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

Long-Awaited Rivers of Light show now playing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

a113Back in April of 2016, I got a taste of a new show, Rivers of Light, that was in development at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. At that time, I saw the lotus boats and learned about the inspiration behind the show, whetting my appetite to see the whole thing that summer. Alas, Rivers of Light took longer to complete than planned, but it debuted on February 17, and I have to say it was worth the wait.

Nighttime at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom was long thought of as a half day park, but over the past year it’s transformed into a much fuller experience that draws guests in after dark. You can go on safari, where there’s a permanent sunset and many nocturnal animals that you don’t see stirring much during the day. You can grab a spectacular night view from the top of Expedition Everest or marvel as the Tree of Life awakens with a projection show (see the video below).

Beauty flows in Rivers of Light

Now you can add Rivers of Light to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom entertainment roster. The show takes place in a 5000 seat amphitheater on Discovery River, where I guarantee that you’ll feel chills as you watch the elegant animal-themed floats, the boats bearing story-tellers, and the waterworks that create a stage for Disneynature footage celebrating a variety of wildlife. I barely knew where to look, as there was so much going on out on the water, from fountains to lasers to shadow puppets. Disney even managed to work some impressive fire into a water show. It’s something you have to see in person, but the video below offers a little sampling:

I thought that Rivers of Light would be a good show, but I was unprepared for just how much I loved it. It’s unlike anything else at Walt Disney World, and as I watched it, I imagined how much I would love to see something like it at Epcot in a revamped version of Illuminations. Floats for each country in the style of the animal floats and water projections with the type of footage that’s now shown on the globe would be breathtaking. I do love the current version of Illuminations (especially the music), but the state of the art technology used at Disney’s Animal Kingdom definitely set me to dreaming about how it might be incorporated elsewhere.

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Getting seats for Rivers of Light

I’m sure Rivers of Light will be very popular this summer as word gets out that it’s a must-see at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so I’m glad there are a couple of ways to ensure that you get a seat. First, you can use the free FastPass+ system. Just be sure to do that as early as you can to ensure that you get your desired date. If you don’t mind spending some money and plan to eat a big meal in the park anyway, opt for a dining package that gives you a hearty repast as well as good seats.

I personally already have FastPasses to see this show again. It’s the sort of show that you want to see more than once to catch all the little details, and preferably from multiple angles to catch it from every perspective. Yes, it was a long time in the waiting, but the best things are worth waiting for, and Rivers of Light definitely falls into that category.

Silver Spurs Rodeo brings excitement to Kissimmee all weekend

qIf your only experience with Central Florida is as a home to major attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida, you probably have no idea of Kissimmee’s cattle country heritage and the annual Silver Spurs Rodeo. Along with oranges, Florida is a major beef and dairy producer, which you can read about on the Fresh From Florida website, and it has a rich history in the cattle industry. Given that background, it’s especially fitting that Kissimmee is home to the Silver Spurs Rodeo, the largest event of its kind east of the Mississippi.

Rich Rodeo History

If you want a taste of the action, the Silver Spurs Rodeo runs now through Sunday. You’ll find full details on the official website and you can learn more about the history of the rodeo in this video:

Events at the Silver Spurs Rodeo

Events include bull riding, bronc riding, barrel racing, team roping, steer wrestling, and more. Learn more about the fine art of bull riding in the video below:

An Insider’s View

What’s it like to actually be in the ring? Find out about the adrenaline rush here:

Every rodeo has its queens, and the Silver Spurs Rodeo is no exception. Learn what they enjoy about the event and what they’re most looking forward to in the video below:

If you want some thrills and chills that go far beyond the theme parks, head out to the Silver Spurs Rodeo this weekend and join in the fun!

Epcot International Festival of the Arts offers spontaneous fun

The Epcot International Festival of the Arts is brand new for 2017, and I’m already in love with it. It combines so many of my favorite things, like Broadway music, delicious food, and of course artwork by talented artists. One of the best things about living right next door to Walt Disney World is being able to spontaneous run over to the festival. It runs Friday to Monday up through February 27, which gives me ample opportunity to pop over for a hour or two.

What can you do if you, too, are a local who wants to take in The Epcot International Festival of the Arts during an evening when you have a little extra time? Here are the highlights of one of my recent adventures:

Broadway performers at Epcot

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The Epcot International Festival of the Arts features a rotating slate of Broadway stars performing multiple times a night. I was lucky enough to see Josh Strickland and Ashley Brown on my impromptu. I loved all of their songs, but their “Frozen” duet was by far the best.

