31 March 2016

Flubber Storage

When you think of the Imagination Institute, you likely think of one of two things. One, Figment and his interactions with Dr. Nigel Channing that make up the primary attraction of the pavilion, or two, Professor Wayne Szalinski’s award ceremony for Inventor of the Year turned shuttered 3D adventure known as Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. These were the two pillars around which the glass pyramid that is the Imagination pavilion reimagined itself as. These additions and changes were slow and took place between 1994 and 2002, but there is a third, perhaps most crucial, scientist that calls the Imagination Institute home.

I am, of course, speaking of Professor Phillip Brainard. Although depending on the source, Phillip should either be spelled with one ‘l’ or two, but we’re going with the sign on his door for our mental sake in this article. The name Brainard is well-traveled throughout Disney film history and is tied to one invention in particular, Flubber. While Fred MacMurray was the original Professor Brainard to cook up a batch of Flubber in 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor, the Imagination Institute is home to the latter day inventor, portrayed on screen in 1997’s Flubber by Robin Williams.

So, just how entrenched is Professor Brainard in the Imagination Institute? Would you believe that there are no less than five references to Brainard and his inventions between the time you enter the Imagination pavilion and the time you start your tour in the attraction?

The first of which is Weebo, seen in a display case on the left as you enter the Imagination Institute. This is Professor Brainard’s personal assistant. This invention is more of a friend to Brainard than an invention, but she is also the reason he was one of 97th recipient of the Inventor of the Year award.

As you make your way around the corner, you will see a wall depicting three recipients of the Inventor of the Year award. Among those pictured are Dr. Nigel Channing, Professor Wayne Szalinski, and Professor Phillip Brainard. While Brainard is shown mixing up a batch of what we can assume to be Flubber, remember, this is not why he received the award.

Next up is Brainard’s office door. While we’re not sure if he’s in the office, you can definitely see that his version of Flubber, which definitely has more sentience than other versions seen before, is home. Multiple blobs of Flubber can be seen dancing around behind the frosted glass of the office window.

The last two are relatively quick hits. One, there is a door, with a bright green window, marked as Flubber Storage. This Flubber currently hasn’t found its way out… yet. Lastly, if you listen closely, you can hear the secretary doing an all call over the intercom for Professor Brainard as, apparently, some of his Flubber has gotten loose.

Professor Brainard is a massive part of the Disney brand of imagination, particular in the realm of film. I would be hard pressed to believe that we would have had as many zany scientific fantasy films and stories coming from Disney if it hadn’t been for the success of the original Brainard in The Absent-Minded Professor. It’s no wonder that Brainard has his fingerprints, and Flubber, all over the Imagination Institute!

29 March 2016

This Mysterious Vessel

Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is a happy hideaway on the shores of paradise. At least, that’s the word from the watering hole’s manager, Skip, and I don’t think too many of us would disagree with that assertion. While the Grog Grotto’s grand opening was in April of 2015, the establishment first opened its doors on March 28, 2015 for a soft opening. The libations concocted by Trader Sam, not to mention his collection of artifacts from around the seven seas, are the true reasons to pull up a stool, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the tasty morsels. In honor of the anniversary we’re going to bite into one of these menu items, the Kalua Pork Tacos.

One of the things you’ll notice about the menu at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is that the drinks are given prime space and some raucous descriptions. The appetizers, however, aren’t given that same touch. In the case of the tacos, the entire entry is listed as: Kalua Pork Tacos with Cabbage and Pickled Vegetables. That’s all Skip wrote but that certainly isn’t where the story ends on these tacos!

The tacos are served as a trio with lime on the side for those who want that hint of citrus. Kalua doesn’t mean that the pork has been marinated in spirits, but rather it is a traditional form of Hawaiian preparation where the meat is cooked in an underground oven. It is fall apart tender, a sure sign it has been cooked low and slow. The vegetables are piled high and include shredded cabbage, onions, and peppers. The thinly sliced peppers include their seeds and bring a nice heat to the collaboration, while the astringent flavors of the pickles tickle the taste buds in the back corners of your mouth. The shell is crunchy, but it is also a bit chewy. It is more in the vein of a wonton or chalupa than a typical taco shell. Every bite is a taste adventure, which is exactly what you’re looking for in a place like Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

The next time you stop by Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, and you’re sitting back chatting with Skip, sipping on your favorite concoction, remember man does not subsist on rum alone! When you’re looking for something to sink your teeth into that’s a lot that can go right with Trader Sam’s menu, but I would recommend giving the Kalua Pork Tacos a try. And that’s no whale of a tale!

