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Giving to get a Disney day

- February 12th, 2010

Today was all about volunteering at Walt Disney World.

Through celebrity appearances, a media event focused on assembling care packages for Haitians affected by the January earthquake, and a celebration of families across North America who went above and beyond for others, the real difference volunteers make was emphasized at every turn.

Disney’s “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” campaign encourages residents of the Unites States, Puerto Rico and Canada to volunteer for a day at an approved charity (enter your postal code here to find eligible charities in your area) in return for a one-day ticket to a Disney park.

More than 600,000 people have signed up to volunteer in the first six weeks of the campaign, according to the chairman of Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, Tom Staggs.

“Even we have been overwhelmed,” he said. “When people volunteer, it makes them feel good and they want to do it again and again. That is something worth celebrating.”

Families from across North America were chosen by Disney to be honoured at the park this morning for “giving back to their communities in special ways.”

Pennington
Ty Pennington celebrates volunteerism with Mickey & co.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s Ty Pennington, Kermit the Frog and Mickey Mouse were on hand at Epcot to congratulate the families.

“I can tell you, giving back not only changes the lives of others, but changes volunteers in ways they can’t imagine,” said Pennington.

Later, a sculpture made of 115,000 cans of food, representing 70,000 meals, and certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest structure of canned food was unveiled. The sculpture showed a curious Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald the Duck and Goofy peering over a wall with shovels in hand. Disassembled later in the day, the cans were distributed through central Florida and Miami.

Disney
A sculpture made of 115,000 canned goods is unveiled at Epcot.

Later, members of the media gathered to donate an hour to pack relief kits to be sent to Haiti and pot trees that will be planted locally. Though it was a small task, lending a hand to the efforts and knowing that my contribution would make a real difference in a community was truly a great feeling.


Robert Irvine talks volunteerism.

After the sun went down, making a chilly Florida day downright cold, both media and volunteer families were treated to a meal by Food Network host Robert Irvine. Irvine was filming an episode of his Dinner: Impossible program. In a limited amount of time, Disney staffers told me he would have to prepare a meal for more than 1,600 people.

As usual, Irvine pulled off the task and gave us an interesting Disney princess-inspired menu that included barbeque pork belly, macaroni and cheese, gyros, and cheesecake. He later took to the stage to thank the volunteers who had helped him prepare the meal.

Jonas
Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas perform for volunteer families.

Joe Jonas of the popular Jonas Brothers band had the teens in the crowd screaming after dinner when he spoke about his involvement in Disney’s Project Green before performing “Make a Wave” with Disney starlet Demi Lovato. The unreleased song was the soundtrack to clips played behind the singers from the upcoming Disneynature movie Oceans, a spectacular documentary about life under Earth’s waters. The movie opens on Earth Day

Though I finish today exhausted, I’m also excited about the great work Disney is doing to encourage even the smallest acts of volunteerism in North America, to help the environment, and to bring attention to real issues facing the Earth and its citizens.

As Staggs said, “With each of your efforts, you make a difference.”

- Nicole Feenstra

Disney World continues to change

- February 10th, 2010

Disney

While heading to the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex for a press conference on “What’s New, What’s Next” at Walt Disney World, I proudly showed off the “First Visit” Disney pin I received when checking in to some of my fellow journalists.

Though this is my first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, others on the trip have been here before. One writer told me this was her fourth trip, though Disney’s constantly evolving parks always provide plenty of fresh vacation experiences for her.

MegCrofton
Meg Crofton, Walt Disney World’s president.

At the conference, president of the Walt Disney World Resort Meg Crofton, president of worldwide operations Al Weiss, and senior vice-president of sports enterprises Ken Potrock revealed many of the changes visitors to Disney World can expect to discover in the coming year. For Canadians who love Mickey, this is very welcome news.

“We’ve created more ways to celebrate,” said Crofton, before she highlighted new attractions like the American Idol Experience, an updated Hall of Presidents, which now includes Barack Obama, and a new elevator drop sequence at the Tower of Terror.

Crofton also spoke about the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade, an announcement that was met with a round of applause from press who had obviously missed the glowing, light covered spectacle which last appeared in the Magic Kingdom in 2001.

LittleMermaid
A slideshow during the press conference showed an artist’s conception of the princess environments, including this one of the Little Mermaid’s seaside playground.

Meanwhile, Weiss shared some of the new experiences that will open at a redeveloped Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. Guests will be able to interact with popular Disney princesses in individual environments, such as Sleeping Beauty’s birthday party or Belle’s village.

Disney is also introducing a new cruise ship in January 2011. The Disney Dream will feature a water slide that extends over the ocean at a height of 150 feet and an adult playground in the Skyline Bar. The walls of this watering hole will change every night to show a different city skyline.

Castaway Cay, the Bahamian island servicing Disney ships exclusively, will also see changes, with an expanded beach area and added fresh water play areas.

- Nicole Feenstra

From snowy Canada to sunny Disney World

- February 10th, 2010

Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom Lodge

I’ve just arrived in Florida at Animal Kingdom Lodge inside the sprawling Walt Disney World park.

Disney World is “like a small town,” my driver, Ali, advises me when he picks me up from Orlando’s airport. He’s right. Ten minutes after we pass one of Walt Disney World’s main entrances on what I would consider a highway, we pull up to the Lodge.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I left a snowy Toronto this morning. I haven’t flown since last Family Day, certainly long before the thwarted Dec. 25 terrorist attack brought new security protocol at airports.

The security stories I’ve heard have been mixed, from passengers breezing through to their gates to rather invasive pat-downs. Luckily, the lines moved quickly today despite additional inspections of our carry-on and electronics. Instead of a pat-down, I went through the new full-body scanner. Though the officer looking at my nude image was no where in sight, I felt strangely exposed as the pod scanned my body.

Our flight was certainly family friendly, with a bevy of strollers and car seats going in with the checked baggage and children filling at least a quarter of the seats on the plane. I couldn’t be sure how many of the adults were headed to Disney World, but, with the children around me exclaiming how excited they were to be going to Disney, I wondered if the most Magical Place on Earth really makes a good vacation spot for adults.

All the research I’ve been doing points to yes. Ali agrees with me. He tells me about two English women who he chauffeured from the airport to Disney World recently. The sisters left their husbands and children in England and opted for a girls getaway at the Happiest Place on Earth.

The bars and restaurants of Downtown Disney are certainly adult fare, while attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a visit to the Grand Floridian Resort’s spa or a round of golf are enough to fill any adult’s day.

My Disney journey has just begun. I’ll continue exploring the idea of Disney for adults, plus I’ll volunteer as part of Disney’s “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” campaign, take a twilight tour of the wildlife preserve around the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and see how romantic Disney can get for Valentine’s Day.

Stay tuned!

- Nicole Feenstra

“I’m going to Disney World!”

- February 8th, 2010

On Feb. 10, I will grab my suitcase, pack my laptop, and head off to Walt Disney World, Florida on a press trip celebrating Disney’s volunteerism campaign.

Yes, just like new Super Bowl champion Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints did, it’s my turn to declare, “I’m Going to Disney World!”

No doubt you’ve seen Disney’s “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion. Residents of the United States and Canada can volunteer for one day with an approved charity (enter your postal code here to see what’s eligible in your area) to get a free ticket for one-day admission to a Disney theme park.

It’s a win-win deal, and one that celebs from Taye Diggs to Desperate Housewives’ James Denton have signed on to support.

In addition to volunteering with “some very familiar faces” (Diggs? Miss Piggy?) while at Disney World, I hope to discover much about the Happiest Place on Earth during my visit. I wonder why it’s such a popular destination for Canadians, if adults can enjoy a trip sans-children, and, as Valentine’s Day falls on the Sunday of my visit, what does Disney offer the romantic?

I will be blogging throughout my trip and Twittering via the Canoe Travel Twitter feed.

- Nicole Feenstra