22 June 2017

Summer Snow Day

This weekend we’ll be six months away from Christmas, and while I know most people love to do Christmas in July type of celebrations, I’ve always looked to June. It probably has something to do with the fact that I have a birthday in December as well. No matter, when the heat coming into full strength, how about we do something chilly and fun? Today, let’s take the best examples of snow around Walt Disney World and give them some superlatives!

Winter Summerland – Trickiest Snow

Snow castles with slippery drawbridges, zig-zagging slaloms, and squirting snowmen are just a few of the challenges that can keep you from putting a round under par. Of course, if you don’t become a hothead, then you’re sure to get a surprise from Santa Claus at the end of your game!

Blizzard Beach – Most Fun Use of Snow

Slushy slopes that you can take tubes, toboggans, or just yourself down; what’s not to like? The alpine details add to the story, racing elements make many attractions even more exciting, and there’s even a chairlift that plusses the kinetic environment.

it’s a small world – Most Whimsical Snow

Ice dancing penguins decked out with gaucho caps, it doesn’t get much more whimsical than that. Mary Blair’s fingerprints are all over this attraction, but maybe no other scene feels more like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros than this single vignette.

It’s a Wonderful Shop – Best Shopping Snow (also: Best Snow Photo Op)

It’s movie magic! A snowman and a sleigh stand in front of frosted windows filled with trinkets and ornaments of the holidays. Whether you’re looking for a memento of your trip to hang on your tree this year, or just wanting to snap a photo with that snowman, the holidays are alive and well!

Frozen Ever After – Best Summer Snow Day

Turning summer into something a bit chillier is the task in front of Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and the rest of the Frozen team. No matter if you’re looking for Elsa belting out a song, Marshmallow and his icy breath, or even a couple of puffins, Frozen Ever After will turn any summer day into a winter wonderland.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Most Seasonal Use of Snow

Snow on Main Street, U.S.A. Sure, it’s not the real deal, but it still makes for a magical moment.

Be Our Guest – Best Snow-Lit Meal

There is a lot to love about Be Our Guest, no matter what meal of the day you happen into the castle for, but the recreation of the ballroom is definitely high on that list. Top that off with windows overlooking the gorgeous mountain range outside with fresh snow falling, talk about ambiance.

Expedition Everest – Scariest Snow

A pleasant journey through the mountains goes horribly awry in the snow-capped peaks with mangled train tracks and a snow-covered yeti determined to protect his home and get you off of it as quickly as possible. That could be the blurb for any summer blockbuster!

21 June 2017

Rain Forests, Bat Caves, and Grottos

River Country may have been the first water park in Walt Disney World’s repertoire, but Typhoon Lagoon added a whole lot of land and a new level of thrills to the water playground experience. With the park slated to open in early 1989, the Disneyland Line was one of the first publications to get the scoop as to what was coming downstream to the Disney portfolio when it ran Typhoon Lagoon to Open at Walt Disney World in February of that year. While the article didn’t feature any construction photos, it did include some fantastic concept artwork for Typhoon Lagoon. Below we present the article in its entirety, without any interruptions from your beloved narrator.
“In just a few months, Walt Disney World guests will snorkel among thousands of tropical fish, plummet down the flumes of a volcanic mountain, and ride waves in the world’s largest inland surfing lagoon.
“The place: Typhoon Lagoon, a massive, one-of-a-kind water theme park, which joins Disney-MGM Studios as a major new attraction for 1989. The swimmer’s paradise is four times the size of River Country, which opening at Walt Disney World in 1976.
“Sunny beaches and lazy streams are among the unique facilities surrounding the water par’s 95-foot mountain. The new water-entertainment area takes its theme from a legend of romance and danger evident by a wrecked fishing boat stranded on a mountain peak, and storm-tossed automobiles resting in the branches of giant trees.
"Located halfway between Walt Disney World Village and the new Disney-MGM Studios, the project includes nine water slides and roaring streams up to 400 feet long coming down the mountainside, and a two-and-one-half-acre wave-making lagoon. There will be a unique salt-water snorkeling pool where guests will come face-to-face with colorful fishy creatures of the Caribbean.
“Typhoon Lagoon uses state-of-the-art technology to create six-foot waves, streams that look just like those in Hawaii and Fiji, and a chance to have a close-up look at the tropical marine inhabitants. Demand for the snorkeling experience has grown ever since the opening of Epcot Center’s Living Seas, where swimming is limited to staff divers.
“The lagoon includes separate activity pools for young children and families, and features geysers, fountains, bubble jets and slides. In the family pool, an overhead cable drop will transport adventurers Tarzan-style across a course of random water obstacles to a water fall inside a scenic grotto.
“Another unusually themed experience circling the Lagoon is a meandering, 2,100-foot river. Guests hop onto rafts and inner tubes for a relaxing tour that takes them through a rain forest and a hidden grotto with a spectacular view.
“If you’re planning to travel to Walt Disney World, check out the fun at Typhoon lagoon. But, beware of sharks!”

