Tim Burton, director of Alice in Wonderland; Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and actor Nicholas Cage from Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Also during the presentation, Disney announced a new film label called “Disney Double Dare You.” The movies under the label will be scary family films. I’m thinking something along the lines of the film version of The Haunted Mansion? Maybe. Several new Disneynature titles were also announced.

More Disneynature films are on the way. Image © Disney.

However, to me, the real high points of reading the reports from this very special presentation were two major announcements.

Disney has been implementing a slowly-but-surely Muppet comeback for a while now. Some of this return has already begun, given the success of the Muppets’ viral YouTube videos, their Studio DC specials on Disney Channel, and last year’s Christmas special A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa on NBC. There’s been lots of talk floating around about the Muppets returning to the big screen in a huge way, and yesterday Disney finally officially announced the title of this upcoming adventure in a stellar way.

How stellar? How about a cast of Muppets appearing live on a scaled-down Mark Twain riverboat?!? Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Pepe the King Prawn, and many more of their friends appeared to perform several songs, as well as announce their film’s title. The movie will be called The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made, which is quite curious considering that Jim Henson himself had batted around an identical title. I love the Muppets and am very excited to see what this new film has in store for them.

The Muppets appeared on a riverboat at the D23 Expo to announce their upcoming film, The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made. Image © Disney.

The last surprise of the presentation was a quite a doozey. You might even call it swashbuckling. I would have loved to see the shocked faces of attendees as Johnny Depp appeared on stage as Captain Jack Sparrow! Depp was in-character and also was there to confirm that he would appear in The Lone Ranger as Tonto, and reprise Captain Jack in a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean installment. A new bit of information was announced as the film’s title was revealed – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, coming summer 2011. I personally can’t wait.

With many exciting movies to look forward to, a new film label getting started, a new Muppet film to get pumped about, and some more news about Pirates, it was quite wonderful as a Disney fan to read all of the reports from the spectacular Walt Disney Studios’ D23 Expo presentation. “Bring me that horizon.”

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 12, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Talk – The First-Ever D23 Expo Is Here!

September 11, 2009

Image © Disney.

One of the biggest events in Disney history has arrived, and Disney fan sites provide abundant coverage.

By Blake

Originally posted September 10, 2009.

The D23 Expo began this morning (Thursday, September 10, 2009) and is now well underway, featuring a plethora of exciting behind-the-scenes looks and sneak peeks for upcoming Disney projects. The Expo is the first-ever convention for D23, the official fan club for Disney fans that began last March.

The Expo comes off the heels of D23 announcing their fan events for the fall earlier this week. These include a special night for the touring musical of The Lion King in Anchorage, AK and Spokane, WA; a similar event for the Mary Poppins musical tour in Dallas, TX and Los Angeles, CA; an encore of the free tour of the Walt Disney Studios and Archives; a special event during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival; an opening-day screening of The Princess and the Frog with special appearances by all nine Disney Princesses; a viewing of Disney’s A Christmas Carol; and a “Magic and Merriment” holiday event in Walt Disney World in December. You can check out more information about these upcoming events at D23’s website.

But before any of those activities take place, the D23 Expo has to run its course! The Expo is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA (the city that Disneyland is located in) from today through Sunday, September 13.

The Expo is already off to a fantastic start. Just today, Bob Iger held a presentation (which included a screening of the first 30 minutes of The Princess and the Frog), the Disney Legends 2009 ceremony took place, several scenes were screened from Beauty and the Beast’s 3-D enhancement (which is coming to select theaters in February, 2010), ABC had a sneak preview of their fall lineup, Imagineering held a panel discussion, and many more exciting happenings took place. There were also special appearances by Lucky the Dinosaur and Wall-E.

The first 30 minutes of the Disney animated film The Princess and the Frog was shown at Bob Iger’s presentation during the D23 Expo. Image © Disney.

Disney has a special area at the Expo so that fan organizations can set up booths and mingle with other fans.

Although BlakeOnline isn’t at the Expo, there are several other Disney fan personalities that are continuously updating their Twitter accounts with reports from the event. These include StitchKingdom.com, Orlando Attractions Magazine, DisneyShawn, Lou Mongello of the WDW Radio Show, and Deb Wills of AllEars.net. AllEars also has special posts on its “Deb’s Digest” blog that recap all of the site’s tweets from each day of the Expo into one convenient journal. Additionally, D23 itself has also been updating fans of the Expo’s activities via its Twitter page and on the official D23 website. One of the fascinating articles posted today over there recaps the Bob Iger presentation very nicely.

