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Tips from Deb Wills - Disney Expert and Author

ALL EARS NET Tips from Deb

Fun Facts about the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Mickey Fantasia Topiary
Did You Know...?

-- The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival started as a 38-day event, then went to 45 days, then to 60, and is now 75 days long. This year the festival runs from March 18 through May 31.

-- More than 500 native butterflies representing up to 10 species reside in Minnie's Magnificent Butterfly Garden. Among the garden's two dozen nectar plants are Cape Royal plumbago, passion flower, coral honeysuckle, blazing star, butterfly bush, scarlet milkweed and canna lily.

-- At least 25 different plants, grasses and mosses of various colors, including pink and red begonias, dusty miller, palm fiber, palm seeds, ficus and lichen, are used to create and define features of the festival topiaries. More color has been added to the topiaries than in any previous topiary presentation.

-- More than 15 floral, herbal and spice ingredients of 10 popular perfumes are revealed in the Fragrance Garden presented by Guerlain at the France pavilion.

-- Forty-five "flower towers" of impatiens line Innoventions Plaza.

-- 300 Walt Disney World horticulturists are needed to install the festival landscape, topiaries and many exhibits; 100 Epcot horticulturists maintain topiaries and other festival displays.

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Here are some of our best tips for having fun among the flowers:

- Be sure to pick up a special Flower and Garden guide when you enter Epcot so you know where the special seminars and exhibts are.

- Go to the butterfly garden early in the morning. It gets crowded later in the day.

The AllEars® Picture This! Photo Bloggers offer these tips:

-- Be sure to bring extra memory cards and an extra set of camera batteries. There are so many beautiful flowers you'll end up taking lots of photos.

-- Visit the various topiaries and exhibits during different times of the day; the sunlight will be different, resulting in a different photograph.

-- Learn how to use the Macro setting on your camera for closeup photos of the flowers.

-- Topiary Photography Tips

-- Remember the Flower and Garden festival is not just about flowers and blooms,
but also about landscapes!

Epcot Families and Future World

Sometimes families will avoid Epcot thinking that the attractions are more adult oriented than say, Animal Kingdom or the Magic Kingdom. But while Epcot is very, well, edutaining, there are plenty of things for kids to do.

First, when the park opens and everyone runs to get FASTPASSs for Soarin, Test Track and Mission Space. If you have children chomping at the bit to see characters, head right over to the Epcot’s Character Spot. Walk past Spaceship Earth on the right side, just past the breezeway that heads to the Land, you’ll find the signs. Several characters are there throughout the day and early in the morning there are few lines! Who knows, you may just see the Big Cheese himself!

After you’ve had your fill of characters, head back through the breezeway to explore the Seas, the Land and your Imagination!

Kid-friendly attractions in Future World include the gentle Living with the Land boat ride, in the Land Pavilion; The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and don’t forget Figment in the Imagination attraction! The best thing is these pavilions are all on the same side of Future World, so there isn’t a lot of crisscrossing around the park!!! Plus if it’s super hot or rainy, you’ll have lots to do indoors before going back outside to walk to the next pavilion!

The Land also has a huge eatery that’s open all day long. You can stop in there first if you haven’t had breakfast yet, or visit before the lunch rush!

Oh and one last thing, be sure to check out all the KIDCOT Fun Stops. These are "Kid Stations" located in throughout Future World pavilions and in all of the World Showcase countries. These areas, staffed by Cast Members, feature an activity and/or craft table especially for children.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party The Party is a special separate admission event held at the Magic Kingdom. Your ticket to the party will actually get you into the Magic Kingdom as early as 4:00pm, so no need to use one of your admission tickets that day. You will be given a wrist band once you enter the Magic Kingdom to signify you are a Party Ticket Holder. The party officially lasts from 7pm - midnight.

