06 October 2015

Magic Your Way

The news is out, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Disney has changed the structure and price points for its annual pass offerings at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about the change, other than I know that it will make it more difficult for my family to visit domestic Disney theme parks. Perhaps the best way to sort through our feelings on the issue is to look at some of the common concerns the price hike raises.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland provide the most entertainment value for your dollar and therefore should be the highest ticket on the block. I don’t disagree with this thought. I do believe that other theme venues have been making substantial progress, but the leader of the pack is still Disney. There are two problems here as I see it however. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie and are going to continue to raise their prices to outlandish rates to keep up, and while families will be able to afford fewer and fewer trips there will still be plenty of people paying the prices to keep up with the Joneses, Universals, and Disneys. All of that said this is still an argument that I understand and see from Disney’s side of the fence.

The cost of construction for Star Wars Land, Pandora, Toy Story Land, and Disney Springs needs to be paid somewhere. Absolutely. But don’t for one second try to persuade me that the moment these areas are open Disney won’t be raising prices again because the value has gone up due to the new offerings. Look no further than the price of a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket increase that popped up right after the completion of New Fantasyland. Guests are not getting a discount for living with parks under construction with cranes visible all throughout the area and a gauntlet of refurbishment walls that have to be negotiated. Not to mention the fact that parks like Disney’s Hollywood Studios are losing more and more attractions and entertainment options as a part of the expansion, but the ticket prices required to gain entrance to a park on the mend are increasing along with every other park.

There was a strange bit of conversation I saw over the weekend as well where one acquaintance of mine argued that locals should be thankful they can still go to Walt Disney World as there are families that will only get there once in their lives, if they’re lucky. Sure, Florida and California residents have the luxury of proximity to visit the parks and resorts and they do have a wider variety of pass options. The question to me isn’t whether you live close or far away, the further you are away from something there is always going to be more expenses associated with visiting, from travel and lodging, to the basic needs of food. The heart of the matter is should it be this expensive at all?

I’m not going to quote entrance and ticket book prices for opening day at Disneyland or Walt Disney World and then compare the costs of today to what they should be by inflationary rules. We all know the comparison looks preposterous when we consider what guest should be paying. What I am going to quote is Walt Disney on his dream and belief for Disneyland, “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them to different places and as I’d sit there while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things – sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts – I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together… But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.

I can remember going to Fort Wilderness with my family as a child. We’d set up a tent and use the Comfort Stations because we couldn’t afford the cost of a night at the Polynesian or Contemporary. We had season passes that blocked out the peak times of year because we couldn’t afford full passes. And you know what? My sister and I never knew the difference. Walt Disney World was a magical place that we could, and would, pop over to on a Saturday with our parents just to watch some fireworks. To me, in hindsight, we were living the dream Walt Disney had all those many years ago. Passes costing what they do now, and families being supported by single working parents, or even two working parents, just wanting that place to connect with their children face a very different reality. It isn’t the entertainment enterprise that Walt dreamed up, and it isn’t even what I found as a child several decades ago.

I don’t know what the answer is for Disney and its prices. The driving force behind change for any commodity is what people are willing to pay, and there will always be people willing to pay to visit the dreams of Disney. The past few years have shown that Disney is looking to cater to the high-end experience, but there should still be a Walt Disney World and Disneyland for everyone, shouldn’t there? Trips are going to be a bit more sporadic for my family and I assume many of yours out there too, but that isn’t just from this one increase, and we wouldn’t give up on Disney regardless. It would, however, be nice to know that we all still have a place in the Mickey Mouse Club.

05 October 2015

Drop In and Stay Awhile

The Twilight Zone has always been about something just slightly askew of normal. Certainly there are arguments to be made about the reality of ghosts, aliens, or interdimensional travel, but at the heart of each episode was a human reaction, fear of the unknown, or a lesson in how to be more human and the behaviors that made us less than. In February of this year, Friday, February 13th to put a spooky emphasis on the event, Tower Hotel Gifts unveiled a new merchandise line specifically designed for fans of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This reveal also gave Tower Hotel Gifts an opportunity to upgrade its displays and cases.

