12 February 2016

Topiary Creations

“TOPIARY CREATIONS -- Among the Disney Institute gardening programs guests discover how the whimsical, botanical creations seen throughout Walt Disney World Resort are designed, made and cared for. Instructors then guide guests as they make their own tabletop topiary to take home. A little rough around the edges, this familiar Disney character was soon a wonderful decoration for home and garden. A Disney Institute vacation offers a variety of hands-on programs from cooking to animation in a relaxed campus-like setting.”

This is the one program from the Disney Institute I wish that I had taken. What was your favorite program that the Disney Institute offered in its heyday?

11 February 2016

Relics From Regions Beyond

If you’ve visited Memento Mori in the Magic Kingdom, you’ve surely seen individuals taking part in the Spirit Photography. This offering allows guests to have a photograph taken of them that, once processed, appears to show off their spooky side. That is to say the photograph changes from the guest to what their ghostly apparition would look like if they were one of the 999 happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion. Of course, this isn’t the only example of spirit photography found inside Memento Mori.

These photographs, sitting atop an apothecary cabinet inside the shop, are recreations of famous daguerreotype, otherwise known as spirit photography. The practice of spirit photography has its roots in an effect that photographers know all too well, double exposure. William Mumler discovered a second figure in a photograph he took of himself in the 1860s, a figure that was actually a second exposure of his self. Finding that customers would pay to have otherworldly visitors in their portraits, especially if they were the dearly departed, Mumler began selling his works under the guise of a medium.

A typical spirit photograph would utilize previously developed photographs of deceased family members. These secondary pictures would be doctored into the photograph he had taken of the paying customer. Perhaps the most famous example of this method was a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln that included the ethereal appearance of her late husband, President Abraham Lincoln. Mumler would also take photographs of unknown individuals and incorporate them into photographs. This would prove to be his downfall as some of his “ghosts” would wind up being identified as currently living residents in Boston.

Others have taken up the spectral torch over time, including Fred Hudson, William Moses, and William Hope. Though many have been debunked, there are just as many who believe in the ability to take such spirit photographs, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Some of the ideas brought forth from spirit photography, such as Moses’ ability to photograph the ectoplasm, have become ingrained in the popular culture.

The recreations tucked away atop a cabinet, or hanging on the wall, inside Memento Mori harken back to a time when spiritualism was the talk of the town the world over. Just as in Mumler’s spirit photographs, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find some of these ghostly individuals strolling the streets. Especially if you were looking for them around Imagineering! No matter your take on spirit photography, Memento Mori has found a way to send out their message from regions beyond.

08 February 2016

Authentic Pizza

There were days when you would think of the phrases pizza and Walt Disney World that you were likely to cringe at just the thought. Today, however, we live in a Walt Disney World that is home to Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria, located in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion. While it is true that a majority of the pizza options around the parks and resorts are travesties to the name pizza, this is a bastion of hot, cheesy, delicious hope. Via Napoli’s offerings range from traditional American favorite to Italian staples, some that seem just a little left of center to our palates. One of our personal favorites, however, is the Prosciutto e Melone Pizza.

The Prosciutto e Melone Pizza is a white pizza that is topped with fontina and mozzarella cheeses, prosciutto, cantaloupe, and arugula. Not only are the ingredients a bit of heads-scratcher, but the assembly of this pizza might also seem a bit peculiar as well. The dough base and cheese come straight out of the mouth of Stromboli, Versuvio, or Etna, the three pizza ovens on display in the restaurant, and then are given liberal doses of the cantaloupe, arugula, and prosciutto.

The real question is how does it taste? The short answer, delicious! The prosciutto gives the pizza nice savory flavor, which plays well against the juicy, sweet sensations coming from the cantaloupe. The arugula not only adds some more color to the pizza, something outside of brown and orange hues, but the pepperiness of the green really shines through. The blends of cheese hold everything together nicely with their creamy texture and simple flavors. As for the dough, it truly is one of the best doughs I’ve ever had.

