17 August 2017

Mama's Mash

We’ve talked before about how Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ has what we believe is the current reigning champion of sandwiches throughout all of Walt Disney World. However, what good is fried chicken sandwich, which is incredibly tasty, if you don’t have something to wash it down with? Homecomin’ has you covered with a ton of cocktail concoctions created with moonshine and other spirits. Broken down into the categories of Jet Sprays and Crafty Moonshine & Resort Cocktails, we tried one from each section in order to give you a fair sampling of the sixteen signature beverages.

Let’s start with the most well-known Jet Spray known as Sweet Tea Shine. This drink is a fairly straightforward mixture of sweet tea, fresh squeezed lemons, and moonshine. This is a deceptively easy to drink cocktail that utilizes one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages, sweet tea. The brightness of the lemon is actually stronger than typical wedges provide alongside the average sweet tea, which is refreshing. The sweet tea is sweet tea, if you’re prone to ordering sweet tea this is going to be nothing out of the ordinary flavor-wise here. The moonshine takes on the flavors of the sweet tea and the lemons, so you can finish this Jet Spray very quickly, and you won’t feel most of the moonshine until you try to stand up. It was great, but be cautious with this one! It is the cocktail equivalent of “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Moving on to the Crafty Moonshine & Resort Cocktails, we opted for something a bit fancier. The Cucumber Cooler is constructed with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime juice, simple syrup, and cucumber slices. As a substitution, Homecomin’ recommends Hendrick’s Gin, but we stuck with the original form. At is most basic the Cucumber Cooler is an amplified vodka gimlet. The vodka, like the moonshine above, takes on the flavors of the cucumber and lime juice, which make for an excellent team-up. The lime juice is tart, yet its citrus flavors play well with the muted freshness from the cucumbers. Oh, and the sliced cucumber that is rolled and placed in your drink? It has pepper coating one edge to add a sharpness to the cocktail, but doesn’t overpower the lime and cucumber. It is definitely refreshing and a great beverage to pair with anything fried.

I can whole-heartedly recommend both the Sweet Tea Shine and Cucumber Cooler from Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’. The other cocktails run the gamut of sweet, sour, strong, and mild with something for every taste. While I haven’t had the pleasure to partake in some of the other concoctions, yet, I can’t imagine that any of the offerings are built with any less care or flavors. If you’re looking for a cocktail that is refreshing in the Florida heat, then Homecomin’ is your place!

11 August 2017

Briar and Burrow

After you have been thoroughly drenched taking a plunge down the side of Chickapin Hill into the briar patch, otherwise known as the main attraction of Splash Mountain, the giggle fits that ensue once you’re able to take a gander at your ride photo are priceless. That alcove for Splashdown Photos features the MagicBand touchpoints in order for you to access the photos. Have you ever stopped to examine the details of these touchpoints or, should I say, washpoints?

Each touchpoint is attached to a washboard, but not any old washboard, each of these has a distinctive tie. One of which belongs to our good friend Brother Ted from the Country Bear Jamboree, just down the street in Frontierland. The rest of the washboards, however, are directly linked to Splash Mountain and its source material, Song of the South. Some of these washboards are easy to recognize and include Briar and Burrow (For stubborn prickers, thickets, and thorns), Bluebird (A shoulder above the rest), Zipper D.A. (Wonderful feeling, wonderful day), Plenty O’ Sunshine (My-oh my! Yessir!). Still, there are others that require a bit more legwork to get the full picture.

Remus Washboard Co. may be Actual and Satisfactual, but in reality it is the heart of Song of the South. Uncle Remus is the character who tells Johnny and Ginny the tales of Br’er Rabbit. Remus was the creation of Joel Chandler Harris who adapted many African-American folktales to produce seven Uncle Remus books. Harris utilized the character as the device through which the stories are told, having written them down in spoken dialect. While not seen as racist at the time of their creation, the stories and the style in which they are told have not aged well. In fact, while Remus is referenced here, his role is fulfilled by Br’er Frog inside of Splash Mountain.