20 June 2017

With Icebox Dressing

Since Disney Springs began opening up the doors of its new establishments, it has become more and more difficult to keep up with the bounty of wonderful restaurants that continue to be welcomed to the area. One of the most popular destinations has become Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, and with good reason. From atmosphere to offerings, no detail has been overlooked. There seems to be a notion these days that great food is either coming from fine dining, even in its most modern incarnation, or from a best-kept-secret type of dive, and yet, Homecomin’ delivers on all fronts as being a family-friendly, middle of the road type of venue. The star of their menu, and everything else the restaurant offers, is the Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On the menu it is listed as being buttermilk-brined for 24 hours and double-battered, dressed with hot sauce aioli, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and bread and butter pickles. It comes complete with a side of house-made barbecue chips drizzled with icebox dressing. The description alone has enough in it to make me giddy, from the bread and butter pickles, to the brining process, and even that icebox dressing drizzle, but the real question is can it deliver on the menu’s promise? The short answer is absolutely.

I’m quite frankly not sure where to begin with this one because the entire serving makes me excited. Let’s start with the chicken itself; that seems logical. If you’re someone who likes lightly breaded and fried chicken, this isn’t the sandwich for you. The chicken is extra crispy with a breading that hits all the right notes for southern fried chicken, even without the bone. The buttermilk has definitely soaked into every recess of the chicken that it could, and the double-battering means that none of the juices escape.

The hot sauce aioli is done right as well. While aioli is a fancy way to gussy up mayonnaise, here the hot sauce is the star and the mayo is only there to thicken it up a tad. It’s a heat with a tremendous amount of flavor provided by its peppers. Iceberg lettuce has taken it a bit on the chin lately, with everyone clamoring for something more green, with more flavor and nutrient value. I get that, I’m usually that person as well, but for an old-fashioned fried chicken sandwich, the iceberg lettuce is the right call. As for those bread and butter pickles, they are just like your family used to make, if they were known across the county for their pickling skills. I even asked for a few extra on the side, because, well, I love pickles and these are top notch.

As for the side of barbecue chips and icebox dressing, these are also first rate. The chips have the barbecue flavor you are expecting, nothing fancy, but the chip cut is a bit thicker so there are no flimsy crumbling chips in the bunch. Icebox dressing may be a confusing name to some, it is basically a thin, ranch style dressing that has been prepared with herbs and spices at home and doesn’t typically have as long of a shelf life as typical store bought dressings. It had all the hallmarks of freshly made, with the herbs in particular having a stronger presence than could be tasted in an over the counter dressing. Honestly, my chips could have done with a double drizzle as the second layer of chips didn’t have as much, but perhaps it is best to leave us wanting more.

It is getting more difficult as a writer in a crowded field to distinguish oneself, especially when it comes to food related content, which means we are often driven to hyperbole. I’ve always tried to give a blend of what is good and what isn’t in a particular dish or restaurant review, in order to give the words more credence. So, believe me when I say that the Fried Chicken Sandwich at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ may be the best sandwich found at Walt Disney World right now, and if it falls a hair short on that mark, then it is most certainly the best chicken sandwich to be found. Period. Full stop.

