30 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: You Are the Magic

Walt Disney World has played an important role in my life, throughout my whole life. From the first trip to Fort Wilderness at a couple of months old in a pup tent with my parents, a moment I definitely have no memory of, to the friends who have become family through our Disney connection over recent years, it’s omnipresent. It is in the kitschy souvenirs and artifacts I display in my house, lessons I’ve gleaned and incorporated into my life from interviews and books on the parks and company, even down to the etching inside of my wedding band. There isn’t a part of my life that Walt Disney World hasn’t touched. It isn’t just a place I visit, a vacation destination that I expound about on the internet, there is so much more to it.
 
I wasn’t born until Walt Disney World was just beginning its second decade, but that puts me in the category of really enjoying many of the early offerings and having those moments shape me. From the rustic boardwalk at Fort Wilderness, to the ideals set forth by EPCOT Center, the innumerable trips to the Fiesta Fun Center or old watering hole, the pomp and circumstance of a park dedicated to Hollywood, and the dream of getting old enough to really enjoy Pleasure Island. All of it permeated my youth. It was a magical time to be a child and preteen in and around the Vacation Kingdom.
 
For good or ill, however, things change. Living With the Land lost its tour guides, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had its final voyage, a new park dedicated to animals opened its gates, more resorts, water parks, dining, and entertainment. Passes with our photos on them, like old driver’s licenses, disappeared for plastic cards, then Magic Bands, and now its on your phone. Roaming characters found dedicated spaces and places with which to meet guests. New ghosts moved into the Mansion, Great Movies turned their reel over to Mickey and Minnie, Pirates changed their tunes multiple times, and Residential Street gave way to a stunt show, and then to a galaxy far, far away. The only constant within the boundaries of Walt Disney World is, in fact, change.
 
A while back I wrote, and eventually deleted without posting, an article about the state of the Disney community. At the time I felt like the group as a whole needed a lecture, a swift kick in the rump for their behavior, and I, in my hubris and with a very tiny stage in the public square, felt I was just the person to deliver said reprimand. Like every fanbase there are always a myriad of voices. Some are august in their approach, some boisterous, some honest, some silent, and all of them have opinions that may be correct, can definitely be wrong, and may even be hurtful to others. I deleted my stern talking-to for many reasons, but let me tell you a story that was in there.
 
Years ago, I jumped on the “characters don’t belong in Disneyland’s it’s a small world” train when the changes were announced. My feeling was that it was a disservice to the original World’s Fair attraction and to its chief artist, Mary Blair. I was incensed, as were others, even if the original had already been through changes, not the least of which was a holiday overlay. In the end, the figures arrived, they looked gorgeous and fit in perfectly, and I was left feeling sheepish. It is okay to have an opinion and share it, it is okay to be wrong, especially if you can admit it later, but the constant attacking of one another, or wanting to keep things the same at the cost of the harm and burden it places on others, isn’t.
 
I don’t know what Walt Disney World is to me any longer, except that it is an intrinsic part of who I am. You all have given my joy and passion a purpose. I get to share my personal ideas, history, food reviews, and the love of little details. Honestly, I am never happier than when I am looking at something and asking myself, “why is that there,” or “what was this like before?” So, thank you for letting me blather to you for more than 14 years now. I hope you have tried a new dish or learned something new, maybe a wonderful bit of trivia to impress your family and friends, because of what we have shared here, together.
 
Walt Disney World is the home of so many memories I hold dear. Each year it seems I have more and more memories with friends or family members who have passed away, or those individuals I don’t get to see as often as I would like. It is those cherished moments that I don’t necessarily cling to like a child to a blanket, but that assuredly bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Thinking back on the time my father convinced me to go on Space Mountain for the first time, and then I wouldn’t do another serious coaster for almost 16 years, wandering Future World with my sister on our own, my mother perusing the perfumes in France while I slept in the back courtyard, taking my Nanie on Journey Into Imagination with Figment and having the burst at the end scare her like nothing else, being at the Adventurers Club one last time with friends who are as close to me as family, taking my wife our on first trip when we were dating and knowing that if we could travel together we could do anything together, strolling World Showcase at night with a dear friend capturing photographs as the park closes, and belting out Hapa Duniani whilst on safari with a crew that is always there for me. These are just a few of the memories that call me back to Walt Disney World, not to live in the past, but to imagine what new adventure might be next.
 
