13 December 2017

Some Anthropologists

As we make our way through the shimmering living room and kitchen of the Carousel of Progress’ family, all decked out for Christmas, it is almost impossible not the feel like there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow. Yet, tucked away behind the computer monitor, pinned up on the family bulletin board, is a note that Marty Called Wants Changes. Perhaps one of the best known secrets of the park, this note is a reference to Marty Sklar, the wordsmith and Imagineering legend who passed away earlier this year. It is said that Marty wanted to see real change to the attraction that had been a part of the Disney lexicon since the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, as the final scene had fallen out of date with modern innovation. Some witty Imagineer took it upon themselves to place the note and make Marty’s aspirations known for all the world to see. While the note has remained, and the monumental changes have not yet come to pass, it isn’t the only thing worthy of our attention on the bulletin board.

We can actually find out a lot about our family from the postings on this board. There are plenty of family photos to explore, many of which feature Santa or a Christmas theme, likely photos that were included in Christmas cards, showing off how their relatives have grown over the past year. To drive this point home, there are even a couple of photographs that definitely look like wallet-sized school photos. Moving on, we can see some typical family scheduling, such as emailing for Rover’s vet appointment, a meeting with Melissa and Nicole at 1:30 on Friday, or the school meeting on October 20. Clearly, this being Christmas, this school meeting posting was just never removed, just as so many items are never removed from my refrigerator at home.

It seems clear that the daughter Pat, or Patricia or Patty, is fairly popular around the household’s phone. There is one post-it note for her to call Becky and on another we find that Corbin, Bryce, Drew, and Brooke called. Now, while this note isn’t specifically directed at Patty, we do tend to see her on the phone more often than her brother, Jimmy, throughout the attraction, and this message could just as easily be for him.

Then there are the newspaper and magazine clippings. Some of these postings talk about new computer programs or inspirational thoughts, you know, the original Pintrest. However, the one clipping that truly draws in my attention is the small cartoon that is barely visible in the upper right corner of the bulletin board, just below, and partially hidden by, Marty’s note. One of the more popular comic strips for cutting and posting, or passing around the office, has always been Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Our Carousel family is no exception, as here we find one of Larson’s favorite subjects, anthropologists. In the clipping, from October 27, 1993, we see a caveman running out of a cave that is engulfed in flames, the caveman is yelling, “Bummer!” The caption from the cartoon reads, “Some anthropologists believe that the discoveries of fire, shelter and language were almost simultaneous.” Definitely worth a pinning on a bulletin board if you ask me.

While Marty’s message may be the one we, as Disney enthusiasts, are attracted to, there is much more to be uncovered from this bulletin board that speaks to the everyday lives of the Carousel of Progress’ family. For many of us, this bulletin board is like a page from our own personal stories, as I’m certain many of us had very similar looking pieces in our own homes at one time. Using it as a window into the attraction and real world history makes us, dare I say it, Disney anthropologists in our own rights.

06 December 2017

Chearffel Tower

1989 was a banner year for Walt Disney World. It opened whole new worlds of entertainment through a new park (Disney-MGM Studios), a new water park (Typhoon Lagoon), and a new nighttime entertainment district (Pleasure Island), to name just a few of their accomplishments that year. And yet, through it all, the folks at Disney didn’t forget the little details that would seasonally change the environment and spirit of their parks and resorts. To prove this point, we need look no further than Disney-MGM Studios’ iconic water tower, the Earffel Tower.

Even during the park’s first holiday season, the Earffel Tower had its yuletide spirit on display! In fact, during that time of year it even changed its name to the Chearffel Tower. And in case you think that simply adding a hat isn’t that big of an undertaking, notice how many individuals it took to get the Santa hat properly placed atop the water tower.  And is it any wonder with a hat size of 342 3/8, with a diameter of 28.5, and a weight of 500 pounds?

The Earffel Tower would don many disguises over the years, but none were as iconic as the Santa hat. This tradition continued from 1989 until early into the new century, but it was eventually retired. With the removal of the Earffel Tower in 2016, so to was the idea of the return of the Santa-clad water tower. Still, we keep the season in our hearts and not in our décor, but it was fun while it lasted and definitely showed that park’s dedication to the season.

01 December 2017

A Port Orleans Specialty

The era of faux newspapers has evaporated from Walt Disney World, but these publications were some of the greatest storytelling and information devices the resorts had. Case in point, The Sassagoula Times, the newspaper provided to guests when they checked in and which supplied them with recreation and dining information, while also feeding into the backstory of both Port Orleans (now known as Port Orleans – French Quarter) and Dixie Landings (now known as Port Orleans – Riverside). The newspaper was a staple throughout the early years of both resorts and while the stories are wonderful, the classified section, with a page each for both Port Orleans and Dixie Landings, is even more of a gem.

On the Port Orleans side of the page you have wonderful advertisements with specifics on Scat Cat’s Club Lounge, Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, Jackson Square Gifts, the Landing Marina, Mardi Gras Pool Bar, the Sassagoula Steamboat Co., and the now shuttered Bonfamille’s Café. Story elements include clever puns around blacksmiths (Baudelaire Buckets… everything else “pails” by comparison) and tooth extractions (Dr. Pullsmore, DDS.), as well as more earnest entries for things such as sales of middle aged mules and chimney cleaning service providers.

