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Sunset Over the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jedi, Wookiees and Sith, Oh My! Star Wars Weekends Launches at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

posted on May 26th, 2011 by Gary Buchanan, Social Media Managing Editor

While the galaxy’s eyes last Friday were on the spectacular launch of “Star Tours – The Adventures Continue” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Star Wars Weekends 2011 began the same day with a legion of Star Wars fans in attendance.

With Star Tours serving as the centerpiece of the celebration, Star Wars Weekends returned bigger than ever with new characters, new shows, a larger stage for the Hyperspace Hoopla and some of the brightest stars from the Star Wars Saga and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Let’s join our favorite Star Wars Weekends roving reporter, John, as he chats with some of the celebrities and fans visiting Weekend I, recaps some of the Grand Opening fun and gives us a peek into what’s coming up for Weekend II.

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Filed: Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort

It’s Soft-Shell Crab Season at California Grill at Walt Disney World

posted on May 26th, 2011 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer

For just about four more weeks, soft-shell crab fans will want to know that Chef Brian Piasecki has the delectable seafood on the menu at California Grill, serving them two interesting ways: in the sushi “Medusa Roll” with asparagus, spicy mayo and yuzu pepper sauce; and as little sliders on housemade brioche with a side of Florida peach ketchup. Order them both and it’s a delicious, indulgent dinner.

'Medusa Roll' from California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort

It’s been 16 years this month since California Grill debuted on May 15, 1995, high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, opening a new chapter in Walt Disney World Resort dining. Our server Steven has been there since Day 1, he told us, and still enjoys hearing diners rave about the cuisine.

Soft-Shell Crab Sliders from California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort

If soft-shell crab isn’t your favorite, you may want to try Chef Piasecki’s crispy Asian rock shrimp salad with Florida citrus and a kicky dressing with soy and wasabi cream. Or the heirloom Florida melon salad with baby arugula, prosciutto di Parma and vanilla vinaigrette. Carnivores not counting calories will like the rotisserie-roasted barbecued chicken flatbread with Peppadew barbecue sauce, Zellwood sweet corn salsa and smoked cheddar. Warning: Chef Piasecki changes his menu often, so these springtime eats may not be on the summer menu.

Springtime entrées include a cast iron-seared veal tenderloin with tiny potatoes and fiddlehead ferns with a morel-spring veggie vinaigrette; artichoke and cheese raviolis; and petite chicken with pickled ramps, wild mushrooms, Zellwood corn, bacon, favas and pommes frites with a sherry jus. No worries, the classics are still on the menu if you want – grilled pork tenderloin with goat cheese polenta and oak-fired filet of beef with mascarpone potatoes are there.

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Filed: Disney Dining, Hotels & Resorts, Walt Disney World Resort

Students Awarded $50,000 in Disneyland Resort Scholarships for Philanthropy Work

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Betsy Sanchez, Manager of Media Relations, Disneyland Resort

It’s the season of caps and gowns and “Pomp and Circumstance” and the time of year when we at the Disneyland Resort have the honor of recognizing 10 exceptional Orange County graduates for the passion and commitment they have shown to their communities and academia.

In six years, the Disneyland Resort has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships. The caliber of students exceeds expectations each year – and this year is no exception. Meet Jordyn Berk of Capistrano Valley High School.

Jordyn Berk of Capistrano Valley High School and Recipient of Disneyland Resort Scholarship

Berk learned about diabetes at an early age by watching her grandfather’s struggle with the disease and decided to take action. She combined her passion for karate with her hope of finding a cure and founded the annual Chop for Charity fundraiser in benefit of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and CHOC Children’s. The event raises money by showcasing board-breaking demonstrations and allowing individuals a try at their own karate chop at a wooden board. This year alone, Berk, who also volunteers at Boys Town, the American Red Cross and Second Harvest (just to name a few), has already raised more than $50,000.

We are proud of all of our scholarship recipients and wish them continued success as they embark on their college experience.

