29 November 2016

Holiday Splendor

The Candlelight Processional is a longstanding Disney tradition and can date back to carolers at Disneyland in 1955. A second version of the show would venture east with the establishment of Walt Disney World, and resided in the Magic Kingdom for more than two decades. In fact, the Candlelight Processional as we know it now wouldn’t come to Epcot until 1994. Does that mean that Epcot didn’t have a holiday showcase during its first decade? Of course not!

Between 1983 and 1994 EPCOT Center was home to Holiday Splendor, a stage show that took place at the American Gardens Theater. Following the well-established holiday show format, the show featured guest narrators and singers that could be changed out regularly. While Christmas was the focal point, the show recognized the park it took place in and emphasized how the holidays were celebrated in countries around the globe. Think of it like Holidays Around the World condensed into a single stage production.

Holiday Splendor ran for approximately half an hour with a live orchestra and a host of dancers and performers accompanying the guest narrators. Children would come out and be introduced as guest performers and then take a seat on stage as if hearing the stories as part of the audience.  The pair of children would occasionally stand up and add to the number being performed by the headlining narrator. The opening number was framed around traditions and expressed the story and traditions of Chanukah. Holiday Splendor then moves quickly between customs and rituals common today but that come from Mesopotamia (Zagmuk), pagan druids (mistletoe), and even Chinese New Year before moving into an entirely 1980s EPCOT Center song about the story of Christmas. A whirlwind of songs more commonly associated with Christmas from around the world follows, with the show concluding with dancers and singers representing all nations coming together on the stage in the finale of Let There Be Peace on Earth.

The show was a massive undertaking, but Holiday Splendor was not presented every night between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. In fact, in 1989, when the above photo was utilized to promote the production, it would only run December 16-17 and 20-23 with two performances per night, and with three performances a night for December 25-30. A grand total of 30 performances for the season, which would be considered a drop in the bucket these days, but it put a definite emphasis on the times when they knew guests would be present.

There have been many holiday performances in the parks over the years, and each has its own tale to tell. The Candlelight Processional is certainly the most storied, but every show has its supporters and those who love it best of all. Yet, I’m certain that Holiday Splendor holds a special place in many hearts out there.

28 November 2016

Twinkling Twilight

For some the best part of the holidays is the ability to bring out and put up all of the wonderful decorations. In fact, around my house, I try to see how big of a tree I can get the missus to agree upon and continually try to find ways to decorate the front lawn while maintaining the modesty the missus insists upon. She loves the holidays, but does not share my overzealous glee for some of the finer elements of the season. The folks over at the 50s Prime Time Cafe and Tune-In Lounge, however, completely get me.

Oh sure, we differ on style of tree. I prefer something fresh cut, even if it has gaps and holes, while they go all out with their tinsel tree. It’s the typical Charlie Brown debate. Seriously though, take a look at these wonderful throwback ornaments! They truly set this tree in its own place and time.

25 November 2016

Delights and Indulgences

Food may be the furthest thing from your mind after yesterday, but with the end of thanksgiving comes the true beginning of the Christmas season, regardless of what retailers have been stocking their shelves with for weeks and months at this point. With that in mind, we’re bypassing the Christmas gifts for today in order to focus in on a Christmas treat. On a stroll around World Showcase, tucked away in a corner of Germany, we found a traditional fruit cake.

Okay, now I know some of you think I’ve gone around the bend and have already shut this article down, but what I’m talking about is fruit cake in its traditional form. It’s called Stollen, and it has about as much to do with the heavy, syrupy bricks we know as fruit cake as Christmas has to do with Independence Day. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the slices served up at the Prost kiosk in Epcot.

Let’s start with the Stollen basics. The bread is low in sugar content, and gets its flavor from the cinnamon, cardamom, orange zest, and other spices that are worked in. Don’t get confused, this is definitely a sweet treat, but that sweetness comes from the nuts and candied fruits baked into the loaf and the sugar icing that coasts the outside of the finished fruit cake.

So, how does Prost’s Stollen stack up? It was dryer than I expected, but that may come from the fact that there the only candied fruits in this version were raisins. There were also no nuts to be found. I would have preferred some almonds and candied orange peel, personally, but this was a fine example of how to do a fruit cake right. The sugary topping give the bread all the sweetness it really needs, and the spices are right out of any Christmas cookbook.

