31 July 2011

Disney This Week - 31 July 2011

If you read only one suggestion this week, make sure it is from Michael Crawford and Progress City, U.S.A. The epic Horizons Story, Part I and Part II.

I love when George Taylor breaks down a vintage photo, as he did at Imaginerding with a 1985 Universe of Energy photo this week.

Head on over to ZannaLand and watch the intrepid explorer, Suzannah DiMarzio, work her way into The Carousel Room.

Kevin Kidney previews several items that have been created to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary.

The Disney Food Blog and AJ Wolfe show us that soon we will be able to cook with it’s a small world.

Melissa Loflin has a breakdown of the newest UK musical sensation, The British Revolution, on Makin Memories.

Over at Eating WDW, Sarah Holodick takes on an English Bulldog. I promise, it is not as violent as it sounds, and way more delicious!

29 July 2011

That California trip

This road sign signifies more than just a route the zigs and zags across the United States ending, or beginning depending on your point of view, in California. US 66, more affectionately known as Route 66, is an intricate part of our country’s traveling spirit. Before interstates, Route 66 was the main thoroughfare running from Chicago to Los Angeles. It not only connected major cities to one another, but it featured a variety of roadside attractions, shops, dining and lodging. Route 66 added to local economies, sometimes it comprised the entire livelihood of towns it passed through. It was such an important part of our coutry’s heritage that Disney-Pixar even made a movie about it. You may have heard of it, a little picture called Cars.

So, what does that have to do with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Sunset Boulevard, where this sign and baggage reside, in front of Villains in Vogue? Well, everything. On the outskirts of Hollywood, Route 66 merges with Sunset Boulevard for one of the road’s final legs. Meandering into Los Angeles, Sunset and Route 66 take motorists straight into the heart of the city, Olvera Street and the Plaza de Los Angeles State Historic Park.

Most visitors to Disney’s Hollywood Studios see the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, in the form of an opulent hotel and swanky boutiques, when they turn to motor down Sunset Boulevard. Little do they know, they are still adding to the narrative of one of America’s most storied roads, Route 66.

28 July 2011

All aboard

Walt Disney’s love affair with steam trains has been well documented, and there is no better documentation that Michael Broggie’s massive account Walt Disney’s Railroad Story. Yet, there is nothing more prolific than watching a passion in action. The gleam in the eye and the wrinkles bunching up around the corners of the eyes and mouth as true joy washes over an individual is truly a sight to behold. Luckily, for those guests wishing they could witness Walt and his trains, they barely have to move beyond the Magic Kingdom’s front gates to obtain such insight.

On the first level of the Main Street station of the Walt Disney World Railroad, there is a fine selection of locomotive photographs chronicling Disney’s steam train history. My pictures (which are often blurry or gobbled up by the flash) of these photographs scarcely begin to do them justice, which may be a blessing in disguise, as I hope you will use this newfound knowledge to seeking this spot out and bask in the photographic history yourself. And then, who knows, maybe take a trip aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad and begin, or renew, your own infatuation with riding the rails!

27 July 2011

May appear pink in color

Last week, we looked at a bottomless dish known as the Canyon Skillet. But what if you happen to be trapped on the other side of Walt Disney World in the far away land of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with no hope of getting across property to Wilderness Lodge, much less an ADR, and you are seriously craving some barbeque ribs? Fear not, intrepid explorer, Flame Tree Barbeque has you and your stomach covered!

At Flame Tree you can pick up a 1/2 slab of St. Louis Ribs. Accompaniments always include baked beans, as well as a corn muffin or coleslaw (the second side dish has not been consistent in recent times). For the sake of this taste test, we were presented with coleslaw.

Let’s start with the sides. The presentation, in small cups, may not seem pleasing to the eye, but they do keep the various meal components from seeping into one another. The coleslaw is utilitarian and lacks a colorful punch. Meanwhile, the baked beans add some much needed heat to the secondary meal elements. My only real complaint? Two bites and they’re all gone. While the ribs are substantial, in both taste and size, the sides are strikingly small.