Flipping the page over to the Dixie Landings section, you have similar advertisements for actual activities and establishments of the resort, including Boatwright’s Dining Hall, Dixie Levee Marina, the Fishin’ Hole, Colonel’s Cottom Mill, the Sassagoula Steamboat Co., Fulton’s General Store, the Muddy Rivers Pool Bar, and Cotton Co-Op Lounge. Reading through the list, it’s fairly clear why some of these names, including the resort itself, needed to be changed. Moving over to the humorous side of the classifieds there are you weather predictors (Noah Vail) and a whole host of puns from Fulton’s General Store (licorice sticks, lye soap flakes, and cast iron sinks). There are also the more straightforward entries for timber hoisters boat building or the warning to pet owners about a runaway alligator.

Both sides, however, feature a cleverly disguised posting featuring someone from a well-known brand other that Disney. From Port Orleans is the 10 Great Gator Recipes, which will all more than likely make the alligator meat taste like chicken. These recipes come from none other than the Colonel & Mrs. Sanders. I wonder if one of the recipes is for 11 secret herbs and spices for fried gator? Meanwhile, over in Dixie Landings, a poundcake has been lost and the baker is seeking to know whether or not she needs to bake another for the birthday celebration. The baker is Mrs. Crocker, which makes me question if her first name isn’t Betty.

Peruse the remaining of the classifieds for yourself at your leisure. What sticks out, makes you remember something you had forgotten about either resort, or makes you giggle?

29 November 2017

Tranquil Hideaway

While staring out at the sea on our first cruise last month, I began to daydream about the new ships coming to the Disney Cruise Line fleet in the next couple of years and all that they could bring to the cruising experience. The Oceaneer Clubs will likely be some of the greatest things kids (and adults) have ever seen, the themes of the restaurants will probably introduce more entertainment a la the newest offerings on the Wonder and Magic, and the fine dining will likely be a step above what’s currently the mark to beat in Remy. The possibilities and dreams are truly endless, but there was one idea and dream I couldn’t shake, one that I even considered before ever stepping aboard one of the ships, and that is to float away with Disney’s marquee island experience, Trader Sam’s.

Now, let’s start by saying the adult district of the Disney Fantasy offered up some terrific venues with which to spend our time. They have something to offer for those guests that want a quiet corner to sip a cocktail or two, those who would rather dance the night away, or even the guests looking to watch the big game. There is truly something for everyone, no matter what mood they’re in on a given day. This variety is precisely what led me down the path to consider what could be added to the current line-ups that would plus the experience and bring in some of magic Disney is known for.

Since Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar opened in 2011 it has been a staple of the Disneyland experience. The watering hole was so popular that an East Coast edition, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, was unveiled in 2015 at the Polynesian Village in Walt Disney World. Both incorporate classic Adventureland, tiki, and nautical elements, in addition to be vaults for artifacts of every shape and size. Both have definite ties to the Enchanted Tiki Room, or Tropical Serenade if you please, the Enchanted Tiki Bar leans heavily on the Jungle Cruise while the Grog Grotto draws inspiration from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As Castaway Cay serves as the final resting place of a Nautilus from the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage, tilting a floating tiki shack aboard one of the new ships towards the submarine adventure would make the most sense. Of course, you’d want to keep as much of the Adventureland motif as you could as well.

The drink selection onboard any of the Disney Cruise Line ships leans heavily in the direction of rum and tequila, with a smattering of whisky and other fine liqueurs. This works perfectly with cocktail selections from both Trader Sam venues. Both lounges also have a selection of unique small plates that take bar food out of the dive and dress it up for a night on the town. Food, save for midnight snacks set out for guests as if they were Santa Claus, isn’t easy to find in the adult districts of the ships, but it also isn’t entirely unheard. With Trader Sam’s cocktail and food concoctions really working hand in hand with one another, any addition to a new ship would have to have some sort of small plate menu. A plus to the onboard lounge experience to be sure.

But what is it that everyone really wants from their time at Trader Sam’s? Wonderful cast member interactions, drinks that set off effects within the bar, and those delightful mugs to take home. I’m certain over-the-top bartenders and servers could be found for a cruise version of Trader Sam’s without much trouble, just as creating some unique in-room effects, paired with some of the lounge’s staple gags. As for mugs, this is where Trader Sam’s may rock the boat. Given that many of the mugs are limited editions and that there is only so much space where merchandise and collectibles can be stored onboard the ships, this could be a bit tricky. As it currently sits many of the specialty items, such as popcorn buckets or ornaments, run out within the first day or two of a sailing. I could foresee a similar rush on mugs from Trader Sam’s, particularly if a mug is exclusive to the cruise ships or to a particular sailing.