If you catch a theme running through those memories, they all involve people near and dear to me. That’s sort of the mantra of Walt Disney World in my eyes. It’s not the attraction or restaurant that calls to me, it is who I get to experience it with. I don’t agree with everything the Vacation Kingdom, and the powers that are behind it, decides to do, but I look at it in a similar way to how I look at life. Not everything is designed for me, but perhaps there is some enjoyment to be found in it, and if I have more good days, more good times, than bad, then it has been a fulfilling experience. In the end, isn’t that all any of us can ask for.
 
From the time I was a young adult, I had a dream for tomorrow. I would wake up early, crash the gates of the Magic Kingdom, and be able to take a multigenerational photo with my Nanie, parents, wife, sister, and child. For a multitude of reasons, that won’t be how I spend tomorrow. There was another dream that has stood the test of time, however. That beyond Walt Disney World’s 50th birthday there would be hope and new ideas that would spur it on for another 50 years. I may not be here when Walt Disney World turns 100, but based off of the last 50 years, the ups and downs, successes and failures, I think it is safe to say that someone will be looking back then on a century of wonder.
 
Happy 50th Walt Disney World, thank you for everything! Here’s to the next 50!

29 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Map of the World

At the time of its inception Walt Disney World stretched out for approximately 30,000 acres. The comparison has always been that the resort is the same size as San Francisco or twice the size of the island of Manhattan, with much of this land still being undeveloped. Yet when the Vacation Kingdom opened it was not nearly as expansive in terms of its built spaces as we currently think of the area, regardless of how much land Disney had at its disposal. In fact, in 1973, this was the entirety of Walt Disney World.

The iconography of those early years, stretching out into the early 1980s, has always had a special place in my heart. The Osceola–class paddlewheel, Ports-O-Call, sitting out in Bay Lake and it’s home dock of World Cruise Landing set the stage of waterway adventures. Meanwhile the barn of Tri Circle-D, campers, and the inhabitants of Treasure Island complete the Bay Lake story, and beckon in the eye and guests. Of course, the prominent feature of Cinderella Castle is front and center, but the inclusion of the Magic Kingdom monorail station is a great touch. Above all though, the single greatest element of this map is the Walt Disney World compass.

Keen eyes will also note that the map includes references to the Walt Disney World Golf Classic event, a small woodland area in the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot, and a future hotel site, a dream for an Asian resort that was meant to be but never came to pass.

There’s so much that we learn from the early years of Walt Disney World, looking back often provides the best guide to what the future may look like. With the maps we get a chance to see just how spacious the entire resort was, even if the amount of land far surpassed that which guests could actually set foot upon. There are plenty of memories to take away from this map, the things that have changed, the adventures that are no longer available, and the daydreams of what might still be.

28 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Festive Air

Once upon a time Walt Disney World’s Candlelight Processional did not take place at Epcot. Even though EPCOT Center opened in 1982, it wouldn't become host to the choir, orchestra, and narrated pageantry until 1984. For the first thirteen years of the resort's existence, from 1971 through 1983, the winter spectacle took place in the Magic Kingdom.

There were still guest narrators who were popular figures of the day. However, while today’s choir is made up of Cast Members and high school choral groups from more than 30 different states (except for this year's modified experience), those early choirs were comprised of boys’ choirs from central Florida.

While the Candlelight Processional has become an indelible part of the holiday season at Epcot, you can’t help but marvel at the vision that Walt Disney World had during its first decade. A singing tree against the backdrop of Cinderella Castle, talk about bringing the holidays to life!

27 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Come and Join the Fun

It’s hard to not look at Walt Disney World celebrations from the past and not think about the 25th anniversary and the castle birthday cake. For me, however, the best celebrations, seared into my childhood memories, is the anniversary that took place a decade earlier. From October 1, 1986 until September 30, 1987 there was a spectacular held in Walt Disney World that still influences today’s annual events. The 15th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, sometimes referred to as the 15th Birthday Celebration, was shorten and most commonly referred to as simply 15 Years, with a logo the included both Spaceship Earth and Cinderella Castle.
 
The celebration itself had gigantic displays at the entrances to both parks. In front of the Main Street U.S.A. train station there was a large Mickey Mouse alarm clock with the number 15 filling in every spot where the 1 through 12 should be. In addition, this area in front of the station was where guests could find a car from General Motors, but more on that in a bit. Meanwhile, over in EPCOT Center, there were massive angular cakes filling the entrance plaza planters. Think of the as colorful predecessors of the Leave A Legacy monoliths. You can see the cake in the background of the photographs below, which features my sister and I.

