13 December 2017

Some Anthropologists

As we make our way through the shimmering living room and kitchen of the Carousel of Progress’ family, all decked out for Christmas, it is almost impossible not the feel like there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow. Yet, tucked away behind the computer monitor, pinned up on the family bulletin board, is a note that Marty Called Wants Changes. Perhaps one of the best known secrets of the park, this note is a reference to Marty Sklar, the wordsmith and Imagineering legend who passed away earlier this year. It is said that Marty wanted to see real change to the attraction that had been a part of the Disney lexicon since the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, as the final scene had fallen out of date with modern innovation. Some witty Imagineer took it upon themselves to place the note and make Marty’s aspirations known for all the world to see. While the note has remained, and the monumental changes have not yet come to pass, it isn’t the only thing worthy of our attention on the bulletin board.

We can actually find out a lot about our family from the postings on this board. There are plenty of family photos to explore, many of which feature Santa or a Christmas theme, likely photos that were included in Christmas cards, showing off how their relatives have grown over the past year. To drive this point home, there are even a couple of photographs that definitely look like wallet-sized school photos. Moving on, we can see some typical family scheduling, such as emailing for Rover’s vet appointment, a meeting with Melissa and Nicole at 1:30 on Friday, or the school meeting on October 20. Clearly, this being Christmas, this school meeting posting was just never removed, just as so many items are never removed from my refrigerator at home.

It seems clear that the daughter Pat, or Patricia or Patty, is fairly popular around the household’s phone. There is one post-it note for her to call Becky and on another we find that Corbin, Bryce, Drew, and Brooke called. Now, while this note isn’t specifically directed at Patty, we do tend to see her on the phone more often than her brother, Jimmy, throughout the attraction, and this message could just as easily be for him.

Then there are the newspaper and magazine clippings. Some of these postings talk about new computer programs or inspirational thoughts, you know, the original Pintrest. However, the one clipping that truly draws in my attention is the small cartoon that is barely visible in the upper right corner of the bulletin board, just below, and partially hidden by, Marty’s note. One of the more popular comic strips for cutting and posting, or passing around the office, has always been Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Our Carousel family is no exception, as here we find one of Larson’s favorite subjects, anthropologists. In the clipping, from October 27, 1993, we see a caveman running out of a cave that is engulfed in flames, the caveman is yelling, “Bummer!” The caption from the cartoon reads, “Some anthropologists believe that the discoveries of fire, shelter and language were almost simultaneous.” Definitely worth a pinning on a bulletin board if you ask me.

While Marty’s message may be the one we, as Disney enthusiasts, are attracted to, there is much more to be uncovered from this bulletin board that speaks to the everyday lives of the Carousel of Progress’ family. For many of us, this bulletin board is like a page from our own personal stories, as I’m certain many of us had very similar looking pieces in our own homes at one time. Using it as a window into the attraction and real world history makes us, dare I say it, Disney anthropologists in our own rights.

06 December 2017

Chearffel Tower

1989 was a banner year for Walt Disney World. It opened whole new worlds of entertainment through a new park (Disney-MGM Studios), a new water park (Typhoon Lagoon), and a new nighttime entertainment district (Pleasure Island), to name just a few of their accomplishments that year. And yet, through it all, the folks at Disney didn’t forget the little details that would seasonally change the environment and spirit of their parks and resorts. To prove this point, we need look no further than Disney-MGM Studios’ iconic water tower, the Earffel Tower.

Even during the park’s first holiday season, the Earffel Tower had its yuletide spirit on display! In fact, during that time of year it even changed its name to the Chearffel Tower. And in case you think that simply adding a hat isn’t that big of an undertaking, notice how many individuals it took to get the Santa hat properly placed atop the water tower.  And is it any wonder with a hat size of 342 3/8, with a diameter of 28.5, and a weight of 500 pounds?

The Earffel Tower would don many disguises over the years, but none were as iconic as the Santa hat. This tradition continued from 1989 until early into the new century, but it was eventually retired. With the removal of the Earffel Tower in 2016, so to was the idea of the return of the Santa-clad water tower. Still, we keep the season in our hearts and not in our décor, but it was fun while it lasted and definitely showed that park’s dedication to the season.

01 December 2017

A Port Orleans Specialty

The era of faux newspapers has evaporated from Walt Disney World, but these publications were some of the greatest storytelling and information devices the resorts had. Case in point, The Sassagoula Times, the newspaper provided to guests when they checked in and which supplied them with recreation and dining information, while also feeding into the backstory of both Port Orleans (now known as Port Orleans – French Quarter) and Dixie Landings (now known as Port Orleans – Riverside). The newspaper was a staple throughout the early years of both resorts and while the stories are wonderful, the classified section, with a page each for both Port Orleans and Dixie Landings, is even more of a gem.