Most of the rides and attractions in the Magic Kingdom are open. In addition there are special holiday shows, parade, dance parties, fireworks and photo opportunities, not to mention some free treats.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Tips:

  • Be sure to take advantage of the 4pm entry into the Magic Kingdom
  • Watch the Castle Lighting Ceremony shortly after dusk (check with a Cast Member for the time).
  • Take advantage of the special photo opportunities: Tomorrowland - Stitch's Cosmic Christmas Collection; Fantasyland - Donald Duck and Company Very Merry Christmas Tree Lot and in Fantasyland - Snow White and Prince Charming.
  • The Treat Stations have special Gluten-Free and Sugar Free cookies available upon request. You can also get Sugar Free Hot Chocolate by asking too!
  • There are 2 shows – Twas the Night Before Christmas in Tomorrowland and Celebrate the Season at the Castle. If you can’t see both, go to Twas the Night Before Christmas. It’s a very cute show plus you have bench seating!
  • Find someplace other than Main Street (which gets very crowded) to watch the Parade! It begins in Frontierland!
  • Attraction wait times are generally low later in the evening.

Storm Struck opens in Epcot’s Innoventions!

I’ll admit, I’ve spent lots of time talking about Innoventions but that’s because Epcot has been making some really innovative updates to the exhibits. Get it? Innoventions? Innovative?

The latest exhibit to open is StormStruck. As advertised: “Experience the power of a weather event complete with wind, rain and lightning. Learn how best to prepare your home against potential weather damage.”

Recently I experienced StormStruck and was quite surprised by the quality of the virtual weather events produced. Pick up your 3D glasses and enter a very small theatre. A Cast Member guides you through the experience which is a very loud, sudden and in your face experience. After the first part of the show, each person uses their own computer screen to answer questions about how best to protect your home. Then part 2 of the show will demonstrate the items the group selected for protecting their homes.

Parents, use caution before you bring your child into the theatre. There is a warning sign at the exhibit. Also, adults, if you do not like sudden loud noises, special effects and being in a small dark room, use caution as well.

There is a child area outside the theater, so "child swap" is possible. There is a cool activity for the kids about storm preparation and includes building a storm kit.

Outside the theater are a couple exhibits demonstrating the effects of various types of weather. There is also an interactive 'Weather Safe" kiosk that tries to reinforce the messages learned in the theater. At the end of the kiosk demo, you can send yourself a Storm Struck Certificate.

Overlooked "Attractions" in Animal Kingdom

Are you familiar with names like Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safari, Primeval Whirl? Yes? What about DiVine, Wes Palm, and Pipa?

Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safari and Primeval Whirl are all popular attractions in three different lands of Animal Kingdom. In fact, all three of these attractions utilize FASTPASS - Disney's way of saving time in line! You can scroll to the bottom of this tip page if you want to learn about FASTPASS.

Today I'd like to talk with you about the other items I mentioned. How many of you have seen DiVine, Wes Palm and Pipa? Do you know what they are and where to find them?

Let's start with Wes Palm, since you are likely to encounter him first on the first to Animal Kingdom. Look carefully as you come through the Security Baggage Check prior to the turnstiles at Animal Kingdom. If you see a small palm tree talking to guests, you've found Wes!!! Complete with his planter, Wes roams around freely each morning greeting folks as they come into Animal Kingdom. How can a palm tree move and talk? You'll just have to leave it to Disney's imagineers and your imagination!

As we enter the park, let's go get our FASTPASS for Kilimanjaro Safari and then see what's new in Asia. You'll have to look more carefully for Divine. She's not as obvious to the casual tourist like Wes Palm is. Did you see that?! Looks like something moved in that tree!

Folks stop right where they are and stare at the beautiful Divine. She is a living vine that slowly wanders along the path, looking for a place to rest, intertwine with landscaping and gently move about. Look carefully or you will walk right past her!

And finally we get to Pipa!. After your jaunt on the Safari, catch the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch and go into Conservation Station for that is where you will find Pipa! Try tossing away your water bottle into the recycling bin and all of a sudden it moves! Yea, you found Pipa who occasionally wanders around near the various exhibits!

And those are just three of the amazing "overlooked" attractions that wait for you in Animal Kingdom!

Epcot’s Innoventions – Part 3!

We continue our walk through Innoventions and this month we move to Innoventions East (side with Test Track and Mission Space).

Waste Management at Epcot Innovations

Waste Management opened earlier this year and features an edutainment exhibit about trash disposal, reuse and recycle.

The House of Innoventions – take a short (10-15 minute) tour of the House of the Future. Today’s Vendors showcase their latest and greatest products for the home. There is even a washer and dryer combo that can accommodate 22 bathsize towels at once!

