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

5 things I learned at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is a place for fun, but it’s also got a strong streak of education interwoven throughout the festival. You can learn about water conservation, organic gardening techniques, ways to attract birds and butterflies, and much more.

I’m an old dog who definitely learned some new tricks at the festival last weekend. Here’s a list of the top five:

1) What I’m doing wrong with my bougainvillaea.

Did you know that you can talk to a Master Gardener at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival? The University of Florida sends experts to the Festival Center, which is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Just walk on up and ask them a question about your garden woes. I’ve been struggling to grow bougainvillaea in a container, and it turns out that I woefully misinterpreted the watering instructions on the tag.

2) How to keep bamboo from spreading.

The Festival Center is also your headquarters for informative talks every weekend. I saw a talk by plantsman/author Jenks Farmer, who illustrated his informative presentation with colorful slides and a hands-on demonstration. I’ve often thought about using bamboo as a screening plant, but I fear its reputation for taking over. I learned about the two types (the clustered kind is more benign) and also how to keep the spreading type in check.

If you’d like to see Jenks Farmer’s whole talk, it’s in the video below:

td13) That bonsai trees go through the seasons just like their full-sized counterparts.

I know that bonsais are miniature trees, but I didn’t realize that they go through the same life cycle as their full-sized counterparts. A completely barren tree caught my eye; I thought it was dead but learned that it’s just a maple in its winter state. Soon the springtime will send it into full foliage again.

If you’d like to learn more about bonsai trees, too, check out the Central Florida Bonsai Club display in the Festival Center.

4) That there’s a special beer credential equivalent to wine.Growing up with a German grandpa, I developed a love of beer. It’s great that craft brews are a thing now and that Florida has so many breweries, as I love to try the many different varieties. However, I had no idea that beer has its own expert credential on a part with a wine sommelier: the Cicerone Certification Program.

I enjoyed a presentation by a cicerone while sampling the beer flight that’s available at the Smokehouse in the American Pavilion. Not only did I learn about the credential, but I also picked up some interesting facts about beer, including the full story behind IPAs. You can hear it all for yourself in the presentation below. The presentation isn’t a regular part of the festival, but the flight is available throughout the run of the event:

td25) That the oldest topiaries at the festival are the Fantasia critters.

I always enjoy talking to Eric Darden, who’s worked on the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival for 12 years and who’s already thinking about what Disney will do for 2016.

Chip, Dale, Anna, and Elsa are all new this year, but I was curious about the oldest topiaries still on display. He told me they’re the Fantasia critters, some of which you can see in the photo at right. Notice how they’re not as detailed as later toparies and certainly nowhere near the exquisite sculpting that gives Anna and Elsa their faces.

I love to compare how the older topiaries look quite basic compared to the amazing detail on the newer creations or all the different colors worked into various displays, most of which is done with natural materials. I love all the colorful gardens blooming around Epcot, but the topiaries are true works of art.

You can hear from Eric yourself in the video below:

What will you learn at this year’s festival? You’ve got until May 17 to find out.

What do Anna, Elsa, Chip and Dale have in common at Epcot festival?

1aEvery year at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival you’ll see popular topiaries return, along with new offerings. This year you’ll see four new topiaries: the fabulous Frozen duo of Anna and Elsa and the mischievous chipmunks Chip and Dale. One of those pairs is classic and the others are new to the Disney line-up, but they all have the honor of making their topiary debut in 2015.

It may seem surprising that Chip and Dale haven’t shown up before, and this year there was a bit of a challenge since they’re part of the opening scene. Look for him in the back, with the chipmunks wreaking havoc in poor long-suffering Donald’s garden.

Here’s Eric Darden talking about how important it is for the characters to be in their proper scale. That means that Chip and Dale have to be in proportion to Donald as they torment him.