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Filed: Community Outreach, Disneyland Resort

‘Eat to the Beat’ 2011 Concert Series Lineup at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Thomas Smith, Editorial Content Director, Disney Parks

‘Eat to the Beat’ 2011 Concert Series at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

We just got our hands on the lineup of performers for the “Eat to the Beat” Concert Series at the 2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and it’s going to be good. Look who’s coming – there will be several Grammy-winning artists and some new acts for music lovers. This year’s schedule (subject to change) includes:

  • Taylor Dayne: 9/30-10/2/11
  • 38 Special: 10/3-5/11
  • Jon Secada: 10/6-7/11
  • Roger Hodgson formerly of Supertramp: 10/8-9/11
  • Billy Ocean: 10/10-12/11
  • Starship starring Mickey Thomas: 10/13-16/11
  • Sugar Ray: 10/17-19/11
  • The Orchestra starring former members of ELO: 10/20-21/11
  • Howard Jones: 10/22-23/11
  • Boyz II Men: 10/24-26/11
  • Gin Blossoms: 10/27-28/11
  • Sister Hazel: 10/29-30/11
  • Hanson: 10/31-11/1/11
  • The Pointer Sisters: 11/2-3/11
  • Night Ranger: 11/4-6/11
  • Air Supply: 11/7-8/11
  • Richard Marx: 11/9-10/11
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: 11/11-13/11

The concerts, which are included with Epcot admission, will be at the America Gardens Theatre stage beginning September 30. Performances will be nightly and of course, this year’s schedule is subject to change.

Let us know who you’re looking forward to seeing this year.

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Filed: Epcot, Special Events, Walt Disney World Resort

Come Ashore and See What’s ‘In Store’ at the Disneyland Resort!

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Michelle Harker, Manager, Merchandise Marketing & Communications, Disneyland Resort

We have a summer line-up of great things “in store” for you! From the release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” to the launch of exciting new attractions like “Star Tours – The Adventures Continue” and The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, to new stores in Disney California Adventure park including Embarcadero Gifts and Seaside Souvenirs to, my favorite, merchandise.

Here’s a quick look around the Disneyland Resort at some of the new offerings you won’t want to miss!

Studio Disney 365 is right on trend with a new makeover package for girls themed to what else…Pirate Rockers. While most girls will probably choose to “rock” the side braid style bun complete with color streaks, I can tell you, adding the pirate-themed hat and costume finishes the look. Arrgghh ya ready??

Pirate Rocker Makeover at Studio Disney 365 Little Mermaid Transformation at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Also making a splash this summer is a Little Mermaid-inspired transformation at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Your little princesses will surely dive in for some fun as they are transformed from head to toe or…fin!

Both transformation packages are available for a limited time only, so if your little one is looking to switch up her summer style, then you know the place to go. Reservations are available now. Call 714-781-STYLE.

Guys – right now I know you’re shaking your head that this post has been focused on offerings for girls, but take note: here’s a little something that will be more your speed. In the next week or so, look for a post on a much-anticipated signing taking place June 25 with Custom Car Builder and Designer Chip Foose. See, I’ve got you covered, too!

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Filed: Disneyland Resort

Walt Disney Imagineers Take ‘The Little Mermaid’ To New Depths

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Jennifer Fickley-Baker, Editorial Content Manager

Today, I’m happy to present our Disney Parks Blog readers with an update on the progress of the Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction, which is currently under construction as part of the Fantasyland expansion at Magic Kingdom Park.

Rendering of Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid Attraction

In case you aren’t familiar, this new attraction will allow guests to journey to the ocean floor to accompany Ariel and her friends on their exciting – and daring – undersea adventures. To make this experience as magical as possible, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) has been working hard to design advanced Audio-Animatronics figures and other special effects to enable families to truly become a part of Ariel’s world.

Construction of Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid Attraction

WDI has already begun laying the attraction’s internal ride track, which will whisk guests in an Omnimover clamshell vehicle through colorful scenes above and below the surface of the sea.

The expanded Fantasyland – and its many new offerings – are scheduled to open in phases beginning in late 2012.

