29 February 2016

Outdoor Kitchens - Part I

In case you haven’t seen the signs popping up around Epcot, the International Flower and Garden Festival starts on Wednesday. This is absolutely my favorite event in Walt Disney World each year, and I love that Disney is highlighting the National Parks System's anniversary for part of the festivities this year. If you are like me and love the festival, but don’t foresee yourself being able attend this year, you might be trying to find a way to bring the event to your own backyard. Since the festival has been adding more and more cuisine options to the line-up, we decided to whip up one of their recipes in our kitchen!

We weighed out the various options and then went after an item that isn’t on this year’s menus, the Piggylicious Bacon Cupcake that had been previously featured at The Smokehouse marketplace. Let’s be clear about our rationale behind this choice; it was a sweet treat, that included bacon, and had relatively easy directions that meant we believed anyone could bae up a batch of these cupcakes. Without further ado, let’s dive in to what makes these cupcakes tick!


Cupcake Ingredients

Your Favorite Yellow Cake Mix
Equal Amount of Bacon Fat to Replace Oil in Mix Recipe
12 Slices Bacon (Cooked Crisp and Chopped Fine)
Other Ingredients as Cake Mix Requires

Maple Cream Cheese Icing Ingredients

2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
8 Ounce Package of Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Butter (Softened)
1 Tbsp Real Maple Syrup (More to Taste)
Crushed Pretzel Twists (for Garnish)

Cupcake Directions

Follow cake mix directions, replacing oil with bacon fat.
Fold in bacon.
Bake according to cake mix directions.

Maple Cream Cheese Icing Directions

Cream together cream cheese and butter until light in fluffy in a mixing bowl with paddle attachment.
Mix in maple syrup.
Gradually add confectioner’s sugar until combined.
Frost cooled cupcakes.
Garnish with crushed pretzels.

This was, without a doubt, one of the easiest Disney recipes we’ve ever put together in our home kitchen. That being said, we won’t be making these again in our house, at least not according to the original recipe.

Let’s start off with the positives. The maple cream cheese icing is excellent! It is rich and sweet, basically everything you’re looking for in a good icing/frosting. We did end up adding another half tablespoon of maple syrup to mixture, but please only start with the one tablespoon and slowly work yourself up to where you have the desired maple flavor. This is definitely an icing recipe we will keep in our rotation for other cupcakes, such as carrot cake, red velvet, or even a plain chocolate or yellow cupcake.

I’m not going to lie, when I first came up with this recipe, I did a little happy dance for finding another dessert we could whip up that utilized bacon. The cupcakes were easy enough to put together, but when we bit into them afterwards, there was something that immediately struck us as being off. We settled on the fact that it was because the bacon fat was used instead of oil. It made the cake too dense and took away the moistness you expect in a cupcake. In the end we each tried a pair of cupcakes and decided the rest of the batch were not meant for human consumption.

If this had been a cornbread recipe, sans the icing, this would probably have been gold. If we had kept the oil and eliminated the bacon fat, these might have been delicious (and this is a change we’re going to try another time to see if we can find a bacon cupcake recipe that does tickle our taste buds). But as they stand, we can see why they aren’t on the menu of The Smokehouse this season.

This was not our cup of cupcake, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be your favorite dessert ever. If you are brave enough, this is an easy recipe to whip up. However, I’d recommend trying them for yourself before baking up a couple dozen for your next barbecue. For my part, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect way to bring the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival into our kitchen this year.

24 February 2016

Jungle Skewers

Disneyland is known for lots of wonderful food items. Whether you’re looking for the complete package of a luxurious meal at Club 33 or need something simple and sweet from the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, there is something waiting for you just around the corner. For those on the go, sometimes all you need is a quick skewer with some protein, veggies, or both. Luckily for guests in those quick bite moments, the Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland has you covered!

Since we couldn’t make up our minds as to what we wanted when we were there last year, we decided to give them all an equal footing on our plate. Here’s what we thought of each, ranked from our least favorite to the skewer we would definitely order again.

