30 September 2011

Star Tours, what are you doing here

For those of you who have had the joy of visiting the new destinations of the Star Tours relaunch, you know that the Star Tours hangar is a bit of something old and a lot of something new. With adrenaline pumping, guests are filtered down and into the post show gift shop, known as Tatooine Traders, which actually saw very minimal changes during the recent facelift. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t subtle hints of Star Tours new direction.

AT-ATs on Hoth aside, the overarching tale from Star Tours – The Adventures Continue is that the encounters are taking place in between the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Throughout the attraction there are not as many suggestions about this timeline placement as one would expect, but that changes once you step into Tatooine Traders.Scattered amongst the upper shelves of the shop are various ‘props’ from Tatooine. Faux stones, crates and machinery fill the various sills, and while they look the part of Star Wars’ dessert planet, their real place in the universe comes to light when you check the items’ tags. Each tag lists what set the pieces are from and, in most cases, what they are. Props from the original trilogy (a lightsaber box found in Obi Wan’s House or an Airation Stack originating in Tosche Station) and from the prequel trilogy (Corellian Freighter Cargo Containers hiding in Watto’s Junkshop) can be found easily, but there is also a singular location that crosses the end of the prequels and the beginning of the original films, the Lars Homestead. Humidity Sensors, Fusion Generator Supply Tanks, and Patch In Droid Units can all be found around the shop, just about everything you would need to keep your own moisture farm running. Now all we need are a pair of droids!It just goes to show, Star Wars isn’t all lightsabers and ion cannons. Even in space, you need some crates and basic machinery. The reproduced artifacts are another fine example of the little details that require guests to look up, down, and all around, which can be extremely difficult to do with the adrenaline pumping after facing down Boba Fett, Sebulba and the entirety of the Empire.

29 September 2011

Park vinyl

As part of the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World, the theme of celebrating the forty years has been tied to a variety of merchandise and art pieces. One such item, from a relatively new form of souvenir, is a set of Vinylmations. The set of six figures include two dedicated to Walt Disney World as a whole that harkened back to time tested iconography. Each of the other four Vinylmations are tied to the four parks and feature the park’s name, wienie, and date of opening.

As we approach the 40th anniversary this week, I thought it would be nice to take each figure back to the destinations that inspired their designs. Enjoy!

28 September 2011

Enjoy us at each meal

We all have our favorite restaurants that we cannot wait to visit on any given trip to Walt Disney World. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, those of us who regularly review restaurant and menu offerings have a tough time getting back to our favorite haunts when we know there is something out there that we haven’t discussed or tried. Which means when a favorite spot, say Columbia Harbour House in my case, mixes up their menu selection I am first in line to give it a go!

The two story, two land eatery recently switched out some of its more lackluster entrees for some new and enticing dishes. Most of which were seafood, which made my wife squeal with delight, while I began to feel the onset of a sour stomach. And then, I saw it. Broccoli Peppercorn Salad. My favorite vegetable, aside from potatoes, mixed in with something sure to add some spice to the dish? I’m in.

The menu board lists the entrĂ©e sized salad as follows: mixed greens, garden vegetables, chicken, broccoli, bacon and parmesan cheese tossed in a creamy peppercorn dressing. The rundown makes it sound like there is a lot going on here and it’s dead on.

The mixed greens are a marked improvement over regular iceberg lettuce and the garden vegetables include corn, peas and julienned carrots. The chicken is grilled well and avoids the slimy coating that could so often detract from chicken in a salad. The cheese and bacon add a needed salt component to balance the dish. The broccoli is steamed, and keeps a great crunch where it could just as easily be mushy. As for the peppercorn dressing, all I can say is the spice brings out the rich and fresh flavors equally in this new offering.

Columbia Harbour House may not be the guest favorite dining destination that it once was, once upon a time when kitchens worked on two floors and the chicken strips were the best in the land, any land of the Magic Kingdom, but there are stirrings of new life coming to this restaurant. With new seafood and salad options available, Columbia Harbour House is sure to bring guests in with every ring of its bell. Oh, and be sure to try and grab a seat in on the second floor breezeway overlooking Liberty Square or Fantasyland, it truly is the best seat in town!