I’d love to see some of the high seas hijinks that both Trader Sam’s locations are renowned for rub off on the fleet of Disney Cruise Line ships. While it may not be feasible or a right fit to add a tiki lounge into any of the current ships, with three new vessels on the horizon, anything is possible. Especially when you’re dreaming big while staring out at the big blue from your veranda!

28 November 2017

Saucy Views

Flame Tree Barbecue is one of the best known open secrets when you’re looking for a barbecue lunch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With the addition of the Harambe Market and Satu’li Canteen over the past several years, it may not be as sought after as a dining location as it once was. These destinations have become guest favorites, particularly if you’re looking for something other than smoked meats. Of course, if you’re looking to slowly back away from the ancient art of barbecue, Flame Tree does have a couple of other offerings that you could consider.

Let’s start with a side dish that is really a snack or meal unto itself, the French Fries with Pulled Pork and Cheese. This is as straightforward a menu item as you can find in Walt Disney World. It is a plate of French fries topped with a scattering of pulled pork, liquid cheese, barbecue sauce, and scallions.  The scallions are only there to add another color to the menu and so you can pretend this is a health-ish dish. The fries are your typical quick service offering, and the pork and barbecue sauce are the same pork used on the pulled pork sandwich at Flame Tree, just in a much smaller quantity. Then there is the cheese, the hot, liquid gold that used to be commonplace around the parks, but has become less available in recent years.

In all honesty, this “side dish” is Flame Tree’s answer to loaded French fries, with no frills, definitely messy, and ultimately delicious. Make sure to get extra napkins, or wet wipes, ready ahead of time and don’t have any plans to get onboard Expedition Everest afterwards (no matter how great the view is of it from across the way), and you should be fine. I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek this out, but if you happen to be around Flame Tree midafternoon and looking for a savory snack, this is a winner.

For those wanting to ditch barbecue altogether, and maybe opt for something a bit healthier, Flame Tree has you covered as well with its Watermelon Salad. This salad includes a base of mixed greens combined with watermelon, pickled red onion, and feta that is then tossed in white balsamic vinaigrette. Picture a cross between a Greek salad and a fruit salad and this pretty much sums up what they were going for with the Watermelon Salad.

The greens give the salad some roughage, with the feta, onion, and balsamic building this into a very tangy salad with a lot of crunch. Of course, the sweet and soft watermelon is the highlight of the party and mellows out some of the more acidic components of the salad. The Watermelon Salad is a fresh and cool option when the Florida heat is beating down and the humidity of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is making you wilt. This may not seem like the heartiest of meals, but it will definitely fill you up and keep you going.

The next time your making your way between DinoLand U.S.A. and Pandora, or happen to be crossing by a bridge that leads to Discovery Island, and you hear your stomach growl like a Sumatran tiger cub, remember that Flame Tree Barbecue has a lot of offerings to tempt your taste buds. Even if you’re not in the mood for ribs, smoked chicken, or pulled pork, this eatery has something that will hit your happy food notes.

27 November 2017

Ranchos

Coronado Springs is going through a transition period that will make the convention resort more enticing to upscale clientele. For several years, however, this underappreciated resort has been a hidden gem, or guilty pleasure if you prefer, of mine. The three sections of the resort that house accommodations offer a three very distinct environments to stay and play in. I find myself regularly drawn to the Ranchos section that is filled with haciendas, pueblos, arroyos (or dried river beds), hitching rails, paw and footprints, lanterns, boulders, and a broad assortment of cacti. It feels very much like sets pulled directly from Zorro, and maybe that’s precisely what I love about it. Keeping it brief today, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves about the area’s beauty.

22 November 2017

Instant Aging

When it comes to the environments at Walt Disney World, from the majestic beams of the Wilderness Lodge to the soot dust on the United Kingdom’s smokestacks, it is easy to overlook the little details that make each corner unique and special places to wander through. Yet, it is that very same attention to the minor moments that put the attractions, shops, resorts, restaurants, and thoroughfares of the Vacation Kingdom a notch above other theme environments. Stop in just about any spot in one of the parks and you can see the remnants of stone foundations, meticulous tilework, or the prints of an animal that recently passed by. None of that is by accident, and all of it is important to Disney and their Imagineers.

How important is it? Well, it is important enough to be continually documented and, in 1989, it was significant enough to warrant sharing some of this work with the world as they prepared to open Disney-MGM Studios.

Here we can see Dave Lindsey working on the SS Down the Hatch, also known as Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. He isn’t installing the anchor or applying another coat of paint to the hull. Instead, he is providing the appropriate amount of faux rust and rust streaks to the marooned vessel. The angles and shading of this particular detail are important to get right, as anyone who has ever worked on a ship or near a dock would be able to spot a forgery right off. And let’s be clear, this is a counterfeit ship with counterfeit rust, and we all know that, but if it is supposed to feel correct it has to be correct. As this photo was originally captioned, “Lindsey is one of the aging experts who give instant period chard to brand new buildings at Walt Disney World.”

There isn’t much that the Imagineers don’t consider when crafting a whole new world or plussing a world they’ve already built. I know it is the eyes and attention to detail that I have particularly enjoyed discovering over the years, and something for which I am grateful to the Imagineers for.