30 December 2016

From the Archives – My Wife Sue

A story that has its roots in classic Disney short animation and ties into Frontierland, what’s not to love about this tale from one of the west’s great couples? My Wife Sue highlights one of the guiding stars of the Main Street Gazette, as it is a blend of entertaining, history, and educating readers around something that could be missed, overlooked, or misinterpreted. The layering of stories at Walt Disney World is something that I love to explore and immerse myself in, and it is that love that has given way to so many articles on the Gazette. While there may be better examples of our work, this is just a fun piece to read!

My Wife Sue – Originally Published 26 August 2015

As you make your way through the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, you’ll come across all sorts of flyers, warnings, instructions, and other assorted postings. Near the map of Big Thunder Mountain’s mines are several postings from miners and townsfolk. One in particular is from that larger than life Frontierland hero, Pecos Bill. His note reads:

All Friends,

Come celebrate my marriage to the prettiest lady in Tumbleweed, my wife Sue, at the Dust Saloon.
Drinks are on you!
 There are almost as many tall tales about Pecos Bill in Texas as there are stars in the night sky out on the range. This little posting references the story of how he met and married Slue-Foot Sue, a tale that is also recounted as part of the Pecos Bill section of Melody Time. The 1948 animated feature was a package film with seven different sections telling seven very different stories through animation and music. Pecos Bill was the last segment on the feature and clocked in at a whopping 22 minutes.

In the Disney version of events Widowmaker, Pecos Bill’s horse, isn’t at all impressed by Slue-Foot sue coming between him and his favorite cowpoke. On their wedding day Sue was determined to ride Widowmaker, steel bustle and all. After trying time and again Widomaker finally threw Sue, and that steel contraption she was wearing kept her bouncing higher and higher. Pecos attempted to lasso his bride but failed to catch her, likely due to some shenanigans from Widowmaker, and she eventually reached the moon.

This note at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from Pecos Bill was obviously written before the wedding day. Here’s hoping all the miners went out to pay their respects to the newlyweds, otherwise they likely missed out on an event that would become legendary in these parts!

29 December 2016

From the Archives – Everything changes and nothing changes

When I head to Walt Disney World on either a vacation or a research trip, and really everything is research for me these days, I come down with a notebook of all the things I want to capture. Details, newly opened areas, specific photos I’d love to grab, and a list of meals or menu items I definitely want to review all make it into my notebook. Every once in a while, however, a meal comes out of nowhere. It may be that I’ve been running around for too long, missed a meal, and realize I need some sustenance immediately, that I ran into a friend and gabbed an unplanned bite with them, or that I had no plan and just grabbed something that suddenly intrigued me.

My meal at Cookes of Dublin came out of one such spontaneous occasion. After a long day of running around Downtown Disney documenting what I could, I realized that I needed to eat something. I happened to be near the entrance to Pleasure Island and the smells wafting over from Cookes of Dublin. It may have also been Raglan Road, but I spotted Cookes of Dublin first. It was an easy choice to grab one of their pies, complete with a heaping helping of thick cut potatoes. It is still one of my favorite bits of culinary happenstance I’ve ever had tasted!

Everything changes and nothing changes – Originally Published 14 March 2012

St. Patrick’s Day 2012 will be upon us in just a few short days, which means that all eyes in Walt Disney World are upon Raglan Road. But what about the quick service location attached to the side of the restaurant, better known as Cookes of Dublin? Well, if we’re looking to celebrate without attending a big party, Cookes of Dublin certainly has the pies!

The meal of choice was the Chicken and Field Mushroom Pie which comes with a side of chips, aka French fries. All of the pies at Cookes of Dublin are made from scratch each day. The freshness with which everything is prepared here means that there is going to be a stretch of time between when you place your order and when your food is ready. In other words, it may not be as fast as a typical quick service counter, but you are also not going to wait as long as you would at a traditional sit down restaurant either.

How is the pie? The top crust is light and flakey, while the crust that wraps around the pie is soaked with the pie’s gravy, making it chewy and buttery. The filling is large chunks of white meat chicken mixed. Also at the pie party are large segments mushrooms, leeks, and potatoes. The creamy sauce makes sure that all the flavors are equally distributed across the tastebuds. The pie is earthy and hearty and right in my comfort zone.

If you are looking for something a bit different this St. Patrick’s Day, or maybe just something to sop up some of that Guinness in your belly, you would do well to heed my advice and pick up a Chicken and Field Mushroom Pie from Cookes of Dublin. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the title of this article, it comes from John A. Cooke himself.

28 December 2016

From the Archives – Hands, Arms, Feet and Legs Inside the Vehicle

I’ve written a lot of stories on the Main Street Gazette, in fact were closing in on 3,000 posts in the history of the site, and many of them have had a personal slant on them. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything, however, that was as personal as Hands, Arms, Feet and Legs Inside the Vehicle, and I’ve certainly never written anything where the feedback I received touched my heart nearly as much as this has.

