In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Enjoy mac and cheese and help Give Kids the World on Aug. 23

Trying to decide what to do on Saturday, August 23? What would you think if I told you that you could enjoy mac and cheese (admit it, you loved it as a kid and still enjoy it) and help Give Kids the World Village at the same time? Yes, you can help sick children and their families and enjoy ooey gooey goodness too. Really, there’s no downside.

The O-Town MacDown takes place on Saturday, August 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Orange County Convention Center (West Concourse). It’s very easy to get to via 528 and tickets are available at the door. For $15 for adults and $10 for kids you get to witness the ultimate Mac and Cheese Showdown (see video below):

You also enjoy comedy, magic and music, as well as presentations by celebrity chefs, character appearances courtesy of SeaWorld Orlando, a kids’ fun zone, Mad Scientist interactive show, and more. Basically, it’s a perfect way to spend a family Saturday together. You can also peruse a variety of vendor booths. Go to the official website for more details.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That all sounds good, but what is Give Kids the World?” I’m glad you asked! It’s one of my favorite charities, and the video below should give you some idea about how gravely ill children and their families get to enjoy dream vacations that take their minds off their problems for a little while:

It’s truly a magical place, and all it takes to help is to hit up the O-Town MacDown tomorrow and let your kids and your own inner child run wild.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Night of Joy brings best Christian artists to the Magic Kingdom

18I love events like the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, and I had a blast at Frozen Summer over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. I’m looking forward to Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas parties, but in the meantime there’s another event that I eagerly anticipate each September: Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom.

What is Night of Joy? If you’re not a Christian music fan, you might have no idea. However, if you’re like me and love bands and artists like Casting Crowns, Matthew West, Mercy Me, TobyMac, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Building 429, you know that you can see many of this big names live over the two-night span of this event.

This year, many of the aforementioned artists will be at the Magic Kingdom on September 5 and 6 at the after-hours event. Yes, many of the rides are open, too, but I never have time to even think about taking a spin on Space Mountain because I’m always busily plotting which artists I want to see and how to get to the appropriate stage. Shows run simultaneously on two stages in Tomorrowland and the main stage in front of Cinderella Castle, so you have to pick and choose.

Here’s this year’s schedule (you can buy a one- or two-night ticket):

September 5, 2014

  • Hillsong United
  • Chris Tomlin
  • Matthew West
  • for KING & COUNTRY
  • Mandisa
  • Building 429
  • Matt Maher
  • The Neverclaim

September 6, 2014

  • Skillet
  • Casting Crowns
  • Mercy Me
  • Britt Nicole
  • Israel Houghton & New Breed
  • Colton Dixon
  • Rhett Walker Band
  • We As Human
  • 1 Girl Nation

If you’d like a flavor of what Night of Joy is all about, here’s a video overview from last year:

I’m pleased that Matthew West is returning (and it’s his first year on the main stage), as his show is always a riot. Check of this video in which he performs the “Night of Joy Theme Song”:

The music itself is powerful, as are the artists’ personal testimonies. The atmosphere of fellowship leaves you feeling recharged, even if you stay until the very end and leave at 1 a.m. Z88.3 is the fixture on my radio dial, and I love seeing my favorite bands in person each fall after listening to them all year. If you’d like a chance to win tickets, the station is running a giveaway through August 29 that you can read about here.

The weather was a little soggy last year, but the Florida weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Hopefully this year the rain will stay away completely and the two nights will be packed with power and as amazing as always.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.

An amazing SeaWorld experience: meeting animals and working with a sea lion

15I love SeaWorld Orlando. Despite what the Blackfish crowd would have you believe, the animals are well taken care and trained strictly through positive reinforcement. Although the orca show, One Ocean, is my favorite, I’ll admit to a fondness for the sea lions, too.

The sea lion show, “Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island,” ends its run this weekend after 15 years, and I had the amazing opportunity to bid it farewell by meeting several of the animal stars and even getting to play trainer with one of the sea lions (although the person getting trained was really me). I joined Clyde the sea lion’s trainer and participated in a bit that they normally do in the show, then got to shake his flipper. Being that close to a sea lion and getting to do a training interaction was a huge highlight for me.

Here’s a bit of trivia: even though I met “Clyde,” there are multiple sea lions who perform in the show, and they all know how to do both the Clyde and Seamore roles. Pretty smart critters!

You can see my whole experience in the video below:

4As I mentioned, the animals are trained with positive reinforcement. They’re never starved or forced to perform, so how exactly do the SeaWorld trainers get them to do all the amazing behaviors you see in a typical show?

The answer is pretty simple, although it requires a lot of patience. They gain the animals’ trust and teach them to touch a target pole. That simple initial behavior is then used to teach them where to go and what to do for more complex routines.

Food is just one reward for doing a behavior correctly, as many of the animals prefer things like ice, rubdowns or other forms of attention since they’re already well fed. Each of the animals has its own personality, likes, and dislikes, so the rewards are individualized.