While the shop still has its abandoned on Halloween in 1939 feel to it, the artifacts scattered about feel a little more alive. While none are directly references to a specific episode of The Twlight Zone, such as the Mystic Seer machine and cards in the library from “Nick of Time” or the portal drawing near the exit that is a stark reminder of “Little Girl Lost,” each possess that something that practically screams out from The Twilight Zone. They are, like their source material, just a little askew of normal, or rather the traditional nod to the Rod Serling creation.

One could be forgiven for thinking these masks remind them ever so slightly of those worn by the Harper family in “The Masks.” Or that the doll below seems poised to speak to guests in the same terrifying way that Talky Tina does in “Living Doll.”

Here alone I feel as if my attention is being split between a car reminding me of “The Whole Truth,” a mannequin that infers a connection to “The After Hours,” and an airplane figurine that could only be a reminder of the harrowing, never-ending flight depicted in “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” And don’t even get me started on the number of episodes I feel watching me when I see a stack of books or a ventriloquist’s dummy. The question presented to guests making their way through Tower Hotel Gifts isn’t whether or not they’ll feel like they are walking through a collection of memories from The Twilight Zone, but how many memories they feel competing for their attention.

Perhaps that discombobulation is precisely what the Imagineers were looking for, pitting guests against their own internal monologues (most likely narrated in the voice of Rod Serling) of what is and isn’t reality when it comes what lies beyond the fifth dimension. The fact of the matter is, just like everything in The Twilight Zone, you take away from each encounter precisely what you bring with. In the case of Tower Hotel Gifts, however, you may even be able to bring an extra souvenir or two home with you.

30 September 2015

Taste Your Way - Part I

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival kicked off its 20th anniversary year last week. Like many of you, we’ll be living vicariously through the photos and reports from others during the festival’s run. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little Food & Wine fun at home! We’ll be combing through recipes from the last 20 years to give everyone a way to take a bite, or sip, out of Epcot from your own kitchen.

We have some bigger dishes that will make their way to our table in the coming weeks, but this week let’s start with a simple cocktail. The 2011 festival brought Hawaii to the marketplace and cocktails to the cookbook for the first time. At that culinary crossroad we find the Hawaiian offering, the Seven Tiki Mai Tai.



2 1/2 Ounces Pineapple Juice
1 1/2 Ounces Seven Tiki Spiced Rum
1/2 Ounce Mango Puree
1/4 Ounce Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
1/2 Ounce Bacardi Select (Float)

A few notes on the items above. As you can tell from the photograph, we were unable to get Seven Tiki Spiced Rum in our area. We love to stay as close to the recipe as possible, in this instance we did have to find an alternative spiced rum. We opted for Sailor Jerry, but you should use whatever you prefer. So that you don’t spend too much time in your search, since 2011 Barcardi Select has been rebranded as Barcardi Black. Lastly, if you’re having trouble finding mango puree, may I suggest a trip down the baby food isle? That’s right, an adult beverage infused with food fit for your toddler.


Pour Seven Tiki, pineapple juice, mango puree, and lime juice into shaker; fill with ice and vigorously shake for 30 seconds.
Strain into double rocks glass filled with ice.
Float Bacardi Select.
Garnish with pineapple wedge.

Every Mai Tai recipe is a bit different, but this one will be a hit for those of you who are a fan of rum. It is a very strong drink, but the mango and pineapple do shine through. If you’re worried about the strength, I would recommend adding a bit more mango puree. It will cut the rum, but won’t carry the acidity of including additional pineapple juice. Overall, the Mai Tai is a nice, simple addition to your cocktail rotation.

Next week we’ll be bringing something savory to the Food & Wine home table.