1bIf you watch the video, you’ll also discover that Anna and Elsa owe a lot to Snow White, and not just for blazing the Disney princess movie trail. Last year, the team was charged with trying to create realistic features on Snow White’s face. They were up to the taste, and Snow brought a new level of realism to the Epcot topiaries that continues with the sisters this year.

It’s easy to find all the new topiaries, since you can’t miss Chip and Dale right in the entry scene as you walk into Epcot. Keep going to World Showcase and you’ll find Anna and Elsa greeting you at the entrance.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden show runs through May 17. Like Elsa’s magic at the end of her movie, it will give you a breath of spring at the end of a long, harsh winter.

Five things to see and do at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Show

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival returns to Walt Disney World on March 4 and runs through May 17. The name sounds deceptively simple…Flower and Garden Festival…but those are just two small components of a massive overall event. Here are five things you’ll find if you head out to the park this year to enjoy this annual celebration of everything green and growing:

1) Flowers

o7Yes, they’re first in the same, and you’ll find them blooming all over the park. Being a local, I love to come to the event when it first starts because even though it’s March, it feels like it’s officially spring. I got an early preview this year, so I’m already in a spring state of mind even though it was quite chilly as I checked out the colorful flower beds.

Did you know the flowers get changed out over the course of the event? Florida can still get cold in March, but temperatures often soar by May. Flowers that like the chill end up being replaced by those that thrive in the heat in some of the festival beds.

I love the colorful flowers by the water underneath the monorail tracks, as well as the pots that are actually out in the water, and I also enjoy subtle touches like the red, white and blue flowers at the American pavilion in World Showcase.

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2) Gardens

o9The festival is packed with gardens that will give you new ideas to take back home to your own space. Whether you live on unending acres, have a relatively small yard, or do container gardens on a patio or balcony, you’ll be inspired at Epcot. There’s a definite emphasis on water conservation and also growing your own food. You’ll even see a nod to keeping chickens and bees, both of which are becoming more and more popular in suburban and urban areas.

You’ll also find playgrounds for the kids in the Cars- and Monsters-themed gardens. Parents can relax while kids get a chance to run a little wild. I particularly like the Cars garden this year, as it has a lot of space devoted to cacti and other succulents. They’re typically associated with the desert, but many actually thrive in Florida.

Yes, some of the cactus plants have intimidating needles, but don’t worry about the kids. Those plants are safely tucked away behind a fence to prevent anyone from getting impaled.

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3) Topiaries

o1Topiaries are a mainstay at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, and they’ve evolved in amazing ways over the years. Once upon a time they were green bushes trimmed and grown in shapes that were pretty good representations of the Disney characters. Now their features have gotten more and more realistic, and green has given way to a whole rainbow of colors. They’re designed carefully to ensure that they’re a proper representation of the characters, right down to making sure they’re at a proper scale when they’re in a multi-character scenes. You’ll see that with Chip and Dale in the entrance scene this year, with the two little chipmunks tormenting poor Donald.

Of course, the big addition for 2015 is Elsa and Anna, and they’re really stunning. The same technique used to make Snow White so life-like last year was used to design everyone’s favorite sisters. Compare them with this rendition of Belle and you can see just how far things have come:

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4) Food

f1Food was added to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival a few years back, and it was a hit. The offerings continue to be refined, improved, and updated, and I promise you won’t be disappointed this year. Of course, I’ve never been disappointed with the food in any year, but this year features some returning favorites, like shrimp and grits, and tasty new options like burnt brisket hash and a fantastic quinoa vegetable naanwhich.

I had an opportunity to try several of the items, and there wasn’t a bad one among them. Everything is fresh and flavorful, in keeping with the festival theme. You may already be familiar with the versatility of kale, but if not, I highly recommend trying the salad that’s available at the festival. It’s a light, sweet salad that makes it fun to get in your serving of veggies.

f9Even though this isn’t the food and wine festival, you’ll find adult libations, too. Check out the Florida beers on tap and other options, like the key lime wine. The drinks are very refreshing, especially in the later days of the festival when temperatures start to rise. I’m looking forward to one item in particular, although it’s not exactly a drink. The kiosk by France will offer an adult version of frozen peach iced tea. I’m all about flavored iced teas, so I can’t wait to give it a try.