Chieftain Chicken Skewer
In A Polynesian Sauce
I love a good sauce and a nice piece of grilled chicken, especially when it has pronounced grill marks. This seemed to have all the hallmarks of a tasty morsel when I picked it up, but it fell from atop my list pretty quickly. The sauce is precisely what you would imagine, somewhere between sweet and sour, that tanginess that you would expect from a nice Polynesian sauce. The chicken for us, however, had an odd texture. It wasn’t that it was undercooked, although that was our first thought, but there was just something off here. We discussed taking it back and asking for another, but neither the missus or I had the stomach to try it again. If you give it a go, I’m certain you’ll have better luck than we did.

Outback Vegetable Skewer
Skewered Fresh Vegetables
Do you like grilled vegetables? Then this is the skewer for you. Some of the vegetables were a little crunchier than we would have liked, but the majority of them were tender and juicy. It is the perfect side dish on a stick!

Bengal Beef Skewer
In A Sweet Zulu Sauce
I am the first to admit that sweet and savory, a profile many people love, is not my favorite taste combination. Some nice hunks of beef deserve a marinade or sauce that is going to highlight the built-in pronounced flavors of the meat. This is a great skewer if you love mixing the savory and the sweet, I have nothing bad to say about it, and the missus devoured what I left behind pretty handily, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. As far as the sweet and savory profile is concerned it had an excellent balance of flavors.

Banyan Beef Skewer
Hot & Spicy
I get concerned when my food is described with an ampersand. No, I’m just kidding! That usually means they don’t have time to mince words, they’re too busy cooking up a delicious dish. With something that is going to bring the heat, I’m always looking for complex flavors and not something that is hot for the sole sake of making me reach for my beverage. This skewer struck just the right chord with giving the meat the room it deserved to shine through and put just enough spice on it to kick the back of my throat a little.

Safari Skewer
Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
Winner, winner, bacon-wrapped dinner! There is some charring on the asparagus, but the pieces aren’t burnt to a crisp as is easy to do. The bacon is chewy and adds some smokiness to each bite, but with nothing fancy about it, i.e. peppered, Applewood smoked, etc., it does not overpower the asparagus. This is not the skewer that we expected to be a runaway winner, in fact we thought it would place one spot above the vegetable skewer, but it completely took us by surprise. I would recommend ordering a couple of these, because they will go fast!

Overall, there isn’t a bad skewer in the bunch. The real question is, which is your favorite when on a true life adventure through Disneyland?

22 February 2016

Explorer's Playground

The Disney Vacation Club is often touted as the best kept secret on Walt Disney World property. At one point in time, when the program was in its fledgling years and only had a resort or two that welcomed guests home, that may have very well been true. Today the resorts and perks associated with the Disney Vacation Club are well-known and, for those guests that haven’t heard, there are an abundance of kiosks throughout the resorts and parks for those seeking more information. For my money, however, the best kept secret to be found around the resorts is the business class offerings from Coronado Springs.

Let’s back up for a minute and explain why Coronado Springs would even need business class accommodations. The majority of conference spaces, ballrooms, and major event spaces available at Walt Disney World come from the deluxe category of resorts. The Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Yacht Club stand out as the most popular options for organizations seeking a little magic in there gatherings. What may come as a surprise to some is that Coronado Springs also offers up ample convention space. With this clientele, you are going to have individuals who are looking for business amenities, not to mention they’ll want to be close to all of the convention action. Heck, they might even bring along their families who will want to be close to the slightly more magical and less business-minded areas like the pool, restaurants, and transportation to parks. Enter Coronado Spring’s business class.

Let’s start with the interior of the rooms. There are plenty of upgrades to the rooms themselves, but let’s focus on the comfort items. The bed has an upgraded mattress and the thread count for sheets is also higher than would typically be found in a moderate resort. There are also bathrobes perfect for, well, whatever one typically does in a bathrobe. Drink coffee and read the news? Lounge around? Use as a plushy, oversized towel? I don’t know, it’s not really my thing, but I know the missus loved the one she had! Think of the rooms this way, you’re getting the comfort features of a deluxe for the slightly elevated price of a moderate. And, with everything else that comes along with the room rate, you are definitely getting your money’s worth.

