Count characters in bloom at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

I don’t garden or tend flowers, don’t cultivate a single square foot of my property, and certainly neither of my thumbs would be mistaken for green. Instead, I’d rather get that green fix at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival. It’s all the beauty of gardening without the hours toiling away in the yard and the inevitable disappointment when the local rabbit population decimates my veggie plot.

A recent springtime trip to Epcot found our sunny days filled with lush gardens, explosions of color, favorite Disney characters in bloom and — very important here — the delicious outdoor kitchens that sustain us throughout our touring. We made our way from Future World to World Showcase checking off the character topiaries on our Garden Passports — which made for a fun activity for the kids and a cool souvenir as well. Here are some of our favorites (clockwise from top left: The Three Caballeros hot pepper garden in Mexico, Phineas and Ferb at Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure kiosk in Future World, the Seven Dwarfs in Germany and the new FIgment sculpture near Spaceship Earth.).

After the sun goes down, the topiaries and many gardens are lit so you can still seek them out as you nosh your way around the outdoor kitchens and take in some tunes from the Garden Rocks concert series. And, of course, Mickey and pals are there in full bloom to bid you good night as you head out after a full day in the park.


Location: The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs from early March through May each spring at Walt Disney World Resort. Admission to the festival is included in your theme park ticket.


Join in the “Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It!” Street Party

What I appreciate most about the Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party is the way it encourages guests to work off that Dole Whip. (Or, less aggressively, join in the festivities.)

The first time I saw the caravan coming down Main Street — originally called Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! —  I figured it was another rather passive parade and staked out a spot on the curb. It wasn’t until observing the street dance at the Castle hub that I realized there was a very interactive second half to the show. Once the parade – made up of giant gift box floats carrying characters like Mickey, Donald, Baloo the Bear from Jungle Book, and the stars of Zootopia – reaches the hub, a full-on dance party breaks out. Stilt-walkers and characters leading conga lines pump up the energy level. Be sure to snap some pictures while you’re rocking out — if you share the photos on social media they might be chosen for display on the giant gift tag screens!

Nearing the end of the party, guests are asked to vote by cheers for the final song played. The floats then parade back down Main Street until the next dance party is scheduled to break out. In the meantime, go grab yourself that second Dole Whip.


Location: Find the Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party coming down Main Street USA multiple times a day, Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.


Chip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

MH chipdale campfireChip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along was the ideal finale to a resort day spent relaxing and exploring The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. We had earmarked the first full day of our trip as one to take advantage of some of the recreation at the expansive resort — and the campfire did not disappoint. It was a cowboy-crooning, s’mores-stuffed good time had by all.

We started things off with a round of beanbag toss alongside Chip and Dale. Arriving to the outdoor theater a half hour before the sing-along began gave us time to mingle with the ‘munks, purchase a s’mores kit from the Chuckwagon, and snag one of the wooden benches near the front (preferable to the bleachers behind).

Let’s talk about how bowled over I was to see the price of the s’mores kit! Correct me if I’m wrong but this must be the only spot on property where a family of 6 can be treated to dessert (and lots of it) by parting with a mere $10. The kit included a big bag of marshmallows, a third pack of grahams, 2 Hershey bars, 2 roasting sticks, and wet wipes. After the Cast Members lit the two fire pits, my little ones gathered ’round to roast the perfect mallow.

PicMonkey Collage campfireTo officially kick things off, Cowboy Anthony took the stage and led us in some campfire classics. Also plenty of tunes that little ones should have no problem singing along to. While we’re belting out “Home on the Range”, Chip ‘n Dale each take a side of the crowd and go up and down the aisles greeting guests and taking photos.

If the kiddos can keep their eyes open, a Disney movie is shown under the stars on the big screen. Ours begged to linger, but we packed them off in order to rest up for a busy day at the parks. Back to the cabin they went – singing “The Ballad of Pecos Bill” all the way…


Location: Find Chip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along presented nightly around 7pm at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, Walt Disney World Resort. There is no charge to attend the event.


