Beyond the Parks

Disney It Yourself: Habit Heroes App and Sum of All Thrills Game Reviews

by on March 3, 2015

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Here I am again with more game reviews based off of different attractions found at Innoventions. If you missed my review of the Great Piggy Bank Adventure App, read that here.

These reviews are part of my new series, DIY (Disney It Yourself), where I explore different ways to enjoy Disney Parks at home.

As you’ll soon see, I experienced hits along with a few misses. First on the list: the Habit Heroes App!

Habit Heroes

The Habit Heroes app was introduced in the Apple App Store December 12th, 2012. It can also be downloaded via Google Play. It is based off the attraction of the same name, found at Innoventions East in Epcot. The app states:

The Habit Heroes mobile app is a comic book that chronicles the adventures of the healthy Habit Heroes as they clean up health hazards around the globe. Each comic book issue unlocks an interactive tool that helps foster healthy habits in your every day life.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! February 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on February 28, 2015

MMM positiveIs February already over?! What a month. We got the inevitable yearly ticket price hikes, got the first details on both Star Wars Weekends and the holiday hard ticket parties, saw Big Hero 6 shock the world and take home the Oscar for Best Animated Film, found out Spider-Man would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (YES! YES! YES!) and – most importantly – found out Duck Tales will be returning to TV! It’s a good thing this month is only 28 days because we don’t think we could handle any more (especially since we wasted an entire day on Llamas on the loose and that ridiculous white/gold blue/black dress meme.) We know a lot of you have had a rough month in the area of weather, and we can certainly sympathize. In fact it almost got down to 50 degrees one night this month and we had to pull a blanket out of the closet to stay warm.

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

First up is an item I have wanted for a long time and almost cried seeing it at the Outlets. A Polynesian Luau Bowl! Originally marked $49.95, this was reduced to $24.99.

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I think by now most people know how much I love the Marketplace Co-op at Downtown Disney and a big reason for that is the many Adventureland/Polynesian inspired pieces they have. I’ve also seen these Luau bowls at the actual Poly whenever I go to ‘Ohana, and behind glass cases at the Art of Disney store. This bowl is something I’ve always wanted but never thought I would actually own.

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Central Florida Excursion: Bok Tower Gardens and Spook Hill

by on February 27, 2015

Bok Tower - Natalie Reinert

Bok Tower Gardens is a sanctuary of peace and quiet – the perfect addition to any Disney vacation (especially during high season).

Looking for a unique half-day destination near Disney World, LEGOLAND, and the other central Florida theme parks? Head south on Highway 27 for Lake Wales. This historic community, located in the rolling hills (yes, central Florida has rolling hills!) of the Lake Wales Ridge, is home to two attractions you won’t find anywhere else: Bok Tower Gardens and Spook Hill. They’re just a few miles apart, making this an easy two-part visit, less than an hour from Walt Disney World.

Bok Tower Gardens might not sound like a family destination at first. The serene gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. (the son of famed Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmstead), surround a neo-Gothic tower on a hilltop, known as the Singing Tower for its carillon of sixty brass bells. Anyone would be excused for thinking that this sounds more like an outing with the grandparents than a fun day out with kids, especially kids freshly hyped-up from a Disney vacation.

But this National Historic Landmark is worth a second look. The secluded winding pathways and broad grassy lawns? Great for kids who want to run and burn off some unregulated steam. The massive growths of tropical foliage and rare flowers? They make for a really convincing backdrop to your own personal dinosaur movie. (Note to self: bring plastic dinosaurs for a photoshoot next time). The park benches placed to give you the best views of citrus groves and rolling hills from the one of the highest points in peninsular Florida? An awesome place to relax and take in the scenery while the kids do their running-around thing on the grassy slope.

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A Non-Park Disney Vacation

by on February 25, 2015

As a non-Florida resident, my trips to Walt Disney World are not as frequent as I’d like. And when I get the opportunity to get to my favorite place on earth, I plan every moment of every day and pack in as much pixie dust as possible. It’s not uncommon for me to only get 4-5 hours of sleep a night as I open and close parks and fill the days with finely-tuned Touring Plans and FastPass+ reservations. These trips usually end with me in a Disney-induced coma on a plane heading back to the southwest, but completely content. I imagine it’s what marathon runners must feel like. Yeah, it can be painful, and sometimes you wonder if you’re insane for committing to this, but afterword it’s such a triumph and you can’t help but feel proud for all you’ve accomplished.

