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

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.

When rain at the theme parks is a GOOD thing: How to take advantage

b5It’s most definitely summer in Florida, and the almost-daily rain storms prove it. Normally they start in the afternoon, but we’ve seen a few come in the late morning recently. Usually they let up, but sometimes they seem to hang on forever. If you’re in Orlando on vacation, that will no doubt make you impatient as you huddle under shelter in the theme park of your choice, wonder if you’ll pass out under the steamy humidity of your rain poncho, and wonder if the rain will ever stop so the fun can resume.

Believe it or not, you can use the pervasive Florida rain to your advantage. It’s something the locals all know, and tourists can use this trick too. Other people hate the rain just as much as you do, and that means many of them bail back to their hotels. If your family is prepared to tough it out, you’ll enjoy much shorter lines and a lesser crowd, even in the peak of the summer.

The first rule of preparation is to dress appropriately for the rain. Yes, those rain ponchos are uncomfortable, but they’re a necessity if you want to stay dry and don’t want to lug an umbrella around. I recommend wearing shorts with them; otherwise, long pants can still get uncomfortably soaked. Also, choose water-friendly shoes like Crocs or flip-flops (I personally opt for Crocs knock-offs on wet days). That way, you won’t be sloshing uncomfortably in soaked shoes and socks and developing a nasty case of blisters. Bring a waterproof bag to carry your belongings.

Once you’re properly suited up, get out there and enjoy the park! Just be sure to choose a park with lots of indoor attractions or rides that don’t shut down when it’s wet out. Virtually all outdoor rides are closed for safety when there’s lightning, but some can run in rainstorms as long as the lightning isn’t nearby. If you want to keep most of your fun indoors, places like Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios Florida are ideal. Even SeaWorld, with all its outdoor shows, has more inside attractions than you might imagine, like Antarctica, Turtle Trek, the shark exhibit, the Manta aquarium, and Wild Arctic.

If you don’t want to get wet, you can still use the rain to your advantage. Choose a day with a long, vicious downpour, then wait until it stops and head immediately to your theme park of choice. It should be nearly deserted, since most of the attendees will have fled the inclement weather. You can get in some good ride time before they return. If it’s late enough in the day, the crowd might never build again and you can enjoy the solitude until closing time. This is especially helpful if you want to see one of the hot new Orlando attractions, like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom or Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

I use the rain to my advantage all the time, and I recommend that you do, too. You can’t stop the summer rain in Florida, but you can make it work to your benefit.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of my favorite old SNL bits. This is the kind of confidence I want to have in my weatherman:

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.

Videos show all the Frozen Summer fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Recently, I blogged about my day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios enjoying all the Frozen Summer activities. After all, who can resist playing in the snow in Florida, seeing Anna and Elsa, and singing “Let It Go” for the five hundred and thirty-fourth time?

If you haven’t made it over to the park to see it all for yourself, perhaps these videos will whet your appetite and inspire you to run over to the Studios. Just about everything, other than the ice skating, is included with your admission ticket, so it’s a nice little enhancement to a park that already has fun rides and shows like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Muppets 3-D, and the ever-popular Toy Story Mania.

Below, you’ll find a full overview of Frozen Summer, which runs through September 1:

This is an event that you’ll want to tough out until the end. As you saw in the video above, it’s capped with an impressive fireworks display. If you’re hearty enough to arrive at park opening and stay until close, you’ll begin your day with a cute welcome from Olaf, as seen in the video below:

The two big shows are the Frozen Sing-Along and Anna and Elsa’s royal welcome, which combines a mini parade with a cute little stage show. You can see it in the video below:

Frozen Summer is a great way for Disney to integrate one of its hottest (coldest?) properties into its parks. Anna and Elsa already to meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom, but that park is always the most popular, and it also has the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so it doesn’t really need any other draws. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the perfect spot to act as the center of the Frozen action. In the video below, Creative Director Reed Jones talks about the event:

If you plan to make it out to Frozen Summer, you still have a while. Just hit the park by September 1 and you can witness snow in Florida, make your own snowman, and enjoy winter fun in the summer season.

A day at Disney’s Frozen Summer: Ice, snow, singing and sweets

b3“Frozen” is a box office phenomenon that remains wildly popular nearly a year after its theatrical release. The Anna and Elsa meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom routinely racks up multi-hour waits (hint: get a FastPass if you possibly can, but you need to do that early). Now the sisterly duo is spicing things up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Frozen Summer, a daily event that runs through September 1.