19 June 2017

Bigelow’s Air Circus

There are a few movies that I have an unabashed, yet puzzling, fascination with. Some of them may have to do with films I grew up with, some with genres that I think are underrepresented, and some of them I have no particularly logical rationale for why I love them, I just do. One such film is 1991’s The Rocketeer. Maybe it was the fact that he used to fly above Disney-MGM Studios during Sorcery in the Sky, maybe it was the fact that the Bulldog Cafe could be found on the backlot of the park for a while, or maybe there’s always been some part of Cliff Secord that I saw in myself. Regardless, that distinctive silhouette has been a part of my life for some 26 years now.

A while back we detailed all the places you could find a nod to the Rocketeer in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many of these details have now vanished like the Rocketeer’s vapor trail, it appears as if the Rocketeer has been making the rounds all throughout Walt Disney World. Even over at the Studios, where you can now see the Rocketeer soaring by as part of the recently added Disney Movie Magic projection show. Today, let’s tour a few of the other places around the Vacation Kingdom where you can find nods to The Rocketeer.

The logical place to start is, of course, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs. It appears, just by touring through Jock’s converted hangar and taking note of the various trophies and artifacts he’s collected over the years that he and Cliff are cut from the same cloth. Take, for instance, this banner hanging from the Hangar Bar’s rafters. If it’s a little dark or hard to make out it reads, “Air Pirate Circus, Bigelow’s Air Circus 1938, Chaplin Airfield, Los Angeles, California.” This happens to be the very same air circus at Chaplin Airfield where Cliff takes to the skies in view of the public for the very first time. He does so only out of necessity as his friend Malcolm, who is intoxicated, had taken off in Cliff’s biplane in order to keep Cliff from being fired and has an emergency midflight. It’s not hard to believe that it was during this trip out to California that Cliff and Jock would have crossed paths. It may also explain why the South Seas Club was one of Jock’s favorite establishments, as noted by its coaster being included in those at the Hangar Bar.

Speaking of the South Seas Club, an additional tribute to The Rocketeer can be found over at another south seas watering hole, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney’s Polynesian Village. Mounted on the wall, just beneath a painting of the Nautilus (from another film near and dear to my heart, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), is a menu from the South Seas Club. This is the club where Neville Sincliar, aka a Nazi agent, takes Jenny Blake to woo her in the hopes of getting close to Cliff and stealing the Rocketeer’s jetpack. In the film this is when all of the action really starts to pick up with and leads to kidnappings, shootouts, gangsters, FBI agents, and, of course, a zeppelin that inevitably catches fire. Oh, and did I mention that Howard Hughes is also in the film? Let’s just say, that there is a lot on the menu when you start a night at the South Seas Club.

Our final stop takes us over to Epcot’s Innovation Fountain. While it has been a part of Epcot since the park opened, it received a substantial facelift during a 1993 refurbishment that added nozzles, a water cannon, and lighting effects. With this refurbishment, Imagineers also took three months to create dancing water sequences that would present a water ballet to guests every 15 minutes. Many musical cues were selected for these shows, but the selections from James Horner’s score from The Rocketeer are true standouts. It will make you want to strap that jetpack and helmet on and soar through the skies after a single viewing.

I will readily admit that I don’t expect many people to have the same love and fascination with The Rocketeer that I do. It clearly has issues that needed to be addressed, and the Dave Stevens’ creation deserved better than it got. All that said, I do so love this film, it’s often part of a Saturday afternoon double-feature at my house (when my wife isn’t around), paired alongside Dick Tracy, but that’s a story for another day. I’m just glad to see that The Rocketeer, even 26 years after its premiere is still getting love from Walt Disney World.

16 June 2017

Drift Away on a Relaxing Tube

Water parks, particular of the Disney variety, are a strange hybrid of relaxation and thrills. By their very nature you can spend the early time there running to grab a good spot, so that you can relax later on in the day, and then rush off to the biggest thrills to avoid the lines that will quickly form. With that in mind, today we’re going to focus on the top ways to relax at Disney’s water parks.

Cabanas – This is not a cheap way to relax, which is why it so far down this list That said, however, both the Beachcomber Shacks of Typhoon Lagoon and the Polar Patios at Blizzard Beach offer the absolute pinnacle of water park relaxation. Complimentary towels, ice-cold bottled water, a locker at your fingertips, and someone who will check on you and pick up any food for you; it doesn’t get much better than this! Again, the rentals of cabanas isn’t cheap, even in the off season, but it is a great way to relax if you can swing it.