Now, about those St. Louis Ribs. The 1/2 slab has been expertly smoked and the meat is filled with the flavors from Flame Tree’s celebrated rub. The ribs were moist and slid off of the bone, the outer edge was crispy and chewy at the same time, and meat was very tender. As far as ribs in a theme park go, the St. Louis variety found at Flame Tree Barbeque are top notch, especially when Flame Tree’s barbeque sauces, either Original or Sweet and Spicy, are applied liberally.

I have yet to find a meal at Flame Tree Barbeque that hasn’t been an appetizing example of the barbeque arts being done right. Not only is the cooking process traditional, but it is evident that time was well spent in finding the right combination of ingredients for their rubs and barbeque sauces. All that really means is, regardless of what constitutes a side dish, I will continue to search out Flame Tree Barbeque at meal times.

26 July 2011

Living movie set

I don’t know if it’s because the angle is something you don’t regularly see or if it’s because they’re as close a realistic park map as you can get, but aerial photos of Walt Disney World have always made extremely happy. And when such aerial views are from a step back in time, such as today’s image of a 1989 Disney-MGM Studios, that only makes the photograph that much more enjoyable.All the classic signs are there: Crossroads of the World, Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner, New York Street, Superstar Television, Catastrophe Canyon off in the distance and, of course, the Chinese Theater which houses The Great Movie Ride. Of course, which all good photographs that tell a particular story, it is what isn’t present, or what has changed, that can be the most dramatic.

The Sorcerer’s Hat is obviously missing, no need to rehash that discussion, so let’s carry on. Commissary Lane does not exist in this early version of the Studios, but there are a few rooftops from Residential Street poking up through the canopy in the background. The Tip Board and Dining Reservation booth, the Pacific Electric station at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset is also missing. Of course, this is because Sunset Boulevard hasn’t been created yet. In fact, just out of frame, and where Sunset Boulevard can be found today, is the original home of the Theatre of the Stars.

There were more changes from these opening days throughout the park, Mickey Avenue would open as would the area around Star Tours and MuppetVision 3D, just to name a few, but they are sadly out of frame for this picture. Still, changing our perspective on a park gives us valuable insight into layout and design intent. Not to mention it’s just plain cool to get a bird’s eye view of Disney-MGM Studios from the spring of 1989.

25 July 2011

The straight and narrow path

The internet has been an amazing vehicle for the exchange of information. Of course, with all of those reports, statistics and opinions being passed back and forth, there is bound to be a little bit of misinformation out there. In order to try to right some wrongs and firm up some other thoughts, this month the Gazette Roundtable takes aim at the myths and truths of Walt Disney World.

Roundtable Topic: Name one Walt Disney World myth that you adhere to and one Walt Disney World myth that you scoff at. Why do you hold these beliefs?
Roundtable Contributors: Fiona Doyle (DF’82), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Suzannah DiMarzio (ZannaLand), D.J. Jones (The World of Deej), Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.

Fiona – When it comes to Walt Disney World, there is one myth that I do agree with: Peter Pan’s Flight in Magic Kingdom is a must-see! It pains me to say it, but it one of those attractions where I walk past and sigh as I see the long, long line, hoping that there is a Fast Pass still available so I can at least have some Ice Cream before my flight. When we plan our trips to the World, we always say “We can see how long the line is, if we get on Peter Pan”, but the truth of the matter is, we always try to get on this attraction and every time the whole family loves it! I might think, oh, I’m not really bothered about it, but once you sit in that Pirate Ship and fly over London, you realise that you are really in a world of Fantasy.

With regards to myths that I, well, scoff at, I had to think about this one long and hard. Very rarely do I not like, or enjoy, or avoid doing things at Walt Disney World, but le Cellier at Canada is now one of those ‘myths’ that I don’t believe. The myth that it is one of the best dining opportunities on property (in the price range) has been destroyed for me on past trips to the restaurant. I used to love it, and make sure to take my family there, but in recent years it hasn’t had the same appeal or kick that it used to have. Perhaps I have simply outgrown it – or just don’t want to book months in advance to be squashed into the restaurant. Either way, I would still say that it is a place everyone should try – but the myth that it is one of the best on property, is just that.

