Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

"I will honor Christmas in my heart
and try to keep it all the year."
- Charles Dickens

Friday, December 20, 2013

Quote of the Week

From all of us to all of you, 
     a very Merry Christmas
For on this bright and joyful night, 
     we're glad to have you with us
So gather 'round the lovely tree, 
     where all the lights are shining
You'll see how happy we will be 
     while all the bells are chiming
Ding-dong-dingle! What a merry sound!
Ding-dong-dingle! Kris Kringle is in town.
From all of us to all of you, 
     it's good to have you with us
Now here we go and here's our show 
     that says a Merry Christmas!
A very...
- Jiminy Cricket, singing the opening of one of my favorite Disney Christmas specials growing up. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holidays Around the World - The Storytellers of EPCOT

Christmas time at EPCOT is full of magic and world traditions. Every year, EPCOT celebrates Holidays Around the World with Storytellers from each of the World Showcase Pavilions. Throughout the day, Storytellers arrive in their native pavilion to tell of a winter holiday tradition from their homeland. The stories are varied and fascinating. It's a great opportunity to learn about how Christmas and other holidays are celebrated outside the United States.

Feliz Navidad! We'll begin our tour in Mexico. The history of the Mexican Christmas tradition is told by Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Wise Men. They tell of their journey, or Posada, to find the Christ child and the gifts they brought to him. This tradition of giving gifts in honor of his birth is continued throughout Mexico today on January 6th, Three Kings Day.

God Jul! We're now in Norway, where Sigrid tells a story about a mischievous Christmas Gnome named Julenissen, who appears to help tell the story. Julenissen, who live in a family's barn, is the guardian of that family's welfare. Children leave porridge for him in thanks for his protection. On Second Christmas, December 26th, the children don costumes and go door to door asking for goodies.

Gung Hay Fat Choy, and welcome to China. The Storyteller in China is the Monkey King, who is very funny and happy. He tells a story of redemption and enlightenment, or how Monkey became King by defeating a monster and stealing a magic stick from the Dragon King. He was punished by Buddha for his pride, and eventually learned that the journey is more important than the destination.

Fröhliche Weihnachten! In Germany, there are two different Storytellers who appear: Saint Nicholas or Helga. Saint Nicholas tells of traditions such as the Tannenbaum, or Christmas Tree, the first Christmas, while Helga tells of the history of Advent Calendars and the Nutcracker, as well as how children celebrate Christmas in Germany. At the end of her story, a 7' tall Nutcracker appears and stays to take photos with Helga and the children in the audience.

Buone Feste Natalizie! Italy's Storyteller is La Befana, the Christmas witch, who tells how she came to bring gifts to all the children on January 5th, Epiphany. La Befana, who was once a simple woman who lived alone, when she met the Three Wise Men on their journey to Bethlehem. They asked her to join them and bring gifts to the Christ Child, but she was to busy. Later, she decided to make the journey after all, but didn't know where to look, so whenever she found a child, she gave them a gift instead, often leaving them in their shoes to find the next morning.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy Hanukkah! The American Adventure celebrates three different American traditions: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Children can meet both Santa and Mrs. Claus and tell them their Christmas wishes. Then listen to the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights that celebrates the miracle of the lamp that burned for 8 nights with only one night's oil. And the final presentation tells about the history of Kwanzaa, the African-American harvest celebration.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu and welcome to Japan, where a Storyteller tells about the O'Shogatsu, or New Years, customs and the legend of the Daruma doll. The Daruma doll is sold without the eyes being painted in. At the New Year, children make a wish and paint the left eye. If the wish comes true before the end of the year, the other eye is painted. Plum blossoms are used to decorate homes and to symbolize hope in the New Year.

Eid Mubarak! In Morocco, they celebrate Eid-al-fitr each winter by wearing their best clothes, and with feasting, dancing, and music. The Storyteller, Taarji, which means drummer, tells of the customs of Ramadan and Ashura. These celebrations are religious in origin and are celebrations of love and remembrance, with gifts to the poor playing an important role. Children often receive gifts of clothing, toys, and even drums at this time to celebrate the New Year.