Chair Lift – Found only at Blizzard Beach, this chair lift can carry you up to the top of Mount Gushmore is a great way to relax in anticipation of your upcoming thrills. True, once at the top you have a pair of adrenaline pumping ways to get down, but going up you can sit back and rest. Plus, the chair lift offers great views of the park!

Miss Adventure Falls – You’re probably thinking I’ve spent too much time in the sun, but stick with me for a moment. Of all of the thrilling water rides at either water park, only Miss Adventure Falls at Typhoon Lagoon takes all of the work out of the thrills. You don’t have find a raft and you don’t have to lug it up several flights of stairs. Heck, you don’t even have to climb stairs! You sit in your raft and are carried up to the top of the slide before catching some rapids down. Sure, it has some thrills, but this is the most relaxing way I’ve ever come across to take on a water adventure.

Stop and Smell the Flowers – Both literally and figuratively. Both parks have trails that wind their way around the parks. These trails feature some great visual gags, storytelling vignettes, and wonderful landscaping details. If you don’t want to walk around, grab a stool at one of the watering holes, or a cone full of cool soft-serve deliciousness. No matter how you do it, there are other activities to partake in besides just water attractions.

Bobbing Wave – Typhoon Lagoon’s wave machine is known for his massive waves that send guests flying, but this massive feat of engineering also features a calmer mode known as Bobbing Wave.  A similar effect takes place at Blizzard Beach's Melt-Away Bay. During this time small tubes for children are available, and the waves are just playfully bouncing about. This time, which is posted at multiple places around the park, is perfect for checking in with your family and maybe a little horseplay.

Lounge Chair and Beach Music – The musical loops of both parks are wonderful, and set the tone for the parks, while also relaxing guests. Whether you’re grabbing a lounge chair to grab some rays or in the shade for an afternoon siesta, there are plenty of places to find both. Whatever your chair’s function, you can unwind and listen to the classic beach tunes, letting your stresses go out with the tides.

Lazy Rivers – Castaway Creek at Typhoon Lagoon and Cross Country Creek at Blizzard Beach are long, languid lazy river attractions, and there really is no finer way to relax in either park than to grab a tube and float around for a loop or two, or three…

15 June 2017

It's a Harvest Show

If Epcot has a gem of a restaurant that is a not-quite-so-secret secret, it’s likely that title belongs to Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion. Guests rave about this entree or that dessert, and it seems as if there is always a crowd of hungry patrons waiting with full trays throughout the day. Breakfast was, at one point in the restaurant’s history, one of Sunshine Seasons’ brightest spots, and an excellent way to start the day. Over the years, that beacon of breakfast has seen a menu that has whittled down and has been mostly forgotten. There are, however, a few recent additions to this menu that deserve their day in the sun.

Let’s start with the Breakfast Panini, the most generic name for a break sandwich, but one that comes with uncommon ingredients. The listing for this item proclaims that it comes with pork, bacon, scrambled eggs, arugula, tomato, and chorizo-pepper jack mornay sauce on focaccia. It also comes with one side, which we wisely chose the breakfast potatoes. Before moving back to the main dish here, the breakfast potatoes have a great savory seasoning, red and green peppers, and onions, and they are delicious!

Back to the Breakfast Panini, this is also very tasty. The majority of this sandwich is comprised of scrambled eggs, tomato, and arugula, and they provide a great base to start from. The chorizo-pepper jack mornay sauce didn’t have a strong chorizo flavor, but the bacon and pork more than carry the meat component of this panini. The focaccia soaks up the grease and sauce well, making this messy sandwich a bit less so, and is perfectly soft on the inside with a delicious crispy crust. Make sure you have a fork so that none of the wonderful bites get too far away, but overall this is a well-crafted breakfast sandwich.