AJ – I am a firm believer in the myth that Park Hopper Passes are required. I think they're a must. If there's one thing we don't like in my household it's being “tied down” or “constricted” or “scheduled” or “in a corner.” Nope – we don't like rules around here, so if we didn't have Park Hopper Passes, I think we'd enjoy our Disney World trips about 175% less than we currently do. Having the opportunity to head to rope drop at one park, have lunch in a second park, and enjoy evening Extra Magic Hours in a third park is critical to us. Plus, having Park Hopper Passes is a great boon when trying to avoid crowds. Head to the Extra Magic Hour park in the morning for that blissful hour of emptiness, then high-tail it out of there and head to the park that had Extra Magic Hours yesterday – there's nobody there!

I scoff at the myth that Animal Kingdom is a half-day park. To me, Animal Kingdom is one of the richest Disney parks ever created. There's so much detail there that I could get lost wandering around Asia alone for days! Granted, if you have a gaggle of kids and are just trying to hit the big attractions as quickly as possible, you can probably do that in a few hours. But if you have the time, spend a day or two exploring the Tree of Life Trails, speaking with the cast members on the Maharaja Jungle Trek (they know those animals better than anyone else, and boy do they have stories!), reading the themed signs posted around the park, checking out the intense detail in Dino-Land, etc, etc, etc. It's definitely worth giving yourself some time to check this place out. Oh, and then go to the Dawa Bar for an African Margarita.

Suzannah – One Walt Disney World myth at which I scoff is the largely held belief that Disney's Animal Kingdom is a boring park that you shouldn't waste your time going to. Now I'm sure many readers might disagree, but I know the general consensus and common thought is that Animal Kingdom is the most-avoided of our four parks. I understand that many guests are visiting from far away and that a trip to Walt Disney World may be a trip of a lifetime. Because of that, many guests want the most 'bang for the buck' as far as ridesridesrides go. I get that worrying about FastPasses and E-ticket rides tends to take precedence over leisurely walking through any of the four parks to see Imagineering details which you wouldn't otherwise notice in the rush to maximize your vacation and keep everyone in your party happy. That said, I couldn't agree less with Animal Kingdom's reputation.

I've often waxed poetic about my love of the park but let me share again some of my top reasons. First, Animal Kingdom is a park of discovery. Remember the old "Natazu" commercials? It seems convincing people that there is more to see here than just animals has been an issue from the start. With the addition of Expedition Everest, thrill-seekers of course make a bee-line in that direction to secure a FastPass or ride with minimal wait. However, there are so many more details to Animal Kingdom that make it a place to stop and smell the roses so to speak.

From your first trek up toward the Tree of Life, you are surrounded by discoveries at every turn. Animals living in what appear to be natural habitats. Even the first popcorn and drink cart you encounter is an attraction in itself (to me) filled with brightly painted animal carvings. These wooden carvings, amazing paintings and art continue all around the shops and restaurants circling the Tree of Life (and the tree itself!). Even I had never realized the amount of detail in the extended seating area for Flame Tree Barbecue until searching for D23's Great Scavenger Hunt a few months back.

Speaking of the Scavenger Hunt, another place I'd never noticed the amount of detail in is Asia. Sure, you walk by and see that it looks realistic enough, but after searching for certain clues about fictional hotel signs and tour operators, even business local Anandapur business licenses, I have come to appreciate that the amount of authenticity is astounding. I believe one could, and I hope to someday, spend hours just wandering around and drinking in each detail in this park, without even stepping foot on one attraction. So for these reasons, combined with the unique and delicious food options and the immersive attractions, Animal Kingdom never gets a bad rap in my book.