Joyeux Noel! In France, Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, tells the story of a letter he received from a little girl named Babette. He tells of Christmas through her eyes and of many of the traditions she enjoyed. One of these traditions is a great feast, called le revellion, that is eaten after Midnight Mass. Another is the Buche de Noel, or Yule Log cake.

Happy Christmas! In the United Kingdom, Father Christmas arrives singing and ringing a bell. He is very jolly and tells how many modern traditions have their roots in the England. He encourages the audience to sing Deck the Halls with him, a good Welsh carol and invites a child to help him by ringing bells. He also tells of the Druids and their us of mistletoe, which he has carries on the end of his staff and uses to make a couple in the audience kiss.

Joyeux Noel and Happy Christmas! We have now arrived in Canada and reached the end of our tour through the world's traditions. Nowell, a lumberjack who bears a striking resemblance to Father Christmas, tells about Christmas celebrations in different parts of Canada. As he tells his story, he changes pieces of his clothing, until suddenly, he appears to be Papa Noel.

The stories told by these Storytellers are wonderful to listen to, but it can easily take an entire day, or even two to hear all of them. Each story lasts approximately 9-12 minutes. The presentations occur several times a day and a schedule of appearances can be found in the Times Guide that you pick up with your map. I would recommend that you pick three to four stories from pavilions that aren't located right next to each other and stop to see them as you move through the World Showcase.

Many of the Storytellers invite one or more children from the audience to help them tell the story. Bean was chosen to help La Befana by holding her broom. However, once she got up there, she decided to be shy and forgot what to say, but La Befana was great at working around it and putting her at ease.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meeting Santa at Downtown Disney

One of the most magical Christmas surprises at Downtown Disney is meeting Santa Claus. Around Thanksgiving, Downtown Disney and the rest of Walt Disney World are transformed into a winter wonderland. A special chalet is set up next to World of Disney where you can meet Santa. The cottage is very charming with lots of Christmas decorations and twinkling red and green lights.

This year, Santa will be greeting children from November 15th until December 24th. Once Santa leaves to deliver presents, Santa Goofy will take his place from December 25-27.

During November and early December, the wait is usually brief, especially in the evening. Much like a character Meet and Greet, each family is given time to visit with Santa and then pose for photos. A Photopass Photographer is usually on hand to capture the moment, although you can take photos with your personal camera as well.

Santa's Chalet with reindeer and lights
The area where you meet Santa is straight out of a child's fantasy. A very jolly Santa sits on a giant Christmas throne and wears the most beautiful Santa suit. He spends a few minutes talking with each child and asking them about their Christmas wishlist. He is very engaging and Bean was instantly enchanted! The one time we met him, we found this Santa to be far superior to any mall Santa and just like you'd expect Santa to be. And who knows, perhaps he is the real Santa!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Movies for Adults

While these movies mostly don't contain obvious adult themes, most kids would find them boring. I love these Christmas movies and have watched all of them many, many times.

White Christmas - This has been my favorite Christmas movie for as long as I can remember. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen, this is a fantastic story about helping an old friend. Bing and Danny are a popular song and dance duo who agree to help Rosemary and Vera with their act. The girls are the sisters of an "old pal in the army." When they follow the sisters up to Vermont for the Christmas holidays, they run into their old general from their army days during WWII, who has fallen on hard times. In an effort to help him out, they decide to bring their show up to his inn to bring in guests. After many crazy mishaps, everything comes together just in time for Christmas. Featuring many wonderful songs, including "Sisters", "Count Your Blessings" and "White Christmas", this is one you shouldn't miss.

Miracle on 34th Street - Is he "the one and only Santa Claus" or "just a nice old man with whiskers like mother said"? Starring Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, this is a wonderful story that will make everyone believe again. Kris Kringle is hired to be Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving day Parade. He is so wonderful, that they decide to keep him on as the official Santa of Macy's. With Kris's help, everyone begins to put the spirit back into Christmas. When he angers one of the employees, he is put on trial for insanity. Can his lawyer prove that he is Santa?

