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

Top 5 first-day activities at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts

The rain couldn’t dampen the first day of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, the brand-new event at Walt Disney World. The festival runs Friday through Monday from now until February 20. I was there bright and early in the morning and had a blast until the rain finally drove me away. I still have a lot more to experience, but here’s my early report with the top five activities I experienced on day one, in no particular order.

Top 5 of Epcot festival fun

temp77The Living Statues. I love the Living Statues over at Disney Springs, and they’re now at Epcot for the duration of the festival, saluting the spirit of Future World. While I enjoyed all three and laughed out loud at their antics with guests, I loved the middle one most because he was drawing a picture of my favorite purple dragon. That’s a nice lead-in to my second list item…

The special merchandise. It’s very heavy on Figment, which is fine with me. I already have Figment all over my house, and by the time the event is over, his presence will increase quite a bit. There are t-shirts, toys, tumblers, and even a Figment scavenger hunt. He’s definitely getting some love at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts.

The seminars. I attended my first one today, and there are so many others going on throughout the festival that I plan to hit many more. I learned all about animation cells, both as part of productions and as collectibles, today. The seminar schedule is on the Walt Disney World website, and they’re held Odyssey, at the crossroads of Future World and World Showcase on the Mexico side.

temp4The Broadway music. I always enjoy the concerts at the various events that run at Epcot throughout the year, but the Epcot International Festival of the Arts has one of the best-ever offerings. They’re bringing Broadway stars to perform on the America Gardens stage, with three shows per night every Friday through Monday until February 20. The music, sung with a live band accompaniment, is guaranteed to give you chills. Josh Strickland and Ashley Brown kicked things off for the first night, with many more great performances to come.

temp78The grazing. Culinary art is among the art forms that gets a salute at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Bring your appetite and graze among the kiosks as you enjoy the visual and performing arts lurking around every corner. The food itself is artwork. The plating is so pretty and precise that you’ll feel bad ruining it…but your taste buds will demand that you do so.

Enjoy the Epcot International Festival of the Arts now through February 20. It runs from Friday through Monday, and most of the fun is included with your ticket, although you’ll want to check out the extra-cost offerings as a little treat.

Disney chefs show their artistry at Epcot International Festival of the Arts

pw2You’d expect the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, the newest event at Walt Disney World, to be all about the visual arts, like drawing and painting. You’d be correct in your assumption, but you’d also be pinpointing just one part of a major festival that encompasses a much wider range. For example, in addition to art exhibitions, demonstrations, and seminars, you’ll find a salute to the performing arts in the form of concerts by Disney Broadway stars.

As if all that isn’t enough, look for the Walt Disney World chefs to showcase their own artistry, working in the medium of food. Epcot is well known for its International Food and Wine Festival, and the Flower and Garden Festival added special culinary offerings in recent years, too. Now you don’t have to wait until spring to indulge in new eats. The art festival will have eight “kitchens” serving up artistically-inspired dishes. I had a change to taste several of them, so I can attest that you won’t be disappointed.

Learn more about the special eats at Epcot

Chef Gregg Hannon shared the scoop on the Epcot International Festival of the Arts food offerings to help you prepare your taste buds for the January 13 debut:

Best dishes at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts

art2Out of all the dishes that I previewed, there really wasn’t anything bad, but if I had to choose just one dish, it would be the mushroom and truffle risotto. I mean, come on, mushrooms? Truffle? Parmesan cheese? What more can I say? I do have to admit that the trio of croissant donuts were a big winner, too, especially the cheese and tuna varieties. The shrimp ceviche was light and refreshing, and the scallops were a real winner for seafood lovers. I loved how the food had ties to the artwork, and some items were works of art themselves, like the colorful sugar cookies with hazelnut filling (think a Pop-Tart packed with Nutella…heavenly!)

You can see many of the food choices in the photo at the top of this article, and you’ll get to try them for yourself at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, starting on the 13th and running Friday through Monday up until February 20. Stay tuned for more insider information to get you excited about the event.

Brand-new Epcot International Festival of the Arts debuts January 13

One of the best things about living near Walt Disney World and having an annual pass is being able to take advantage of the special events like the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Those are always two of the biggest highlights of every Disney fan’s year.