Nope, you won’t get to meet Elsa and Anna in person, but you’ll see them live in two shows, and you’ll enjoy winter activities that are pretty hard to come by in Florida at any time of year, like snowman building and ice skating. Just in case it’s been too long since you’ve heard “Let It Go,” you can get your fix at one of the daily singalongs.

I spent a day enjoying Frozen Summer, and I have to admit that it really brought out the kid in me. I arrived before park opening because I’m no fool: summer in Florida means massive crowds at Disney, especially with Anna and Elsa as an added attraction. Early arrival gives you a precious window of opportunity before the influx of humanity gets too overwhelming. If you plan to hit up Frozen Summer, I advise you to get there early too.

Once you arrive, you’ll get a cute little Olaf cutout that you can use for photo opportunities (and he doubles as a handy dandy fan, too). If you don’t get one at the entrance, they’re handed out at many kiosks around the park, too. As you can see in the photo below, Olaf and I managed to find Sven, or at least one of his relatives:

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Since I was there for rope drop, I had a prime spot for the little opening ceremony up on the main stage. There aren’t any live Frozen characters, but Olaf appears up on the screen.You can see the opening in the video below:

Then the rope goes down and the mad rush for Toy Story Mania begins. I thought that Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and the adjacent Frozen Funland might be crowded early on, but amazingly, it really wasn’t. I had no wait to step onto the snowy landscape and make a snowball:

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I watched the fun on the ice skating rink, although I didn’t try it myself. Instead, I headed next door for a little shopping at the trading post, where I got an Elsa Magic Band.

I was dazzled by the wide array of Frozen merchandise, from books to dresses to t-shirts to dolls and more. People were grabbing handfuls of dolls and toys (you can’t buy more than five of any one item). Thankfully, there are many registers for check-out so the line moves pretty quickly. I was able to use my annual pass holder discount, which was a nice plus.

b1Next on my agenda was watching the royal welcome, a miniature parade and presentation on the main stage. You can either stake out a spot early or buy the Frozen Package, which also includes special seating for the singalong show and a pre-fireworks dessert party. If you have limited time and want to be sure to get the full Frozen experience, then I highly recommend it.

If you’re not in the package area, you’ll want to pick a spot as close to the stage as possible so you can see it for the show.

Various performers head down the street, and Elsa and Anna pass regally by in a horse drawn carriage. Keep an eye out for Kristoff, too. After the parade, they head onto the stage for a cute little show, topped off with a pretty intense “snow” shower. You can see the whole experience on the video below:

b4By now, it was almost lunch time, so I headed to Starring Rolls, my favorite place to catch a quick bite at the Studios. I’d been drooling over all the delicious Frozen-themed goodies in Oaken’s, so I got an Anna cupcake (chocolate with butter cream icing) to go with my sandwich. The Olaf cupcakes are a nice treat too (carrot cake with cream cheese frosting). And yes, that is a bare butt cheek photo bombing my cupcakes at the top of the photo.

Next, I headed for the Frozen Singalong in the Premier Theater, which is just past Muppets 3D. The show has several advantages. First, it’s in an air conditioned theater than feels so good after spending time outdoors in the heat.

Second, it’s so much to watch all the little “Frozen” fans. The young girl in front of me was vociferously singing “Let It Go” as we waited for the show to start, and I was amazed that such a small child would know all of the words.

b5Even if you don’t know all the songs by heart, the words are projected onto three big screens. The singalong is led by two royal historians who tell a Cliff Notes version of the tale while Anna heads out to find Elsa. I was surprised at the amount of humor in the show. Yes, some of the jokes are a little corny, but I’ll admit that I laughed my way through it. All the best songs are featured, and “Let It Go” is in there twice. Kristoff fans will find him here, and of course Anna manages to round up Elsa for a snowy finale.

The third thing I liked about the show was that it wasn’t something where you have to make the kids sit still and quiet. Instead, they’re encouraged to sing their little hearts out, and they really do get into it. Heck, some of the adults were singing with as much gusto as the kids.

The show is presented several times each day. so get a schedule when you get to the park and work your day around your preferred time. You get to pick a specific time for your preferred seating if you get the package.

b6Being a lazy local, I didn’t stick around for the night time dance party and fireworks. However, I highly recommend doing so, especially if you don’t live close by and therefore don’t get an opportunity to run by spontaneously to see them. You can easily plan to spend a whole day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or to take the boat to Epcot for part of the day and then return for the night time fun.

Everything but the ice skating is included with your regular park admission. Of course, it costs extra to spring for the Frozen Package, but it’s well worth the money, especially during the insane summer season. If you plan to hit up this event, do it by September 1, as it melts into oblivion after that date.

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.

