09 October 2018

House of the Whispering Willow

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the pavilions and attractions available to guests were only the beginning of what they would be able to experience in the years that followed. New pavilions were planned and even advertised, yet very few of those plans would actually come to fruition. One space that did see its planned expansion through to completion was the China Pavilion.

Part of the original mission of World Showcase was for the cultural representatives to recreate “the rich traditions of their homelands, and share their art and architecture, culture and cuisine.” This was to be the true treasure of each pavilion, and within China the central themes was serenity and contemplation. From the stones near the Gate of the Golden Sun, to the lotus pool, and even the film, originally titled Wonders of China, were designed in encourage both of these sentiments. However, the ability to walk out of the film and through a bustling street filled with ornate details to consider, have a meal in a quiet, elegant setting, or even peruse wares in the House of Good Fortune were options not available to guests in the early years of the pavilion.

From this 1982 photo you can see the Temple of Heaven, the lush greenery of the lotus pond, and China’s art gallery, the House of the Whispering Willow, but that’s where the story ends for the pavilion until 1985. It would take three years from the opening of EPCOT Center for Lotus Blossom Cafe, Nine Dragons Restaurant, House of Good Fortune, and the facades of tiny homes and businesses that flesh out the rest of China’s story to become a reality. This would be a rarity for those early plans of EPCOT Center, but one that has delighted guests for more than three decades.

As Richard Beard said of the China experience, “a spot of contemplation will help you to absorb the amazing sights and sounds you have experienced here, and the inner serenity it induces many be the most valuable item you’ll carry away with you.” It may seem like a simple sentiment, but these are words that ring true to this very day.

08 October 2018

Going up in Smoke, Folks

Food trucks have long been a part of our culinary lexicon, and Walt Disney World has even gotten in on the game for several years now with a rotation of trucks that could be housed at Disney Springs or situated at a resort when there is a refurbishment and additional food offerings are needed. Into this scene enters John Rivers and the 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck at Disney Spring's Marketplace, and if you think that the name in a mouthful, then just wait until you see what they’re serving out of the truck!

Disney has a long and storied history with cone shaped sandwiches and meals. From the earliest days of the Handwich to the more recent bread-based cones popular in California Adventure’s Cars Land, these sandwiches are mobile and can utilize a broader variety of fillings. In the case of 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck, the main attraction here is also cone based, and is known as the Taco Cone. It comes with your choice of filling, more on that in a minute, along with shredded lettuce, guacamole, Pico de Gallo, queso, sour cream, jalapeƱo, cilantro, and a wedge of lime in a fried tortilla cone.

Your choices for fillings include black beans and rice, grilled tri-tip steak, chicken tinga, brisket barbacoa, or Nana’s pork sofrito. There may be some words in that last sentence that ring a bell for you, and that’s okay, food should be an adventure at times. Barbacoa is the original form of barbecue, tinga is typically a shredded chicken with tomato based sauce, and sofrito is a sauce rich in garlic, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.

The assembled Taco Cone is larger than my head, and stuffed full of these wonderful flavors. I’ll admit that I assumed once I got through the top layer of my filling of choice, chicken tinga, that there wouldn’t be much of the main attraction to find towards the middle and bottom of the cone, and I was completely wrong. The chicken was prevalent throughout, the queso was thick and bonded everything together, the guacamole and jalapeƱos provided some nice heat, in addition to adding some fresh flavors when included with the cilantro, lime, and Pico. The chicken itself was moist and flavorful, the way you would expect a really excellent stewed chicken to taste.

The taco shell cone was wonderfully crispy, even towards the bottom I didn’t notice any amount of sogginess. I was able to break off portions to use as chips to scoop out some of the filling or just bite into it as I made my way through the cone. The only problem I had with the cone deliver system comes from the other offerings from 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck. Since the food truck serves bottled, not fountain, drinks, it is almost impossible to open your bottle up while holding your cone since you can’t really put it down. Luckily there were two of us who were able to help each other out, but it was a challenge to figure out.

4 Rivers is a name common around the Orlando area known for its smokehouses and barbecue. However, since The Polite Pig already had the Disney Springs market on barbecue cornered, it was a chance for John Rivers and the entire 4 Rivers assemblage to stretch their creative culinary skills. The results are delicious, and best sampled for yourself. The Taco Cone is one cone that, due to its size, may give me shame when I finish it, but I like it!

