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Theme Park Enjoyment Index for FEBRUARY 2023 (Festival of the Arts, Universal’s Mardi Gras, More CRAZY Disney Signage)

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The Theme Park Enjoyment Index (TPEI) is a monthly look at the events that have made an impact, both positive and negative, in this wild world of theme parks we all love so much. Each TPEI comes out on the last Saturday every month, and we assign each piece of news a positive or negative number, tally it all up at the end and chart it. The range goes from 0-100 with 0 being Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration while a perfect score of 100 would be Pandora: The World of Avatar.

Remember, all links in TPEI open up in a new browser window. So feel free to check stuff out, we’ll be here when you get back!

*EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts

Of all the months on the theme park calendar, February just may be my overall favorite. One reason is that it includes what I consider to be hands-down the best EPCOT festival of the year, with the Festival of the Arts.

The Festival of the Arts is one of the rare times at any theme park where you can actually see artists doing what they do best…creating.  Not only can guests see artists at work, but you can also have one-on-one interactions with them at various booths and be able to have them sign pieces of their artwork and pick their brains. I know Disney offers (at least used to offer) a “dining with an Imagineer” opportunity, and I imagine many theme park fans wish there was some sort of event where they could interact with various members of Walt Disney Imagineering or Universal Creative. I think for almost all forms of fandom, after a certain point the end product is something you always like, but you learn to love “the process” and want to know as much about it as possible. At least I do.

Artist @natebaranowski working on a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed 3D chalk. Featuring the popular GOTG characters Groot and Rocket. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Here we have @natebaranowski showing the 3D effect his artwork creates for a photo-op.
Above is artist Nate Baranowski in the early stages of creating 3D chalk art featuring characters from Raya and the Last Dragon. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Artist Nate Baranowski with the finished piece. Just amazing.

There are so many fun and interactive photo-ops throughout the festival that you can enjoy by yourself or with friends and family, placing yourselves into famous works of art.

Crossing the Delaware in a TikTok age. (photo by @ThatJakeKid91)

One nice touch is the paintings of Disney characters you will find throughout World Showcase. These are details that you can stumble into and appreciate.

There are so many unbelievable cool items for sale at Festival of the Arts. Unfortunately most are WAY out of my price range, including this awesome Beauty and the Beast-themed glass table. The details in the base are STUNNING.

E-Ticket table. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Like pretty much every event at both Disney and Universal now, the big appeal for many is the special food and drink offered throughout the park. Festival of the Arts goes above and beyond when it comes to unique items.

To the left, a plastic cup with the Pop Eats logo is filled with orangy-tomato-colored soup. The texture is smooth but not pureed. To the right, the clear pop-top from the lid rests against the two halves of the sandwich which have been arranged with one lying cross-ways against the other. The bread is toasted brown around the edges and on the middle, and the filling is a creamy orange with tiny chunks of bacon.
Tomato soup with Pimento Cheese, Bacon and Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese.

Presentation is a major factor when it comes to the dishes.

A slice of trianglular cake with a purple outer frosting sits on a wide smear of dark currant-colored sauce on the plate with its tip pointing upwards. The brownie on the bottom third is a darker brown, and there is also a scoop of what looks like chocolate ice cream on the plate.
Decadent Valrhona Chocolate.
Deconstructed Key Lime Pie: Flexible Key Lime Curd, “Key Lime” Mousse, Graham Cracker Cake and Meringues
Orange Mousse.
A slice of pale brown cake topped with a thin strip of toasted coconut and with a small pile of finely cut pineapple in front
Hummingbird Cake: Banana Cake with Pineapple, Coconut, Pecans and Cream Cheese Frosting with Banana Sorbet.
The always popular Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Belgian Chocolate.
Fruit Pizza, Rainbow Cake with Freeze Dried Skittles, Pop t’Art, Grape Smoothie and Rainbow Cider Flight.

TPEI Score: +8 Festival of the Arts continues its run as being pound for pound the best Festival that Disney offers.

