BlakeOnline Special – “American Idol” Pre-Concert Report 2009

August 5, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Season eight’s contestants greet fans with enthusiasm and infectious joy.

By Blake

Originally posted August 5, 2009.

I love American Idol. I just think it’s so cool how one television show can have a little bit for everyone, being just as entertaining for elementary-age kids as it is for their grandparents. And there’s almost no worrying about hiding anyone’s eyes or ears for inappropriate content.

As I finished up writing this article and was doing some proofreading before I posted it, I heard the big American Idol news that was just announced last night, August 4, 2009: Paula Abdul – one of the show’s judges that had been a part of the series since its beginning – will not be making the return for the show’s ninth season. The new season begins filming auditions in front of judges soon, and will premiere on Fox in January, 2010. I’m not going to go into detail about the announcement, but I must say that I think I’ll miss Paula on the judge’s panel.

Moving on to the reason I’m writing this article in the first place, when the chance came to possibly meet some of this year’s American Idol top ten contestants as they rolled through their nationwide tour, it was an opportunity that I’m very glad I got to experience. While we didn’t go to the actual concert, a few family members and I decided to head to the concert’s venue early to see if we could get a few autographs and pictures.

While generally the concert doesn’t start until 7pm, the tour’s buses usually get there anytime between 11am and 2pm. Sometime around then, contestants can come out and greet fans. They’re not obligated to, so if they don’t feel like it on any given day, they don’t HAVE to come out at all. However, if you show up around 11 to get a spot with other fans outside, you’ll have a pretty good chance to at least meet a few of the contestants. The experience is also free, which is a great bonus.

We arrived around 11:20 to find a small crowd waiting behind barriers outside of the arena. The amount of people gathering gradually grew larger as time passed, with people covering the entire barrier’s length by around 1:30.

Thankfully, the weather was very nice while we were waiting. It was overcast, but not raining, and only after a while did the sun come out. It was warm, but I didn’t think it was too hot (though it can get a little sweltering after being in it for a long time). If you plan on going early, be sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water. The amount of time it takes for the contestants to come outside varies with each city they visit, but expect to be standing out there for about three to four hours total (including the time spent meeting contestants).

The contestants came out at around 1:45, and the crowd went wild! Kris Allen, Danny Gokey, Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai, Scott MacIntyre (with his brother, Todd, to assist him), Megan Joy, and Michael Sarver all came out to mingle with fans. Adam Lambert, Allison Iraheta, and Lil Rounds ended up not making it out. Contestants came out about two at a time, not all at once.

Megan Joy meets with fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Scott MacIntyre (right) with his brother, Todd. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Anoop Desai greets fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Some contestants may only have time to go down the line very quickly to sign autographs, while others may take their time to pose for pictures and talk. Kris, Danny, Matt, and Michael were the slowest making their way down the line, each stopping to talk with fans and take pictures. Many of them would run down the line and give hi-fives before signing autographs, creating an energetic mood over the crowd. All of the contestants seemed very appreciative that people had taken time to come see them, and their positive attitudes seemed to perk up the crowd, causing everyone to wait patiently for their turn.

Kris Allen gets ready to greet fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Danny Gokey meets with fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Most of them were happy to stop and take pictures with fans, and would even give shout-outs to your camera or phone if you wanted them to. Michael was striking up conversations with many folks, and Matt remarked a few questions at us (“You’re not too hot out here, are you? Not too hot?”). Did we really look THAT sweaty? Just kidding.

Matt Giraud talks with fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Michael Sarver socializes with fans. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

I advise to bring something with you for the contestants to sign. There were concert programs and portraits available for sale right there outside, but overall I thought the prices were pretty expensive. Making a poster would be much more cost-efficient, and also makes for a great homemade souvenir.

Seeing the contestants’ personalities unfold throughout the course of the season on television gave me a better appreciation for their work ethic, and for them coming out to say “Hi” to their fans. American Idol is a very special part of my life, and being able to see some of the people that make the show so memorable on a one-on-one level was an amazing experience.

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By Blake; posted August 5, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Talk – Toys “R” Back, Part Two

August 2, 2009

Image © Disney/Pixar.



It’s official: Andy’s headed to college.

By Blake

Originally posted August 1, 2009.

There’s been plenty of speculation flying around for years (yes, years) concerning the return of a certain space ranger and his cowboy doll buddy. But it wasn’t until some very exciting Twitter updates were posted on several official Disney accounts live from the recent Comic-Con in San Diego that I had heard of official word from Disney themselves saying the details about the further adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

Buzz and Woody are back for thirds. Image © Disney/Pixar.

It was already known before now that both Buzz and Woody would be returning to the big screen not once, but twice, within the coming year, with the releases of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 as a double feature in 3D on October 2, 2009, and with Toy Story 3 on the way on June 18, 2010.

The teaser trailer for Toy Story 3 was released alongside 3D screenings of Pixar’s Up in May, 2009, and the preview does a great job at re-introducing audiences to the series’ main characters and unveiling that another sequel is indeed coming.

Now flash-forward to July 24, 2009, a pivotal day for Toy Story fans. First off, the teaser trailer for the Toy Story and Toy Story 2 double feature debuted alongside 3D versions of G-Force. Once again, Pixar succeeds at creating excitement and anticipation for viewers, and also makes clever use of 3D emphasis to further enhance the trailer. You can see it for yourself here.