04 October 2018

In Search of New Horizons

As shocking as this may sound, I don’t get much rest on vacations, particularly those of the Disney variety. By now it is sure to come as no surprise that everywhere I go I take my camera with me. In fact, at any given time on vacation I can be seen switching between up to four lenses and jotting down notes and story ideas into a small notebook. It’s wonderful to be able to share history, meals, and minute details with all of the Gazette’s readers, but it can also take its toll. This is why I find my time at Disney’s resort on Hilton Head Island and on Disney’s cruise liners to be such a breath of fresh air for me, because these two locations do allow me to turn off, tune out, and just relax and recharge.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and its associated Beach House are the best of both worlds I’ve inhabited in my lifetime. As a Florida native, the beach and the sea, and specifically either the Atlantic Ocean of Gulf of Mexico, hold a special place in my heart. Likewise, I discovered the pine forests of the Carolinas early in my life and getting back to that spot in nature was one of the driving forces that brought me to western North Carolina. At Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, I can have the best of both worlds: a room with a view of pines and seagrasses, not quite the mountains but similar aesthetics, and a chance to splash along a shoreline, watch a sunrise, and search for seashells.

There are no theme parks here, only two counter service restaurants that only serve breakfast and lunch, and no attractions with wait times. What the resort does have is nature walks, bicycle rentals, a canine mascot, campfires, fishing, and hammocks amongst the trees. It has leisure games like cornhole, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and a non-Disney (but still wonderfully fun) miniature golf course. There are fine dining restaurants away from the resort that overlook the saltmarsh estuaries, the ocean, or the island’s interior.

The main thing I take away from my time at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is, and I know that I visit during the quieter offseason, that I don’t have to get up and go do anything unless I want to. I can ride my bike down to the shopping areas, the beach, or the lighthouse, but I can also just sit in a hammock beneath the pine branches to read and take a nap, and I can be completely content with any of these options without feeling like I’ve neglected doing some attraction or show.

Speaking of doing nothing and taking naps in the natural world, that’s also one of my favorite activities on a Disney cruise, but there is so much more to a cruise in a very different way. Onboard the cruise there is plenty to discover, and you generally have the time to do so because, save when you are in port somewhere, you have nowhere else to go. I thought the ability to not see land would cause me stress, but as it turns out, when no one can get ahold of you and you have nothing but the sights and sounds of the sea to keep you company, you can truly relax.

For those who wish to be entertained from sunrise to the next sunrise, Disney has you covered with a wide array of activities, from alcohol samplings to towel folding classes, interactive mystery games, first-run movies, bingo, a water rollercoaster, Broadway style theater productions, and character meet and greets. Some of these activities require reservations, but many of them are available to everyone in a choose-your-own-adventure sort of way. You can keep busy and only visit your stateroom when you are ready to pass out from overstimulation at the end of a long day and night.

For me, however, it is the ability to pick a couple of activities I’m wholeheartedly interested in and then let the rest go. On a cruise, apparently, I channel my inner-Elsa. While there are no hammocks onboard the cruise ships, there are large plush loungers, some in the sun, and some in the shade, perfect for reading and napping. A cup of tea, while lounging on deck listening to the sea crash against the ship and the occasional horn bellowing from the ship, is the perfect way to start a morning at whatever hour you see fit.

Which of the three dining halls you dine in each night is pre-determined for you, but none of these restaurants are slouches and it saves you from your own sense of indecision. Plus, there are stunning lounges, room service at all hours, and plenty of buffet and quick service dining options to satisfy any palate. The fine dining options, however, are experiences that will truly stick with you for a long, long time. Palo, along with Remy aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, have prepared some of the single best type of dishes I’ve ever had (I’m looking at you Palo’s lasagna), as well as some of the most exquisite complete meals I’ve ever been party to.

The ports allow you to choose which locales you want to go ashore at, or whether your time is best spent staying on the ship. Castaway Cay, with its crystal blue waters, water activities, bicycle rentals, and barbecues, is an extension of the ship itself and only heightens your ability to keep active or keep lounging away. It is the one port I will always visit when the ship docks there.

Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and the parks around the globe have a ton to offer in terms of attractions, shows, dining, and atmosphere. There is a lot of ground to cover and, no matter how long your vacation is, there never seems to be enough time to take it all in. For someone like me, that is a challenge I adore, but it can definitely make me need a vacation from my vacation. Luckily for me, and those of you out there like me, that the Disney Cruise Line and Disney’s Hilton Head Island have found the cure to my vacation overload. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go and find a hammock somewhere…

03 October 2018

From the Archives - A wonder to behold

I can't think of a single person who isn't immediately taken with the mosaics sharing the story of Cinderella when they first visit Cinderella Castle. The stunning design and craftsmanship are enough to leave a lasting impression and require many, like myself, to make repeated visits to the murals. For those that revisit the mural regularly there are always new details to uncover, such as how Anastasia has a red hue to her to depict anger, while Drizella has a green tint to highlight her disgust and envy. The rest of today's story, featuring the artisans behind the mural, comes to us from our own archives.

A wonder to behold - Originally Published 9 September 2009

As it has been mentioned before, art takes so many varied shapes within Walt Disney World. While there are plenty of established galleries, many times the most stunning pieces of work can be found all around us. A common example of being surrounded by art is the Cinderella Castle breezeway where, along the walkway, are five five-by-ten foot mosaic murals comprised of hundreds of thousands of pieces of smalti, silver, Italian glass, and 14 karat gold. And while it may be common to walk by a piece of art with only a glance in its direction, it is even more common to not take note of the artist and their work. Today we’ll take a closer look at the two artists who crafted these extraordinary mosaic murals, Dorothea Redmond and Hanns-Joachim Scharff.

Dorothea Redmond
Born in 1910, Redmond would go on to receive degrees from the University of Southern California and Art Center College before moving into motion picture design. During the first twenty years of her career she would contribute to many classic films, including Gone with the Wind, Sabrina, The Ten Commandments, and White Christmas. She was also a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock pictures, working on the films Saboteur, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, To Catch a Thief, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rear Window.

After years of working for Selznick International Pictures, RKO, Paramount, and Universal, Redmond came to WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, and began work on Disneyland’s Plaza Inn and New Orleans Square. As part of the New Orleans Square project, Redmond created a private quarter for Walt Disney and his family, The Royal Suite, which was never completed. The space was occupied by several tenants, including The Disney Gallery from 1987 until 2007. In 2007, The Royal Suite’s designs were dusted off and given new life as The Dream Suite, accommodations that would house one lucky guest and their family in the park for one evening.

With the Walt Disney World project, Redmond and her watercolors were once again utilized to shape the sumptuous spaces of Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, and Fantasyland. Between 1970 and 1971, her skills were utilized in designing the Cinderella Castle mosaic murals that paid tribute the original Disney animated feature, but also gave new life to the story in their own way. These designs were later duplicated in Tokyo Disneyland as well.

Dorothea Redmond was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2008 before passing away in February of 2009.

Hanns-Joachim Scharff
Born in 1907 in East Prussia, spent his formative years studying a variety of art forms, including weaving and mosaic. His early career in international business led him to become the Director of the Overseas Division for Adler Automotives for the decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.

While in Germany in 1939 his visa was revoked and he was left stranded until he was drafted. After several duties, Scharff’s fluency in English granted him the position as an interrogator from 1943 until 1945. Among his charges was the interrogation of pilots and aircrews for many of the Allied Forces. His interrogation techniques, which included walks in the woods, sharing food, visiting captured pilot’s comrades in the hospitals, but never physically harming prisoners, were ground-breaking. After World War II Scharff was invited to lecture with the United States Air Force and his techniques were later adapted for use in U.S. military interrogation programs.

After immigrating to America, Scharff did not return to business, but rather the art he had studied as a younger man. His work took him from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via a successful exhibit at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, where his mosaics could be seen in UCLA, Los Angeles City Hall, USC, the California State Capitol Building, and even the pool at the Hilton in Las Vegas.

Scharff headed the artisan team, which included his daughter-in-law Monika Scharff, which brought Dorothea Redmond’s watercolor designs for the Cinderella Castle mosaic murals to life. Scharff and Scharff, as they were now known, would go on to craft lush mosaics including the twin mosaic murals at Epcot’s Land pavilion.

While Hanns-Joachim Scharff passed away in September 1992, Monika Scharff has kept their art alive, well, and still tied to Disney, as her work can be seen in the fountains of Disneyland’s Downtown Disney.