And this is just the first day! Still yet to come are exciting presentations from many areas of the Walt Disney Company, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Channel, VoluntEARS, The Muppets, and more.

As a bonus, those who can’t be in attendance at the Expo have the opportunity to view some of the Disney Cruise Line presentation on Friday, September 11, at 12pm Eastern Time and 9am Pacific Time at DisneyCruiseLine.com/2011. At that time, it will be announced where the Disney Cruise Line is headed in 2011. Disney has already posted two YouTube videos showing Donald Duck and Goofy going “undercover” trying to find out the news.

A special Disney Cruise Line announcement will take place September 11, 2009, at the D23 Expo, and will also be streamed live on DisneyCruiseLine.com/2011. Image © Disney.

The D23 Expo 2009 has gotten off to a very exciting start, and if that much Disney magic has been presented in just one day, I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the weekend has in store! You can read more details about the Expo and purchase tickets here.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 10, 2009. All images © Disney.

The BlakeOnline Buzz, Fall 2009

September 7, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family. Text in image is “Action Jackson” font.

Volume 1, Issue 2

By Blake

Originally posted September 7, 2009.

Dear BlakeOnline readers,

Happy Labor Day! It’s hard to believe that another summer has come and gone. There were several big-screen blockbusters and major announcements, making summer 2009 quite a memorable season for the entertainment industry.

In late May, Pixar released their tenth film, Up, with tremendous success. So much success, in fact, that it is currently the #5 highest-grossing animated film of all time. Characters from the film continue to make appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World in Florida.

Up was another hit for Pixar. Image © Disney/Pixar.

In July, Warner Bros. released the outstanding Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment in the groundbreaking film series. Its current worldwide gross is $897,184,000, which is quite an impressive number.

Disney Channel has also had success over the summer, with three major broadcasts: Princess Protection Program in June, the mash-up Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana in July, and Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie in last week.

Disney Parks and Resorts opened several new Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World recently – Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in May, the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in June, and Bay Lake Tower (a new building at Disney’s Contemporary Resort) in August.

Just last Monday, August 31, 2009, Disney announced that they would buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. When you consider that Disney purchased Pixar for $7 billion in 2006, Disney certainly is taking this buy very seriously. Hopefully exciting projects are on the way as the future of this new partnership unfolds. You can read more about the deal over at MouseExtra.com.

Here at BlakeOnline, the summer has held several points of interest, including the continuation of the Budgeting Disney series. This special group of articles analyzes how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation when you’re watching your money. After already discussing looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, over the summer the articles delved into picking a resort, purchasing tickets, and choosing where to dine. There is going to be at least one more volume in the series, so keep a lookout for it soon!

As the world transitions into fall, there are several exciting highlights in store for Disney fans. The D23 Expo will take place in Anaheim, California from September 10 through 13. Although unfortunately no one from BlakeOnline will be attending the event, many other Disney fan sites are sure to provide detailed coverage of the weekend.

The first D23 Expo kicks off in Anaheim this Thursday, September 10, 2009. Image © Disney.

Halloween festivities are already starting to begin at Walt Disney World as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party takes place at the Magic Kingdom select nights now through November 1. Disneyland will join in on the fun with their annual Halloween Time from September 25 through November 1. Halloween Time includes favorites like Haunted Mansion Holiday through Christmastime at Disneyland Park and Mickey’s Trick-Or-Treat Party during select nights in October at Disney’s California Adventure. New for Halloween Time in 2009 are a new fireworks show and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, a special version of the classic thrill ride. Other special events in the Disney parks this fall include Night of Joy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during September 11-12, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival from September 25 through November 8, and Festival of the Masters at Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney November 13-15. Additionally, Christmas festivities will begin in mid-November.

Halloween is just around the corner, and Disney has already begun to celebrate. Image © Disney.

Disney often has several fascinating book releases in autumn, and this year is no exception. The 2010 Birnbaum Guides will be released on September 29. They include guides to Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World For Kids, Walt Disney World Without Kids, Walt Disney World Dining, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line, as well as the Walt Disney World Pocket Parks Guide.