What else are you getting in business accommodations? Stepping out your door you are quite literally steps from El Centro, the main hub of resort activities, and just a bridge away from the Dig Site pool and recreation area. The rooms, not the suites, associated with business class are located in the Cabanas section of the resort, in building 9B, right next to El Centro. This also means upgraded views and not a parking lot view in the mix. Rooms look out over the Lago Dorado or woods and wetlands the border the resort’s property and Buena Vista Drive. In fact, the closest you get to pavement in your view here would be where our room was located and you could barely see the traffic light at the entrance of the resort in the distance.

Last, but certainly not the least of the perks, is access to the Coconino Cove. This lounge is located on the first floor of building 9B and requires key card access for those staying in business class. The interior takes up the space of what would have been several spacious resort rooms and has turned them into small sitting areas. There’s even a television for catching up on the news, watching a movie, or seeing what’s happening around Walt Disney World that day. The Cove is open daily from 7:00am – 10:00am and 5:00pm-10:00pm.

During the morning hours Coconino Cove have a complimentary continental breakfast of sorts, with offerings including juice, coffee, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, cereal, and assorted pastries. In the evening the offerings turn to beer, wine, soda, and salty snacks like pretzels, chips, salsa, and assorted nuts. The morning menu will send you off into the parks with a full stomach and less a dent in your wallet, while the evening’s bites are more or less a way to wind down. The operating hours do make it a bit tricky to enjoy the comforts of Coconino Cove. In a perfect world they would open at 6:00am for the morning hours and close around 11:00pm or midnight, to give guests time to get back after the parks have had their nighttime spectaculars. Of course, at this point, that’s just being nitpicky.

Coronado Springs is not a resort that gets a lot of press for families on vacation. As moderates go, it doesn’t have the draw of the Port Orleans resorts or feel like it is in the heart of Walt Disney World the way that Caribbean Beach feels. At best it seems to be relegated to families who happen along with a business bound parent, but the resort is so much more than that. There is lush scenery and gorgeous details that bring Coronado Springs to life. And if you’re looking for a little extra pampering without the cost of a deluxe, there is nothing better in my mind than staying in their business class accommodations.

17 February 2016

Just Say 'Howdy,' Stranger

The Diamond Horseshoe was a staple of the Magic Kingdom for a long, long time. To this day, the venue will still swing open its doors and welcome guests from time to time. The stage showcased can-can girls and cowpokes from 1971 until 2003. If you were to stop by at a given point during the Horseshoe’s reign, guest could have been required to make a reservation, grab a complimentary ticket, or walk right on in; it all depended upon the year. Likewise, the show itself, its songs, stars, and even its name would change over time. For today, let’s saddle up to the bar, sip on a sarsaparilla, and explore the Diamond Horseshoe’s entertaining offerings during the 15 Years of Magic in 1986.

The show had remained relatively unchanged between the Magic Kingdom’s opening in 1971 and the revamp of 1986. The show was hosted by Miss Lily and Sam the Bartender and featured an hour’s worth of song, dance, and skits, with a heaping helping of humor poured over the top of everything for good measure. While the trio can-can girls were still front and center, with a bunch of rather bumbling cowboys in tow, the show centered around Sam’s beloved Miss Lily. In fact, as Sam puts it to Lily during the show, “Every time you and your beauties come back into town, these folks stop buying drinks!”

The performances including choreographed dance routines, acrobatic feats (picture cowboys doing parkour over, around, and on the sawhorses with a beam of wood between them). As is expected in any Disney saloon performance, the interactions with guests were second to none. Such as when Lily shows interest in a guests and Sam bumbles his way through an interruption as he is truly smitten with Miss Lily and can’t bear to see her in the arms of another or when one of the cowhands falls in love with a member of the audience, often times a married woman, and professes his love for her right then and there.

