15 August 2019

The Enchanted Neighbourhood

On our upcoming trip, as we have for so many trips, the missus and I will be staying at Pop Century. We don’t tend to spend much time at our resort, opting instead for park or resort hopping time, and it ends up being a place to sleep, shower, and store our belongings. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll decorate the room more than most, but at the end of the day it is a brief pit stop before launching ourselves out into the larger Walt Disney World complex of activities. Since the rooms received their refurbishment, not to mention the proximity to the Skyliner, Pop has once again become a place that I want to stay at, not one that I’m forced to stay at, however there is one piece of the resort that irks me, and it comes from the 1970s section.

For those that are unfamiliar with the layout of Pop Century, the resort is broken up into sections dedicated to the decades of the latter half of the last century. Three buildings represent the 1950s, two for the 1960s, another pair for the 1970s, two for the 1980s, and one for the 1990s. To be fair the 1980s and 1990s tend to comprise one section combined, but given that the resort opened in 2003 and was in development long before that, it almost feels that the 1990s building was more of an afterthought. Each of these sections includes larger than life characters from films of the era along with artifacts common to the representative decade. For instance, the 1960s features Baloo and Mowgli, Play-Doh, and Duncan yo-yos anchoring buildings with very groovy sayings plastered on the banisters.

Here is where I nitpick and find my compulsive desire for everything to match up with one another, which means you can feel free to roll your eyes at me. The 1970s, replete with its Big Wheel, foosball, and 8-track tapes, doesn’t actually feature a character from the decade. Oh sure, there is a Mickey Mouse, but he’s attached to a phone, an item that featured prominently in the 1970s, but not a character unto itself. While there weren’t many animated features released in the decade following the passing of Walt Disney, there were a handful and there are several that would play perfectly into the resort’s overall theme.

In the 1970s there were four major releases: The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Rescuers. I would personally love to see Orville with Miss Bianca and Bernard, but I also understand that The Rescuers is not as commonly recognized as some of the other characters of the decade. Likewise, the same could be said for The Aristocats, but that still leaves us with Robin Hood, his merry band of Little John and Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian, all of whom are fairly recognizable character even to today’s families. Perhaps most famous of all, however, was the honey hungry, red shirt wearing, willy, nilly, silly old bear, Winnie the Pooh.

Now, I can hear some of you out there reminding me that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is just the repackaging of several Winnie the Pooh shorts from earlier, and I hear you. On the other hand, this was when the tubby cubby was truly becoming a household name and you couldn’t help but see his furry golden face everywhere. To take it one step farther, the 1970s was the decade when Disney cheekily put Winnie the Pooh on the ballot for President of the United States. Pooh has remained one of the most recognizable characters in the Disney catalog since, and he definitely would ring familiar to families staying in the 1970s buildings of Pop Century, and parents would have to explain the rotary dial attached to Mickey’s feet.

Do I suspect there will ever come a time where the iconic Mickey phone is replaced in Pop Century? I absolutely do not ever expect to see that day. It just seems a little off the mark for Disney to have crafted each decade so well, with Roger Rabbit, Baloo, Mowgli, Lady, and Tramp, only to let the theme slip when it came to the decade that saw the opening of Walt Disney World and the rise of Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger too. I’m sure I am just being overly critical, but this is the stuff and fluff that fills my head from time to time.

06 August 2019

Distinct Attention to Detail

Carthay Circle Lounge carries a flatbread on its menu all year round, but the composition of the flatbread’s ingredients tends to change with the season. Knowing that the change of the season is just around the corner I wanted to get the word out on the current flatbread as soon as possible in case you’re looking for a refined, yet quick meal. I say meal because while I stopped in for a cocktail and a small bite, I ended up with a flatbread that definitely filled me up.

The current flatbread is the Carthay Italian Sausage Flatbread, and it combines Portobello mushrooms, broccoli rapini pesto, parmesan cheese, and Italian sausage. Though not mentioned in the menu description, there are also yellow tomatoes that are roasted atop of the flatbread as well. It is presented sliced into seven sections, which makes it easier to pick up, but I still ended up using a fork and knife because of the weight of all of the toppings on the thin dough.

This is about as fresh of a flatbread as I’ve ever had. The Italian sausage is sweet and spicy, but not an overpowering amount of heat, while the broccoli rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, adds a tiny bit of bitterness. Considering I’ve had some seriously bitter broccoli rapini in the past, the fine folks over at Carthay Circle Lounge have clearly prepared this extremely well. The mushrooms and tomatoes add some texture, there is a sharpness from the parmesan, and everything just feels like it was picked from the garden or came fresh to the kitchen to create a flavorful moment for the diner.

There are a lot of wonderful items of the Carthay Circle Lounge menu, including plenty of shareable creations, but the Carthay Italian Sausage Flatbread is definitely near the top of my list. If you have a chance to snap up this flatbread before the menu changes, and maybe pair it with a Carthay Old Fashioned, the way I did, you will not be disappointed.