If you’d like a more in-depth explanation and demonstration, check out the video below. It has a sea lion training demonstration with the target pole, and you also see how trainers use relationships to strengthen their bond with the animals. You’ll also hear an interesting question and answer session:

The sea lions are the obvious stars of the Clyde and Seamore show, but it features other animals, too. The video below shows one of the very talented walruses showing off a wide range of behaviors. She’s 2200 pounds, so there’s no way you can force her into doing anything. Like the other SeaWorld animals, she was trained through patience and rewards. If you wonder how the animals are punished, it’s in the same manner as a parent giving a child a time out. Bad behaviors are ignored and good behaviors are reinforced. Naturally, the animals want the reward, so they stop doing things that don’t earn any attention and repeat the behaviors that gain attention. Here’s the walrus video:

There’s a third type of critter that stars in Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, and it has the market cornered on cuteness. In the video below, you’ll meet Opie the Otter. This furry little show stealer actually steals the show quite literally, nabbing the pirate treasure map. Unlike sea lions and walruses, otters have very short attention spans, so Opie’s role is short and centered around natural, high energy otter behaviors.

You don’t have to worry that the critters’ performances will be gone for good after the current show closes this Sunday. There’s an all-new show in the works that will debut in 2015.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Join me behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil La Nouba (and you can go behind the curtain too)

Cirque du Soleil has featured La Nouba at Downtown Disney since 1998. You can’t miss the distinctive “tent” rising up on the West Side and beckoning tourists and locals alike to come and see the show. As a local, I’ve seen it many times over the years, and I love the fact that they keep it fresh by rotating acts and performers. For example, the clown team of Pablo and Pablo recently took over as the opening act, as well as a bridge between the show scenes. I promise you won’t be able to stifle your laughter as they do their crazy pinata play prior to the show. Just be sure to get to your seats at least 15 minutes ahead of time so you won’t miss out on the fun.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Pablo and Pablo, as well as singer Selloane (another thing I love about all Cirque shows is that they have live music, with a a band and singers), and I also had the privilege of getting a peek behind the scenes. Check out the video below to meet the performers, see part of the trapeze rehearsal, and see some of the backstage areas:

I had to compress the video into three minutes, and it was so hard to pick out the highlights. One was most definitely looking through the grid straight down 70 feet to the stage below. I also enjoyed seeing the lifts that are used extensively throughout the performances and the large costume shop. However, my favorite part was talking to the performers. You only see abbreviated clips in the video with Selloane and the two Pablos, but take it from me, their energy is incredible, and it really shines in the shows.

If you’ve never seen La Nouba or any Cirque du Soleil show, it’s a bit hard to describe. Yes, it’s a circus in the sense that it features clowns, acrobats, and a talented troupe that performs fast-paced eclectic acts, but it has a New Age vibe and the musical score is always as much a part of the show as the actual performance. I recommend seeing it more than once because there’s no much going on that it’s impossible to catch it all in one viewing. Here’s a La Nouba video that Cirque posted a few years back, so some of the acts have changed. However, it will give you some idea of the auditory and visual feast that awaits:

If you’re a backstage fan, the video below, from the Disney Parks Blog, features a behind-the-scenes look at the aerial ballet:

The Disney Parks Blog also featured a quick overview of the show:

If all of these videos have made you wish you could go behind the scenes yourself, you’re in luck. Cirque du Soleil recently added a package called L’Experience that combines front and center seating, refreshments, and a gift bag of Cirque merchandise with a peek behind the curtain. You get to see areas not normally accessible to the general public, and you also meet a performer for a special photo op. My video was taken at a media tour, so your experience will vary, but it’s well worth the $250 per person for this special package and the priceless memories it creates. It’s available on Friday and Saturday nights for the 6 p.m. show. Call 407-939-7328 to book it.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, La Nouba debuted at Downtown Disney in 1998, which means it celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. I’ll leave you with one last video that shows a rarity: Mickey and Minnie Mouse visiting the show. It gets their seal of approval, and most definitely mine too:

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014: What we know so far

As a major haunt fan, I love this time of year because it’s packed with Halloween Horror Nights reveals. I go to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort as many times as possible each year…literally (I get the Frequent Fear Plus pass, which allows me in on every night but Saturdays).

Universal has slowly but surely been revealing details about this year’s event. The latest information, released late last night, is the fact that Alien vs. Predator is the latest franchise to join the 2014 line-up. Here’s the teaser video:

Meanwhile, if you haven’t been following along, here are the previous topics and teasers, starting with a Face Off scare zone based on the SyFy series:

And a From Dusk to Dawn teaser:

A few words from the Dusk to Dawn cast:

And last, but certainly not least, The Walking Dead is returning to Halloween Horror Nights for its third year. This time it’s just a haunted house without any accompanying scare zones:

I’ve met may of the creative minds behind this event, and they love the horror as much as the fans. Here’s a little clip with Mike Aiello sharing some insights on Halloween Horror Nights 24:

Hopefully all those videos have piqued your excitement for the haunt season ahead. If so, the event starts on September 19 and runs select nights through November 1.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.