16 January 2017

Thousands of Sparkling Lights

The Main Street Electrical Parade returns to Disneyland later this week, but every memory of the parade comes from its presence in the Magic Kingdom. It has a place in both parks as some of their best, and most nostalgic, nighttime entertainment. It was the first parade I saw as a child, or the first parade I can recall seeing at the very least, and I have many memories of it tied to my family and friends, my father and wife in particular. It is my sincerest hope that everyone who catches the Main Street Electrical Parade during its run at Disneyland makes memories that are just as special as my own.

However, what is the current plan for the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime procession? The announcement of the Main Street Electrical Parade’s impending October 2016 removal came in early August of last year. Since then, the news has been light and whispery on what will be replacing the nighttime staple. We were told fairly quickly that this was not a swap and that the Paint the Night parade was not going to be making its way to Walt Disney World anytime soon. Aside from that, nothing has been hinted at. Perhaps there is a method to the madness.

For starters, there were the holidays of Halloween and Christmas to consider. While neither Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parade or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parade were daily occurrences during the fall and winter, their namesake parties ran enough nights that I can forgive the Magic Kingdom for not rushing something out immediately. Similarly, would any entertainment endeavor, no matter how insanely well-orchestrated and executed, want to be the follow up to the Main Street Electrical Parade? I can only imagine how some fanatics would accept nothing less than the Electrical Parade’s return as a suitable replacement or option. Placing some period of time between the parades allows for enthusiasts to accept that one attraction has left and begin anticipating the arrival of something new, without the gnashing of teeth that could potentially sink an immediate follow-up.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to look at entertainment ventures from the last year to see where Disney may be taking a pause. Rivers of Light, the much-publicized malignancy and delay-ridden nighttime show destined for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, was slated to open last April. Media were alerted to its upcoming opening and guests planned trips around the opening of the spectacular, and then it was pushed back repeatedly and a place holder, The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic, was hurriedly inserted in its place. It would be easy to say that comparing Rivers of Light to any nighttime parade is like comparing apples to oranges, considering their different venues and the history Disney has with nighttime parades. However, Disney has just as sterling a record with nighttime water spectaculars, from Fantasmic! to World of Color. With all of this to consider, is it any wonder that Disney may wish to keep plans for a new nighttime parade under wraps until they are absolutely certain that they can send that parade down Main Street, U.S.A. without a snag?

We are five months on from the announcement that the Main Street Electrical Parade was leaving Walt Disney World, three months beyond its departure from the Magic Kingdom, and two weeks from the conclusion of the holiday season. There isn’t necessarily a down season for the parks and resorts any longer, but if there is one, we’re in it currently. With Spring Break right around the corner and families making decisions about spring and summer vacations, I believe it is time for Walt Disney World to let us know what the next parade in the Magic Kingdom is going to look like. An announcement of this type, at this time, could indeed tip the scales for anyone considering a trip to Walt Disney World. Plus, it is definitely time to let dedicated enthusiasts know when and where their next dose of pageantry will arrive, and what it will look like once it arrives.

13 January 2017

LS86

From the tidepool marquee, to its mural depicting the sun setting on the ocean, Hydrolators, 20,000 Leagues queue features, diver lock-out chamber, the deluge, and seacabs, The Living Seas and Seabase Alpha were wonderfully ahead of their time when the attraction opened on January 15, 1986. 30 years on and the pavilion has undergone some drastic changes and gathered some new residents, but its heart has remained steadfast.

When the pavilion opened in 1986 it housed the largest saltwarter tank in the world. It would take almost twenty years before the 5,700,000 gallon tank of The Living Seas was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium. Still, it is home to so many wonderful specimens of aquatic life, and created a space for guests young and old who may never have been able to get so close to these magnificent creatures a space to see, learn, engage, and interact. The two levels of Seabase Alpha showcase sea turtles, sharks, seahorses, starfish, dolphins and an insane variety of fish, and divers who would help educated guests on the Observation Level. Of course, as a native Floridian, my favorite creature and the one I will always rush to see are the manatees.

Nemo and his friends may have moved in, but if they have brought new life to a stagnant pavilion and new engagement to children seeking to learn more about the oceans and the aquatic life that call them home, I am happy to see smiling faces lining the aquarium’s windows once more. In honor of the pavilion’s 30 years of celebrating the living seas, let’s tour through some photographs of the pavilion during its first heyday. I’m sure Mickey will stop by to say ‘Happy Birthday,’ too!