28 March 2016

Main Gate

Why do we continue to visit Walt Disney World?

As the costs for everything from a ticket, to a room, to a meal, to after-hours events, and even to parking continue to skyrocket, we still continue to go. At some point you would think we would be priced out of the market. At some point we would all say enough is enough. We would take our hard-earned dollar, that doesn’t stretch as far as it used to outside the resort’s berm either, and visit somewhere else. After all, Walt Disney World is not the eighth wonder of the world.

The idea that the folks at Disney are grabbing at money while offering little in return has reared its head again. Between the premium parking spots that now cost an additional 75% above the already outrageous $20, the limited capacity three hour after hours Magic Kingdom event for $150, and the seasonally adjusted pricing for one day tickets, many guests have started to perceive that there is a pinch going on. Consider that what was the cost of an annual pass around six years ago has now double and that same amount from a 2010 annual pass will only provide for a week of admission in 2016. Add all of this to the boiling cauldron that already includes entertainment offerings that have been slashed to a shadow of their former glory or cut altogether, and you have the perfect potion for an explosive populace.

For the longest time, Walt Disney World could hang its hat on the fact that its parks and attractions created the most realistic environments and had storytelling that was above reproach. While it still may have the largest quantity of these theme environments, the details that we all love and adore, the environmental storytelling that we crave is beginning to become more and more prevalent at other theme parks. Universal, for one, has been ramping up its game for a long time and between the Wizarding World and Skull Island, appear to be nipping at the heels of Disney. So perhaps the product isn’t as unique as it once was.

Caught between competitors who are closing the storytelling gap and the need to continue to be seen as the most valuable ticket in town, and you can begin to see the quandary Walt Disney World has found itself in, and the precarious position it has put itself in with even some of its most loyal guests. So, why do we continue to go?

No matter who we all are in the real world, when it comes to Walt Disney World we are all unapologetic optimists. We may complain, but we still find some reason to hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Part of that comes from our memories, Walt Disney World is a place where we made memories as children or with our children, and that nostalgia brings us back time and again. Part of it comes from the knowledge that Walt wanted a park where everyone could go, but that was always changing, so we believe these ideals will once again align someday.

Think about how optimistic we all are. Some of us continue to think of Disney’s Hollywood Studios as our favorite park, even as more and more areas and attractions shutter to make way for the Star Wars and Toy Story expansions. It is perfectly okay to take a step back and say it was our favorite park, and that we believe it will be again, but with everything shuttered there we’re leaning more towards Epcot/Magic Kingdom/Animal Kingdom right now. And yet, there are those among us who absolutely refuse to budge on their favorite park. Talk about optimistic!

We remember simpler times. When Walt Disney World was smaller and our favorite moment from a trip was huddling under a poncho with our parents, waiting and hoping for fireworks. And, just when the rain was about to douse our last whisper of hope, the skies cleared, we were able to come out from underneath the smelly, opaque plastic poncho and watch the darkened sky become as bright as the midday with each burst of firework during Illuminations. We remember the first time our child was able to climb aboard Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the almost instantaneous love they had for the roller coaster. We reminisce about meeting Mickey for the first time, riding aboard a monorail, meeting the Ninja Turtles/Power Rangers/Anna and Elsa, taking a flight with Dumbo, putting on a pair of mouse ears, and all of our other memories that are just as unique as we are. We refuse to put a price on the memories we have, and therefore continue to pay whatever the price is so that we can continue to make these types of memories, or revisit the places where we made these memories to begin with.

The first spark of what would be Disneyland, and then a theme park empire, came to Walt Disney while he was out with his daughters one day. He dreamed of a place where all were welcome and that would continue to evolve and change. Those two items, to those of us who have spent our lives in and around the theme parks, are not mutually exclusive. How many stories have we heard about children who started out their lives with very limited income, but their parents would let them wander around Disneyland in the afternoons. Because they were safe there and it didn’t break the bank to be able to let them wander and dream, even if they couldn’t afford to jump on every attraction that they saw. These children are some of the very same individuals leading the company today. In our hearts, we believe that they remember what those days were like, what the heart of the parks have always been, and will turn the attention back to being a place for all someday soon.

Perhaps that belief is misguided, but so often with optimists, their beliefs cannot be swayed by even the most overwhelmingly logical argument. Where did we get that unbridled sense that the sun will come out tomorrow and not just that Disney will maybe one day have a “coupon day” to borrow from Jurassic Park? We got it from Walt Disney World.

