25 June 2012

Party for the senses

Festivals and party events have all but become year-round staples of the Walt Disney World park going experience. From the elder statesmen of the circuit, Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival and Star Wars Weekends, to the newcomers and short-lived events, such as the Sundowner Celebration or the Pirate and Princess Party, there seems to be something for everyone. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity for more festival fun! Which is precisely the question the roundtable dove into this month!

Roundtable Topic: If you could design a festival for Walt Disney World, what would its focus be? What park would it be in? And what would it look like?
Roundtable Contributors: George Taylor (Imaginerding), Melissa Loflin (Makin’ Memories), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Andy Jackson (Eating (and Drinking) around the World), and yours truly.
GeorgeRyan--I think this concept has very limited appeal, but is really how the Company should go for the 50th Anniversary. Fingers crossed!

I am a big history buff (and theme parkeologist) and would love to design a festival that took advantage of celebrating the Disney Company's history at the Florida property.

I wouldn't hold it specifically at the theme parks, but make it a Walt Disney World-wide event. I would like to see it headquartered at Downtown Disney with a focus on the history of the company, overall. Displays and areas dedicated to looking at the evolution of the animated films and the different business sections. As far as the history of Walt Disney World, I would let that focus exist at each park/resort. Imagine having displays at the Magic Kingdom for opening day attractions and changes over the years. There could be a multimedia display in one of the shops at Main Street. I would follow the same pattern at the other theme parks and water parks.
For the resorts, I would make a mini-musuem/gallery sharing the history of the resort, like the changes over the years and the celebrities that visited. You could bring back some historic dishes to the resort eateries and even feature a retro menu. And maybe bring back a Bob-A-Round or two?

What makes this a great idea is that people will be motivated to travel all over Walt Disney World to see the displays and the different offerings. Theme park nerds like myself (and Ryan, of course) would visit places we haven't seen in a long time. Granted, there is limited appeal for something like this (remember the EPCOT Center Gallery from 2007) and the Company has always been loathe to celebrate Walt Disney World's rich history.

Plus, I need to come up with a good name for the festival. Nerds R Us?

Melissa – I couldn’t help to wander outside of the park with this one but it wouldn’t be a long wander. Right out of the backdoor of Epcot you’ll find Disney’s BoardWalk Inn & Villas and I was thinking this would be a perfect spot for a Jazz Festival. The yard out back of the resort’s lobby would be an ideal spot for a stage while guests and passersby linger on the grass while enjoying music that fits right into the theme of the resort. I would picture Disney’s BoardWalk Jazz Festival spanning the weekends of the summer months. Picnicking and wine would be encouraged so spread your blanket out on the yard while the boardwalk bustles along to the syncopated rhythms and soft tones.

AJI may be one of the only contributors who is pretty happy with the way things are when it comes to this particular question! The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is one of the biggest of its kind; and it gathers brilliant Chefs from all over the world, wineries, breweries, chocolatiers, mixologists, and more in one place for 45 (46 this year!) days of culinary wonderfulness.

That said, what about all of the classic Disney food items that are no longer served in the parks and restaurants? The older the Disney parks get, the longer the list of extinct menu items! And we know these items are missed. Beaver Tails? Figaro Fries? Handwiches? (OK, maybe the handwiches aren't really all that missed.)

The more that Disney menus grow and change, the more we'll miss the dishes that we once loved and are now gone. So what about an Extinct Disney Food Festival -- somewhere that, for one week a year, Disney chefs bring back some old favorites? They could have booths representing fallen restaurants (Concourse Steakhouse, for example), and special dinners with menus incorporating several extinct dishes.

Come on. You would totally buy a plane ticket for one more serving of those Scalloped Potatoes from

AndyHummm... Festival... let’s see, it would have to include food, and some wine... and it should be in my favorite park: Epcot... wait, I think that’s taken....

So let’s see, how about my next favorite park of Animal Kingdom? Can we add some food & beverage fun there? How about we expand on the potential shown by the Taste of Africa Street Party and the current Sundowner Celebration?

As Animal Kingdom looks to the future with a (hopefully) big draw in the way of Avatar, how can it keep patrons in the park later (and spend more money) without a fireworks show or other spectacular that’s pretty much precluded with the animals in close proximity?

I think the Street Party/Celebration concept - if properly expanded and executed (and of course, promoted) could be a big part in helping AK finally shake the “half-day-park” reputation.