I’m the first to admit this pizza isn’t for everyone, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the Prosciutto e Melone Pizza. Via Napoli has been a wonderful addition to World Showcase. I would have expected a bit of decline in terms of quality and inventiveness as the years have progressed. Shame on me! The restaurant is just as strong today as it was when it opened five years ago. There is something for everyone here, even your die-hard cheese pizza enthusiasts, and it continues to cement its place as the best pizza in Walt Disney World.

05 February 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai

The Lunar New Year is upon us, and Disney California Adventure is gearing up for another spectacular celebration for the occasion. I say spectacular because the missus and I were able to take part in last year’s festivities and, despites the grey and rainy weather, we had an absolutely fantastic time. In fact, I’ve been saving talking about the event for an entire year just to get you excited about venturing out to the celebration this year.

The celebration takes place in the Paradise Pier district of Disney California Adventure. Specifically, the action is centralized around Paradise Garden. The boardwalk lights and plenty of shade trees and covered shelters give this section a wonderful atmosphere and makes the festivities enjoyable, rain or shine. There’s a lot of ground to cover, from activities to performances, and let’s not forget food, so let’s get to it!

There are a wide variety of activities tied to the Lunar New Year celebration, but the most crucial of these were the large plaques that depict the various celebrations of Lunar New Year throughout Asia. The wall-sized pieces display how Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean families all celebrate the holiday, first in their native language and then in English. While these are an oversimplification of the celebrations, it gives those unfamiliar with the traditions a decent understanding to go forward into the event with.

There is also signage depicting the various signs of the zodiac where you can find your sign based upon the year you were born. They’ve also cleverly found a Disney animated character that represents each of the signs. For my part I’m a rooster, or Alan-a-Dale from Robin Hood. Go over and take a look this year and let us know which character is your birth year’s totem!

From here, guests have a number of options of what guests can do. My recommendation is to make one of your New Year Wishes. This was truly one of the most beautiful sights I found during the celebration. Here, guests can write their wishes down on red tags that start out simply with, “My wish for the New Lunar Year is.” Once the wish is written down, the tags are then fastened to one of numerous strings running across two posts in the pavilion forming a wall of wishes. Take a look for yourself; it is truly a wonder to behold. I hope that many, many, many of your wishes that were cast last year came true!

Other activities include calligraphy and brush painting, where guests get to watch true artists at work. A make and take station offers guests the ability to create a paper lantern, which is a great idea for families. There is face-painting happening as well, which, let’s just be honest, it isn’t a vacation until someone has a dragon painted across their face! Last, but certainly not least are the characters, decked out in their Lunar New Year finest. We were able to catch a glimpse of Mickey, Minnie, Chip, and Dale all meeting with guests to celebrate the occasion. For families where Lunar New Year is engrained in who they are, I can only imagine how wonderful it is to for their children to see their favorite characters honoring their traditions.

There are a number of performances that happen throughout the weekend as well. From dragons and traditional dance and performance acts, there is a lot to take in if you have the time. And I highly recommend you make the time. Each act is an authentic piece of the festivities puzzle, both here and around the world, and you can tell the performers are truly dedicated to their craft and representation of their people. These performances in the garden are, to me, the heart and soul of the celebration.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food, wouldn’t I? There are several snack options available to guests: Lunar New Year Sourdough Bread, Pork Bao served with Sweet Chili Sauce, and Almond Cookies.

Real quick, Disney California Adventure does amazing sourdough, and the Lunar New Year Sourdough is no exception. That said, it is sourdough that is available all year long in the park.

The Pork Bao is a decent option for a quick bite, but it isn’t going to fill you up. The ball-shaped bun is a bit chewier than we expected from our previous experience with buns, but this is a quick service snack we’re talking about. The pork filling is savory and delicious, and is really highlighted by the sweet chili sauce. Coincidentally, just about anything listed as a sweet chili sauce makes me want to slather it on something and devour it with great haste, but that’s just my obsession with the sweet-spicy spectrum.

The Almond Cookies were the true winners here, and they taste exactly how you think they would. These are simple cookies with a rich, almost buttery almond flavor. They come in a cute take-out box, a great visual for a great bite. I recommend stockpiling these and, if you’re so inclined, sending a box or two my way!

The Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure is not to be missed if you have the chance. Whatever the weather, it is well worth the investment of time to take in the sights, sounds, smells, history, tastes, culture that is so lavishly on display in Paradise Garden. At Walt Disney World the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is my not to be missed event each year, for Disneyland the event has to be the small, weekend-long event celebrating the Lunar New Year. It may me small, both in terms of duration and location, but it is a treasure to behold.

01 February 2016

Bertha Mae

It’s amazing what you can get out of a single photograph sometimes, especially when you’re enamored by the primary subject matter! Such is the case with the picture of one of the keel boats, the Bertha Mae, which was part of the Mike Fink Keel Boats attraction that plied the Rivers of America once upon a time. Finding such a beauty is treasure enough, but if we take some time to truly explore this picture from 1976 we’ll find a few hidden treasures as well.

Let’s start with the obvious, the Bertha Mae. One of the two ships to make up the Mike Fink Keel, the other being the Gullywhumper, the Bertha Mae was, shall we say, the lovelier of the two ships. A vessel of the same name was originally featured on the episode of Disneyland entitled Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race on November 16, 1955. In the episode Davy teams up with Cap’n Cobb to race Mike Fink and the crew of the Gullywhumper from Kentucky down to New Orleans. What follows are river hijinks and espionage that ends with Davy besting Fink, but the two form a slightly bewildering friendship.

The Mick Fink Keel Boats attraction originally boarded in Liberty Square, down beneath the carriage house now associated with the Haunted Mansion. It would later receive a dock in Frontierland as well. This second dock is still standing, though not in use, and you can still see Mike’s name on the boards if you’re looking from the side of the Liberty Belle or from Tom Sawyer’s Island. The free floating keel boats were an opening day B-Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom. They would take their last trip around the river bend in April of 2001.

Let’s start digging through some of the other details. We always talk about how the artifacts that are strewn about the various lands and attractions of Walt Disney World give these places a sense of life. Typically, when it comes to looking over at Harper’s Mill, we think about the raft next to it. In this photo, however, we see that the storage area of the shed is actually open and there is a ladder leaning against one door. Clearly there is some work happening around the mill today.

Moving back over to Liberty Square, you can see a line of people queued up in front of The Yankee Trader. Could they be waiting to get into the Haunted Mansion or waiting for their turn on the Gullywhumper or Bertha Mae? Either is possible given the location of the crowd, but the Haunted Mansion is more likely. The romantic in me hopes it was for a cruise aboard the double-decker keel boats.

Further beyond The Yankee Trader, the foliage that divides Liberty Square and Fantasyland hasn’t yet created a natural barrier between the two lands. The happy coincidence from this lack of greenery is that we can see the side of the Swiss chalet that was home to the Skyway to Tomorrowland. In fact, as the trees and shrubs would grow up, much of the detail that can be seen here (and it is limited to do the distance the photograph was taken from) would have been swallowed up and very rarely seen, except by those in line for a ride aboard the Skyway. A section of the Skyway can even be glimpsed above and behind The Yankee Trader and Columbia Harbour House.

Photographs of extinct attractions are wonderful time capsules into the past of Walt Disney World. They remind us of beloved attractions and the stories they themselves harkened back to. We are given a sense of what the lay of the land was like in days when we were younger or, perhaps, not even alive to visit the parks and resorts. These pictures also remind us that Walt Disney World is ever-changing, even when exploring the world of yesterday. The Bertha Mae and Gullywhumper keel boats where a wonderful part of my child, as they were for many of you who also adored Davy Crockett. From this photograph, it is easy to see that they had a wonderful perspective on the Magic Kingdom as well.

27 January 2016

Well Done, Ain't It?

Sometimes simple is the way to go when it comes to describing what goes in to the dishes at Walt Disney World. And when it comes to comfort foods, there is almost no explanation needed, although we’re going to give it a shot today with our review of the Pot Roast Macaroni & Cheese.