With two festivals that cover the spring and fall, and a holiday celebration in between, there’s not much more that could happen at Epcot, right? Wrong!

Brand New Festival Coming to Walt Disney World

art5Make room for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. This new event starts on January 13 and runs every Friday through Monday until February 20. The festival is an eclectic melding of just about every art form you can think of, from painting to chalk drawings to crafts to photography to Broadway music to other performance arts and the art of creating fine cuisine.

The video below contains an overview of the festival:

Like Epcot’s other events, it’s included with your admission ticket, but you’ll want to budget some funds to try out some of the extra cost activities and to try food from the eight different “kitchens.” For Figment fans, be sure to buy the Figment scavenger hunt kit so you can track down your favorite purple dragon in famous works of art around the world. It’s for kids, but you can bet that adult Figment fans (I’m raising my hand here) will love it, too.

Plan a Full Day at Epcot

art4There will be so much going on at the festival that you’ll need to spend a full day at the park, or better yet, make multiple visits if possible. You’ll want to stroll around viewing the artwork and catch the special entertainment on the Fountain Stage and the Broadway singers at America Gardens. You can easily graze on the special food offerings while you do that, since they’re in tapas style portions. The platings are a work of art, too, so you might feel a little bit guilty eating them.

Want to learn more about Walt Disney World’s newest way to draw visitors after the holiday madness and before the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival draws in the spring crowd? Stay tuned to this blog for articles focusing on each unique aspect, like food, live Disney artists, Disney on Broadway stars, and more.

Quick tour of what’s new at Walt Disney World: Frozen, Soarin’ and more

The Awaken Summer celebration is is full swing at Walt Disney World, with plenty of new attractions to draw in guests despite the wicked July heat. You want more Frozen? You’ve got more Frozen! How about a little more Star Wars? Sure, Disney’s thrown that in, too, along with a brand-new show at the Magic Kingdom. Even Disney’s Animal Kingdom is getting in on the action, with extended hours and new night activities. Let’s take a first-hand look at Awaken Summer and hear from some of the attractions’ creators:

Newest draws at Walt Disney World:

Frozen Ever After

If you like Frozen, you’ll love the Frozen Ever After ride that recently opened in the Norway pavilion. Even if you’re not a big Anna and Elsa fan, it’s hard not to get in the spirit of this creative and clever boat trip through Arendelle. The sisters also have a brand new spot to greet guests in their Sommerhus. It’s almost as much fun soaking in the queue line details as it is to meeting them. Here’s what Lauren Niederhiser of Walt Disney World Imagineering has to say about creating these new attractions:

And how about a ride on Frozen Ever After?

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

The Star Wars fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios just got bigger and better than ever, with the addition of new pyrotechnics, lasers, and a projection show. Michael Roddy shares some insider info. on what it took to put the show together:

And here’s the show, although video doesn’t do it justice:

Soarin’ Around the World

Soarin’ has outgrown California. Now it takes riders on an epic adventure around the world, swooping over famous spots in places like France, India, and China (and you’ll love the ending). Art Director Jason Grants talks about the filming in the video below, which also has a ride clip from this new Walt Disney World attraction:

Animal Kingdom After Dark

If you’re a fan of the new ‘Jungle Book’ movie, head over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for a limited engagement live show on Discovery River. It combines live performers and water effects to bring the most popular songs to life, as you can see in the video below:

While the ‘Jungle Book’ show will only be around until fall, the Tree of Life will continue to awaken every night, this summer and beyond. It has several different shows, with no scheduled times, so keep your eyes open whenever you’re in the vicinity. Meanwhile, get a sampling below:

And last but not least, it wouldn’t be Walt Disney World if Mickey Mouse didn’t have his own special Awaken Summer attraction. He stars in Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire at the Magic Kingdom, along with some favorite Disney friends. Want to know who? You’ll meet them all in this video of the show:

 

 

Take a sneak peek at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

The 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is a little more than two months away, but you can get a sneak preview of the tantalizing dishes coming to the park this fall by watching the video below:

The preview in the video took place at a special Tables in Wonderland event offering an early sampling of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival tastes. Not only did it cover food, but it also offered a taste of the festival wines, including mango and pineapple varieties (my two favorites). If you’re more of a beer person, you’ll find plenty of craft beers at the event, too:

And yes, the popular concerts are returning, along with Eat to the Beat dining packages. The only thing better than seeing your favorite artists right at Walt Disney World is having a reserved concert seat after enjoying a feast:

As always, 2016 is bringing a host of special seminars, dinners, and other dining experiences to Walt Disney World during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Some take place in the parks, while others are offsite at resort venues. You’ll learn about some of them in the video below. If they sound tempting, be up bright and early on July 21 because that’s when bookings begin. Be prepared to book fast because the most popular events, like Party for the Senses, book up almost instantaneously.

Spontaneity is Fine at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Of course, you’ll have plenty of fun even if you just come out to Epcot with no special event bookings and even no plan. Just bring a hefty appetite, have a budget in mind, and start grazing your way around Future World and World Showcase. Free, handy event passports are available at the front gates if you need some guidance as you stroll along, tasting whatever strikes your fancy. You’ll have until November 14 to nosh on all the goodies. Then the countdown starts to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival next spring.

 

 

Meet Darlene Love as she prepares for Epcot shows this weekend

Music legend Darlene Love plays at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival this weekend. The dynamic performer will take the stage three times a night (5:30, 6:45, and 8 p.m.) on Saturday and Sunday.

If you’re familiar with Love’s career, you know it dates back nearly 60 years, to the days of Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is also an actress, too. You may have seen her on the stage, but she’s also been on the big screen in all four Lethal Weapon movies.

Love talks about acting, singing, working with big names, and visiting Walt Disney World in the video interview below, where she graciously takes time out of her busy schedule to chat:

At the end of the video, you’ll see some clips of her high energy performance. That lady can move!

Love is one of the last performers as the festival winds down, closing out its 2016 season on May 30. Next week, see Night Ranger May 20 to 22, followed by the Spinners May 27 to 30.

The music is great, but don’t forget that the festival is packed with topiaries, flowers, butterflies, educational seminars, and much more. Make it out for one last weekend before the countdown to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival starts on September 14.

At Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, new acts bring fresh twist

If you haven’t been to La Nouba, the Cirque du Soleil show at Disney Springs, lately, you’ve been missing out on lots of new action. As of the beginning of this year, the show is 30 percent new content, including two dynamic opening acts. What could be more high energy than opening with break dancing? Here’s a taste of the B-Boys, who kick things off each night at La Nouba:

They’re followed by a talented husband and wife team who take to the air for an Aerial Bamboo performance. Meet them in the video below (I was shocked to find out that neither person in this talented duo is from a circus family):

The clowns Pablo and Pablo have been around for about a year now, and they’re still as hilarious as ever. Get to your seats at least 15 minutes before the official show time because you do not want to miss out on their crazy antics. Here’s just a little sampler:

As you can see, La Nouba’s new acts are all a great fit for the venerable show. If the videos whet your appetite to see it, check out show dates and ticket prices on the official website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructions

Cupcakes:

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

Isn’t this easy?!

Maple Cream Cheese Icing:

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

2. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar until combined.

3. Frost cupcakes and garnish with crushed pretzels.

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

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

Top 10 Orlando holiday activities

The Christmas season at the Orlando attractions starts early and typically runs a bit past New Year’s day. There’s fun afoot in and around the theme parks and on International Drive. Here’s a little sampling of all the Orlando holiday activities:

1) Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Walt Disney World has plenty of holiday experiences scattered around its four theme parks, but the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a must-see this year for a rather melancholy reason. After 20 years at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the lights are leaving permanently after the 2015 holiday season to make way for the Star Wars expansion. They’re drawing crowds to say goodbye this year, and if you’d like to see them one last time, you have until January 3 to do it. Disney’s even holding nightly dessert parties if you’d like to indulge in sweets and adult beverages while enjoying the lights and music from a reserved spot.

There’s more information on the dessert parties on the Walt Disney World website, and you can enjoy a walk-through of this year’s finale display below:

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