We know that the future is bright for the parks, we’ve seen the renderings for new lands and attractions, and we’ve seen what has already come to pass with New Fantasyland and Disney Springs. We know that the future of Walt Disney World is secure in terms of their ability to tell stories in incredible environments, but will we all be able to see and experience them the way that we always have?

I don’t mind a scattering of ticketed events, but I think there has to be a better way than to be seen as ostracizing those who love you the most. Think about the International Flower and Garden Festival as an example. The majority of why guests come to this event, the topiaries and gardens, are included with admission to Epcot. There are some classes, extra merchandise, food offerings, etc. that have additional costs. Just because I don’t get to partake in these pieces doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do get to see. This is a model I’d love to see flourish more within Walt Disney World, and I don’t know if it will happen, but I hope that it can take root.

The cost of visiting Walt Disney World is always going to climb, there is never going to be a day when Disney announces that ticket prices are going to be going back down by 5, 10, 25 dollars. I think the realists inside all of us understand that. That doesn’t mean that it should grow exponentially, putting the burden of tomorrow’s dreams on the shoulders of those struggling to just step through the gates today. It may be misguided, and it may just be flat wrong, but I’m choosing to believe there is a brighter day coming or all of us that love Walt Disney World. I may only be seen for how fat my wallet is these days, but since it was Disney that thought me to believe in the impossible and take chances, I’m taking the chance that they will see there is a value, and one not tied to a dollar sign, in the guests that have loved Walt Disney World for their entire lives and want to share that with as many people as they can.

25 March 2016

The Happiest Balloon on Earth

Earlier this week we talked about getting a view from a different height in Epcot. Well, I don’t know that there would be a much better view than taking to the skies about Epcot in the Happiest Balloon on Earth!

This is, in fact, the original Happiest Balloon on Earth. This version of the balloon took to the skies in 1988. Two others of Mickey Mouse himself have been created, one in 1993 and the other in 2006. There was also another version built, named Birthday Mickey, in 1990 that featured Mickey with a birthday party hat, but the fabric of that particular balloon failed quickly and the balloon had to be retired. While the hot air balloon is known as the Happiest Balloon on Earth, when Mickey Mouse is aboard the balloon, it actually goes by the call sign of Ear Force One.

Back to the photo, this bird’s eye view of then EPCOT Center offers up a view that is simply incomparable. For starters, well, there’s Horizons! The original paint schemes for Communicore and The Living Seas can be seen, and there is no canopy hanging over the courtyard in the middle of Future World. Also, there is no track around the outside of World of Motion.

So, we’re landing in EPCOT Center 1988 and the park looks pretty empty, what corner are you off to visit first?!?!

22 March 2016

Dartholes in Fuselage

Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is one part hangar and one part bar, which explains some of the unique pieces and storage around the place. That level of detail goes all the way down to the menus themselves, where the Pilot’s Log Book that belonged to Jock has transformed into a file folder for all of his favorite beverages and bites. Of course, with all of that information, some of his flight information has been obscured, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put some pieces back together.

The log book includes a space for the date (year, month, and day), what aircraft was used, how the aircraft was identified (i.e. it’s call sign), who was the pilot, who was the second pilot or passenger(s), and points of departure and arrival. It also includes a section to describe the Mission, Procedures, and Maneuvers. It is this last section, on the page with one of the Hangar Bar’s signature drinks, the Cool Headed Monkey, where something caught my eye and warranted further investigation.

On the fourth line of the mission section, the menu reads, “Dartholes in fuselage (again). Yankees lose 12-1. Dang it!

Sounds like Jock, who we know is an avid New York Yankees fan from his hat in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is having a particularly bad day. Or is he? While some of the information is obscured on the page, we can tell that this is taking place in October of 1943, but the day of the month is missing. But we have enough pieces to investigate, a team, a month, and a year. A simple search gives us the Yankees’ schedule in October of 1943, which happened to include the World Series that year.

On October 2, the Yankees beat the St. Louis Browns twice (5-1 and 7-6). On October 3, the Yankees again beat the St. Louis Browns (5-2). In the World Series, played against the St. Louis Cardinals. They won four out of five games, including games on October 5 (4-2), October 7 (6-2), October 10 (2-1), and October 11 (2-0). In fact, the only game the New York Yankees lost in October of 1943 was on October 6, falling (4-3) in the second game of the World Series.