This brings us to another character featured in both book and film form, Aunt Tempy. Her washboard is suited For Fine Delicates, while Tempy herself is tough as nails, but with a big heart. She is the housekeeper and cook in Song of the South, who loves Uncle Remus’ tales as much as the children listening to them.

Both Remus and Tempy’s washboards lead us to our third washboard of note, the award winning board of Baskett McDaniels. This time we are given two cities rather than a witty slogan, Indianapolis, Indiana and Wichita, Kansas. This washboard refers to the actors who portrayed Uncle Remus and Aunt Tempy in Song of the South. It should come as no surprise then that actor James Baskett, Uncle Remus, was born in Indianapolis, while Hattie McDaniels, Aunt Tempy, was born in Wichita. It should be noted that the Award Winning label given to this board is not self-aggrandizing, as both have received Academy Awards. Hattie McDaniels was the first African-American to be nominated and win an Oscar when she received the award of Best Actress in a Supporting Role for 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Meanwhile, James Baskett would win an honorary award specifically for 1948’s Song of the South.

Song of the South has long been restricted from view in the public eye, but not the public consciousness, which is particularly difficult when you erect a mountainous thrill attraction dedicated to its characters. While the film itself may have inspired Splash Mountain, very little links the attraction to the film’s human characters. These washboard touchpoints are easily overlooked, but they have a lot of stories to tell!

10 August 2017

Your Most Unexpected Discovery

It seems like it is about time for our travels to lead us back to Nomad Lounge. Last time we wandered through here we look at some of the sweeter offerings, but today we’re on the hunt for something with a bit more substance to it. A pair of sandwich-type offerings should do the trick, so let’s sample the lounge’s Africa-Spiced Wagyu Beef Sliders and Florida Lionfish Tacos.

The Florida Lionfish Tacos are listed as coming with charred pineapple and jalapeno, but each of the tacos is also topped with a vinegar slaw. Being in Central Florida provides the opportunity to utilize a wide variety of fish, including the lionfish. In fact, you might not have had lionfish before. It is native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, but has begun taking over and killing off native species in the Atlantic. As part of the move to cut down the number of invasive lionfish is a campaign to create a human appetite for the fish, which is why you may see t pop up on more and more in the area. It is a very versatile fish in terms of preparation, and the light breading and frying done at Nomad Lounge allows for the delicate texture of the fish to shine through.

The Florida Lionfish Tacos are more of a tostada than a taco, as the tortilla isn’t very pliable, and are almost too small for the amount of ingredients they were meant to contain. The slaw is vinegar based, and doesn’t stand out as anything other than what it is, but it was a nice addition to the dish. The sweet flavor of the charred pineapple makes my mouth water, while the jalapenos give the dish an excellent kick. Overall, this was probably my least favorite of the small plate offerings from Nomad Lounge, but it is far superior to entire menus elsewhere. I’m more inclined to grilled fish tacos, so that may be part of it, because this seems like a great concept that just needs a little more thought behind it’s execution.

Let’s move on over to the Africa-Spiced Wagyu Beef Sliders and their accompanying vinegared potatoes. We sampled everything dish at Nomad Lounge, but the vinegared potatoes may have stolen the show away from all the other small plates. The roasted potatoes are crispy on the outside, with tender flesh just beneath the surface, even though they are relatively small. The potatoes are tossed in vinegar prior to roasting and absorb all of those wonderfully tart flavors. To finish of this side dish, salt is added. Think of these as the best salt and vinegar potato chips you’ve ever tried.

Our main component here, however, are the sliders themselves. The buns have been toasted to hold the contents together. What contents, you ask? I’m happy to tell you that there isn’t much here, and that is a very good thing. On the buns are only two components, a sweet and spicy tomato jam and the wagyu patty itself. Wagyu is the current must-have name given to high end beef that comes from certain areas of Japan, also Australia, the United States, Canada, and the UK, but mostly Japan. Wagyu is delicious, especially when seasoned correctly, as is the case with Nomad Lounge. There is a richness to the meat that comes through and is highlighted with the jam that is firing on all cylinders. There are a lot of great menu items at Nomad Lounge to sink your teeth into, and the African-Spiced Wagyu Beef Sliders are definitely in the upper echelons of those dishes.