Quick Disney media event check-in: I rock my Disney side

I promised to issue full reports on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train event at Walt Disney World this week, so here’s  quick installment from the first night (if you missed my previous article, you can find it here). The festivities kicked off with a Rock Your Disney Side party at Epcot, followed by Illuminations viewing. The party was packed with delicious food, wine, margaritas, and other drinks, and some great entertainment. However, I have to admit that the Disney characters were a big highlight of the night.

There were many traditional favorites on hand, like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, who dressed up in their formal wear to celebration the 25th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

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Goofy was there to promote Blizzard Beach:

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There were lots of characters from the Festival of Fantasy parade on hand, but the “Sleeping Beauty” contingent is my favorite:

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Several Cast Members from Festival of the Lion King also paid a visit:

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There were even living statues in the entryway:

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But perhaps the best surprise was having Anna and Elsa sneak up on me as I was grabbing a photo with Olaf. I didn’t even know they were coming, and suddenly there they were!

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Disney definitely knows how to throw a party, and I consider myself very lucky to attend. Here’s one last photo to show how my night ended with a perfect view of Illuminations:

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Stay turned to “In the Shadow of the Mouse” for continued coverage, and follow me via @themeparkwriter on Twitter for live updates as we progress toward the dedication ceremony for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on Friday.

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 this week for a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train review from Walt Disney World

stickyWhen the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opens at the Magic Kingdom, it will mark the completion of the New Fantasyland expansion. The area already has attractions like a Little Mermaid ride in Eric’s castle, Enchanted Tales With Belle, and the impressive Beast’s castle, which houses the Be Our Guest Restaurant. While Snow White’s Scary Adventure is history, the new ride will bring part her story back to the Magic Kingdom.

Although it’s a family coaster, meaning the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will be suitable for everyone from Junior up to Grandma, it will still have a unique feature: trains that sway on the track. So what’s it like to ride this new attraction? I can’t tell you yet, but watch for my full report this weekend. I’m lucky enough to be attending a special media event that includes a preview of the brand-new coaster. I’ve got my “ticket to ride,” as you can see in the photo accompanying this article.

I’ll experience the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for the first time ever on Thursday. I’ll have a video to share shortly thereafter, but in the meantime, enjoy these five videos that were recently posted in the Disney Parks Blog to whet everyone’s appetite for the new ride.

First, here’s one on the design:

Next, here’s a visit to the construction site. It sure looks a lot different now, with the ride just about ready to roll:

Here’s an early ride-through rendering:

Now take a peek inside at the dwarfs and mine:

Finally, here’s a CGI ride to get you excited for the real thing:

Watch for a full report on my Disney adventures, which start on Wednesday. In addition to riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, I’ll also be trying out MyMagic+ and learning about all the good stuff coming up at the Disney parks.

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.

FastPass+ must dos at the four Disney parks: Grab these attractions

Now that FastPass+ is a thing, what rides should you grab when your booking window opens? As an annual pass holder, I’m at a disadvantage as I can only make ride and attraction reservations 30 days out. However, if you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can do it a full 60 days before you check in, as the Walt Disney World website explains. Either way, here are my suggestions for the FastPass+ ressies to grab at each of the four parks:

b7Magic Kingdom

Two words: Elsa and Anna. If you don’t want a multi-hour wait to meet everyone’s favorite princesses, this is the FastPass+ reservation to snap up as soon as it becomes available. Otherwise you’ll wait two hours, three hours, or possibly even more, depending on the crowd level. The second best option is a viewing spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade. Yes, you could go for a major ride like one of the mountains, but both Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain have interactive queue lines that give you something to do while you’re waiting, and most of the Space Mountain wait is indoors, in air conditioning. Waiting in those lines is preferable to standing out in the sun for an hour or more to stake out a good parade spot.

Epcot

Soarin’ is the main attraction here, although Test Track can get some pretty wicked wait times in the summer. Still, Test Track has a single riders line if your family is willing to be split up in separate cars. I’d rather get a Soarin’ FastPass and do Test Track as a single.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania or Fantasmic. Toy Story Mania has obnoxious lines during the peak season, and Fantasmic attracts huge crowds that become something of a mob scene. Granted, the Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster are also popular, but their wait time rarely approaches Toy Story Mania. Better yet, Rock n Roller Coaster has a single riders line, so use the heck out of that if others in your party are amendable to the idea.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

b6Kilimanjaro Safaris or Kali River Rapids in the summer. The safari is the signature ride here; you can usually get on with little to no wait if you rush to it early in the morning. Otherwise, just grab a FastPass and rush over to Expedition Everest instead. Yes, Expedition Everest offers FastPasses, too, but it has a single riders line, so that’s a wiser option if you don’t want to waste your precious FastPass allotment. However, if you’re visiting in the dead of summer, opt for Kali River Rapids instead. The line gets very long as people seek a good soaking to cool down in the vicious Florida heat.