The dartholes in the fuselage got me to thinking; perhaps we’re looking at events tied to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The opening scene of the movie takes place in 1936, and while the New York Yankees were still playing in October of that year, the World Series having begun on September 30, their only loss in the month of October would come on October 5 of that year, losing to the New York Giants (5-4).

Personally, I’ll chalk it up to Jock mishearing a static-filled radio broadcast or finding an oil smear on the box score in his newspaper. Either way, the Pilot’s Log Book that the Hangar Bar utilizes for a menu is a treasure trove of details, and I’m certainly going to be digging through them for more stories from Jock’s adventures!

21 March 2016

You Could Widen Your World

There is something to be said for being able to find a different perspective inside of a Walt Disney World theme park, resort, or recreation area. Whether it is getting closer to some of the details, seeing them from a different angle than they were originally intended, or taking in a panoramic view of massive swaths of the property, we are drawn to these unique viewpoints.

If you think about it some of our favorite views of the parks come from a different, usually related to height, perspective. In the Magic Kingdom we wait impatiently to reach the point just before the plunge down Chickapin Hill on Splash Mountain, peek through the canopy branches of the Swiss Family Treehouse, and marvel at the vistas from the Tomorrowland Peoplemover. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios we will scare ourselves half to death just to catch a glimpse of the park before the Hollywood Tower Hotel’s elevator gives out on us. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom we crane our necks to lookout over the park or wait in line to be at the very front of Expedition Everest’s tea train to see all of Walt Disney World lay out in front of us. Elsewhere, we reach for the skies on Disney Springs’ Characters in Flight, Humunga Kowabunga at Typhoon Lagoon or Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach, and even when we dine at California Grill.

But what about Epcot?

Once upon a time Epcot had some of the greatest height defined views in all of Walt Disney World. And with good reason, the pavilions of Future World and World Showcase are big and bold, almost reaching out desperately to be examined in all their glory The vantage points of Epcot vanished, slowly but surely, and we became accustomed to keeping our eyes looking up at the wonders, our feet firmly on the ground. It happened in ways where we lamented the loss of an attraction or welcomed in something new, and forgot to think about the details we were losing.

The thought came to me recently when I was watching an old home movie someone had posted of World of Motion. Prior to becoming Test Track, the omnimover ride vehicles languidly climbed out, up, and around the front of the circular building. During this slow ascension, guests could were able to take in all of Future World East, including Horizons and Communicore, with a bird’s eye view that included Spaceship Earth. You could notice the manner in which the walkways were set out, the landscaping, and hold your breath that you could see a monorail whizz by. I will credit Test Track that there is still an outside section, but what you really see now are some product placement vehicles and, just when your car approaches Future World where you’d love to see what’s happening, the banked curve turns you in towards the building and the view is obstructed.

I started thinking of other heights that could be reached in and around Epcot, and I immediately thought of the Image Works of the Imagination pavilion. Granted, most of us were usually in a hurry to run down the Rainbow Corridor, play with the Pin Screens, hop around on the Stepping Tones, and color with Figment’s Coloring Book to ever notice the view. However, our parents definitely took note of the view, and it was enough that on a bright, sunny Florida day, even children would stop and take note of how cool Future World looked.

In the case of the Image Works, I know there is talk of it becoming a Disney Vacation Club lounge, but like the lounges scattered all around Future World, they aren’t there for every guest to enjoy. Currently, the best way to get a bird’s eye view of Epcot is to take a ride aboard the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center. I highly recommend taking this trip, not just to get a different view of Future World and World Showcase, but also because it’s the best monorail leg anywhere in Walt Disney World. That said, it isn’t exactly a view offered up by Epcot itself.

I’m not trying to bash Epcot, and I certainly don’t have all of the answers as to how these views should come back into the park. I do believe, however, that there is a certain catch your breath moment when you get a different view of a park, icon, or area that you’ve never had before. Those moments serve Epcot well during its formative years, and would certainly be welcomed back into world of Epcot’s outlook on tomorrow. What about you, would you like to see Epcot give guests a way to view the park from more unique vantage points?

17 March 2016

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

We all have wish lists. Things we would love to do or see or collect. Some of these are because we know the experiences are once in a lifetime, or they harken back to another time in our lives, or the wish is for someone else because they mean so much to us. With Walt Disney World, just a trip alone is sometimes a massive bucket list item that has been checked off. For those of us that go more often, we know that we will never do and collect everything that the resort has to offer, because the list is ever growing and always changing.

