Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

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An airboat ride through a swamp or marshland is one of those quintessential Florida experiences. Most people equate this experience with the Everglades in southern Florida, but would you believe me if I said you could set out on an airboat and be almost guaranteed to see wildlife (including gators) in central Florida, almost absurdly close to all of the tourist spots?

You can.

We recently visited Boggy Creek Airboat Rides and, despite the disclaimer you see above, we did indeed see some Florida gators. Alligators, in fact, are so common in Florida that many residents of the Sunshine State have become immune to them. They’re almost like squirrels. (Well, not quite…but almost.) For those of us who don’t live in Florida, though, it’s still an exciting sight.

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GKIDS Retrospective: Azur & Asmar

titleThis is the first in a series of reviews that will chronicle all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films. GKIDS distributes some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world, and I’ll be taking a look at how these films hold up for a young American audience.

We’ll be going chronologically in order of release, so first up is…

Azur & Asmar (2006): Michel Ocelot, director

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Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends

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(Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Presents Legends is currently playing the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area through April 19. Check dates and buy tickets here.)

Ah, the circus. Just the word conjures up so many different images, thoughts, and emotions. For some, going to the circus was an indelible part of childhood. For others, it’s been something to share with their own children.

For many, the circus–and particularly Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey–has become a lightning rod for controversy. Claims of animal neglect and abuse seem to dog the circus at every turn. Protesters are a common sight outside host arenas. And online activism is a more-or-less constant force against the circus.

And it’s taken a toll. Indeed, Feld Entertainment (the company that owns Ringling Bros) recently announced that it would eliminate elephants and elephant acts from all of its shows. After 145 years, they will be pulled from all Feld-owned circuses by 2018.

Some are declaring this a success, whereas others claim it’s merely a first step in the right direction.

On the flip side, there are those who side with Ringling and maintain that elephants are a defining characteristic of the traveling circus. The claim is that if you remove them, then there’s not much left.

It’s so easy to side with one of the extremes on this issue and add your voice to the chorus. Indeed, the voices at both extremes seem to be the loudest. However, I’m honestly somewhere in the middle.

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Studio Ghibli Plush Toys from Gund

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If you’re a fan of Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli films in general – or just My Neighbor Totoro specifically – then anything I say from here on out will make little difference.

If you weren’t aware, Gund (the toy company famous for creating extremely huggable stuffed animals) has had a Totoro line for some time now. They have several versions of Totoro available in a few different sizes, from little potato-sized Totoros (both gray and blue) all the way up to a 13-inch behemoth. OK, “behemoth” might be stretching it a little, but it is a very good size … and it’s beyond adorable.

Just take a look:

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Broadway on Tour: Annie

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I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point in the past few months my daughter became obsessed with Annie. The musical. She can sing “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” with the best of ‘em, and she’s only 6. We’re thinking about dyeing her hair red and bringing her to auditions.

Her Annie obsession came just after the Broadway revival ended its run (in January 2014), but we were thrilled to learn that the show is now on a national tour! It’s currently playing at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music before moving across the country through the summer. (Check cities and dates here.)

It was therefore with much excitement that we recently had a daddy-daughter evening at the opening night performance of Annie in Philadelphia.

And what a night it was. Annie did not disappoint. The audience was a mix of families with young kids and older couples, and everyone seemed equally enchanted by the production, the songs, and the young actors on stage.

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5 Questions with a SeaWorld Dolphin Trainer

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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 Jeannie Carder, a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld Orlando.

Let’s not beat around the bush. SeaWorld (and places like it) arouse a lot of passion in people…to both extremes.

Personally, I’m conflicted about how I feel. I recognize the criticism against keeping animals in captivity, particularly the dolphins and killer whales, but SeaWorld also does a lot of great work. They champion a host of conservation issues and do an incredible amount of education well beyond the confines of their parks.

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Playmates Booth at Toy Fair 2015

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Here’s the second in my Toy Fair 2015 booth overviews. Check out the overview of the Bandai booth here (hint: there are lots of Power Rangers). Also check out my Toy Fair coverage over on GeekDad: my Top 10 Highlights of Toy Fair and my take on a couple of this year’s Toy of the Year Award Winners.