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are being released as a 3D double feature on October 2. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Also on July 24, at the Comic-Con panel for Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter (director of Toy Story and Toy Story 2) and Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3) were on hand to deliver some very special news. Firstly, they told that plot of TS3 will be of Andy, the toys’ owner, leaving for college. Secondly, they said the film will also introduce a new character, Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton), who is sure to be a hilarious companion to Barbie, who made her debut in TS2 (and is voiced by Jodi Benson, aka Ariel). For those of us that weren’t at the Comic-Con, Disney relayed the news via the official Twitter accounts of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures, and D23.

The Toy Story series has already dealt with several deep and moving concepts. In the first film, friendship and jealousy were covered. By the second movie, more somber emotions like rejection, abandonment, and betrayal took the stage, as did appreciating the present without fearing the future. The decision to place Toy Story 3 some ten years later is very appropriate, then, in my opinion. We’ve already seen the toys develop a close bond with Andy, and seen them prove their loyalty to him. Now we’ll most likely get to see what happens when Andy has to leave the toys as he moves on into adulthood, making an important decision on what to do with them.

Hopefully this will be a great opportunity the audience to get a further knowledge of Andy’s personality. Although he’s been a very important part of the plot lines in the previous films, he’s been more of a representation of a concept or a theme than an actual character.

The idea of Andy growing up was an issue already hinted at in Toy Story 2, which I would think was long before the filmmakers knew for sure that they would make another sequel. Back then, the threat of the toys being forgotten was more of a distant fantasy, but now it could become a very real and impactful core of the series.

Many emotional topics have been the basis of the first two Toy Story films, and the third installment will likely cover even more moving issues as Andy heads to college. Image © Disney/Pixar.

I can’t wait to see what Pixar has up their sleeves for Toy Story 3. The thrill of seeing Woody and Buzz back in the spotlight is certainly an exciting feeling that Disney fans should appreciate, for infinity and beyond.

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By Blake; posted August 1, 2009. All images © Disney/Pixar.

Channel Flippin’ – Alexis Cohen Passes Away

July 29, 2009

Image © Fox.

‘American Idol’ tryout tragically passes away at age 25.

By Blake

Originally posted July 29, 2009.

“Take it, take it, take it!” That was the infamous line that Alexis Cohen of Allentown, Pennsylvania, told cameras when her season seven American Idol audition didn’t go as well as she would have hoped.

Unfortunately, this past weekend on July 25, 2009, Cohen passed away by being hit by a car in New Jersey. BlakeOnline sends out sincere sympathy and prayers to Alexis’s family and friends as they cope with their loss.

Cohen returned to American Idol in season eight, with a new look and ready to impress the judges with another tryout. However, when she didn’t make it to Hollywood again, she wasn’t shy in the least bit about sharing how she really felt.

Alexis Cohen provided American Idol viewers with two of the show’s most memorable auditions. She was very enthusiastic and passionate about her work, and enjoyed creating art, with hoping to one day become a singer or veterinarian.

By Blake; posted July 29, 2009. All images © Fox.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Four: Purchasing Tickets

July 27, 2009
Image © Disney.

Analyzing Walt Disney World ticket packages when you’re watching your money.

By Blake

Originally posted July 27, 2009.

It’s time for another edition of Budgeting Disney, a special series walking through the steps of planning a Walt Disney World vacation in the midst of keeping a close track of where your money is going. So far we’ve looked at finding deals, deciding when to visit, and choosing a resort to stay at.

Before we delve into purchasing theme park tickets, I’d like to point out that a bargain package has just been announced. Guests visiting Walt Disney World for at least five nights/five days during October 1 through November 24, as well as November 29 through December 17, get select dining free if they book their trip by September 26. Full details can be found here. (Note: You may have heard that this package was exclusively for guests with a Disney Rewards Visa card, though that is not the case anymore!)

Free dining is back . . . again! Image © Disney.

Moving on, after picking your resort, the next issue in planning a Walt Disney World vacation is to decide is what type of ticket package to purchase. A regular, one-day theme park ticket currently costs $75. However, if you’re visiting for more than one day, the price per day gradually decreases.

A regular, standard base ticket allows guests to visit one theme park per day. You can’t switch parks in the middle of the day, but you can leave the park for a break and come back later to that same park. Honestly, if you want to spend as little money as possible, a standard base ticket is the option that you should choose.

The standard base ticket package is the least expensive WDW vacation package, and has guests visiting one theme park per day. The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is shown here. Image © Disney.

However, there are several other optional ticket choices to “splurge” on if you want. Each has their own benefits, but when you’re watching your money, you really have to ask yourself if any of the other packages are worth it.

The first option is the Park Hopper add-on, which allows guests to visit more than one theme park per day. In the past, my family has used this to perhaps spend the day at one park, and then head to another park to see some sort of nighttime show. Other times we’ve just gotten “bored” with a park and decided to hightail it over to another area of WDW. However, looking back at our last trip, I don’t think we’ll be eager to use a Park Hopper anytime soon. There was nothing wrong with the actual ticket package itself, but we were using it so much that we were rushing ourselves around from place to place and from park to park. Not only were we exhausted by the time the trip was over, but we didn’t take the time to appreciate the surroundings and the excellent atmosphere that Disney provides. Instead we were too concerned about where we were headed to next. If you don’t overuse it, the Park Hopper can be nice, but it can also stress you out at times. Consider that before you make your decision to add it on or not.