Other exciting book and movie releases can be found on BlakeOnline’s Upcoming Disney Projects page. The major highlights include the 3D double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (October 2); the re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Blu-ray (October 6) and DVD (November 25); the new book Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (October 13); the new Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure film on Blu-ray and DVD (October 27); Up on Blu-ray and DVD (November 10); and the theatrical releases of Disney’s A Christmas Carol (November 6), Old Dogs (November 25), and the highly anticipated hand-drawn feature film The Princess and the Frog (November 25 in New York and Los Angeles, December 11 nationwide).

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are returning to select theaters for a 3-D double feature on October 2. Image © Disney/Pixar.

It’s been a jam-packed, fun-filled summer, and hopefully there’s a celebratory, inviting autumn on the way! After all, there’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.

-Blake
September 7, 2009

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 7, 2009. Buzz Lightyear image belongs to Blake’s family. Text in Buzz Lightyear image is “Action Jackson” font. Up and Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Double Feature images © Disney/Pixar. D23 Expo and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party images © Disney. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, © 1963 Wonderland Music Company, Inc.

Theme Park Headlines – Mickey’s Ready for Fall

September 5, 2009

Image © Disney.

Walt Disney World kicks off its annual Halloween celebrations and prepares for its Christmas festivities.

By Blake

Originally posted September 5, 2009.

While some students may not even have headed back to school yet and the Labor Day holiday is just arriving, Walt Disney World isn’t wasting any time in saying goodbye to summer and heading right into their impressive, crowd-pleasing fall agenda as their Halloween and Christmas special events begin to get underway.

Throughout the summer, Disney began making preparations for The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The buildings in the Streets of America section of the park are being adorned with thousands of sparkling lights. The popular decorations will make their official debut as they light up the park November 10, 2009 – January 4, 2010. You can check out pictures of the event’s recent progress at StudiosCentral.com.

As early as mid-August, the Christmas Dream Lights began their installation on the spires of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. A fairly new holiday tradition that began in 2007, the Dream Lights spectacularly transform the Castle into an amazing wintry sight (even though it’s already pretty amazing without them). The lights magically turn on thanks to the help of Cinderella and friends in a brief ceremony entitled Cinderella’s Holiday Wish. The Dream Lights will be ready at least by November 10, which is the first night of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but could appear before then. Pictures of the lights’ installation can be seen at LaughingPlace.com.

Mickey and friends are busy perparing for the holiday season, which includes Disney favorites like The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and more. Image © Disney.

However, while those and other Walt Disney World Christmas events are over two months away from making their 2009 premiere, Halloween is already in full swing over at the Magic Kingdom. Special Halloween decorations were set up throughout Town Square and along Main Street, U.S.A. a little over a week ago (as shown in a blog on DISUnplugged.com), and the first Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party of the season took place last night, September 4.

The highlights of each party include Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade, the HalloWishes fireworks, the Villains Mix and Mingle stage show, special character appearances (by several rare friends, as well as some familiar characters in Halloween attire), and candy stations. Many of the Magic Kingdom rides and attractions are open, too.

Minnie, Mickey, and other Disney friends can be found throughout the Magic Kingdom decked out for Halloween during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Image © Disney.

Although the party is mostly the same as in years past, there are a few minor changes this year. There are still two dance parties, but they contain a few differences. The Fantasyland dance party still takes place at Ariel’s Grotto, but the characters present there are now Minnie and Daisy. Additionally, the Tomorrowland dance party has changed locations: it’s not in Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café anymore, it’s now at the stage formerly used for Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration (near Carousel of Progress). Characters appearing at the Tomorrowland dance party are Stitch, Goofy, and Pluto. Outside of dance parties, there appears to be a small new float in the parade featuring Madame Leota’s tombstone from Haunted Mansion. (It’s worth noting that although the villains float was dropped from Magic Kingdom’s regular afternoon parade last spring, it still remains a part of the Halloween parade.)

There may also be a few other small changes, but since the party just took place last night, other information has not yet been spread. However, this article will be updated to include any other reported changes that have occurred at this year’s MNSSHP.

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party requires a separate ticket (different from regular park admission) to attend. On nights when the party takes place, it lasts from 7pm through midnight. However, if you enter at or after 4pm, you will not need a regular park ticket to enter, so my advice would be to not visit a park on the day you attend the party, so that you can rest up as well as save some money.