Test the Limits Lab - sponsored by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has several hands on kiosks that demonstrate how UL safely tests over 18,000 products!

A new exhibit, Storm Stuck, will be opening sometime later this summer!

Segway Central at Epcot Innovations
Epcot’s Innoventions – Part 2!

Last month I told you about a special area located on both sides of Epcot's Future World called Innoventions. Let's continue with our tour. We are still in Innoventions West (side of the Land and Living Seas).

Segway Central is up next. A several years ago this was very very new technology. About the only place you could see a Segway (human transporter) was in Epcot's Innoventions. Now, you'll find Cast Members on Segways all over Walt Disney World, including the Parking Lots. I've also seen them in local malls and other areas. At Innoventions, Cast Members will demonstrate the use of Segways and answer any questions you may have. Walt Disney World has developed several tours that allows you (certain restrictions apply) to ride the Segway. There are 2 tours in Epcot and one at Ft. Wilderness. I'll save information on those tours for a future "tip".

Epcot Innovations Play it Safe exhibit
The final area in Innoventions West is a very important one called "Where's the Fire". This area teaches all of us, and especially children, about what happens if there is a house fire. In "Play It Safe", Cast Members take the kids through a series of rooms and teach them what to do if there is a fire. There is also a maze geared for kids 5 and under. The 30 foot Fire Engine makes a great photo op!

On my visit to Epcot earlier this year, I spoke with a long time Innoventions Cast Member about the Where's the Fire exhibit. He told me that Walt Disney World had received a guest letter stating that their daughter was at a sleepover a few months after her trip and was able to get her and her friends out of a burning house safely.

Epcot Innovations Fountain View
If you need to cool off after your visit to Innoventions, visit the Fountain View!

Inside your find an Edy's Ice Cream Shop serving shakes, floats, scoops and sundaes! There is one flavor of No-Sugar Added Ice Cream. Sit outside to enjoy the Magical Fountain show.

Next month we'll look at more of Innoventions.

All Ears Tip on Innoventions at Epcot
Epcot’s Innoventions – Part 1!

You’ve probably hurried past Innoventions many times as you make your way to get a FastPass for Soarin’ in the Land Pavillion. Or perhaps you were busy going to Norway for a Princess Character Meal. Well, if you haven’t stopped in lately, you’ll find some new exhibits in Innoventions.

This area actually is found on both sides of Future World (East and West). In the middle is a courtyard with Pin Central and the Epcot Attraction Times Board.

Innoventions IBM Think Place at Epcot

This month we’ll cover just some of the Innoventions Exhibit and continue next month as well.

First thing you’ll want to do is send a post card to family and friends back home. You know, show them you are having a great time, while they are home working, in school or shoveling snow! To do so, head to Innoventions West (on the Land, Living Seas side) to the IBM Think Place. Three kiosks are set up to take your photo to go with the email.

Brand new in 2008 is Slap Stick Studios, sponsored by Velcro. Play the Whats Your Problem game and learn how Velcro can help you!

Slap Stick Studios at Epcot

Next is Rockin’ Robots. Kids and adults can enjoy controlling the robotic arms as they conduct music with chimes, gongs, and wooden crates.

There is also a huge area of Video Games to play including some of the latest!

Next month we’ll look at more of Innoventions.

What?! It Rains in Central Florida???? - PART 2

You have saved months for that special vacation and you wake up to rain. What do you do now? Last month I told you about some general tips for enjoying your Florida vacation when it rains.

This month I’ll tell you that Epcot is the best theme park to visit in the rain – many of the pavilions have multiple attractions and things to do inside. I’ll highlight 2 for you this month!

Consider the Land Pavilion. Once inside, get a FastPass for Soarin, then get in line for the Living with the Land boat ride. Lion King fans can head upstairs to watch the “Circle of Life” movie. All set to build Hakuna Matata Vacation Resort, Pumbaa and Timon are damming rivers and cutting down trees. Simba steps in to remind them, and us, to take care of our environment. The photography in this movie is outstanding and not to be missed.

