21 March 2018

Invasive Species Study

There is a lot of beauty to be found throughout Pandora, from creatures to culture. This is especially true if you’re looking through the lens of nature reclaiming created environments, a key message found throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The lab section of Flight of Passage explores many different facets of the educational components of the park, including conservation, reintroduction, and natural restoration. There is even an experiment that looks at invasive, non-native species introduction to Pandora.

Known as the Velocivirus, it is part of the Pandora Conservation Initiative's Invasive Species Study. It is kept in an active quarantine bubble, so while this spiny, inky black blob is able to move around on a large, futuristic Petri dish-like surface, it isn’t going to be able to run rampant around the moon. It is a strange bug, I’ll grant you. It uses micro-vibrations as a form of echolocation and to move about, it latches on to healthy tissue and, like a hemorrhagic virus, it attempts to dissolve the tissue it finds. The colonial-cooperative virus has a whole new environment with which to wreak havoc, and the researchers at the Pandora Conservation Initiative have yet to find a way to eradicate the virus. It is worth noting that the small sample visible in the lab is far from the only specimen around.

The Velocivirus reached Pandora by hitching a ride on one of the various spacecraft that have made their way to the moon, specifically near the exhaust areas of the vehicles. To ensure the invasive species doesn’t make landfall, the ships are supposed to fire their thrusters prior to entering the atmosphere. As that requires burning up a lot of fuel, and fuel costs money, you can see why some less conscientious, penny-pinching individuals could maybe forget to follow procedure. This is similar to how we ended up with pythons, Cuban tree frogs, green and black spinytail iguanas, or kudzu as just a few of the invasive species to be found in Florida alone.

Humans tend to be the link in how these invasive species are introduced into non-native environments, through a desire to bring something new with them, carelessness, or indifference to the harm they could be causing. Luckily, there are also humans on Earth, as well as on Pandora, who are always looking for ways to make things better. Education is a critical function of any conservation effort, and the Velocivirus an allegory for many of the problems we face on our own planet, some of which are chronicled in other sections of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Of course, all you have to do is look across the lab to see efforts to reintroduce and protect endangered species.

Kudos are to be given to Joe Rohde for how much attention to detail and storytelling that he shares, which turned us on to this little story to begin with.

20 March 2018

Why Limit Happy to One Hour

The Polite Pig is known for, well, all things pig. And that is before anyone mentions all scrumptious sides and desserts that taste like they’re home-cookin’, but only if your cook at home was a James Beard recognized chef. Oh, and they’re also known for having a collection of bourbon so vast, that a tear comes to my eye when I look at my little shelf. Basically, The Polite Pig has a lot of things to say “please” and “thank you” for, and today we’re looking at two of the sweeter options on the menu.

For starters, we need something to drink, all good meals start with a good drink. With the variety of options, between bourbons, beers, and craft cocktails, there is a lot to consider. However, it’s not every day that a restaurant has cocktails on tap, which The Polite Pig does. With that in mind, and wanting to see just what these Small Batch Cocktails would be like, I opted to try out the Sweet Tea Old-Fashioned.

A concoction of bourbon, sweet tea syrup, and bitters, this isn’t your traditional old-fashioned. When it comes to an old-fashioned, I do tend to be a bit of a traditionalist. That said, this version of the cocktail was very smooth and not as astringent as a typical old-fashioned would be. It actually works very when paired with barbecue that, depending on your sauce preferences, can be vinegary and definitely savory. With the Sweet Tea Old-Fashioned, you get the sweetness that makes this very easy drink, but also those familiar spices from the bitters, which feel like an extension of a good barbecue rub. I’m not going to say that this is the be all-end all of cocktails, but for what you’re having and where you are, it is a decent offering. Plus, if you really want your traditional old-fashioned, you can always pick your bourbon and have the expert bartenders whip you up one.

Staying with our sweet theme, we’re going to skip appetizers, entrees, and sides and move directly on to desserts. While there are a couple of options here, from Chess Pie to Carrot Cake, we opted for the specialty of the house, the Orange Blossom Honey Cake.