For my part, as an amateur Walt Disney World historian, there are pieces, artifacts that I would love to include in my collection. Some, okay most, of these items I know I’ll never see, and I’m truly okay with that. For me it is a matter of love, just like the Main Street Gazette has been for all these years now. For whatever reason I know that if some of these pieces were in my hand I could share them with the rest of the world, while at the same time I would know that they are being taken care of with the utmost care, because I’m the one handling them.

Since I know I’m going to drone on about some of these, what’s say we just get on with it, huh? And since news just broke of Indiana Jones returning, we’ll just call this top seven list the Raiders of the Disney Ark…

Adventurers Club Mask – Due to my age, I got to the Adventurers Club late in the game, but that never stopped me from loving every corner and every letter, postcard, picture, or artifact in the building! The Mask Room was home to some of my favorite member interactions and is where I have some of my fondest memories of friends that are near and dear to my heart. Plus, it’s just an amazingly cool room! I wouldn’t pick out a specific mask, but I’d love to have one hanging on my walls. If for no other reason than to create outlandish tales to tell friends and family about where it really came from!

Horizons Artifact – Horizons was, and continues, to be what Future World and Epcot is all about. It is the meeting of yesterday, tomorrow, and today. It is believing that tomorrow will be better than today because our children’s dreams will be so much grander than our own. Up to the day it closed, Horizons was always what I dreamed I would see in my lifetime, and I have yet to give up on that dream, even if some of it is a bit of a stretch these days.

I could say that I’d love to have anything from Horizons, and that would be true, but if I’m being totally honest, I would have to say it comes down to three pieces. The floating shoe from the space scene, an orange from Mesa Verde, and the ride vehicle displays that allowed you to choose your own adventure ending. The first two pieces are obvious as they are some of the things that we all love about Horizons. As for the panels, they were always a source of contention in my family, with votes often being two to two. That would inevitably lead to me trying to trick the system into giving me the ending I wanted to see (either the desert or space scenes) and not the one my sister wanted (the underwater scene). These memories alone make me wish that I could have one of those panels, light the back of it up, and pretend to torture my poor sibling again…

WorldKey Videos – We’ll make this one, and the next one, quick. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and I would love to have a complete recording of all of the pieces of the old WorldKey kiosks. Touch screens aside, I could spend hours as a child watching these videos, about places that were literally only a few steps away!

EPCOT Teacher’s Center Library – Again, I know this information is woefully outdated, and I know it isn’t what most people would want if given the choice, but I would love to have a copy of all of the materials from the EPCOT Teacher’s Center. For the unaware, this is where educators could go and gather materials to use in their classrooms back home. This would just be a cool library to watch over.

Studios Backlot Artifact – This falls into the Horizons category above. I have been sad to see the Backlot, Catastrophe Canyon, and all of its storehouses go, and I want to make sure at least a piece of it is remembered. An artifact from two of my favorite guilty pleasures, The Rocketeer or Dick Tracy, would be terrific! It could be a living, breathing piece of movie history living in my home.

However, the real treasure I’d love to watch over is something from Mojave Oil. This was the oil company that was working on the Catastrophe Canyon set when the tours came through. The company’s plane was just outside the canyon, while a truck emblazoned with Mojave Oil logo was one of the major set pieces in the scene. There were of course barrels, and Mickey Mouse even had Mojave Oil cans in his garage back when Toontown resided in the Magic Kingdom. It’s one of those little pieces that may have been overlooked by a majority of guests, but that I truly loved.

Nautilus Artifact – Who wouldn’t want a piece of one of the Nautilus submarines that used to glide through Fantasyland?!?! 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has always been a big part of who I am. As a child it showed me just how much my father loved me that he would venture onto one of the subs even though he was terribly claustrophobic, simply because I wanted to visit sea serpents, mermaids, and divers in Vernian suits. As an adult, it has been a catalyst for get to speak with George McGinnis, one of my personal heroes, and has been a shared sense of joy between me and my good friend, who is also a personal hero, Lou Mongello.

Speaking of Mongello, I know he has a Nautilus porthole in his collection. How great would it be to have one of the “eye” windows or serrated fins to one up him?!?!

Lawnmower Tree – This is the one artifact that truly lives in my heart that I would cherish more than any other. Growing up in Fort Wilderness, this sign in the Settlement area was a never-ending source of wonder for me. How did it get there, could it ever come out, who was Billy Bowlegs? Over the years the Lawnmower continued to be swallowed up by the tree. Eventually the tree had to be cut to stop the engulfment of the lawnmower, which in turn led to the tree rotting and having to be removed several year back.