Speaking of France, you’ll also want to check out the delicious strawberry macaroons. If you need some energy to make it all the way around World Showcase, they’ll give you a proper sugar rush. Add some caffeine from the frozen iced tea and you’re ready for a full day of seeing and doing everything.

Of course, you can get macaroons at any time from the bakery in the French pavilion. It’s the perfect spot to stop in the morning for a bit of quick breakfast, since you can get there before the main part of World Showcase opens. They also have very tasty lunch options, and you can dine in the lovely ambiance of the Belle, Beast, Lumiere and Cogsworth topiaries during the festival. Here’s a strawberry macaroon to get you drooling:

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There’s also a moist and yummy tres leches cake and lemon tarts topped with blueberries, among the other dessert options:

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5) Concerts

Last but not least on our list is the concerts. They’re included with your park admission ticket and take place in the theater on the waterfront by the American pavilion. Here’s the schedule:

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Excited yet? Experience all this and more at Epcot from March 4 through May 17.

Night of Joy 2015 line-up is packed with stars

Disney has announced the 2015 line-up for Night of Joy, and the Magic Kingdom event will be packed with big-name Christian music talent. Here’s who you’ll see during the two-day event, which runs September 11 and 12 this year:

Friday, September 11

  • TobyMac
  • MercyMe
  • Jeremy Camp
  • Colton Dixon
  • Big Daddy Weave
  • Francesca Battistelli
  • Rend Collective
  • I Am They

Saturday, September 12

  • Skillet
  • Lecrae
  • For King & Country
  • Mandisa
  • Matt Maher
  • Jamie Grace
  • Seventh Time Down
  • Veridia

Night of Joy is always an action-packed weekend, with the biggest decision being, “Which performers do I see?” The shows take place on three stages, so you’ll need to plan out your night. Here’s a little flavor of what you can expect. First, Mandisa’s opening medley from last year:

And TobyMac from 2013:

The concerts are high energy, and the park is packed with fans who are out to praise and celebrate. You can read my recap of last year here.

Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but they should be released in the spring. Watch www.nightofjoy.com for details in the coming months.

Elsa’s doing magic at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom til January 12th

Elsa’s been lighting up Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom every night since Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party started in November, and she’s not done yet. The other Disney holiday activities have been put to bed for another year, but Elsa, along with Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf, is still on vacation in Florida and she’s not going to stop her work until January 12th.

You can see everyone’s favorite ice princess use her powers to ice the castle through this coming Monday. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the show (I particularly like it because it has a walking, talking Olaf):

Even if you miss her performance, she and Elsa will still be on hand to greet guests at Princess Fairytale Hall (whatever you do, get a FastPass+ to avoid the long waits). They’re a lot of fun to meet, as I discovered earlier in 2014:

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Given all their Frozen fame, the sisters have had a busy year at Walt Disney World. They also brought a chill to the summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a parade, the Frozen sing-along show, a local branch of Oaken’s Trading Post, and even ice skating and a snowy play area. Here’s their special welcome parade that ran each day:

This overview of the whole event features scenes from the show (yes, I know you’re probably tired of hearing “Let It Go,” but I promise that it’s actually a lot of fun, and not just for the kids…there are plenty of laughs interspersed with the songs):

You can still catch the show, but Elsa and Anna’s horse-drawn carriage and float moved over to the Magic Kingdom just in time for the Christmas festivities. See them in the Christmas parade here:

And if that’s not enough Frozen fun for you, remember that the ride in Norway is currently under refurbishment and will eventually debut with a new Frozen overlay, Hopefully that means the trolls will still be around.