One of the tenants I try to live by with my Rheumatoid Arthritis is that I am not my diagnosis and that I shouldn’t boast or continually talk about what it does to my body, especially to those who may have no idea what it feels like. I try to educate everyone who asks, but I also try to just go about my day when I can, regardless of what the internals feel like. However, I felt that there had to be others out there who were afraid of what a trip to Walt Disney World could and would be like with RA. If there was anything I could do to ease their worry and to give them a realistic expectation, I felt that it was my duty to do so.

I tried to craft this article several times over the past couple of years, and nothing seemed to align just right until I just spoke from my heart. The reason I pulled this one from the archive so quickly after it was originally written is that I want to make sure it stays out there for those who may have questions or concerns. If there’s anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Hands, Arms, Feet and Legs Inside the Vehicle – Originally Published 10 May 2016

I’ve put it out there before, it’s one of the reasons the amount of content on the Gazette had to slow down, but I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis a little over a year ago. It was a wrecking ball to my life and what I believed would be my future would be, but it was also a godsend because I finally had an answer as to what was happening to me. The not knowing was the worst part. Of course, with the RA it meant a whole new lifestyle, a whole new perspective, and a whole lot of medications. It has also meant a whole new way of exploring Walt Disney World, but first let me try to provide a little insight into my daily life.

RA is an invisible disease for the most part. The way I describe it is that my immune system is an overachiever, just like me, and doesn’t know when to stop. It goes from attacking illness and foreign bodies to attacking healthy parts of my own body. There aren’t a lot of solutions that don’t require your immune system to become nonexistent, because you have to put the monster to sleep to feel better, even if that monster is what protects you from other creatures. Your energy level sinks like a stone and you find yourself negotiating with yourself just to make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The only time its visible is when I am in incredible pain, called a flare, or if I choose to wear a mask to keep myself healthy. We’ll get further into the mask bit a little more later. One of the best descriptions of living with RA comes from Chrsitine Miseradino and is called The Spoon Theory. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

Once I had my diagnosis, my first thought wasn’t how this was going to affect the Gazette or how it was even going to affect trips to Walt Disney World. I do have my priorities straight after all. No, my first thought was how this was going to affect my family, particularly the missus, and the conversations we had been starting around having a child. Then I thought about my health, I was just trying to get myself back into running, and we had just bought a house and I was thrilled to finally have a yard, a yard that I now wouldn’t be able to work in as much as I wanted to. Working with youth in my day job and having to be up, down, and constant moving was also a concern, as I wasn’t sure I could be as mobile as I needed to be. Living with RA was going to teach me all about balance.

All of the personal pieces are still debates and still keep me awake at night, not that joint discomfort is helping with sleep, but I digress. Everything is an internal dialog. If I eat this hamburger are my elbows going to regret it tomorrow? If I push too hard and mow my whole yard on Saturday morning, am I going to be able to walk to dinner Sunday night? Honestly, most of the answers I’m able to give myself are a definitive “Maybe!”

The tenants to remember with RA is that it is mostly invisible to passersby and colleagues, but it is completely and utterly exhausting, and you never know when or where it’s going to strike, only that a strike is going to happen sooner or later. So, we come to a visit to Walt Disney World battling these constraints. There is stress, there is a lot of physical demands, and there is very little of it that you can plan and control. Basically, the worst possible situation I could have imagined for myself. Ahead of the trip the missus and I sat down and had several long discussions.

Should I wear a mask while visiting? With an extremely low functioning immune system, I should do all I can to protect myself and my health right? Is the stigma of “what is wrong with that guy?” worth it? It isn’t what’s wrong with me, but rather I can’t run the risk of getting whatever illness you or your child has, because it is going to have a lasting effect on me beyond the fact that I’m going to take longer to get better. I wore the mask, sporadically. Basically, I’m not entirely ready to call myself out everywhere I go. It’s vain and I know it. I’ll probably change my mind in the next few years, but for now I’m still rolling the dice, and dealing with being sick more than I’d like to be.

Should we rent a wheelchair? I immediately opted away from the ECV option, if only because I was convinced I would do something wrong with the controls and end up running over some other guest just trying to enjoy their vacation. The short answer was, again, “no.” The long answer was I didn’t want to have it up front, but if I got to a point where I knew I couldn’t walk or carry myself any longer, we would grab a wheelchair for the days and times that I needed it.

Outside of these two considerations, we didn’t have a whole lot else planned ahead of time. Just like our daily lives it was going to be putting one foot in front of the other and deciding how best to meet the day each and every day.

Once there I was able to push through the first day or so with high energy. I was ignoring my body because my adrenaline of being back in Walt Disney World sustained me. It was definitely not the smartest thing to do, but my body didn’t notice so I didn’t take the time to think it through.