Daniel – With the exception of my wife, my cat and dog, and Entenmann's chocolate donuts, there is nothing I love more in life than great hotels. So it seems only fitting that both of my Walt Disney World myths relate to the resorts found on property.

One myth that has taken hold over the years is that "Once you go 'Deluxe' you can never go back." Having stayed at every resort on Disney property, I can attest that for me this myth is absolutely true. Hi, I'm Deej...and I'm a resort snob... Thankfully, our DVC membership means that I don't have to pay the inflated rates to stay at these resorts, but on the few occasions that we've stayed in a Moderate or Value since, I've pitched a fit like a little kid who was just denied a Mickey Bar. To many, hotels are simply a place to lay one’s head, and if that were true for me, I'd go Value all the way. Unfortunately, however, hotels have captivated me since I was a kid, and instead of being an Astronaut or Fireman, I told people I wanted to run a hotel. I was lucky to do so for a few years, but got out as soon as the job started to make me hate my love...hotels. The side effect of this, however, is that it turned me into a full-fledged Disney resort snob...

Oddly enough, while I claim to be a resort snob, I scoff at the myth of Disney’s best resorts actually being “Deluxe.” Sure, when comparing the Polynesian, to Riverside, to Pop Century, there are clear differences that put each resort in its respective category. But step into any 4-5 star hotel off Disney property, and it becomes clear that Disney’s best resorts are “Deluxe” in name only. In true luxury hotels, there is no central call center for “Guest Services,” check-in takes 2-3 minutes, and the rooms offer more than a flat-screen TV. For an example, one needs to look no further than the Waldorf-Astoria at Bonnet Creek (on Disney property though not technically) compared to The Grand Floridian. In this hotel lover’s opinion, the Waldorf-Astoria delivers on what a true luxury hotel should be, and does so at less than half the price of The Grand Floridian.

A Disney “Deluxe” snob, who doesn’t think the resorts are deluxe. How’s that for a contradiction?

Eric – One myth we routinely debunk with our no holds barred Disney parks touring style is "to truly enjoy your day at a Disney park with small children, you must take a mid-day break to go back to your resort and rest" myth. To quote George Darling, "absolute poppycock!" Most who espouse this myth are of course only concerned for the wellbeing of the little children of the world and those who must put up with them. "How else can a child recover from the over-stimulation of a day spent in the parks?" they reason. All day (and night) touring of Disney parks is exhausting. However, my wife and I have no intention of letting a tired, exhausted, or actual napping kid get in the way of our fun. No siree! From as young as 6 months old, all three of our kids have spent every single available open hour of park time touring the parks on each and every day of our trip. We have strollers, and they can nap in them. We would simply do a baby swap and not miss a beat. And let's not forget the slow, dark rides where a little one can easily grab a cat nap and wake up confused but ready for more fun. We've discovered that this sort of break-in period tends to produce leaner, stronger, better park touring kids in the long run. Well worth it and we have had not a single embarrassing melt down on a trip yet.

One myth we absolutely adhere to and routinely evangelize: "To truly enjoy your stay at Disney parks you must stay on property at a WDW resort". Yeah, verily, and can I get an amen from the choir on this one?! Despite the fact that the majority of the days of our Disney trips are spent pounding the pavement in the parks, we insist on staying on property. We want to stay immersed in the Disney magic from the very first minute we arrive to the sad, heart wrenching moment we leave. We take full advantage of the extra magic hours, transportation, restaurants, pools, activities, and overall atmosphere and rich theming of the WDW resorts and truly find them to be wonderful destinations in their own right.

Ryan – My first thought when I consider fabricated tales in Walt Disney World, and response I wrote, was debating the dedication of time in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, after reading the terrific responses above from the contributors above, I felt that myth had been effectively squashed. So, where else could I spend my time. Then it came to me, time. Extra Magic Hours.