The next package to look at is the Water Park Fun & More option. It includes admission to Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park, DisneyQuest “virtual theme park” at Downtown Disney, ESPN Wide World of Sports, or golfing at Oak Trail. I’ve never visited Typhoon Lagoon, Wide World of Sports, or Oak Trail, but I have visited both Blizzard Beach and DisneyQuest. While I enjoyed both experiences very much, I don’t think they’re worth adding the Water Park Fun & More option to our vacation package EVERY trip. They might be exciting to visit every now and then, but honestly it can be difficult squeezing in time for the four theme parks during a vacation, let alone the other various activities Walt Disney World has. If you truly think you’ll want to spend a full day at a water park, play at Wide World of Sports or Oak Trail, or play some very involved virtual games at DisneyQuest during your trip, go for it. Personally more often than not, I’d rather just stick to the theme parks.

Typhoon Lagoon is one of Disney’s two water parks that guests can experience in the Water Park Fun & More package. Image © Disney.

Now we come to the “no expiration” option. Most Walt Disney World tickets will expire fourteen days after their first use, whether they’ve been maxed out or not. However, with the no expiration add-on, they’ll never go bad. Of the packages we’ve mentioned so far, I feel that this one is the most beneficial, especially if you plan on visiting Walt Disney World in the future (as in, after the trip you’re planning now).

Remember how ticket prices per day decrease for every additional day you purchase? Well, let’s say you buy tickets for ten days in the parks, but you’re only planning to stay for five days this trip. With the no expiration add-on, those five leftover unused days of tickets will still be good if you plan to visit in a few years (or, for that matter, any time in the future at all). However, you have to consider whether or not you can financially shell out that amount of money at once.

What’s more, the tickets will end up being less expensive than they would have been if you bought them in a few years, for two reasons: 1.) They’ll have decreased in price per day because you bought many of them at one time, and 2.) Disney tends to slightly raise their ticket prices about every year or so. Guests traveling during the hurricane season (late August through October) might want to seriously consider the no expiration option, as will guests that might have to go back home for some sort of emergency situation. Otherwise, only get no expiration if you’re sure you’ll be returning, and even then there’s still the issue of paying all of that money at once.

The last package that we’re going to look at is the Annual Pass. For locals, or for those that visit Walt Disney World more than once a year, an Annual Pass includes year-round visits to the parks. Regular Annual Passes cost $414 for ages three through nine and $469 for ages ten and up. The Water Park Fun & More option is also available for Annual Passes (for $528 ages three through nine and $599 ages ten and up). For guests that go to WDW often, the Annual Pass can be a great deal.

Buying Walt Disney World tickets can be puzzling, but ultimately it comes down to how much you think your family will benefit from each of the different add-on packages. If you want to spend as little money as possible, go for the standard base ticket. If you’d like to experience some of the other activities WDW has – like water parks or sports – the Water Park Fun & More add-on might be for you. If you think you’re going to be visiting WDW on a yearly basis, purchasing the no-expiration option and buying more tickets than you plan on using this time might be wise (only if you can financially support that decision, though). Lastly, if you’re a frequent guest to WDW and visit more than once a year, you might want to consider an Annual Pass. Whatever ticket package Walt Disney World guests decide on, make sure to be conscious of your money, and to fully consider whether or not each add-on will be worth it to your family.

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By Blake; posted July 27, 2009. All images © Disney.

Blake’s Picks – Top 10 ‘Spongebob’ Episodes

July 17, 2009

Image © Nickelodeon.

Counting down my ten favorite Spongebob adventures to celebrate the sponge’s tenth birthday.

By Blake

Originally posted July 17, 2009.

Nickelodeon is continuing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Spongebob Squarepants this weekend in a three-day event called The Ultimate Spongebob Sponge Bash. Filled with many new episodes, several countdowns, a showing of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and more, the event is being hosted by Patchy the Pirate “president of the Spongebob Squarepants fan club.”

The series premiered on May 1, 1999, with its pilot episode and continued airing its first season on July 17 of that same year. The Sponge Bash event continues the show’s tenth anniversary festivities that began in March, 2009, with a new special, featuring guests Johnny Depp and Davy Jones (yes, from the Monkees).

Here’s a schedule of the highlights for the Sponge Bash:

  • Friday, July 17, 2009 at 8pm Eastern Time – New episode To Squarepants or Not to Squarepants.
  • Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 10am Eastern Time – Viewers’ top ten favorite episodes, as voted for online.
  • Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 8pm Eastern Time – The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
  • Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 10am Eastern Time – Celebrities pick their favorite episodes.
  • Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 7pm Eastern Time – Ten new Spongebob episodes in a row.

All of the time in-between those highlights will be spent airing other Spongebob episodes.

To help celebrate this milestone decade occasion, I’m counting down my top ten favorite Spongebob Squarepants episodes.

10.) Pizza Delivery

Spongebob and Squidward are sent to deliver a pizza to a customer, and get lost along the way. Spongebob uses “unusual” tactics to guide them in the right direction, which drives Squidward crazy. Being in the first season, this is one of the first episodes where we really see Spongebob push Squidward to his limit. Obviously Squidward is utterly annoyed to be lost with Spongebob, and the results of those feelings are hilarious. Spongebob’s “Krusty Krab Pizza” song also makes the episode memorable, and in my opinion is one of the show’s funniest moments.

9.) Pineapple Fever


Something about Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward all being trapped together during a thunderstorm is just funny. One of the newer episodes, this one also makes hilarity of Squidward wanting to have some peace and quiet. The beginning is particularly enjoyable, with a few funny bits where Squidward first realizes there’s no escaping staying with Spongebob and Patrick.