That is the entire listing for the beloved dish that comes from the Friar’s Nook in the Magic Kingdom, Pot Roast Macaroni & Cheese. There is no talk about the cheese saw, the fork tender pot roast, or the garnish of green onion. There doesn’t need to be, you get the entire picture just from a few words. This is a dish that everyone knows and welcomes, especially children, amped up with the inclusion of chunks of pot roast. What you may not realize is that this is not some simple side dish that’s gone in a few heaping forkfuls. Instead, the Pot Roast Macaroni & Cheese is a full, adult-sized bowl of steaming goodness.

Here’s where things might get a little tricky. Everyone has their own opinion about what makes the best macaroni and cheese. Some like the panko crusted, oven baked variety compared to those that love cheese sauce on the stove top, while still others may be particular about shell pasta versus elbow macaroni. What we all need to remember is that this is a quick service meal served in the heart of Fantasyland, arguably the single busiest land in any park of Walt Disney World. This dish has to be quick and satisfying to the masses, and that means keeping it simple.

Simple ingredients. Elbow macaroni covered in cheese sauce, check. It’s not quite the liquid gold that we became used to finding on fixin’s bars, but it is close. The post roast is tender and breaks apart easily with the fork. It is served on top of the macaroni. That means if getting the ingredients mixed together is your cup of tea, the bowl makes that easy, but you can also enjoy them separate of one another. Lastly the green onions scattered on top. It may be comfort food, but there had to be something green in the dish!

Long and short, there are a couple of options when it comes to the macaroni and cheese at the Friar’s Nook, but the real winner is the Pot Roast Macaroni & Cheese. It is filling enough to keep you going, but not so heavy that you won’t have room for that Citrus Swirl a little later. This is a dish that you will come back to again and again. Quick and easy and comforting, what more could you ask for?

25 January 2016

Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet

Never you mind the Christmas window dressing, the true subject of today’s article lies in the poster sitting behind the hats which features, well, a pair of hats. This window belongs to Adrian & Edith’s Head to Toe, the perfect place to don your Mickey Ears, on Hollywood Boulevard inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Let’s dig deeper into why this poster is the perfect one-size-fits-all fit for a shop specializing in hats.

The headline here is the feature of Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. The story was featured in the April 1946 release, Make Mine Music, as the ninth of ten sections in the anthology. Although Casey at the Bat or Peter and the Wolf may be more easily recognized, the story of Johnny and Alice is beautiful for its simplicity. It was so well received as a part of the animated package film that Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet would go on to be released as an independent short in May of 1954 and would be features as a Disneyland Little Long Playing Record in 1970.

The story tells the tale of two hats, a blue sunhat with exquisite trim named Alice and a grey and brown fedora named Johnnie. The pair meet in the shop window of a Bonton department store. The pair fall in love, but are separated when Alice is purchased. Johnnie is also purchased shortly thereafter, and spends a majority of his time looking down alleys and in windows for any hat he can find that may be Alice. Mishaps ensue that include a shootout and torrential rains, where Johnnie finally loses all hope that he will ever see his beloved Alice again. He is eventually picked up by an ice deliveryman, who cuts holes into Johnnie so that he can sit on the head of one of his horses for shade. Low and behold, perched atop the other horse’s head is none other than his long lost love, Alice.

It’s worth note that the poster lists the pair as Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, which is the common spelling of the two lead characters. However, the short’s title card presents Fedora’s first name as Johnnie. That’s the rationale for how we present him here.

The entire tale is narrated, as noted on the poster, by The Andrew Sisters. The story is completely heart wrenching, much in the way we feel for the characters in The Blue Umbrella or Lava, like the latter the song makes the story that much more tangible. The Andrews Sisters were utilized several times by Disney, and can even be found elsewhere inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Two of their songs, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, can both be heard along the Sunset Boulevard thoroughfare.

Whether you are a fan of The Andrews Sisters, classic Disney animation, or just a sucker for a sappy anthropomorphic love stories, Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet is well worth taking the seven and a half minutes to give it a chance. Either way, you now know the tale behind the hats that watch over Adrian and Edith’s!