22 September 2016

Turrets and Battlements

Next week Walt Disney World, and more specifically the Magic Kingdom, will celebrate its 45th anniversary. I wanted to take a step back and visit a time over 45 years ago when Cinderella Castle was being constructed. In March of 1971, Walt Disney World released the photo and description below.

BUILDING A CASTLE -- Turrets and battlements of Cinderella’s Castle begin taking shape in Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. Towering more than 18 stories when completed, the building will be a main theme structure in the new “Magic Kingdom” park. Workmen can be seen turning concrete walls into a “granite” fortress. Gold-crested spires will crown the new castle which may rival Europe’s finest.
While I don’t know that it rivals some of the castles, chateaus, and fortresses of Europe, Cinderella Castle would go on to become a beacon for the Magic Kingdom. Visible from corners all over the park and even from across the Seven Seas Lagoon, the castle is that touchstone that we all recognize and adore when we think of Walt Disney World.

21 September 2016

Taste Epcot

We’ve been known on occasion to do a trip report in the style of the classic western, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, with a dash of The Magical thrown in for good measure. Today, however, as we look towards the second weekend of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, we thought we’d use it to give you all some mini reviews of some of the dishes we sampled last week. We didn’t get to nearly as many dishes as we would have liked, but hopefully this helps guide you to some tasty choices. Bon appetite!

The Good
 Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey-Caramel (Chocolate Studio) – This was a bite you had to eat fast. It was like melty center of an ice cream sandwich, not quite solid, but definitely starting to sweat. Only this was better than any ice cream sandwich I’ve ever had. Rich chocolate with a hint of almond and caramel, this was a total win!

Berbere-style Beef Tenderloin Tips with Onions, Jalapenos, Tomato and Pap (Africa) – This was the dish I knew I was going to have walking in the gates. There is so much flavor going on here, and yet you can distinguish easily between the tomatoes, peppers, and okra. The pap was creamy and great with the tomatoes. Although I would caution anyone that if you’re not a fan of grits this dish could be tough to swallow, but for me it was awesome! The beef tips for fork tender and the dish had a set of spices that built a bit of heat over the course of the dish but were more a point of flavor that of spiciness.

The Bad
 Sichaun Spicy Chicken (China) – I’m not quite sure what I expected here, but this dish is basically a handful of spicy chicken nuggets with a ton of red pepper flakes on top. They were fine for what they were, and probably would have been a pleasant surprise at any other point during the year, but during the festival there are too many great bites to settle for mediocre.

Schinkennudeln: Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese (Germany) – This is a very dense stack of cheese and pasta that gets very messy as you dig into it. The crispy bits of cheese are always a favorite of mine, but there wasn’t enough here to really wow me on the dish as a whole. It was a fine utilitarian dish, probably best as a side, but there just wasn’t enough here to hold my interest.

The Ugly
Chicken and Dumplings: Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms and Spinach (Farm Fresh) – I went outside of the box on this one and got a little snake bit. The chicken and dumplings were good enough to be higher up on our list, especially with the biscuit-like dumplings that were grilled off just prior to being added to the mixture, but it was the preparation that made this ugly. This is, for all intents and purposes, a soup. Yet, it was served up in one of the thin cardboard boats. I rushed through this dish hoping that I wouldn’t spring a leak and end up with chicken soup all over me. You should definitely try something at Farm Fresh, but you would be much better off opting for either the Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese or Pickled Beet Salad.

The Magical
Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice and Pickled Red Onions (Islands of the Caribbean) – This was my first dish of the festival, and it couldn’t have been a better one! The pork flaked apart with the fork and had a wonderful flavor. The pickled onions were delicious, but not overpowering. The rice and beans were a hearty accompaniment, with just the right amount of heat.

Spicy Hummus Fries with Cucumber, Tomato, Onion and Tzatziki Sauce (Morocco) – I expected a pile of French fries topped with hummus and a host of other toppings, this was not that and it is so much the better. While hummus and falafel are both made from chickpeas, I think the name created here was used because hummus seems a bit more friendly to people, but isn’t actually in the dish. This is several sticks of falafel topped with a spicy tzatziki sauce and a cucumber salad that was fresh and delicious. Again, this was not an overly spicy dish. The falafel was well prepared and not over fried, which can happen when they are prepared in this type of volume.