From left: Patrick’s house, Squidward’s house, and Spongebob’s house. Image © Nickelodeon.

8.) Texas

First of all, the thought of an air-breathing squirrel living underwater as a result of a special air suit is hilarious from the get-go. Add to that her coming from Texas and being thoroughly annoyed when anyone – like Spongebob and Patrick – insults her home state makes for a very memorable episode. Sandy can’t stand it when her friends start to insult Texas, and what starts out as playful back-and-forth banter turns into an all-out chase scene.


7.) Good Neighbors

All poor Squidward continually wants is a peaceful atmosphere. He’s completely wrong if he thinks that’s what he’s going to get, even on a Sunday, when he’s off work and able to stay at home. Squidward’s idea of a relaxing day turns into another hilarious misadventure when Spongebob and Patrick do their best to be good neighbors, but in the process cause Squidward to go off his rocker.

6.) Band Geeks

Another concept Squidward desires to have is social acceptance, and he often goes the extra mile to appear to be “normal” and to imply that his life has been a successful one. He tries even harder to do this anytime he’s in the presence of Squilliam, his high school rival. When Squidward claims to Squilliam that he has a band (which he doesn’t), he has to hastily get a group together in time for a performance at the Bubble Bowl. The end results include most of the main characters pulling together to help Squidward, and at the same time delivering some of the series’ funniest moments ever (“Is mayonnaise an instrument?”), not to mention the hysterical finale where Spongebob and friends perform “Sweet Victory” excellently (out of nowhere) to a crowd of thousands.

5.) The Spongebob Squarepants Christmas Special/Christmas Who?

This episode includes the first appearance by Patchy the Pirate, “president of the Spongebob Squarepants fan club” and his pet, a puppet parrot named Potty. Both Patchy and Potty are presented in live-action, as opposed to Spongebob’s animated world. In this episode, Patchy reminisces of Spongebob’s first Christmas, when the entire town worked together to create decorations, sing carols, and write letters to Santa. The episode as a whole is OK, but some particular bits are just downright hysterical, including Patchy reading fan mail and the classic “cameo” by Santa Claus at the end.


4.) Survival of the Idiots

This entire story is filled with hilarious little tidbits. Spongebob and Patrick go to visit Sandy in her tree dome to find that she’s hibernating for the winter. Sure enough, Sandy’s asleep and her home is filled with snow. Soon, Spongebob and Patrick can no longer get out of the tree dome and are forced to remain inside it, where they decide to role play as “Dirty Dan” and “Pinhead Larry,” much to the dismay of sleepwalking Sandy. (“Which one of you is the real Dirty Dan?”)

3.) The Camping Episode

Once again, Squidward hopes for some peace and quiet while Spongebob and Patrick are away camping, but is soon disappointed to find out the duo is camping ten feet from Spongebob’s house, right next door to Squidward. Before long, Squidward finds himself camping with them, as well. After singing the classic “Campfire Song Song,” Spongebob warns Squidward against “sea bears,” and the rest is classic Spongebob at its best.

2.) Krusty Krab Training Video

The idea of this episode is that the viewer is a potential employee of the Krusty Krab, the fast-food restaurant where Mr. Krabs, Spongebob, and Squidward work. A narrator guides viewers through a montage of hilarious sequences of typical goings-on at the Krusty Krab, including Plankton attempting to steal the Krabby Patty formula, Patrick trying to place an order, and many more.

The Krusty Krab. Image © Nickelodeon.

1.) Patchy’s Pick/Shanghaied

This episode delivers laughs, laughs, and more laughs. Patchy the Pirate is once again present to share his “pick,” where Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward all become members of the Flying Dutchman’s pirate crew. Some great dialogue jokes and sight gags are included, and Spongebob and Patrick’s infamous trip to the perfume department is downright funny.

That wraps up my picks for favorite Spongebob Squarepants episodes! You can vote for your own favorites at Spongebob.com/Bash, and tune in to Nickelodeon on Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 10am Eastern Time to see viewers’ top ten favorites.

Image © Nickelodeon.

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By Blake; posted July 17, 2009. All images © Nickelodeon.

Silver Screen Review – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

July 16, 2009
Image © Warner Bros.

The sixth exciting visit for moviegoers into Hogwarts executes its intricate story cleverly with a parade of smart emotional ups and downs.

By Blake

Originally posted July 16, 2009.

Acceptance of death is a rocky obstacle to overcome. Once one has passed on, family and friends are left to continue on with their lives, which is not often an easy task to take on. Yet Harry Potter has had to do just that not once, but twice so far by the time the sixth volume in his epic tale, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, begins its story. Struggling to find himself, Harry relies on the strong companionship he has with his friends as he begins a journey he knows he must fulfill, and audiences are taken along on that incredible voyage with him.

In the film, the wizarding community has accepted what they feared was happening: Voldemort has returned, and his cronies are causing massive destruction to both wizards and Muggles. As Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe) returns to his sixth year of studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), he sets out along with Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to learn about Voldemort’s past to better understand how the dark wizard can be defeated. As far as school is concerned, Harry becomes very successful in his potions class thanks to the comments written in his textbook’s previous owner, the unnamed “half-blood prince.” Meanwhile, Harry believes that his schoolmate and rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) may be pursuing a mission for Voldemort and is very curious to find out what it is.

Dumbledore and Harry. Image © Warner Bros.