Today, let’s take a look around the Playmates booth, which had more Ninja Turtles than I’ve ever seen assembled in one place. Seriously, I didn’t count, but there must’ve been close to a googolplex of turtles.

Apparently, Playmates has gone all in with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they produce almost nothing else at this point. There was a small section of the booth devoted to a preschool doll line, but absolutely everything else was TMNT.

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Bandai Booth at Toy Fair 2015

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Toy Fair has come and gone. There were lots of announcements, lots of excitement, and lots of toys. I already covered it a bit over on GeekDad. Take a look at my Top 10 Highlights of Toy Fair or my view on a couple of this year’s Toy of the Year Award Winners, which were announced at Toy Fair.

I wanted to devote a couple posts here to some of the amazing booths at Toy Fair. Toy Fair is, first and foremost, a marketing and sales event. Therefore, if you’re a toy company, it’s in your interest to set up a booth that’s flashy and impressive.

One of those jaw-dropping booths at this year’s event was the Bandai booth. It was overrun with Power Rangers, big and small. Now, I’m not the world’s biggest Power Rangers fan (that honor might go to my son at the moment), but even I was impressed with their setup.

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Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament (Baltimore)

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I have to admit, I didn’t quite know what to expect as we walked into Medieval Times. I mean, the reputation kind of precedes it (i.e., The Cable Guy), so I suppose I was prepared for an evening of cheesy theatrics masquerading as entertainment.

I was not prepared to be genuinely entertained…and surprised at how well-executed the entire experience is.

We visited the Baltimore Castle, which—despite the name—is actually located about 20 minutes south of Baltimore.

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Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy

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(Disney on Ice Presents Worlds of Fantasy is currently playing at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, through Monday, February 16. Buy tickets here. The show is currently touring around North America, and there are lots of dates in lots of different cities, so check the full calendar to see if it’s playing near you.)

Disney on Ice seems to be in the area every few months, and it seems like it’s a different show each time. Indeed, there are currently six different touring shows, and each is a bit different.

Worlds of Fantasy does its best to appeal to the entire family by splitting the show up into four segments—apparently two for girls and two for boys. Your mileage may vary. My daughter loved the “boy segments,” and my son enjoyed those ostensibly meant for girls.

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5 Questions with Astronaut Marcos Pontes

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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 Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian astronaut in space.

It’s not every day you get to meet someone who’s actually left the planet. Over the past year, Zoey’s had some incredible opportunities to meet and chat with truly remarkable people. However, astronauts—just from the nature of their work and what they’re able to do—are in a league of their own.

She therefore jumped at the chance to meet a real, live astronaut. I have to admit, it was quite a thrill for me, too.

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Showcase of Citrus

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The Showcase of Citrus is slice of “real” Florida that’s mere minutes from all the theme parks. Located in Clermont, FL, it’s a 2500-acre working citrus farm where guests can pick their own fruit and take a swamp safari on the “world’s largest” 4x4s.

Let me just cut right to the chase. If you’ve got kids, this place is fantastic. If you like picking your own fruit, there aren’t many places where you can pick your own oranges (dozens of varieties), tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, and pomelos. Again, this place is fantastic.

If you’re visiting central Florida on a family vacation, you’re likely planning to spend most of your time inside the various theme parks. But what’s worth your non-park time? Because of the parks (and the visitors), there’s a booming industry of tourist traps vying for your money.

You need to be discerning, right?

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Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show

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A trip to Walt Disney World is fairly expensive if you do nothing but visit the parks. But then there’s meals, special events, tours, and merch, merch, merch! If you’re not careful, your trip can easily break the bank and spill over into excess. Even if you ignore the rest of Central Florida, there’s just a ton to do on Disney property.

We don’t visit all that often, but when we do, we like to try new things. And I usually budget for one splurge event. On our most recent trip, that splurge was the luau at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Officially, it’s called Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, but that’s a mouthful. I’m just going to call it the luau.

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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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