02 August 2019

On the Edge of the Galaxy

Prior to my visit to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to take part in one of the great YMCA traditions, General Assembly. This conference happens every few years and truly inspires YMCA staff and volunteers to do more, do better, and be the best versions of ourselves for our communities back home. As a part of this conference I had the pleasure to listen to a session led by Dan Cockerell. You may know Dan through his father, Lee Cockerell, the longtime Disney executive, but Dan has a Disney story that is all his own. He started out parking cars in Walt Disney World’s parking lot, before rising through the ranks to become the Vice President of, at various times, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s his time with the Studios that crosses over our hyperspace lane into the look we’ve been taking at Galaxy’s Edge this week.

As Dan tells the story, he was at Disney’s Hollywood Studios when Disney acquired Lucasfilm. Almost immediately master planning began on a Star wars land to bring to the park. For two years this planning went on, and it was based around Tatooine and had all the touchpoints that those of us who grew up with Star Wars would recognize. Then one day Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger got together and Kennedy put out there that she thought the land was going in the wrong direction. It was her belief that there were more Star Wars stories ahead of us, than those we have behind us for the past forty years. It was that conversation that stopped the planning on a dime and set a course for a brand new destination, Batuu, set in the current moment between films of the Skywalker saga.

I find that amount of foresight impressive, and the willingness to change tactic midstream even more so. Now, Disney has the means to be more agile than most companies, but it is still interesting to see an organization not just charge ahead with what they planned and instead take time to consider what they’re building. I don’t know if this story had any bearing on how I looked at Black Spire Outpost when I first walked into it, but it’s definitely given me a fresh perspective on how I view the land as a whole.

The best of Star Wars, in my opinion, always takes place on worlds that exist in the Outer Rim, Wild Space, or on almost uninhabitable worlds. Batuu is one of these dusty locations that fit right alongside Tatooine, Endor, Takodana, or Crait. It has this otherworldly, yet somehow familiar, vibe to it and it has everything you would want in your personal Star Wars story, even if you feel like you should have never looked beyond the original trilogy; cantina, spaceport, wilderness, a touch of the mystical, and a menacing, domineering presence just around the corner. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that Batuu feels like it belongs in Star Wars, not the least of which has been incorporating the characters and location into comics and novels.

Galaxy’s Edge is set in the period between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, and it features the heroes and villains that today’s children are familiar with. This includes Rey and Kylo, but also individuals like Hondo from The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Picking a time for a land to exist in is not a new thing for Disney, you can see it on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, Frontierland, Main Street, Harambe, Liberty Square, and various segments of Adventureland. Picking a time that is the most relevant to children today is just plain smart. The entirety of Disney’s theme park worlds came from Walt Disney’s own idea that parents should have a place to take their children. It is a place built for children, but it doesn’t speak down to them, and it has just as much to offer their parents and other adults. We should all enjoy Batuu, and look through the attractions and surroundings with the eyes and wonderment of an eight year old.

To quote Yoda, “we are what they grow beyond.” Disney has long straddled the divide between what was and what could be, and the world created by Black Spire Outpost does precisely that. Galaxy’s Edge pays respect to all that has come before, from Luke’s training probe, R-3X, moisture vaporators, R2-D2’s tread, and the life-size Millennium Falcon, while still forging a new path ahead. Perhaps what I love most about Galaxy’s Edge is that I recognize it all instantly as being Star Wars and yet it is a world I have yet to learn, thus allowing me to build upon what I already know while creating entirely new experiences. In the end, could we really ask for anything else?

30 July 2019

Ingredients from Across the Galaxy

With Galaxy’s Edge having only been open for two months in Disneyland and it’s preparing for launch status in Walt Disney World, I took some time last week to sample as much of the area as I could, and that includes the many tastes and menus found throughout the land. I’m the first to admit I wasn’t able to try every bite, meal, and beverage Black Spire Outpost had to offer, but I did my best to get to as many as I could. The one blind spot in this review is going to be Docking 7 Food and Cargo, but I hit up as many other food stops on the hyperspace trail as I could.

Let’s start with a beverage that has been with Star Wars from the very beginning and its more recent cousin. I am, of course, talking about blue and green milk. Found at the Milk Stand, blue and green milk are slushy-smoothie types of drinks. Blue milk in its purest form is also available at Oga’s Cantina under the name of Blue Bantha, and comes complete with a Bantha-inspired vanilla sugar cookie. I only tried the Oga’s version of the blue milk which was sweet and filled with tropical flavors, almost like a liquid sunscreen. The green milk, meanwhile, is a bit sourer but still tropical in its taste. Most people are partial to one or the other, but I feel like both have their place. It is worth remembering that both blue and green milk are non-dairy, plant-based blends of coconut and rice milks. These are not my typical milks, but they were both delicious. I did prefer the non-smoothie version of the milk, but your mileage may vary.

A word on the Bantha-inspired vanilla sugar cookie, this is a cookie with flavors and layers that you will be happy you tried. There is a haystack element to this cookie that is chewy and reminds me of the Samoas or Caramel Delites cookies that come around from the Girl Scouts every year. The Blue Bantha, complete with cookie, is a great morning treat or a final nightcap.

