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

Destination D Attraction Rewind shows why it pays to be a D23 member

You may have heard about D23, the official Disney fan club, but perhaps you’ve never bothered to join. After all, if you’re already a Disney fanatic, what can it possibly have to offer?


Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar.

One of the biggest perks of being in D23 is being able to go to the events. There’s a huge annual expo, but that’s not the only event. For example, D23 came to Walt Disney World on November 22 and 23 for Destination D Attraction Rewind. You may think you know everything about Disney, but have you heard it live and direct from the mouths of Disney legends? If not, you can have that incomparable experience at events like this.

I had the great pleasure of covering D23 Attraction Rewind and heard about what it was like to work on World’s Fair Attractions from the people who actually did it. I spoke to Jack Gladish, the Imagineer who brought Mr. Lincoln to life in groundbreaking Audioanamatronic form, and chatting with the likes of Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Jack Gladish, and Bill Sullivan.You can see all the panel interview participants in the photos on this page.

Walt Disney died when I was only two years old, but it was truly a geek moment to talk to men who had worked hand-in-hand with him at Disneyland and Disney World and on the World’s Fair project.

Bill Sullivan, Bill Cotter, and Gary Landrum.

Bill Sullivan, Bill Cotter, and Gary Landrum.

The event also featured memorabilia from the World’s Fair like banners, records, Moldarama figures, and even an irradiated dime. It’s amazing to see those old souvenirs, many of which are very rare because so few were saved over the years. There were also figures from the archives like Figment, Mr. Toad, and a horse and pig from World of Motion.

You can even go shopping for goods straight from Mickey’s of Glendale at the pop-up store. Just be warned of two important things. First, the wait to get in, and then to check out, will be long. Second, if you’re a true Disney fanatic, your credit card will be red hot and smoking by the time you leave.

Photos and video aren’t allowed in the presentations, so the only way to see them is to actually attend the event. You’ll hear personal stories of working with Walt, see rare archive photos and videos, and hear recordings. I especially loved the concept art for what might have been at the Coke pavilion if the soft drink company had taken Disney up on its ideas…which bear a very close resemblance to what became the Enchanted Tiki Room. Speaking of the World’s Fair, did you know that it was due to Joan Crawford’s pressure that Pepsi stuck with sponsoring It’s a Small World?

Jack Gladish and Michael Kelley.

Jack Gladish and Michael Kelley.

You might even see a never-before-released clip of an upcoming movie. In this case, it was a scene from “Tomorrowland,” accompanied by a fascinating talk by art director Ramsey Avery on the intricacies of the film’s set design and the challenges of recreating the 1964/65 World’s Fair. I was shocked that that part was almost filmed in Kissimmee, at the Tupperware World Headquarters! Amazingly, there was little to go on in terms of photos of the fair and even plans for Disney’s own attractions. The movie had to wing it with the boats for It’s a Small World by using information on two later incarnations.

I also heard stories that personalized Walt as a warm human being, not just a larger than life personality. You’ve got to love a man who had a bar stashed away under one of the seats of his private plane!

If the ability to attend events like this sounds enticing, visit the official D23 website for more details on how to join. There’s a free membership if you’d like to dip in your toes, or go for the Gold if you’re ready to plunge right into the pool.

Ramsey Avery.

Ramsey Avery.

D23 press conference videos highlight archives, future of D23

The D23 Destination D Attraction Rewind event kicked into high gear today, but Friday featured two fascinating press conferences for fans of all things Disney.

The first was a chat with Becky Cline, Director Director of the Walt Disney Archives. Several archived items are on display at the event, and she talked about those treasures, as well as some of the other pieces in the collection and what it’s like to have a hand in saving and preserving Disney history. See it for yourself in the video below:

The second was a presentation by Adam Sanderson and Kristin Rodack of D23. They talked about the future of the wildly popular Disney fan club, including some membership changes. While silver memberships are going away, gold members will be able to upgrade to family memberships that give them the freedom to bring more family members to events. The duo also unveiled the 2015 D23 Expo art. You can see it all in the video below:

The event continues throughout Saturday and Sunday at the Contemporary Resort, highlighting the World’s Fair and beloved Disney attractions of the past (and some that have survived through the present, like Carousel of Progress). It’s just one of the D23 events that you can sign up for if you’re a member. There’s even a free membership level; if you’re a consummate Disney fan, check it out on the official website.