The 15 Years celebration also brought with it a great deal of entertainment. In the Magic Kingdom alone, there was a float added to the Main Street Electrical Parade as well as a stage show in front of Cinderella Castle, and an afternoon parade, entitled 15th Birthday Magic Show and 15 Years of Magic, respectively. The music from the parade was as clever and catchy as anything Disney’s ever produced. The sign of which is that even now, more than 30 years on, I can still sing large sections of the song without assistance. Not that anyone wants, or should ask, that I serenade them with the pure 80’s sound.
 
The parade featured Mickey and Minnie in the lead off float, dressed as something out of Miami Vice. They were followed by a large, top open present, which was one of several to be featured in the parade, usually in between two larger floats with characters in between. You can see one just behind Mickey and Minnie in the above photo. Other major floats included a band float with Chip, Dale, Pluto, Tigger, Br’er Bear, and the Big Bad Wolf getting funky. Coincidentally, “funky” is the words of a chipmunk, not this fair writer. The Fairy Godmother and Donald have their own respective floats as well, and a number of musical performers and dancers stand atop the glass castle float, a float that has been utilized for a number of parades over the past three decades. Perhaps the most memorable float, however, had to be the baking float. Here Liver Lips McGraw, Wendell, and Shaker of Country Bear Jamboree fame have created a batter tornado while trying to create a cake suitable for Walt Disney World’s 15th birthday.
 
The inclusion of the Country Bears isn’t necessarily something to scribble out a postcard about, but it leads to another interesting piece of the parade. No, I’m not talking about the sparkly, roller skating performers, I’m thinking about the little-known characters to permeate the parade. These days, there are special events to bring back some of the long-lost characters, but many we’re present throughout this procession. Included amongst the rare to never seen these days were King Leonidas (Bedknobs & Broomsticks), Lulubelle (Bongo segment of Fun and Fancy Free), Penguins (Mary Poppins), Stromboli (Pinocchio), and even Suzy and Perla (two of Cinderella’s friendly mice).
 
I can still, from time to time, find myself singing, “Fifteen years of magic, come and join fun…”
 
Moving back to the General Motors vehicles in front of the Magic Kingdom, the cars were there as part of a giveaway. During the 15th celebration there were prizes given away to guests every fifteen seconds. From small pins up to the vehicles, the 15 Years event had to have one of the best guest-to-prize ratios ever seen in a Disney park celebration. While my family never won a car, even though one was given away every day, the EPCOT Center Future World pin, featuring Spaceship Earth and a diagonal monorail, is still a cherished possession.
 
Overall, the 15th year of Walt Disney World had quality entertainment, great prizes to be won, and decorations that did not detract from the overall park going experience. It may be because this was my heyday of visiting Walt Disney World as a child, but this celebration will always hold a fond place in my heart.

26 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Sand in our Shoes

With all of the hubbub and goings on of the opening day and first month of Walt Disney World's operation in October of 1971, it's easy to forget that some things we now consider classics, or hold fond memories of, weren't even open during that first month. As Walt Disney World was entering its second month of sharing their brand of recreation with the world, Cast Members were still getting used to their on and off stage duties and what it means to be a part of the Disney family. New attractions and experiences were still under construction or just beginning to open their doors to guests each and every day, with crucial information about these new happenings flying around furiously. In order to help Cast Members stay up to date, the internal newsletter, Eyes and Ears, had a section containing the most recent construction and opening briefings. It was called Sand in Our Shoes. So, just what were Cast Members looking forward to in November of 1971? Let’s read on to find out!
 
The Wavemaking Machine in the Seven Seas Lagoon is now undergoing testing. It is located on the west side of Beachcomber Isle and will create waves from four inches to four feet breaking on to Surfrider Beach. Surf boards and instructions will be available through the hotel Recreation Reception Desks.
 
In Tomorrowland, America the Beautiful… sponsored by Monsanto… is scheduled to be operational by Thanksgiving. The Flight to the Moon will be open around Christmas.
 
The Mile Long Bar in Frontierland serving guests Pepsi and Frito-Lay products is expected to be complete with the “Karen Anders and Tommy Russell” show by November 15th. Pecos Bill’s Cafe, also sponsored by Pepsi Cola-Frito Lay, will be fully operational by mid-month.
 
Eastern Airline’s show, “If You Had Wings,” will take guests on a film and three-dimensional trip to tropical regions around the world. The show, utilizing the OmniMover, will open this summer.
 
RCA’s exhibit, also in Tomorrowland, is now being designed by WED, the Disney “Imagineers” in California. The exhibit will give guests a preview of future inventions -- particularly in the field of communications.
 