11 January 2017

Blossomed Around the Mountain of Snow

The landscaping of Walt Disney World is as much a tool for storytelling as the architecture, signs, and Cast Members are. This attention to detail is one of the reasons that the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is one of the highlights of the year for me. Not only are there incredible displays to observe and learn from, but there is also a way to learn about the behind the scenes workings of Disney’s Horticulture. Let’s explore how the landscaping designs of a single park, Blizzard Beach, helps to give guests the sense that they have entered a winter wonderland on the meltdown.

Just past Lottawatta Lodge is a gorgeous vista of the entire park, and it gives us a perfect place to talk about the entirety of Blizzard Beach’s flora and how it plays into the story of the water park. The story of Blizzard Beach is critical to the understanding of why certain plants were selected for the park and where they ended up. As the tale goes, Blizzard Beach was the vortex of a freak winter storm that turned the area into a skier’s paradise. Plans were made to turn the area into Florida’s first ski resort. The lodges were built, runs constructed, and even a chairlift was installed to take guests up the mountain. However, it was then that Florida’s naturally warm temperatures returned. It utter dismay, it was at this moment that Ice Gator took to the slopes and went careening down Mount Gushmore and through the resort. Inspired, the planners turned the ski park into a water park, and thus Blizzard Beach was born. In its wake it left behind some wildly paradoxical landscape.

Let’s start with the top down, and that means venturing all the way up to the peak of Mount Gushmore. Up here, at the peak of a whopping 90 feet, Blizzard Beach creates an alpine setting with the use of evergreen and conifer species. Trees such as Spruce pine, Deodar cedar, and Southern red cedar all add to the northern feel at the top of the mountain. While guests may not notice these winter hardy trees while slipping and sliding down Summit Plummet, if you take a leisurely stroll/hike up Mount Gushmore’s stairs they rest majestically along the ledges along the mountainside.

Meanwhile, down at the base of the mountain the tropical foliage native to Florida’s tropical climate returns to the park. This section of Blizzard Beach is home to Meltaway Bay, Tike’s Peak, and Ski Patrol Training Camp. Here the story is encapsulated in the Mexican fan palms, sago palms, Hong Kong orchids, scrambled egg trees, Crinum lilies, Selloum, and Allamanda.

The mix and matching approach of these alpine and tropical plants depends on what section and altitude of the park you happen to find yourself in. There are two ways to see these two landscaping themes blend in with one another. The entrance to the park, including Sonny’s Sleds, Beach Haus, First Aid, and Lottawatta Lodge, features wonderful interplay between the winter and summer designs of the park. Secondly, and my favorite way to tour through the foliage, is to grab a tube and float around on Cross Country Creek. The woody ornamentals and perennials are on full display for guests relishing Blizzard Beach’s version of the lazy river.

Of course, there’s also a simpler way to see the blending of beach and ski resort plant life throughout the park. Just watch the cutouts present in the fencing throughout Blizzard Beach’s walkways. No matter how you choose to take in the wonderful work of Disney’s Horticulture around Mount Gushmore and all of its slippery slopes, it will always be there to help solidify the story of the park. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for me to put in at Manatee Landing!

05 January 2017

Spirit of Discovery

Inside Independence Hall, where The American Adventure takes place, guests are watched over by a dozen sentinels that each represent an ideal of spirit. Collectively, they are the Spirits of America and give a fairly accurate representation of the American dream. Outside of The American Adventure, guests can see bronze miniatures of six of the spirits alongside busts of both mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. There is another full set of the Spirits of America, but we have to leave Walt Disney World and head across the county to Disneyland in order to see them.

In the waiting area for The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, a full complement of the Spirits of America can also be marveled at. While not a large and grand as their Epcot counterparts, they are roughly the same size as the bronze versions that stand in the windows outside of The American Adventure. Each of the twelve figures depicts a different profession that is the embodiment of that spiritual from. From the Spirit of Adventure being personified by a seaman at the wheel, to the Spirit of Innovation featuring a scientist or the Spirit of Tomorrow showcasing a mother and child, there is a bit of each of us to be found in these figures.