For those of you that don’t know, orange blossom honey comes from bees that use the pollen from orange blossoms when they’re in bloom. It is a light-colored, incredibly sweet honey that also has a wisp of citrus flavor in the background. Growing up in Florida, surrounded by strawberry fields and orange groves, this is my favorite type of honey. What the Orange Blossom Honey Cake does is that this honey and ramp it up! It is very sweet, but still retains, and maybe adds a bit more of, the orange flavors. The cake is dense and heavy, but the flavors are light. The frosting is also thin, which shows just how much The Polite Pig knows about baked goods. With as sweet as this cake is, it definitely doesn’t need an overabundance of frosting. If you like sweet desserts, and I cannot stress how sweet this cake is, then the Orange Blossom Honey Cake is definitely for you. If sweet isn’t necessarily how you like your desserts, this may not be for you. I for one, loved this dessert and cannot wait to get my next slice.

From my experience at The Polite Pig, this restaurant lives at the corner of Savory Lane and Sweet Street. It is unlike many barbecue places I’ve been to, and I’ve seen my fair share, and it is a well-placed addition to Disney Springs. When it comes to living Sweet Street, they have got you covered, whether it is desserts or cocktails you are looking for, The Polite Pig has something for your sweet tooth to bite into.

12 March 2018

Tour of the Production Facilities

A bunch of soundstages may not look particularly interesting when examined from the air, but there’s a lot happening on the production side of Disney-MGM Studios in this photograph. Taken prior to the park’s opening, what you can’t see are that whole departments like costuming and wardrobe, animation, backlot streets, crafts, and production offices are already in full swing. As the working portion of the studio, these elements had to be up and running long before Disney-MGM Studios opened.

The main facility building in the complex included a tunnel large enough for the trams that would be coming as a part of the Backstage Studio Tour. You can see the entrance to it in the uppermost building in this photograph. This is where costuming and props were housed and where guests partaking in the tour could catch glimpses of costumes of Captain EO or Breathless Mahoney in those early days as the tram drove by.

Of course, not even the route for the tram portion of the tour at this point. Notice to the far left where the load and unload roundabout is still under construction in what is now the queue area for the Star Wars Launch Bay. Also, if you trace a line straight up beyond the Earffel Tower, you can see some construction taking place just before the tree line. This is the spot that will become the oil-rich, but accident prone area known as Catastrophe Canyon. Following along the top of the production complex, you can see more work happening before you reach the edge of New York Street. This is where Residential Street, including the beloved façade of The Golden Girls’ home, will end up being constructed.

Elsewhere inside the park, you can just see the entrance to the Great Movie Ride at the left edge of the photograph. In fact, this photo was taken so far away from Disney-MGM Studios’ opening that the top of the Chinese Theatre still hasn’t been attached yet.

While this photograph may not look like much, it’s got it where it counts. This nondescript warehouses and buildings were already producing content for Disney’s film, television, and theme park enterprises ahead of the park opening. Once Disney-MGM Studios opened, however, they found ways to become part of our memories forever.

07 March 2018

Star-Studded Tuck-Away

Simple and elegant are two words we hear thrown around together quite a bit, but I’m not sure that they go together very easily. That is to say, if something is elegant it probably took quite a bit of time, while if something is simple it shouldn’t take too awfully long to assemble. One place I’ve always thought was simple and elegant is the Hollywood Brown Derby, nothing seems overstated, food and décor are well-executed, but not complicated for the sake of being complicated, and there is a luxuriousness that fills the dining room and then menu. The question for the past few years, at least for me, is does that sumptuousness extend beyond the walls of the Hollywood Brown Derby to the exterior lounge, simply named the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge.

On the style side of things it is a mixed bag. Yes, the high-top tables mixed with your standard dining set do give the lounge a certain energy, which is helped along by the style of the tables themselves and the black linen napkins. The exterior walls and doors of the Hollywood Brown Derby lend their elegance to a meal or drink at the lounge, as do the oaks draping themselves over the walkway and half wall on the other side. However, sit there for too long and the pyrotechnics and sounds coming from the Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away show tends to take away from the proceedings. As far as atmosphere is concerned for the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge, the end result is a mixed bag.

In terms of food offerings, let’s start with a staple of the Hollywood Brown Derby, the famous Cobb Salad. Served on a bed of finely chopped greens, the salad includes turkey breast, bacon, egg, tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, avocado, chives, and Cobb dressing. This isn’t a tossed salad either; everything is perfectly portioned on top of the greens so you can see the vibrant colors, even if that is simply highlighting multiple shades of green, and textures of the salad. The dressing on the side is also a plus, as you can add as little or as much as you wish. This is a rich salad, in case you couldn’t tell from the egg, bacon, and avocado in the description. It truly is one of the more elegant salads out there, and the simple presentation helps.