25 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Many Happy Returns of the Day

Most of us don’t remember how we celebrated our first birthday, thankfully there always seemed to be someone around with a camera to capture the precious, and often embarrassingly cute, moments. Walt Disney World is no different than the rest of us. With the Magic Kingdom, and the entire Vacation Kingdom, celebrating their 50th birthday next week, is there any better time take a look back at one of the resorts first birthday photos?

For its first birthday, Walt Disney World threw a party at the Magic Kingdom. Mickey led the first birthday parade down Main Street, U.S.A. alongside a giant number 1 birthday candle. No party would be complete without a band and some balloons, both of which could also be seen throughout the parade.

For the curious, and those that love having another piece of trivia at their disposal, the Magic Kingdom’s first year attendance was 10,712,991.

24 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

 

Guests of the Magic Kingdom can view a castle across a lagoon and a turn-of-the-century train station at the turnstiles, while at Epcot the giant geodesic sphere known as Spaceship Earth beckons. When it came time to select a suitable draw for the entrance of Disney's Hollywood Studios, then known as Disney-MGM Studios, the design was simple and sleek, not extravagant like its predecessors and it felt right at home in the golden age of Hollywood.

Perhaps the reason the structure feels so right, is because it was inspired by a real life building in California. The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was opened in 1935. The arena, visualized by the architectural firm of Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, was home to innumerable boat, home, and automobile shows. The facilities also housed hockey bouts, basketball games, tennis matches, ice skating performances, radio broadcasts, wrestling matches, concerts, orchestra performances, including one conducted by Fantasia partner Leopold Stokowski, and a speech by soon to be President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Shown below in Los Angeles Time photograph, from its heyday of 1956, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was eventually replaced by a larger facility in Los Angeles in the 1970s and soon began to crumble into a state of disrepair.

A mere three weeks after the first guests past through Disney’s salute to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, the inspirational site caught fire and was burned to the ground. The site has since been refurbished into a park with a scaled down replica of one of the recognizable towers. Luckily for guests of Walt Disney World, the mint green and white streamlined towers still preside over the land and dreams of tinseltown in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

23 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: An 11 Acre Sanctuary

Discovery Island is the central hub at Disney's Animal Kingdom, but its namesake animal sanctuary once sat off the shores of Fort Wilderness. The history of this particular island in the middle of Bay Lake has always intrigued me. From Raz Island to Discovery Island and all the little stories in between, there is a whole history to this island that many are unaware of.

My fascination with Discovery Island, or Treasure Island as it was known in the early years of Walt Disney World, isn’t just because it is located on Bay Lake near my beloved Fort Wilderness, and it isn't only because of my strong conservation beliefs. It is also because my family has a personal connection to the island. In the late 1980s my Aunt Suzi and Uncle Gene, along with my cousins Nic and Alexandra, rescued a baby Barn Owl, whom they named Owlen. It is one of those little known facts of of the resort that many of the animals there had their own rescue stories. Rather than butcher the tale of Owlen, I’ll let my cousin Alexandra relate the rest of the story to you.

Dad found her one day while mowing the lawn. She was on the ground, having fallen out of its nest in a tree above. She was really, really young--she didn't even look like an owl. Since she was still alive, Dad brought her inside and mom called the Game and Wildlife people in the state of Florida. They told us that "runt" owls often get pushed out of their nests by their bigger owl siblings. The Game and Wildlife people basically seemed uninterested and said that the owl would not live through the night.

She did, so the next day, my mom went and got a book on keeping owls alive. Mom found out she had to feed the owl a pleasant combo of raw meat and dog hair, so she could regurgitate. (Owls throw back up bones, feathers, etc. That's called owl pellets.) As she got older we fed her frozen mice (we'd thaw them in the microwave!) and then finally alive mice.

There was nothing wrong with her, but the conundrum was that we could either leave her to die or habituate her to humans. My parents chose the latter. I don't think that in the beginning they ever really expected her to live. At first she lived in the house, but as she got older (and wilder) my parents kept her on the screened in porch. We really only had the owl for 6 or 7 months though.

A full size owl is a pretty difficult thing to keep around. She was sweet, but she had big talons. It's not like you can go on vacation when you have an owl, either. ("Hey, want to come over and feed my carnivorous predator small, live mice?") It wasn't practical to have an owl, and again, I don't think my parents ever expected her to live -- it was one of those things that just sort of happened.