For pictures of the Halloween decorations throughout the Magic Kingdom, check out LaughingPlace.com, and for a recap of the September 4 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, visit DISUnplugged.com and AllEars.net. The party will continue on select nights through November 1. Whether you’re attending or not, have a not-so-scary Halloween!

By Blake; posted September 5, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Detours – Epcot Character Spot

August 29, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests can meet all of Disney’s “fab five” at a great character experience in Epcot’s Future World.

By Blake

Originally posted August 29, 2009.

Many guests have experienced the “stampede” of people that hurry to popular attractions at opening time in the Disney parks. In the case of Epcot, the crowd is split between heading left for Mission: SPACE and Test Track, or heading right for Soarin’. When these massive crowds make their way to those long-line attractions, several other experiences just as entertaining are still open, but often get overlooked in the midst of the crowds. One of these satisfying experiences is the Epcot Character Spot.

Located in Innoventions Plaza (just before you enter the right breezeway that heads to Imagination!, The Land, and The Seas), Epcot Character Spot opened in May, 2007, as a replacement of Epcot Character Connection (which opened in November, 2005). Basically the Character Spot is the same setup as the Character Connection, just with fancier backgrounds and lighting.

Minnie is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests queue up in one line to meet five Disney characters (though each character is met separately). Usually the lineup includes Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald (Disney’s “fab five”). That’s quite a spectacular group of characters! Here, they’re all dressed in their “traditional” outfits: Mickey in his coattails and bowtie, Minnie in her red polka-dotted dress, Goofy in his classic orange-and-blue attire and green hat, Pluto in his orange collar, and Donald in his signature blue sailor outfit. The Character Spot is an even greater experience if you head to it right at park opening, when there will hardly be a line.

Goofy is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

If you do happen to visit at a time when there’s a bit of a wait, don’t fear! Several television screens are positioned throughout the queue and play classic Disney cartoon shorts (similar to the setup of the Judge’s Tent over in the Magic Kingdom). Even better, Disney fans will enjoy reading the fascinating trivia facts about the selected cartoons that appear in the right-hand sidebar of the TV screen.

When you’re finally to the front of the line and it’s time to mingle with your Disney friends, the fun really starts. Each character is patient, and is glad to pose for pictures and sign autographs, as well as offer some special one-on-one interaction. For a more memorable meet & greet, ask each character a question specific to their personality. (For instance, ask Pluto if he’s found any tasty bones lately.) Characters also love it when guests draw them special pictures.

Pluto gets down on his paws to greet a guest at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

As with many other character experiences around Walt Disney World, Disney PhotoPass photographers are on hand at the Character Spot to snap plenty of pictures, and character handlers are also available if you’d like them to get a family shot with your own camera.

After you’ve met all of the main characters, make sure to check in the hallway to your left before dashing out the door. Sometimes (but not always), there is a “bonus” character available for meet & greets there. Don’t count on anyone being there, but it never hurts to check.

If you’ve already met the fab five before, would just rather not meet them at all, or enjoy seeing characters meet with guests, the Epcot Character Spot has another unique feature. A large glass window lets guests outside view the goings-on inside. They can sit on a shaded bench and relax while they enjoy the playful antics of the characters. Sometimes the characters will even come up to the window and interact with guests sitting outside.

Overall, the Epcot Character Spot is one of Walt Disney World’s best character experiences. Guests meet five of Disney’s most popular characters while waiting in one line, which is often very short first thing in the morning. However, if there is a line, classic Disney cartoon shorts keep the waiting guests entertained. Additionally, it’s helpful to have all of the “fab five” in one location to prevent having to track each of them down individually. If you happen to meet them before heading to Epcot, then honestly there probably won’t be a reason to stop by the Character Spot for you, but at least peek in the window. But if you do head on inside, please make sure to show Donald anything you have that has Mickey Mouse on it.

Donald Duck waves to guests at the Epcot Character Spot. In his mind, he’s always #1! Image belongs to Blake’s family.

By Blake; posted August 29, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Five: Dining

August 21, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Planning out a Disney vacation filled with bargain meals.

By Blake

Originally posted August 21, 2009.

Eating at Walt Disney World can often be a hassle. There’s the Disney Dining Plan to consider, reservations to make months in advance, and dozens of eateries to choose from within Disney’s property.