I put out feelers once upon a time, but what I wouldn’t give to have the Lawnmower Tree’s lawnmower parts or sign. Fort Wilderness is a large part of who I was, am, and will be, and I’d love to carry this piece of the campground with me and share it with the world.

So there you have it! Some are emotional, some are selfish, and some are just plain nerdy, but they are all a part of who I am. What items from in and around Walt Disney World would you love to have in your personal archives?

16 March 2016

'Tis For You to Find, Sez I

Once upon a time, a ship washed ashore a tropical paradise known as Treasure Island. No, I’m not talking about adventurous tale told by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m looking out across Bay Lake to the wildlife, and particularly bird, sanctuary that was created in Walt Disney World during the early part of the 1970s. That doesn’t mean that the two stories don’t intersect, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Treasure Island was an 11 and a half acre island sitting in the middle of Bay Lake. Though the island had names before Disney came to Florida, and would have others after, Treasure Island was the name it was given when the attraction opened in April of 1974. This sanctuary, while not as grand as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, was the company’s first foray into introducing guests to living and breathing exotic animals and plants. Its latter name, Discovery Island, would even be utilized at Disney’s Animal Kingdom after the island closed.

As stated above, birds were the primary focus of the island. In fact, when Treasure Island opened it had over 200 exotic birds that called the island home. Given the climate of central Florida, the birds were from tropical regions the world over. Though it was worth mentioning and repeating that the birds were not tame or trained, and so it was best for guests to not handle or try to feed the birds. Or, as one guide referenced, it was unwise to ask the birds for directions. Of the 200 species of birds, many lived in Smuggler’s Roost, which in 1974 was one of the largest aviaries in the world, but other areas such as Buccaneers’ Roost or the Mizzen Mast also made the birds at home. Everything from Blue Peafowl, to the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, Vulturine Guineafowl, four types of cranes, two species of flamingo, macaws, cockatoos, barn owls, and even a Southern Bald Eagle (on loan from the Department of the Interior) resided in some corner of the island. And that’s not even a complete list of the birds who called Treasure Island home.

To make these feathered friends feel more at home, tropical plants from many of their homelands were relocated to Treasure Island. From East India could be found giant stands of bamboo, while passion flowers from South America, Indian orchids, and gardenias from China added fragrance to the environment. In addition to the beautiful sites and scents, plants such as banana trees and palms filled in the gaps, created canopies and nooks, and became nesting grounds for the island’s residents.

Treasure Island was a tropical paradise that could have been plucked from any tale of buccaneers and buried gold. There were plenty of references to the island’s namesake story and pirate legends. Characters and locations from Stevenson’s Treasure Island were given their due throughout the sanctuary, such as Black Dog Bridge, Jim Hawkins’ Crow’s Nest, Skeleton Island, Cape of the Woods, North Inlet, or Cap’n Flint’s Perch to name a few. The Jolly Roger, the black flag with a skull and crossbones, even flew above the Jolly Rodge Wharf (clever name, huh?) where guests docked at the island’s entrance.

If you have been around the Main Street Gazette for any length of time, you know how much joy I take in the names given to people and places, the backstories that populate the worlds created by Imagineers. That holds true for Treasure Island, but perhaps more heart-warming to me in the case of this old island, were the quotes of Treasure Island itself placed upon this map. One from Stevenson, as the narrator of Treasure Island, and another from the marooned, and certainly a bit mad, sailor, Ben Gunn.

To this day, the remains of the Walrus, Captain Flint’s one-time ship, still sit upon the shores of Treasure Island. The island would be renamed Discovery Island in 1977 and close for good in 1999, 25 years after the first guest stepped ashore. The sanctuary’s winged residents have long since been given other homes, but local birds have taken over the island as their only personal haven. Although guests can no longer visit the pirate’s lair and tropical paradise, Treasure Island’s place in the annals of Walt Disney World history is well established. And who knows, perhaps one day pirates will return to this island in the middle of Bay Lake. Until then, the treasure of the island's tale is, as Ben Gunn put it, "'Tis for you to find, sez I!"

11 March 2016

Santa Jaws

Walt Disney World offers many of us a change of scenery from our everyday offices and commutes. But what if you called Walt Disney World home? Or a specific corner of the resort? Well, then you mosey across the Vacation Kingdom to try something new. I could be talking about a lot of people, but in this instance I’m talking about Santa Claus who calls Winter Summerland home.