The not too sweet, not overly heavy fruit cake from Prost is a win in my book. The Stollen is a great introduction to the more traditional side of Chirstmas baking. I would recommend making sure you have something to drink alongside the fruit cake, to combat the dryness that can be present. Luckily for us, the Prost marketplace has a great selection of beverages fit for the young and young at heart. The next time you think all fruit cakes are the same, just remember that there is a tasty alternative out there, just waiting for you to venture through World Showcase and give it a try!

22 November 2016

All Aboard for Birthday Fun

Mickey Mouse celebrated his birthday last Friday with a dance party that spanned the globe. It was just one year in a string of impressive birthday events. Perhaps no birthday, however, has resonated with Walt Disney World guests than Mickey’s 60th. Celebrated in 1988, the shindig expanded the boundaries of the Magic Kingdom and gave visitors a whole new land to explore. That land was Mickey’s Birthdayland, and it had a very special way with which guests could gain access to it.

Guests would jump aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad at either the Main Street, U.S.A. or Frontierland stations. Announcements were made about the special surprise party that was being hosted in Mickey’s honor. As the train left Frontierland and made its way around to Mickey’s Birthdayland, guests could see special signs tucked away in the marsh featured a slew of Disney characters on their way to celebrating Mickey’s birthday. Guests would eventually pull into Duckberg, where the party was being held and the current resident of none other than Mickey Mouse himself.

Duckberg, otherwise known as Mickey’s Birthdayland, filled the vacant three acre plot between the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage and the Grand Prix Raceway.  The town of Duckberg was, for the most part, child or duck sized and came complete with its own gazebo/bandstand. That is to say the shops and storefronts, none of which guests were able to access, were all of the miniature variety. They made perfect photo opportunities for children who wanted to get their picture in from of D. Ducks Candy Shop, Duckberg News, Donald’s Miss Daisy, or even Scrooge’s mansion (as made popular by the insanely popular DuckTales at the time), but adults generally only used the facades as a place to hide from the sun.

Mickey’s house was also here, but was a full-sized, walk through attraction. Those of us that remember Mickey’s house from the Mickey’s Toontown Fair days, may be surprised to learn that the house is not the same one they remember. While the bulging columns and yellow color scheme that are trademarks of Mickey’s residence were there, the house itself was constructed to resemble a house that could have lived in any of our neighborhoods. His car, however, was the giveaway that proved a cartoon character must live here.

Guests could also visit the Party Tent, where the main event and stage show, Minnie’s Birthday Surprise, took place. Minnie had all of Mickey’s best friends, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, ready and awaiting the arrival of the big cheese himself! The party was capped off with the earworm worthy, We Love You Mickey Mouse. From here, guests could also go and visit Mickey backstage for what was billed as an “unequaled photo opportunity.”

Grandma Duck’s Farm, home to baby chickens, goats, pigs, miniature horses, and, of course, ducks also resided within Mickey’s Birthdayland. The farm was also where Minnie Moo, the cow with a Mickey Mouse shaped spot on her left side, happened to reside for a time.

To leave the land, guests could make their way out a large fence, i.e. gate, and back into the Magic Kingdom near the Mad Tea Party or they could once again ride the rails aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad bound for Main Street, U.S.A. For me, the train ride to Mickey’s Birthdayland was one of the coolest things in the world. It wasn’t a land that was accessible any other way and, even if you happened to leave through the gates at the far end of Duckberg, it always felt like you were in a faraway land. A land where it just happened that none of the doorknobs worked…

21 November 2016

Transformed by Adventure

Yesterday I woke up with a giddiness I hadn’t felt in years. I had happened upon Joe Rohde and had the awesome experience of being able to take time to thank him for his work, to listen to his stories about far off places, and get some enlightenment around design elements and principles. I was over the moon about the encounter, and it took quite some time for me to come out of the fog that it had all been just a dream and the things I had seen and learned I either already knew or had made up whole cloth as works of my imagination.

It’s ironic that this happened over the weekend of Destination D in Walt Disney World where Joe Rohde was actually taking time to present to guests. On Sunday, as I am sure you’ve all heard about by now, Joe Rohde took to the stage of Destination D with James Cameron to provide details of the stories that await guest in Pandora when it opens next summer. He also regaled guests with tales from other corners Disney's Animal Kingdom. I have had the opportunity to listen to Rohde in person once, during Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s tenth anniversary, and I am still taking away lessons from that presentation eight years on. I have only met Joe twice in person where, unlike my dream, I stammered through a thank you, received his autograph in a book, and was able to get a quick picture before moving along. That said, I could sit all day and listen to his stories.