The first time I did notice something was when the exhaustion hit me in the afternoons. I still pushed through, but I mentally changed my strategy. Heck, I’ve always loved the long shows and rides, so this was a blessing in disguise. I got to spend some time in The American Adventure, on Ellen’s Energy Adventure, The Great Movie Ride, multiple rounds on the PeopleMover, it’s a small world (Have you ever noticed how many quiet, seated, and dark adventures there are in Walt Disney World?), or sitting on a bench and watching the parade go by. Wonderful! Sure, we called it an early night, but you need those every once in a while when you at Walt Disney World, right?

Wrong, I would push myself so hard in the mornings and during the days that I did not see the sunset or a single fireworks display the entire time I was there.

The next thing I noticed is that I wasn’t in my own bed. The pillows I use every night to keep my knees from touching one another or one of my arms tucked tightly against my chest weren’t there. The pillows I did have from Disney were okay, but they weren’t what I was used to. Neither were the sheets, comforters, and mattress. All of these pieces add up and they will keep you up and uncomfortable all night, regardless of how exhausted you are. Next time, I packed some of the comforts of home, just so I could sleep.

I have long been a believer that I would rather drive my car to the parks than be beholden to the transportation system. I love the monorails, ferries, motor launches, and even the buses, but I’ve always felt driving myself saved me time. Now, it saves me, period. I don’t have to wait in the elements or stand for longer than I need to. I can get myself to where I’m going before my tank bottoms out below Empty.

Driving my own car also allows for me to drive to Walt Disney World and set my own break pattern, not stuffed into a chair on an airplane where I can barely move and stretching is a luxury. I used to leave after work and drive straight through to Walt Disney World overnight, crashing the gates first thing the next morning. Now, I tend to make the trip in two days with a stopover at a hotel somewhere to rest and reboot. Part of this I leave at the footsteps of the RA, but I also know part of it is that I’m just not as young as I used to be.

I said earlier that I couldn’t plan and I wasn’t in control, but that’s not entirely true. Planning for a worst case scenario, something I don’t like to do because I’m eternally optimistic, can be extremely helpful. You may not need to utilize any of the plans you make, but know what and where your options are allowed me to enjoy myself a little more leisurely than if I had just been winging it.

The other thing that saved me were the friends I surrounded myself with. Between the missus and friends who were willing to accommodate what I needed, when I needed it, I was able to have a wonderful trip. I am eternally grateful to all of them, and don’t know what I would have done without them, regardless of the RA.

The mantra I have repeated time and again to people who ask about how RA affects my life is simple. It has changed how I will live my life, but it will not change my life. I don’t use it as an excuse, or something to brag about, and it certainly does not define me. I do use RA as something to laugh at. My hands clench up? I pretend to be a T-rex (of the “I don’t know how well this plan was though through” or “If you’re happy and you know it clap your… oh” variety). My leg is exhausted and being dragged around? I name it Smith or make some other joke about table legs working better than mine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis has changed my life, but perhaps I appreciate the world more now than I ever would have or I cherish those around me more than I would have. It is a learning experience, and I am a life-long learner. Quite literally now. It has changed the way I will walk down the road, but not my road, and certainly none of the rest and recharge that Walt Disney World has always brought me. I don’t know what I hoped this article would give you, but I hope you learned something, or if you’re living with this disease as well, maybe you found an idea or a glimmer of hope. I hope it brought you something, because I know it was a gift to me.

27 December 2016

From the Archives – Don’t get technical with me

This one goes back to our first year! Back then we were throwing things at the wall to see what would stick, what you the readers were interested in. I can remember doing short, short stories about each land in the Magic Kingdom for children (I’ll be honest I thought it might help launch a career for me as a children’s author… I’m still waiting for that email or phone call). More often than not we tried to stick to Walt Disney World for our articles, but didn’t make that our primary mission until a couple of years in.

One of the happy circumstances that created, prior to the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm, was that I was able to share one of my Star Wars treasures with our readers. That gem, The Star Wars Portfolio, came from 1977 and featured 21 of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings for the film along with notes on each of the paintings. This portfolio was created so early it is listed as The Star Wars Portfolio, with no reference to the A New Hope chaptering that would come later to the film. It was also so successful that it would spawn other portfolios for both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

I have always loved pulling these prints out and pouring over the details and craftsmanship, I do so at least once a year for the past twenty years. One of these years I should probably frame these beauties! With Rogue One on all of our minds and moving us back into the time of the original Star Wars, there’s no better time to pull this article from the archive and share it with all of you who have found us since that first year and may have never seen this fun step outside of the parks!