So there you have it! I hope something here tempts your taste buds and that you have an amazing time at the festival. I know I sure did. Let us know which of the above was your favorite, or if you found something entirely new that really rocked your festival!

20 September 2016

The Spirit of Travel

There is perhaps no place more suitably named in all of Disney’s Animal Kingdom than the recently opened Nomad Lounge. Nomads by their very nature roam from one place to another, moving across borders both natural and manmade, and quite possibly through dramatically different landscapes and environments in the process. They can move about as hunter-gatherers, herders, or even artisans. Is it any wonder then that we could see ourselves, inside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as a new breed of nomads, adding to our stories as we make our way from Africa to Asia, Diggs County, FL, and even Pandora one day soon?

With that roaming nature we also create and absorb new stories, which is the second critical component to the Nomad Lounge. Within its walls guests are invited to share a bit of their story via hanging tags. Each one asks a different question of the guest. What do you always do when you travel? Why do you travel? Where will you go next? What was the most memorable food? What was your most unexpected discovery? How has travel changed you? The questions go on and on, but require you to reveal a part of yourself during the experience. You can choose to keep the tag for yourself (each costs $1, and 85% of the proceeds go to the Disney Conservation Fund), or you can choose to become a part of the lounge and the nomads that pass through. Each tag is hung on a rack on the wall, When the wall is completed, it is then hung above the bar.

Stories and travel. Getting to where you are going is often times more the story to tell than the actual destination. And this is something that the Nomad Lounge has considered in great detail. In fact, compasses are inherent in the logo and doorways throughout the lounge. Beyond that, however, are a great many details that likely get over looked. The most obvious sign of travel, or form of travel, represented at Nomad Lounge are these ornate horse carvings that sit above the patio. They are not, however, the only representation of nomadic travel.

The beams leading up to each horse carving are trails unto themselves. They include various ways in which people have traveled from place to place. There are footprints, hooveprints, and even truck tire tracks. All of these could have been pulled directly out of the soft mud that would make up a passageway.

It seems as if we’ve worked our way from the inside back out to the entrance of the Nomad Lounge. It is here where the people, places, and creatures of Disney’s Animal Kingdom truly intersect in all of their nomadic glory. Along the short walkway between the porch and the rest of the park, you will find prints from birds, elephants, several small mammals, livestock, starfish, and boots. Everyone has come through the Nomad Lounge at some point, and it appears that all are welcome there.

The menu at the Nomad Lounge is filled with stories. Even the cocktails themselves are sometimes filled with stories if you know who to ask. Much of the artwork within the menu is from Joe Rohde or his team that explored the globe to bring authenticity to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I consider the menu required reading as there are many tales from their travels tucked within its pages (and if anyone at Nomad Lounge would like to pass along a copy of the menu to me for my collection, I would greatly appreciate it!). From tiny circular boats across treacherous rivers, dry and rainy seasons, and even tents that were frozen shut, these are stories that most of us have never heard, but that definitely beg to be told.

No matter how your story brings you to Nomad Lounge, take time to explore the rich details presented throughout. There are other travelers’ stories from both near and far, a distinct pattern of travel present in every corner, and even a bit of yourself if you’re so inclined. There is a lot to love at Nomad Lounge, and that’s before we even get to food and beverages! But that’s a story for another day.

13 September 2016

Living Laboratories

When we think back on the changes that have occurred within Living with the Land our memories are drawn to the changes in the music, the gargantuan vines that were part of the Symphony of the Seed, and the more recent shift from live guides to a recorded version. These weren’t the only shifts to take place, however. One of my favorite portions of the attraction that has since moved on goes back to its 1993 overhaul, the lettuce drum.

That’s right, I loved and miss this little beauty from the Creative Greenhouse. It was one of the more intriguing corners of the Listen to the Land version of the attraction and sought to highlight the connection between the work being done at The Land and the future of agriculture in outer space. The way the lettuce drum worked was that the force provided by the spinning of the drum would replicate the pull of gravity on the soil, seeds, and plants that lined the interior of the experiment. This pull would allow for roots to grow in a single direction and not get tangled with one another if being grown in a weightless environment. The gravitational spin would, as alluded to above, also ensure that the plants did not fall out.