TIP: To check out the progress being made on a similar attraction, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, which is set to open June 3 at Disney California Adventure park, check out any of these earlier blog posts and videos:

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Filed: Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort

New Wave of Hidden Mickey Pins Coming to Disney Parks

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Steven Miller, Merchandise Communications Manager

Hidden Mickey Tee-Shirt Pins Coming to Disney Parks

At the beginning of this year, I shared details about the new Hidden Mickey pins coming to cast members’ lanyards at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort in 2011. I mentioned that this year we are releasing two “waves” of pins for each coast. I hope you have enjoyed collecting “Wave A” these past few months; “Wave B” will be arriving in July. Here is a brief look at what you may find during the remainder of the year.

Hidden Mickey United Kingdom Pins Coming to Disney Parks

First, I’m happy to share a collection coming to Walt Disney World that was inspired by Courtney McBride, a retail guest service manager from Disney’s Contemporary Resort. In March 2010, Courtney was recognized for her outstanding leadership by her fellow merchandise cast members. I thought a great celebratory “prize” would be the opportunity to design a series of Hidden Mickey pins. I asked Courtney about the reason she chose to feature the United Kingdom.

“I love the United Kingdom,” exclaimed Courtney. “I’m a fan of British pop culture. When I visited the UK on holiday, I realized that many British icons represented in movies, television shows and artwork are part of the landscape. I think my favorite pin is the Rose and Crown Pub logo as it is one of my favorite places at Walt Disney World.”

Hidden Mickey Mouse Pins Coming to Disney Parks

A set of pins coming to the Disneyland Resort features the one and only Mickey Mouse. The quote that inspired me was something like – “A Mickey Mouse by any other name is still Mickey” (then again, I may have been thinking of roses). Mickey’s pose was taken from a Mickey Mouse Club card from the 1930s. His name is written in Italian, Norwegian, German, Swedish and English. “Micky Maus” is my favorite.

Hidden Mickey Princess Pins Coming to Disney Parks

For years, I’ve included Disney Princesses in the Hidden Mickey collections. This year, it’s Princesses in flowers (see – I did have roses on my mind). The set will be released in Florida.

Finally, you will find additional tee-shirt pins being released in California and Florida (special thanks to Disney artist Monty Maldovan for being the model for the image at top). The artwork for these pins came from Tokyo Disney Resort in December 2008. After seeing the art, I immediately thought they would make great pins (especially with so many unique characters like Angel, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck’s nephews and Tigger).

Keep watching as we will update the site once the “Wave B” pins have been released for trading coming mid-Summer. Happy Trading!

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Wildlife Wednesdays: First Birthday for Baby Elephant Luna and Conserving Elephants in the Wild

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Dr. Mark Stetter, Director of Animal Operations, Disney Parks

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, our guests get to see elephants in a beautiful, naturalistic setting. This is just one of the many ways that we are inspiring conservation by connecting families with the wonders of the natural world.

Baby Elephant Luna at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I’m pleased to report that we’ve recently achieved two elephant conservation milestones – the first milestone is the birthday of our youngest elephant calf, Luna, who was born to second-time mom, Donna, one year ago this past Friday, May 20. At her birth, which was announced here on the Disney Parks Blog, Luna weighed 288 pounds.

Donna and Her Calf, Luna, at Disney's Animal Kingdom

With an average weight gain of 2 pounds per day, Luna now weighs a whopping 896 pounds! Elephant team members tell us that her favorite things to do are playing with the other elephant calves – and in the mud wallow on the Kilimanjaro Safaris – and chasing the native birds that “dare” to enter her habitat.

Luna is the fifth elephant born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In addition to Donna’s first female calf Nadirah, Tufani, a male, was born in 2003; Kianga, a female, was born in 2004; and Tsavo, the youngest male, joined the herd in 2008. All remain on the savanna at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These births represent a conservation milestone because the number of elephants in North American zoological facilities and wildlife centers has been dwindling and Disney’s Animal Kingdom is participating in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Elephant Species Survival Plan. Research has shown that, when people see elephants and other wildlife face-to-face, they feel a strong connection and are motivated to take action to protect wildlife and nature. And having elephant babies enables our elephants to live in herds with moms, “aunties” and youngsters, as they would in the wild.