Don’t get technical with me – Originally Published 25 May 2008

Today is the 31st Anniversary of a little film called Star Wars. These films, along with Indiana Jones, were as much to blame for who I became as an adult as Walt Disney World was itself. Several years ago I was fortunate to run across a copy of The Star Wars Portfolio by Ralph McQuarrie at a silent auction. The auction ran for several days, and I made sure I was on hand for the final hour, ensuring my ability to outbid anyone immediately who tried to steal this jewel out from under me. No one came, the portfolio was mine, and the fact that I was so intent on claiming this portfolio only served to further my propensity for geekiness to family and friends. But perhaps I should allow the portfolio to speak for itself.

"Ralph McQuarrie would never have guessed he would one day be doing space-fantasy artwork. Nonetheless, it was in his blood at a very early age. “It was part of my life ever since I was a little kid,” he remarks. “I can remember drawings I did then of logging trucks with extra wheels and greater proportions, and fantastic versions of scientific equipment. So when George [Lucas] asked me to do these things, I felt it was what I was meant to do all along. It is the most fun and comes easy to me.”

McQuarrie, born June 13, 1929, in Gary, Indiana, was influenced by his grandfather, who did watercolors, and his mother, who drew and painted. It wasn’t long before he settled on a career in art. He took an art major in high school, studied technical illustration, and then went to work for the Boeing Company. There he met people who had studied at and recommended the Art Center School in Los Angeles. After two years in Korea, he enrolled at Art Center as an illustration student.

The ease with which McQuarrie understood the highly technical visuals required for STAR WARS is partially explained by his earlier work for CBS News Apollo coverage as well as for Boeing, Litton Industries, and Kaiser Graphics. His work for CBS, doing artist’s renderings of the capsule’s travel through space – making visible what could not otherwise be seen – generated quite an interest in McQuarrie’s work. He was soon approached about doing animation background paintings and movie-poster art.

Some production paintings McQuarrie had done for Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins brought him to the attention of director George Lucas in late 1975. Very soon after, they began discussing production paintings for STAR WARS. Lucas suggested that McQuarrie approach the work from the point of view of “ideal” portrayals rather than feel restricted by what could actually be achieved in filming the situations represented in the art.

The first four or five paintings had been done when STAR WARS was still in the development stage through Twentieth Century-Fox. George Lucas felt that McQuarrie’s painting would not only be of interest to Twentieth, but, by helping them to visualize his ideas, would also dissolve any hesitation on their part to go ahead with making the film.

The production paintings were of incalculable value when it came to discussing STAR WARS; production design and costuming. They reflect various changes in visual concepts as well as the evolving story line. The ideas of not only George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie are concretized here, but also those of production designer John Barry and model designers Joe Johnston and Colin Cantwell.

Mc Quarrie’s paintings were done in a combination of opaque gouache and acrylic on illustration board mounted on hardboard."

Carol Wikarska
Director of Publications

Luke is fighting Darth Vader in what was to have been a scuffle aboard the Rebel Blockade Runner soon after Vader’s Imperials captured the Rebel ship. Luke is wearing a kind of breath mask because Vader’s troopers apparently cut through a panel to get in, allowing the air supply to escape.

The Darth Vader costume – a grotesque breath mask and all sorts of other life-support systems, computer readout, black cape and armor – was partly inspired by the impressive image of a Samurai warrior. George Lucas, in keeping with the idea that Vader’s whole being was to be mysterious, wanted the character to be entirely in black.

The Tusken Raiders, or Sandpeople as they are sometimes called, were conceived of as marginally human. They wear layers of clothing to protect themselves from the environment, and a moisture collector under the chin to sustain them as they roam the wastelands of Tatooine. These horribly vicious creatures and the Banthas are seen concealing themselves in the wreckage of some unfortunate spacecraft.

Here we have an incipient confrontation as the small group of fugitives try to escape the Imperial Stormtroopers. Chewbacca is carrying the Princess, Han Solo can be seen in an earlier costume design – a blue outfit with a cape; and Luke is in the background. McQuarrie envisioned the hallways as being lit indirectly, through thin slots. Defying standard principles, the light would radiate from these narrow spaces at 360 degrees, while the slots themselves would be detectable only from particular angles. It would be a testament to the genius of these people that they discovered a key to the universe that permitted them to harness an incredible energy in this manner.

Lucas described to McQuarrie the prospect from the cliff when Mos Eisley spaceport is first in view. Luke Skywalker, clearly seen as a girl in the painting, was a girl at this point in the development of the story. C-3PO and R2-D2 can be seen behind a winged landspeeder. This elaborate vehicle became somewhat more streamlined in the film. The full bubble was retained, but was always kept open to a half-bubble for convenience in filming.

The beautiful, eerie red planet, Yavin, is seen from its fourth moon, the stronghold of the Rebel Alliance. Another moon is seen in the distance. The bright emissions of distant spacecraft glitter through the fog which surrounds this heavily jungled moon. The lone figure situated high above the ground in this serene environment is a Rebel lookout.