While this was a large experiment that The Land took part in, and it took up a fair amount of space in the Creative Greenhouse, it was truly a scale model for what was being dreamed about in the future. Stepping over to Horizons’ Brava Centauri, there were several windows where you could see out into the world inside the space colony’s spinning sphere. There were sports fields, work and living environments, and even crops. Utilizing the principles present in the small scale activities seen in The Land’s lettuce drum, those who were visualizing the space colonies of tomorrow believed that large scale reproduction could be achieved.

That connection between The Land and NASA was always one I treasured and gave me dreams of where we would be when I became an adult. Sure, there’s no space station with a gravity wheel being utilized for agriculture, but there’s always tomorrow. With the Creative Greenhouse at Living with the Land always tweaking their experiments, there’s no telling what dreams children will be reaching for in the future.

12 September 2016

Anthony Fremont and His Orchestra

This, as you may recognize, is a poster from the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. In tonight’s episode we’re explore the dark side of Imagineering, where television and our deepest fears collide at the intersection of the Tower of Terror and… The Twilight Zone.

We’ve talked before about the insane number of details peppered throughout the Tower of Terror that tie back into their namesake Tower of Terror. What’s amazing, however, is the ability for the attraction to interconnect with a single episode or individual with so many various threads. We’ll start today with this seemingly innocuous poster from the lobby.

It is for the orchestra that was performing at the Tip Top Club the night five guests crossed over into The Twilight Zone. The orchestra’s main attraction is Anthony Fremont. Anthony Fremont was the central figure in the season three episode of the show, It’s a Good Life. In the episode Anthony, portrayed by Billy Mumy, has the ability to change things with just a thought and to read people’s minds. He takes his town off of the map, cutting all ties to the outside world, and imposes horrible fates upon anyone who thinks a bad thought about him. Still having a child’s imagination, his punishments are as wild as they are grotesque.

It’s worth noting here that Billy Mumy, as Anthony Fremont, would return to The Twilight Zone in 2003. This time Anthony is an adult who still has his powers, but now he has had a daughter with even stronger powers than his own. The episode was called It’s Still a Good Life.
This is the Tower of Terror’s only reference from the It’s a Good Life, however. As we make our way into the library, we are greeted by Rod Serling who has a chilling introduction to give us. This opening, with some clever editing and impersonation work, originally featured a map and not an elevator. These edits were applied to the opening of It’s a Good Life to make it suitable for a haunted hotel rather than a town removed from time and space.

Watch now, as we move across time and space, to Disney California Adventure. Here we pick up our Anthony Fremont thread once again. There is a similar poster to the Disney’s Hollwood Studios version, but this time we follow the actor Billy Mumy back to a season two episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled Long Distance Call. In this episode, Billy portrays a child of the same name who is given a toy phone from his grandmother. After she passes away, Billy uses the phone to continue to reach out and speak to his dearly departed grandmother. In the exit of the park’s Tower of Terror you can find a case with a toy phone, billed as “perfect for the children’s room and those late night calls to grandma.”

No matter where you look inside the Hollywood Tower Hotels there are memoirs of truly haunting episodes. In fact, many of the episodes highlighted in names and artifacts are direct links to some of The Twilight Zone’s greatest episodes. What sets the scene for even more chilling affairs is how connected some of these details are to one another. When is a map not an elevator, or an orchestra leader not a terrifying little boy? When you’ve stumbled into The Twilight Zone.

09 September 2016

The Scoop

There’s been some news out of the Magic Kingdom this week, or rather about the end of news coming out of the Magic Kingdom, which hit a nerve with those of us around the Gazette offices. One of the longtime Citizens of Main Street, Scoop Sanderson will make his last Main Street appearance on October 8. Known to many as a pin trader extraordinaire, his official role was that of reporter for the Main Street Gazette.

No, I don’t mean that he was someone that worked for or with us, but rather for the fictional paper that never truly circulated around Main Street, U.S.A. There were a couple of editions of the Gazette put out over the years, the most well-known version as part of Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary, but mostly it was just a name that lived in the mythical ether of Walt Disney World. That is, until Scoop came along. The reporter was genuine and had an incredible knack for being able to relate to and engage with children.