The tests for this concept (which is probably what the Taste of Africa and Sundowner events have really been) are a good start... but this is what I’d like to see:

The park should stay open late enough for the darkness to set in - AK is absolutely spectacular after dark! Just walking through the Asia area in the nighttime is worth a trip to the park - not to mention that riding Expedition Everest in the dark is a whole different experience, and I think amazingly better. So a 9 PM close or so would be needed in the summer.

And yes, we’re going to run this in the summer as a way to keep the patrons in the park during a busier time of year, and to take advantage of the cooler late afternoon-evening hours in what is usually a blazingly-hot park during the warmer months.
Starting the event in the afternoon after the parade ends (like the current Sundowner Celebration does) would work (and again, the guests need to be made well aware that it’s going to start, and not bail out in droves after the parade).

Food and beverage items need to magically appear - and not just a simple snack or two at the current food locations, and not just dishes already available inside Tusker House or Flame Tree brought out onto the streets.

The restaurant facilities are there to produce several different dishes - perhaps even changing every week - and with the vast repertoire of dishes available from the continent of Africa and the sub-continent of India (which is what “Asia” in this park really represents) - there should be no shortage of unique items to present to guests. Recipe cards would be available for each item.

Specialty drinks could (and should!) abound - a park-wide wine and beer walk (akin to the Wine Walk in the World Showcase in Epcot where you pay a certain fee and get to sample multiple items in several countries) would be a must.
I love the idea of food demos sprinkled around the park - very small samples of the foods demonstrated would be provided as well as the recipes.

The Dinoland area would even be included - if we want to use the tacky, roadside attraction theme for food, we could include the “Let’s-pretty-much-deep-fry-anything” style of cuisine that is prevalent in most state fairs these days - can you say deep-fried Reese Cups???

And yes, there would be much music and dancing! Everywhere around the park there would be DJ’s, live bands and dancers.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly the most original idea, just an expansion on something that’s already been tried, but the Margarita and Pole-Dancing Princess Festival I’d really like to see probably doesn’t have much of a chance...

Ryan – My original thought for this was a food and culture fair in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, taking the concept of the 2010 Taste of Africa event and ramping it up! Of course, no sooner had I had this idea, than the Sundowner Celebration was announced. So, I had to continue on outside of the box, and I took this journey by map.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios has shown that you can take a beloved property and celebrate it for an entire month and people will come in droves! Of course, Star Wars gives you a lot of space to work with, from movies and television shows to an expanded universe that is limited only by the imagination. Another such property that could be parlayed into several weekends of entertainment would be the Muppets in an event entitled the Madcapped Muppet Weekends.

Obviously, full sized Muppets would once again roam the parks as they did during Disney-MGM Studios’ formative years. They could also put on a reimagineered stage show combining the Muppet antics and staging of Muppets On Location: Days of Swine and Roses or Here Come the Muppets with the offbeat, as if the Muppets could get more offbeat, nature of the Hyperspace Hoopla.

There would be the serious business of Muppets as well. Puppeteers who not only bring the Muppets to life with their actions, but also with their voices, could share some of their stories and what it takes to become the hand behind the Muppets. Perhaps the Muppets themselves could host a question and answer session. Without a doubt though, there would have to be an event, whether it was a small showcase or a three times daily presentation, dedicated to the man himself, Jim Henson.

Merchandising would be front and center as well, with Darth Mall turning into Beaker’s Bunker. The real jewel of the souvenir experience here, however, would come from a Whatnot Workshop being set up in the park so that guests could create their very own Muppets.

The Swedish Chef could do cooking demonstration. Gonzo could take over Lights, Motors, Action! Bean Bunny could try to help clean up the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Miss Piggy could try out for the American Idol Experience and give the judges her own critique. And Fozzie Bear would feel right at home with the bad jokes of the streetmosphere characters.

The Muppets already have a home in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and each of us has an inner-child that yearns to get out each and every time we see them take to the stage and screen. Could you imagine a month of weekends were all of our inner-children were left to run amok in the park? It would be amazing, chaos, but amazing. I could do with a party of amazing, child-infused chaos, couldn’t you?

I know many of you have ideas for food, fun, and festivals, so let us hear them! Leave a comment with your plans for a Walt Disney World festival, or let us know which concept we thought up here truly resonates with you. The beauty of Walt Disney World is that it has something for all of us, and so should its festivals!

Also, I want to take a quick moment to point out that this is the Main Street Gazette’s 2,000th article. I want to thank the participants of the monthly roundtable discussions, the guest columnists that stop by from time to time, and each individual who had inspired me and helped me to keep moving forward! It has truly been a wonderful ride that shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

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