The Man Who Saved Christmas - This is the amazing story of A.C. "Gillie" Gilbert, inventor of Erector Sets. After years of making toys with the help of his beloved wife, Mary,  and brother, Frank, Gillie is presented with a problem. America has recently joined the fighting during WWI and his brother has been drafted. Gillie is asked to convert his factory to make munitions instead of toys. After a chance comment leads Congress to cancel Christmas, Gillie's son Al and his mother create some holiday magic to help Gillie recover his holiday spirit and save Christmas. Starring the incomparable Jason Alexander as Gillie, this movie, although sad at times, is wonderful proof that Christmas should always be celebrated.

Silent Night - Another in the tradition of Christmas during times of war films. Based on a true story and starring Linda Hamilton, this is the story of young Fritz and his mother, who are fleeing Germany on Christmas Eve 1944. Fritz and Elizabeth Vincken leave their home in the dark of night and head for their cabin near the front lines. Before they can settle in for Christmas, a knock at the door brings both American soldiers with their injured comrade, and German soldiers searching for the enemy. Frau Vincken, a very strong-willed woman, forces them to relinquish their weapons and spend Christmas together. By the end of the evening, they have begun to see each other as men and not as enemies.

The Holiday - For a twist on traditional Christmas movies, try The Holiday. When two women worlds apart each suffer heartbreak shortly before Christmas, they decide to swap houses for a change of scenery. Through a series of misadventures, each finds that love can be found again and Christmas may be the perfect time for something new. Starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black, this is a fun Christmas romance. And I love the way Kate Winslet's character helps her elderly neighbor to see that he is important and loved. It's wonderful!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Movies for Kids Part 2

And now onto movies for kids aged 6 and up. While some of these movies would be appropriate for a younger audience, I believe older children will get more out of them. Also, several of these films question the existence of Santa Claus, who, by the way, I firmly believe in. As such, I would recommend that you show these at what you consider to be an appropriate age.

Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas - This film was just recently released on Blu-ray and DVD. I love this story of how Beauty and the Beast came together at Christmas and learned what is truly important about the season, sharing love with others. Featuring the original cast of voices as well as introducing a few new characters, such as Maestro Forte, voiced by the inestimable Tim Curry. Full of songs and a beautiful message of hope and love, this is a great movies to share with children. It does have a few moments that may be scary to young viewers, so I would recommend you watch the film first so that you can gauge how appropriate this may be for your child.

 Yes, Virginia - Based on the true story of a letter written by young Virginia O'Hanlon in 1897 to the editor of the New York Sun, this story is perfect for those children who are beginning to question the existence of Santa Claus. Created by Macy's as part of their Believe campaign, the story of Virginia and her young friend Ollie and their search for the "truth" is a very sweet retelling of this heartwarming tale. Featuring the vocal talents of Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Alfred Molina, this is one story every child should know.

The Santa Clause Trilogy - I love the Santa Clause movies. At first, I wasn't too sure about Tim Allen as Santa, but after the first film, I loved him as Santa. The first film tells about how an executive for a toy company became Santa, much to the delight of his son Charlie. The second tells the story of how Santa must seek a wife or he'll have to stop being Santa. The third tells about Santa and Mrs. Claus and their baby that will soon be born. Will Santa stay Santa or will he employ the "Escape Clause?" They are great films that support the existence of Santa Claus in an ever changing form.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus - Based on a story by L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz series, this movie offers a unique explanation for Santa's origins. According to Baum, Santa began life as an infant abandoned near an enchanted forest. Baby Nicholas was taken in by a wood nymph named Nyseal who raised him in a magical world. The Great Ak, leader of the forest teaches Nicholas about the sad and difficult world of humans, leading him to his lifelong gift-giving mission. This film features an amazing cast of voices, including Robby Benson, Dixie Carter, and Hal Holbrook.

