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:



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:


Halloween Horror Nights vs. Mickey’s Halloween Party: Videos show the difference

The two major hard-ticket Halloween events in Orlando are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. Both are Halloween-related, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The Disney event is a light-hearted family romp through the holiday, with trick-or-treating and friendly characters, while the other is all about terror, and characters like Jack the Clown are anything but amiable (although, to be fair, Jack commits his murders with a jovial attitude).

To give you a general idea of the difference, let’s do a video comparison. First, let’s look at Disney’s brand-new Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular show. Yes, it’s packed with “bad guys,” but in the upbeat Disney sense that’s very kid-friendly, with only brief moments of darkness:

Now, let’s take a peek into the Asylum in Wonderland 3-D haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights. Unlike the chipper Alice and Mad Hatter you meet in the Magic Kingdom, their counterparts in this haunted maze, along with other Wonderland characters, are anything but kid-friendly:

At Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, the characters are all over the park for meet and greets, many of them in cute Halloween costumes. You also get to see a huge gaggle of them in the Boo to You Parade, where even the Haunted Mansion ghosts are friendly. The only thing I find to be even mildly sinister is the Headless Horseman, who always kicks things off:

And here’s Jack, the jovial Halloween Horror Nights icon, who loves little children…or at least murdering them. Don’t worry, he’s an equal opportunity offender. He’ll pretty much torture and decapitate anyone he can get his hands on:

As you can see, these two events, which both run on select nights through November 1, have a very different tone. I love both of them for different reasons and love the fact that the Halloween season in Orlando spreads out for more than a month.

If you like your Halloween partying to be mild, opt for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. If you go for all-out wild scares, then Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. Can’t decide? Do what I do and opt for both!

Teen Beach 2 Stars surprise fans at Typhoon Lagoon Party

There’s not a lot that would lure me away from the Magic Kingdom on a 24 hour day of the Coolest Summer kick-off, but I’ll admit that I did bail to Typhoon Lagoon (see my early morning experience, including a full video of the welcome, in this article). How could I resist, when it was the Teen Beach 2 Beach Party debut, with a special appearance by Ross Lynch (Brady), Maia Mitchell (McKenzie), Grace Phipps (Lela), and Garrett Clayton (Tanner).

Yes, I’ll admit it: I really enjoyed the first movie, especially the end when the 1960s gang was transported to the present day. I’m looking forward to June 26 when I can find out what happened to them. I met some of the stars at Typhoon Lagoon back in 2013, when the water park hosted a summer party based on that first flick, Teen Beach Movie. Now here I was again, kicking off another summer of fun and chatting with the gang about their sequel, Teen Beach 2. You can see it all on the video below:

I also talked one on one to Maia, who teased about the new movie and shared some dance moves:

Obviously, the gang won’t be on hand throughout the summer, but the party most certainly will be. It kicks off several times a day and including dancing and contests like water balloon tosses, hula hoop competitions, and a limbo session. Check the schedule on the times board in the park and make sure you’re there for some sand, sun, and fun.

Here’s a little blast from the past: my chat with Garrett Clayton from 2012:

And my 2012 interview with Chrissie Fit:

Watch for the Disney Channel debut of Teen Beach 2 on June 26! Personally I can’t wait to watch the surfers and bikers adapt to cell phones and other hallmarks of modern life.

Disney 24 hour kickoff features Mickey, Minnie and Frozen gang

There’s not much that can rouse me out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m., but the Disney 24 hour summer kick-off at the Magic Kingdom does it every year.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which means the Magic Kingdom opened at 6 a.m. on Friday and stays open until 6 a.m. on Saturday for a full Disney 24 hour experience for those brave enough to tough it out. It’s the start of the Coolest Summer Ever, which is why Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff took over the opening festivities. Guests started arriving an hour early, and Mickey and Minnie rolled out of bed in the wee hours to be on hand to greet them. They didn’t even take the time to change out of their PJs, but they looked dapper nonetheless. They were also a heck of a lot more energetic that I would be without an IV infusion of caffeine. I did manage to catch a quick chat with them:

Just before 6 a.m., the Frozen gang took to the train platform and the steam engine pulled in with more Disney friends. Here’s the entire opening ceremony for the Disney 24 hour Coolest Summer Ever event:

Then guests streamed into the park to kick off what, for many, would be 24 hours of non-stop Disney fun. After a hearty breakfast, I headed over to Tomorrowland, where I had a Space Mountain FastPass. Amazingly, the wait was only 10 minutes, even without one. Next up was Buzz Lightyear and the Wedway Peoplemover (yeah, I know that name dates me, but that’s what it will always be to me). Of course, I had to make a quick stop at the time clock, where I memorialized the hour at which I’d dragged my half-asleep carcass into the park:


There are lots of great photo ops throughout the park, and the 24 hours event is one of the few days that the Magic Kingdom relaxes its costume code for adult guests. In the past, I’ve worn my PJs to get an overnight photo with Mickey and Minnie, but today I saw lots of “big kids” dressed up in character garb, particularly Anna and Elsa. The Frozen juggernaut rolls on!

6Speaking of Frozen’s popularity, Olaf is featured on this year’s souvenir shirt, a really cute number what changes color in the sun. Of course, I had to get one to add to my collection.

The rides, shows, and character appearances continue long into the night during the Magic Kingdom’s 24 hour stints. Some people will make it for the whole 24 hours, while others will crash in the middle and still others will head over in the evening to just do the overnight experience. No matter how you enjoy it, the Coolest Summer Ever kickoff is the best way to experience the official start of the summer Disney season.

I did have to leave the Magic Kingdom in the early afternoon. No, I didn’t crash. The reason was much more exciting, as you can read by jumping to my next article here. Hint: You’ll love it if you’re a Teen Beach Movie fan. You might just see some of your favorite celebs on video.

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 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:


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.

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.

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.