For those wanting something a bit sweeter for breakfast, may I suggest the Cinnamon French Toast Bread Pudding, which comes with a side (read: mountain) of breakfast bacon. A large section has been carved out from the tray of bread pudding for a serving. The amalgamation of French toast and other ingredients definitely makes this more of a bread pudding that a typical baked breakfast dish like pancakes, waffles, or the aforementioned French toast, but that doesn’t make it any less yummy. There is a hint of syrup baked into the dish and it is topped with powdered sugar, but this isn’t overly sweet. There is a heartiness to the bread that makes this a great theme park breakfast that will stick with you all the way to lunch time. It may not be the prettiest breakfast entree to look at, but what it lacks in visuals it makes up for in flavor.

Overall, Sunshine Seasons had fallen off of my go-to list for Epcot breakfast destinations, but it has definitely found its way back onto that list. While the offerings are still sparse compared to some of their previous menus, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something for everyone to find and enjoy. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it can also be the most neglected while we are on the go in Walt Disney World, Sunshine Seasons offers up the perfect on the go answer to fill you up and keep you going!

13 June 2017

The Phantom Limb

The Star Wars Launch Bay features a lot of great artifacts from the creation of the movies, some wonderful character interactions, and a Cantina set piece that speak to the child in many fans’ hearts (not to mention a shop where I could drop a ton of money, if I had that sort of dough). For those who have an eye for detail, the Lost and Found located within the Cantina is filled with abandoned pieces that have clearly come from film legends, as well as television, book, and Star Tours nods. Perhaps no piece is easier to recognize, however, than C-3PO’s golden arm.

While the most recognizable protocol droid in the galaxy had limited screen time during The Force Awakens, C-3PO makes sure to bring the intrigue by pointing out his new red arm. While we have seen C-3PO with a variety of miscellaneous body parts over the years, he’s never drawn attention to a specific component until this one. While it could have just been chalked up to the protocol droid’s innate ability to make himself the center of attention, even when a situation does not warrant it. However, the inclusion of his golden arm in the Launch Bay’s Lost and Found is curious, especially when you consider the story of how he lost his golden arm and acquired his red art.

In April of 2016 Marvel released Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1, a standalone comic with the subtitle of The Phantom Limb. Told by the team of James Robinson and Tony Harris, longtime Starman collaborators and their first project together in nearly two decades, the story features a ton of heart considering the majority of the issue focuses on C-3PO and five other droids. After a crash landing that killed all of the non-droid characters, this team of droids must find their way across a treacherous landscape of Taul to a homing beacon in the hopes that they will be able to use it to secure rescue. There is some discussion of skills and who should be leading the group amongst Threepio, VL-44 (a security droid), 2MED2 (medical droid), PZ-99 (security droid), CO-34 (construction droid), and O-MR1 (protocol droid). O-MR1 is actually a First Order droid that was captured by the Resistance because it is believed he knows the location of the kidnapped Admiral Ackbar.

As the ragtag pod of droids make their way across Taul’s hostile environment, they come under attack by spice spiders. PZ-99 draws the spiders away from the group and sacrifices himself so that they may continue. Further along, the droids come across a tar pit, while CO-34 is able to form a bridge so that the team can move forward, they are assailed by a tar monster. In the ensuing skirmish all of the droids are destroyed by the monster except for C-3PO and O-MR1, although C-3PO’s arm is severed during the incident.

As the pair continues on, the brutal Taul has one last surprise for them, acid rain just as they reach the homing beacon. O-MR1 decides that it is Threepio that must go on, even though he has been skeptical of the protocol droid and the Resistance during the entire story. He tells C-3PO that he isn’t choosing a side, but rather friendship as he transmits Ackbar’s location to C-3PO and steps on into the rain to activate the beacon. As he begins to disintegrate, with multiple limbs falling off, O-MR1’s metallic sheen begins to deteriorate, revealing the red primer underneath. Rescued by Poe Dameron and BB-8, C-3PO asks for the red arm of O-MR1 to be installed as his new limb as a way to remember the friends he had lost, even if it clashes with his “aesthetic sensibilities.”

Knowing that Threepio’s golden arm was removed by a tar monster, it is hard to piece together how it made its way to the Launch Bay. Then again, limbs and long-lost artifacts have a way of making their way across the Star Wars galaxy whether it seems likely or not. Plus, maybe this limb was from another time where C-3PO was disarmed. Either way, the story of the red arm reveals there was more to the story than the glib moment it was given during The Force Awakens.