This painting represents R2-D2 and C-3PO first arriving on Tatooine after their narrow escape from the Imperial Stormtroopers via a Life Pod (which can be seen in the background). McQuarrie used a photograph of the Oregon coast to guide his painting of the landscape, following the line of the cliff and replacing the ocean with sand dunes.

C-3PO was inspired by the beautiful robot seen it Frtiz Lang’s classic silent film Metropolis, but Lucas wanted it to look more male then female. McQuarrie’s C-2PO looks much more graceful and slim than the ‘droid was to become in the film. The problems of a person moving in all of that equipment made it necessary for C-3PO’s body to be bigger and to have larger joints.
Lucas wanted R2-D2 to be like a small tripod which would move by throwing one leg outward and pitching itself forward like a man on crutches. But the problems of getting R2-D2 to move in that manner couldn’t be solved, so he had to be made to glide forward or hobble about.

The main characters are assembled here just prior to lift-off at Mos Eisley. They are in costumes like those in the film.

The Mos Eisley “pit,” which houses Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, is quite a bit more sophisticated here, with huge mechanical lifts on tracks, than it is in the film.

This painting provides the feeling of the battle above the Death Star, from an enemy pilot’s point of view.

The targeting device in the cockpit was originally conceived by McQuarrie as being a radar location indicator, registering what was behind and around the pilot, out of sight. The pilot would rely on eye contact up front. In the film, however, the device registered the target in front and did not show what was behind the pilot.

The main purpose of this painting was to capture the atmosphere of the battle over this monstrous space station.

The open core apparent in the Death Star structure represented McQuarrie’s concept of a laser cannon: a large power source, accelerators and condensers would all collect around the core, focus their terrific energy, and fire out through the bottom. At other times, spacecraft could come and go through the top. In the film, however, the planet-destroying laser beam was focused through a dish-shaped structure on the Death Star surface.

McQuarrie envisioned the Cantina as a primitive place framed by irregular archways and decorated with torn banners. It had a central gallery and a skylight over the bar. There wasn’t much in it that would indicate this was part of a society that had a lot of technical expertise. Lucas liked the feeling of it, but wanted occasional hints of mechanisms and technical sophistication, and McQuarrie added these effects to the painting.

The small balls which appear to be floating in the painting are called “seekers.” The seeker eventually became the device for training Luke to use the lightsaber. But in this painting, it was a kind of automatic police force programmed to dispense, in its cold fashion, the death sentence. It would float around until it found a person condemned by the Empire to die, then execute him.
Luke, in a bit of trouble with an unhappy alien, wears a costume much like the one Han Solo wears in the film.

Y-wing fighters are being unplugged from their ground system in the Rebel hangar at Massasi. For the figure at left, McQuarrie used a World War II photograph of a Navy pilot running across the flight deck with a clipboard in hand, changing the uniform but capturing the gesture. The pilots have helmets which are capable of life-support, working automatically whenever a malfunction in their aircraft occurs. The fighters are designs by Colin Cantwell, revised by Joe Johnston.

George Lucas wanted to show the scale of the Death Star trench in relation to the fighters as an aid to the special effects people doing the miniatures.

Here, McQuarrie developed what was known as the “Lash La Rue” scene in the depths of the Death Star. The retractable bridge and chasm, over which Luke and the Princess were to swing on a thin cord, were thought to be somewhat close to the center of the battle station. All structures were to radiate from a central core in ever-widening circles.

The Sandcrawler, a junk-collecting operation, is a very large and rusty old vehicle containing many storage rooms. McQuarrie envisioned a toothy front with a scoop that moved up and down like a present-day garbage truck. Lucas later came up with the magnet arrangement by which R2-D2 is taken into the behemoth vehicle.

McQuarrie depicted the Sandcrawler against cliffs because the story, at this stage of its development, called for it to be hit by falling rocks, which knock it off track; during this commotion, the two robots were to have escaped. (The control devices which, in the film, restrain the robots, had not yet been conceived.)

Princess Leia honors those who saved the Rebel Alliance with an impressive ceremony at the Massasi stronghold. Ben Kenobi, who was originally still to be alive at the end of STAR WARS, can be discerned in the small group walking down the center aisle. McQuarrie felt the banners would be indicative of a royal atmosphere.

This painting is another view of the Death Star hangar. The Empire brought in strange ships, like Han Solo’s, and did readouts on them. The lights and windows in the back are part of the research and repair area.

This is an action “atmosphere” sketch of the hail of laser fire.

Lucas wanted a row of elevators in the Death Star and McQuarrie made them individual tubes along one of the walls of the many deep canyons in the Death Star.

There are a variety of robots, mutations, and oddball characters here, as throughout the film, filling out the concept that the nature of a galactic civilization was that they adapted in a variety of modes to the various environments.
The large spaces may have helped air circulation, by McQuarrie also speculates on the need for psychological space on such a space station.