On the Port Orleans side of the page you have wonderful advertisements with specifics on Scat Cat’s Club Lounge, Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, Jackson Square Gifts, the Landing Marina, Mardi Gras Pool Bar, the Sassagoula Steamboat Co., and the now shuttered Bonfamille’s Café. Story elements include clever puns around blacksmiths (Baudelaire Buckets… everything else “pails” by comparison) and tooth extractions (Dr. Pullsmore, DDS.), as well as more earnest entries for things such as sales of middle aged mules and chimney cleaning service providers.

Flipping the page over to the Dixie Landings section, you have similar advertisements for actual activities and establishments of the resort, including Boatwright’s Dining Hall, Dixie Levee Marina, the Fishin’ Hole, Colonel’s Cottom Mill, the Sassagoula Steamboat Co., Fulton’s General Store, the Muddy Rivers Pool Bar, and Cotton Co-Op Lounge. Reading through the list, it’s fairly clear why some of these names, including the resort itself, needed to be changed. Moving over to the humorous side of the classifieds there are you weather predictors (Noah Vail) and a whole host of puns from Fulton’s General Store (licorice sticks, lye soap flakes, and cast iron sinks). There are also the more straightforward entries for timber hoisters boat building or the warning to pet owners about a runaway alligator.

Both sides, however, feature a cleverly disguised posting featuring someone from a well-known brand other that Disney. From Port Orleans is the 10 Great Gator Recipes, which will all more than likely make the alligator meat taste like chicken. These recipes come from none other than the Colonel & Mrs. Sanders. I wonder if one of the recipes is for 11 secret herbs and spices for fried gator? Meanwhile, over in Dixie Landings, a poundcake has been lost and the baker is seeking to know whether or not she needs to bake another for the birthday celebration. The baker is Mrs. Crocker, which makes me question if her first name isn’t Betty.

Peruse the remaining of the classifieds for yourself at your leisure. What sticks out, makes you remember something you had forgotten about either resort, or makes you giggle?

29 November 2017

Tranquil Hideaway

While staring out at the sea on our first cruise last month, I began to daydream about the new ships coming to the Disney Cruise Line fleet in the next couple of years and all that they could bring to the cruising experience. The Oceaneer Clubs will likely be some of the greatest things kids (and adults) have ever seen, the themes of the restaurants will probably introduce more entertainment a la the newest offerings on the Wonder and Magic, and the fine dining will likely be a step above what’s currently the mark to beat in Remy. The possibilities and dreams are truly endless, but there was one idea and dream I couldn’t shake, one that I even considered before ever stepping aboard one of the ships, and that is to float away with Disney’s marquee island experience, Trader Sam’s.

Now, let’s start by saying the adult district of the Disney Fantasy offered up some terrific venues with which to spend our time. They have something to offer for those guests that want a quiet corner to sip a cocktail or two, those who would rather dance the night away, or even the guests looking to watch the big game. There is truly something for everyone, no matter what mood they’re in on a given day. This variety is precisely what led me down the path to consider what could be added to the current line-ups that would plus the experience and bring in some of magic Disney is known for.

Since Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar opened in 2011 it has been a staple of the Disneyland experience. The watering hole was so popular that an East Coast edition, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, was unveiled in 2015 at the Polynesian Village in Walt Disney World. Both incorporate classic Adventureland, tiki, and nautical elements, in addition to be vaults for artifacts of every shape and size. Both have definite ties to the Enchanted Tiki Room, or Tropical Serenade if you please, the Enchanted Tiki Bar leans heavily on the Jungle Cruise while the Grog Grotto draws inspiration from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As Castaway Cay serves as the final resting place of a Nautilus from the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage, tilting a floating tiki shack aboard one of the new ships towards the submarine adventure would make the most sense. Of course, you’d want to keep as much of the Adventureland motif as you could as well.

The drink selection onboard any of the Disney Cruise Line ships leans heavily in the direction of rum and tequila, with a smattering of whisky and other fine liqueurs. This works perfectly with cocktail selections from both Trader Sam venues. Both lounges also have a selection of unique small plates that take bar food out of the dive and dress it up for a night on the town. Food, save for midnight snacks set out for guests as if they were Santa Claus, isn’t easy to find in the adult districts of the ships, but it also isn’t entirely unheard. With Trader Sam’s cocktail and food concoctions really working hand in hand with one another, any addition to a new ship would have to have some sort of small plate menu. A plus to the onboard lounge experience to be sure.