Those are my personal suggestions. Sure, there are many, many other options, so work your FastPass+ selections around your own family’s tastes. Yes, it might be hard to plan something as detailed as your ride and show preferences that far in advance, but there’s also a big plus side. Once you make your reservation, you know for sure that you’ll be able to do the things that matter the most to you, even if the park is packed to capacity.

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.

MyMagic+ gets better on April 28: Park hop and make more FastPass+ reservations

temp31FastPass+ is the next generation of Disney’s venerable FastPass system, which savvy mouse fans have used for years to slash their wait times. With MyMagic+ and Magic Bands, guests have been able to book their FastPasses for rides. shows, parades, and even character greetings before they even reach Walt Disney World. Why wait three hours to meet Anna and Elsa or waste an hour staking out a spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade (pictured at right) when you can make a handy dandy reservation?

Only problem is, in the old days of FastPass, you could keep getting more all day. Once you hit the time frame for one, you could get another as long as there were still times available. Not so with FastPass+, which capped you at three and forced you to get them all for a single park. That kept you from the freedom of park hopping if you preferred to split your day between multiple parks.

Today company chairman Tom Staggs announced on the Disney Parks Blog that, starting on April 28, the three FastPass limitation will disappear like the Cheshire cat. You have to start out with just three FastPasses, but once you use them, you’re free to get another…and another…and another…until you don’t want any more or until they’re all handed out for the day, whichever happens first.

As an annual pass holder, I love the fact that FastPass+ is now pretty much in line with the old system. In fact, it’s even better because you can grab three rides or attractions in advance without worrying that you’ll get to the parks, hoping for an early time on Soarin’ or Toy Story Mania, only to get caught behind a tour guide getting FastPasses for his group of 200 via one of the old machines.

Better yet, you can park hop under the new system. Let’s say I want to grab three rides at the Magic Kingdom, then pop over to one of the other parks. As long as there are still times left for Soarin’ or Kilimanjaro Safari or the Tower of Terror, I can head over to Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios and extend my fun.

The only potential downside to the new system is that if you get one of your first three FastPasses for a late attraction, you probably won’t have much of a selection when its time to get your fourth. For example, if you book reserved viewing for the Festival of Fantasy parade, you’re tied up until 3 p.m. If your kids (or you) really, really want to see Anna and Elsa and the only available time is 5 p.m., you’re in the same boat.

As a local, I’m not too worried about those limitations, since I don’t have to fit everything into a compressed time period. If you’re a tourist, it will take a little planning, but you’re much better off having access to the additional FastPasses. Grab the first ones for early times if you can so you have the most possible freedom for the rest of your day.

Staggs says more MyMagic+ enhancements are coming, so stay tuned for future ways in which that cute little MagicBand can give you a smoother Walt Disney World experience.

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.

Don’t torture your kids at Disney World: 3 ways parents ruin vacations

The other day I wrote about things tourists do to annoy the locals, as well as their fellow tourists who have better manners. Today, I thought I’d shift over to the things parents do to torture their kids at Walt Disney World and the other Orlando theme parks. A trip to Disney is supposed to be fun, right? It’s supposed to make the kind of happy memories that your whole family will cherish for years to come. Unfortunately, sometimes it becomes the stuff of nightmares as the kids remember how Mom or Dad forced them onto Mission Space and yelled at them for puking afterward or forced them to stay at Epcot Illuminations even though they slept most of the way through it, in between sobbing, “I’m sick of all this fun. I want to go to bed!”

tempssHere are three ways I’ve witnessed parents torturing their kids on what should be a fun, happy, and carefree trip. They paid their money and, by God, they’re going to force the whole family to enjoy every single minute. If you’re tempted to try these things yourself, remember: someday those kids are going to choose your nursing home.

1) Keeping the kids up too late and running them ragged. Little kids are bundles of energy, but it burns out fast. They can be running at full speed one minute, then drop like a box of rocks the next. Fortunately, they tend to recharge pretty fast. Still, I see plenty of parents at the Disney parks who aren’t willing to give them that recharge time. They paid for a park ticket, and their family is going to enjoy every stinking minute possible at that park, from rope drop right down to the moment they’re forced out at closing time, with no breaks in between. I cringe at the cranky and crying kids begging to go back to the hotel while their steely eyes parents tell them to shut up and enjoy themselves, dammit! A good parent recognizes when the kids have had enough and takes them back to the hotel for a nap or bed. Yes, you might want to see Illuminations, but as stunning as it is, it’s just a musical fireworks, laser, and water show. Is it really worth spoiling your poor, exhausted kid’s trip?