D23 Attraction Rewind is here: Yes, I could easily overspend in this store!

The D23 Attraction Rewind is now in town. It gets into full swing tomorrow (November 22), but I got a peek at the pop-up store, Mickey’s of Glendale, today, and let’s just say that I’m lucky I couldn’t buy anything at the sneak peek or my credit card would be smoking right now. Attendees were lined up in quite an impressive queue, and I could easily see why. There was a variety of Imagineering merchandise:




A great selection of Pleasure Island throwback goodies:





Small World goodies:


And just generally a wonderful selection geared to the Disney enthusiast. One of my personal favorites was the Figment shirt:


temp1Since there’s a “former attractions” theme, along with a World’s Fair focus, I thought it was especially appropriate to reflect back on my favorite Disney World ride of all time. Yes, I know Figment’s still there, but the original Journey Into Imagination was a work of dark ride perfection that will never be equaled. Yes, that’s my buddy Figment in the photo at right. He’s one of the pieces featured in the archive display that’s also part of the D23 Attraction Rewind event.

The D23 Attraction Rewind continues on Saturday and Sunday at the Contemporary Resort and Convention Center, so I’ll have more reports on the panels and presentations. It’s always such a pleasure to hear from Disney legends and those “in the know” about what’s ahead, as well as memories of what’s been left behind.

If you’re not a D23 member, you can sign up for free for some fun member exclusives. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Florida like I am, or near Disneyland, it’s a great way to stoke your Disney passion all year ’round and maintain that connection, no matter where you live.

Night goes fast at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Videos of entertainment show why

When I attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party earlier this week (it runs on select nights at the Magic Kingdom through December 19), I couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by. It starts at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight, and it’s the fastest five hours I’ve ever experienced.

Actually, I’m not all that surprised, since the same thing happened to me not so long ago at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (was Halloween really less than a month away?). Disney hard-ticket events are always chock full of special fun and entertainment, so it takes a bit of planning and juggling to fit in everything you want to see. I recommend getting there before the party starts (your ticket gets you into the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m.), grabbing a show schedule, and plotting out the night ahead with your must-sees.

If you’re not sure what you want to see, these videos should help you. Hint: if you’ve got little girls, they’re going to clamor to see everything involving Frozen, starting with Queen Elsa transforming Cinderella Castle into a glowing array of ice lights as the culmination of a special show:

Don’t want to watch the full show? (You really show…it’s worth it to see Olaf walk and talk). Here’s the Cliff Notes version, with just the castle lighting:

Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff also feature prominently in the Christmas parade:

There’s plenty of relatively Frozen-free entertainment, too. Yes, there’s a segment in the castle projection show, but it’s just one small piece of a huge mash-up of Disney favorites that has a holiday bit tacked on for good measure during the party:

And of course, it wouldn’t be Walt Disney World without fireworks. Watch them light up the sky in holiday splendor:

There are other shows, too, that aren’t nearly as crowded as the biggies. I always enjoy A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas because it features Santa Stitch:

Celebrate the Season is back on the castle stage, too:

As you can see, there’s a lot to experience, and this doesn’t even include shopping for special holiday merchandise, enjoying free cocoa and cookies (or apples and apple juice), getting photos with characters in their Christmas best, or just walking down Main Street to soak up the Christmas ambiance as you marvel at snow in Florida.

If you’re planning to attend the party this year and don’t have your tickets yet, get them as soon as you can! It’s already been selling out on many dates this year, so you don’t want to be disappointed.

Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic offers amazing cuisine this weekend

tempIf you’re a Disney fan, you’re probably already familiar with the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which continues through November 10 at the theme park. However, you might not realize that this weekend brings the fifth incarnation of another popular Epcot-area food fest. On October 31 and November 1, the Swan and Dolphin resorts host the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic, a two-day celebration of delicious food and drink.

If you’ve never visited the Food and Wine Classic before, check out the video below for highlights from the media preview. I was fortunate enough to attend this tasting of several of the featured items, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything I tried in both the food and beverage categories.