It sure sounds like a cheery tale, doesn’t it? Thankfully, the film takes on an overall lighthearted tone to relieve its dark storyline. Comedy (Luna Lovegood rocks) is delved into on more than one occasion, as is romance in several poignant sequences.

Luna Lovegood. Image © Warner Bros.

The film’s execution of its story is done very nicely, working out several details differently than in the book. Overall this technique works for the best, but at times, especially towards the beginning (where are the Dursleys?) and the climax, it depreciates the film by cutting a few substantial sequences that would have been welcome (though aren’t missed if you don’t know they’re not there). Differences from the book of how a few plot points are delivered also add another level of mystery to the movie. This also simplifies the audiences’ confusion and allows viewers to better understand what’s going on. There’s also a hoopla of foreshadowing instanced many times throughout the film.

What really made the film extra special for me was the presence of Ron and Hermione by Harry’s side for support throughout the entire movie. Lately they’ve sort of taken a backseat while Harry interacts with new characters, but they definitely (and thankfully) have a larger focus in Half-Blood Prince.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry try to find out who the half-blood prince is. Image © Warner Bros.

Emotion is a component that comes across clearly in Half-Blood Prince. By now (if viewers have kept up with previous volumes), they know the characters relatively well. Due to this, audiences sort of automatically know how Harry feels, for example, whenever the subject arises of his parents’ deaths or when other characters reminisce about his parents’ personality traits. Half-Blood Prince does a great job at taking that prior knowledge further to help those that aren’t so familiar with the story to also relate to what’s happening and feel those same emotions. Is it right on-par with the same emotional punch as the books? Almost. The book version of this particular volume conveyed such a beautiful ending, even with its somber tone, and the film grasps that quite well, given that the audience doesn’t have access to what the characters are thinking.

Ron and Hermione. Image © Warner Bros.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is very pleasing. Another rewarding adventure into an imaginative world through a well-thought-out storyline keeps audiences on the edge of their seats and at the same time allows them to laugh and sympathize. The film also sets the stage excellently for what’s yet to come for Harry and friends as they continue their marvelous tale. Those that aren’t familiar with previous installments in the series might not be able to follow along easily, but those that have kept up are in for an amazing experience.

How dow I rank Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will most likely please: Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teens – Young Adults

By Blake; posted July 16, 2009. All images © Warner Bros.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Three: Where to Stay

July 13, 2009
Image © Disney.

When on a budget, Walt Disney World’s campground or value resorts are the way to go.

By Blake

Originally posted July 13, 2009.

Welcome to another installment of Budgeting Disney, a special look at planning a Walt Disney World vacation on a strict budget. I’ve already discussed looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, and now it’s time to focus on where to stay overnight during a WDW trip.

Whether you’re watching your money or not, there’s a huge decision to be made first thing when deciding your accommodations: on-site or off-site? Walt Disney World has over 20 on-property resort hotels to choose from, all sorted into several categories based on price and extra benefits. From most-expensive to least-expensive, the groups are deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, value resorts, and the campground. I’ve got news for you – if you’re on a budget, eliminate deluxe and moderate right away so that you don’t even have the option to splurge.

So now you’re down to three choices: a Walt Disney World value resort, the campground section of WDW’s Fort Wilderness, or an off-site venue. Personally, I’ve got to go with Disney. Due to the Disney quality service constantly being displayed and the convenient (and free) transportation to all over WDW, I’d say that it’s overall worth it to stay on Disney property.

Between the campground and the value resorts, the choice should be relatively easy based on whether or not you have the necessary equipment (either tent or RV) or not. If you do, the campground might be a pleasurable experience, as you’ll be in the excellent atmosphere of Fort Wilderness. You can check out details at AllEars.net, including differences between campsites and price ranges. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness will most likely want to bring their own groceries from home or purchase groceries once they get to WDW, as (unlike the value resorts), Fort Wilderness doesn’t have a food court (though it does have a buffet restaurant).

The campground area of Fort Wilderness (as opposed to the cabin area, which is priced as a moderate Disney resort) is ideal for guests with RV’s. Image © Disney.

If you don’t have a tent or camper, or if camping isn’t your thing, then the Disney value resorts will probably please you if you’re on a budget.

To be honest, the hotel rooms themselves at Disney value resorts are just regular rooms with no special perks. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s the way to go. Value resorts are especially ideal for those that will be spending a lot of time in the parks, as opposed to those that would rather relax all day. There aren’t a lot of “extras,” but the basics are all essentially covered.

Instead of full-service restaurants, each value resort has a food court that includes several counter-service options featuring a variety of choices. Additionally, guests can also order pizza to be delivered to their room (a great bargain for large families).

Most Disney resorts (value or otherwise, though there are a few exceptions) also implement refillable mugs, another great way to save money. Guests that purchase a refillable mug get free refills at their resort’s food court throughout the duration of their stay. Guests can only refill their mug at the resort they are staying at, and the mug can only be used for that one particular vacation.

All of the value resorts have at least two pools, each with a specific theme. There are no waterslides, though several of the pools have some unique fun features to them. Additionally, each value resort has an arcade, a gift shop, and an area in the lobby to view Disney programs on a TV.

Walt Disney World has four value resorts: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century. Essentially, the room layout is the same in all four resorts and the atmosphere has the same format, as well. Since we’re budgeting, I advise booking a standard room at the lowest price possible, in this case being about $82*. The “view” from the room will most likely either be a parking lot or some bushes, but since no rooms at any of the value resorts have actual porches, you won’t be sitting out enjoying the view no matter what room you’re in. However, all of the resorts are relatively easy to navigate, so if guests desire to see something particular, a short walk is all that it will take to get there.