As seems to be the case with every visit we have to Nomad Lounge, the complaints are few and far between, bordering on nit-picking, while the joys and happy food dances are copious. If you’re a fan of fish tacos, particularly of the fried variety, give the Florida Lionfish Tacos a whirl. As for the Africa-Spiced Wagyu Beef Sliders, I can’t recommend them enough. The only sadness that’s going to come into your life at in this lounge is when the small plates and your glass is empty, luckily they know the cure for both at Nomad Lounge.

07 August 2017

Splash the Day Away

River Country has long been a fond memory and fertile story ground for us here at the Gazette. Considering that Walt Disney World’s original water park is still visible from motor launches to and from Fort Wilderness and that some of the facilities were repurposed for Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, makes it a continued source of discussion amongst the Vacation Kingdom’s enthusiasts. Some of the manmade pools have, after many years of non-use, now been filled in, but a majority of the park still remains in ill-repair, but with potential. Today, let’s do a little dreaming about what we’d like to see River Country refurbished as.

Let’s address the obvious right off the bat, Disney has no inclination, nor will they ever, to reopen River Country as a water park. It does not enjoy the same blessing of size that its younger siblings, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, have utilized to their advantage. The size of River Country, while part of its charm, also keeps it from being able to add quantity to attraction collection, especially thrill type attractions that would take up a great deal of space.

There is also something to be spoken to around allowing guests into the waters of Bay Lake. Guests have been unable to enter the freshwater areas of all resorts for a long time, and recent upgrades have made the barriers between guests and water permanent. It goes without saying that something would have to be done to section off River Country from the remainder of Bay Lake, filling the water park with water you would find in a pool or other water activity. While not impossible by any stretch of the imagination, this would take considerable time and capital to see any project reach fruition. Now that we’ve disposed of the formalities of what won’t be happening and what it would take to make a dream a reality, let’s get on to those dreams.

There has been a lot of attention paid to the Wilderness Lodge and its Disney Vacation Club property in the past year, and I’d like to see River Country’s redevelopment built off of this premise and with the same care and attention. For that matter, I’d love for this storyline to bleed over into Fort Wilderness as well, but that is a story for another day. The concept of Copper Creek and Boulder Ridge builds upon Disney’s long tradition of railroads and mining, which would fit nicely in with a repurposed River Country. The boulders are there for the boundary of a quarry, and we’ve all seen those pits filled in with water around the country, tempting local children and teens to explore them. While River Country’s proximity to the Wilderness Lodge doesn’t match how the water park butts up against the Settlement area of Fort Wilderness, it is still close enough that a walk or bike ride down to the old swimming hole isn’t feasible for most guests.

In the end, what I would love to see is the return to the old swimming’ hole concept, but I’m not so Blue Sky in my thinking that I believe this should be a full blown water park once more. Give it a couple of slippery rock slides, a la western North Carolina’s Sliding Rock, but make those the highest thrill the area is going to offer. Remove the idea of any attraction that would require a tube. Add in a beach or riverbank for guests to sit out in the sun on, and reopen the boardwalk through the cypress trees. Reinstall challenge obstacles like the boom swing, tire swing, and zip line, giving children a place to take some chances, to face their fears, but also to be safe and have a minor adventure. Seeing as how River Country is not exactly close to anything that can provide items of sustenance, open up a snack stand, however, keep it basic with picnic items such as cold fried chicken, chips, sandwiches, and potato salad.

Here is where I’m probably going to lose some of my supporters. Only open River Country up to guests of the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. Like Stormalong Bay and other premium pool areas around Walt Disney World, access to River Country should be a perk of the Wilderness resorts, and not open to every guest from every resort. While it is sure to be crowded, particularly during the long summer months, the fact that it is off the beaten path will make it less of a draw for many guests, who would rather opt for a full water park or the ease of access to their own resort pool. Although I could see attendance decrease at the pool areas of both Wilderness resorts.