You can find large swathes of Rohde’s sketches and notes in a couple of places, namely the book Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – The Journey Begins and in excerpts from the Nomad Lounge menu, more on the latter in a moment. Joe Rohde is also one of those wonderful individuals who gives so much of himself on social media, particularly on Instagram. Almost every post is a miniature master class. From why is something the way it is (because there was space and we had to fill it), the historical and architectural basis for an item, art history lessons, life perspectives, and even a game of “what is it” now and then. Aside from the obvious educational components of these posts, is his willingness to engage with those seeking to pick his brain or have some level of discourse. It is a rarity in this day and age to find this level of education and engagement, and I respect him all the more for it.

These flashes from his Instagram feed, the detail in Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – The Journey Begins, the tenth anniversary talk he gave on Animal Kingdom’s design, as well as the time I’ve already spent pouring over the photographs I took of the Nomad Lounge menu, that I think it is high time that Joe Rohde’s journal was given a place on our bookshelves. His sketches of snow leopards and wit around tracking animals in winter weather, the details of structures and culture found at the base of Everest, or the admiration and respect given to the Balinese artisans which help crafted Disney’s Animal Kingdom lead to an abundance of entries that enthusiasts around the world would love to read more of.

How many of us wouldn’t snatch up a book of his sketches and insights in an instant? Even if it meant creating a series of field guides to the various lands of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in a similar vein to the Imagineering Field Guides, that would be just fine by me. Give DinoLand, Asia, Africa,  and Pandora (once it's opened) each their own guide, and an additional volume as a combination  of Discovery Island, Rafiki's Planet Watch, and Oasis. Each guide would obviously require input from other Imagineers, their stories and artwork, and I’m fairly certain that many of us would go on our  own quests to obtain them.

There are a plethora of wonderful books on Disney’s Animal Kingdom, from The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, to the aforementioned Imagineering Field Guide and Expedition Everest volume. One of these days I promise we’ll get around to a single article reviewing them all. Until then, I love to dream about what an honest to goodness compiling of Joe Rohde’s journals and sketchbooks would look like. He is a living legend that I know many of us love to hear from and to listen to his stories, and short of special events or impromptu meetings via dreams, don’t have the opportunity to learn from him as much as we would like. A book dedicated to his works would really be a treasure for many of us.

And Joe, if you just don’t have the time to compile everything into a neat and tidy manuscript, which I’m sure you don’t with everything else on your plate, I would love to help you with that!

16 November 2016

Traditions That Embody the True Spirit

We’ve all heard the song, and have been known to quote it this time of year, but all around Walt Disney World it truly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. When we think of holidays, we’re drawn toward the big, bright, and bold celebrations of the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. This year, we might be a little sentimental about the loss of the Osborne Lights. Even if we venture towards thinking about resorts and their decorations, it is often times limited to the gingerbread displays at the Grand Floridian, BoadWalk, Contemporary, or Beach Club. And yet, there is magic to be found in all sorts of resorts.

A bit off the beaten path, the decorations on the tree and around Kidani Village are spectacular and play to the theme of being at or near a marketplace where goods are produced and sold. The attention to detail here is remarkable, especially considering how easy it could have been to simply duplicate items from Jambo House just down the road. The decorations include musical instruments, handcrafts, beads, wire, weaving, and so much more. Rather than keep talking about the beauty and uniqueness of Kidani Village’s wonderful display, how about we take a tour?

15 November 2016

Flying Dinner Rolls

On recent visits to Walt Disney World, we’ve been stopping in on a lot of lounges, at least it seems that way to us. Of course, with their great drinks and meals, I don’t see us stopping our visits anytime soon, just as I don’t foresee Disney halting the creation of excellent lounges. Today, we’re taking another bite out of the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge. Specifically, we’re sampling the Steamed Pulled Pork Buns.

These buns are a mix of west meets southwest meets east. Seriously, just consider the description of the Steamed Pulled Pork Buns that include green tomatillo and habanero sauce and pickled onions, and which comes paired with a side of slaw. You have the buns which have a distinctly Asian flare coupled with a southwest type pepper sauce. While pulled pork is a barbecue staple across the country, when it is paired with slaw it because distinctly Carolina. But let’s get down to brass tacks, how does it taste?