Let’s stop talking and take a tour through the individual figures from Disneyland.

04 January 2017

A Culinary Journey

The holidays are over, which mean we can start talking turkey. I mean, talking turkey about duck. Let me get my foot out of my mouth so we can enjoy one of the signature dishes from Morimoto Asia. We’ve all heard about the ridiculously delicious ribs, but the menu is filled with mouthwatering bits of deliciousness, from the aforementioned Morimoto Spare Ribs straight on through to the dish with the common name, but uncommon flavors, Orange Chicken. We could spend an entire week talking about all of the various dishes from Morimoto Asia, and I promise there are more articles to come, but today let’s focus in on the Morimoto Peking Duck.

This review is going to be as much about the pictures of the Morimoto Peking Duck as it the words in the review, so take a moment to stop and admire the perfectly prepared ducks hanging in the window of Morimoto Asia’s kitchen. Seriously, have you ever seen something so beautiful?

Morimoto Peking Duck is a whole duck that has been roasted in-house and then carved. The meal is recommended for two, but you do what you have to do, you hear me? Served alongside the dish are flour pancakes and two sauces, an apricot sweet chili sauce and a hoisin miso. Let’s go back up to that rack of ducks hanging in the window, this is an intricate part of the preparation process as the ducks, once they have been thoroughly cleaned has air pumped through them to separate the skin from the fat and meat, it is soaked in boiling water, and then hung up to dry, which is what we see above. While drying, the duck is further rinsed on the inside and a glaze is applied to the skin. After resting for approximately 24 hours, the duck is then roasted to a golden brown.

Now, I’m going to stop here for a moment to be totally honest. I’ve never been a fan of duck. I’ve always found it to be oily and the meat tough to chew. I have clearly, even though I’ve been to some pretty swanky restaurants in my time, never had duck prepared appropriately. This dish has changed my mind about duck and has renewed my interest in other duck dishes in the future.

Back to the duck at hand, the presentation of the dish is gorgeous. While it isn’t carved tableside, as can be common with Peking duck, the plate and bamboo dim sum container are enough to make your mouth water. As if I needed to prove my point, here are some more photographs.

I did pause long enough before I dived in to sample the duck alone for strictly academic purposes. The meat is succulent and the thin layer of fat will melt in your mouth, but the real winner here is the skin. Crispy, salty, and a bit sweet, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better skin from any sort of poultry as I did with the Morimoto Peking Duck.

I’m not going to lie, I loaded up each pancake with as much duck as I could, a smear of both the apricot chili and hoisin miso sauces, some slices of green onion and kept on devouring the dish until there was no duck or pancakes left. I’m assuming the missus was also able to have some. In each pancake combo, you get perfectly steamed flour pancakes (think tortilla, not the breakfast staple), that wonderful duck, the bite of the green onions, and a harmonious balance of sweet, heat, tangy, and salty.

I don’t have more to add, other than I am definitely looking forward to my next meal at Morimoto Asia, and trying to figure out how to try some of their other delicious dishes when all I want is more of this duck. In all seriousness, regardless of your feelings towards duck dishes as a whole, do yourself a favor and give the Morimoto Peking Duck a try. I would be shocked if you don’t love it!

03 January 2017

The Tiki Gods Will Squeeze Ya

There are gods and goddesses throughout Polynesia that Disney has drawn inspiration for over the years for their attractions, resorts, and films. One deity, however, has been front and center at Walt Disney World for the past 18 years that is wholly a Disney creation. We don’t want to upset her, for obvious reasons, but we’re talking about the goddess of destruction, Uh-Oa.

Uh-Oa currently resides in the rafters of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and has a drink named after her. The Uh-Oa beverage is recommended for two or more guests and is served at both the Disneyland Hotel’s Enchanted Tiki Bar and the Polynesian’s Grog Grotto. While the ingredients are the same, the menus offer two very different warnings. In Disneyland the menu advises, “Whoever is brave enough to conjure up this concoction cursed by Uh Oa, the tiki goddess of disaster, must be forewarned: When you mess with Polynesia, the tiki gods will squeeze ya (often with a lime)!” Meanwhile, back in Florida and Uh-Oa’s home, the cautionary notice reads, “Be forewarned, only the brave should sip from this flaming concoction. The tiki goddess of disaster looks down upon those who guzzle in the Grotto.

