The Pro Bowl Week is a week-long celebration that unites and inspires the entire football community – players, coaches, families, and fans for a full week of activities, challenges, and true football spirit.
During Pro Bowl Week, everyone has the opportunity to participate in or watch a variety of events, including youth football clinics, the NFL Flag Championships, Pro Bowl player practices, skill challenges, sessions for coaches, the Women’s World Football Championships, and a host of other festivities with the best players of the past, present and future.
Many events are taking place at Walt Disney World, and are free to attend. Practices are free and open to the public but fans can register for priority access here. Some events require a Fan Mobile Pass (FMP).
NFL Pro Bowl Practices
Pro Bowl Practices at ESPN Wide World of Sports are not only a chance to see NFC and AFC teams in action, but also the epicenter of a three-day football festival. Practice combined with various fan competitions and activities will be open to the public beginning Wednesday, January 25 and concludes on Saturday, January 28.
If you’re a fan of Sorcerer Mickey, Disney has you covered for merchandise in the new year. Here’s just a sample of the first merchandise hitting shops (and the Shop DisneyParks app) for 2017.
Clothing and Bags
Most of the clothing for sale is of the t-shirt variety, but that means you can get your money’s worth wearing it all year. Whether iconically Disney, bold and colorful, or subtle in design, Sorcerer Mickey is everywhere for 2017. Selections for kids, like long-sleeve or sweatshirt designs, are fairly limited, but there still are a few designs to choose from. If you prefer to carry your love for Disney with you instead of wearing it on your with sleeves, there are some backpacks and bags, again capturing that Disney magic theme.
Cups and Mugs
Depending on who you ask, it is impossible to have too many souvenir cups. If that’s your mindset, you can find a small assortment of 2017 coffee mugs, travel mugs, and “toothpick holders”.
Like a runaway Polar Express, the holiday shopping season is moving quickly to its conclusion. Whether you’re planning a trip for the holiday season, or just want to have a Disney touch for the holidays in your house, we’ve got you covered. Here’s some picks for holiday gifts that we’d like to see under the tree. Not in the area? Many of these items can be ordered directly from the Shop Parks app.
For the Home
I’m an anti-“stuff” person at heart. Every so often, Disney comes out with items that warm the heart of my Grinch-like demeanor. These Bambi-themed table items win on so many levels for me. First, although there’s nothing wrong with Mickey and Minnie, having other characters is a great change of pace. Second, they have a very classy look to them and don’t feel cartoonish.
If you have to have Mickey and Minnie, though, there are plenty of choices. Some are very classy.
When I started blogging for TouringPlans, oh those many years ago, I asked our fearless leader Len Testa what kinds of things I should write about. His response was, “Stick with our goal – help people save time and money on their vacations.” While that mission is fantastic, I sometimes struggle with the interplay between the two halves of the statement. Sometimes the things you might do to save time are diametrically opposed to the things you would do to save money, and vice versa. Let’s look at some of the tradeoffs.
PRIORITIZING SAVING TIME, EXTREME VERSION
If you have unlimited funds, there are plenty of things you can do to save time. First among them is hiring a VIP guide. For $400-$600, (price varies seasonally) per hour (with a six hour minimum), plus park tickets, for a group of up to ten people, you can have your very own cast member guide escort you around the parks in whatever manner you wish. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and bring you into the parks via a back door entrance (no pesky waiting for the bus or walking from the parking lot to the entrance gate). They’ll scoot you through the FastPass line for attractions, even if you don’t have a FastPass reservation. They’ll take you to a reserved area for parades and shows, so you don’t have to waste time staking out your spot in advance. In short, if you want to throw four or five thousand bucks extra bucks at the “saving time” problem, Disney has you covered.
A similar argument could be made that the new Magic Kingdom shantiescabanas at $650 per day are a way to obviate the need to go back to your resort for a nap. Why waste time shlepping back and forth to the hotel when you can sleep in privacy right in the middle of Tomorrowland.
Magical Express saves money, but might cost you time.