There is a wonderful food court with lots of healthy as well as traditional food options. In the afternoons at select times, there is Nestle’s Junior Chef Program

Across World Showcase Lagoon, the American Adventure is another wonderful place to visit when it rains. The Voices of Liberty sing prior to each show in the atrium. While you are waiting for them, visit the incredible American Heritage Gallery. It features over 40 special artifacts on loan to Epcot. From Abe Lincoln's stovepipe hat to items representing the lives of Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Senator Daniel Inouye, Astronaut Gus Grissom and much more. Then go to the theatre and watch a 30 minute multi-media presentation with superb audio animatronics.

Additional Blog Post Information:
Epcots American Heritage Gallery

Epcots National Treasures

What?! It Rains in Central Florida????

You have saved months for that special vacation and you wake up to rain. What do you do now?

You grab your ponchos and head to the parks!!!!! The number 1 reason for heading to the parks is simple….. they are less crowded!

First, take wild weather warnings seriously. I’m not suggesting that you go out during the rains of a hurricane or an electrical storm! Safety should always be a priority!!

Also, keep in mind that outdoor rides such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom), Test Track (Epcot), Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) may be closed for safety reasons. Parades are often canceled during inclement weather too; but there are still many many enjoyable things to do and see.

Ponchos can be purchased before you leave home for much less than you spend in the theme parks. They are smaller and already packaged for fanny packs. Check out the Dollar Store, Camping Section in Target and Wal-Mart and other discount stores. Be sure to bring some XL Ziploc bags to protect your cameras and bring a dry towel and change of socks with you.

Lockers! Each theme park and water park have them – stow your dry clothes and/or rain gear in them for easy access.

Animal Kingdom is usually the park folks avoid with the rain since much of the park is outdoors. But, you’ll soon find out that the animals enjoy being out in a nice rain. The Kilimanjaro Safari ride is the perfect thing to do, plus the jeeps are covered! Why not ride Kali River Rapids raft ride? You’re probably wet anyway LOL.

Downtown Disney is one popular option so be prepared for crowds if you head there. The AMC movie theatres and Disney Quest will be filled with folks like you trying to escape the rain.

TIP: If there is a morning rain and then it clears up in the afternoon, consider the Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach water parks! They are much less crowded.

Meet and Greet the Characters at
Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Life size costumed characters can be found in each of the 4 main theme parks. Many characters can only be found a certain locations or in certain parks. This tip will talk about the character meet and greets in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Be sure to pick up a Times Guide in addition to the theme park map when you enter the Studios (or any park). It not only lists attraction hours and restaurant information, but will tell you where and when you can find your favorite Disney Stars!

If you want to check to see if a certain character is appearing that day, stop by Guest Relations. They can call the Character Hotline and find out for you!
Monsters Inc at Disney World

Al’s Toy Barn is the home of your favorite characters from Toy Story. Buzz, Woody, and Jessie are just a few of the movie stars that hang out here during the day.

Are you a fan of Mr. and Mrs. Incredible? They hang out near the Magic of Disney Animation. And in the Animation Courtyard are the stars of Playhouse Disney!

Monsters Inc at Disney World

Your pals from Monsters, Inc. moved from Commisary Way in January and can now be found on the Streets of America. Their new home has a great backdrop for photos with Mike and Sulley! On the Streets of America you can also find stars from Kim Possible, and the Power Rangers.


Several times through out the day you can see all kinds of characters at Sorcerer Mickey’s Hat. Oh and don’t forget to pose with the Cars from, Cars!

For those of you who haven’t visited the Studios in a while, Sorcerer Mickey no longer has a home near One Man’s Dream on Mickey Avenue. That area is under construction for the new Toy Story Mania attraction which opens this summer!

Ok, here’s what to do when you find the Characters!

First, be polite and line up. There will be a character handler with the star. Be Ready – have your autograph book and a thick pen ready to hand the star. Just start taking photos…some of the best ones are unposed! Remember, the stars can only stay out for a certain amount of time, so try to arrive early in their meet and greet.

Starting your day at Animal Kingdom

As you enter the park, the magnificent Tree of Life stands before you. It's a great time for a group photo and usually a Disney PhotoPass Photographer is nearby!

Now, where to head next! This really depends on your touring preferences and your group. A little planning in advance goes a long way. Decide what are your must sees!