Disney Elephant Conservation Efforts

Since elephants are an endangered species, the second conservation milestone might seem confusing at first. It’s elephant population management in the wild. Because elephant habitat in Africa is shrinking, in some areas there are more elephants than the limited amount of habitat can sustain. During the past seven years, I’ve had the opportunity, with other team members, to be part of an international coalition of veterinarians, conservation groups and others traveling to Africa to perform laparoscopic vasectomies on bull elephants. The goal is to help humanely control the population as an alternative to culling. The procedure is designed to reduce the elephant birth rates in wildlife reserves, while maintaining normal social behaviors for the individual elephants. Our elephant population management program has now been utilized in two African countries and six different wildlife reserves. With no other alternatives, most of these reserves were poised to hunt these elephants without our help.

On our most recent trip, which took place earlier this month, we performed vasectomies on 14 bull elephants in the Selati Wildlife Reserve in South Africa. All the elephants recovered well from the procedure. We also taught South African veterinarians how to perform the vasectomies and they were performing the surgeries on their own by the end of the trip. The team from Disney started this important work many years ago and I’m proud to have seen its growth and success. From these efforts, the Elephant Population Management Program was formed and is now its own non-profit conservation organization. This is just one way that we are helping to conserve elephants in the wild.

Helping animals – and inspiring conservation by connecting people with the wonder of the natural world – are efforts that we all can be very proud of.

To learn more about Disney conservation efforts, visit

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We Have Your Passport to a Disney Soundsational Summer!

posted on May 24th, 2011 by Valarie Sukovaty, Disneyland Public Relations

We’re just days away from the official kick-off of “Disney Soundsational Summer!” here at the Disneyland Resort – it all begins June 3. Wow! What a summer it will be! Your adventures begin under the sea at The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure park. You’ll board a pastel-colored “clam shell” and become part of Ariel’s world in this soon-to-be classic Disney “dark ride” – part of the magical transformation of Disney California Adventure park.

Over at Disneyland park, you’ll take off to a galaxy far, far away with more than 50 different 3D adventures on Star Tours. You’ll be transported to many Star Wars destinations where you’ll come face to face with characters throughout the Saga. Buckle up!

And if that’s not enough, I’m really excited to see “Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.” This exciting parade brings a new beat to the streets of Disneyland park, as guests go on a journey of sound, with an exciting musical score, thrilling rhythms and bold percussion.

And over at the Disneyland Hotel, recent renovations and enhancements include a brand new pool and water play area, new restaurants and some amazing signature suites. But enough talk! Take a look at this video and see for yourself what’s new this summer here at the Disneyland Resort.

What are you most looking forward to as we kick off Disney Soundsational Summer?

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Filed: Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort

Aerosmith Guitarist Joe Perry Rocks with Goofy and Guests

posted on May 24th, 2011 by Gary Buchanan, Social Media Managing Editor

While Disney’s Hollywood Studios was abuzz last week with all-things-Star Tours, there also was an electric (guitar) feeling in the air along Sunset Blvd., as Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry made a surprise visit to the roller coaster bearing his band’s famous name.

Aerosmith Guitarist Joe Perry Rocks with Goofy and Guests

The legendary musician, who recalled riding Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith dozens of times with guests on its opening day in 1999, posed with Goofy in front of the four-story-tall, iconic guitar in the attraction’s courtyard. Disney Parks photographer Gene Duncan, who took pictures of Perry and the rest of Aerosmith at the grand opening ceremony in 1999, also was on hand last week to shoot this photo of Goofy and his new rock-and-roll pal.

Aerosmith Guitarist Joe Perry with Guests, Holley Whitehead and Morgan McGaugn

The members of Aerosmith are known for dedication to their fans (that, and for taking them on really fast, super-stretch limo rides through the L.A. hills, of course). Following a few photos with Goofy, Joe showed that dedication and made quite a few Magic Moments as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with many of the guests who had gathered in the courtyard to see the excitement. Two of those guests, Holley Whitehead and Morgan McGaugn, visiting from Mississippi, are pictured above as they capture their own souvenir photo with the legendary guitarist.

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Filed: Celebrity Visits, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort