5 Questions with Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Joe Rohde, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Disney imagineers are like LEGO master builders. Almost everyone has heard the term but relatively few know what it really means. Who are they? They’re the designers behind Disney theme parks, attractions, shows, resorts, and cruise ships, and they’re self-described “dreamers and doers.”

What do they do? Surprisingly, Walt Disney Imagineering is composed of more than 140 unique disciplines. They’re not all artists and designers. Imagineers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and include architects, illustrators, graphic designers, writers, engineers, interior designers, multimedia gurus, project managers….even corporate and administrative support positions are considered imagineers.

Joe Rohde is currently one of the top guys at Walt Disney Imagineering. But he’s been around for a long time and has had a hand in a whole slew of Disney Parks projects dating all the way back to the development of Epcot in the early 1980s.

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Littleland Around the World

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This is the second in what will presumably be a series of books set in Littleland, “a very busy place indeed.” Both books follow 10 friends and are designed to be first picture books for very young children.

The text simulates conversational speech and is meant to help young kids build their vocabulary with practical new words. The illustrations are filled with small details for little eyes to discover. Each spread even encourages kids to look deeper by including specific “Can you see…?” look-and-find objects.

In short, it’s very reminiscent of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books, which I have incredibly fond memories of from when I was a kid.

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5 Questions with a Legoland Master Builder

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Jason Miller, Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Florida.

Having previously chatted with master builder Chris Steininger, Zoey went into this interview with a bit of existing knowledge about LEGO master builders. Still, I don’t think she was prepared for what waited inside the LEGO Factory.

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Just Right for Two

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  • Just Right for Two
  • written by Tracey Corderoy
  • illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
  • published by Nosy Crow (Candlewick Press) (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

We’re in a weird phase right now in this house regarding picture books. The oldest (5) is into comics and graphic novels in a huge way and likes to listen to chapter books read aloud to her. She still enjoys picture books but doesn’t often request them. The youngest (3) is beyond board books and should be in the middle of the prime picture book years. But he just wants to sit with his sister and listen to her stories.

Therefore, when picture books make it into our bedtime rotation, it’s often because I pull them out and add them to the pile.

Such was the case with Just Right for Two, a relatively recent title from Nosy Crow, a British publisher. (In the U.S., Nosy Crow books are published by Candlewick Press under an imprint of the same name.) And, as per usual, it was enormously well received at bedtime.

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Monster Jam

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So, Monster Jam is one of those things I’ve heard about forever but have never actually seen live. Anyone who’s ever listened to the radio has probably heard one of those obnoxiously loud commercials: This Sunday! (Sunday! Sunday!)

This past weekend, Monster Jam came through Washington, DC, and I finally had the opportunity to go. What should you expect?

Noise. Lots and lots of noise.

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Cast Away on the Letter A

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  • Cast Away on the Letter A (A Philémon Adventure)
  • written/illustrated by Fred
  • published by Toon Books (Candlewick Press) (2014)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There’s something about a book that begins with a map. Maybe it appeals to my inner explorer. Maybe it appeal to the inner 9-year-old who pored over world maps, lost in the wonder of what those little dots and intersecting lines represented.

Whatever it is, when I open a book and am immediately confronted with a mid-century National Geographic world map…I’m in.

I have to admit that before cracking open this beautiful little book, I was wholly unfamiliar with the character of Philémon. I’d hazard a guess that most Americans are. The character began in the French magazine Pilote in 1965 and was eventually successful enough to merit its own series of books.

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Ticket Giveaway: Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy

5855019_origDisney on Ice is still putting costumed characters on ice skates. Seems dangerous to me, but the performers at these shows are actually pretty impressive.

The Worlds of Fantasy show includes four separate storylines: Tinker Bell, The Little Mermaid, Cars, and Toy Story. Ostensibly, that’s two “for the girls” and two “for the boys.”

McQueen and Mater should be interesting—I’m not exactly sure how that’ll work or if there will actually be people inside on ice skates.

One thing that’s for sure, though, is that there will be plenty of familiar songs for the kids to groove along to. With these four storylines, we’re sure to at least get Under the Sea, Part of Your World, and You’ve Got a Friend in Me.

I’ve even got a nice little surprise for this one. Click here to download a coloring sheet with these characters. Enjoy!

If you’re in the Washington, DC area, Disney on Ice is returning to the area in the Verizon Center from February 11–16. Here’s the full schedule:

  • Wednesday, February 11: 7:30
  • Thursday, February 12: 10:30, 7:30
  • Friday, February 13: 7:30
  • Saturday, February 14: 10:30, 2:30, 6:30
  • Sunday, February 15: 12:30, 4:30
  • Monday, February 16: 12:30

Tickets are available at the Verizon Center box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000. Seats start at $20, but Roarbots readers can save $5 off tickets by using the codeword PRINT.

However! I have a family 4-pack of tickets to giveaway to a lucky reader. The tickets are for the 7:30 pm show on Wednesday, February 11, 2015. Just enter with the widget below, and good luck!

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LEGO 41055: Cinderella’s Romantic Castle

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Lego 41055: Cinderella’s Romantic Castle / Disney Princess

This is the biggie from the first wave of Disney Princess sets. We had held off getting this one…quite honestly because of the price point. But then Grandpa came to visit. I think you know where this goes.

Zoey jumped at the opportunity to get the castle. Within the Disney Princess line, this is the most impressive set by far. It’s not only the biggest and has the most pieces, but it also has the highest playability factor. The castle is filled with little nooks and crannies, and it’s rife with opportunities for imaginative play once assembled.

Plus, it’s an absolute must if you’re constructing a LEGO Disneyland.

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Ticket Giveaway: Monster Jam

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This is one my son will go absolutely bananas for. Gigantic monster trucks crashing into and crushing things in their way? That’s pretty much his whole schtick while playing with his cars.

Approximately 12 feet tall and about 12 feet wide, Monster Jam trucks are custom-designed machines that sit atop 66-inch-tall tires and weigh a minimum of 10,000 pounds. Built for short, high-powered bursts of speed, the trucks generate 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower and are capable of speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. They can fly up to 125 to 130 feet (a distance greater than 14 cars side by side) and up to 35 feet in the air!

If you’re in the Washington, DC area, the Monster Jam show is returning to the area in the Verizon Center on January 24 and 25.

Seats start at $25 for adults and $10 for kids (ages 2-12). Pit Party Passes for Saturday and Sunday are also available for purchase (which include up-close views of the massive Monster Jam trucks and the opportunity to meet some of the drivers).

Tickets are available at the Verizon Center box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.

However! I have a family 4-pack of tickets to giveaway to a lucky reader. The tickets are for the 2:00 show on Saturday, January 24, 2015. Just enter with the widget below, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sesame Place: A Very Furry Christmas

IMG_2540In the great tradition of my post about Sesame Place’s Halloween event, this is posting after the relevant holiday has come and gone. But like I said in that post, the Internet is forever…and A Very Furry Christmas will be back next year.

Sesame Place is one of the best “family-friendly” theme parks around. It generally appeals to the very youngest kids—up to about 5 years old. My daughter is at the upper end of that range, and though she doesn’t choose to watch Sesame Street anymore, she still loves Sesame Place.

Only a couple rides have height restrictions, and they’re very generous for shorter kids. (The one roller coaster in the park actually has a lower height restriction than the similar, but tamer, ride in the Sesame Street Forest of Fun at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.)

In short, if you’ve got little kids, and you like to have fun, and you’re in the Philadelphia area, make sure Sesame Place is on your list.

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LEGO Friends Animals, Series 5

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  • LEGO 41044: Macaw’s Fountain
  • LEGO 41045: Orangutan’s Banana Tree
  • LEGO 41046: Brown Bear’s River

The Friends line was Zoey’s entry point into the world of LEGO. She still enjoys them, but she also seems to have moved on to lines such as Super Heroes and Star Wars. Still, she keeps coming back to these animal polybag sets.

For our money, they’re some of the best polybags that LEGO puts out. They’re simple sets, and each is based on one animal. Some of the animals in previous series have also been found in other, larger sets, but many have been unique to these polybags.

With Series 5, all three animals are new (though I’m not sure the people at LEGO know what an orangutan is, since that’s clearly…not an orangutan. Though I guess you could argue that it’s a baby. Maybe.)

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William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

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  • William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
  • by Ian Doescher
  • published by Quirk Books (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

So it comes to this: the last of Ian Doescher’s Shakespeare Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve read the first two books, then you know what to expect here. More of the same, plus a few surprises.

Check out our review of the first two books in this trilogy: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back.

—O, that laugh, it works me woe.
‘Tis too familiar in my memory,
And like a chime from Hell’s forsaken bells
Doth ring most evilly within mine ears.

Much more flowery and eloquent than “I know that laugh,” right?

You know the story here, so there’s no point in recapping the plot. So let’s dive in and look at the presentation.

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The Capital Wheel at National Harbor

IMG_1755So, apparently huge Ferris wheels are now a thing. This trend probably traces its roots to the opening of the London Eye (still one of the granddaddies of these tourist wheels) in 2000.

Ever since, huge Ferris wheels have been popping up all over the place. And in May of 2014, Washington DC got its very own…..sort of. The Capital Wheel is actually located at the National Harbor, which is in Maryland just across the Potomac River from Alexandria, VA, about a 20-minute drive from downtown DC.

The National Harbor itself is still a relatively new addition to the region. “Phase 1″ opened in 2008, and the area is now home to more than 150 shops, 30 restaurants, several hotels (including the massive Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center), the National Children’s Museum, and a Tanger Outlets. And it continues to expand.