Sticking with Oga’s Cantina, I had the pleasure to visit both in the morning and the evening. In the morning I also sampled the Yub Nub, a cocktail that mixes Malibu Pineapple Rum and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum with citrus and passion fruit juices. It also comes in a souvenir mug depicting the Battle of Endor, and yes, it absolutely came home with me. The citrus, passion fruit, and pineapple flavors seemed to be competing too much for me, with the faux pineapple flavor weighing down the drink to me.

With my Blue Bantha and Yub Nub I grabbed the Rising Moon Overnight Oats, which are also available at Ronto Roasters and Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. This is a cold oatmeal and yogurt dish with a ton of fruit, including dragon fruit and berries. As it is cold the overnight oats may be an acquired taste for some, but it is a hearty and refreshing start for your day on Batuu.

Once the sun had set and the energy level climbed at Oga’s, I experimented with a pair of cocktails and couple of bites. My droid-driven smorgasbord included The Outer Rim and Fuzzy Tauntaun cocktails alongside the Batuu Bits and Oga’s Obsessions off of the provisions menu.

Oga’s Obsession is a gelatin-based dessert dish that combines Odwalla Lemonade, cotton candy flavoring, blueberry popping pearls, and a dried fruit crumble that includes pop rocks. While it looks like something laid by a worrt (ask your friendly neighborhood Star Wars enthusiast, but only if you REALLY want to know), this is sweet and tangy, basically the best Jell-O salad you’ve ever put in your mouth. On the flip side, Batuu bits is a sweet, spicy, and crunchy snack mix that includes rice crackers, veggie chips, meringue bites, and wasabi peas. It was fine, but nothing special and the company I visited the cantina with was mixed on whether or not they liked it. More often than not we each gravitated towards the ingredient we were most fond of.

On the beverage side of things the Fuzzy Tauntaun is a concoction of Cîroc Peach Vodka, Bols Peach Schnapps, and Simply Orange, with a head of tangerine, cane sugar, and "Buzzz" foam. Let’s start with the first question on your minds, yes, the “Buzzz” foam is meant to make your lips and mouth tingle, and maybe a little numb. It can be a disconcerting feeling, so if you’re nervous I would stand clear of this cocktail. For me, it was a fun gimmick that I would love to try again. The peach and citrus flavors of the Fuzzy Tauntaun were tangy, mouth-watering, and only added to the experience.

The Outer Rim is Oga’s version of a margarita with Patrón Silver Tequila, Cedilla Açaí Liqueur, lime juice, and pure cane sugar topped with exotic fruit puree and completed with a black salt rim. The puree sits on top of the cocktail, but I would recommend mixing it in with the rest of the cocktail before taking a sip. This way you will get sweet tropical flavors playing with the sourness of the acai and lime, and that interplay is fun and delicious. Grab yourself a bit of that black salt on your lips as you take a drink, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.

Back out in the bright sun, hiding in the shade of the Market is Kat Saka’s Kettle, a stall that serves up a sweet and savory popcorn mix. The Outpost Popcorn Mix includes standard popcorn, a chili-spiced kernel, and lastly mixed berry popcorn. I’m usually a fan of sweet and savory tastes working together, but something in this mix just didn’t land right for me. In particular, the mixed berry popcorn had an artificial flavor to it that threw my palate off.

Lastly, let’s run through a meal at Ronto Roasters. From ronto straight off of the pod racer engine, two type of jerky, and a specialty juice, there is a lot to try.

The Ronto Wrap is a pita filled with grilled pork sausage, a slab of roasted pork, tangy slaw, and a peppercorn sauce. The wrap doesn’t come with a side, but, to be honest, it doesn’t need one as it will fill you up all on its own. There is a great snap to the sausage and the two types of pork present two entirely different, yet compatible, flavor profiles. The heat from the sausage and peppercorn sauce is great and really punches this up a notch. The pita is a bit too thick, but that is nitpicky in an otherwise stellar staple.

The Nuna Turkey Jerky comes in two varieties, sweet and spicy. The sweet reminded me of a jerky version of the outer skin of a turkey leg. On the other hand, the spicy has a slow building kick from a collection of spices that I couldn’t quite pin down. It has a Middle Eastern vibe to it, but feels a hair out of this world.

Lastly, there Ronto Roasters has three specialty beverages, the Tatooine Sunset, Sour Sarlacc, and the Meiloorun Juice. With my meal I opted for the Meiloorun Juice, a combination of Barrilitos Aguas Frescas Pineapple, Simply Lemonade with Blueberry, and white cranberry, lemon, and desert pear juices. It is very sweet and has an old-school Hawaiian punch feel to it. It was fun, but definitely isn’t an every meal treat.

Overall, my dining experiences across Galaxy’s Edge only made me want to take a second, third, fourth, and beyond bites and sips. The food and dining locations have a surplus of atmosphere which will make repeated dining a joy to partake in. Some of the dishes may sound unappealing or something that only caters to the adventurous eaters, but I promise you there is something there for everyone. Just remember you’re off world, so you should dine like it! Personally, I can’t wait to book my next trip to the buffet that is Batuu.