The Disney saloon shows date all the way back to 1955 in Disneyland when Wally Boag first took the stage at the Golden Horseshoe. Wally is a story for another day, but he set the standard in regards to how to perform for a saloon full of thirsty guests, and the crew of the Diamond Horseshoe lived up to the high bar he set. The entire crew, from dancers to the orchestra, the leads, and even the cowboys, were integral to the success of the show. Perhaps that is why, when the show relaunched in 1986, Walt Disney World produced photographs that not only highlighted Sam, Lily, and her troupe of traveling can-can girls, but a second picture that highlighted all of the performers.

The Diamond Horseshoe’s revue/jamboree/show would be changed again in the 1990s before retiring forever in 2003. Disneyland still maintains a version of their saloon show, now shorter and picking on innocent bystanders for a dating game (no, I wasn’t picked as a bachelor last February, why are you asking?!?!), but the horseshoes hasn’t brought the same luck to the Magic Kingdom. The atmosphere is still there inside the Diamond Horseshoe, and I recommend taking a peak if you ever get the chance, but the heart and soul are missing. It certainly would do this old cowpoke’s heart a world of good to see Miss Lily and her girls mosey back into town one of these days. What about you, would you like to belly up to the bar and hear some stories and songs from Sam and Lily?

15 February 2016

Not a Through Street

As you head out of Diggs County on US 498, or rather move towards the back of DinoLand, U.S.A. where Cast Members come and go, you’ll notice three billboards. Each gives a little insight into the story being told throughout the land, but they’re so far off the beaten path you truly have to seek them out in order to gleam their significance.

The first lies behind Primeval Whirl’s track. It is adorned with lamps to make sure it shows up at night. This sign welcomes you to Diggs County with an open view of the county and a quirky tagline. It is reminiscent of roadside billboards all over the country. It highlights what the county is known for, dinosaurs, and presents visitors with a serene, almost bucolic vista of the area. This is saying something since the area is well known for its dinosaur attractions, many of which are hinted at on this billboard. Obviously, this sign was developed by a tourism board or chamber of commerce, taken from the fact that it contains references to both The Dino Institute and Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama.

The second sign is the stately billboard offered up by The Dino Institute. Again we are treated to an idealized view, this time of The Dino Institute, which proudly offers itself up as the sight to see when in Diggs County. Along the two sides of the advertisement is the litany of reasons as to why you should visit. Journeying into the past on Dinosaur, playing in the Boneyard playground, visiting the Tyrannosaurus rex known as Sue, and the exploration of the Cretaceous Trail are all included as highlight. On the other side of the billboard we have reviews from the Diggs County Gazette, other words of praise and selling points, and directions that appear to list The Dino Institutes location as off of the Dino Drive Exit.

Why can’t we be sure of what these directions are and what people are saying about The Dino Institute? That’s because the folks over at Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama have taken it upon themselves to include their own advertisement on the billboard. Wanted or not, the garish poster of a jolly green dinosaurs has been plastered over the top of The Dino Institute. The ad offers up the argument that if tourists would like to have some “real fun” and “laffs” then they should spend their time playing at the Dino-Rama. To be fair, this billboard sits right behind the old gas station/roadside attraction that is the hub of Chester & Hester’s. You can’t exactly place something there and expect them to not promote themselves there in some form or fashion.

This leads us to our last sign, over the gate at the end of US 498, that shows that The Dino Institutes billboard sat directly between Chester & Hester’s and our final destination. As we’ve moseyed on back in this direction, there have been road signs warning us that this was not a through street, and we have come to the end of the road which dead ends at Chester & Hester’s parking lot. Unfortunately, we’re informed that the lot is full. This sign has clearly been here for quite some time. It is in more disrepair than the others we’ve seen, and at one point in time we can see that parking was only a quarter. The price of parking has since gone up, much like parking everywhere at central Florida attractions, an increase up to two dollars. People are clearly willing to pay for the ease of access the lot provides, since it is full today, and every day.