The Capital Wheel is one of the newest attractions to open, and we finally got a chance to check it out while the National Harbor was decked out for the holidays.

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Backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion + 5 questions!

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We recently attended one of the final performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion (in Charlottesville, VA), and Zoey had the opportunity to interview one of the performers before the show…who was also kind enough to give us a backstage tour after the show!

Over the summer, we had the opportunity to tour Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters in Montreal. The kids loved the tour and seeing how everything was made, but this performance of Dralion was the first time they saw a live Cirque du Soleil show in person.

Surprising no one, they loved it. Read our review for details of the show itself.

Before the show, Zoey sat down with Alejandro “Toro” Cuenca, who is one of the main performers in the trampoline act. During the act, Toro and three other aerialists use trampolines to seemingly float through the air and walk up walls. It looks like a blast, and I’d love to try it sometime.

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NASA Social: Orion EFT-1 Launch @ Goddard Space Flight Center

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On December 3, I was invited to take part in a NASA Social event to celebrate the launch of Orion EFT-1: the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will eventually be humanity’s first step to Mars.

To commemorate this historic event, NASA took the unprecedented step of opening the doors to 10 of its locations around the country on the same day. I was fortunate enough to be one of 25 people invited to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.

Along with learning about Orion, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Goddard complex, met some remarkable NASA employees literally bringing science fiction to life, and got a tantalizing glimpse of the James Webb Space Telescope under construction.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be one of three things: an archaeologist, a writer, or an astronaut. I’ve been the first two; I’m forever dreaming of the third. This might be the closest I’ll ever come to it.

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Monster on the Hill

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  • Monster on the Hill
  • written and illustrated by Rob Harrell
  • published by Top Shelf Productions (2013)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Imagine a world where every town has its own monster, and that monster is part menace/part savior. Like a hometown sports team, the monster is a point of pride. The townsfolk are terrified of its attacks, but they also delight in its rampages. This is hometown pride on an entirely new, wackadoo level.

And just like sports teams, it all boils down to being able to taunt “OUR monster is better than YOUR monster.”

Some monsters win the World Series every year. Some are the Chicago Cubs of the monster world. Enter Rayburn: the pathetic monster that has totally disappointed his townspeople.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium – Baltimore

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It’s been a long time since I entertained the notion of going to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. When I was a kid, I used to love them. But I also used to love Twinkies and Fun Dip.

I didn’t have very discerning taste, is what I’m trying to say.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but it seems like these places were a dime a dozen when I was younger. If you had asked 8-year-old me, a place wasn’t worth visiting if it didn’t have miniature golf, a wax museum, or either a Ripley’s museum or a Guinness Book of World Records museum.

As a kid, I ate these places up and couldn’t get enough of them. I loved ‘em. But they weren’t very good. They were often thrown together for knucklehead kids like me who didn’t know any better. The museum was small, the exhibits were cheap, and you usually felt ripped off in the end.

It was therefore with some skepticism that we visited the brand-new Ripley’s Odditorium in Baltimore. I have to hand it to them, though, they know how to make themselves compelling. The museum has perfect placement right on the Inner Harbor, and that huge green dragon snaking its way around the entrance sure is eye-catching.

It caught the eye of my son, and that was all it took to bring me back inside a Ripley’s museum. And, believe it or not (sorry, had to do it at least once), this place is actually really great!

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Crayola Experience

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The Crayola Experience is one of those museums we’ve been dying to check out forever, but it was just so…out of the way. It’s located in Easton, PA, which is about an hour and half north of Philadelphia and west of New York.

In truth, it’s not near much else, so the chance that you’d make it quick add-on side trip while visiting someplace else is slim. However, we took a roundabout route up to New York on a recent trip with the express purpose of checking this place out.

And I’m glad we did. It’s pretty outstanding.

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DisneyKids Preschool Playdate

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We were recently invited by Disney Parks and MomSelect to host a DisneyKids preschool playdate for our little guy—a Jake and the Neverland Pirates playdate, no less. Arr, matey!

Sam (like most younger siblings) seems to forever live in his older sister’s shadow. Even though we made a concerted effort to set up playdates and help Zoey (his sister) make new friends when she was very young, we unfortunately haven’t had the same energy for Sam. Sound familiar?

Well, when the package of party goodies arrived from Disney, Sam immediately knew it was all about him. And he was thrilled.

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Christmas Town

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg is already one of the prettiest theme parks in the country, so it doesn’t really take much to make it truly spectacular. Millions of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations?

Yep, that’ll do it.

From late November through the end of the year (check calendar here), the park transforms into Christmas Town. Everything is draped in lights and other decorations, shops turn into Christmas stores, and all of the shows switch to different holiday-themed shows, among other changes.

On the surface, these are all remarkable changes that really beautify the park and put you in the ol’ holiday spirit. But are all of the changes good? Is the event worth it? Let’s dig a little deeper.

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