We gave her to Discovery Island because Keeni (our aunt) worked at Disney, and we knew through her that Discovery Island took animals. I remember when we dropped her off-- Keeni came with us and both my mom and dad cried. (I'd never seen my dad cry, so that day really sticks out in my mind.) While they were saying goodbye, Keeni took Nic and I, and we walked around the island. After that, we went back to visit her sometimes and we got in free. (We just told them who we were and they'd let us in.) Also, they always let us back into the back section to see her after we gave her to Discovery Island -- that was really important to my parents.

22 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: The Bear Band Bears

 Those crazy Country Bears really put on a show! But what if you couldn’t get to Walt Disney World in 1971 when the bears made their debut? The answer is obvious, bring the band to your house! Okay, so it might not seem feasible, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in some form or fashion.

We all remember paper dolls, right? The flimsy figures of a boy or girl that you could cover with a variety of tabbed paper clothing. In 1971, Whitman Books released a similar punch out book for the Country Bear Band. Each bear could be punched out in either one or two pieces, depending on the bear, and came with an instrument that was either attached or tabbed. In the end, children who purchased this book ended up with six jamming bears. Although some appear a little out of character in the book, the bears included were Henry, Big Al, Teddi Barra, one of The Sun Bonnet Trio, Wendell? and Terrence.

This was one of those great items that promoted Walt Disney World away from the parks that could serve as either a reminder of a trip or a preview of what was awaiting guests down in Florida.

For those beary interested individuals: These pages are all the same size and a band could easily be assembled by printing out the bears on a cardstock, cutting out the figures (be mindful of the shape of Henry who’s top section has to come off of the front page), using an X-acto knife for the slots, and following the simple visual instructions on the various pages. That is, if you’re so inclined to assemble your own jamboree.

21 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Twists on Familiar Favorites

There is a lot of delicious food to be had from all of the resorts around the Seven Seas Lagoon. The Grand Floridian Resort, or the Grand Floridian Beach Resort as it was known once upon a time, has a ton of restaurants worthy of your dining time just by itself. With so many options for dining and upscale dining, it is easy for a restaurant or dish to go under the radar. Certainly, the Grand Floridian Cafe is one such restaurant. Many have been singing its praises for years, ourselves included, but it still isn't the go-to destination for many diners. Today, while we're cooking up something tasty at home, let's revisit the Grand Floridian Cafe, from the early days of the resort, and prepare one of their signature dishes, Chicken Breast Florentine.

CHICKEN BREAST FLORENTINE

Ingredients:

2 5-Ounce Boneless Chicken Breasts
4 Ounces Angel Hair Pasta (cooked)
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/2 Cup Fresh Spinach (cut in strips)
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tbsps. Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Tsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp. Garlic (minced)
1/2 Tsp. Shallots (minced)
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1/2 Olive Oil (for marinade)
1 Tsp. Rosemary (for marinade)
1/2 Tsp. Oregano (for marinade)
1/2 Tsp. Chopped Garlic (for marinade)

Directions:

Combine and blend all marinade ingredients (olive oil, rosemary, oregano, and chopped garlic)
Coat chicken thoroughly with marinade and allow to marinate for 24 hours
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towels
In a hot skillet, sauté chicken in olive oil until lightly browned on both sides
Remove chicken from skillet and place in a pan, place in the oven until fully cooked (45 to 50 minutes)
Towards the end of the chicken cooking time, add to the skillet that has remaining olive oil, shallots, garlic, white wine, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, spinach and salt and pepper to taste
Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until spinach is limp and all ingredients are blended together
Placed cooked pasta in a bowl, top with chicken breast and sauce

There seems to be a lot going on here, so let's break it down a bit. Yes, this dish is going to require 2 days to complete as the marinade needs to be prepared and applied to the chicken the day before. Beyond that, it does get slightly complicated in the time management category while trying to start the sauce and pasta at just the right time to coincide with each other being done, along with the chicken. It's not that complex, but it may feel like it the first time through.

As for the pasta, the dish calls for angel hair, but I thick a good spaghetti would also work. In fact, that's what we used. I said it a couple of weeks ago, but do not skimp on the pasta. Whatever you decide to use, it can kick this dish up another notch. The chicken marinade works well, but I think rather than using a skillet and finishing it off in the oven, next time I would cook it over my charcoal grill for that added touch. The last thing I want to call out is the inclusion of garlic, or should I say lack thereof. This isn't a sauce that needs to be overpowered by the garlic, but we will definitely be adding more for our next go at the Chicken Breast Florentine.

This dish was a rousing success for us, even if we have notes for improvements. It is creamy, but not overly rich, savory and hearty, while not being too heavy, and even includes a little bit of a green vegetable. The Chicken Breast Florentine is a classic dish from a classic resort and restaurant, and it will make just about everyone happy at your table.