27 September 2011

New old-fashioned boulevard

Forty years ago today, Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom were not yet opened to the public, though I doubt it was still in as unfinished a state as the photograph below, but I had to have a Main Street U.S.A. construction photograph today, didn’t I? While finishing touches were being applied and readied for the onslaught of October 1’s crowds, the imaginations of those future guests were burning brighter than a child’s on Christmas Eve. Here’s to the past forty years, may the next forty shine even brighter!
Main Street U.S.A. is nearing completion at the entrance to Walt Disney World’s new Magic Kingdom theme park. Shaded walkways will provide a resting place here in Town Square while horsedrawn streetcars and horseless carriages make their way around the circle and down Main Street past old fashioned shops and cage’s to Cinderella’s Castle at the center of the new entertainment facility. The Magic Kingdom is a part of a complete family vacation destination resort.

26 September 2011

The works of their hands

For those of you expecting your regularly scheduled Gazette Roundtable, it is ready to go! But as it ties in to Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary, it will be running as a special edition on Saturday morning. Be sure to return then for it! For now, let’s talk about a word that has been on the lips of the Disney community for the past week: AVATAR.

As a champion for Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a detractor of James Cameron, I spent much of last Tuesday with a very befuddled look on my face. I was thrilled that my favorite park was going to be receiving some fresh blood, but very, very disappointed to hear it was coming from a property that I, frankly, didn’t have any desire to associate with and couldn’t understand how it would fit properly within the park. J.K. Rowling is beloved by her followers, as is Rod Serling, but James Cameron is a very divisive individual. Many people, including myself, do not appreciate the glossy manner in which his films can be told, and it makes us skeptical of building anything around those stories. However, how much weight in the AVATAR argument do you give to Cameron and how much do you place upon the shoulders of Walt Disney Imagineering?

Like any reporter worth his weight, I decided I needed to set my prejudices aside and see what the potential might be awaiting guests on Pandora.

I picked up a copy of AVATAR and gave it a thorough viewing and, like many have said before me, I found the story lacking, but the visuals stunning. However, there were aspects of film that gave me a glimmer of insight into what makes Pandora a world class destination for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. First and foremost, the struggle of development for Unobtainium versus the harmony the Na’vi have with the land is right in line with other areas of the park. Think Kali River Rapids with alien creatures.Pandora has a lot to offer in the plant and animal area as well, but let’s circle back to that in a moment, I feel that there’s a rather large elephant (or dragon or toruk, if you prefer) in the room. Beastly Kingdom. The land that was supposed to feature mythical creatures as part of the original plan for expansion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but has yet to see the light of day. I still hold out hope that one day dragons and unicorns will fill in the empty spaces of the park, but for better or worse, the theme park game has turned into a battle of recognizable properties in the past couple of years, and AVATAR is a franchise that has worldwide appeal. As with all things, this may just be passing phase, and the park is still relatively young, which means that there is plenty of time to see these ideas come to fruition down the line.

AVATAR will bring its own mythological beasts and flora with it to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Bioluminescent plants, emitting light from the plants naturally or due to a chemical reaction from interaction with a creature, fill the world of Pandora. Add in some Direhorses, Hammerhead Titanotheres, and Thanators and you have the makings of a remarkable trail reminiscent of Pangani or Maharajah. Couple this with some top-tier attractions, likely an exploration atop a wild creature and perhaps a simulator of some sort, and the park will gain not only in the arena of attendance but also ground in the battle against the half-day argument.

Many of us may not like the idea of Disney’s Animal Kingdom seeking outside properties, but there is an entire world to work through within the confines of Pandora. And let’s not forget that external properties, such as Star Wars, The Twilight Zone, and Indiana Jones, have given the parks some fan favorite attractions. Back on Pandora, gorgeous backdrops with stone arches, Hometree (though it should not dwarf the Tree of Life!), and the Hallelujah Mountains offer quite a bit of ‘wow’ factor. And here is where we get to the crux of the issue, while James Cameron may have created the world of AVATAR, it will be the Imagineers of WDI that bring it to life for guests. Save Tokyo DisneySea, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the most beautiful park in the Disney Parks portfolio, and I don’t expect that standard to be allowed to slide with the introduction of a new land.