Moving on from the classic to something with a modern flair, we also want to look at the Braised Beef Arepas with roasted red pepper and Fresno chili coulis. The three arepas are presenting in a particularly beautiful arrangement, with the layers of red, yellow, brown, and green all being visible and contrasting well off of one another. The beef is fork tender, while the cornmeal arepas are earthy and delicious, and I could drown a whole loaf of bread in that bright layer of roasted red pepper! The simplicity here comes from the ingredients and presentation and it definitely something to aspire to.

Can the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge live up to the refined expectations of the namesake restaurant it is attached too? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it should hang its head like a dejected and forgotten sibling. The food alone proves that something can be simple and elegant when it comes out of a kitchen. If the ambiance is lacking that same sense of comfortable luxury, it isn’t for a lack of trying. Overall, the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge creates its own thing, and it is well worth visiting for a smattering of the great food and drinks it has to offer.

06 March 2018

Star Tours Flight 55

One of the benefits of a ride system like Star Tours, in it’s the Adventures Continue version, is that there are new destinations and sequences that can be added in regularly. This was part of the plan since the attraction was refurbished in 2011. Since that time several sequences have seen tweaks to include new characters, from launch scenes to holographic figures, and two new destinations have been added: Jakku and Crait. While characters and locations from the episodic films continue to be highlighted, little has been done to include some of the more prominent features from other films and media. There are a couple of standouts that are worthy of inclusion, and we’re visiting them today in a blue sky daydream.

Jedha – Home to Jedi temple ruins, the scourge of the galaxy, a militant rebel faction, religious faithful, and Imperial strip miners, there’s a lot of ideas to play with here. Sure, some of the geo-political elements may not make it into a quick minute and a half fly-through, but the scenery is something to behold. Plus, with a problem on the horizon, also known as a test of the Death Star’s capabilities, it’d be nice to spend a few moments conversing with K-2SO.

I’m going to throw the caveat in here that I thought about Rogue One’s other featured planet, Scarif, but with a shield gate and imminent destruction threads converging, I thought putting guests in the same no way out scenario as the film’s leads would be problematic to say the least.

Lothal – Give guests a flyover of the gorgeous grasslands, complete with loth cats and loth wolves, a head-to-head with Grand Admiral Thrawn, and an obvious cameo of the Ghost, and that’s a winning combination. There is no escaping that this would require a bit more work as the environments we’ve seen of Lothal until now have been for an animated show, but I trust the talents of Imagineering and Lucasfilm that this wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Taanab – Alright, I’m going to put my cards on the table. Lando’s line about his maneuver at the Battle of Taanab is where this comes from, and I’m not so certain we won’t see this play out in the upcoming solo film. However, all of this is just my way not so subtle way of getting Donald Glover to appear in the attraction as Lando. Does anyone have a problem with this?

Mandalore – The home of Boba Fett and Sabine Wren, and a host of other characters critical to the stories of Star Wars. This rarely unified clan planet is the stuff legends are made of and has captivated the minds of enthusiasts since Empire Strikes Back. The planet and its people have been highlighted in both The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series with enough fodder to make any Star Tours flight one guests will never forget.

The wonderful thing about our favorite far, far away galaxy is that the possibilities for Star Tours are endless. Even if the only stick to movies and other visual media, there are countless destinations that we will still never see. That’s always been the wonderful thing about Star Wars, it has the room for all the stories you can imagine and then some. Of course, being able to visit a few of these distant planets that we’ve all seen and dreamed about wouldn’t be so bad either!

28 February 2018

Your Tropical Fruit Fix

It may feel like winter still in large portions of the country, but spring has sprung at Epcot and the 2018 International Flower & Garden Festival starts today. Over the past several years food has become an additional focal point of the festival offerings, with some fan favorite items remaining from year to year and new items being refreshed annually. As the festival kicks-off today, let’s head on over to the Pineapple Promenade and take a bite, and a sip, out of a pair of returning favorites.

We’ll start with a little heat in the form of the Spicy Hot Dog with Pineapple Chutney and Plantain Chips. The name kind of says it all, but there is more to this souped-up hot dog than meets the eye. For starters, yes, it is your typical Walt Disney World hot dog. It has a good flavor and a good snap, but isn’t necessarily anything to write home about. The bun seemed to have a bit of a sweetness to it, but that may have been from soaking in the pineapple chutney juice.