The stories of these two artists’ lives are as varied as their creations and as nuanced as the tiny pieces of cut glass used in their joint work. Art is all around us, even in Walt Disney World, and it not only compels guests further into a story, it makes us a part of the artist’s life story.

27 September 2018

Exotic Flavor Adventures

When it comes to the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, not everything tastes like chicken, which I am personally thankful for since today we’re reviewing a pair of desserts. What they like in chicken flavoring, however, they make up for in exclamation marks. No joke, the menu listing for these two sweet dishes include no less than four exclamation points, and that’s just in their names! So buckle up your taste buds for this tour of the Kungaloosh! and Quick Sand!!!

Let’s start with the Quick Sand!!! This dish is a jasmine rice pudding with a mango sauce, lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple. It also comes adorned with a crispy cookie.

The rice pudding base of this dessert is not the typical mush you think of when you think of rice pudding. It was firm with a creamy texture, with pieces of rice that were definitely still present throughout each bite. It was sweet, but mildly so, allowing the other flavors on the plate to shine through. The bright flavors of the lemon and mango were accented by the underlying floral notes from the hibiscus meringue. This is a much more tropical feeling dessert than you would think first looking at it. The waffle cone-esque cookie perched atop the whole dessert was, again, not too sweet, but added that little bit of crunch that was wonderful and was perfect for scooping up loose bits of curd and pudding.

On to the Kungaloosh! While this dessert may only have one exclamation point in its name, which has a historical pedigree all to itself, it is no less exciting. This offering is an African-inspired chocolate cake that comes with caramelized bananas, cashew-caramel ice cream and is topped with coffee dust. Full disclosure, as I am not a coffee fan, I opt to have the coffee dust left off.

This cake was rich and dense and wonderful, think of it like the best brownie you’ve ever had and you’re getting close to the texture and richness of the dish. The nuttiness and sweetness in the ice cream brings out the best of the chocolate cake and the caramelized bananas are just, well, bananas! I mean that in the best way possible of course. For those of you who grew up on peanut butter and banana sandwiches, this dessert takes all the best of those memories and adds chocolate and ice cream to it. What more could you ask for!

The sweet course at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen is filled with desserts that look almost too good to eat. They are honestly some of my favorite photos to take when I can grab a seat in the old mess hall. But no one is going to order a dessert and not eat it; that would just be silly. Luckily for guests, these dishes are a good as they look and deserve every exclamation point you can put in their names!

25 September 2018

We're Almost Back From the Future

Today, rather than dig into depth too deeply on a single image or topic, let’s venture back to EPCOT Center in 1984 and take a brief glimpse at three beloved attractions: World of Motion, Listen to the Land, and Horizons. From thundering full speed into the twentieth century and plants that are on their way up, to materials from space that are also lovely, there was a lot to love and to hold dear from those early attractions. Nothing else to say, but I hope you take some time today and just enjoy looking back.

24 September 2018

Rabbit Treats

The classic imagery of a magician, in full tuxedo and cape, pulling a rabbit out of a hat is a bit outdated. These days some of the best magic happens right in front of you, so close that you can’t help but become a believer. However, the old top hat and rabbit trick is still a good gag when you can reference it, which is precisely what happens on the Boardwalk at magicians’ lounge, AbracadaBar.

Tucked high upon a shelf are three jars labeled as Alec Azam Rabbit Treats. Alec Azam, aside from having a wonderfully magical name, is the rabbit featured in the 2008 Pixar animated short, Presto. In the short Alec is willing to sabotage the act and magician, Presto DiGiotagione, in order to get some food. Barely escaping with his life, Presto clearly learns the lesson that splitting hairs (hares?) over food and the act is a bad way to go, and keeps Alec well feed going forward.

Clearly, the pair have figured out not only that working together is better than not, but that there is also a marketing angle to be had. The Alec Azam Rabbit Treats appear, by the three jars atop a suitcase on the shelf, to be good sellers. At the very least they are a clever gimmick that a visiting magician has brought with them.

Alec is one of the lesser known magical beings in Disney cannon, but he is also one of the few the references magical vaudeville. His likeness can even be seen in the wallpaper of AbracaBar, if you’re watching closely. And really, what would a lounge for magicians be without a callback or two to a rabbit?