Yes, I know that’s a lot of Frozen, but you have to admit that it’s still wildly popular. Eventually their fame flame will burn out…or would that be melt down? Either way, soon enough a new Disney hit will take its place, but Elsa and Anna fans are getting lots of changes to meet their heroines in the meantime.

Shhh, don’t tell anyone, it’s the slow season at the theme parks

As a local, I’ll admit that I’m spoiled. I don’t wait in long lines for theme park attractions. At Disney World, I grab a FastPass+ for a couple of my favorite attractions during the busy season, visit my park of choice for a couple of hours, then hightail it home when my crowd tolerance reaches its limit. At Universal, I go late in the day, since my Premier annual pass gives me Express access after 4 p.m. At SeaWorld, I arrive at opening time and head to the farther-back attractions while the arriving hoards are dazzled by the likes of Manta and do things closer to the front gate.

But every few months I get a real treat: a tiny bit of off-season time. The most notable periods are those right before Memorial Day and Labor Day, but there’s also a nice chunk of slow time right after the mad holiday rush. The crowds head home, their credit cards and energy levels depleted, and don’t think about another vacation for at least a few weeks. Meanwhile, I can enjoy Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando at a more leisurely and spontaneous pace than I’m normally able to do.

What are my top three favorite parks to visit during this rare period of quiet time? Here they are in no particular order:

Epcot

2You have to be careful at Disney, since marathon weekend falls in this period, but otherwise Epcot tends to be quiet until the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival starts in early March. The lines can be a little long in Future World right around opening time, since World Showcase doesn’t open until 11 a.m. I like to come a little later, take a leisurely global tour in World Showcase, then head back to Future World where the lines have typically died down to enjoy Soarin’ and Test Track a few times, then hit Nemo and Spacehip Earth on my way out.

If you’re a Flower and Garden fan, I advise coming out early in the festival. The crowds pick up throughout its run, although it’s fun to visit at both the beginning and the end so you can see how the displays change over time as the season gets warmer.

SeaWorld Orlando

1There’s so much to do outside at SeaWorld, and January weather is usually perfect to do it. The chance of rain is rare compared to the summer, and it’s generally cooler and much less humid. Normally a day at SeaWorld means working around the show schedule to make sure you get to each arena with plenty of time to get a good seat.

Lower off-season crowds means you don’t have to get to Shamu Stadium 45 minutes early or to rush to Blue Horizons long before showtime. That means more time to enjoy underwater viewing and the rides and exhibits like Turtle Trek, the sharks, and Wild Arctic. It also means shorter lines at Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, where you must do the ride to get to the amazing open-air penguin habitat.

Universal Studios Florida

3Actually, while I love all of Universal, my big recommendation for the off season is Diagon Alley. It’s still the new kid on the block, and as such, it’s wildly crowded at busy times of year. You can’t fully appreciate all the detail in this area when you’re too busy trying not to get run over by a stroller or otherwise trampled in the crowd.

Thankfully, the off-season lull gives Harry Potter fans a chance to take it easy and really explore all the shops, noting the fun details of the displays and the amazing architecture of the buildings outside. It’s also fun to buy an interactive wand and take some time to cast spells. There’s a line to do so during the busy season, but you won’t have to wait for other wizards to practice ahead of you when you visit in the rare lull.

There is a time when Harry fans will find themselves in the midst of a crowd. A Celebration of Harry Potter runs for three days, starting January 30, but it’s worth braving the mob to see exhibitors like Pottermore and Scholastic and attend panel discussions with some of the movies’ stars.

These are my own personal choices, but this is a great time to visit any of the theme parks. Just beware of the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, as students generally have a long weekend, which means a reprise of the crowds.

What’s next at the parks? Harry Potter at Universal and nice food and garden mix at Epcot

Now that the holidays are over and the theme park Christmas events are winding down, what’s next for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort? Things never stay quiet for long at the major central Florida parks, and both Disney and Universal have some big guns set to blaze in the early months of 2015.