24 September 2015

Specialty Waffle Fries

Several years ago our good friend Tony Caggiano introduced us to Widowmaker Fries. The concept is a simple one. You obtain an order of fries from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe. You then proceed to make your way around the toppings bar adding some of everything available to your fries. And I do mean everything, your fries are not true Widowmakers unless you’ve got all of the competing flavors vying for your taste buds’ attention! These are well and good, and an inexpensive way to gross out your friends and family for hours to come, but now there is something new on the horizon.

Golden Oak, just across the trail from Pecos Bill as you make your way to Adventureland, has begun serving loaded waffle fries to the masses. They have removed the idea of the toppings bar, whipped up some topping concoctions, and released them for all the world to partake in. Each is a junior version of the Widowmakers in their own rights. Don’t believe me? Let me run through the options for you.

Brown Gravy and Cheese Waffle Fries – toppings include brown gravy and white cheddar cheese curds.

BLT Waffle Fries – toppings include bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing.

Barbecue Pork Waffle Fries – toppings include barbecue pork and coleslaw.

Tex-Mex Waffle Fries – toppings include black bean cucumber relish, warm cheddar cheese, sliced jalapeños, and sour cream.

Like I said, each and every one is a junior version of the traditional Widowmaker Fries. It is worth mentioning that each of these currently cost around $8.00 and are served with a side of either apple slices or carrots. At this point, I’m sure you can imagine the ugly turn this article is about to take, can’t you?

Grab your hungriest amigo, order one of each, cast aside your apple slices and carrots, and combine all four version of the waffle fries into one heaping pile of top-tier Widowmaker Fries. Now, this isn’t for the faint of heart, and it isn’t going to be a cheap snack either, but that’s what makes this the Cadillac of Windowmaker experiences.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I could not convince the missus to partake in such a Frontierland feast the last time we visited, so I have yet to indulge my inner Widowmaker. However, I’m certain that the next time Tony and I are both visiting Walt Disney World at the same time, this chowdown showdown will be on the menu for us!

23 September 2015

Crocodile Activity

When you are away in far off lands in Walt Disney World, there are times you don’t speak the language presented around you. Often times, when visiting Harambe in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the language you encounter is Swahili. If you’re making your way through the queue for Kilimanjaro Safaris, translations for animal names are easy to come by. This is especially easy to pick up if you’ve ever paid attention to names in The Lion King.

Then there are the times that language is presented to you without translation. Sometimes the context gives you clues, such as the markings around the Harambe Marketplace or the markers on the road throughout Kilimanjaro Safaris. There are always those times, however, that unless you translate the message you never quite know what information is being passed along. These are some of my favorite details in Harambe because I know not everyone takes the time to fully investigate the communications and proverbs sitting in front of them, so these are treasures (and I find all words to be treasures) that I know I share with only a dedicated few park detectives.

There is a last category of written communication, the type when worlds collide and the messaging is meant to beat you over the head. Such is the case with the image we’re exploring today. Taken from along the shores of the Discovery River, this gate is along the pathway to Festival of the Lion King. The messaging here is clear whether you are reading Swahili, English, or pictograph.

The Swahili text reads, “hawana baada ya giza.” It’s English translation, and I ran this through several different translators, comes out as, “they do not after dark.” It is likely more closely related to “closed after dark,” but I wanted to stay true to my translation. While the crocodile aspect is missing from this section, I imagine it is a safe bet that the locals know precisely why they shouldn’t visit the beach after the sun has set.

The English text reads, “Access after dark at risk. Crocodile activity on beach. Beware.” Straightforward and directly to the point. Clearly some of the non-native tourists have been forgotten that Harambe lives nestled up to, and in harmony with, the wild spaces of Africa.

If these two written warnings weren’t enough, there is one last message. A picture of an angry looking crocodile with sharp action lines radiating from his jaw. If this doesn’t get the idea across to you that there are crocodiles and that they are wild creatures who like to have their space, then I’m not sure what more the citizens of Harambe can do to give you a warning you will understand.

Vignettes like these are scattered all throughout Harambe, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Walt Disney World as a whole. It takes an investment of time to understand what you are looking at and how it plays into the story around you, and it may even take a little digging into a knowledge base you’re not familiar with, but it is well worth the exploration. You see more of the narrative and even have something special to share with friends and family that you bring along with you. Plus, you always know when to be on the look out for crocodiles!