In fact, aside from the copious amounts of concept and production art they have to work with, I imagine the designers are pouring through the book AVATAR – An Activist Survival Guide. Like Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this text breaks down every plant, animal, artifact, and cultural exchange present on Pandora. It is a blue print to how to successfully grow an environment where Na’vi and park guests can thrive together in an experience that can further the message of conservation for today and tomorrow.

In the survival guide, Dr. Grace Augustine is quoted as saying, “There are many dangers on Pandora, and one of the subtlest is that you may come to love it too much.” With a blank, though striking, canvas to work with no one knows quite what to expect out of this new land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And while I may not be thrilled with the idea of cultivating a world designed by James Cameron, I am willing to believe the Imagineers can succeed in crafting a brilliant experience for guests, provided we can keep an open mind as we move forward.

25 September 2011

Disney This Week - 25 September 2011

Andy Jackson has the inside scoop on a new Wilderness Explorer activity being tested in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Eating (and Drinking) around the World.

The Disney Food Blog gives us something new to look forward to when AJ Wolfe reveals the new menu at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.

George Taylor takes a look at the Treehouse Villas from yesterday and today at Imaginerding.

Speaking of then and now, Sarah Holodick treats Eating WDW readers to a glimpse of the Liberty Square Riverboat today and from 1982.

Melissa Loflin showcases how Disney’s Animal Kingdom honors Jane Goodall on Makin’ Memories.

Readers are given insight into a mysterious elevator, no not that service elevator, from Matt Hochberg and Studios Central.

Progress City, U.S.A. and Michael Crawford explore an unfortunate Flubber incident.

Suzannah DiMarzio has a great shot of a new snack souvenir mug that I must add to my collection at Zannaland.

23 September 2011

Just a little bit

First off, I want to say what an amazing individual Hilda Castillo is! For those of you who don’t know, she is the Tequila Ambassador at La Cava del Tequila of San Angel Inn in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion. Without her amazing insight, today’s article would not have been possible.

So, what precisely are we talking about today? By now I’m sure you’ve guessed the where (La Cava del Tequila), but quite possibly not the what. Along a wall of La Cava, there is a mural, and like all good murals in Walt Disney World, this mural tells a story. From left to right, it is the story of how tequila is produced.For starters, tequila is made from the blue agave plants seen at the far left. These plants must grow and mature for 7 – 10 years before they can be harvested. The method of gathering the plants requires a special tool, a coa, and a very strong back. There are no machines that can complete this practice, so it must be done by hand.

From there the hearts of the plants are cooked and put through a milling process to separate liquid from plant matter. The next step is fermentation, which lasts 18 hours. For those of you who are familiar with the process of wine making, you know that wine is a fermented juice, but tequila is a distilled juice. This means that there is an extra step, distillation, after the 18 hours of fermentation. The tequila is then placed into barrels and, dependent upon how long it spends in that barrel, it becomes Silver, Reposado, or Anejo.

Now, I call that edutainment at its finest! Wouldn’t you agree?

22 September 2011

Just a few of my favorites

During Disney-MGM Studios’ formative years celebrity sightings were regular occurrences. Guest stars appeared as Grand Marshals of the afternoon parade and appeared in a special ceremony in front of the Great Movie Ride to immortalize their hand, feet, or other appendages in cement. These prints were then used to fill the courtyard of the Great Movie Ride.

The stars may not have shined at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in a while, or at least not with any regularity, but the handprints of those who did drop by are standing the test of time. What are some of my personal favorites? Well, aside from Mickey and Minnie Mouse, how about Alan Alda, Dick Van Dyke, Michael J. Fox, Steve Martin, Warren Beatty (with a nod to Dick Tracy), Mark Hamill, Audrey Hepburn, Samuel L. Jackson, Lily Tomlin, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, and Estelle Getty. Oh, and did I mention some of the special prints? R2-D2 and C-3PO, The Rocketeer, Roger Rabbit, and the ruby slippers all stopped by to make an impression! Check out all of the current prints in front of the Great Movie Ride below.

So, who’s prints do you make sure to visit with when you’re on Hollywood Boulevard?