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

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.

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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The Chew airs episodes filmed at Epcot Food & Wine Festival this week

The Chew filmed a week’s worth of episodes at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival last week, and they air on ABC, starting on October 12, at 1 p.m. ET. Turn in between the 12th and the 16th, and you’ll recognize many of the locations, as well as some familiar faces like “The Festival of the Lion King” cast members and even Mickey Mouse himself.

The Chew co-hosts weren’t just on hand for the show. They also hosted the October 8th Rockin’ Burger Block Party, one of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival special events. There’s one more party still to come, so if you’re thinking about signing up, go here for more details.

The co-hosts met with the media after the October 8th filming (which was for the October 15 show) to answer a few questions. Check out the video below for their thoughts on food, travel, and more:

If you’d like to know what’s coming up in the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival episodes, here are the full descriptions, including guest stars. All of these episodes of The Chew should air at 1 p.m. ET on ABC, although schedules are always subject to change:

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12 – “THE CHEW’S FAMILY VACATION” Carla Hall makes a delicious Norwegian roasted salmon & ranch potato galette; Michael Symon visits The Land at Epcot to check out the center’s hydroponic gardening program and makes a meal with its vegetables; Mickey Mouse and Goofy stop by to say hello.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13 – “MAKING MEAL MAGIC” Alfonso Ribeiro (ABC’s “AFV”); Mario Batali and Michael Symon square off with their recipes for angel hair with Brussel sprouts, bacon and walnuts and shrimp Fra Diavolo over linguine.
 
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14 – “EASY FIVE STAR FEAST” Mario Batali visits Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant at Disney Springs, Morimoto Asia; Bellamy Young (ABC’s “Scandal”). For more on Morimoto Asia (HIGHLY recommended) and other great Disney Springs eateries, check out this article.
 
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15 – “TRY SOMETHING NEW!” Clinton Kelly and Carla Hall visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom; the cast of “The Festival of The Lion King” performs. This is the show after which the video interview was filmed.
 
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16 – “YOUR PERFECT PARTY PLAN” The perfect party snacks and cocktails; “The Chew” co-hosts stop by the Rockin’ Burger Block Party; a look back at some of the show’s favorite moments at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival from Walt Disney World.

Rockin’ Burger Block Party adds designer burgers to Epcot Food and Wine events

Who doesn’t love a burger? Better yet, who doesn’t love trying a wide variety of burgers, from a pan-seared branzino patty topped with pecorino cheese, blood orange, raisin, onion jam and dried proscuitto to a shrimp and scallop burger topped with spicy Thai slaw and cilantro lime mayo to a chicken and duck burger topped with butterkase cheese, braised pork bellu and sweet Thai chili sauce?

If those descriptions are making you drool, book a reservation at one of the two remaining Rockin’ Burger Block Parties at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. This event, which is new for 2015, is packed with designer burgers and all sorts of alcoholic libations to top them off. In addition to the burgers, there’s finger food and a host of sweet endings, like cinnamon roll fireball bread pudding with cream cheese glaze, snickerdoodle-crusted apple custard crisp, and Valrhona chocolate ganache brownies. As if all there weren’t enough, a DJ spins tunes to keep you entertained throughout the evening.

The two remaining Rockin’ Burger Block Parties run on October 8 and November 5. If you opt for the October date, you’ll meet celebrities from The Chew. The first party featured Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” Here’s his presentation:

Zimmern also chatted with the media, as you can see in the question and answer session below:

Want to see what you can eat firsthand? Check out this video slideshow, then call 407-939-3378 to book your spot. General admission is $99 for all you can eat and drink, and $119 gets you a reserved table. If you want to go all out, book the Nosh Pit for $199, with special food and drinks.

 

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival preview spotlights culinary delights

temp2The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is just around the corner, officially starting on September 25 and running almost two months before it shuts down on November 16, but I had an opportunity to sample some of the cuisine ahead of time. I’m always a big fan of the event, and this year, for its 20th iteration, I assure you that Disney has outdone itself to up the ante once again.

Some of my favorite items at the preview included the Mixed Grill Burger and the Chew-approved Seared Grouper. The burger features a fried egg on top, which appealed to my inner child who loved fried egg sandwiches. The grouper has a coconut sauce with a pleasantly sweet flair.

I also enjoyed the Scottish smoked salmon, which is served on top of a potato pancake, and the Tuna Poke, which was delightfully fresh and flavorful. Granted, you can get sushi-grade tuna at many restaurants, but sometimes it has that fishy undertone that lets you know it’s not as fresh as it could be. The Tuna Poke had no such issues, and I’ll admit I might have had two (or maybe three) servings.

temp4Dessert was a Bundt cake trio, and my favorite by far was the Drunken Blue Velvet with Cream Cheese and Sugar Daisy. At a time when red velvet is thorough played out, this blue version was a refreshing change, and I loved the treasure hunt of digging up the cream cheese in the center.

Of course, I also indulged in the Chew Lab Liquid Nitro dessert. It was a treat to watch as well as to eat, especially for a chocoholic like me.