But what is it that everyone really wants from their time at Trader Sam’s? Wonderful cast member interactions, drinks that set off effects within the bar, and those delightful mugs to take home. I’m certain over-the-top bartenders and servers could be found for a cruise version of Trader Sam’s without much trouble, just as creating some unique in-room effects, paired with some of the lounge’s staple gags. As for mugs, this is where Trader Sam’s may rock the boat. Given that many of the mugs are limited editions and that there is only so much space where merchandise and collectibles can be stored onboard the ships, this could be a bit tricky. As it currently sits many of the specialty items, such as popcorn buckets or ornaments, run out within the first day or two of a sailing. I could foresee a similar rush on mugs from Trader Sam’s, particularly if a mug is exclusive to the cruise ships or to a particular sailing.

I’d love to see some of the high seas hijinks that both Trader Sam’s locations are renowned for rub off on the fleet of Disney Cruise Line ships. While it may not be feasible or a right fit to add a tiki lounge into any of the current ships, with three new vessels on the horizon, anything is possible. Especially when you’re dreaming big while staring out at the big blue from your veranda!

28 November 2017

Saucy Views

Flame Tree Barbecue is one of the best known open secrets when you’re looking for a barbecue lunch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With the addition of the Harambe Market and Satu’li Canteen over the past several years, it may not be as sought after as a dining location as it once was. These destinations have become guest favorites, particularly if you’re looking for something other than smoked meats. Of course, if you’re looking to slowly back away from the ancient art of barbecue, Flame Tree does have a couple of other offerings that you could consider.

Let’s start with a side dish that is really a snack or meal unto itself, the French Fries with Pulled Pork and Cheese. This is as straightforward a menu item as you can find in Walt Disney World. It is a plate of French fries topped with a scattering of pulled pork, liquid cheese, barbecue sauce, and scallions.  The scallions are only there to add another color to the menu and so you can pretend this is a health-ish dish. The fries are your typical quick service offering, and the pork and barbecue sauce are the same pork used on the pulled pork sandwich at Flame Tree, just in a much smaller quantity. Then there is the cheese, the hot, liquid gold that used to be commonplace around the parks, but has become less available in recent years.

In all honesty, this “side dish” is Flame Tree’s answer to loaded French fries, with no frills, definitely messy, and ultimately delicious. Make sure to get extra napkins, or wet wipes, ready ahead of time and don’t have any plans to get onboard Expedition Everest afterwards (no matter how great the view is of it from across the way), and you should be fine. I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek this out, but if you happen to be around Flame Tree midafternoon and looking for a savory snack, this is a winner.

For those wanting to ditch barbecue altogether, and maybe opt for something a bit healthier, Flame Tree has you covered as well with its Watermelon Salad. This salad includes a base of mixed greens combined with watermelon, pickled red onion, and feta that is then tossed in white balsamic vinaigrette. Picture a cross between a Greek salad and a fruit salad and this pretty much sums up what they were going for with the Watermelon Salad.

The greens give the salad some roughage, with the feta, onion, and balsamic building this into a very tangy salad with a lot of crunch. Of course, the sweet and soft watermelon is the highlight of the party and mellows out some of the more acidic components of the salad. The Watermelon Salad is a fresh and cool option when the Florida heat is beating down and the humidity of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is making you wilt. This may not seem like the heartiest of meals, but it will definitely fill you up and keep you going.

The next time your making your way between DinoLand U.S.A. and Pandora, or happen to be crossing by a bridge that leads to Discovery Island, and you hear your stomach growl like a Sumatran tiger cub, remember that Flame Tree Barbecue has a lot of offerings to tempt your taste buds. Even if you’re not in the mood for ribs, smoked chicken, or pulled pork, this eatery has something that will hit your happy food notes.

27 November 2017


Coronado Springs is going through a transition period that will make the convention resort more enticing to upscale clientele. For several years, however, this underappreciated resort has been a hidden gem, or guilty pleasure if you prefer, of mine. The three sections of the resort that house accommodations offer a three very distinct environments to stay and play in. I find myself regularly drawn to the Ranchos section that is filled with haciendas, pueblos, arroyos (or dried river beds), hitching rails, paw and footprints, lanterns, boulders, and a broad assortment of cacti. It feels very much like sets pulled directly from Zorro, and maybe that’s precisely what I love about it. Keeping it brief today, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves about the area’s beauty.