Santa and Pete - This unique film has been one of my favorites since the first time I saw it. This is the story of the Dutch Santa (the amazing Hume Cronyn) and his helper, Black Peter. The story begins with master storyteller James Earl Jones as a Grandfather teaching his grandson about Santa and Pete. Full of wonderful references the historical Santa, this story tells about what happens when Santa and Pete arrive in the New World. Although Santa is rather set in his ways, their adventures in New Amsterdam force him to rethink his Christmas traditions.

The Polar Express - I still remember fondly the first time I heard the story of the Polar Express. The story, although brief, was wonderful, with beautiful pictures. The story soon became a phenomenon, with trains being transformed into the Polar Express for one night of Christmas fantasy for lucky boys and girls. To make the story long enough for a movie, they expanded on many of the scenes and added some new ones that fit within the feeling of the original. This is the tale of an incredible journey and the boy who isn't sure what to believe about Santa. Every child has a "critical year" where they question the existence of Santa. Can you imagine what would happen if every child could ride the Polar Express? Maybe everyone would believe. After watching this film for the first time, young Bean became obsessed with it. For Christmas that year, I gave her a golden ticket (a bookmark from Hallmark I think) and her own special bell. I wrapped the bell in candy cane striped paper and labeled it "Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket. Mr. C" just like in the book and movie. She still loves the bell, several years later, and always talks about how sad it is that some grown ups can't hear it ring, but she'll always be able to. This may be our favorite family Christmas movie.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Movies for Kids Part 1

I love Christmas movies! I'm afraid I'm rather addicted to them. I have so many favorites anymore, that I start watching them just after Halloween. Some are traditional movies that my family has watched for years. In fact, it's a family tradition to watch Miracle on 34th Street every year during the long Thanksgiving weekend. (And it has to be the old version with Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O'Hara, although we enjoy both the black and white and colorized versions.) In honor of this long standing tradition, I thought I would share some of our favorite holiday films with you. Today, we'll start with great holiday films for kids of any age.

Eloise at Christmastime - The first Christmas that this was on tv, we kept missing the beginning. By the time we finally were able to watch the entire movie, we'd seen parts of it 4-5 times. After seeing it so many times, my grandfather said, "Not that little girl again!" It's one of my favorite memories of him. Eloise is a precocious 6 year old who lives at the Plaza hotel. She's a bit of a trouble maker and match maker who somehow always manages to evade punishment for her adventures. We LOVE Eloise and Julie Andrews as Nanny, too!

Eloise: Little Miss Christmas - Eloise and her friends at the Plaza decide to put on a Christmas Spectacular, but with a review of the hotel coming the day before Christmas, Mr. Salamone may cancel the show. What will Eloise do? A fun, short, animated film, this story of the spunky 6 year old will quickly become a favorite with your kids as well. This movie feature the voice talents of Lynn Redgrave as Nanny and Tim Curry as Mr. Salamone.

Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas - Every fan of the Muppets should own a copy of this movie. Featuring the fantastic talents of the original band of Muppeteers, this story is one that shouldn't be missed. Emmett and his Ma both want to give each other the best Christmas present ever, but with money in short supply, they each decide to enter the town talent contest. Will the risk pay off, or will they both lose it all? Watch this wonderful story to find out.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas - Featuring three Christmas stories full of love, magic and surprises, this film is sure to delight. In a story reminiscent of O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, Mickey and Minnie remember the year they gave up what they thought was most dear to give gifts to each other. Goofy and Max recall the year Max stopped believing in Santa and the adventure that eventually made him see why belief is important, although a visit from the real Santa always helps. Huey, Dewey, and Louie remember the year they wished for Christmas every day and what it took them to learn what the holiday is really about.