On the fourth moon of Yavin, Rebel troops at Massasi ready themselves for battle. McQuarrie felt this Aztec-like ruin might be made of large, unthinkably dense stones with the property of minimizing gravity. The lights of small fighter spacecraft are visible deep within the structure.

McQuarrie explains this painting as a necessary compilation of elements – the ships and the big hangar in the Death Star. Casual figures are present merely to establish scale.

McQuarrie notes that this painting elaborates on a design which is basically John Barry’s. Marry made additional changes before the set took on its final form.

This painting establishes the massive proportions of the Death Star in relation to Han Solo’s Corellian pirateship. It is here seen being pulled into the Death Star hangar by a powerful magnetic tractor beam.

26 December 2016

Remembering One of Our Dear Friends

If the name Alan Mize rings a bell, it should. Alan was a longtime contributor to the Gazette and one of the founding members of the Gazette Roundtable. Over the weekend Alan passed away.

I met Alan many years ago when I was giving a talk in Raleigh, NC about the stories of Walt Disney World. His enthusiasm and knowledge impressed me, but not as much as how genuine he was. We emailed back and forth, and when it came time to start a writing group for the Gazette, I knew I wanted Alan’s voice in the mix. His passion always shined through in his writing and he was the one constant through all the shifting versions of the roundtable group. He was a linchpin of the project, and I could never than him enough for his generosity and dedication.

Alan would go on to write for other sites and do a handful of podcasts, including the Enchanted Tiki Talk Podcast. It was the day to day interactions with Alan through Twitter and Instagram that I will remember most from these last several years. Alan always found time to connect with people on an individual level through social media, which is not an easy task, but it was important to him.

If you knew Alan, then you know that the light of his life was the birth of his daughter just over three months ago. She filled almost every photo he sent out since she was born. We’ve all had the blessing of getting to know and spend time with her amazing father, and I am certain she will know of the light he brought to the world and to all of our lives. AGoFundMe page has been set up for Alan’s family. Funds from the page, while having exceed its goal, are to assist Alan’s wife, daughter, and family with medical and final expenses and to give Alan’s daughter a foundation for college tuition when it is time. No doubt Alan would want her to be a part of the NC State Wolfpack. Every little bit will help his family today and tomorrow, so I am asking each of you to do what you can for his family.

Alan was an amazing man and I cannot even fathom how much he will be missed. His brand of enthusiasm and earnestness is something this world needs more of. Thank you, Alan, for all you did for so many of us, the world is a little less bright this morning without you in it.

21 December 2016

Christmas Wonders

Rocking horses and carousel horses have always been a part of the Christmas tradition for me. Perhaps it’s because my baby ornament was a rocking horse or that I cherished this green, wooden carousel horse and made a point of being the one to place it on our tree every year, but the idea of horses and Christmas are forever linked in my mind. It’s no wonder then that the rocking horse presented in the Magic Kingdom’s various Christmas parades have always captured my attention.

In the early years these rocking horses were part of the Toyland section of the parade and were ridden by the classic Disney toy soldiers. The above photo from 1994 shows them in all of their glory. The rocking horses are classic white chargers, but the manes and ornamentation perfectly compliment their toy soldier riders. As much as I love the toy soldiers from Babes in Toyland, the image of the soldiers with the rocking horses just sings to my heart.

In the current iteration of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, the toy soldiers have been replaced. In fact, the rocking horses have been moved from within the Toyland section proper and are now in the transition group of characters between the large Prince and Princess float and the beginning of the Toyland section. Rather than toy soldiers, the horses now carry cowboy elves. While the elves are able to give a more lively performance, there is something to be said for the classic, if static, nature of the toy soldiers.

No matter who their riders are, the rocking horses are tied to some of the most traditional of Christmas iconography. While I may prefer the parade if they were accompanied by the toy soldiers, but it does my heart a world of good just knowing that they are still present during the parade.

20 December 2016

Galactic Spectacular

It’s the time of year when we turn our thoughts to our friends, families, and loved ones. As Nephew Fred proclaims in A Christmas Carol, this is “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.” In other words, it is the time of year when we let others in and don’t think of ourselves first. Although, I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate when it comes to Walt Disney World.

Certainly, we’ve all had the encounters of a nearby parent loudly reiterating that they were all going to have a good time in a tone that implied anything but family fun or the folks who think it’s okay to jump in line, and the pairing of our ankles with ECVs or strollers is never fun when someone thinks that they should have the right of way, but there is something more to the experience of a vacation at Walt Disney World.

Take, for instance, the story of Jeff. Jeff is a longstanding Disney Cast Member whom, when I encountered him back in September, was working the preshow for the Star Wars – A Galactic Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He piped up to tell guests stories about Walt Disney, the park, Walt Disney World, and his own career, and they were for the most part accurate. He threw out trivia fit for the young and for the more savvy park-goer. He was an exemplary Cast Member, but it was his story of family photos that really got to me.