My special favorites were the pork dish, with sauce that made its flavors sing and the shrimp shooter, which makes shrimp cocktail as much fun as it is tasty. I was also hooked on the hot and cold bananas foster panini with vanilla ice cream:

Those items and many more will be available at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic on October 31 and November 1, with different items on each night just to keep things interesting. You can attend one or both nights and either buy tickets if you plan to eat and drink a limited amount or get an all-you-can-eat-and-drink band. I highly recommend the latter because it keeps you from having to make difficult choices. See two items that both sound good? Flash your band and try them both!

If this sounds like a perfect way to spend your weekend, you’ll find more information on the official website. I know it’s Halloween, so think of it as trick or treating for adults. Instead of collecting candy at doors, you sample adult treats like gourmet food, wine, and beer, and you don’t even have to dress up in a costume to do it.

The event itself is loads of fun, but if you want to round out your evening, sign up for one of the pre-event seminars. You’ll find them all listed here, but they cover topics like pairing cheese and port, creating sushi, making pasta, blending wine, and mixing your own drinks. Below is a video that covers the food-related sessions, which also involve alcoholic libations:

Want to go for pure drink? Here’s a description of the wine, beer, and spirits sessions:

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Italian wine seminar. I thought it would be a tasting, with moderate samples of each of the wines described. “Taste” meant full portions and generous re-pours, so by the time I headed out to the causeway to attend the actual event, I was already in a great mood courtesy of the Italian vinos. Here’s a video of the session, which is also offered this year:

This year there’s also a beer garden which you can enjoy for an upgrade fee. Check out the video below to see why that’s a good idea if you’re a beer lover:

The Swan and Dolphin resorts are within walking distance of both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, so it’s easy to combine a day at the parks with a night of indulgence. You can also just head out for the evening to enjoy the food, drink, live entertainment, and a nice view of the Epcot fireworks. If you’d like to stay overnight so you don’t have to worry about over-indulging, the Swan and Dolphin have special Food and Wine Classic packages.

If you’re a food and wine fan, or if you’re just looking for a fun way to spend the weekend, the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic beckons. Whether you sign up for a seminar before you hit the booths or just come out for a night of drinking and dining, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Night of Joy recap: Amazing night of music and fellowship at the Magic Kingdom

Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom is over for another year. It’s hard to believe that Halloween events are just around the corner, but in the meantime, echoes of all the amazing music are still ringing in my ears (sometimes literally, as in the case of the rocking shows put on by the likes of Building 429 and Mandisa).

If you’d like another little taste of this event before it fades into 2014 history as a new line-up gears up for 2015, here are some videos:

Mandisa’s high energy opening medley:

Danny Gokey taking the stage during Mandisa’s set:

Chris Tomlin doing Waterfall, which was quite appropriate for the rainy first night:

Building 429 performing Where I Belong:

Matt Maher singing Your Grace is Enough:

I only brought my video camera for the first night so I could relax a bit on Sunday, which means that I don’t have any songs by Casting Crowns. However, I did have the opportunity to hear Mark Hall share his testimony. You can hear it, too, in the video below:

It was another great year in a long string of wonderful Christian music festivals. There’s something spellbinding about hearing your favorite bands with Cinderella Castle or Tomorrowland behind them. I’m sad that it’s over for another year, yet already looking forward to finding out next year’s line-up when Night of Joy returns once again.

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 at the Magic Kingdom: A whirlwind of great Christian artists

tempNight of Joy at the Magic Kingdom is a September tradition. Its 2014 dates (September 5 and 6) both sold out this year, and that’s not hard to understand when you look at the line-up of favorites like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, Mandisa, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Building 429 and more.

Unfortunately, early September is part of Orlando’s rainy season, which means that it’s not uncommon for Night of Joy to also be Night of Showers. That was true when I headed out to see the bands Friday night but, like most of the crowd, I didn’t let a little rain get in the way of the fun and fellowship. That’s what umbrellas, rain ponchos, and waterproof knock-off Crocs are for.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet several of the artists at a special luncheon on Friday afternoon. It’s a laid-back time to chat with them and learn more about their backgrounds and testimonies. Then it was off to the Magic Kingdom in the evening, where Night of Joy officially starts at 7 p.m., after the daytime closing, and runs until 1 a.m.

There’s one thing I hate about Night of Joy…too many great choices! The concerts run on three stages simultaneously and overlap, so you hve to make some hard decisions. I was tempted by the Matthew West show on the main stage by Cinderella Castle, but I saw him last year so I opted for Building 429. I love many of their songs, but especially the ear worm “We Won’t Be Shaken.” Indeed, I actually was shaken by the power of the speakers as they rocked the house at the Galaxy Stage in Tomorrowland.





