30 September 2010

Happy days can reappear

Part of the legacy and charm of EPCOT Center were the indelible icons that were created to represent each of the pavilions of Future World. When the park opened, each pavilion had its own unique symbol that also carried with it a sense of common identity to the emblems of every other pavilion, as well as the central icon of the entire experience. However, the opening of EPCOT Center did not mean the end of the creation of these symbols. While Horizons and The Living Seas icons were established prior to the park opening, they were not common place until each pavilion opened, in 1983 and 1986 respectively. Also, Wonders of Life was granted its own circular representation when it opened in 1989.

These days, the icons have slowly vanished from the Epcot landscape, but that doesn’t mean a few reminders cannot be tracked down by the dedicated. The radiating circles of the Universe of Energy can still be found adorning the tile mural in the attraction’s entrance. Over in The Land, the sprouting plant is displayed on the side of Living With The Land’s Fastpass machines. Mission: SPACE pays homage to the attraction that once occupied its plot of land by including vanishing path of Horizons in both its gift shop counter and inside the center of the queue’s gravity wheel. On rare occasions, the crashing waves of The Living Seas can be spotted on the side of a case in The Seas’ manatee exhibit. And perhaps the most seen, or rather trodden upon, symbol still present is the interlocking circles of EPCOT Center, which are still present in the Innoventions Courtyard, between the fountain and the walkway to World Showcase.

29 September 2010

No bones about it

Sometimes you can overlook the venue in which a meal is consumed because of the pleasure the meal brings, say a taco truck or a crowded shack that serves the best barbeque in the state. The question is, does the reverse hold true, can a meal be overlooked by the experience of its dining hall? If there is one restaurant found within the borders of Walt Disney World that can test this theory, it is Restaurantosaurus at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.Let’s start with the food. This is the most child friendly menu in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, simply because the food is recognizable to them, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and burgers. For those guests mindful of their health, there is a mandarin chicken salad, as well as a vegetarian burger that offsets the heart clogging Dino-Sized Double Cheeseburger. A hot toppings bar is an added benefit here with sautéed onions and mushrooms, sauerkraut, and a wide selection of other trimmings. The food is not spectacular, but makes for a great family lunch break after digging in The Boneyard.

The real treasure here is the design of the establishment. Restaurantosaurus was an old fishing lodge, once upon a time, before the bones were unearthed. Over time the facility served as home to the first groups that came in search of fossils, the original Dino Institute, and currently houses the graduate interns who work along this stretch of 498 in Diggs County. The lodge expanded to accommodate the needs of these various troupes, adding rooms, a mechanic’s shop, even an old travel trailer, each addition adding its own distinctive flavor to the building.

With the interns firmly rooted to the old restaurant, they began to make the place their own. For starters, the Restaurant became Restaurantosaurus, the –osaurus moniker being added not just to the name of the establishment, but to every word the students could think of. They also added in their own games, created a lounge, and let their imagination run wild all throughout the restaurant.

There are so many facets throughout Restaurantosaurus that several hours of exploration would continue to reveal new details. The amount of dino details, from posters to bones, artwork, and toys that little paleontologists could easily be distracted on their way to the table. While not the most adventurous meal in Walt Disney World, Restaurantosaurus does enough with its décor to win over families and dinosaur enthusiasts alike, which can make for a pretty memorable meal.

28 September 2010

Bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge

This Friday, Walt Disney World celebrates its 39th anniversary. In salute to the corner of Florida so many of us call home, regardless of where our mail is delivered, I thought we’d take a moment to view the Magic Kingdom before it opened. No rambling introduction, just two simple photographs showing the Vacation Kingdom’s primary destination in its unfinished form.

27 September 2010

Mysterious, magical and mischievous animal figures

For the second time in as many years, the Japan Pavilion in Epcot has a new exhibit in its gallery. Like Timeless Beauty’s photographic tour of World Heritage Sites before it, the new Spirited Beasts presentation truly knocks it out of the park. Showcasing how a mythical creature is freshened up, or as the gallery itself puts it, “a spirited beast becomes a modern superstar,” Spirited Beasts show modern takes on old legends or, for children growing up on anime and magna, reveal the history behind beloved characters.

Creatures that are explored are oni (demon spirits), tengu (bird-human hybrids), bakeneko (cat spirits), inugami (dog spirits), tsuki no Usagi (moon rabbit), tsuru (crane), kappa (water sprites), tanuki (raccoon-dog), saru (monkey), and kitsune (fox spirits). Each display gives an explanation of the animal, moral stories, and modern interpretations of the beast. For example, in the tanuki case, a story about rescuing a trapped tanuki and the good fortune that came with the rescue is paired alongside a tanuki-suited Mario from Super Mario Brothers 3. Scattered within individual segment are collections of historical art pieces, figurines, books, animated cels, merchandise, and toys, each a piece of the puzzle showing the transformation from mythology to pop culture.