Disney’s All-Star Sports depicts scenes like gigantic football helmets. Image © Disney.

Each of the resorts’ rooms are housed in several separate buildings, each building surrounded by huge atmospheric characters and objects. At All-Star Sports, this includes giant sports equipment. At All-Star Music, each area is themed to a different music style, with large instruments adorning the atmosphere. At All-Star Movies, areas are themed to different Disney films, with huge versions of Disney characters found outside rooms. Lastly, Pop Century is all about the second half of the 20th century, with areas themed to each decade.

Disney’s All-Star Movies features atmosphere based on Disney movies, including 101 Dalmatians, shown here. Image © Disney.

The layout of the resorts are almost the same, the food courts have mostly the same food, and the rooms are identical at all four value resorts, so ultimately the choice comes down to your preference of theming. Pop Century does have a slight edge over the other three, though. Its grounds are slightly more expansive, it has a lovely lake at the back of the resort that makes for a great view, and it has several Disney sights that guests can view from a distance (including Wide World of Sports, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Swan and Dolphin, and Spaceship Earth). AllEars.net has a great photo gallery of each of the four value resorts, making it simple to go through and choose one that your family likes the best. (Links: All-Star Sports photos, All-Star Music photos, All-Star Movies photos, and Pop Century photos.)

Disney’s Pop Century Resort is themed to five individual decades of the 20th century, including the 50’s, shown here through Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and some disco dancers. Image © Disney.

The limit at value resorts of amount of guests per room is four people, so families larger than that have another decision to make. They can either book two adjoining rooms, which feature a door between both rooms providing access to the other. Or, they can book a family suite, which right now is only available at All-Star Music. If guests choose the adjoining rooms and book the lowest-priced rooms possible at about $82* per night each, then the total comes out to be about $164* per night. The family suites cost about $184* per night, making the adjoining rooms a better value. You can view the photos at AllEars.net to compare the look of the family suites to those of regular rooms (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

Country music is one of the music styles represented at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Image © Disney.

If guests are on a budget but still want to be immersed in Disney enchantment throughout their Walt Disney World vacation, the Fort Wilderness campground sites or the Disney value resorts are ideal. The campground guests might have to be a little more independent for food, but for those with campers, it’s ideal. The value resorts of All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century are all great choices, and guests can choose which resort to stay at based on personal interests or hobbies. The value resorts don’t include many extra bonuses, though they’re ideal for those that will be hitting the parks often, making them a great . . . well . . . value.

*Prices are approximate and get raised during peak seasons.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted July 13, 2009. All images © Disney.

BlakeOnline Tweets “Harry Potter” News

July 11, 2009

Get pumped for ‘Potter’ with BlakeOnline’s Twitter updates.


By Blake

Originally posted July 10, 2009.

The arrival of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth volume in the film series based upon the stellar J.K. Rowling novels, is coming closer! The movie will be released in theaters on Wednesday, July 15, 2009.

BlakeOnline can help you prep for Potter with updates on Twitter to give you a “head’s-up” whenever something Harry-related will be appearing on television within the coming week. These include updates about talk show appearances by the film’s cast, as well as when four of the previous movies in the series will be airing on TV. You can subscribe to BlakeOnline’s Twitter updates by clicking here to get Harry-related hoopla and more delivered to your Twitter homepage.

By Blake; posted July 10, 2009. All images © Warner Bros.

Theme Park Headlines – Patriotism and Tragedy

July 8, 2009
Image © Disney.

1,000 new American citizens, an Animatronics version of President Obama, and a tragic monorail accident were among the occurrences of Walt Disney World’s Independence Day week 2009.

By Blake

Originally posted July 8, 2009.

The Fourth of July 2009 at Walt Disney World will not be easily forgotten anytime soon, as a result of a series of completely unrelated events, some exciting and one sorrowful. There were some celebratory events, such as the welcoming of 1,000 newly-sworn-in American citizens and the openings of several exciting new attractions, though one particular tragic accident involving a monorail crash and the death of a Disney Cast Member flared headlines across the country.

One of the lead-ins to the holiday week was the appearance of an Audio-Animatronics character of Luxo, Jr., the lamp from the Pixar short of the same name. Luxo is found on a ledge above guests on Pixar Place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, near the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction. Although he made his debut around June 22 (which was followed by coverage on LaughingPlace.com), StitchKingdom.com’s Twitter updates are now reporting that Luxo is currently not making appearances, but will resume doing so soon. When he’s out, Luxo appears every 15 minutes and interacts with guests in addition to participating in some creative antics.

Luxo, Jr. has made his debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Image © Disney/Pixar.

On June 29 at the Magic Kingdom, The Pirates League officially opened in Adventureland. Similar to how Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique features princess makeovers, The Pirates League is all about pirate makeovers. Guests may choose from a selection of assorted packages, all of which are listed at WDWNews.com. Like Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, the makeovers are a bit pricey, the least expensive package being $49.95 plus tax. Coverage of The Pirates League can be seen on AllEars.net, DISUnplugged.com, and StitchKingdom.com. However, if guests would rather not have an all-out makeover but are still looking for a unique Disney hairdo experience, they’d be better off at the less expensive Harmony Barber Shop on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A.