Play in the ImageWorks: The What If? Labs

If you’ve got young children and can spare a few minutes in your touring schedule, consider letting them roam around ImageWorks: The What If? Labs at the exit of the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction. It’s one of the few spaces at Epcot that allows kids a little wiggle room – and busies them with activities such as:

MH imageworks

  • playing musical instruments with their feet via sensors in the carpet
  • customizing digital pictures of Figment – and emailing them home
  • conducting an orchestra with the wave of your arm in Figment’s Melody Maker
  • and a puzzling panel of rainbow-colored lights that I’ve never been able to figure out how to interact with. Is there anyone out there who’s got a clue?

MH imageworksWarning: Spending any significant amount of time in ImageWorks: The What If? Labs may result in “One Little Spark” stuck playing in your head the remainder of the day.


Location: ImageWorks: The What If? Labs are located within the Imagination! Pavilion in the Future World area of Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.


Character Series: Meet Woody & Jessie from “Toy Story”

Got fans of the Toy Story series in your family? We’ve had four little fans ourselves over the years, but only once – out of many trips – have we been in the right place at the right time to meet Sheriff Woody and Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl. Our photo with the duo was taken in 2008, when our oldest daughter was 2 ½. Woody and Jessie continue to greet guests at the same spot today, near the exit of Splash Mountain.

MH meet woody and jessie

Other opportunities to meet the pair have included their previous dance party hosting gigs at the Diamond Horseshoe during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party. Over in Disneyland, Woody and Jessie have made appearances at Woody’s Halloween Roundup at the Big Thunder Ranch Halloween Carnival during Halloween Time.


Location: Meet Woody and Jessie daily in the Frontierland section of Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.


Character Series: Meet Tiana

At the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Tiana and Prince Naveen regularly greet guests in a small gazebo behind Liberty Tree Tavern. Our meeting did not take place there, rather we happened upon the princess during a cruise on the Disney Magic.

Tiana, along with a host of other characters, was appearing at the ‘Til We Meet Again Party, a farewell show that takes place in the Atrium the night before debarkation. Guests can mingle with Disney characters and performers from the shows that take place nightly in the Walt Disney Theatre. You can’t tell from the photo above that it was taken after 10pm; the 2½-year-old is rarely up past 8!


Experience the Festival of Fantasy Parade

The new Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom pays homage to most of the beloved Disney classic characters – presenting them on adventurous, eye-popping floats bursting with color and whimsy. Ariel, for instance, waves to the crowd atop a giant clamshell music box trimmed with fish dancing in a conga line. Cinderella and her Prince dance beneath the birds and mice creating a gown for her to wear to the ball. And Peter Pan and Wendy soar above guests in a pirate ship, likely nabbed from Captain Hook, who fumes on an anchor below.

There are also nods to some of Disney’s newer heroines, including Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and those ubiquitous Frozen sisters. The creations carrying the Tangled and Brave characters are among our favorites for their bold designs — Rapunzel’s hair is woven around pendulums swinging with characters from the story, and Merida is perched atop a giant bagpipe while Highland dancers perform in the street before her.

Most intriguing of all floats is the 26-foot tall fire-breathing dragon Maleficent, an innovative contraption that can bend and twist its neck, arms and spiky long tail. Our kids were absolutely in awe of that dragon.

Mickey and Minnie still claim their traditional spot at the end of the parade, in this case riding in a hot air balloon. Dozens of other characters also make up the cavalcade, performing in the street and interacting with the crowd to music from the films and a “Festival of Fantasy” refrain.


Location: Festival of Fantasy Parade is a daytime parade performed once or twice daily in Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: You can reserve a FastPass+ for the parade; viewing area is around the flagpole on Main Street. Usually crowds start to line up 30 minutes prior to the start of the parade so make sure to stake out a spot early if you want a good view. The parade begins in Frontierland near Splash Mountain, winds through Liberty Square, around the hub, straight down Main Street, then exits through a gate near the car barn. Be aware that if you choose to view the parade from the Main Street hub, the floats will circle by about half an hour after the parade start time.


Kid dubbed “Ruler of the Realm” at Sword in the Stone Ceremony

MH sword in stone magic kingdomThere’s a great shot of my son (then 2 ½), in our Disney photo archives that shows him mugging as a young Arthur from The Sword in the Stone. We didn’t realize at the time that the sword he was attempting to pull from an anvil and stone was more than just a prop for a cute photo op. It was part of a daily ceremony performed by the magician Merlin to select a (temporary) new “Ruler of the Realm”! As you might guess, Merlin would call upon several youngsters in the crowd to try their hand at dislodging the sword from the anvil – and inevitably one would be victorious. The new ruler received a commemorative medal, certificate and bragging rights.