I am not holding my breath for an announcement about what new life is going to be infused into River Country, it is simply not a priority for many individuals inside Disney. I can respect and understand that. I also understand that my own nostalgia for the original water park gives me tinted lenses through which I look at the property and what it could be. That said, I think there is some form of days-gone-by charm that is still left in the park and that could find life once again. When and if and what that would look like are all questions to be answered in the future, but it is fun to still have the ability to dream about the tomorrows of River Country.

03 August 2017

Under the S.E.A. Quarterly

The Society of Explorers and Adventurers, or the S.E.A. for short, has been regularly adding members to its ranks throughout the years. Some of these members have a long history, but whose involvement with the S.E.A. is a recent revelation, while others wash ashore with new attractions or experiences. One of these members, Mary Oceaneer, may be new to Walt Disney World, but she has a storied past. She is included in several photographs in the queue for Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor, as well as in the Oceaneer Labs aboard the Disney Cruise Line ships. The Oceaneer Labs are where Mary’s history as a treasure hunter, adventurer, and protector of the seas is really fleshed out.

When Typhoon Lagoon opened Miss Adventure Falls earlier this year, it brought with it a stranded Captain Mary Oceanear and her parrot companion, Duncan. While the pair may be shipwrecked, we are left with many artifacts that assist us in putting together her story, as well as the story of Typhoon Lagoon. Featured alongside her diving bell, periodicals, and crates is a nautical map of the area.

If you examine the map closely, you’ll realize that the attraction names in the park were not assigned at random as they are, in fact, taken from previous feature names. For instance, there is a section of calm water named Castaway Canal, which seems perfect for a lazy river type of attraction. Meanwhile, Cape Kowabunga and Humunga Harbor get combined to create a thrill ride Humunga Kowabunga. The list goes on and on: Stern Burner Reef, Placid Palms, Conch Landing, Keelhaul Cove, Blustery Bay, and others.

It is also worth exploring the notations that Mary herself has left on the map. As a procurer of rare artifacts from deep in briny sea, we should be surprised that areas have been denoted of where she has either found, or believes she can find, gold coins, pearls and gems, and shiney objects. The misspelling and lack of detail around the shiny objects may seem a bit out of character for Mary, but you try to keep everything straight after being shipwrecked! Also called out on the map are sandals and crackers. These would definitely be necessity items if you had just washed ashore in a tropical paradise with a parrot.

Last, but certainly not least, is a single X with the word ‘NO’ written beneath it. This happens to be jotted down in the area of Mayday Bay. Now, while the wave pool of the water park may be known as Typhoon Lagoon to guests, situated against the backdrop of Mount Mayday, it is safe to assume that this may not have always been its name. If Mount Mayday has been present in the area pre-storm, it would stand to reason that the tidal area at its base could in theory be called Mayday Bay. If this were true, a treasure hunter in diving bell would certainly want to steer clear of the turbulent waters.

No matter how you came to know Captain Mary Oceaneer, her story is one that has spread across the globe and its seven seas. The S.E.A.’s ranks are filled with wonderful stories and relationships that connect parks to one another, and Mary is a fine example of this connectivity. While I await my S.E.A. membership, I will continue to study the artifacts Mary and her colleagues have left behind.

02 August 2017

Tell a Good Story - Issue #3: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Spoiler Free Synopsis: In 1978 Abigail Bullion has lost her mother and is being sent to live with her father, Barnabas, in Rainbow Ridge, Arizona. The town has grown out of Barnabas’ gold mine deep within the heart of Big Thunder Mountain. Abigail, or Abby, is a free spirited young woman who has long to travel west and see what adventures it offers. Barnabas, seeking to protect her, confines her to their manor house until he can find a suitable boarding school to send her off to. This does not sit well with our heroine who, along with her trusty horse Jaggers, sneaks away to see just what is happening in Rainbow Ridge.