This corner of Diggs County clearly belongs to Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama. Whether through their own means or by standing on the shoulders of their tourism competitors, the attraction can be seen on all three signs in this corner of DinoLand, U.S.A. The Dino Institute may have some quaint exhibits and the market cornered on true life adventures, but maybe, just maybe, Dino-Rama has the market cornered on fun. Which attraction will you be visiting first?

12 February 2016

Topiary Creations

“TOPIARY CREATIONS -- Among the Disney Institute gardening programs guests discover how the whimsical, botanical creations seen throughout Walt Disney World Resort are designed, made and cared for. Instructors then guide guests as they make their own tabletop topiary to take home. A little rough around the edges, this familiar Disney character was soon a wonderful decoration for home and garden. A Disney Institute vacation offers a variety of hands-on programs from cooking to animation in a relaxed campus-like setting.”

This is the one program from the Disney Institute I wish that I had taken. What was your favorite program that the Disney Institute offered in its heyday?

11 February 2016

Relics From Regions Beyond

If you’ve visited Memento Mori in the Magic Kingdom, you’ve surely seen individuals taking part in the Spirit Photography. This offering allows guests to have a photograph taken of them that, once processed, appears to show off their spooky side. That is to say the photograph changes from the guest to what their ghostly apparition would look like if they were one of the 999 happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion. Of course, this isn’t the only example of spirit photography found inside Memento Mori.

These photographs, sitting atop an apothecary cabinet inside the shop, are recreations of famous daguerreotype, otherwise known as spirit photography. The practice of spirit photography has its roots in an effect that photographers know all too well, double exposure. William Mumler discovered a second figure in a photograph he took of himself in the 1860s, a figure that was actually a second exposure of his self. Finding that customers would pay to have otherworldly visitors in their portraits, especially if they were the dearly departed, Mumler began selling his works under the guise of a medium.

A typical spirit photograph would utilize previously developed photographs of deceased family members. These secondary pictures would be doctored into the photograph he had taken of the paying customer. Perhaps the most famous example of this method was a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln that included the ethereal appearance of her late husband, President Abraham Lincoln. Mumler would also take photographs of unknown individuals and incorporate them into photographs. This would prove to be his downfall as some of his “ghosts” would wind up being identified as currently living residents in Boston.

Others have taken up the spectral torch over time, including Fred Hudson, William Moses, and William Hope. Though many have been debunked, there are just as many who believe in the ability to take such spirit photographs, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Some of the ideas brought forth from spirit photography, such as Moses’ ability to photograph the ectoplasm, have become ingrained in the popular culture.

The recreations tucked away atop a cabinet, or hanging on the wall, inside Memento Mori harken back to a time when spiritualism was the talk of the town the world over. Just as in Mumler’s spirit photographs, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find some of these ghostly individuals strolling the streets. Especially if you were looking for them around Imagineering! No matter your take on spirit photography, Memento Mori has found a way to send out their message from regions beyond.

08 February 2016

Authentic Pizza

There were days when you would think of the phrases pizza and Walt Disney World that you were likely to cringe at just the thought. Today, however, we live in a Walt Disney World that is home to Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria, located in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion. While it is true that a majority of the pizza options around the parks and resorts are travesties to the name pizza, this is a bastion of hot, cheesy, delicious hope. Via Napoli’s offerings range from traditional American favorite to Italian staples, some that seem just a little left of center to our palates. One of our personal favorites, however, is the Prosciutto e Melone Pizza.

The Prosciutto e Melone Pizza is a white pizza that is topped with fontina and mozzarella cheeses, prosciutto, cantaloupe, and arugula. Not only are the ingredients a bit of heads-scratcher, but the assembly of this pizza might also seem a bit peculiar as well. The dough base and cheese come straight out of the mouth of Stromboli, Versuvio, or Etna, the three pizza ovens on display in the restaurant, and then are given liberal doses of the cantaloupe, arugula, and prosciutto.

The real question is how does it taste? The short answer, delicious! The prosciutto gives the pizza nice savory flavor, which plays well against the juicy, sweet sensations coming from the cantaloupe. The arugula not only adds some more color to the pizza, something outside of brown and orange hues, but the pepperiness of the green really shines through. The blends of cheese hold everything together nicely with their creamy texture and simple flavors. As for the dough, it truly is one of the best doughs I’ve ever had.