A Celebration of Harry Potter

Universal already has Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley all year long, but they step up the Harry Potter theme January 30 to February 1 with the return of their popular A Celebration of Harry Potter event. It’s an exhibition for Muggles who can’t get enough of the boy wizard and his world. As you might expect, you get to see celebrities from the movies. Here’s a panel discussion from last year with Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), and Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan).

The cast was also on hand for the event kick-off, as seen in the video below:

It was a very chilly night, but that didn’t deter the massive crowd who came to the parks to kick things off.

In the exhibit area, you’ll see companies closely associated with the Harry Potter brand, like Pottermore…

MinaLima (graphics for the films)…

And Warner Brothers Studios…

One of my favorite parts was hearing Kazu Kibuishi talk about what it was like to work with Scholastic and reimagine the Harry Potter covers:

I also had the opportunity to attend a media Q & A with the cast:

There was even a dueling demonstration:

As you can see by the videos, it’s a total geek-out for Harry Potter fans. The exhibition is included with your park ticket, and I highly recommend coming early and making a day of it so you can be sure to see everything. It gets quite crowded, so you’ll need as much time as possible to catch the cast talks and see all the exhibitors.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Meanwhile, over at Walt Disney World, the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival kicks off on March 5. I always view the festival opening as my unofficial early Florida spring kick-off. I’m an avid gardener myself, so I love being surrounded by the colorful blooms around the park and marveling at the clever, colorful topiaries.

Last year, I got to go behind the scenes to see some of the preparations for the festival. Check out the tour and it will help you imagine what’s going on already as we move full speed toward this year’s opening in just two months:

The Festival Horticultural Manager, Eric Darden, takes great pride in his work, as you can see from this 2014 interview:

Of course, in recent years the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival has gotten even better with the addition of food…yum! Chef Jens and his crew make sure that the Outdoor Kitchen kiosks rival those you’ll find at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival later in the year. Here’s what he had to say last year:

I’m a big fan of the talks, demonstrations, and workshops in the Festival Center too (that’s the Wonders of Life Pavilion for all you old-timers). With HGTV as sponsor, the festival always features some familiar celebrity speakers. I had the pleasure of seeing Vern Yip last year:

There are local gardening experts, too, like the always amusing Robert Bowden of Leu Gardens. His talk is hands-on, and I still have the plant I potted at last year’s presentation:

There are Flower Power concerts, too, so plan to stick around and catch one if you’re an oldies fan. The concerts, talks, and workshops are all included with your Epcot admission, and you can buy a handy wrist gift card to make your dining more convenient.

As you can see, the first quarter of 2015 will be anything but boring at the Orlando theme parks. That’s one of the things I love most about living in the shadow of the mouse. I never have a chance to suffer from post-holiday depression because as soon as the New Year passes, I’m already anticipating the next exciting events.

A whirlwind Orlando Christmas, and it’s not over yet: Where to extend your holiday

Christmas is a whirlwind time in the Orlando area because there’s so much to do in and around the theme parks. I’ve had some amazing opportunities throughout the season, and I’d like to share them in this recap. If they whet your appetite to extend your own Christmas season a little, never fear. Most of them are running through the end of the year or even a little beyond.

One of the highlights of every year is my annual visit with the Grinch. Just as little kids look forward to telling Santa Claus what they want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning, I love to chat with the Mean Green One on his version of Christmas cheer. You know that you leave out milk and cookies for Santa, but what does the Grinch prefer? Trash, of course, but no kitty litter please!