In case the description wasn’t clear, this isn’t your typical mustard and relish hot dog. The aioli used has a subtle heat to it, but there was a lot of it on the hot dog. If you’re not a fan of mayonnaise-based condiments, then this could be a deal breaker for you. Living up to the name of its outdoor kitchen, however, the pineapple chutney on this hot dog has a lot of pineapple to work with. The sweet and sour flavors of the pineapple worked well to mute the heat of the aioli, while not making this a one note hot dog. Lastly, the plantain chips added a nice crunch that varied up the textures, but I would have preferred a handful of full plantain chips on the side.

Moving on to our beverage component, we loved the Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade, which has absolutely nothing to do with pineapple, but we don’t care! This lavender colored frozen slush, like most of the slushes around Walt Disney World, is very sweet. It also has a tart factor that makes it play with various parts of your palate. This may not be very novel anymore, but it is still tasty and refreshing when the combination of Florida heat and World Showcase’s promenade has beaten you down. It also comes with an edible flower, which is sure to get a giggle out of your little ones.

Pineapple Promenade may not have the most inventive food offerings at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, but they do bring a fun element to the festivities. The festival offers and entire range of fresh food items just waiting for you to sample, and I highly recommend sampling as much as you can, but whether you’re looking for sweet or savory, just remember to have fun! And if you’ve forgotten how to do that after looking at gardens and topiaries all day, the Pineapple Promenade seems to have the recipe to help you remember.

26 February 2018

Ambassador of Friendship

The additions of characters from known films or franchises into the notoriously character devoid Epcot has been something of a sticking point for some longtime guests. Aside from Figment, who gets a pass as he and Dreamfinder were created specifically for Epcot, the slow introduction of characters from The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Frozen, to name a few, has gotten under the skin of a vocal set of guests. Of course, Epcot has kept these character introductions to Disney properties and would never fling open the gates of character meet and greets, much less an attraction, to characters that have no solid connection to the wonderful world of Disney. Would they?

Beginning in November of 1993 guests could meet up with the Ambassador of Friendship, known to the rest of the world as Barbie, at the American Gardens Theatre in Epcot ’94. There are multiple awful choices that were made in that sentence, but let’s carry on with just Barbie for the moment. Barbie, and Ken, would arrive in a pink limousine to meet guests, take pictures, and sign autographs. This was, in fact, the same LiMOUSEine that Mickey utilized to promote the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, and that would later be called back into service for the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Barbie stopping by to see guests may seem innocuous enough, but they were set-up near the American Gardens Theatre, which probably means there was a show, doesn’t it?

In fact, the entire theatre was outfitted for a special show from November of 1993 until May of 1995 to present The Magical World of Barbie. The show featured approximately 20 actors pretending to be dolls interacting with the various playsets from other countries. Barbie, the Ambassador of Friendship, was given this title due to the fact that she had represented and become a part of so many cultures over the years. The show would venture through Europe, making stops in places like Italy, Russia, and France, Africa, and even Australia. Would it surprise you to know that the show used this stop to make a ‘shrimp on the Barbie’ joke? The show featured a pyrotechnic and dove release finally, along with tricks performed by in-line skaters, trampoline artists, and skateboarders.

The promotion for this show was not limited to Walt Disney World alone, however. Mattel packaged specialty marked Barbie dolls with a video celebrating Barbie’s birthday at Walt Disney World. The title is ridiculously long, Barbie Birthday Part at Walt Disney World Epcot ’94. During the movie, with a runtime of about 30 minutes, Barbie, Stephanie, and Lisa make their way around World Showcase celebrating Barbie’s birthday. It heavily promoted the Barbie Cellular Phone and the show coming to Epcot ’94. The latter allowed viewers to get a behind the scenes look at the show being created for the park.

The Magical World of Barbie only ran five days a week, due mostly to the fact that only one woman was allowed to play Barbie, Miss Oregon Elizabeth Simmons, in order to maintain consistency for guest interactions. While the show was beloved by some guests, particularly younger guests, at the time, it was universally loathed by cast, crew, and Disney powers that be at the time. It isn’t hard to imagine that they were all thrilled when the show closed in November of 1995.

Characters of one sort or another have always been critical to the Disney theme park experience. While Epcot has more or less shied away from the concept for a large portion of the time it has been open, some still occasionally slip through. I would much prefer a well thought out plan for character introduction through attractions and meet and greets, even if they seem slightly out of place, than have woefully out of place characters from non-Disney properties pop in sporadically. I’m looking at you, Barbie!