This is one of those details you’re going to have to go snooping around for, but it is completely worth it. Tucked upon the mantle of the fireplace, behind the garland hanging there, is a note from Santa. It reads:
Going snorkeling at Shark Reef.
Be back soon…
I hope.

“Santa Jaws”
Clearly Santa Claus, I mean Jaws, has a sense of humor. This is a reference to the Typhoon Lagoon attraction where guests can snorkel with sharks, fish, and other creatures of the deep. While Winter Summerland shares its space and theme with Blizzard Beach, this shows that the tales created by these two parks aren’t exclusionary to the world around them. There are a few crossovers between the two water parks, such as their cousinly mascots, but this is arguably the most direct connection between the two areas of Walt Disney World.

And don’t worry about Santa, I’m sure none of the sharks want to end up on his naughty list!

09 March 2016

Don't Plan a Proper Meal

Do you ever have that day when you’re at Walt Disney World for a week where you just can’t decide what to eat for dinner? For me that day always comes when it’s later in the trip, I typically have taken the afternoon off for a nap, my room is feeling small, and, on some level, I’m homesick. In those times I can wander all over property and nothing sounds good, and I will get hangrier and hangrier (hungry and angry, for those of you not in the know), until I plop myself down in whatever food court I’m closest to and settle for a burger or something quick. When, in all actuality, what I really want is a hot meal, home-cooked, that resembles comfort food. Turns out, there is a solution.

I have, on more than one occasion, wandered my way into the Contempo Cafe in one of these homesick states. While menu items here seem to rotate off and on, there are a few staples that tend to stand the test of time. Currently, one of those plates happens to be the meal I’m speaking of today, the Beef Pot Roast.

The Beef Pot Roast comes with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. As you can tell from the photograph above, on the day I had this plate that seasonal vegetable happened to be green beans. You really can’t come up with a more down home, typical American dinner than pot roast, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

I’m not going to try and sell you on this being the most amazing meal on property that no one’s heard of, because it isn’t. And we all know it. However, the pot roast is fork tender and falling apart before it arrives on your plate. The mashed potatoes are a perfectly vehicle for the gravy, which is liberally applied to both the potatoes and beef. The green beans are fresh, or at least frozen fresh, and steamed. There is nothing fancy about this dish, but it can be just what you are looking for.

The Beef Pot Roast at the Contempo Cafe may be more akin to a lunch served in a school cafeteria, but definitely a step up, than it does with something your parents or significant other whipped up after hours in the kitchen. That said, this dinner will remind you of home in some fashion when you start feeling a little homesick or just need a break from your long-time favorites or the overwhelming offerings that now encompass the table service circuit. Don’t put this on your must eat list, but do keep it in your back pocket for a rainy evening when you just want to feel warm inside!

07 March 2016

Friends of Pascal

The missus has a thing for secondary characters, aka sidekicks. They are always her favorite characters in a movie, and the more sarcastic they are the better. It’s not surprise then that Maximus and Pascal were her favorite characters in Tangled. When the new restrooms opened in Fantasyland opened several years back, she was delighted to find that they were both given their due representation in the area. Yes, the lanterns are lovely, the wanted posters are a hoot, and the shaded charging stumps are terrific, not to mention how much I love having water present in the form of a waterfall on this side of Fantasyland. However, the real reason we come and spend time in this area is to look for Pascal’s friends.

A pair of signs provides only a very vague description of this activity. In fact, the brief text states:
Look for friends of Pascal in the scenery,
Hidden among all the flowers and greenery.

Catchy, right? But it doesn’t really paint a clear picture. For the uninitiated you would believe that the little greenway passing between the two walkways, filled with grass, rocks, shrubberies, and a small creek would wield you results like this.

Again, you’d be right, but that doesn’t mean those are the only places you should be looking. While this may be a greater starter game for young children while their parents are charging their devices, this game applies one of my favorite rules of exploring theme parks. You must look up, down, and all around if you want to find Pascal’s friends. Otherwise you might miss one of his friends, camouflaged in plain sight.

That’s right, boys and girls, not all of Pascal’s friends are green. You’re going to have to look closely to make sure one isn’t sliding by you because they’ve matched their scales to their surroundings! Of course, I also wouldn’t look just in this area either. If I were you and I were searching, I’d consider the entire Tangled area as the perfect Pascal hiding place.