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas - Featuring four new stories of love and magic. Minnie and Daisy are both a part of the ice skating show. Can they put aside their competition and put on their ice spectacular? Uncle Scrooge warns Huey, Dewey, and Louie that their behavior will keep them off Santa's good list, so they travel to the North Pole to fix the problem. While there, they discover that Christmas is about sharing and caring. Max is bringing home a girl for Christmas, but can he count on Goofy not to embarrass him? Donald just wants to sit at home with his cocoa, but Daisy and his nephews have other ideas. Can Donald find his Christmas spirit before its too late? Finally, Mickey has created what he thinks is the perfect Christmas party, but when Pluto wrecks it and then runs away, he realizes that parties are nothing without your friends.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! - This classic animated tale tells the story of the grumpy old Grinch who lives on Mount Crumpet and his hatred of the Whos who live in Whoville below. As the story goes "Every WHO down in WHOVILLE liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of WHOVILLE did not!" Narrated by the incredible Boris Karloff with a song sung by Thurl Ravenscroft (who also voiced Tony the Tiger as well as one of the singing busts in Disney's Haunted Mansion attractions.")

Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas - George and the Man with the Yellow Hat are preparing to celebrate Christmas. From Christmas trees with chairs in them to tomato snowman, everything is uniquely perfect for the happy pair. There's just one problem, the Man is having trouble understanding George's wishlist and George doesn't know what to get for the man who has everything. It all works out in typical George fashion and even has a few new songs, like "Are you ready?" and "Christmas Monkey".

Original Television Christmas Classics - There are several different versions of this set available. My favorites from them include: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, narrated by the wonderful Burl Ives, Frosty the Snowman narrated by Jimmy Durante, Santa Claus is Coming to Town featuring Fred Astaire & Mickey Rooney, The Cricket on the Hearth, and the Little Drummer Boy. All are wonderful old classics that are fun to watch at Christmas.
Although not generally included, another old classic is Frosty's Winter Wonderland narrated by Andy Griffith. Frosty makes a Missus and hilarity ensues.

The Happy Elf - This wacky story, narrated by Harry Connick, Jr., is the story of Eubie, one of Santa's elves, who is always deliriously happy, much to the annoyance of those around him. When Eubie learns that there is an entire town of children on Santa's naughty list, he sets out to help them find the spirit of Christmas and get back on the nice list. In the process, he helps himself and his friends to achieve their dream of being part of Santa's sleigh team.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas Sweepstakes

To celebrate Christmas and their Show Your Disney Side campaign, Disney and ABC Family are giving away an amazing trip to Disney World.  The Grand Prize winner will receive a five day/ for night vacation for 4, including a one night stay in the Cinderella Castle Suite. In addition, they will also receive a $1,000 Disney gift card and the services of a VIP Tour Guide for 8 hours each day of their tickets. That's quite the prize, so I will definitely be entering. There will also be 8 weekly winners who will receive either a $500 Disney gift card or a Vera Bradley duffle bag from the new Disney Collection. Good Luck!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens
One of my favorite holiday stories, either book or movie, is A Christmas Carol. I love the tale of the miserly curmudgeon, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and his unwanted search for redemption. The characters are fantastic, well written and believable and you really feel as if you know them. I read Dickens ultimate Christmas story every year and my Mom and I collect movie versions of the story as well. Bean has watched them pretty much since she was born. One Christmas, after watching the Patrick Stewart version for the millionth time, she ran around saying "I'm the ghost of Christmas NEVER, mwah ha ha ha!" The story of Scrooge has become a favorite Christmas tradition for our family and I look forward to it every year.

Patrick Stewart as Ebeneezer Scrooge
My favorite classic version is the one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Stewart spent several years doing dramatic one-man retellings of the story in New York and Los Angeles. The one-man show is available as a cd and is fantastic. He really gets into the story and does multiple voices and sound effects. I wish I could have seen it live, but I'll settle for listening to it several times a year. The movie is also fantastic, and probably the closest version to Dickens. Another good version is the George C. Scott film, although it takes some liberties with the original. A very old version starring Alister Sim is also available on DVD.

Musical versions are also fantastic. My favorite is Scrooge with Albert Finney. Finney makes a very grumpy Scrooge, but he's a lot of fun to watch. The music is also fantastic and memorable. I especially love the song "Thank You Very Much" and how it changes once Scrooge has learned his lesson. Another great one is A Christmas Carol: The Musical with Kelsey Grammer. This version has a fantastic cast, including: Jane Krakowski, Jason Alexander, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. With music by Alan Menken of Beauty and the Beast fame, this Broadway-style show really shines with Christmas spirit. 