Though only briefly touched up with a section on scrolls, the discussion of how the animals have been viewed over the years, meaning through books, art, television, etc., is weaved throughout the exhibit. From oral traditions to cartoons, movies, and DVDs the transformation in story habits is just as intriguing as the rise from moral compass to superhero.

The exhibition is a wealth of information. The stories, history, animation, art, and all other references are, quite honestly, too much to take in and retain on a single trip through the gallery. Which doesn’t mean don’t drop in on the Spirited Beasts, it means visit the tengu (especially the large statue of the Slayer of Vanity), moon rabbit, and kitsune repeatedly and often. It is well worth the investment of time, and one of the most intriguing galleries in World Showcase.

26 September 2010

Disney This Week - 26 September 2010

The Disney Obsession has a collection of night photographs to be envious of, in the current installment Greg Grimsley captures France after dark.

The title of the article by Tom Fitzgerald on the Disney Parks Blog says it all, These ARE the Droids You’re Looking For.

The Disney Chick whips up some tasty Sunflower Seed Bread from Epcot’s Garden Grill.

Matt Hochberg shares the where, when, and why about a special director’s chair and clipboard on Studios Central.

Makin’ Memories goes downstream with Melissa Loflin as she explores Living With the Land.

Where could you have found a walk around Figment character, check in with DisneyShawn and Shawn Slater to find out.

AJ just added a whole slew of spooky cupcakes to my research list on The Disney Food Blog.

24 September 2010

Merrily on our way to nowhere in particular

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride has been gone from the Magic Kingdom for just over twelve years, but the motormania inflicted amphibian still has a place in the hearts of many guests. As it turns out, many of the minds behind the attractions and scene setting in Walt Disney World also remember Mr. Toad fondly.

In September of 1998 Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride took its last spin down its fraternal tracks, under protest, in order to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. While Mr. Toad can still be seen through rereleases of 1949’s The Wind in the Willows, his place in theme park history is well remembered by those who took a joyride with the obsessed J. Thaddeus Toad.The former residence of Toad Hall, at the corner of Fantasyland leading off towards Tomorrowland, is now the home of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood. Respecting the previous occupants, there are two photographs strewn about Owl’s toppling treehouse that contain a crossover of the two stories. In one, Winnie the Pooh stands alongside a bowing Moley in a sign of camaraderie. In another, Mr. Toad himself appears in a portrait where he hands his deed over to Owl, a deed that has caused the amphibian quite a bit of trouble in the past, though I am sure Owl will take better care of the lot than the weasels.While a bit of a journey away from his Fantasyland home, Mr. Toad can be found elsewhere within the Magic Kingdom. Down the lane, near a home that looks to be from the Hudson River Valley, but seemingly has no occupants. Visible just before entering, or after having experienced, the Haunted Mansion is an enclosed pet burial ground featuring all manner of pets. Buried towards the back of the cemetery, peeking out from a small clump of trees, is a figure of the beloved J. Thaddeus.Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is, without a doubt, a conflict-ridden attraction. Many would love to see it return and commiserate over its departure, while others believe the effects of the experience were lacking and its replacements serves the Magic Kingdom well. No matter the opinions, it is a wonderful treat to still be able to catch a glimpse of this truly distinctive character, Mr. Toad.

23 September 2010

Port of East Africa

Walt Disney World, from the parks, to resorts, and everywhere in between have something special about them after the sun sets. Most places are easily accessible in the evenings and after the moon has risen. However, there are a few sites, namely Disney’s Animal Kingdom, that require the shorter days of the year and Extra Magic Hours to explore the gorgeous surroundings the areas have to offer after dark. Today, I thought we’d take a tour of Harambe in the twilight hours.

22 September 2010

Variety in balanced amounts

Often times, menus at Walt Disney World are praised for their unique use of texture and flavor. If there is a fault in the menus to be chided for it is the lack of options for picky, finicky eaters or those trying to adhere to a specific diet. A recent visit to the United Kingdom’s Rose and Crown has me convinced that it is one location that can meet a variety of requests and palates, and still retain its cultural identity.

Frequently thought of for only its alcoholic refreshments, the range of pints and half pints of the Rose and Crown serve as a nice base to start off, or as accompaniment to the meal. The restaurant itself struggles with the same perception its host country has been facing for decades, and that is that the fare of the United Kingdom is bland, lacking essential ingredients, and forced to utilize the niche market of the nasty bits. While isolated from land routes that could have brought it a wealth of spices, the United Kingdom’s cuisine exemplifies the ability to create masterful dishes with what is readily available, and the Rose and Crown illustrates this point perfectly.