2) Forcing the kids onto rides they’re not ready for. This happens at Walt Disney World, but I see it more frequently at Universal and Busch Gardens, simply because they have more terrifying rides like my favorite coaster, SheiKra, that towers at 200 feet. All but the most timid youngsters and those with the queasiest stomachs can handle most of the Disney rides. Still, I see parents forcing crying kidlets onto the likes of Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Expedition Everest and the like. The child is begging, “No! I don’t want to ride it!” and the parents are fluffing it off with, “Shut up and get on. You’ll love it once you do it.” Yes, that might be true, but it also might be a terrifying experience that spoils the poor kid’s day.

temprr3) Forcing the kids to see the characters. This one isn’t relevant to a lot of families because their kids absolutely adore seeing Mickey Mouse. However, there are plenty of little ones who are terrified at the sight of Mickey and his friends towering over them in real life, even if they love ‘em on the TV or movie screen.

But do their parents respect that? Nope, they want a magical moment on the camera, so they force the crying child to confront what, to him or her, no doubt looks like a nightmare creature. If your kid’s not down with the whole character thing, don’t force the issue. There are plenty of other great photo ops that don’t require terrorizing a toddler. There are lots of “face characters,” too, like the princesses, and they’re usually a lot less scary to the younger set.

The character thing applies to older kids, too. I get it, you want your tweens and teens in the family photos, but some of them really don’t want to spend three hours waiting for Anna and Elsa when they could be doing something more exciting. Don’t force them to waste precious time for the sake of a photo in which they’ll be rolling their eyes and putting on their most cynical faces anyway. If you have younger kids who want to see the characters, let the older ones do something else in the meantime. If you’ve only got teens and tweens, give them a break. Get a photo or two with the characters, but don’t force them to pose with the entire Disney movie catalog if they’re really not down with it.

Family friction makes great movie fodder, as anyone who’s ever seen the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” can attest. But in real life, when you visit Walt Disney World you’re making memories that will last a lifetime. Before you force your kids into something that induces tears, ask yourself if you really want that to be their standout memory of the “dream vacation.”

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.

Peeps lovers rejoice: Disney World Swan and Dolphin celebrates famous Easter candies

east1Just about everyone knows about Peeps. They’re those colorful, tasty little marshmallow candies that come out at Easter time. Granted, they’re now available for other holidays, like Halloween and Christmas, and they come in other shapes like trees, ghosts, and snowmen, but little yellow birds are the classics.

If you love Peeps, you can celebrate their sugary goodness at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. from April 16 to 23. During that time, hotel guests can meet the Easter Bunny, and they’ll also enjoy Peeps-related fun like complimentary chicks when they check in and special Peeps-inspired menu items at the resort restaurants. The goodies include Smores made with the marshmallow candies, milkshakes, and even chocolate-dipper Peeps. Look for larger-than-life Peeps decor scattered around the property, too.

You don’t have to be a Peeps fan to enjoy Easter at the hotel. Other activities include a glow in the dark Easter Egg hunt, Easter Egg races, and a bunny hop relay. On the holiday, the resort’s Garden Grove restaurant will host a special Easter buffet, and the movie “Hop” will appropriately be shown poolside.

Easter is just around the corner, so visit the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin website for more details or call 1-800-227-1500 for reservations using the code word PEEPS.

Obviously Easter is a fun time for the kids, but what about the adults? This year the “big kids” can celebrate on Halloween at the annual Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic, which takes place on October 31 and November 1. It’s an extravaganza of food and drink, with dining and beverage booths, wine tastings, and entertainment. Celebrity chef Todd English will be on hand (his bluezoo restaurant is a popular dining spot at the resort).

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I can highly recommend it based on my 2013 experience. However, I have to qualify that with the fact that I attended a wine tasting before being turned loose at the general food and dining kiosks. “Tasting” really means “consuming extremely generous and never-ending pours,” so my opinion might be just slightly influenced by my very happy wine-induced mood. The video below documents the Italian wine tasting, which is just one of the many tasting experiences offered at the event:

Locals can buy daily admission, but I strongly recommend taking advantage of a food, wine and room package so you can drink to your heart’s content, then crash in comfort when you finally reach your limit. It’s also a great headquarters for a general Walt Disney World vacation, since the resort is convenient located between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You can take a boat to either park or hike if you’re at the Food and Wine Classic and need to burn off all those extra calories that I guarantee you’ll consume.

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.