When it comes to children's versions, my favorite is still The Muppet Christmas Carol. I love the Muppets and Michael Caine as Scrooge is fantastic. The Muppet version has my favorite "Ghost of Christmas Present", a large, absent-minded spirit with fascinating hair. The new Disney version starring Jim Carrey in multiple animated roles is also very good. While they have added a bit of adventure to some otherwise simple scenes in the book, it is still a very good retelling of the story. For smaller children, I love Mickey's Christmas Carol. A short, simple story that introduced the miserly Scrooge McDuck, this is a great way to introduce children to the classic tale. Another cartoon version with voices by Simon Callow, Kate Winslet, Nicholas Cage, and Michael Gambon, takes a lot of liberties with the story, but has a poignant song sung by Kate Winslet. A cartoon version featuring Tim Curry, Michael York, Ed Asner, and Whoopie Goldberg as the "Ghost of Christmas Present".
This version is full of catchy, silly songs, and my favorite is the utterly ridiculous  "Santa's Sooty Suit" as sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred. A surprisingly fun children's version is Barbie in a Christmas Carol. With a few Barbie twists, the main character, Eden Starling, is shown how her selfishness hurts those around her. While obvious liberties have been taken with the story, the core lesson of overcoming selfishness and redeeming ones life are still present. For the truly silly, there's even a Scooby-Doo version that is good for a laugh and fun for Scooby lovers. Called "The Nutcracker Scoob", the gang, minus Velma, helps the children of a small orphanage to stop the "Ghost of Christmas Present".

In all, there are a lot of different versions of A Christmas Carol, and many of them are well worth watching. I personally watch at least 6 different ones every Christmas, and I'm always looking for new versions. This year, I plan to read the book to Bean for the very first time. It will take a few weeks as we only read a few pages each night, but it will be well worth it and I can't wait to share Dickens classic story with her as it was originally written.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Columbia Harbour House Dining Review

I have always dreaded the Quick Service dining choices at the Magic Kingdom. I can only eat so many burgers and chicken nuggets before I just have to say "No more!" Fortunately, there is a wonderful Quick Service restaurant tucked away in a corner of Liberty Square: Columbia Harbour House. The first thing you notice about this restaurant is the East Coast - sailing ship decor, and the food is themed to match. They have figureheads, paintings, and a ton of other nautical paraphernalia, and the seafood is wonderful.

One of my favorites is the Chicken Breast Nuggets and Fish Basket, which comes with either steamed broccoli or french fries. Everything is crispy and perfectly cooked, and the servings are generous enough that we often split this. Menu items range between $9.00 and $11.00 and include Fried Fish or Shrimp Basket, Grilled Salmon for guests looking for something a little lighter, New England Clam Chowder and even a couple of salads. Kids entrees include the usual Macaroni & Cheese and Chicken Nuggets, but they also offer a Tuna Sandwich.

They have several menu items that were added in the last few year that I haven't had the chance to try, but I've heard they're pretty good. The Lobster Roll seems to be a point of contention, with some people loving it, and others really hating it, but most people just find it average. There are even two vegetarian options: the Lighthouse Sandwich & Chili. Columbia Harbour House is part of the Disney Dining Plan with Quick Service meals and some snack items.

The service is fairly quick and there is a lot of seating available. My favorite place to sit is on the second floor. If you sit in one of the gables near a window, you can see the Liberty Belle paddling along the Rivers of America out of the left windows. From the windows on the right, you can catch a glimpse of the Haunted Mansion.  It's a great place to rest and relax and is rarely overcrowded. On a side note, the upstairs restrooms are very small and hard to find. They are tucked away in a corner near the left-hand staircase. I've heard the restroom location is actually in Fantasyland because Colonial buildings wouldn't have had indoor restrooms, but who knows. If you are traveling with an infant, I would recommend finding a different restroom, or at least trying the restroom on the first floor, which is much larger.