I’m the first to admit this pizza isn’t for everyone, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the Prosciutto e Melone Pizza. Via Napoli has been a wonderful addition to World Showcase. I would have expected a bit of decline in terms of quality and inventiveness as the years have progressed. Shame on me! The restaurant is just as strong today as it was when it opened five years ago. There is something for everyone here, even your die-hard cheese pizza enthusiasts, and it continues to cement its place as the best pizza in Walt Disney World.

05 February 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai

The Lunar New Year is upon us, and Disney California Adventure is gearing up for another spectacular celebration for the occasion. I say spectacular because the missus and I were able to take part in last year’s festivities and, despites the grey and rainy weather, we had an absolutely fantastic time. In fact, I’ve been saving talking about the event for an entire year just to get you excited about venturing out to the celebration this year.

The celebration takes place in the Paradise Pier district of Disney California Adventure. Specifically, the action is centralized around Paradise Garden. The boardwalk lights and plenty of shade trees and covered shelters give this section a wonderful atmosphere and makes the festivities enjoyable, rain or shine. There’s a lot of ground to cover, from activities to performances, and let’s not forget food, so let’s get to it!

There are a wide variety of activities tied to the Lunar New Year celebration, but the most crucial of these were the large plaques that depict the various celebrations of Lunar New Year throughout Asia. The wall-sized pieces display how Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean families all celebrate the holiday, first in their native language and then in English. While these are an oversimplification of the celebrations, it gives those unfamiliar with the traditions a decent understanding to go forward into the event with.

There is also signage depicting the various signs of the zodiac where you can find your sign based upon the year you were born. They’ve also cleverly found a Disney animated character that represents each of the signs. For my part I’m a rooster, or Alan-a-Dale from Robin Hood. Go over and take a look this year and let us know which character is your birth year’s totem!

From here, guests have a number of options of what guests can do. My recommendation is to make one of your New Year Wishes. This was truly one of the most beautiful sights I found during the celebration. Here, guests can write their wishes down on red tags that start out simply with, “My wish for the New Lunar Year is.” Once the wish is written down, the tags are then fastened to one of numerous strings running across two posts in the pavilion forming a wall of wishes. Take a look for yourself; it is truly a wonder to behold. I hope that many, many, many of your wishes that were cast last year came true!

Other activities include calligraphy and brush painting, where guests get to watch true artists at work. A make and take station offers guests the ability to create a paper lantern, which is a great idea for families. There is face-painting happening as well, which, let’s just be honest, it isn’t a vacation until someone has a dragon painted across their face! Last, but certainly not least are the characters, decked out in their Lunar New Year finest. We were able to catch a glimpse of Mickey, Minnie, Chip, and Dale all meeting with guests to celebrate the occasion. For families where Lunar New Year is engrained in who they are, I can only imagine how wonderful it is to for their children to see their favorite characters honoring their traditions.

There are a number of performances that happen throughout the weekend as well. From dragons and traditional dance and performance acts, there is a lot to take in if you have the time. And I highly recommend you make the time. Each act is an authentic piece of the festivities puzzle, both here and around the world, and you can tell the performers are truly dedicated to their craft and representation of their people. These performances in the garden are, to me, the heart and soul of the celebration.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food, wouldn’t I? There are several snack options available to guests: Lunar New Year Sourdough Bread, Pork Bao served with Sweet Chili Sauce, and Almond Cookies.

Real quick, Disney California Adventure does amazing sourdough, and the Lunar New Year Sourdough is no exception. That said, it is sourdough that is available all year long in the park.

The Pork Bao is a decent option for a quick bite, but it isn’t going to fill you up. The ball-shaped bun is a bit chewier than we expected from our previous experience with buns, but this is a quick service snack we’re talking about. The pork filling is savory and delicious, and is really highlighted by the sweet chili sauce. Coincidentally, just about anything listed as a sweet chili sauce makes me want to slather it on something and devour it with great haste, but that’s just my obsession with the sweet-spicy spectrum.