So often I hear from guests staying at resorts that they love and feel that they must utilize Extra Magic Hours, especially in the evenings. Now, I’m an early to rise (late to go to bed) type of guy, so I love morning Extra Magic Hours, but the evening hours have become such a waste of guests times. For starters, Extra Magic Hours in the evenings are often offset by the fact that the park’s regular hours are reduced by at least an hour, meaning the three extra hours isn’t quite three hours. Secondly, it generally makes the selected park which is opened to latest of the day. This, of course, inevitably leads to throngs of resort guests pouring through that destination’s gate.

In all honesty, I can attend so many more attraction, and not feel claustrophobic, on a regular evening at any park than I can when the same park has Extra Magic Hours.

As for a truth I hold dear when visiting Walt Disney World, that would have to be you must have a comfortable pair of shoes. This is something you generally hear from someone who brought a great looking pair of kicks without taking the time to break them in or love how they look in an impractical pair of shoes, and I am no exception. I am not endorsing a sneakers only mentality, but a shoe that is familiar with your foot and is accustomed to doing ample amounts of walking is essential.

There is so much to consider when thinking about a trip to Walt Disney World and how to spend your time while you’re there. Hopefully the attention to the above topics will help you with your next visit. But what about you? What truths do you cling to and what advice do you shrug off?

24 July 2011

Disney This Week - 24 July 2011

Melissa Loflin explores a new educational dining experience at Makin’ Memories.

DF’82 shares our love of tea and topiaries, and Fiona Doyle shares these simple pleasures with a wireframe topiary teapot from Disneyland Paris.

Shawn Slater dishes on grub, haciendas and Zorro, a match made for Frontierland, in Disneyland Paris at DisneyShawn.

This will be the first year in quite a number of years that I am not going to be able to make it to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Luckily, I have some friends I can live vicariously through. Today, Andy Jackson previews the festival’s appetizers in Eating (and Drinking) around the World.

Speaking of appetizers, check out the pair of Hollywood Brown Derby starters that Sarah Holodick sampled for Eating WDW.

Matt Hochberg speaks to what makes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror so cool to him at Studios Central.

Sticking with the Tower of Terror, Richard sets up a little mood music for Halloween in the Hollywood Tower Hotel in DesignerLand.

George Taylor and Imaginerding have scared up some more Magic Kingdom concept art to ogle.

What makes the food court at Pop Century stand out? Just ask AJ Wolfe, she has all the answers at The Disney Food Blog.

Morocco at night and Greg Grimsley, from The Disney Obsessions, but you’d be hard pressed to find a finer combination anywhere.

Touring Plans has some wonderful thoughts from Erin Foster on how to control souvenir spending with children.

The title of this article from The Sacred Tree of the Aracuan Bird just about sums it up: Enchanted Tiki Shakers. Go on, I dare you not to look!

22 July 2011

Built on all that we have done

When it comes to Walt Disney World, there are rare occasions when a box is just a box and a name is just a name. There are not many such moments, but they do happen. In the case of sculptures, however, it seems as if there is always a story being told. Such is the case of the three kings who watch over the square in World Showcase’s Germany.

Based upon the Kaufhaus, located in Freiburg, Germany and built in 1520 - 1521, Gild Hall serves as the home to Das Bucherwurm. While even the minutest of details were recreated throughout the pavilion and on the figures, there have been modifications from the original merchant’s hall. For instance, the color scheme has been changed to conform to the palate of the pavilion, and the second story sculptures of Kaufhaus appear to have suffered the loss of one of its emperors in the transition to Gild Hall.

The original versions of the statues were crafted over an eleven year period, from 1520 to 1531, by Hans Sixt von Staufen during the reign of the Hapsburgs. Kaufhaus features four of the most recent rulers, in 1520 that is, Maximilian I, Philip I, Charles V and Ferdinand I. In order to accommodate the resizing of the building, and to keep proper perspectives intact, Maximilian I was the emperor chosen to be left off of the finished Gild Hall.

World Showcase is a wealth of not only architecture and food, but also art, history and culture. You just have to know where to look, which is up, down and all around, or know who’s looking at you!