14 September 2015

Lighting Up the Big City

News broke at the end of last week that this year would mark the 20th and final season from the Osborne Family Lights. Since 1996 these lights have been a staple of the holiday season inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There is a history with these lights, one that predates their time with Disney, and an almost mythical quality to their quantity and quality. While it is true that Walt Disney World has added to and upgraded the technology of the display over the past 20 years, the addition and changes to this pageantry of Christmas lights and displays have been minimal.

In 1986 Jennings Osborne’s daughter asked for their house in Little Rock, Arkansas to be decorated with 1,000 Christmas lights. The lights multiplied over the next several years until in 1993 the Osborne home and grounds were decked out with over 3,000,000 lights. Neighbors who felt there was a little too much holiday spirit were able to get a judge to issue a schedule for when the lights could be turned on and when they had to be off in 1994. When this court order was violated, the state Supreme Court ordered the lights to be shut off permanently. To make sure the world could still enjoy the lights, Osborne arrange for the lights to head to Walt Disney World.

When they arrive at Disney-MGM Studios in November of 1995, the Osborne Family Lights first called Residential Street their home. It was here along the eaves and lawns of the local residents, such as The Golden Girls, that the sheer number of bulbs that were being displayed practically overwhelmed their surroundings. With the closure and subsequent demolition of Residential Street’s facades in 2004, the lights found a new home, the Streets of America, where the displays could stretch out to be as tall, or taller, as they were wide. The addition of light shows choreographed to Christmas tunes only added to the already awe-inspiring display.

The holidays in my house have always been a struggle between my wife and I. She wants our house to stand as a testament to timeless Christmas spirit, complete with white lights on the tree, simple garlands around the house, and a few displays upon our lawn. For my part, I would love for our house to stand as a testament to the timeless Christmas spirit, complete with colored lights on the tree, the house, the bushes, and anything else in the lawn. Basically if I can put a light on it, it should have rainbow lights on it, and a tasteful train around the bottom of the tree. This likely explains my unabashed admiration and wonder at stepping out into the Streets of America and seeing the Osborne Family Lights covering up everything in sight and illuminating the night with strand light and merry songs.

A winter trip to Walt Disney World wasn’t in the works for the missus and me this year, but we may have to find a way just to thank the lights one last time. I will miss them, that much is certain.

When the announcement of lands dedicated to Star Wars and Toy Story dropped last month at D23 it was safe to assume that the Streets of America would soon have new tenants. It may have been naïve of me, but I had believed that Walt Disney World would find a new home for the lights, even if it wasn’t inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Decking the halls out of the Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, and Sunset Boulevard areas of the park was my first notion. But who knew, I thought, perhaps they could make their way over to Fort Wilderness and take on a new life in a resort that is already known for its guest-made Christmas displays.

Perhaps the real question facing the Studios now is what will become of its Christmas spirit? There will undoubtedly still be the lamppost and building decorations, the tree, and the music in the air, but where will the over-the-top spectacle be found? I cannot imagine that a park which is in the middle of reinventing itself won’t take this opportunity to reignite their dedication to the holiday season. Maybe guests will get a new fireworks show booming over the top of the Great Movie Ride, utilizing sound clips and scores from some of our favorite holiday classics. A little It’s A Wonderful Life mixed in with some Prep and Landing, or White Christmas intermingling between Love Actually, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street, with all of it leading into a finale kicked off with the immortal words of Tiny Tim. Who knows, it’s too soon for us to tell, but if the Osborne Family Lights taught us anything it is that we can never dream big enough.

If you head out to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this winter make sure you take some time to stop and catch the lights. Search high and low until you find the black cat Halloween decoration that accidentally got included in the displays the Osborne family sent over to Walt Disney World, find the leg lamp, and make sure you have a great spot for one of the light shows that features the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Soak in as much as you can, because in that moment you are living in someone’s Christmas wish.