Photo - Michael Dahlgren

It’s vision that brings us all joy.
Photo by Michael Dahlgren

When I was presented with the opportunity to be in Orlando for a work conference, my heart simultaneously leapt and crashed all at once. What a great excuse for an impromptu Disney trip (especially with a flight and 2 hotel nights paid for)! But then I looked at my budget, there’s a reason I didn’t have a Disney trip in the works already – I was already over-extended and committed to other trips this year. But how could I be in Orlando – so close to the House of the Mouse and NOT go?! The mere idea violates my very nature as a Disneyphile. I confided my disappointment in friend who kindly suggested, why don’t I just pick one park to go to for a day? That suggestion is almost more unnatural. One park? How can I choose one park? That’s like choosing a favorite child! I love them all! Choose the classic innocence and magic of Magic Kingdom over the food and culture of Epcot?  Or the details and natural beauty of Animal Kingdom over the stomach churning thrill rides of Hollywood Studios? No, no – there’s no way to pick just one park! The thought then occurred to me, I could do the four-parks-in-one-day challenge. But with only one day to dedicate to parks, I couldn’t be cheated that way. And I know that there’s no way I could only do one or two attractions in each park and pass by everything else without knowing I’d be right back to really do the park justice. And the time spent traveling between parks would take up too much precious time. So, that ruled out four park hopping.

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Disney It Yourself: The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App Review

by on February 24, 2015

Photo - Angela DahlgrenImagine yourself sitting in front of the television on a Sunday evening. There you are minding your own business when suddenly, a Disney Parks commercial comes on.

BAM! The nostalgia hits you like a ton of bricks. You get that yearning feeling in the pit of your stomach while your heart aches for the most magical place on earth. Your next trip isn’t for several months. What can you do?!

In this series, I’m on a quest to scratch that Disney itch from the comfort of my own home. I’ll be reviewing Disney apps, trying out Disney crafts and exploring different options for satisfying that Disney craving.

First on the agenda: The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App.

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure App was first introduced in the Apple App Store on June 24, 2013. An update followed on March 14, 2014. It is based off the attraction of the same name, found at Innoventions West in Epcot. It is published by Disney and is presented by T. Rowe Price.

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Foodie Awards: Where Locals Eat (Part 1)

by on February 23, 2015

Every major area has their town’s “best of” competition, and Orlando is no exception. Each year, the Orlando Sentinel runs an extensive foodie competition where readers and critics weigh in on the best of various cuisines throughout the Orlando metro area. A surprising (or not so surprising, depending on your view) number of these restaurants are located near the Walt Disney World resort, and make great options for times when you want to drive off property for a little something different than “normal” Walt Disney World dining.

I’ve gone through the restaurants and compiled all of the restaurants that are less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World here. And yes, I’ve eaten at many of them. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.) So if you’re looking for a change of pace, here’s some places to try.

Boma (Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jiko (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Both Boma and Jiko are perennial favorites in The Unofficial Guide, so it is no surprise they rate highly in this award as well. The African-inspired cuisine is not only delicious, but very approachable, even for cautious eaters.

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Publix Super Market (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Bakery). Various locations near Walt Disney World.

It may come as a surprise for people outside of Florida that Publix was a winner for best bakery, but the Publix bakery has a pretty devoted following within the Sunshine State. Insider tip: Kids get a free cookie just by stopping by.

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (Readers’ Choice: Best Bar Menu; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Burger). 6000 Universal Boulevard at Universal CityWalk.

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SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL EDITION: Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards (AKA “The Burgys”)

by on February 21, 2015

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The most coveted theme park award of all… The Golden Burgy.

This week’s SATURDAY SIX presents the Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards. This weekend, while the rest of the world is preparing for The Oscars and spending hours watching awards given to films they haven’t even heard of, let alone watched (not to mention the outright Best Picture snubs of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), readers of this column will be able to see their favorite theme park attractions get the attention they deserve. The Golden Burgy, theme park media’s highest award, is being handed out to the rides, shows, restaurants, and experiences that truly stood out over the past year.

Just as the Academy Awards hand out their lesser prizes before the main show, we’d like to present two of our minor awards before we get to the big ones. First, a Golden Burgy goes to the Holy Land Experience in the category of Best Theme Park Food Pun for their Garden of Eaten Chicken Salad Sandwich. Interestingly enough, Holy Land had all the nominees in this category including JerusaLamb, Land of Milk (no honey,and My Cup Overflows Souvenir Refillable Cup. The category of Biggest Theme Park Free Fall experience was the tightest race of all the nominees. Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens was the favorite to win, but the coveted Golden Burgy instead went to SeaWorld’s stock price. Now that’s a drop.

