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

See the Willis Clan live at Raglan Road Jan. 19 to 22

temppThe Willis Clan is a family band with its very own TLC reality show. If you’re a fan of “The Willis Family,” you can see them live at Raglan Road from January 19 to 22.

Raglan Road, the Irish pub in Disney Springs, is well know for its entertainment, from rollicking live bands to talented fast-stepping Irish dancers. The Willis Clan takes the stage on January 19 and 20 from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and January 21 and 22 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Raglan Road’s convenient Disney Springs location makes it easy to visit, whether you want to catch the Willis Clan or just stop over for lunch, dinner, or drinks. The new parking garage makes it easy to drive over for a day or night of fun. Unlike the theme parks, parking is free, making Disney Springs and its stores and restaurants an even bigger draw.

I’ve seen the Willis Clan at all of their Disney Springs appearances. Every one of the kids, from oldest to youngest, it packed with talent, as you’ll see in the video below. Here’s their little pre-show sampler for the media:

Mom Brenda is the matriarch, and she joined the clan in chatting with me in the interview below:

Even the youngest family members can dance better than I could ever hope to! There’s no way you can watch this family perform and not be in awe of their talent.

If you’d like to see them, plan an evening at Raglan Road between January 19 and 22. It’s the perfect spot for casual drinks or a full-blown dinner. I recommend making reservations as it gets busy in the evenings, and the Willis family is sure to draw a larger crowd than usual.

Even if you don’t make it to one of the Willis shows, Raglan Road has entertainment every day, with bands and Irish dancers. Here’s the schedule:

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As you can see, day or night, there’s something happening at Raglan Road. Add it to your Disney Springs “must do” list if you want high energy entertainment and a tasty meal or a pint of Guinness in an atmosphere that just might convince you that you’ve teleported to Ireland.

SeaWorld Wild Days starts Jan. 16, runs for three weekends

jackSeaWorld Wild Days 2016 starts on January 16, which means that things are getting wild at the park…well, okay, wilder than usual.

You can see a variety of animals all year ’round, from sharks to orcas to dolphins to penguins to flamingos, and of course SeaWorld Orlando has a variety of animal ambassadors for close-up encounters. However, things get kicked up a notch during the annual Wild Days event, when each weekend has its own theme and focus.

The ever-popular Jungle Jack Hanna kicks things off on January 16 and 17, bringing some animal friends and sharing stories of his many decades working with animals. I had the pleasure of interviewing him this year; you can see our chat below:

Like SeaWorld, Jack is dedicated to conservation and is passionate about protecting animals and educating people so they learn to love the world’s creatures and want to protect them, too. That’s one of my favorite parts of visiting SeaWorld Orlando; although I’ve seen dolphins and sharks in the wild, I’ve never had the opportunity to see orcas in their natural habitat, so it always thrills me to see the SeaWorld pod. When I witness their power and intelligence, I gain new respect for their wild cousins.

Another SeaWorld animal that I’ve never seen in the wild is penguins, and they’re the focus on the second Wild Days weekend on January 23 and 24. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin is the gateway to SeaWorld’s penguin habitat, but during SeaWorld Wild Days, they get two days of focus. To get an idea of what’s in store, check out this video for 2015:

The final SeaWorld Wild Days theme is Sea Rescue, a weekend that focuses on the important behind-the-scenes work to help sick or injured animals. You might already be a fan of Sea Rescue on Saturday mornings, so Wild Days is great chance to hear inspiring rescue stories live on the weekend of January 30 and 31.

Most SeaWorld Orlando guests don’t see the backstage area where rehabilitation happens, but you’ll get a peek in the video below:

The SeaWorld Wild Days events are all included with your regular park admission ticket. Just make sure to visit on Jan. 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, or 31 and enjoy an added bonus.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival is just around the corner: Get ready with this recipe

I know it’s awfully cold outside, at least for Florida, but take heart! The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is just around the corner. One of my favorite things about the festival is that it combines all the color and beauty of flowers and whimsical character topiaries with some culinary treats.

One of my favorite goodies in years past is the Piggylicious Cupcake, with bacon to pucaket in the “piggy.” That might sound a little strange, but the bacon, combined with a distinct maple flavor, actually makes an amazing taste combination on top of the yellow cake. If you can’t wait for the actual Flower and Garden Festival, which runs from March 2 to May 30 this year, here’s how to make your own Piggylicious Cupcakes at home (recipe courtesy of Walt Disney World):

Cupcakes Ingredients
Favorite Yellow Cake Mix
Equal amount of bacon fat to replace oil in mix
12 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and chopped fine

Maple Cream Cheese Icing Ingredients:
8-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon real maple syrup, add more to taste if desired
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
crushed pretzel twists to garnish the cupcakes

Instructions

Cupcakes:

Follow directions for cake, replacing oil with bacon fat. Fold in bacon. Bake according to instructions.

Isn’t this easy?!

Maple Cream Cheese Icing:

1. Cream together cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy in a mixing bowl with paddle attachment. Mix in maple syrup.

2. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar until combined.

3. Frost cupcakes and garnish with crushed pretzels.

There, now, wasn’t that much easier than you thought? The cupcakes themselves are a breeze, and even the icing doesn’t take all that much expertise. Of course, I prefer my Piggylicious Cupcakes at Epcot, where I can nosh at them while strolling around World Showcase and soaking in all the atmosphere.

Watch for more details on the 2016 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival coming soon. It may seem chilly now, but the festival is less than two months away, so that means Spring can’t be far behind!