In this story he talks about how when a family would ask for their photo to be taken in front of the theater that he would ask if it was a family photo. If the answer was yes, which I imagine it almost always was, he would bellow “Family Photo,” and any available Cast Member within earshot would come running and bring whatever guests they could along with them to take a much larger family photo. The numbers of the crowds they were able to get would grow and grow, it would take multiple PhotoPass photographers to capture the event, and it eventually got up to park management what was happening. Did they shut it down? Absolutely not, they challenge Jeff and his cohorts to get even larger crowds, and they succeeded on every challenge.

It’s an awesome story in and of itself, a little bit of fun and a photo the participants will never forget with their new families. But here is where Jeff’s story caught me right in my heart (and in fact I am sort of tearing up just thinking about it now), what struck him about all of these photos is what he saw when he looked through whatever camera he happened to be using at the time. There was an entire world of people smiling back at him. Young and old, of every ability and disability, every color skin from every corner of the globe, they were all there. In that moment it wasn’t about anything more than being one big, happy family and enjoying a moment of spontaneous fun in the parks.

This is how I try to live my life, by being open and caring for my fellow passengers aboard our, pardon the pun, Spaceship Earth. There are times where I fail, spectacularly in some instances, but it isn’t for a lack of want or trying. I didn’t get to find Jeff in the stampede for the exit after the last firework burst, and didn’t see him again before my trip had ended, but he left a mark on me. I’m certain he’s left a mark on a lot of individuals, from his family photos, to his time in the school system, to each and every time he tells his stories. There are times in Walt Disney World where we all come together, knowingly or otherwise, and it isn’t just about our group but us as a people. Something to consider as you open your hearts this week and into the new year.

19 December 2016

Twinkling Lights and Holiday Displays

So often when it comes to the holidays at Walt Disney World, we tend to look towards the grand and ostentatious. Gigantic trees, life-sized gingerbread houses, and the larger than life personalities of Epcot’s storytellers. With such rich holiday environments to behold, there are so many wonderful and small details that could get overlooked.

Today, we’re taking a whirlwind photo safari around Epcot’s Holidays Around the World to share some of our favorite little moments. There are pinatas in the garlands of Mexico and lanterns for the Lunar New Year in China, giant peppermint candies affixed to lampposts in France and a collection of marketplace necessities in Morocco, mittens or Christmas crackers in the wreaths of Canada and the UK respectively, and each of these holds a special place in our hearts. From decorative displays to single ornaments, these are just a few of the things that caught our eye and caused us to take pause. Hopefully, as we rush headlong into the height of the holiday season, this will serve as a reminder that we should all take a moment to enjoy the little moments that bring beauty and warmth to our lives.

15 December 2016


The snow has already started falling in parts of the country, which means it is past time that we start thinking about winter vegetable gardens. I’m not talking about mustards, collards, or other types of greens, I’m looking at the type of vegetables that grow in Florida, specifically around Blizzard Beach, in the snow, all year round. Are there such vegetables?

As it turns out, there are! They can be found along the slopes of Melt-Away Bay, just across the creek from Ice Gator’s snowy chalet. Ice Gator’s cold can cause guests to be preoccupied as they pass by, ensuring that they aren’t doused by one of his watery sneezes bubbling up from the chimney. They may notice the garden, but may not be as aware of it due to the wet gag that awaits them.

Of course, it would be Disney if the vegetables were straight forward, and so each sign shows a vegetable covered in snow or shaking in the cold. While some of these vegetables retain their original names, there is a definite chill to their variety. As for the rest, some wintery wordplay may have been employed, and we love it. So, what are these snow-prone delights? Snow Peas, B-r-r-r-occolli, Iceberg Lettuce, Sleet Corn, Ice Plant, and Chilly Peppers.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to be the makings of an excellent, if frosty, salad!

09 December 2016

A Hippo in a Palm Tree

The Jingle Cruise additions to the classic Adventureland attraction, to my mind, create one of the best holiday overlays since the Country Bears had their Christmas Special. Sailing with the yuletide is terrific, but as your jungling all the way through the rivers of the world, I feel as though you need a carol to help you on your way. Luckily for us, Disney has released a set of pins this season that coincides with the Jingle Cruise. The entire set is a play on the classic 12 Days of Christmas, but with a distinctly Adventureland feel, which means that you can expected a few visitors from outside of the jungles of the Jingle Cruise.

Collecting the entire set just to gather the entire lyrics to the song can really make you frosty, but luckily we’ve worked out a deal with Sam to get a head start. So, as your prepare to get your boat under water (I mean underway!), or are just trying to liven up your holidays back home, why not confound everyone you know by belting out this tune!