Meanwhile, the mining operation is on the edge. Business is no longer booming, accidents continue to pile up, and Barnabas’ lead foreman, Willikers, is convinced the miners just aren’t being pushed hard enough. While a forthright miner named Chandler disagrees and urges caution in angering the spirit of Big Thunder, Willikers wins out and the mining operation is to push deeper into the mountain.

With Abby sneaking into the mine, bandits rustling the gold, Barnabas trying to do what’s right for the town, the mine, the miners, and his business, and Big Thunder awakening to intruders, we’ve only begun this wildest ride in the wilderness.

Disney Source Material: Page one, panel four features a goat gnawing on a stick of dynamite. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the use of source material in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, then I don’t know what will! The story takes place in Rainbow Ridge, a Frontierland location that predates Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland. Barnabas T. Bullion is a recent addition to the attraction backstory in multiple iterations, and bears a striking resemblance to the Imagineer, Tony Baxter. The Bullion residence, with its clapboard Victorian motif, has more than a passing likeness to Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor. Throw in dinosaur bones, color-rich caverns, Cumulus Isobar, bats, and a mining train named I.M. Brave and it is hard not to draw straight connections between the attractions and the story.

While the inspiration is clear, the fact that multiple versions of the attraction, as well as Frontierlands themselves, are merged together so effortlessly shows a lot of skill. While the story leans heavily on the relatively new history of Big Thunder that includes Barnabas T. Bullion, if anything this story only adds depth to the attraction itself. While Tony Baxter has never wanted Bullion to be the villain of the Frontierland tale he helped to create, writer Dennis Hopeless does a masterful job of threading the needle on a character who is conflicted and occasionally makes poor choices.

Marvel Storytelling: As we have just mentioned above, Dennis Hopeless is our writer here, and he creates a world and a whole host of characters that the reader is quickly invested in. There are a ton of plot threads running between our characters, but none of them get muddled and every resolution further progresses the story of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Whether it is a father and daughter spat, bandits imbued with a sense of purpose, or turning a mountain into a full-fledge character with its own language, Hopeless does an excellent job of keeping the story clean and making us care about what is happening.

Meanwhile, artists Tigh Walker and Felix Ruiz share the duties of taking Hopeless’ words and fully crafting that world. Walker does the heavy lifting of setting this western fantasy world down in real places that feel tangible to the reader. I could almost feel the dust in the saloon and the vast open wilderness, which could get away from an artist is given is due respect, but also harness effectively. Walker’s characters are unique, yet recognizable, and that only further ingratiates us to their plights. With Ruiz taking over artist duties for Issue 3 and Guillermo Mogorron finishing on Issues 4 and 5, there is plenty of room for artistic continuity to be lost, but it is never a matter that needs to be addressed as the three do a remarkable job of keeping the cohesion strong and our focus on the story.

As you move through the coloration of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, from the dusty yellows and oranges of western vistas to the violets and blue of mine life, you may get a sense of déjà vu. The colorist on the comic is Jean-Francois Beaulieu, whose work we were introduced to in The Haunted Mansion. He continues to impress here, especially in a western environment where it would be easy to muddle some of the earth tones.

The story presented to us in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is complex, probably one of the more complex stories we’ve come across in the Disney Kingdoms comic line, but it doesn’t feel that way. Western comics are nothing new, and one of my favorites (and perhaps most recognizable) has always been DC’s Weird Western Tales. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad does its predecessors proud in terms of supernatural western yarns, while also enhancing the world of Frontierland in all of Disney’s parks. This isn’t a story that we know, a retelling of long-established park lore, but there is enough of that world in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to hook the reader and then give them one heck of a ride.