The group I dined with at the Rose and Crown selected the Chicken and Mushroom Pie, Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie, and the classic Fish and Chips with the addition of Mushy Peas. The selections available alone show that there is something for everyone, as seen by our entrees. The Chicken and Mushroom Pie had a buttery crust that could be flaked off layer by layer if so desired, but was much better when combined with the steaming mixture of chicken, mushrooms, peas, and other contents of the pie. The Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie not only showcased a talent for combining and cooking vegetables, it also makes the perfect meal for a guest who may not be ravenous. The light and crisp dressing and selected greens of the Mixed Greens made the perfect addition to vegetarian meal. The Fish and Chips, using fresh cod, were good quality, but have a better taste and value at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop down the lane. As for the Mushy Peas, the blended vegetables with a hint of mint could be used to enhance any dish.

While we did not partake of the Rose and Crown’s dining room, the décor of the dining areas crosses through a variety of pub styles, from simplistic and eclectic to a grandmotherly elegance, which made the restaurant feel warm and welcoming. Situated along the lagoon side of the World Showcase promenade, the Rose and Crown is one of the few restaurants that is able to offer a view of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth to its patrons. The upper and lower terraces of the restaurant afford great views of the lagoon and nighttime spectacular alike, and a peaceful place to while away the afternoon with friends and family enjoying have a meal of comfort foods.

The Rose and Crown breaks with conventional ideals across the board. From the ill-conceived notion that the gastronomy of the United Kingdom is not as appetizing as other world cuisines to the long held belief that a single menu at Walt Disney World cannot be crafted to reach out to all guests. I would certainly return to the Rose and Crown for another meal, especially if I were famished in order to partake in the array of appetizers and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

21 September 2010

In production this week

It’s hard for me to admit that my onetime favorite park in Walt Disney World, Disney-MGM Studios, has long since fallen from that spot. Perhaps it is the quantity of quality attempts I find lacking, since I feel the Hollywood theme has so much potential and the execution of attractions like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, and Star Tours are top notch.

So, what was it about the early years of Disney-MGM Studios that I found so much more appealing than the current incarnation known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Perusing through this November 1990 Show Times guide grants all the needed insight. Dick Tracy is as prevalent as he will ever be in the park, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are shredding up the Backlot, and Here Come the Muppets brought the laughs with them. Not to mention the productions being filmed in the park, the various street shows, and all the early details from Roger Rabbit that made the park a glimmering gem. Take a look for yourself.

20 September 2010

Fitted by our very faults

American history did not end with World War II, there were still monumental movements and events that shaped the face of the United States and its people in the latter half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. Yet, for all intents and purposes, the last 60-plus years are merely a footnote to the experience known as The American Adventure. Perhaps it is time to revisit our own past and rebuild the story of our people going forward.I understand that a show featuring the entirety of American history would, well, let’s just say guest would still be there long after the park had closed. However, there is a balancing point between detailing the whole story of America and only highlighting a few events from the early eras. Sure, the moon landing, civil rights movement, and even September 11th are touched upon in the closing montage of The American Adventure, but these events deserve a bit more respect. As for thinking about length, The American Adventure is long at twenty-eight and a half minutes, but it isn’t the longest show in Walt Disney World by a long shot. In fact, it isn’t even the longest show in Epcot, which means that there is room to grow the show to a length that can include more of the whole narrative of America.

One sticking point of expanding the history of the 20th century is the fact that neither of the hosts, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain, were alive beyond the first decade of the 1900s. Original concepts for The American Adventure included a third narrator, one relevant to the period, in Will Rogers. While Rogers still appears in the show, his role was greatly diminished. In looking for a host that could easily showcase the last century, an age of news and entertainment, two names immediately come to mind: Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite. Both shepherded the nation through turbulent and ever-evolving times in their own way and would pair well alongside Franklin and Clemens.

In the end, however, The American Adventure has never been about the major events in the account of America. Rather, the performance is continually focused on the smaller, critical tales, stories of the regular Americans who were affected by the larger events of the country, and the perspectives of notable figures of the day. Increasing the scope of the chapters in The American Adventure would allow for exploration of the World Fairs by a class of students, the breathless attention to the lunar landing by a child, the balance between war and peace and the generational gap of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the transformative nature they had on a family, the cohesion of a nation after an unexpected assault, and any number of other cultural altering events.