Some folks make a beeline to Expedition Everest. If this is your must see in Animal Kingdom, then head over to Asia and either ride it or get a FastPass for later in the day. Or you can either make your way to Africa and ride Kilimanjaro Safaris (if the standby line is under 20 minutes) or go to Camp Minnie Mickey for character opportunities. Early in the morning, Camp Minnie Mickey is fairly empty and that makes for some wonderful time with Mickey, Minnie and the gang. The Character Greeting Trails will list who is appearing in each section.

Lastly, you can do what I like to do - grab a cup of coffee and wander around the animal viewing areas in the Oasis and/or Discovery Island trails. It really is amazing what appears before your eyes when you are patient.

I often think of the boy who stopped next to me to watch the anteater one morning. The animal had momentarily disappeared from view when the boy's father came by to tell his son to keep up. "But Dad, there are animals here." The dad responded with, "I don't see anything; let's go," and off they went. Everyone enjoys different things in Animal Kingdom -- the music, the birds, the flowers, the... well... you get the idea. This is a very different kind of theme park.
And as you think about your day, consider the Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo the Musical. Times are printed in the park guides and you'll need to arrive plenty early for both. On crowded park days, you may not be able to fit both in your schedule.

While you've got those times guides out, see what special entertainment is performing in the park that day. Everything from drummers, to acrobats to walking vines will appear before your eyes!

If you have children in your group, consider both Pocahontas and her Forest Friends and Flights of Wonder.

The Cast Members in Animal Kingdom that have the light green shirts on are Animal Keepers. Take the time to speak with them and ask any questions you may have about the animals. Make sure to ask if there are any "babies" in the park that you can go check out!

Last month I talked about surviving the Central Florida heat. This month I’ll give you some theme park tips and places to go “cool-off” in the Magic Kingdom.

During the heat of the season you want to maximize your time indoors during the hottest part of the day. Focus on attractions that have indoor queue areas. And if you can’t be in doors, then save those refreshing water rides for mid Afternoon.

Here’s some tips on “Cool Attractions” At the Magic Kingdom:

In Adventureland, I’ve always found the queue area for Pirates of the Caribbean to be a great place to escape the heat. It’s low lit and cool, especially wonderful during those HOT afternoons. If the line is outside the building, then pass it by, you’ll be waiting way too long!

Over in Frontierland, the most well known attraction is Splash Mountain. A good deal of the queue is outside, but there is some shading available. The ride itself lasts about 10 minutes, most of which is inside the mountain. Near the end, you’ll soon learn why it’s called, Splash Mountain!

Liberty Square – the best place to cool off is at Hall of the Presidents. You’ll need to time your visit so you aren’t waiting too long to enter as the show is just over 20 minutes. The theatre has comfy chairs and is a nice place to cool off, rest and re-energize!

Fantasyland – Almost every ride queue is outside and crowded except for Mickey PhilharMagic show! While the inside area can get a little crowded, you are at least inside and will soon be seated in a theatre. The show is so much fun, you’ll quickly forget how hot you are! The other choice here is It’s a Small World.

Mickey’s ToonTown – if its character meet and greets you want, ToonTown offers several of your favorite characters inside the ToonTown Hall of Fame. It’s all standing and it will be crowded and noisy, but you are out of the sun.

Finally we come to Tomorrowland. One of my favorite rides to re-energize on is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. For 10 minutes you are seated in a moving vehicle and have some great scenery and inside glimpses into attractions. There is rarely a long wait here. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress provides an air conditioned theatre and show that looks back on the history of electricity and technology. From here, walk across the way to Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin! Kids and adults will love this life size arcade game.

That about covers the cool places at the Magic Kingdom. And, if it’s raining, these suggestions work well during those times too!

Summer Sun Survival!

It's summer time in Central Florida and that means the sun, heat and humidity are very intense. It also means you need to be aware of its effects on your body and those you are traveling with.

It is extremley important to remain well hydrated.. and I don't mean by drinking frozen coffe drinks or beer! LOL. Avoid caffeinated or carbonated beverages, as well as alcoholic drinks and those high in sugar -- these cause you to lose more body fluids. Sports drinks can supplement fluids in your body, but water should be your first choice.