Moving on, sometime over the course of last week (though I seem to find contradictory opening dates – a preview was held on June 28 nonetheless), The Hall of Presidents re-opened from its extensive refurbishment with major new additions. It has a new subtitle, making its full name The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders. Among the changes are the inclusion of Morgan Freeman as narrator, Abraham Lincoln giving The Gettysburg Address, George Washington speaking (he previously did not), and the addition of Barack Obama to the lineup of presidents presented as Audio-Animatronics. Pictures of the newly re-opened attraction can be seen at AllEars.net (beware of spoilers, though!).

On July 3, also in the Magic Kingdom, 1,000 people were sworn in and officially became United States citizens. Broadcasted live on CNN, the ceremony took place in front of Cinderella Castle with the help of Mickey Mouse (dressed in patriotic attire), Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, actor Andy Garcia, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After they gave the Oath of Allegiance, the new citizens experienced The Hall of Presidents. Coverage of the event can be seen at StitchKingdom.com.

That evening, Magic Kingdom held a performance of a special Independence Day fireworks presentation titled Celebrate America. On Independence Day itself, July 4, another performance of the show was held. Also on July 4, Epcot’s IllumiNations had a special holiday finale, while Disney’s Hollywood Studios had its own patriotic fireworks show.

A special Indpendence Day fireworks show, Celebrate America, was held at Magic Kingdom on July 3 and July 4, 2009. Image © Disney.

Early morning on Sunday, July 5, the mood changed significantly as two monorails collided. The crash tragically killed 21-year-old Cast Member Austin Wuennenberg. The Epcot monorail system closed for the day, re-opening the afternoon of July 6 with additional safety precautions. It is definitely sorrowful that something like this happened, though hopefully nothing like it will occur again. BlakeOnline sends prayers and thoughts to friends and family of Wuennenberg as they cope with their loss.

The Independence Day week events continued as a new Princess Diana exhibit titled Diana: The People’s Princess opened on July 7 at Downtown Disney. Although guests may enter Downtown Disney itself for free, admission into the Princess Diana exhibit is $5.00 for children through age 9 and $14.50 for ages 10 and up.

Diana: The People’s Princess, a new exhibit about Princess Diana, is now open at Downtown Disney. Image © Disney.

With all of that activity going on, it certainly was quite a hectic Independence Day at Walt Disney World this year. Luxo, Jr., The Pirates League, The Hall of Presidents, the many new American citizens, the special fireworks shows, and Diana: The People’s Princess were all causes of celebration while the tragic monorail accident was definitely a mournful event.

By Blake; posted July 8, 2009. All images © Disney. Pixar Animation Studios logo © Disney/Pixar.

BlakeOnline Special – Imagineering “Blue Sky” Session 2009

June 26, 2009
Image © Disney.

It’s that time of year for batting around ideas for the Disney parks!

By Blake

Originally posted June 26, 2009.

Most Disney fans probably have at least a few creative ideas or thoughts for how they would tweak the Disney parks if they were given the opportunity to do so. If they were an Imagineer – a member of the part of the Walt Disney Company responsible for creating the Disney park attractions – they might have several rides or shows dreamed up and ready to put into action.

It’s always fun to pretend, and so for the sole purpose of just having fun, I welcome you to the 2nd annual Imagineering “Blue Sky” Session here on BlakeOnline. “Blue Sky” is a term used by Imagineers at the very beginning stages of creating new attractions. During Blue Sky, ideas are batted around and introduced for the first time, and concepts and stories are just getting started.

Here we go!

I’ve talked a lot about the changes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, but even more colossal than that park’s various changes are the ones being put into effect at Disney’s California Adventure in Disneyland. The changes began in the Paradise Pier section of the park in June 2008 with the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania! Additionally, the Games of the Boardwalk recently re-opened featuring classic Disney characters, and the nearby Sun Wheel was re-themed to Mickey’s Fun Wheel.

The surrounding area of Paradise Pier will continue to be the first section of the park that will largely be changed as part of the multi-year DCA expansion. Other nearby attractions are being re-imagined to be themed to classic Disney shorts of the 1930’s and 1940’s, which I think is just wonderful. From the looks of the concept art and attraction descriptions, the area is going to become somewhat of a simpler, more classic-feeling Toontown. Goofy’s Sky School (a re-themed mad-mouse roller coaster) will be based on the Goofy “How-To” shorts, this time with Goofy “teaching” guests how to fly, with a few unplanned diversions (similar to the storyline of The Barnstormer at the Magic Kingdom ). Additionally, the Silly Symphony Swings will be themed to the 1935 classic Mickey Mouse short The Band Concert, complete with dazzling new special effects.

Silly Symphony Swings at Disney’s California Adventure are expected to be themed to the 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert. Image © Disney.

Coming to Paradise Pier in spring 2010 is World of Color, a new water show featuring a hoopla of classic Disney characters in a spectacle that supposedly will knock the socks of its viewers. In 2011, Paradise Pier will become the home of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a new dark ride that ironically was supposed to be built years ago at Disneyland.

The California Adventure expansion is expected to continue in 2012 with new theming to its entrance, which will depict Hollywood in the 1920’s, when Walt Disney was first arriving to the city. Additionally, an entire new area of the park will open in 2012 – Cars Land, themed to the 2006 Pixar film Cars. The area will include multiple new attractions that sound very exciting, and the atmosphere will make guests feel like they’re walking through Radiator Springs.