The American Adventure has always been about the spirit of our nation, the driving determination that sent forth a small band of people to discover a new land, bind together separate states under a common banner, and be able to overcome their faults and flaws to move towards a brighter tomorrow. It is not in the country’s nature to leave something unfinished, which is precisely the reason why it is time to continue the tale of The American Adventure.

19 September 2010

Disney This Week - 19 September 2010

The big news this week was the opening of La Hacienda de San Angel in World Showcase. Check out the reviews from Amanda Tinney on Disney Every Day and Suzanna DiMarzio from ZannaLand, as well as the coverage by AJ and The Disney Food Blog.

Lou Mongello is celebrating the second anniversary of Celebrations in a big way on WDW Radio.

DF’82 has dug up a great story about the Hudson Hornet. Also, Fiona Doyle does a yeoman’s task in exploring the editors, advertising managers, and classifieds of the Main Street Gazette office found in Disneyland Paris.

Thomas Smith unveiled some new concept art for the Art of Animation resort on the Disney Parks Blog.

Melissa Loflin offers up one of the commandments of touring Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Makin’ Memories, take time to explore the MuppetVision 3D queue.

Over at Studios Central, Matt Hochberg discovers some storyboards for Star Tours hiding in plain sight.

Sam Gennawey continues his Walt Disney World tour for Western Illinois University students, this time with stops in Liberty Square, for SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

One of the authors of Imagineering Disney, Mitch, shows off a few pieces he had gathered from Dreamfinder’s Dream Machine.

Shawn Slater discusses one of my favorite, and underrated, experiences in all of Walt Disney World this week on DisneyShawn, the journey across the Seven Seas Lagoon by ferryboat.

17 September 2010

Tomorrowland Station MK-1

When Space Mountain reopened, under the guise of Starport Seven-Five, it brought with it a host of details the likes of which Space Mountain had never seen. From the post show luggage including references to Horizons to star maps charting distant spaceports of call with distinctly Disney names, there is a galaxy of details to discover. Perhaps some of my favorite details come from the departure board that greets guests immediately upon entering Starport Seven-Five. Here are the details from that board, we’ll talk more about them afterwards.ACTIVE LUNAR STATIONS
Peary Rocketport North
Trnq-Armstrong Interplanetary
Clavius 2K1
Tycho Metro Port
Aitken Base-South
Copernicus Lab Complex
Verne Settlement Two-Eight

Tomorrowland Station MK-1
TL Space Station 77
Discovery Landing Station-Paris
Ashita Base-Tokyo
HK Spaceport E-Tkt

Upsilon Andromedae
Gliese 876
Gliese 581
Mu Arae

47 Ursae Majoris
Epsilon Eridani
14 Herculis
UX Tau A
Galaxy M39

Epsilon Aurige

Alpha Centauri
HD 188753

4 Centauri
HD 98800

Nu Scorii
ADS 9731

From CONNECTING SYSTEMS FROM ALPHA CENTAURI A up through TRANFER TO, all of the destinations listed are true astronomical bodies that have been identified. ACTIVE LUNAR STATIONS may use some creative licensing, but they are all based off of named areas of our moon. Perhaps my favorite quip here is Verne Settlement Two-Eight, which references the man with his head in the stars, Jules Verne, and the year he was born, 1828. The section entitled ACTIVE EARTH STATIONS, clearly alludes to the Space Mountains of the world. Tomorrowland Station MK-1, while now known as Spaceport Seven-Five, belongs to the Magic Kingdom. TL Space Station 77 uses the opening year of Space Mountain in Disneyland for its call sign. Discovery Landing Station-Paris suggests the name change from Tomorrowland to Discovery Landing in Disneyland Parc Paris, it is also worth noting that the original name of Paris’ Space Mountain was De la Terre à la Lune or From the Earth to the Moon. Ashita Base-Tokyo takes the Japanese word for Tomorrow to further connect this Space Mountain to its home in Tokyo Disneyland. HK Spaceport E-Tkt references the Hong Kong Disneyland version, which maintains usage of the old E-Ticket system.

16 September 2010

Take some lessons

One Man’s Dream, the inspiring walk through dedicated to the life and aspirations of Walt Disney at Disney's Hollywood Studios, is currently undergoing a lengthy refurbishment. When the attraction reopens there will be fresh paint, new carpets, some remodeling, a multitude of artifacts to gaze at in wonder, and history to be uncovered. In the current, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say previous, incarnation of the tour lightened panels broke down the Walt Disney story into twelve distinct narratives, each with their own chapters. Presented below are the panels from the original dream (save the panel on Disney’s Animal Kingdom that I somehow neglected to photograph and which simultaneously frustrates me and breaks my heart). Enjoy the tour as we await the new dreams of Disney.