With Festival of the arts over, we are in one of the rare times of the year when there are NO FESTIVALS taking place at EPCOT. Enjoy “Diet EPCOT” while you can, because on March 1st the Flower and Garden Festival begins its 4 month run. While I personally enjoy Festival of the Arts more, I love taking visiting friends and family to Flower and Garden because that’s when EPCOT really looks the absolute best.

Buzz Lightyear Topiary. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Lion King topiary. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Lady & the Tramp topiary. (photo by Michael Carelli)

*Universal’s Mardi Gras

Speaking of absolutely AWESOME events at a theme park, Universal debuted it’s Mardi Gras Celebration at the beginning of the month. This event runs through April 16th and we’ll be doing a dedicated SATURDAY SIX to it in March because it’s become my favorite event at Universal Orlando (for me, even better than Halloween Horror Nights and their Christmas season.)

Universal’s Mardi Gras. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Mardi Gras decor in New York. (photo by Michael Carelli)

For the last couple years, the food booths for Mardi Gras have taken an exponential leap in diverse offerings. For years at the event we had traditional Mardi Gras staples like beignets, gumbo, and jambalaya, but with the transition to Mardi Gras Carnaval, food from around the world is served (much like EPCOT’s International Food & Wine Festival.)

Japan food booth. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Puerto Rico food both. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Liège Waffle Berries and Cream from the Belgium booth. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Bubar Ketan Hitam from Indonesia. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The Mardi Gras parade is one of my favorite parades at either Universal or Disney. Tons of great floats and characters. Unlike many other parades, characters are out ahead of time interacting with guests and they are wonderful!

Mardi Gras parade character. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Mardi Gras parade character. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Each year the parade floats include a mix of beloved returnees like King Gator, and new entries. The theme for the new floats this year was “Mythical Realms of Mardi Gras” that are inspired by fantastical creatures such as unicorns and sea serpents.

Mardi Gras 2023 parade float. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Mardi Gras 2023 parade float. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Sea Serpent themed parade walk around character. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

One of the absolute coolest things you can do at ANY theme park is the opportunity to be on one of the Mardi Gras parade floats and throw beads to the crowd.

Captain Cruiseline – of the world famous Disney Cruiseline Blog – and family before boarding a float. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Bead throwing by DisTwitter’s cutest couple Caitlin and Hunter Underwood.
You just may even see TouringPlans’ own Len Testa throwing beads!

TPEI Score: + 8 Unbelievable that both Disney and Universal have their best events going on at the same time. Occasionally we do live in the best possible timeline.

*The Mardi Gras Bead Tree Police

One of the oldest and most sacred of Universal Mardi Gras traditions involves guest throwing beads they have received from the Mardi Gras parade onto trees they pass by on they way to the CityWalk parking garage. Let’s take a look at the “bead tree” over the past few years…

Bead Tree seen in 2021. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Bead Tree seen in 2020. (photo by @schmoofy)
Bead Tree seen in 2019. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Close up of beads on bead tree. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

On some nights of Universal Mardi Gras this year, Universal has stationed security by the bead tree, making sure guests do NOT throw beads.

Regular cities have “beat cops” we in Orlando have “bead cops.” (photo by @themeparkexpres)

Now, I get it. I truly do. Guests probably SHOULDN’T be throwing beads from an elevated walkway into the environment, especially considering moving vehicles are nearby. I hate to say this, but if Universal wanted to stop this issue they should probably remove/relocate the trees. Not sure you should put security in front of something that you are actively marketing inside the theme parks though. Another article we will be doing in March is based on the recently opened Tribute Store. One item in that store is an elaborately themed “bead tree” paying homage to you-know-what.

Tribute Store. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The official Mardi Gras 2023 shirt has a reference to the “bead tree.”

Mardi Gras 2023 shirt. (photo by @Schmoofy)
Bead Tree. (photo by @schmoofy)

The story does have a happy ending though…

TPEI SCORE: – 10 C’mon Universal, seriously?