Cars Land, themed to the Pixar film Cars, is scheduled to open in Disney’s California Adventure at Disneyland in 2012. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Although I’ve never visited California Adventure, all of these upcoming additions sound very appealing, and hopefully they’ll be introduced to other Disney parks soon!

As we “keep moving forward” and press on to Walt Disney World in Florida, as of right now, no massive upcoming projects have been officially announced. There are plenty of wild rumors going around, but nothing’s been confirmed just yet.

There are a few smaller attractions scheduled, though. On June 29, the Pirates League will open in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland as a place where pirate fans can come to get pirate makeovers, similar to the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique having princess makeovers. The Hall of Presidents is indeed expected to be re-opening with its newest member, Barack Obama, sometime within the coming weeks, and Space Mountain is supposed to be re-opening after a rather lengthy refurbishment in November, but other than those nothing very big is planned.

Space Mountain is expected to re-open in November at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

However, that’s not to say that I don’t have a few ideas.

At the Magic Kingdom, I like how Disney is continuing the Pirates of the Caribbean craze in Adventureland with the Pirates League opening. Although I certainly don’t think that the entire land should be re-themed to Pirates, I admire that Disney isn’t just letting the franchise sit there waiting for the next movie to be released.

As for character greetings, I think a Captain Jack Sparrow meet & greet would be extremely popular given how well his appearances at the now-defunct Pirate & Princess Parties went. Additionally, even though they attract very long lines, the Princesses and the Fairies would probably fit into Fantasyland better than they do at their current location in Mickey’s Toontown Fair.

Also at the Magic Kingdom is the show Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration over in Tomorrowland. The show opened in early May, 2009, and will have its final performance on Saturday, June 27, 2009. It wasn’t meant to be a seasonal attraction, it just altogether wasn’t pleasing guests and Disney decided to do away with the show completely. Which, in essence, I don’t think is quite giving the show a proper chance. If Disney were to focus more on Stitch and less on the dancers, put the show into the Galaxy Palace Theater (which was recently closed), and perhaps involved Mickey and Minnie into the plot (maybe something like the Castle shows?), I think Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration would be a better experience. Or if they were to focus on just the Stitch aspect of the show, which involved a computer-animated Stitch interacting and talking with park guests (like Stitch Live at Disneyland Paris), maybe that would be a better solution.

Over at Epcot, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure – somewhat of a scavenger hunt themed to the now-concluded Disney Channel show Kim Possible throughout select World Showcase pavilions – has been wow’ing guests since it opened in February, and Remy from Ratatouille has been enchanting guests with his appearances at the Le Chefs de France restaurant.

Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is a new experience at Walt Disney World’s Epcot in Florida. Image © Disney.

Some changes I might make to Epcot would include perhaps re-theming Test Track to incorporate characters from Cars. It would be a great opportunity to freshen up a classic ride. Though some purists might not like the idea, I think the concept of Lightning McQueen teaching guests what sort of tests racecars go through before they head to the track would be an engaging storyline.

Pixar’s newest film, Up, has dazzled audiences since it was released in May, and due to its success I can definitely see it being a candidate for future theme park presence. But where would the film fit? Although it might work out in Hollywood Studios’ Pixar Place or in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, overall the movie would probably feel most at home in Epcot for several reasons. Firstly, flight is a component that’s important in Up, and it’s also an experience that would fit in Epcot’s Soarin’ attraction, though I’m not sure how Up’s characters or story would work into that ride. A more appropriate addition would be some sort of South America pavilion in World Showcase, featuring a version of Paradise Falls (a setting from the film), as well as some sort of dark ride themed to the movie.

The lush setting of Paradise Falls in Up would be wonderful for a South America pavilion in Epcot. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Enchanted would be wonderful if it was put on stage, and this park is an excellent choice to put such as show. The park’s Premiere Theater (which is currently used for special events) would be wise for the show’s location, as it’s right in the New York section of the park, and Enchanted takes place primarily in New York. Additionally, a Pixar Place expansion would be fascinating – re-theming the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure to an area based on a bug’s life would be appropriate, and a nearby thrill ride based on the Monsters, Inc. door sequence would be brilliant. Some sort of Bolt attraction would also fit into Hollywood Studios, though not necessarily in the Pixar Place area.

Another idea would be to refurbish Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D. Now would be a fitting time to do this, especially since Disney is currently in the process of re-launching the Muppet franchise. I don’t think the 3-D film itself should be changed, but some re-mastering and sprucing up of the footage would be nice. Additionally, perhaps some new pre-show or post-show elements could be added that would feature Muppet characters that weren’t around when Muppet*Vision initially opened (like Pepe the King Prawn). Some atmosphere around Muppet*Vision could also be enhanced to further involve guests in a Muppety area, such as bringing back the Muppet Mobile Lab (which had brief appearances in Disney’s California Adventure and Epcot) or adding some Muppet character greetings.

A refurbishment of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be great timing with Disney’s current re-launch of the Muppet franchise. Image © Disney.

Lastly, trekking over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I think the only area that needs a little work is the Dino-Rama! section of DinoLand U.S.A. The atmosphere’s storyline doesn’t come across very straightforward to guests, though the rides in the area (including the fun TriceraTop Spin and the exciting Primeval Whirl) are certainly keepers.

That concludes this year’s Imagineering Blue Sky Session! Feel free to create some ideas of your own. Get those creative gears flowing – who knows, you might just dream up the next Disney park classic.

By Blake; posted June 26, 2009. All images © Disney. Cars and Up images © Disney/Pixar.