So, let’s clean up this game with some last pieces of advice and information. There are ten of Pascal’s friends to be found in the Tangled restroom and recharging area. They can be high and low, anywhere between the two entrances to the area. They are a multitude of colors, including various shades of green, tan, and blue. Cast members in the area can be a big help when you get stuck and cannot find the last one or two you are searching for.

This is a little diversion the missus and I love to play, and it is a game that is fit for all ages. Some of Pascal’s friends are easy to find, others take expert eyes, or children who see way more than adults most of the time. You may think you’ll remember where they all are hiding from one visit to the next, but I can tell you that apart from a few obvious ones, we tend to have to start over every time we visit. Take some time, enjoy the shade, and try to one-up everyone in your group as you continue to find the well-hidden! You’ll all be giggling in no time, I’m sure!

03 March 2016

America's First Official Water Park

A lot of time when we’re looking back at the history of Walt Disney World we like to go back to the early days of an attraction, area, resort, restaurant, etc. Back to a time when no one really knew what to expect and anticipation was high. In this way we see what the progression of time did for a given space, or lament what might have been, was, or isn’t there any longer. While today we are looking back at an extinct crowd pleaser, it is from a very different lens.

This view is of River Country, more specifically the Slippery Slide Falls attraction of Walt Disney World’s first water park. Let’s give the photograph from March of 2001 a chance to speak for itself: 
AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION TURNS 25 -- Disney’s River Country opens for the summer swimming season in April, marking a milestone 25th anniversary for American’s first official water park. The popularity of River Country, located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, spurred two additional water parks -- Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach -- making Walt Disney World Resort the water park capital of America.
This photograph may, in fact, be the last promotional image ever produced for River Country. The park would celebrate its 25th anniversary beginning in April of 2001 and then close in November of that year. Disney wouldn’t official announce the permanent closure of the park until 2005, but it would not open up the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole again after 2001.

There is no argument that it did not have the capacity or larger thrills to attract guests in the same way that Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon did at the time and have continued to do since. In fact, River Country could have likely closed earlier than 2001 with only die-hard fans taking notice. Considering there had been two behemoth water parks on Walt Disney World property since 1995, there is no doubt that River Country continued on for so long, was given a proper send off in its 25th year,  and no official word was announced for another four due to the fact that the place occupied a special place in the hearts of many within the ranks of Walt Disney World.

Fifteen years on since this photograph first made its way to publication, and River Country still remains closed, in a dilapidated state, with no word of what will become of the space. In some ways it is hard to believe the park has been gone for that long and, in other ways, it seems as if it has been gone for much longer. No matter what lens you use to view the life and times of River Country, it’s still fun to dream about what was and what could be for this very special corner of the Vacation Kingdom.

02 March 2016

Antiquities Dealer

Once Upon A Time returns this Sunday for the second half of its fifth season, and it promises to be an adventure as characters long deceased appear set to make a return. For the next few weeks, Mr. Gold’s will also still be visible as part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In 2015, Mr. Gold’s shop joined the facades of the Streets of America and immediately captured the attention of Once Upon A Time’s followers. The windows features a variety of artifacts for that both the novice viewer and those who know every corner of Storybrooke’s tale to find and share.

One such artifact is this little beauty, Pandora’s Box. The box first appeared during the seventh episode of season three, Dark Hollow, and was last seen during the tenth episode of the same season, The New Neverland. Of course, that doesn’t really tell you the story of the box, does it? It’s a long twisted tale, but the Cliff Notes version is as follows… Gold wishes to use the box to trap his father, Peter Pan. However, the box is switched for a fake and Pan ends up springing the trap on Gold instead. Gold is eventually released, but during his second attempt to trap Pan, Gold inadvertently sucks Henry into Pandora’s Box as Pan has switched places with Henry. Later, at the town line, Henry is released, but is still believed to be Pan. He pleads his case and, once Henry is believed, the group hurries off to confront the real Pan. This is the last we see of this box, and it seems like nothing but trouble, huh?

The long and winding story that is Once Upon A Time has featured, and will continue to feature an encyclopedia’s worth of enchanted, magical, and well-known artifacts from our favorite fairy tales and stories. Some are winks and nods, while others come right out and make their presence felt, such as Pandora’s box. The addition of Mr. Gold’s shop on the Streets of America has been terrific, but as this area will be closed within a few weeks so that it can be converted to new experiences for the park, you had best hurry on by if you want your Once Upon A Time fix in person!

Oh, and if you happen to see Chip peeking out at you from behind the glass, tell him I said hello.