*Mardi Gras Parade at Port Orleans

One of the true “best kept secrets” at Walt Disney World are some of the annual events that take place at the Port Orleans and Fort Wilderness resorts.  For Mardi Gras, Port Orleans has an annual parade featuring decorated golf carts and it is truly a blast! The crew over at Mousesteps have been covering this event for the last 12 years and you can see their awesome write up of this year’s event by CLICKING HERE. The gimmick is that Cast Members from various WDW on-site resorts decorate their carts and guests get to vote on the winner. How cool is that?!

Port Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. (photo by Mousesteps)

We’ll look at some of the awesome photos that Mousesteps took, but again for the full story (including video) check out THEIR REVIEW.

Port Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. (photo by Mousesteps)
Port Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. (photo by Mousesteps)
Tiana making an appearance. (photo by Mousesteps)
Disney’s Caribbean Beach pirate-ship themed “float”. (photo by Mousesteps)
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort entry. (photo by Mousesteps)
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. (photo by Mousesteps)
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. (photo by Mousesteps)

TPEI Score: + 2 How fun is this? Talk about the “Disney Difference.” Just amazing. Its worth going out of your way to see the entries by other resorts such as Pop Century, the Boardwalk, and Animal Kingdom Lodge so be sure to check out MOUSESTEPS AWESOME WRITE-UP.

*Seven Seas Food Festival

We generally don’t cover much SeaWorld in this Fine Blog Series (or on TouringPlans in general) but it definitely is a place to consider on your next Orlando theme park vacation. Like Busch Gardens Florida and others, SeaWorld still has to work hard for your money, so you get some great guest-friendly experiences. Like Universal, over the years they have clearly seen the success that EPCOT has had with food festivals and started to incorporate that into their schedule. The annual Seven Seas Food Festival started several years ago and gets better every single year. It takes place on the weekends (Fri-Sun) and features a whole bunch of food booths and live concerts.

Seven Seas Food Festival Guide. (photo by @schmoofy)
Seven Seas Food Festival Map. (photo by @schmoofy)
Selections available at the Seven Seas Food Festival. (photo by @schmoofy)
Seven Seas Food Festival dessert offering. (photo by @schmoofy)

One of the neatest things SeaWorld offers at the Seven Seas Food Festival are these “adult Capri Suns” called Coaster Cocktails. This is a straight up E-Ticket idea and Universal should be ripping this off immediately. Give me a Coaster Cocktail featuring the VelociCoaster or Rip Ride Rockit and I’m buying one to enjoy and one for the collectible fridge!

Pipeline Coaster Cocktail. (photo by @schmoofy)

How about this great detail behind the creation of one of the food items…

Hammerhead Shark inspired app. (photo by @schmoofy)
Hammerhead shark. (photo by @schmoofy)

Unrelated to the Seven Seas Food Festival, but I really like this merchandise concept by SeaWorld featuring a “plush of the month.” There’s a great idea in here that both Disney and Universal could also be taking advantage of.

Plush of the month. (photo by @schmoofy)

TPEI Score: + 2 The Seven Seas Food Festival experience is good enough that it can make you forget SeaWorld has the sheer brass balls to sell preferred parking for $60.


*Marvel Day at Sea

For those who don’t know, I have a sailing on the Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas coming up later this year in April. This was a trip that we started planning in 2019 and had fully booked for April of 2020 but You All Know What Happened Then. So for THREE YEARS I have been waiting for this cruise and now that we are getting close it’s all I think about.

Babydoll and I in bed at night.

With cruising on my mind, I’m being drawn to articles and YouTube videos based on cruising. The Disney Cruise Line offers special Marvel Day At Sea sailings during the early part of the year (selected sailings in January, February, and March.) As a longtime comic book fan, I can’t get over that the menu for the Marvel Day At Sea is presented like a comic book. That’s fantastic.