I love eating at the Columbia Harbour House and usually have lunch here every trip. If you're looking for good seafood on a budget, give Columbia Harbour House a try.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Muppets Most Wanted Trailer

Have you seen the new trailer for Muppets Most Wanted? It looks like another great Muppet romp!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Maleficent Trailer

Have you seen the new teaser trailer for Maleficent? It looks amazing!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Voices of Liberty

One of the most moving experiences at EPCOT can be found in the American Adventure Pavilion. The Voices of Liberty are an 8-part A Capella choir, specializing in songs from the 1700s and 1800s. The choir is made up of both men and women whose voices blend in beautiful harmony. They have been called "the United States vocal ambassadors to the world" and have performed for five American Presidents. They wear costumes representing the early days of the thirteen colonies through the time of the Civil War.

When they enter the rotunda for the first song, the choir director requests that everyone move closer to the center of the room. The acoustics are absolutely amazing! The director introduces each song as well as giving a brief history lesson about where the song came from and why it's important. Then they begin to sing and the music reaches a crescendo- honestly, it gives me chills.

The program of songs changes with the seasons. Most of the year, they sing American patriotic songs. At Christmas, they sing traditional Christmas Carols. One of my favorite songs performed by Voices of Liberty is the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It's enough to make you cry, it's so beautiful. Other favorite songs include the Americana favorites: This Land is Your Land, America the Beautiful, and Ol' Man River. You can also hear Disney favorites such as Golden Dream and When You Wish Upon a Star, as well as classics like Amazing Grace. There is a CD available from Amazon and other retailers featuring a selection of their songs. It is called "A Capella Americana" by the Liberty Voices.

The Voices of Liberty perform several times a day, for approximately 15 minutes, before each showing of the American Adventure. They are definitely worth adding to your "must see list" at EPCOT.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thanksgiving Crafts on Spoonful

Are you looking for a few fun crafts and printables for Thanksgiving? If so, be sure to check out the Disney themed crafts on There are printable activities, mazes, and games to keep kids busy while they wait for Thanksgiving dinner. And the paper Mickey and Minnie pilgrims and squash Pluto crafts are too adorable. Snow White's cranberry necklace would be a great way to introduce felting techniques to kids. I think my favorite, however, is the printable shrink bracelet with Mickey and  Minnie acorn charms and a super cute pumpkin pie charm. There is even a charm with the whole gang dressed as pilgrims gathered for dinner. Should you need invitations, planners, or cup labels  for your holiday meal, those are available as well. Just save and print and you'll be well on your way to a Disney-fied Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

To Disney World and Back Again

It's been quite a week. We made a mad dash trip to Disney World last week and I just got home. I kept trying to tell you all about some of the fun things we had discovered on our trip, but the hotel's internet connection left a lot to be desired. We had a great time this trip. The crowds were generally lighter and we were able to experience some special Disney magic. Disney's Animal Kingdom had a special Bat Day on Halloween which was very informative and fun, and we managed to complete all of the Wilderness Explorer activities that day too. We went to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, which was a little slow to get going this year, but was great after 9pm. The food at EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival was amazing this year! I discovered several new things that I really enjoyed and very few that I didn't. (I especially liked the vegetarian haggis and the trick'n chick'n curry. They were surprisingly good.) I really only had a few complaints: the fast pass + system really messed up the fast pass distribution so the times were really wonky, and Anna and Elsa from Frozen failed to make their scheduled appearance. We were rather disappointed not to see them after waiting patiently for a whole week. Unfortunately, they were having some problems building their meet and greet location and it wasn't quite finished when they expected. Overall though, we had a lot of fun.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Soarin' at EPCOT

One of my favorite rides at EPCOT is Soarin’. Soarin’ is located in the Land Pavilion in Future World. It is an amazing hang-glider simulation that lasts approximately 5 minutes. The lines for this ride can be very long, so I would recommend grabbing a fastpass early, because this is one of the most popular rides at EPCOT. However, if you decide to go through the full queue, there are several interactive games to participate in while you wait. The five different games are projected on massive digital screens. Much like a video game, the players motions guide the movement onscreen as you pop the blobs to uncover a picture, collect treasure in a hot air balloon, or alter a landscape by moving mountains and planting seeds. At the end of the queue, you are taken to a pre-flight area where you will be given instructions regarding your flight. There used to be a safety video featuring the hilarious Patrick Warburton, known to many Disney fans as the voice of Kronk in the Emperor’s New Groove.