PRIORITIZING SAVING MONEY, EXTREME VERSION
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to save money, you can stay at a bargain-basement off-site hotel. A quick peek on Expedia will show several Orlando area options in the $50 range per night, or about half the price of the Disney World value level resorts. I was even able to find a deal for a $29 per night — at the M Hotel near Universal. (Let’s ignore the fact that the hotel’s reviews are, um, less than stellar. A fairly typical Expedia review said, “The only nice thing I can say about this hotel is that I’m still alive.”) You’ll certainly save money staying there, but you’ll have to factor in at least 30 minutes a day of extra travel time to and from the parks, and significantly more if you want to take a mid-day nap break. There are definitely more palatable bargain hotels that are closer to Walt Disney World, but they all involve time trade-offs. For example, if you’re using an off-site hotel’s shuttle service to the parks, you’ll be dropped off at the farthest bus zone, adding walk time. More obliquely, you may end up spending more time waiting for a meal or a ride because you did not have access to Disney resort guest early access to Dining or FastPass+ reservations.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2016. As theme park fans, we’ve had a lot to be thankful for this year. However, as much as we are looking forward to the opening of Pandora and more Star Wars at Disney, or Volcano Bay and the upcoming Nintendo projects at Universal, it wasn’t all good news. This year we had to say goodbye to some old friends. Today we pay our respects to some of those that we lost in the past year, starting with….
While I was never the biggest fan of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, it did hold a special place in my heart because we got to see the Universal Classic Monsters – including Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein – on stage. Outside of cameos in the underrated Horror Make-up Show and theming inside the Classic Monsters Cafe, these characters are not being used in the park. The live show, headlined by Beetlejuice, had been recently revamped with the addition of new characters (including the Phantom of the Opera’s daughter Phantasia) and a new set list of songs.
Originally, Universal stated that the show was going to close on December 2, 2015. However, the show got a short lived stay of execution and continued on until January 5th, 2016. Both Beetlejuice and its next door neighbor Disaster were closed to make way for the upcoming Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction coming in 2018.
A moment of silence for Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice….Beetlejuice. (photo by @Drubov)
The great big Universal theme park in the sky. (photo by @Drubov)
# 5 – Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
DHS fans may want to get a box of Klennex ready, because you’re about to be in for a bumpy ride for the rest of the article. Speaking of bumpy rides (see what I did there) the Lights, Motors, Action! started its run in America as a “gift” from Disneyland Paris as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth. This is why you should ask for a gift receipt when given something, just in case you want to return it. The Action! part of the stunt show was awesome. Guests got to see cars and motorcycles in a series of elaborate sequences that involved crashes, jumps, and even explosions. Unfortunately the “action” only took up about 7 minutes of the near half-hour show. Like a real movie set, a lot of time has to be spent setting up the next stunt. In 2011, the show added in a segment featuring fan favorite Lightning McQueen from Cars.
On April 2, the Lights, Motors, Action! show performed its last stunt. In its place will be the new Star Wars Land.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Disneyland Snacks You Gotta Try! Longtime readers of the SATURDAY SIX know that we have a big case of the munchies going on 24/7. In fact, because of the articles on The 10 Gallon Challenge at Whispering Canyon and the E-Ticket milkshakes at Universal’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, this fine blog series is now the third leading cause of adult onset diabetes in America (and look out soda, we’re coming for you!) This week however we are gonna head across the country over to Guy Selga’s neck of the woods and check out the tasty treats at the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. Despite having only two parks compared to our four here in Florida, the Disneyland resort is chock full of incredibly unique and delicious items that you can only get out in California. This week we are going to look at six of our absolute favorite snacks, so sit back, loosen your belt a couple notches, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 Matterhorn Macaroon
The Matterhorn Macaroon in front of the fabled Matterhorn itself. (photo by Brandon Glover)
If you go to Disneyland and don’t stop by the Jolly Holiday Bakery to get a Matterhorn Macaroon, you’re doing it wrong. A coconut macaroon shaped like the iconic Disney mountain, topped with white chocolate, and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top for an awesome snow-like appearance, the Matterhorn Macaroon is ultimate in synergy between theme park attractions and snacks. Oh, and it just so happens to taste GREAT.
# 5 – Mickey Beignets
Mickey Beignet. (photo by Megan Stump)
Eventually we’ll be doing a blog on our favorite Mickey shaped food items, but one of our favorites is the sugary concoction found at the Mint Julep Bar or Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square (the latter of which serves them with dipping sauces.) We often find ourselves stopping by Port Orleans French Quarter just to grab some beignets here in Florida, so seeing them in the classic Mickey shape in Anaheim brings two of our favorite things together in one. Now that’s synergy we can get behind. Even better, Disneyland also offers flavored beignets such as pumpkin spice during Halloween and peppermint for the Christmas season.