With those out of the way, allow us to present to you the Inaugural SATURDAY SIX Theme Park Awards, starting with…

# 6 – Best New Ride Experience – Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts 

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The rotunda inside Gringotts bank includes an incredible view. And this is just the queue! (photo by Tom Bricker)

What else needs to be said about Universal’s newest E-Ticket attraction? The queue for Escape From Gringotts is one of the best in theme park history, loaded with magical details from the Harry Potter films. There are incredible goblin animatronics and million dollar chandeliers hanging above that make the Gringotts Bank lobby almost an attraction by itself.

Unlike IOA’s Forbidden Journey’s “best of” trip through the first four Potter films, Escape From Gringotts places guests directly into events from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Ingeniously showing a movie scene from another perspective, Escape From Gringotts takes Universal’s motto of Ride The Movies to the next level.

Worst New Ride Experience – Being attacked by bees on Rip Ride Rocket 

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“Oh the humanity!” Swarms of bees attack riders on Universal Studios Florida’s Rip Ride Rockit. (photo by Mike Sperduto and Matt Cleary.)

While just a minor blip on the radar in 2014, the story of Rip Ride Rockit having a minor problem with bees was enough for us to envision the plot of a new horror film.

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Easy Florida Eco-Adventures on the Space Coast

by on February 20, 2015

Did someone say adventure? Well, it’s out there, and it’s right outside of your favorite Disney destinations.

We all know by now that Florida is way more than theme parks, right? And the great outdoors is finally getting its due, with animal encounters and adventure parks all over the place these days. Even within Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests have the opportunity to get out of the ride vehicle and right into the animal exhibits with the Wild Africa Trek. Zip-lining, close encounters with wild animals, hanging bridges — just in case the Kilimanjaro Safaris are too tame for you.

Disney Ship Manatee Park - Natalie Reinert

A Disney Cruise Line ship peeks over the mangroves at Manatee Sanctuary Park in Cape Canaveral.

But maybe you’re not so into the swinging rope bridge over the crocodile pond. Maybe you’d just like to get a good look at the native flora and fauna. After all, Florida’s a unique place. Well, there are quieter, gentler adventures you can find on your Florida vacation. And if you’re staying at Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral, even just for a day before or after your Disney cruise, you can get easily out there and explore Florida’s wild wonders — without even getting out of your car, in some cases. There are easy Florida eco-adventures on the Space Coast that will open up your eyes to Florida’s wealth of wildlife, wetlands, and true wild spirit.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Black Point Wildlife Drive is an easy way to get a taste of Florida wetlands. From saltwater marsh to pine uplands, from alligators to eagles, the Black Point Wildlife Drive was designed to show guests the remarkable number of ecosystems that exist along Florida’s shorelines. And it does so against an unforgettable backdrop: the rocket launch and production facilities of Kennedy Space Center. 

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Disneyland or Disney World – What’s the Difference? Part 2

by on February 19, 2015

Disneyland or Disney WorldDisneyland or Disney World? Welcome back to our four part series, where we will continue to debate this very question. In case you missed it, in part one we took a look at some of the key differences between Disneyland and Disney World in the areas of size and scope, atmosphere, and weather. In part two, let’s continue our side-by-side comparison of Disneyland and Disney World by discussing the topics of crowds, pricing, and accommodations.

Crowds

The Disneyland Resort crowds are greatly affected by the number of local tourists that visit the Parks every day of the year. Disneyland Resort offers a variety of annual pass options that many local residents choose to purchase. Weekends and nice weather days will always see a jump in attendance throughout the year as annual pass holders take advantage how easy it is to just drop by the resort. Fridays and Mondays are also more crowded than the rest of the weekdays as locals extend their weekends. Another factor that impacts the Disneyland Resort crowds is the number of people visiting the area for conventions. The Anaheim Convention Center is the largest facility on the west coast and hosts thousands of visitors each year. Although the attendees are usually occupied for several hours a day with business, these travelers often take this opportunity to bring their families with them to enjoy the Disneyland Resort while they work. Not to mention, the crowds are also greater when the Disneyland Resort is offering one of their special events such as Halloween Time or Happy Lunar New Year.

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A Tale of Two Runners and runDisney

by on February 15, 2015

To the shock and utter amazement of those that know me well (and even myself), I am contemplating signing up for a runDisney event in 2016. I have scoured every inch of the runDisney website and read many other people’s blogs about their experiences. However, I had concerns about what hotel was the right one to stay at for these events, so I asked two previous runDisney racers: Dave Russ, a casual runner who mainly does 5ks to support local causes, and Jordan Viebranz, a more seasoned runner who loves sharing his experiences and motivating others to participate.

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What runDisney event(s) have you participated in?

Dave: I did the Tower of Terror 10 miler in 2014.

Jordan: I participated in the Goofy Challenge this year. Last year (2014) I participated in the 10k and the full marathon.

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