So, how do you budget your food while at Walt Disney World? If you watch your money, it can be easier than you might think.

First of all, let’s go ahead and get the Disney Dining Plan out of the way. The DDP is an optional program that, for one solid price a day (which usually begins in the $45 range), includes one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, and one snack per person, per day. (That’s the basic DDP – other options just get more expensive from there.) Although the DDP is a bargain if you’re already planning on eating at one table-service restaurant a day, it’s not that great of a value if you’re intending to stick to counter-service venues. When the DDP is offered for free (which is generally in the fall), it’s an entire different story. Definitely go for it if it’s free, but otherwise if you’re conscious about where your money is going, don’t use it.

Going without any table-service restaurants in Walt Disney World can be tough, and usually during my family’s trips we do tend to squeeze in a few sit-down meals. I really do enjoy them, but they get a bit expensive to be eating at one EVERY day of vacation. Generally during a week-long stay, my family dines at three table-service restaurants over the course of our trip.

Except for the days when you might have a breakfast reservation (like a character meal), plan on eating some breakfast brought from home. Although it’s certainly the most important meal of the day, when you add it up it’s a whole lot cheaper to bring some snacky breakfast foods along with you than to purchase breakfast every day in Disney. Peanuts, protein bars, muffins, and crackers are ideal for eating in your resort room or taking on the go to eat later in the parks.

So, you have your food to eat for breakfast at your resort, but what are you going to drink? Disney resorts sell refillable mugs, which are a great value whether you plan on being at your resort a lot or not. With a refillable mug, guests can help themselves to unlimited free refills for any drink at their resort’s “beverage island” through the end of their Disney vacation. The mugs sell for about $14 and have a special Disney design on them featuring favorite characters.

Although refillable mugs are only valid for free refills in your resort, once you get to the parks, there’s another super value for your drinks. In fact, it’s such a value that’s it’s free! Guests that head to any counter-service eatery in the Disney parks can ask for a complimentary cup (not bottle) of water. It sure does beat spending $3-$4 per person to get a soda (save that for your refillable mug when you get back to your resort). If a given eatery for some reason cannot supply you with water, Cast Members there can at least give you cups of ice that you can fill up with water at the nearest drinking fountain. Simply drinking free water can save a hoopla of money when you look at the big picture!

It can be easy to come back from a vacation and wonder where all of the money went to. An efficient way to save a little (or a lot) more cash is to give each member of your family their own specific food envelope. Since breakfast won’t be included in the envelope (because you’re bringing breakfast from home), $20 is a fair amount to put in each person’s envelope per day of the trip. That’s (give or take) enough money for two counter-service meals and a snack. This system worked terrifically on my family’s last trip to Disney, especially for the children in the group. Since they felt like they were spending their own money, they were very more conscious about where it went!

Instead of giving everyone their entire week’s supply of food money at once, give each person was given $20 for their envelope at the beginning of each day. If you hav money left over in your envelope at the end of the day, add to the next day’s eating money (but NOT to spending money). Additionally, on the days you have a table-service meal planned, look at that meal’s pricing ahead of time and give that meal its own specific envelope with the family total in it (instead of taking the money from everyone’s individual envelope). Keep in mind that reservations for table-service meals can be made 180 days in advance (in place October 27, 2009).

Even when it’s budgeted like that, $20 for food can be gone fast if you don’t pay close attention. Typically an adult meal at a counter-service restaurant starts at around $8-$9. If you’re running low on your daily food money and still have a meal left, try a kid’s meal for a surprisingly terrific value. For $4.99 (plus tax), a kid’s meal includes a main food (which is usually chicken tenders, macaroni, pizza, or something similar), two sides (carrot sticks, grapes, a cookie, or applesauce), and a drink (1% milk, a small soda, chocolate milk, a juice box, or a small bottled water). That’s quite the deal! Even better, most of the time you won’t notice that you’re eating a child-sized meal. Although the pizza is considerably smaller than an adult’s size, most of the other options are very reasonably sized. Additionally, go for the healthier sides when they’re offered. It’s probably one of the only healthy foods you’ll have during your vacation!