22 November 2017

Instant Aging

When it comes to the environments at Walt Disney World, from the majestic beams of the Wilderness Lodge to the soot dust on the United Kingdom’s smokestacks, it is easy to overlook the little details that make each corner unique and special places to wander through. Yet, it is that very same attention to the minor moments that put the attractions, shops, resorts, restaurants, and thoroughfares of the Vacation Kingdom a notch above other theme environments. Stop in just about any spot in one of the parks and you can see the remnants of stone foundations, meticulous tilework, or the prints of an animal that recently passed by. None of that is by accident, and all of it is important to Disney and their Imagineers.

How important is it? Well, it is important enough to be continually documented and, in 1989, it was significant enough to warrant sharing some of this work with the world as they prepared to open Disney-MGM Studios.

Here we can see Dave Lindsey working on the SS Down the Hatch, also known as Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. He isn’t installing the anchor or applying another coat of paint to the hull. Instead, he is providing the appropriate amount of faux rust and rust streaks to the marooned vessel. The angles and shading of this particular detail are important to get right, as anyone who has ever worked on a ship or near a dock would be able to spot a forgery right off. And let’s be clear, this is a counterfeit ship with counterfeit rust, and we all know that, but if it is supposed to feel correct it has to be correct. As this photo was originally captioned, “Lindsey is one of the aging experts who give instant period chard to brand new buildings at Walt Disney World.”

There isn’t much that the Imagineers don’t consider when crafting a whole new world or plussing a world they’ve already built. I know it is the eyes and attention to detail that I have particularly enjoyed discovering over the years, and something for which I am grateful to the Imagineers for.

21 November 2017

Baked Fresh Daily

There may be no scent or taste more synonymous with the holidays at Walt Disney world that gingerbread. While there may be many, many locales in which to view and taste the winter treat, there is no place more recognizable for its gingerbread than the Grand Floridian Resort. With the holiday baking season fully upon us starting this week, we’ve whipped up some of their famous gingerbread cookies in our own kitchen to see how they stack up!

GINGERBREAD COOKIES (makes 3 dozens)


3 2/3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 1/2 Cups Confectioners’ Sugar (Sifted)
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Butter (Softened)
1 Cup Colored Decorating Sugar
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup Milk
2 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
2 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
2 Teaspoons Ground Star Anise
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Ground Fennel
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace


Combine butter and sugar in an electric mixer bowl and beat until smooth.
Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, coriander, star anise, baking powder, fennel, ginger, cloves, salt, and mace.
With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture until dough holds together.
Remove dough from bowl and wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate 2 to 4 hours, until firm.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease 2 cookie sheets.
Remove dough from refrigerator and set aside at room temperature for about 10 minutes, until pliable.
Divide dough in half; return one half to refrigerator.
Place other half on a floured work surface and roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness, flouring work station as needed.
Cut out with cookie cutters that have been dipped in flour for neat edges.
Transfer cut dough to baking sheets with 1 inch gaps.
Lightly brush cookies with milk and sprinkle with colored sugar.
Bake 10 to 14 minutes, until firm and edges begin to darken.
Allow cookies to slightly cool on cookie sheet before transferring to wire racks to completely cool.
Repeat with remaining dough.

There are a ton of ingredients in these cookies, but the preparation of the gingerbread cookies is relatively simple. In fact, of all of the cookies we make during the holidays, this may be one of the most simple. You’ll notice from the pictures I crushed some candy canes up to decorate some of our cookies, that was a personal preference, but you should feel free to experiment with decorations as well!

These ginger bread cookies are very dense and crunchy, which is not necessarily everyone’s favorite texture for cookies, but these are showstoppers if crunchy cookies are just what you’re hoping for in your stockings. No matter if you like the texture or not, you’ll love how your house will smell for a very, very long time after these have finished baking!

20 November 2017

Minimum Wake

November is Manatee Awareness Month and, as a native Floridian, I've always had a special place in my heart for these endangered creatures. I will go out of my way, even when time is fleeting on a given trip, to make my way over to The Seas pavilion to spend a few moments with the West Indian Manatees that call Walt Disney World home. There are plenty of engagement opportunities and Mr. Ray fact walls throughout the manatee corner of the pavilion to give you a bit more information on these beloved animals that can survive in fresh and salt water.

Today, in celebration and education of the manatees, here are a few of my favorite photos from a recent visit to Epcot, presented alongside a few facts from Save the Manatee Club.