In fact, I never actually met Scoop in person. Why? Because when I did spot him he was always intently focused on the conversation he was having with a child or a couple of children. As a former preschool and elementary educator, this always did my heart a world of good. I would sit back and watch the interaction and see the joy he brought to them. It made me proud to be running this little thing called the Main Street Gazette and that Scoop was somehow, in a knotted up ball of string kind of way, related to it. I didn’t have to meet him, though I certainly wish I had, to know he was a one-in-a-million personality.

Scoop’s backstory included his ability to sleuth out a story, particularly if a guest happened to be celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or other monumental occasion. He would give his news report right there on Main Street, rather than wait for presses. Scoop is described as being a Town Councilman, who loved to walk his toy dogs, Butterscotch and Licorice. He could be seen riding along Main Street in a number of vehicles, playing a game of marbles, or getting in on the action with the Dapper Dans. He could be recognized by his trademark boater hat, complete with press card sticking out of the band. Like I said, one-in-a-million.

If you happen to catch Scoop between now and October 8, make sure to let him know just how special he was to you and to all of us. In an age where more and more newspapers and papermen are disappearing or going digital, he has been a breath of fresh air and someone I will definitely miss on my next visit to the Magic Kingdom. Thank you, Scoop, for everything.

06 September 2016

The Yeti Knows Best

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has long been a source of great meals, but the quantity of those meals seemed to be on the low end. Sure, Flame Tree Barbecue always had something delicious to feed us, as has Yak & Yeti Local Foods going back to the days when it was Anandapur Local Foods. For many years, however, that was it unless you wanted to sit down at Tusker House, and if you did no one could blame you for that either! With the opening of Harambe Market and the Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks, we’ve had even more offerings to satisfy. Today we’ve headed down that thirsty river on a trek to find a bite and a drink fit for any weary traveler.

Let’s start off with something refreshing, the Himalayan Ghost. This cocktail includes Snow Leopard Vodka, guava, and Odwalla lemonade. Much of the Serka Zong area of Asia is open to direct sunlight, which can be sweltering in the Florida heat no matter what time of year. The Himalayan Ghost sounds cold, which is just what the Sherpa ordered. The beverage is exactly that, cold and clean, there aren’t a lot of lingering aftertastes here. It is a bit sour from the lemonade, but the lemonade and guava are both sweet, so it balances out nicely. It’s not too strong of a drink, which means you won’t have hallucinations of some terrible yeti on the Forbidden Mountain, but it strikes a fairly middle of the road note on all fronts. If you need a walking around cocktail, the Himalayan Ghost can definitely be that for you.

Of course, all of this trekking has us hungry for something a bit more substantive. Luckily, there are offerings aplenty at the Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks. After careful consideration, we opted for the Roasted Pork Sandwich that is described as combining roasted pork, pickled vegetables, and cilantro with a sriracha dressing. The roasted pork is nice, it makes for a great break from turkey or ham in a sandwich, and is served well with the cilantro but neither of these is the stand out star here. That is the wonderfully astringent pickled vegetables, including carrots and onions, and the heat-generator itself, the sriracha dressing. That play between vinegar and the heat of the peppers in the dressing is wonderful and made my mouth do a little happy dance. To top it all off, the roll it is served on, which is basically all I gave you a picture of in my hurry to devour the Roasted Pork Sandwich, is hearty enough that it won’t fall apart the minute you take your first bite.

If you, like me, put these two items together, you are in for a treat. The Himalayan Ghost can contain and cool off some of the heat brought on by the Roasted Pork Sandwich. Similarly, the savory and spiciness of the sandwich can cut through some of the sweetness from the beverage. In fact, the only problem with pairing these two together is with the set-up of the Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks. Each are served through a separate line which means you are either waiting twice, or splitting up your trekking group to divide and conquer.

The structure of the Thirsty River Bar and trek Snacks may be a bit of a quandary, but the decision as to whether or not I’d pick up the Roasted Pork Sandwich and Himalayan Ghost again is not. Although, with all of the offerings popping up around Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it may be a while before I find my way back around to this spot. Then again, a few tasty bites and sips, while caching a breeze and beautiful scenery of Discovery River Lagoon, might just beckon me back sooner rather than later!