This makes me want a sit down table service Marvel Restaurant at Disney Springs. In true comic book fashion, Disney literally putting in almost zero effort into making the food and drinks have anything to do with the characters/movie they are referencing in the menu. I know when I think of Wakanda Forever I think of Coke Zero and Himalayan Salt (reminder that the Himalayas are located on a different continent than Wakanda.)

Thor’s Mjolnir Meatballs and Pasta (you can’t make stuff like this up.)
Scarlet Witch’s Ricotta Gnocchi.

*PizzeRizzo Pizza Cookie

While I certainly have less than favorable things to say about the pizza served at PizzeRizzo in DHS, I have to give them major props for delivering some of the most unique dessert options at any WDW quick service. Thankfully we know about these desserts thanks to the one and only Alicia Stella, a true defender of PizzeRizzo’s honor and a person who’s tweets Inside the Magic has based approximately 22,000 articles on (this year.) PizzeRizzo’s newest dessert is a large cookie themed to a pizza!

Pizza Sugar Cookie. (photo by Alicia Stella)
Pizza Sugar Cookie has a better looking ratio of crust-to-pizza than PizzeRizzo’s actual pizza. (photo by Alicia Stella)
Pizza Sugar Cookie. (photo by Alicia Stella)

Remember those awesome Haunted Mansion/Muppet eclairs from 2021? Straight up E-Ticket.

Haunted Mansion/Muppets dessert. (photo by Alicia Stella)
Just INCREDIBLE. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

*Muppets Visit Imagination Pavillion

Well this came out of nowhere and hopefully is a taste of good things to come in the near future. The Muppets twitter account posted a short video of Gonzo and Walter checking out The Imagination Pavillon at EPCOT (which  you can watch by CLICKING HERE.) Give me a whole series on Disney+ of various Muppets visiting EPCOT (Pigs in Space go to Cosmic Rewind, Sam Eagle at The American Adventure, Electric Mayhem revisiting the history of Food Rocks, etc).

*Cursed Coconut Club

CityWalk has once again transformed the Red Coconut Club into a highly themed venue. We’ll be covering this in-depth in a future edition of the SATURDAY SIX.

Cursed Coconut Club. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Cursed Coconut Club. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Baron’s Shack is the upstairs portion of Cursed Coconut. (photo by Michael Carelli)
“Scarlet Veve”. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Superstar artist Sterling Denham has a brand new print paying homage to the Dead Coconut Club (the Red Coconut Club’s transformation during Halloween Horror Nights.) Always check out their store for awesome stuff like this and more.

Dead Coconut Club. (art by Sterling Denham)

*New DHS Meet-and-Greets

For a brief moment, we get a brief taste of what Disneyland gets each and every month with the debut of two new meet-and-greet characters at DHS. First we have Max, in his Powerline outfit, and his dad Goof in his “vacation” outfit.

Powerline Max. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)

To see more amazing pictures of these too, be sure to check out BLOG MICKEY’S ARTICLE.

Vacation Goofy. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)

We also got Chip & Dale in their E-Ticket Rescue Rangers outfits!!!

Chip & Dale in their Rescue Rangers outfits. (photo by Blog_Mickey)

*Barbie Bachelorette Party

Several years ago we did an article titled Six Things We STILL Can’t Believe Actually Happened at Walt Disney World. These included things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at DHS, the Cinderella Castle being turned into a birthday cake, and an actual circus performing at EPCOT. One of the items on that list was Barbie’s Birthday Party taking place at EPCOT ’94. That’s right, at the time EPCOT was literally called “EPCOT ’94” back then. Add that to the list of things we can’t believe actually happened.