Most years, Orange County Public Schools gives kids the entire week off for Thanksgiving so that everyone can travel. This year, because they want school to end in May (!?), they decided to hold school on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. No travel for us, and no one coming in town, so we got some fantastic family time. How much can we cram into one holiday weekend? Come along and find out!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2016 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday pre-planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts that we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a brief moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
# 6 – More Muppets in Walt Disney World!
With two major expansions coming to Disney Hollywood Studios, many fans of The Muppets were afraid that the Muppets courtyard and Muppet Vision 3D would be bulldozed as Disney prepared for our new Star Wars overlords. It didn’t help that in 2014 Muppets Most Wanted underperformed at the box office (making $30M less than The Muppets film which came out in 2011) and The Muppets television show on ABC had a major creative shakeup halfway through its first season, ultimately being cancelled earlier this year. Muppets fans breathed a sigh of relief when Disney officially released their plans for Star Wars at the D23 Expo, leaving the Muppets area of the park untouched.
Then, appearing like an early Christmas present, came a whole bunch of incredible great Muppet news. In October, The Muppets entered the Magic Kingdom for a hilarious new attraction in Liberty Square. The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History is filled with the perfect Muppet humor that can appeal to both adults and children. Over in EPCOT, the Muppet Mobile Lab featuring Beaker and Dr. Honeydew returned after being gone for many years. Meanwhile, back at DHS, the restaurant formerly known as Pizza Planet was completely transformed into the Muppet-themed PizzeRizzo.
So Muppets fans – like myself – started the year fearing we could be seeing the end of The Muppets in Walt Disney World, but by the end of the year we have more Muppets than ever before. Long Live The Muppets!
The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History. (photo by Brandon Glover)
The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History. (photo by Brandon Glover)
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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons You Need to Check Out SeaWorld Orlando! While no one loves Walt Disney World and Universal more than us, it is always good to remember just how many incredible things there are to do during your Orlando vacation outside of the Big Two. Last year we covered Busch Gardens Tampa, which has only gotten better with the debut of its Cobra’s Curse roller coaster (a fantastic family coaster in the vein of Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and today we are going to take a look at one of the most well known parks in the Orlando area, SeaWorld.
SeaWorld Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Located conveniently near both Universal and Walt Disney World, SeaWorld is in the process of building itself back up after several down years following the debut of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village, and the release of the controversial film Blackfish. A new management team is in place, and the company hasn’t made any what were they thinking mistakes in a long time. SeaWorld, much like WDW, Gatorland, and Wet ‘n Wild, is quintessential Orlando, and has been a part of family vacations for decades. Today we’re going to list our favorite reasons on why YOU need to make SeaWorld a part of your next trip to Florida. So sit back, stay out of the splash zone, and let’s start with…
# 6 – Mako and Manta
Thrill ride fans are blessed in Orlando with some truly great coaster experiences in rides such as Space Mountain and Expedition Everest along with Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy and The Incredible Hulk, but SeaWorld is home to two of possibly THE best roller coasters in town. The newest attraction at SeaWorld is Mako, the fastest coaster in town. Its not kidding around, as a hypercoaster Mako is built on raw speed and delivering multiple moments of weightlessness that coaster junkies crave. If you have the need for speed, you must ride Mako. SeaWorld also did an amazing job with the entire area surrounding Mako, as it gives more of a Disney/Universal feel in terms of an immersive experience.
Mako! (photo by Brandon Glover)
Objects in picture are higher than they appear. MUCH higher! (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Mako. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Meanwhile Manta just may be Your Humble Author’s favorite coaster. It all begins with a wonderful queue where you pass through an elaborately designed aquarium. The ride itself has the rider in a unique position where after loading the seat positions itself so the guest is facing the ground. While this position is to simulate riding under a stingray as it swims the ocean, it feels more like you are flying like Superman through the sky and is a wonderfully unique experience. While it may not have the big drops or intense speed of Mako, a ride on Manta is like no other and makes us smile from ear to ear.
Manta. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Manta. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
# 5 – Animal Interaction
One of the absolute best parts of SeaWorld is that it allows guests to get up close and personal to a wide array of animals. Whether it is feeding sea lions, touching a dolphin, or even being able to be just feet away from a swimming manatee, SeaWorld connects us to a world that normally we can’t be a part of. There is a running theme of conservation throughout the park which can actually show the impact we can have – both positive and negative – on the marine life around us. Whereas the message of Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom can be a little abstract to those of us in Orlando, SeaWorld works directly with the environment and animals of Florida.
Dolphin Encounter. (photo by Brandon Glover)
“Pardon me, coming through.” “Pardon me.” “Pardon me. (photo by Mike sperduto)