Water is the key ingredient for keeping your cool. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, which prevents the body from releasing heat in an efficient manner. That's why you MUST hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! And don't think because you are young or in great health that this does not apply to you -- it does!

Once the signs of heat-related illness begin to show, you can progress from "not feeling so good" to "feeling really bad" very quickly. Listen to your body. Do not ignore the warning signs!

Here are a few signs you have not been drinking enough water: Sausage fingers -- your ring is getting tight, your fingers feel swollen. Becoming a 7 Dwarf - if you suddenly become like Grumpy, it's time to stop, cool off and hydrate!

You are very thirsty - by the time your brain tells you to drink, it's a sign you haven't been giving yourself enough fluids. Muscle cramps - remember, your body is talking to you.

Other signs include heavy sweating, paleness, tiredness or weakness, dizziness or headache, a "sick stomach" feeling, and faintness.

Wear light clothing. If you have clothing that contains Coolmax or similar products wear that. Items made of 100 percent cotton do NOT wick moisture away from your body.

Walking around in the heat and humidity can make ALL parts of your body sweat, and that includes your poor feet. When feet are wet, blisters can develop, so try to wear socks that are not 100 percent cotton. If you feel a hot spot developing, find a place in the shade to sit down. Take off your shoe and sock and inspect your feet. Put a bandage on the tender area, and let your feet dry. Dry feet are happy feet! If you get bad blisters, go to the First Aid Station (there's one located in each of the parks).

These tips are not meant to take the place of any advice from your doctor or other health care professional. I hope by reading this you will increase your awareness and help minimize your chances of getting overheated and spoiling your fun in the sun.

Here are some web resources on Tips on Managing Heat and Heat-Related Illnesses:





Your First Day at Walt Disney World

After months of anticipation, researching, reading, and planning, your first day at Walt Disney World® has finally arrived. So, now what??

If you're like me, you are so excited that you want to do something, anything, right away. But, depending on the time of day of your arrival, and your mindset, touring one of the parks might not be the best use of your time and/or theme park admission. Never fear, there are plenty of alternatives to visiting a theme park as soon as you arrive.

After you've checked into your All Star Vacation Home, you might want to make that run to the grocery store, unpack, or even go for a quick dip in the pool. You'll also want to take some time to plan out the days ahead. But if you and the family are a little anxious to get that Mickey fix, here are some idea without spending a park admission ticket day!

Hop aboard the Disney monorail - you can ride from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom, over to Epcot and back! There's plenty to see, especially as the monorail loops through Epcot's Future World!

Head over to Downtown Disney (consisting of the Marketplace, Pleasure Island and the West Side). There are lots and lots of shops, with every conceivable Mickey Mouse accessory. Window shopping is not just allowed but encouraged!

Two Disney dinner shows are also offered! Enjoy some finger-licking good vittles and knee slapping at the very popular Hoop de Doo Revue at Ft. Wilderness or a enjoy the tropical atmosphere and entertainment at the Polynesian Luau. (Advance reservations are required for both.)

Consider dining at a Character dinner outside the park. Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary features the Mouse himself with side kick Goofy, Chip and Dale. 1900 Park Faire at the Grand Floridian features Cinderella and Prince Charming, Suzy and Perla, and the Fairy Godmother. Just be sure you've made a reservation in advance! The Boardwalk area offers several non-theme park options, as well. Have dinner in one of the Epcot resort area restaurants, or board one of the Friendship Boats, which cruise in a loop from Epcot to the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Swan and Dolphin and then the Disney-MGM Studios. This is especially pretty at night.

Try your hand at a round of golf at WinterSummerland (more family friendly) or Fantasia Gardens (more golfer friendly). They are much cooler and more enjoyable in the evenings and are usually open until 11 p.m.

Part of the fun in visiting Walt Disney World
is meeting your favorite character...
Come on now, you can admit it! We are all Disney fans here.