This is another example of Disney’s chefs using heat in a building manner. The first bite has that little sting from the pickled onions, not the mention the grilled onions on top, and a bit of smoky sweetness from the pulled pork. With each bite, however, more and more of the heat from the tomatillo and habanero sauce shine through. It isn’t enough that you’ll break out into a flop sweat, but you’ll definitely be reaching for your beverage of choice to cool off! The buns themselves are pillowy and chewy, and are great for sopping up any of the escaping sauce. Because, let’s be honest, no matter the heat level, it’s tasty enough that you’re not going to want to let any of this sauce get away.

With the slaw, you can opt to heap it onto your steamed bun, or eat it separately. I choose to do a little from column A and a little from column B. It isn’t overly creamy, which can sometimes be a problem with coleslaw. Between the cabbage, carrots, and other offerings, it is crispy and light, complementing the dish however you choose to use it, while not stealing the show from the starring attraction.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge regularly updates its menu. This was our second visit, and already there had been a few changes. That said, I’ve yet to find a bad bite on the menu. If the buns are available when you’re there, I highly recommend giving them a try, especially if you want something with some zippy heat. It may seem like throwing together such disparate ingredients might cause this dish to flounder, but instead it is definitely one you’ll remember in the best of ways!

03 November 2016

Hand in Hand with Tiki Talk

A love of all things tiki is once again roaring back into the public consciousness, although for many of us it never left. Within Disney’s world we have long loved The Enchanted Tiki Room and the Polynesian Village Resort, and the addition of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian have only added to the fervor. Disneyland, however, has one thing that Walt Disney World doesn’t education around the tiki gods.

That’s right, we can find carved representations scattered around the Polynesian and a pair welcoming us to The Enchanted Tiki Room, but who are they and what they represent has always been elusive for guests at Walt Disney World. Meanwhile, Disneyland has done an excellent job of utilizing their Enchanted Tiki Room’s lanai as a place to not only showcase the tiki gods, but also tell us who they are. Their stories are told both in audio and by playful plaques next to each tiki idol, the text of which came from none other than Marty Sklar. Today, to help out our Florida friends, let’s explore the Disneyland lanai and share the story of the tikis!

KORO (The Midnight Dancer)
In the moonlight he loved to dance
Natives who watched fell into a trance
Then under his spell all ladies and men
Learned to dance to the tropic top ten

MAUI (Who Roped the Playful Sun)
Through his special mystic powers
He made the sun keep regular hours
Maui tells us time to go
Time for wondrous tiki show

RONGO (God of Agriculture)
In tropic lands the legends tell
Astounding pioneers did dwell
This wise fella began all flight
For Rongo flew the world’s first kite!

TANGAROA (Father of All Gods & Goddesses)
Tangaroa took the form of a tree
(A tree that no one ever did see)
And so each spring the legends say
New life comes forth in wondrous way

NGENDEI (The Earth Balancer)
A legend comes from the tropic sea
It may be true – or – fan-ta-sy
‘Tis said when Pele shakes the land
Ngendei rocks and rolls upon his hands

PELE (Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes)
Jealous Pele’s angry scorn
Is known to every native born
With mighty blast or simple cough
She blows her bloomin top right off!

HINA KULUUA (Goddess of Rain)
In island world there is no gloom
For Hina’s mists make orchids bloom
And when this goddess is at play
A magic rainbow ends each day

TANGAROA-RU (Goddess of the East Wind)
Her gentle breeze on a tropic isle
Makes flowers sing and tikis smile
And casts a spell on flying birds
Whose joyous songs speak wisdom words

02 November 2016

Giddyap and Go

You’ve rustled up your crew, pulling them out of swimmin’ holes and well-needed naps, and they have a hankering for some down home cookin’, but your stomach is angry and you don’t have time to get the fire started and cook up something yourself. If you’re in Fort Wilderness, then I have just the tonic for what ails you, if you’re not, then you’re up a creek without a paddle! Tucked away between Trail’s End and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a quiet little spot where you can grab a meal and mosey on back to your cabin, campsite, or down to he shows of Bay Lake.

If your family is anything like mine, you’re going to need a mess of food to appease them, and P & J’s Southern Takeout has just the thing, the Giddyap and Go. The meal consists of ten pieces of friend chicken served up with cornbread and you choice of two sides between macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and mashed potatoes and gravy. The sides can also be ordered individually, so we opted for all three to give you folks a well-rounded review.

The cornbread is warm and soft, with just a hint of sweetness. It comes with half a dozen fair sized hunks, so no one should be complaining about the portions here. Now, I like to have something to dunk my cornbread into, but in a pinch a little butter and honey will do nicely, and this cornbread serves as the perfect vehicle for just such trimmings.