Once ordered by a brave imbiber in the Grog Grotto, Uh-Oa comes to life to offer a warning of her own that harkens back to her original home in Walt Disney World, The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management. Aside from what the popular belief of what the second incarnation of Enchanted Tiki Room did to build up or tear down the attraction when it was unveiled in 1998, Uh-Oa was goddess who showed up to straighten out Iago after being summoned by the chant of “Uh-Oa, Uh-Oa, Uh-Oa-Oa-Oa.” Uh-Oa was voiced by Armelia McQueen, who children who grew up with the Disney Channel in the early 1990s will recognize as the Red Queen/Queen of Hearts from the live action series Adventures in Wonderland. Back in the Tiki Room, Uh-Oa arrives and through song dispatches the enterprising Iago before disappearing with a maniacal laugh.

When the attraction was refurbished due to a fire in January 2011, it appeared that Uh-Oa had said ‘aloha’ for the last time. When the Grog Grotto opened its doors in 2015, the presence of the Uh-Oa audio-animatronics figure was a pleasant nod to the past.

In reality, there is no historical or mythical figure of Uh-Oa. The Polynesian culture features ‘Oro (the god of war) and Pele (the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and destruction), but Uh-Oa is a strictly Disney creation. Of course, if you choose to partake in her namesake beverage all by yourself, you’ll definitely believe she is the goddess of disaster!

02 January 2017

Sleights of Hand

Magic is critical to the ideal and mystique of Walt Disney World. We, as guests, are always on the lookout for those magical moments, effects tied to attractions and shows we talk about as magical, and there are multiple terms thrown around the use the word within the parks; from the Magic Kingdom right on down to movie magic. What about magic in the most traditional sense? There is something to be said for a performance of the unexplainably happening right in front of us. Even better still is the ability to learn the secret for ourselves and amaze our family and friends.

There have been multiple stores dedicated to the art of magic over the years. West Side in Downtown Disney was once home to Magic Masters, just as Fantasyland house Merlin’s Magic Shop. The most well-known and renowned of these venues, however, was Main Street, U.S.A.’s House of Magic. Whether it was the nostalgic idea of close-up magic that we all remember our uncle doing growing up, or being able to learn from a magician in the shop down the street, House of Magic was the ultimate destination for a sorcerer’s apprentice. The House of Magic, an opening day to attraction, closed its doors in March of 1995. The space would be repurposed for as the Main Street Athletic Club before becoming part of the larger Emporium just a few years later.

This wouldn’t be the end for the House of Magic, however, one of the more ornate fa├žades along the Streets of America would be refurbished to include the moniker. While perpetually shuttered, the shop boasted Magic Tricks, Master Masks, and Sleights of Hand. The expansion coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios of lands dedicated to Toy Story and Star Wars meant that the Streets of America would need to be replaces. In early 2016 the entire area, including the reference to the House of Magic, was shuttered and demolition began.

Magic still has a home in Walt Disney World. In fact, one could argue that the most fulfilling magical experience since the House of Magic closed has opened this past year. AbracaBar, situated along the BoardWalk, serves up drinks, some small bites, and a healthy dose of magic. The story contends that this was the spot for magicians to hang out, concoct magical cocktails and astound one another with their tricks, before they all vanished one fateful night. The BoardWalk makes perfect sense as a home for this establishment, not only in terms of the similar nostalgic feel that it has to Main Street, but also because magicians have regularly strolled the path along Crescent Lake entertaining and dumbfounding guests. AbracadaBar features posters of the bar’s most illustrious practitioners, as well as a collection of incredible artifacts.

As intriguing as AbracadaBar is, however, it misses on two of the things that made the House of Magic so memorable to those of us who still pine to walk through its doorways. The ability to see and learn tricks from extraordinary prestidigitators and the collection of tricks, from the impressive right on down to snapping gum sticks. The ability to see and take home magic, however small, most certainly sent many of us on quests to learn more in our adolescent and adult lives. Perhaps a magic shop isn’t in the cards for Walt Disney World today, maybe it wouldn’t provide any sort of economic boost to the resort, but the celebrated House of Magic most certainly deserves a proper homage. I’m not sure where or what it would look like, but when you build a world around magic, you shouldn’t certainly give it a noteworthy home.