He’s always such a hoot:

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You can still meet the Grinch yourself this year up until January 3 and see the adorable “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” live stage show at Islands of Adventure. The show is scored by Mannheim Steamroller, and they do live concerts next door at Universal Studios Florida each year. Unfortunately, those are over, but here’s a fun little tidbit from one of this year’s shows: the Grinch cast performing an abbreviated reading live with the band:

Mannheim Steamroller may be gone, but the Macy’s Parade remains at Universal Studios Florida til January 3, too. The parade is always great fun, and this year there’s a new wiggle worm balloon, along with the Chloe the Clown balloonicle. What the heck is that? Find out from John Piper himself, direct from the Macy’s studio. First, here’s what the inside looks like:

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And now, here’s more on the balloons and the parade from John himself (don’t you love his entrance?):

And here’s the parade itself:

It’s well worth extending your Christmas season to run over to Universal Orlando Resort. While you’re there, I highly recommend trying the new Cowfish restaurant on CityWalk. It’s burger/sushi fusion…seriously…and it is soooo good. How did that concept ever see the light of day? Let the founders themselves tell you:

I don’t have much space for food porn in this article, so I’ll be doing a separate one, soon. Meanwhile, here’s some fresh, delicious sushi to tempt you:

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The desserts are insane, too (one involves Nutella…need I say more?).

Meanwhile, Christmas continues over at Walt Disney World. Sadly, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is over for the year, but it was as much fun as always. Here’s a highlight reel from this year’s party to whet your appetite for 2015. “But it’s much too early,” you might say. It’s never too early, especially since tickets go on sale well in advance of the party and sell out quickly. I recommend planning now and buying tickets for your preferred date as soon as they go on sale:

Christmas at Epcot continues with the Candlelight Processional running through December 30. Steven Curtis Chapman is the closing narrator; I love both him and his music, but I have to admit that the narrator I was most excited about this year was Neil Patrick Harris, I know he’s appeared many times before, but somehow the planets had always aligned in a hostile manner that kept me from seeing the show. Finally, this year I saw him:

I’m sad that the Candlelight Processional is over soon. I love the live music and the stirring story of the nativity, but I know that technically Christmas is over. Still, things actually run all the way until January 4 over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s where the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights carries on Jennings Osborne’s tradition of amazingly excessive decor. There’s something magical about standing in the middle of all those lights and letting their rhythm and the sound of the music envelop you. Here’s one song to give you a sampling:

January 4 is also the last day for Christmas at the Gaylord Palms Resort, featuring the annual Ice! display. This year, Ice! is themed to the Nutcracker and, better yet for the big kids, it features an ice bar right in the middle of the display. There’s nothing like a literally ice-cold sampling of Johnny Appleseed to warm you up inside:

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Here’s a video of the entire display, including the lovely nativity that ends up every year’s display:

Ice! is just one small part of Christmas the the Gaylord Palms. Stick around for the Luminescence show, browse the beautiful decorations, catch a bargain in the Christmas store, and, best of all, take a spin on the alpine tube slides. Ice! is 9 degrees inside, but the alpine slopes are surprisingly warm, even though you’re sledding on real snow:

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SeaWorld Orlando continues its Christmas celebration all the way through New Year’s Eve. It’s the perfect season extending option for animal lovers. I’m a huge fan of the “O Wondrous Night” show, which tells the nativity from the animals’ point of view. They’re puppets to start out with, but their real life counterparts take the stage for the big finale. What’s it like working with four-legged, furry and feathered stars? Hear from their trainer, Joel Slaven:

I loved meeting some of the animals up close:

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Of course, I also enjoy the Shamu Christmas Miracles show because I love seeing Katina, Makaio, and the rest of the orca pod show their awesome power and intelligence. The talented skaters in Winter Wonderland on Ice wow me, too, but this year, I must admit that the thing that stood out most for me was the living angel statue. She was hilarious (and a bit devious, as you can see from the photo):

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Here are some highlights of the SeaWorld Christmas Celebration. You can still enjoy it up through January 31.

I love living in Orlando, even in the heat of the summer when the temperature flirts with triple digits, but I must admit that, next to the Halloween haunt season, Christmas is truly the best time to live in the thick of the theme parks. It’s hard to believe that the special events are almost over already, but never fear…like Frosty the Snowman, they’ll be back again before you know it.

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?

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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.