Moving over to the side dishes, I think it is all a matter of what you’re looking for. I prefer my macaroni and cheese to be a bit more on the dry side, but this soupier version tends to make children really happy. I think it’s because it’s so messy. The coleslaw is fresh and has a nice bite to it, perfect to reign in some of the saltier flavors present at the table. Last, but not least, is the mashed potatoes and gravy. Again, it was a bit runnier than I would have liked, but there were some nice hunks of potatoes in there so I cannot complain too much. As for the gravy, it was great brown gravy and I wound up drowning not only the potatoes but my chicken and cornbread in it as well!

The sides are all family-sized, but those are going to be some small portions depending on how big of a group you’ve rounded up. I would opt for either a few additional sides or, if you order all three like we did, make everyone pick two sides so everything stretches a bit further. Also, since you are at the campground and could conceivably cooking something else up, consider whipping up some baked beans or a quick salad at your campsite or in your cabin.

Now we’ve come down to the main attraction, the fried chicken. You’ve heard how good the fried chicken from Hoop-Dee-Doo is, right? And how its neighbor, Trail’s End, has the same delicious friend chicken, right? Well, my friends, you’re in luck because P & J’s Southern Takeout uses the exact same fried chicken too! The batter is crispy, the chicken juicy, and it tastes just like the fried chicken you might have grown up with on your back porch. If you were lucky enough to have a mother or grandmother who knew their way around a fried chicken that is! In all honesty, it is the best fried chicken on property behind that which can be found at Chef Art Smith's Homecoming, hands down, full stop.

The next time you’ve been running around the parks all day and haven’t stopped to consider what you were going to cook up back at your Fort Wilderness campsite, give P & J’s Southern Takeout and the Giddyap and Go a try. It may not be everything you need for a full meal, but it is a great jumping off point. Plus, the fried chicken is the top of the bill here, and it is definitely worth all of the hype!

01 November 2016

Respect the Sacred Place

When you are creating an environment that is meant to be representative of the authentic world around us, it can be a challenge to get all of the details right. There is also the idea that even if you get everything correct, that fine attention to detail may go unnoticed. It is precisely for these reasons that Disney’s Animal Kingdom at once feels recognizable to guests and as if these places are truly lived in. Every corner is filled with rich details that communicate the day to day lives of its residence. No place, perhaps, is this truer than in the latest addition to Serka Zong, the Rivers of Light auditorium.

There is no shortage of details we could look at around the monument, but the first place I want to start are with these three red cylinders that rest nearest the rightmost door of the amphitheater as you look at it. These cylinders are commonly referred to as prayer wheels, although the name is not quite accurate. They are utilized by Tibetan Buddhists with mantras, not prayers, being written and then tightly wrapped inside each of the cylinders. The process of spinning one of these prayer wheels is said to have the same beneficial means as if the mantras were recited themselves.

 The cylinders are most often constructed out of wood, metal, or stone, although leather and coarse cotton can also be used. These outside is typically adorned with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, as well as protectors known as dakinis and the eight symbols of the ashtamangala. The interior of the cylinders, or wheels, contain a spindle of wood or metal upon which mantras can be wrapped around and encased in the outer cylinder. Single wheels can be used by an individual, while many temples have rows of prayer wheels that can be spun while walking alongside them. While the results of benefits of spinning the wheels are believed to be the same as if spoken aloud, it is highly effective to focus on the Om Mani Padme Hum matra, repeating to yourself, while spinning.

The first known prayer wheels can be dated back to 400 C.E. in Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, though the people there are more historically and culturally tied to Tibet. While 400 C.E. is the earliest recording of a prayer wheel being used, there are many Buddhist masters to which the practice can be linked. The wheels were used for men and women who were illiterate, but still practicing their faith. As for the name itself, it comes from western travelers who could not articulate the difference between mantras and prayers, and having the wheel as the only comparable machine to the practice of turning the mantras. In fact, the Tibetan phrase of mani-chos-khor, is translated more closely in German where the artifacts are known as prayer mills.

While the prayer wheels in Serka Zong do not spin, they are an indelible sign of the faith of the people who live within Anandapur. In fact, the temple in which the amphitheater is housed would not be complete without the inclusion of such a sacred item. More often than not, the prayer wheels go unnoticed by guests, but the add value to the world that has been created and give us a true sense of the corner of the globe that we are visiting.