Tracking Down Those Characters!!! So exactly how do you track the characters down? Here's some tips:

  1. Read the Times Guide - Each theme park has one and they mark character greeting locations and times.
  2. Stop into Guest Relations and ask the Cast Member if, Peter Pan (insert your favorite character) will be appearing in the park today. They have numbers they can call to see where characters will be making appearances. If your child has been aching for a photo with Donald Duck, when you arrive at the park in the morning, your best bet would be to go to Guest Relations. They can find out for you where the good spots are to spot that duck. Though, these schedules are always subject to change, there's a good chance of finding them.
  3. Wander around aimlessly - part of the fun is just running into a character purely by accident! You just never know who you might run into.
  4. Animal Kingdom's Camp Minnie Mickey Character Trails are a great place to go while nearby Festival of the Lion King is being performed. Another great time is when the park first opens and everyone else is headed for the Expedition Everest or the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction!
  5. Epcot's Future World has an indoor Character Connection area where you can see several favorites all at the same time.
  6. Magic Kingdom - Mickey is usually holding court in Toon Town in his very own area!
  7. At Disney's Hollywood Studios you can find characters from movies like the Incredibles, Sully and Mike and more.
  8. Want a little less hectic way of greeting characters? Consider a Character Meal -- we'll talk more about them in a future column!
  9. Learn more about Character Meet and Greet at ALLEARSNET!

Thar be Pirates Ahead Mateys!

The Magic Kingdom version of Pirates of the Caribbean, which originally opened on December 15, 1973, was closed for several months in 2006 to incorporate characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. While some Disney fans were skeptical about the wisdom of modifying such a classic attraction, most are now giving the changes rave reviews.

The first alterations that you notice are to the building's exterior. No longer does Pegleg Pete the Pirate Parrot greet you at the entrance. As you approach now, you see the tattered Pirates of the Caribbean flag and ship's mast, as well as a skeleton pirate in the crow's nest looking out with his telescope.

Inside are more special effects and new audio-animatronics. We don't want to spoil the surprise for you, but shortly after your boat sets sail, you encounter the movie villain, Davy Jones. There is new music in the battle scene and the ride's original pirate captain has been replaced with the treacherous Captain Barbossa of the movies. And Captain Jack Sparrow himself appears now in several places along your 8-1/2-minute voyage -- keep a sharp look out for him.

This is a wonderful attraction, truly enhanced by its recent renovations. And it's also a great place to visit when the weather is beastly hot or rainy, as the queue is entirely indoors, and the exit is under cover. In fact, at the conclusion of your ride, be sure to take a few minutes perusing all the new merchandise that awaits you in the gift shop.

In addition to the changes in the attraction itself, there is now an interactive Pirates Tutorial show held several times during the day in the courtyard near the attraction. Captain Jack and his sidekick Mac pull several children from the audience to teach them the skills needed for being a good pirate -- some children are even given lessons in how to handle a sword. At the end of the show, you can even have your photo taken with Mac. (No photo ops with Captain Jack at this time.) The Pirates Tutorial may not be listed in the times guide, so ask at the Tip Board along Main Street USA for times.

Use Disney's FASTPASS! Many Walt Disney World attractions offer this timed ticketing system, which is free with your admission to the park. Here's how it works:

As you approach a FASTPASS attraction you will see several signs. The first tells you how long you would have to wait if you got into the normal line at that moment -- what's known as the Standby Line. Another sign tells you the "FASTPASS RETURN" time -- that is, what time you will be able to return to ride or see the attraction if you get a FASTPASS ticket instead of standing in line.

If you choose to get a FASTPASS remember: EACH PERSON NEEDS ONE! To obtain a FASTPASS, go to the FASTPASS machine and insert your park admission ticket in the indicated slot. Your FASTPASS, indicating what time frame, or "window," you may return to the attraction, will print out.

Note that for some attractions, like Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot) and the Voyage of the Little Mermaid (Disney's Hollywood Studios), there is only a 10-15 minute window. Once you have your FASTPASS, you can go shop, eat, or ride other rides instead of standing in line.

Once your FASTPASS time has arrived, return to the attraction and get in the FASTPASS RETURN line. Be sure to have your FASTPASS out and ready to show the Cast Member, who will check your return time with the official return time clock. Further along in the queue or waiting area, a Cast Member will actually collect your FASTPASS ticket. By then you will be far ahead of those waiting in the Standby Line, ready to get on with the show!

Avoid Long Waits at Disney's Most Popular Attractions!