The Almond Cookies were the true winners here, and they taste exactly how you think they would. These are simple cookies with a rich, almost buttery almond flavor. They come in a cute take-out box, a great visual for a great bite. I recommend stockpiling these and, if you’re so inclined, sending a box or two my way!

The Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure is not to be missed if you have the chance. Whatever the weather, it is well worth the investment of time to take in the sights, sounds, smells, history, tastes, culture that is so lavishly on display in Paradise Garden. At Walt Disney World the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is my not to be missed event each year, for Disneyland the event has to be the small, weekend-long event celebrating the Lunar New Year. It may me small, both in terms of duration and location, but it is a treasure to behold.

01 February 2016

Bertha Mae

It’s amazing what you can get out of a single photograph sometimes, especially when you’re enamored by the primary subject matter! Such is the case with the picture of one of the keel boats, the Bertha Mae, which was part of the Mike Fink Keel Boats attraction that plied the Rivers of America once upon a time. Finding such a beauty is treasure enough, but if we take some time to truly explore this picture from 1976 we’ll find a few hidden treasures as well.

Let’s start with the obvious, the Bertha Mae. One of the two ships to make up the Mike Fink Keel, the other being the Gullywhumper, the Bertha Mae was, shall we say, the lovelier of the two ships. A vessel of the same name was originally featured on the episode of Disneyland entitled Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race on November 16, 1955. In the episode Davy teams up with Cap’n Cobb to race Mike Fink and the crew of the Gullywhumper from Kentucky down to New Orleans. What follows are river hijinks and espionage that ends with Davy besting Fink, but the two form a slightly bewildering friendship.

The Mick Fink Keel Boats attraction originally boarded in Liberty Square, down beneath the carriage house now associated with the Haunted Mansion. It would later receive a dock in Frontierland as well. This second dock is still standing, though not in use, and you can still see Mike’s name on the boards if you’re looking from the side of the Liberty Belle or from Tom Sawyer’s Island. The free floating keel boats were an opening day B-Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom. They would take their last trip around the river bend in April of 2001.

Let’s start digging through some of the other details. We always talk about how the artifacts that are strewn about the various lands and attractions of Walt Disney World give these places a sense of life. Typically, when it comes to looking over at Harper’s Mill, we think about the raft next to it. In this photo, however, we see that the storage area of the shed is actually open and there is a ladder leaning against one door. Clearly there is some work happening around the mill today.

Moving back over to Liberty Square, you can see a line of people queued up in front of The Yankee Trader. Could they be waiting to get into the Haunted Mansion or waiting for their turn on the Gullywhumper or Bertha Mae? Either is possible given the location of the crowd, but the Haunted Mansion is more likely. The romantic in me hopes it was for a cruise aboard the double-decker keel boats.

Further beyond The Yankee Trader, the foliage that divides Liberty Square and Fantasyland hasn’t yet created a natural barrier between the two lands. The happy coincidence from this lack of greenery is that we can see the side of the Swiss chalet that was home to the Skyway to Tomorrowland. In fact, as the trees and shrubs would grow up, much of the detail that can be seen here (and it is limited to do the distance the photograph was taken from) would have been swallowed up and very rarely seen, except by those in line for a ride aboard the Skyway. A section of the Skyway can even be glimpsed above and behind The Yankee Trader and Columbia Harbour House.

Photographs of extinct attractions are wonderful time capsules into the past of Walt Disney World. They remind us of beloved attractions and the stories they themselves harkened back to. We are given a sense of what the lay of the land was like in days when we were younger or, perhaps, not even alive to visit the parks and resorts. These pictures also remind us that Walt Disney World is ever-changing, even when exploring the world of yesterday. The Bertha Mae and Gullywhumper keel boats where a wonderful part of my child, as they were for many of you who also adored Davy Crockett. From this photograph, it is easy to see that they had a wonderful perspective on the Magic Kingdom as well.