To change things up a little bit from the typical fast-food menu, try eating at one of the counter-service dining spots in one of Epcot’s World Showcase countries or Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom. Some of the best values that are likely to please any member of the family include Pinocchio Village Haus at Magic Kingdom, Electric Umbrella in Epcot’s Future World, Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom.

Visit Epcot for some unique foods at each of World Showcase’s countries. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Where snacks are concerned, the cheapest options are at the small snack stands that are found in many locations throughout Walt Disney World. These are home to one of the Disney standards, Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. They also sell delicious chocolate-covered frozen bananas and other desserts.

However, there are some other wonderful (though slightly more pricey) snacks that you might want to set aside some of your daily food money for. The Magic Kingdom is home to some of the best snacks in all of Walt Disney World, including the crowd favorite Dole Whip, a tasty ice cream-like snack at Adventureland’s Aloha Isle. (Try the swirl for a vanilla/pineapple combo that’s excellent to enjoy on the adjacent shaded benches or in the nearby canopy area.) Another Magic Kingdom favorite snack is the ice cream cookie sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square, consisting of two scoops of vanilla ice cream placed in-between two huge chocolate-chip cookies – it’s fantastic! (Try to enjoy your Dole Whip or ice cream cookie sandwich at night or in the shade – they melt fast in the sun!) At Epcot, each country has special snacks in World Showcase. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some delicious deserts like caramel apples can be found in Starring Rolls Café just after turning onto Sunset Blvd. from Hollywood Blvd.

Even without the Disney Dining Plan, if you take the time to plan out where your money is going, bring some food from home to eat for breakfast, purchase a refillable mug to use at your resort, ask for free cups of water in the parks, and set aside each family member their own food money envelope, dining at Walt Disney World can indeed be budgeted and reasonable. I would advise future Disney guests to visit AllEars.net’s excellent selection of Disney menus to get an idea of where you might like to dine during your vacation. Find some eateries that will please your family and keep a close eye on your money. And enjoy your Dole Whip!

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By Blake; posted August 21, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Blake’s Picks – Top 6 Walt Disney World “Extras”

August 6, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.



Disney goes the extra mile to immerse their guests in a fantasy kingdom where everything contributes to telling stories.

By Blake

Orignally posted August 6, 2009.

Guests visiting Walt Disney World feel like they’ve been transported to some imaginative community far from reality. Not only is this the place where dreams come true, but it’s an immersive experience like none other. Whether guests realize it or not, a variety of components all culminate together to make sure that everyone is in an authentic environment that meets the level of quality that Disney is used to giving.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a great example of Disney’s attention to detail and theming. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Some of these aspects are fairly simple, such as Cast Members being courteous to guests, while others require a far more intricate amount of detailing and planning out. Here are some of my favorite little perks that make Walt Disney World such a special place, and also help to relieve guests of their “real-world” worries and give them the chance to be immersed in the Disney enchantment.

6.) In-Room WDW Specialty Television Programs

Televisions in the hotel rooms at the Disney resorts have several unique channels that you won’t find back home on your regular TV set. Made especially for Disney resort TVs, a few programs play on a continuous loop and have one main purpose: to give guests a preview for what’s in store for them in the parks by getting them excited for some of the parks’ best attractions. Some channels may show highlights from each park, while another has a countdown of favorite attractions. Other channels have handy tips accentuated by Disney music, as well as weather reports. One channel that used to be featured but (unless something has changed recently) doesn’t play anymore was the classic cartoons channel, which included showings of the Disney cartoon shorts from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s.

Since most guests are in their hotel rooms at the beginning and end of each day (sometimes at other points, too), these special TV programs allow a great preview of what’s to come (while you’re watching as you get ready to embark into the parks in the morning), and make as a pleasant look back at your fun day (as you’re unwinding in the evening).

5.) Wake-Up Calls

Another Disney resort perk that I look forward to experiencing in the mornings at WDW is a special wake-up call. If guests let a Cast Member know in the resort lobby, or call a special number on their room phone, they’ll get a wake-up call from a Disney character at the time of their choice. The wake-up call during my last visit had Stitch hollering “No sleeping!,” though the particular message may have changed since then. I advise putting the call on speaker phone once you answer it, so that the entire family will have a chance to listen in on this fun way to start the day.

4.) Transportation

An integral part of immersing guests in another world relies on getting them to and from their destinations in a way that they might not usually experience elsewhere. I’ll admit that riding a bus may be typical, but whisking off on a pleasant ferry ride just to travel a short distance isn’t your everyday carpool. And are there that many other places that you’ve traveled via a gliding monorail?