For the best view, I like to request a seat in the front row. When they lift the seats up in front of the screen, the front row is at the top, so you don’t see feet dangling above you. However, if you are afraid of heights, try the back row, which only gets a few feet off the ground.

When you enter the flight deck, you will see three rows of seven seats that are hanging at normal chair height above the floor. The seats are fairly roomy and should be comfortable for most guests. You place your bag under your seat in the small netted carrier, or if it’s too big, on the floor beneath your seat. Loose shoes and other articles should be removed and stored in the netted carrier or on the floor. After taking your seat, buckle up and prepare for takeoff.

Just before you lift off, a canopy above you lowers slightly, then you are lifted into the air in front of a massive screen. Fun Fact: The ride was originally designed using an old Erector Set. It helped Imagineers solve the problem of how to get guests into the ride and then up to the screen. The seats swing and sway as you “fly” over various locations in California. The scenes are gorgeous shots of the best scenery that California has to offer. You fly over the Pacific Ocean, orange groves, pine forests, and snow covered mountains. Disney is famous for “plussing” rides, and Soarin’ is no exception: the Imagineers added scents to the breeze in several scenes. As you fly over the orange groves, you can smell the oranges, and the pine trees smell real. The ocean smells breezy and clean, which always makes my family laugh, because I never noticed that the Pacific smelled good when we lived in California. And the music, which was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is a perfect accompaniment to the flight. The flight ends with a trip down Main Street in Disneyland, when it’s covered in lights for Christmas. The final firework display is absolutely spectacular! As the ride ends, the screen goes dark and you are flown backward, returning to the spot where you boarded.

The entire ride lasts about 5 minutes and is well worth the wait. If you’ve ever wanted to go Soarin’ over California, this is the ride for you.

Scream factor: 2, the ride is fairly tame, but if you are afraid of heights, it can be a little intimidating.

Height Requirements: 40″

Wheelchair accessible, however guests must transfer into the ride vehicle from their wheelchair or ECV.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween and Trick or Treating, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite seasonal sweets and treats from Disney World.
 Spooky Apples
 Ghostly cupcakes
 Jack Skellington and Mickey cake pops
Turkey leg and Mickey rice crispie treats
chocolate covered pineapple spears
and Mickey macaron

Are you hungry yet?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Limited Time Magic for Halloween

I had a chance to experience an amazing Limited Time Magic this week. For one week only, from 10/26 until 11/1, the Diamond Horseshoe transforms into the Happy Haunted Horseshoe. Featured performers include the Cadaver Dans, Miss Betty Blue, Abner Cadaver: the Ghostly Magician, and the piano man Dearly Departed Stan. They sing Halloween music, perform magic, and are spooky fun. The performances seem to run continuously from 11am until 3pm each day.

As you enter the Horseshoe, you will be directed to a table where you can watch, and possibly interact with the performers. I would recommend a seat in the middle; that's the best place to view the show.  There are even special desserts and sandwiches available at the bar. Bean chose a giant eyeball cupcake.
 Miss Betty Blue is a singer from the old west. Her songs and jokes were quite funny.
Next up were a the piano stylings of Dearly Departed Stan. Stan scared the heck out of Bean when he came out of a door behind us and snuck up to our table silently. He leaned in between Bean and I and whispered, "Boo!" Bean was sure startled, but though it was quite funny. The third act was Abner Cadaver, who was actually quite a good magician that required a lot of audience participation.

The Cadaver Dans were definitely my favorite. They sang "The Headless Horseman", "Ghost Riders in the Sky", and "Boo to You" in four part harmony. It was amazing! So if you'll be in the Magic Kingdom this week, be sure to stop in at the Happy Haunted Horseshoe. You'll be sure to have a ghostly good time.