You might be able to get a seat even if you just pop over to the park on a whim, but if not, you can usually find standing room in the back where you can still be enveloped by the music and also get a nice, wide view of the stage. I love the fact that there’s even a live band providing the music for these amazingly gifted performers.

1aaaArt everywhere around Epcot

With the Epcot International Festival of the Arts in full swing, you’ll find art all around the park, and sometimes even in unexpected forms and places. One of my favorites is the chalk art, which I loved when it was part of the Festival of the Masters at Disney Springs back when it was Downtown Disney. Now the colorful chalkworks pop up all around World Showcase, with the artists creating them live in front of the guests..

Even though the artists draw the pictures during the day, their work still remains at night for you discover as you make your way around the different countries. I just loved this example at the America pavilion, prominently featuring Lady Liberty. The effect after dark is so cool.

If you want to search out the chalk art at night, walk into the pavilions and watch for special lighting. For me, it’s almost like my personal treasure hunt. All of the artworks are lit up so you can easily see them, although not all have the same 3-D effect as this one. The pictures are all themed and styled to each country.

Dining at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts

There are so many special food options at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts that you’d have to visit several times in order to try them all. Here’s the scoop on a few of the options:

1aaaaHowever, I must admit that sometimes the regular Epcot dinner offerings draw me away from the kiosks. Last time I was at the festival, I ended up at the character dinner at Garden Grill in the Land pavilion. I enjoy that restaurant for so many reasons. First, it’s a sumptuous meal with seasonal changes, and the food is always so fresh and delicious.

Second, it’s served family style so you can try everything with no difficult decisions. The only problem is managing to save room for dessert.

Third, I love how the restaurant rotates through a scene from the Living with the Land ride. It just feels so “Disney” to me. And last but not least, you’ll see Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. It’s definitely one of the more laid-back character meals at Walt Disney World, with lots of quality character interaction. It’s one that I often recommend to friends with kids for that very reason.

Sadly, there aren’t too many more weekends left to experience the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, but never fear! If you miss it, the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival takes over the park on March 1, ensuring that there’s more festival fun all the way through May 29.

Free evening parking at Universal Orlando Resort means more CityWalk for locals

Universal Orlando Resort recently announced that parking is free after 6 p.m. While that doesn’t help you if you’re heading out to the theme parks early, it’s a boon for locals who want to enjoy the CityWalk shopping and dining district. If you’re not familiar with CityWalk, it’s the area that you walk through from the parking garages to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but it’s also packed with its own amusements.

There’s no admission charge for CityWalk, although you have to pay to park, even if you’re not going into one of the two theme parks. However, with the new “free after 6 p.m.” offer, you can head over for dinner and a stroll without paying a dime, other than whatever you spend at the restaurants and stores.You can also catch a movie at the theaters or play a round or two of miniature golf. The only catch is that it’s not valid during Halloween Horror Nights, which is a mere seven months away. It’s a real treat as a local to be able to hop in the car and head over for a quick nosh.

2yyyCowfish at CityWalk

I’m a big fan of most of the CityWalk dining venues there, but I do have three favorites. I’ve loved Cowfish ever since it opened, and it’s my go-to after a night of scares at Halloween Horror Nights or a general visit to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. Sushi and burgers are a winning combination, and I love their tuna appetizer and the decadent milkshakes that I always top my meal with. They have some great Bento Boxes that allow you to try a variety of good things all it one sitting, and be sure to customize your own animated fish while you’re waiting for your table or before you leave.

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

Speaking of decadence, that brings me to another big favorite: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. They have insanely delicious shakes, too, and a full menu that works in chocolate in creative ways. The bread is to die for! While Cowfish has the namesake aquatic creature swimming in a tank in the diningroom, Toothsome has its proprietor, Penelope, and her steampunk robot assistant, Jacques, who you can meet if you pay a visit. See them here in the media presentation from the restaurant’s opening:

NBC Sports Grill and Brew

Last but not least, if you’re just in the mood for a burger or some other good old-fashioned bar food and a nice, cold beer, the NBC Sports Grill and Brew is the perfect spot. I love the wide variety of beer; even when I’m not hungry, I’ve been know to stop in for a brew or two. Look at all of those delicious dishes in the video below that you can wash down with your choice of beer:

CityWalk has plenty of other great places to eat, but those are my top three. Now you can try them out for yourself without paying a parking fee. Just be sure to arrive after 6 p.m. and the parking is on Universal.