Barbie Birthday Party Screen

The Barbie Birthday Party video itself was only available with the purchase of certain Barbie dolls, and speaking as a kid who sent away for the GI Joe versions of Sgt. Slaughter and William “the Refrigerator” Perry, this is certainly an interesting add on. In a surprise twist worthy of M Night Shyamalan, the birthday party video is less an actual movie and more of ad for the Barbie cellular phone and the Magical World of Barbie show that would be making its debut at the American Adventure pavilion in World Showcase later that year. So you get a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the making of a stage show which not many people remember fondly. However, while the live show did not last that long, the VHS tape can still be yours relatively cheaply at eBay and Amazon. Many guests still fondly remember the Birthday Party tape and Barbie’s short-lived attraction at EPCOT ’94. One of those guests is DisTwitter’s own Courtney Guth, who recently themed her bachelorlette party around the video.

Here is the bride to be in front of Spaceship Earth.

“Grew up loving the Barbie Birthday Party at Epcot VHS, so today is Courtney Bachelorette Party at Epcot!”
Courtney with her maids of honor.

As a surprise, CourTney was greeted by the actual “Ken” from Barbie’s EPCOT ’94 attraction! How great is that.

This is how I would be if I met one of my lifelong heroes, like the guy who invented Pizza Hut breadsticks.
Barbie and Ken at EPCOT ’94.
Group photo and Ken even signed Courtney’s VHS box!

*Bio Back in Business

Our blogger-in-the-sky @bioreconstruct is out of the hospital (see more details in last month’s TPEI) and back to taking amazing photos.

Our Moon and Jupiter in close proximity tonight. Also seen are two dots above Jupiter — moons Io and Europa. Below Jupiter is another moon, Callisto. February 22, 2023 (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in a 5s long exposure photo with VelociCoaster and Hogwarts Castle. February 22, 2023. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

We can also breath a sigh of relief as the world-class level photos of Universal’s EPIC Universe construction are back in our lives. BIO DON’T EVER SCARE US LIKE THAT AGAIN!

A look at the Mario Kart show building. In background, construction of the dual-racing roller coaster in Epic Universe. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Aerial overview of the front of Super Nintendo World in Universal’s Epic Universe. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Donkey Kong Coaster. (aerial by @bioreconstruct)
At center of this aerial is a small building in the central corridor of Epic Universe.
1 Restaurant outside Classic Monsters land
2 Water-based attraction
3 Gift/shop cafe outside Super Nintendo World. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)
How To Train Your Dragon area. In the back of this large statue is the foundation of what could be a ship. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)
Current work on the manor that fronts the featured attraction in Classic Monsters land at Epic Universe. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Aerial look at track so far in dual-racing roller coaster at Universal’s Epic Universe. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

An over the tree line view of the dual-racing roller coaster in Epic Universe. The first hill with track. As seen from Universal Blvd. (photo by @bioreconstruct)


VelociCoaster Express Pass signage. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Want to bypass that Stand-By line and get into the Express Entrance with all other cool kids, just stay at one of Universal’s Premier Hotels (Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel.)

*New Entrants into the Disney Signage Hall of Shame

How many mistakes can you find in this sign below posted outside the Indiana Jones attraction in Disneyland?

Maybe Prof. Henry Jones will let us know if in the Latin Dictionary, “permission” has an extra “s.” (photo by @MouseInfo)

Below is the corrected version.

Indy Signage fixed (photo by @frshbakeddisney)

Another incredible piece of signage from Disneyland featuring Main STRET U.S.A.

(photo by /justmouseinaround)

Last month we covered the  Disney100 Mickey Mouse Statue which featured the wrong Walt Disney quote.

Disney100 statue. (photo by D23)

Well, first Disney removed the statue..

No Statue. (photo by Guy Selga)

When it returned, it had the correct you. Congratulations Disney, YOU DID IT! Great job everybody.

Fixed. (photo by Guy Selga)

Meanwhile things in Florida aren’t much better as this signage incorrectly identifies the Transportation and Ticket Center. Maybe Bob Chapek was doing all the signs at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and letting him go was a big mistake? You never know…

TTC signage. (photo by @MrEPCOT)

While not a mistake, I love this signage at Yak & Yeti showing that it was voted in “Top 2 Best Theme Park Restaurants by USA Today.” As a reminder the readers of USA Today don’t even consider any of the Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Universal Orlando theme parks to be in their list of Top Ten Theme Parks.