Afterward, it was just a short jaunt to see Matt Maher on the Rocket Tower Stage. The crowd was thick, but I found a spot off to the side where I could see him and the band performing under a canopy to ward off the rain and enjoy their powerful music.




Next up, I hustled to the main stage at Cinderella Castle to catch Chris Tomlin. Both nights for Night of Joy sold out this year, and the crowd most certainly reflected that. It stretched down to Main Street USA, with eager concert goers packed together to catch a glimpse of the show.




I was happy that Chris Tomlin led off with my favorite song, “Shout to the Lord,” since I couldn’t catch his whole set. I really wanted to, but Mandisa beckoned from the Galaxy Stage, so I had to hustle back to Tomorrowland. That stage has a limited capacity, and like Building 429 she played to a full house. I was exhausted just watching her and the dancers put on their highly energetic show.




As a special treat, Mandisa also brought out fellow “American Idol” alumni Danny Gokey to perform.


Night of Joy has a solid line-up of shows all the way until the end on all three stages, with Hillsong United as the big finish for Friday. Then it starts all over again with more great music on Saturday before things wrap up for another year. It’s a very long and busy night, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and prepare for a lot of standing and for possible rain that could run anywhere from drizzle to drenching. If you’re a Christian music fan, it’s well worth the dampness and exhaustion to see such a great collection of artists all together in such a magical place.

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.

Boost your anticipation for Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

tempAre you excited yet about the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which starts September 19 and runs through November 10? I most certainly am, as a foodie and someone who loves Walt Disney World. The festival melds those two loves together in a perfect marriage of visiting my favorite Disney park (with Soarin’, Spaceship Earth, Turtle Talk With Crush, World Showcase, and Illuminations, how can I go wrong?) with an amazing itinerary of food and libations. I’m lucky to be a local who can hit it up several times over the two month span, but many tourists plan their yearly trips around this event.

On Thursday, I had the great pleasure of sampling some of the new dishes and imbibing in some of the drinks that are featured at the festival this year. I also got to chat with Evan Rosenthal, Restaurant Guest Service Manager, about those drinks and to hear from Chef Jens Dahlmann about the amazing edibles on tap for 2014.

First, here’s Evan:

And now, here’s Jens:

Although I enjoyed everything at the preview, I fell in love with certain items. Here are my top three recommendations in no particular order:

Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider With Pimento Cheese


I know sliders are overdone these days, but this one is a welcome departure from the typical bar food. Yes, it will satisfy the meat-and-potatoes fan, but I loved how the generous sprinkling of chopped onions gave it some zip and how the sauce had a pleasant little bite without being too overwhelming. Yes, it has some spice, but not enough to scare off the timid diner.

Baked Lobster Alfredo


The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival team took another dish that tends to be overdone these days and made it into yet another item that I can’t wait to eat again when the festival starts. Lobster mac and cheese is everywhere, but this Baked Lobster Alfredo version is packed with sweet lobster meat that’s a perfect counterpoint to the cheese. Add in crunchy topping and you have a perfect comfort food that’s also upscale enough to fit in the festival context.

Roasted Verlasso Salmon With Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimchurri


I have to make a confession here. Yes, the salmon is sushi grade and seared to perfection, but that’s not what won me over about this dish. I absolutely loved the sauce, and the quinoa salad could easily stand on its own.

temp12And what about dessert? There are plenty of sweet treats to finish off your meal, but Barb’s personal recommendation is the Creme Brulee Caramel Fleur de Del. It’s a sea salt caramel crème brulee that’s substantial without being too rich or overwhelming. The flavor is to die for.

If you’re planning to visit the festival, get there early, and try to avoid the local crowd by visiting during the week. Even though the portions are taster-sized, they’re still large enough to fill you up after three or four kiosks. If you get there at lunch time, plan to stick around all day and do another round at dinner to maximize the number of dishes you try. You still won’t be able to make it all the way around the world, but you’ll get a great representative sampling.

If you really want to go whole hog, combine the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival with the Swan and Dolphin Food& Wine Classic, which runs on October 31 and November 1. You can read more about it in this post.

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.

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.