21 July 2011

Board room

In the late 1990s, in the wake of Blizzard Beach opening with the popular mascot Ice Gator, Typhoon Lagoon gained its own reptilian resident. Sand sculptures and other tokens meant to remind guests that Lagoon Gator is around, if not directly seen, throughout the water park. When he’s home, this scaly surfer relaxes in the Board Room.

Not your typical conference room, the Board room features memories of not only Lagoona Gator’s surfing career but also his celebrity endeavors, such as his film career (Bikini Beach Blanket Muscle Party Bingo!) and musical side project (The Beach Gators). Surfing, from boards to the latest edition of Surfin’ Reptile, is still represented in this hammock hideaway.

Go ahead, check out Lagoona Gator’s home along the shoreline of Typhoon Lagoon. He’s left it open for you to gander at!

20 July 2011

Canyon skillet

There is quite a lot of good food to be found in Bay Lake. The wilderness areas, both the lodge and the campgrounds, offer a lot of down home cooking. Comfort foods that were regular meal time favorites growing up, especially if you spent your youth in the south. For fried chicken you go to Trail’s End or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, but if you want something a bit more upscale you mosey down to Artist Point. But then again, you might be hankering for something a bit more substantial. In which case you whoop and holler over to the ironically named Whispering Canyon Cafe.
What could be found at this unruly cafe, where the mention of ketchup or failure to do the Hokey Pokey will get publicly ridiculed, could possibly stuff you up enough to burst your buttons? Why, the Canyon Skillet of course! How about a rundown of this ‘All You Care To Enjoy’ item. It starts with loaves of fresh-baked cornbread, with just a hint of sweetness, that are large enough to fill a lesser appetite all on its own. For sides, the never ending skillet comes with red skinned mashed potatoes with peels still present, creamy coleslaw, ears of corn on the cob and hot, savory cowboy beans. For the main meat of this meal, the Canyon Skillet is filled with smoked pork ribs, oven roasted chicken and pork sausages. Oh, and did I mention the small pitcher of smokey sweet barbeque sauce?!?!What else could you ask for after a day on the dusty trails of Frontierland? How about seconds? Or thirds, or however many of this cast iron skillets you can put away. Here is the wonderful part, they are absolutely happy to bring you precisely what you need and everyone will have their own personal favorite element of the meal. Needs some more slaw or perhaps your wife really loved the ribs? Quick as a flash there will be more in your skillet. Of course, what you really need to request more of, are the wet naps to rid yourself of all that messy goodness before heading back out into civilized territory.There is seemingly no end to the buffets and all you can eat meals around Walt Disney World. With endless amounts of food, surely each and every meal would fill you up, but it takes a special kind of meal to do it with comfort foods reminiscent of summer barbeques and lazy Sunday afternoons. And yet, the Canyon Skillet at Whispering Canyon Cafe will do the trick every single time!

19 July 2011

Country beat

Those crazy Country Bears really put on a show! But what if you couldn’t get to Walt Disney World in 1971 when the bears made their debut? The answer is obvious, bring the band to your house!

Okay, so it might not seem feasible, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We all remember paper dolls, right? The flimsy figures of a boy or girl that you could cover with a variety of tabbed paper clothing. In 1971, Whitman Books released a similar punch out book for the Country Bear Band. Each bear could be punched out in either one or two pieces, depending on the bear, and came with an instrument that was either attached or tabbed. In the end, children who purchased this book ended up with six jamming bears. Although some appear a little out of character in the book, the bears included were Henry, Big Al, Teddi Barra, one of The Sun Bonnet Trio, Wendell? and Terrence.

This is one of those great items that promoted Walt Disney World away from the parks that could serve as either a reminder of a trip or a preview of what was awaiting guests down in Florida.

For those beary interested individuals: These pages are all the same size and a band could easily be assembled by printing out the bears on a cardstock, cutting out the figures (be mindful of the shape of Henry who’s top section has to come off of the front page) and slots, and following the simple visual instructions on the various pages. That is, if you’re so inclined.