(photo by Hunter Underwood)

Tell me you aren’t getting Mythos banner vibes off that Yak & Yeti sign too.

The famous Mythos banner pictured on September 13, 2015. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

*What Happens When You Replace Humans With Robots

…a human being would have known that.” – I, Robot

*What Would YOU Do?

For me there was only one acceptable answer…

*How is this real life?

Let’s check out an item sold at the Creations gift shop in EPCOT, as a reminder this is THE ONLY WALT DISNEY THEME PARK WHICH DOES NOT OFFER A TRAM SERVICE.

Parking Lot Tram toy. (photo by @SchuckJH)

It’s probably okay to wear this Mickey Mouse shirt to formal night on the Disney Cruise Line.

Front AND back. (photo by @schmoofy)
This Avengers Campus underwear photo was submitted anonymously to @insaneparkmerch, TouringPlans own Guy Selga did send me a photo but he was wearing them at the time.

This Butterbeer mug is FINALLY back in stock in the Wizarding World and it looks great. Most likely as of press time it is already sold out again.

Butterbeer mug. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Dress-A-Minion plush seems like a million dollar idea but I have been wrong before (see MagicBands.)

Dress a minion. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Dress-A-Minion. (photo by Michael Carelli)

*NEW Disney Happy Meal Toys

Regular readers of TPEI will remember the story last year when I detailed what happened to me last year when I went to McDonald’s to get the Mickey Mouse Runaway Railway themed Happy Meals. Spoiler Alert: IT DIDN’T GO WELL.

Well there was a new Disney Happy Meal promotion and I risked my sanity once again. This time all went well…

Happy Meal Boxes.

Did you see this bonkers Figment as a Fig Newton plush from the Disney Munchlings line?

Well, artists SonderQuest did, and he immortalized it.

Speaking of awesome art, February brings the Artist Spotlight series to the SATURDAY SIX and we got to put a focus on three tremendously talented ladies for our Class of 2023. First up was Marie Catano

…followed by Savannah Hamilton

…and we finished up with Bunny Wars. Such a wonderful array of talent this year and I’m looking forward to next year’s Spotlight features already.

Former Artist Spotlight inductee Brian Cooper posted this fantastic commission featuring some pets enjoying the PeopleMover.

“This is a super fun illustration I got to do for one of my favorite YouTubers @oyby of his pets on the people mover at Disney World. (art by @BrianCooperArt)

WOW!!! (art by Jim Shull)

LOVE this drawing of the food available at Super Nintendo World’s Toadstool Cafe by Jess Feldman.

We’ll finish with an amazing Broadway-style poster for The Little Mermaid by Artist Spotlight alumni Jess Siswick. This is so great.

Speaking of Jess Siswick’s stunning art, let’s see if DCA chooses to use her concept for the upcoming Rogers: The Musical in DCA.

E-Ticket. (art by Jess Siswick)

Last month’s Theme Park Enjoyment Index: 10
This month’s net change: +25
Current enjoyment level: 35


Writer Derek Burgan, when not cleaning Len Testa’s pool, can be found reading comic books, watching professional wrestling, and taking his dog Bacini to Universal and Disney. organizing his various Tsum Tsums in alphabetical order. He will not, we repeat not, be found at a Disney Outlet Store. An official DisTwitter Influencer, you can interact with him @derekburgan

Digital Artist Scott Walker hails from Scotland and is the fifth most famous person from this country following Alexander Graham Bell, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, and Groundskeeper Willie.

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One thought on “Theme Park Enjoyment Index for FEBRUARY 2023 (Festival of the Arts, Universal’s Mardi Gras, More CRAZY Disney Signage)

  • Marvel day at sea gets a shout out but not Pixar? Edna Mode leads a fashion show!

    TPEI is a great resource to catch up on the months bggest news and happenings. THanks so much!


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