The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me a hippo in a palm tree

On the second day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me two boat loaders and a hippo in a palm tree

On the third day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to m three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the fourth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the fifth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the sixth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the eighth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me eight trunks a squirting, seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the ninth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me nine spears a flying, eight trunks a squirting, seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the tenth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me ten leopards leaping, nine spears a flying, eight trunks a squirting, seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me 11 skippers skipping, ten leopards leaping, nine spears a flying, eight trunks a squirting, seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Skipper gave to me 12 natives drumming, 11 skippers skipping, ten leopards leaping, nine spears a flying, eight trunks a squirting, seven snakes a hissing, six fish a biting, five golden life rings, four tiki birds, three striped horses, two boat loaders, and a hippo in a palm tree

06 December 2016

Lost City Specialty

Happy Taco Tuesday everyone! There are a lot of taco options in Walt Disney World, but today we’re going to double up on an order of fish tacos. We’ll start on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon before venturing off to one of our favorite watering holes in Disney Springs.

The Seven Seas Lagoon could lead us to many locales, but if we’re looking for fish tacos, then we could only wash up on the beach of the Polynesian Village. To be more specific, we’re headed in to Capt. Cook’s for the handily named Fish Tacos. This dish includes a generous portion of the fish of the day, blackened, and then placed on a flour tortilla. It is topped with broccoli slaw and served with French fries.

The blackened spices come across as having a distinctly Latin flavor, and provide the fish with a nice kick. While a mayonnaise based slaw is not the typical trimming for such a dish, the broccoli slaw does a nice job with the fish. The slaw is crunchy and brings some new flavors to the party, especially the bitter cabbage type flavor present due to the broccoli. The flour tortilla is nothing special, but does an admirable job of holding the taco together. If anything seems out of sorts with the Fish Tacos, however, it is the side dish of fries. I have nothing against fries as a general rule, but they just seem a bit lost with being included here. Some fresh fruit or couscous seems like a more complimentary addition.

Let’s head down to Disney Springs, and if you haven’t guessed by now that I’m headed for Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, then shame on you! We’ve sung the praises of the Hangar Bar many times over the past year, but today we’ve ventured deep into the menu to procure the Lost City Specialty, the Tanis Tuna Tacos. This trio of tacos starts with a freshly prepared tortilla shell. Seared Ahi tuna, that has been prepared with ancient spices we’ve been told, is next to be added. To the tuna is added Pico de Gallo, cilantro, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, and each is topped with a different colored slice of jalapeno pepper. On the side is a freshly toasted lime, complete with juicer.

The sear on the tuna is top notch, making certain that the fish is not overcooked, and the spices bring out the wonderful mild and buttery flavors of the tuna. The ancient spices add some heat and give these tacos a sense of place we’re not typically used to with fish tacos. The typical taco toppings of Pico de Gallo, lettuce, guacamole, and sour cream are nice, but aren’t wow factors. The tortilla is puffed up giving it just the right amount of chewiness and crispiness. The real stars however, are the tuna and the toasted lime. Combining the Ahi tuna with the warm flavors of the lime is an amazing duo.

Both tacos deserve to be part of any Taco Tuesday, or maybe a Fish Friday? Either way, Capt. Cook’s and Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar have put together to excellent fish taco dishes. If I had to pick just one, the Hangar Bar’s Tanis Tuna Tacos are far and away some of the best fish tacos I’ve seen anywhere, so I would definitely give them a nod. Whichever you choose, you’re definitely off on a culinary adventure!

05 December 2016

Where it's Always Jumpin'

When people think of Hilton Head Island, they most often think of lazy summer days. Playing on the shore, or napping beneath the shade of the moss covered live oak trees, maybe even a barbecue or boil going on. It is warm, sunny, and filled with natural wonder and some of the finer things in life. There are people who visit Hilton Head Island, and then there is still life in motion for people who live on the island. Part of that life is the fact that holidays come and go with the passage of time, just as they do wherever you live.

It is worth noting that the people of Hilton Head Island, like many along the eastern seaboard, were dealt a blow this year when Hurricane Matthew came through. The island and it's residence are resilient and have fought hard to regain their sense of daily life. By all accounts Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is back up and running, and looks just as welcoming as ever. we'll be stopping in for a visit next weekend, so we'll be able to report back on just how gorgeous all the holiday trimmings are.

Like all parks and resorts Disney has a hand in, Disney’s Hilton Head Resort revels in the holiday spirit. Guests decorate rooms, there are warm beverages in the Live Oak Lodge, and there is a festive spirit wherever you look. It isn’t the typical time of year when guests are knocking down the doors to come to a beach resort, and there is definitely a chill in the air, but it is one of our favorite times to go. Since most guests won’t ever get to a chance to pay the resort a visit during the winter, we thought we’d do a little photo safari today, venturing back to 2014, and give you a chance to experience one of the most wonderful times of the year through the eyes of Disney’s Hilton Head Resort.