Bonus Time: Talk about a gold mine! Yes, we have the cover art and variant cover images here, included a completed piece of art from a set of interlocking covers, but that is just scratching the surface. There are also character studies from Tigh Walker alongside attraction posters from Jim Michaelson, with Rudy Lore and Greg Paul. In the vein of concept art we have pieces from Jim Heffron and Carline May, Joe Warren, Tony Baxter, and Dan Goozee. There is also a considerable amount of art from Clem Hall, including a gorgeous aerial vista of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that covers two pages. Last, but certainly not least, are a pair of letters from Creative Adviser and Imagineer, Tony Baxter, and the Executive Production Designer Vice President of Imagineering, Skip Lange. From Tony Baxter we are treated to a tale of designing the first Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, with particular attention paid to Marc Davis’ Western River and Thunder Mesa project. Skip Lange’s letter takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the construction of Big Thunder Mountains in parks all over the world.

Conclusion: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was my favorite attraction growing up, and when it comes to the Magic Kingdom it is still the place, along with the rest of Frontierland, that has the firmest grip on my heart. When the comic of Big Thunder Mountain was announced I was ecstatic, but I was also very nervous. I have an ideal of what that story should be, I’ve written my own stories, steeped in Frontierland lore, many times over my life, and I wasn’t sure how this comic would hold up. A western, blended with a ghost story, isn’t exactly new territory to venture into, but that only makes the stakes all that higher. By not playing into the trope of good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats, by giving us honest, flawed characters, and heaping on tons of fun and comedy Hopeless and team have presented us with a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad tale that I am happy to applaud and will definitely reread again.

Further Reading:
Tell a Good Story – Issue #3: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

01 August 2017

He's Got Seventy-Five Golden Camels

Disney-MGM Studios hasn’t had a true parade grace Hollywood Boulevard in a little while, but during the park’s first decade parades were absolutely a part of each and every afternoon. The interesting thing about first parades at Disney-MGM Studios was the fact that they didn’t highlight multiple feature films, instead they focus on a single film or property. From the television show Dinosaurs, to animated feature films like Hercules, Mulan, and Toy Story. One parade that many of those early park-goers enjoyed and still remember fondly was the Aladdin’s Royal Caravan.

Aladdin’s Royal Caravan premiered on December 21, 1992 all the way through August 27, 1995. A sibling parade in Disneyland held court between spring on 1993 until the summer of 1994, but Disney-MGM Studios kept the spirit of Prince Ali churning. While many characters, including Jafar, Jasmine, and Abu (in his elephant form), took part in the parade, the main theme behind the parade was the Prince Ali segment of the film. The caravan included multiple Genies, acrobats, a gorilla, a bed of nails practitioner, servants, and more jewels and gems than you could shake a flying carpet at.

One of the highlights of the parade, however, was a pair of solid gold camels. Prince Ali may have had 75 golden camels, but these two are the one we really want to focus on. These camels’ heads would turn from side to side and occasionally spit on guests set-up along the parade route. I should point out that it was water, not actual spit, and that it was squirted on the guests, but I feel like most of that should go without saying. Does this pair of camels look familiar to you? They have actually had the most successful history coming out of Aladdin’s Royal Caravan.

Once the parade took its curtain in 1995, that pair went on to adorn the entrance to Soundstage Restaurant. The Soundstage Restaurant resides where Disney Junior Live On Stage now takes place. When the park originally opening, it was given the theme of a wrap party for the film Big Business, but as the years went on it took on a prop warehouse vibe, featuring items from recent animated features. Perhaps that’s not where you’re thinking you know this pair of golden spitting camels from though?

The closing of the Soundstage Restaurant was also not the end of the line for these two. The would move over to the Magic Kingdom beginning in May of 2001 as part of the signage for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. While their ability to expectorate had been tamped down during their time as restaurant décor, back out in the open air of Adventureland they were allowed to let the spit fly again.

Regardless of whether or not your first encounter was with the camels as part of the Disney-MGM Parade, ornamentation in the Soundstage Restaurant, or in their current home in Adventureland, it is safe to say that their spitting is part of their charm. In fact, on a hot summer day in Florida, I dare say it could be refreshing! Even if you don’t want to get wet yourself, it’s always fun watching children dart around the damp patch of pavement trying to get squirted, or trying to play chicken with the camels, and the giggling that ensues after a direct hit.