The monorail in particular is such a Disney way to travel, and even though I’ve never stayed at a resort along its route, I try to go out of my way to at least hop onboard for a quick trip every visit. Being elevated above regular traffic is an experience in itself, but a few other details, including its narration and announcements, make the monorail a memorable classic. Also notice that after each stop the monorail makes, Disney has made an effort to send those that are leaving WDW at that time with some special words of parting, making the monorail a terrific way to end a Disney vacation.

3.) Characters

Something I love about meeting Disney characters is that each of them has their own personality. They each put their own little spin on how they pose for a picture, and each character has a specific autograph style, complete with specialty font that they use to sign their name. Each character implements their own . . . well, character . . . into their meet & greet experiences. Goofy is a little bit clumsy, Stitch is usually very playful, and you can count on the princesses to be all smiles with plenty of patience.

Buzz Lightyear (left) and Woody from the Toy Story movies are some Disney’s many famous characters that guests can meet in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

2.) Story

No matter where you go in Walt Disney World, almost everything you experience is part of some kind of story. However, unlike in movies and television shows, the Disney theme parks allow the guests to be a part of the stories Disney tells, immersing guests and letting them experience adventures as if they were plopped right into a movie.

This creative prop is a detail that helps tell the story of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The pre-show area of this attraction is full of goodies like this to look through. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Nearly every Disney attraction or show tells a story. It can sometimes be a stretch to figure out what the plot of a particular ride or atmosphere may be, but most of the time something’s there for guests to decipher. For instance, The Barnstormer in Mickey’s Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom isn’t just a small roller coaster. It’s a “flight” being “piloted” by Goofy, who is his usual self and ends up crashing the coaster through his barn.

Typically attractions are grouped in themed “lands,” all pertaining to a particular subject. While each of a land’s attractions may have their own individual story, they also all come together to tell a bigger story involving that land’s purpose. For example, while The Barnstormer does indeed weave its own little backstory, the premise of Toontown (the land where The Barnstormer is located) is that the fair has come to the town where Mickey and Minnie live, and guests are invited to see some of the fair’s highlights.

Look around and smell the flowers – sometimes literally – while you’re in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

1.) Cast Members

More than any particular “thing” or ride, Disney’s Cast Members truly make Walt Disney World the most magical place on Earth. They continually make an added effort and go the extra mile to make sure their guests are having a good time.

Sometimes the gestures of Cast Members are purely simple, but so genuinely Disney, such as addressing each guest as either a “princess” or “prince,” or wishing you to “Have a magical day!” It’s so simple, but its results are extraordinary. It makes guests feel special, and also reminds them that they really are in a Disney World.

Other Cast Member experiences may involve some of the Cast Members truly going out their way to make a guest’s day especially memorable. This could include tracking down a particular character, selecting a family to be the Grand Marshals of a parade, or something else that the Cast Member goes beyond their call of duty to pursue, just to give guests a magical experience. One particular instance of this happening to my family was when we didn’t answer our wake-up call (but still woke up), and a few minutes later a Cast Member was knocking on our door to make sure we hadn’t overslept. Fortunately we were already awake, but it was very kind for the Cast Member to check in on us.

Cast Members bid gets good-bye as they hold signs that read “See ya real soon!” at the end of a Magic Kingdom day. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Pin trading is an excellent way to interact with Cast Members. Not only are pins fun to collect, but trading with Cast Members gives you the chance to talk to them, hear some of their stories, and makes you feel like you’re sharing a bit of magic of your own.

Whether their tasks are miniscule or humongous, the Disney Cast Members make every day an unforgettable experience in the Disney parks.

Walt Disney World really does seem to take its guests on a journey into a fanciful, inspired dream. Little perks like special television shows and character wake-up calls give guests something exciting to experience right in their hotel room, the unique transportation makes traveling just plain fun, the Disney characters give guests the chance to see their childhood favorites in-person with plenty of personality, guests are continually involved in an ongoing story told through the parks’ attractions, and Cast Members give a level of terrific customer service that makes Walt Disney World what it is – an enchanting realm where worries are forgotten, imaginations are set loose, and families are grown closer together.

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

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By Blake; posted August 6, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.