MH sword in stone disneylandThe show disappeared from the Magic Kingdom for a few years and has just recently made its way back. It appears that Merlin, perhaps an unfamiliar Disney character to many kids (not mine!), is no longer part of the entertainment. The details of the ceremony in Disneyland are uncertain, but I’m hoping one of my kids will have a shot at being dubbed the new “Ruler of the Realm”! On our most recent trip, the show wasn’t listed in the weekly entertainment brochure. Does anyone know the status of it?


Location: The “Ruler of the Realm” ceremony has been held in the Fantasyland sections of Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.


Star Wars™ Weekends return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Star Wars™ Weekends are back at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May 16 – June 15, 2014! The event, which takes place Friday – Sunday, is jam-packed full of special entertainment, characters and dining experiences celebrating the popular Star Wars films and the television series Star Wars™: The Clone Wars.

New Dining Experiences

Two brand-new character dining options are being added to the event this year. Fuel up for a day at Hollywood Studios with the Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast” at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). Mingle with Star Wars personalities while movie moments from the trilogy play out on the big screen. For dinner, join Mickey and Friends (dressed in their Star Wars best) for “Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood & Vine” ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). The interactive meal is sure to be out-of-this-world with music and a delicious dinner buffet. Included with both the breakfast and dinner is a digital photograph memento. These new limited-time dining experiences will be available daily May 4 – June 15, 2014.

New “Feel the Force Premium Package”

Take in the popular Legends of the Force: Star Wars™ Celebrity Motorcade and the Symphony in the Stars fireworks from an exclusive reserved viewing area. Light snacks and beverages will be served during the Motorcade (11am daily during the event). The fireworks will be accompanied by a special Star Wars-themed dessert party. Also included is a souvenir Disney PhotoPass® card with a series of complimentary Star Wars™ photos. This special-ticketed event occurs daily during the event May 16-June 15, 2014, and is priced at $54 for adults and $32 for children (tax and gratuity included).

Returning Star Wars Favorites

Special themed entertainment will be back for 2014 including:

  • Official opening of Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Stormtroopers at the Gate
  • Padawan Mind Challenge (interactive trivia game designed for ages 4 – 11)
  • Jedi Training Academy (ages 12 & under, also available year-round)
  • Meet-and-greet opportunities with Star Wars characters (and some Disney characters in their Star Wars finest)!
  • Autograph sessions and celebrity guests (Mark Hamill, June 6 – 8 only!)
  • Behind-the-scenes presentations at the Premiere Theater

Enjoy: Winnie-the-Pooh breakfast buffet at The Crystal Palace

Of the two options for sit-down breakfasts in the Magic Kingdom, one is pricey and the other is shockingly expensive. Especially if you’re feeding a larger-than-average family! This is primarily why we’ve balked at breakfasting with Cinderella and opted instead to dine with Winnie-the-Pooh and his pals at The Crystal Palace. Plus, the Palace does a decent breakfast buffet with lots of choices: cooked-to-order omelets for Mom and Dad, Mickey waffles for the kids and plenty of fruit and yogurt for the baby.

The restaurant is clearly named for its conservatory-style glass dome and walls of windows in the dining room that let in the sunlight. Palms, hanging plants and fun topiaries complete the feel. Winnie and Friends are on hand to keep things from feeling too grown-up garden-partyish – coming around to tables to greet guests, pose for pictures, and then lead the kids in a short parade.

MH winnie

Location: The Crystal Palace serves breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets in the Main Street U.S.A section of Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tips: Consider booking either the first (8 a.m.) or last (10:30 a.m.) seating time for the Winnie breakfast (if possible). Here’s why: The 8 a.m. reservation will allow you the earliest entry possible into the Magic Kingdom (read: beat the crowds!). Just show up at the “breakfast” turnstile about 20 minutes before your reservation and provide your ID and dining confirmation number. Booking the 10:30 a.m. slot (which we usually do) allows us to eat a light, cheap breakfast at the resort then bulk up at the Crystal Palace for an early lunch. Choosing the last seating time has also rewarded us extra time with the Winnie characters as new diners have not yet arrived for lunch.