This year the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival broke free from its usual confines in World Showcase to expand with kiosks in Future World. It has the usual seminars, presentations, special dinners, and parties, but this year features some new events and options. In the video below, Marianne Hunnel talks about some of them, like the VIP option, which sounds like a great way to experience the festival without worrying about the crowds or hustling to the Eat to the Beat concerts early to get a good seat. You’ll find full details on the official Epcot International Food and Wine Festival website.

I also chatted with Citricos Sous Chef David Barrette about this year’s food offerings. If you’re a fan of Disney dining, you know how wonderful Citricos is (it’s one of my favorite upscale Disney restaurants), so he knows his food!

The festival is included with your Epcot admission ticket, but of course the food costs extra, as do some of the presentations and seminars.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is fun with big bucks or on a budget

f8The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival rolls into town on September 25 and runs until November 16. If you’re familiar with the event, you know that it revolves around food and drink. Normally the kiosks are in World Showcase, but this year they’ve taken over Future World, too.

Technically the event is included with your Epcot admission, although you’ll need extra money to enjoy some food and drink. Is there other special fun you can take advantage of without paying anything over your admission cost? Sure! Here are some examples:

Marketplace Discovery Passport: Pick up your free passport and use it to help you plan your dining at the kiosks. Then have it stamped at each of your stops for a customized souvenir.

Back to the Basics: On Fridays, you can learn from the experts at informative talks on a variety of subjects. It’s a great educational opportunity, and it also gives you the chance to relax in the air conditioning. That’s a welcome respite in Florida in a part that’s name is often called an acronym for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.”

The Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog: The bog is back! It was missing in action in 2014, but you’ll once again get a chance to talk to growers and enjoy a free Craisins sample.

Eat to the Beat concerts: The concerts don’t require an extra ticket, and seating is first come, first served. See acts like Christopher Cross, Rick Springfield, Starship, and Styx alumnus Dennis De Young.

f9Of course, if you have some money to burn, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival also boasts some amazing extra-cost activities. Party for the Senses is among the most popular offerings. It runs select days in October and literally turns you loose in a culinary playground of gourmet food and wine stations. You get to enjoy live entertainment while you nosh and drink to your heart’s content. It doesn’t come cheap; admission is $169, or $199 if you want a reserved table. Want to go whole hog and have your own bar and artisan cheese selection? Pony up $319 for a VIP experience in the Wine Lounge.

With this year’s The Chew tie-in, you can also sign up for “What’s Cookin’ With…” and meet a celebrity chef like Cat Cora or Jamie Deen. The chef changes each week and this brunch event runs $129 per person.

You can find the full range of premium options on the official Epcot International Food & Wine Festival website.

If you’d like to try something a little different, the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resorts offer the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic for one weekend each year. This year it runs on October 30 and 31, allowing guests to sample food and wine at a variety of booths. That might sound a lot like Epcot, but the big difference here is that you can buy an “all you can eat and drink” wristband. That makes it a tremendous bargain because you don’t have to make difficult choices as you visit tempting booths with creations from the Swan and Dolphin Resort chefs and restaurants. The resort is conveniently located right between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

You can also start the party early with one of the special pre-event classes on topics like wine blending, drink mixology, and pasta making. They’re great fun, as you can tell by the video below. Full details are on the official Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic website:

Yes, you can spend a fortunate on food, but my downfall is also the merchandise. This year, there are lots of Figment goodies mixed in among the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival merchandise offerings. He’s even on the annual passholder’s T-shirt.

f7

That might be a good thing; I always feel like I gain at least five pounds each festival year. Now I can divert part of my food budget to merchandise with my favorite little purple friend.

Disney World has new tours, characters, shows and more this summer

Recently I attended a Coolest Summer Ever event at Walt Disney World where I got a whirlwind look at what’s in store this summer. It’s hard to believe that we’re moving quickly toward the busy tourist season, but the May off-season is almost over and the tourists will soon descend on the Orlando parks.

If you’re vacationing at Walt Disney World this summer, or if you’re a brave local who can’t go too long without your Disney fix, check out these videos for a peek at what you can do:

Tour the Downtown Disney waterways in an amphibicar (seriously, how cool is this? These are originals from the 1960s!):

See the American Music Machine at Epcot (talk about talent!):

New Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (this is on my must-do list as I’d love to learn more about how they care for the animals):

Meet Doc McStuffins at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (your Disney Junior fans will be so excited):

Teen Beach Movie 2 Party (just one more reason to head over to Typhoon Lagoon this summer):

99That’s just a quick sampling of what’s ahead, and Frozen Summer Fun returns to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year, too. Come on, admit it, you love Olaf!  I most certainly do, and I was thrilled to meet him during the Coolest Summer Ever kick-off.

The heat came early to Orlando, so I’m already feeling like its summertime. The Coolest Summer Ever event just made this official (although Frozen Summer Fun doesn’t start until June 17), so now it’s time to enjoy!