“Manatee watercraft-related injuries and deaths continue to rise. It is the largest known cause of death from human activity and the greatest threat to their long-term survival. The boating public is urged to be on the alert for manatees since vessel operators are the only ones who can prevent strikes to manatees that often lead to serious injury or worse. Many seasonal manatee zones in Florida come into effect in November, and boaters should pay close attention to posted signage indicating slow or idle speeds. Waterway users should also keep their distance from migrating manatees or manatees congregated at warm-water sites during the winter to avoid possible harassment.”
“With winter approaching, manatees are also susceptible to cold stress. A severe, prolonged cold snap in Florida can be deadly to this subtropical species who cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Many manatees also die from red tide outbreaks. The protection and preservation of ample healthy aquatic habitat is essential to the well-being of the manatee population. The protection of Florida’s 700+ springs is not only vital to manatees, but to countless other wildlife species, and to humans. The health of a spring indicates the health of the underground aquifer, which supplies much of Florida with potable water.”

16 November 2017

Gourmet Frites

In today’s culinary adventure we sit down at The Daily Poutine in Disney Springs and have way more than our daily allowance of potatoes and poutine. Also, after all the potatoes, gravy, and other toppings, we’re going to be in need of a serious, Thanksgiving-type nap. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re going to make our way through the four types of poutine offered at The Daily Poutine and then, to wrap up, we’ll tell you which ones are worth your time and which ones you don’t need to worry about trying as much. Of course, if you’re a completist like me, you’ll probably want to try them all anyway.

Let’s start with the Classic version of the dish, which has French fries, beef poutine gravy, and white cheddar cheese curds. While poutine can basically entail any number of topping combinations, this is the original and most traditional form of the dish, which is why it’s called Classic on the menu. The fries are thick cut, as they are with all of the varieties. The brown gravy is your typical brown gravy that you’d have at a family meal, if you’re not making it from scratch, with a dash of black pepper to spice it up just a bit. The cheese curds are almost squeaky when you bite into them, but there are also melty bits from the hot fries and gravy. The size of the cheese curds might be a bit startling to some, but they’re par for the poutine course. Overall, this is a wonderful quick service representation of poutine and a great way to start our tour.

Next up, we’ll go with a Latin flair, which includes fried yucca, black beans, pulled pork, and queso fresco, along with the French fries. This is definitely the heartiest of the varieties and is easily a meal unto itself. The pulled pork is tender, but doesn’t have a flavor that overpowers the dish. The liquid queso is something that is better known to most guests than the cheese curds of the traditional poutine, but it is only drizzled across the top so there isn’t much of it to work with. The fried yucca and black beans both have an earthiness to their textures that is nice. However, having both fried potatoes and yucca may play havoc with your taste buds not knowing what bite is coming next. While each version of poutine is a hefty portion size, because of the components of the Latin variation it is definitely the one that will fill you up quickest.

Moving on to the Italian version of the dish, these fries are combined with mozzarella and Bolognese sauce. Think of it like a traditional Italian pasta dish, but instead of noodles, you’re given potatoes. The mozzarella is worked in throughout the dish, and the Bolognese is a bit thin, but you get that tastes and textures of tomato and cheese that I believe they were going for here. If I’m being honest, this is the one poutine that I wasn’t thrilled to go back to for second bite. I’m all for adventurous eating, but this was just a bit beyond my palate’s liking.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the French poutine and its fries topped with mushroom cream sauce and gruyere cheese. Between the gruyere and the cream sauce, this is definitely the richest of the varieties. The mushrooms have that squeaky bite to them, similar to the cheese curds in the traditional version, and are typically a love them or leave them proposition for a lot of diners. The gruyere has a nuttiness to it, which pairs well between the mushrooms and the potatoes. The cream sauce itself serves as part gravy, part cheese type component, and I found myself scooping out whatever was left of it with my last few fries.

Let’s compare and contrast, shall we? Starting at the bottom, I think it’s fairly clear I was not as happy with the Italian Poutine as I had hoped to be. I don’t know if it is the wrong combination or if it just doesn’t work, but it didn’t work for me. In third place is the Latin Poutine. While this may be the most filling, it may have one too many components and could have used a bit more queso. In second position, we’ll go with the French Poutine, but this one is close to the top. Everything about this version hits me in my happy, comfort food zone. This means that the Classic Poutine still reigns supreme at the top. I’m not choosing it as the number one option because it’s the traditional form, or because it is what I think of when I think of poutine. I just happened to really like fried potatoes with brown gravy and delicious chunks of cheese.

So, there you have it! Have you been to The Daily Poutine? It may not be the best poutine I’ve ever had, or even the best poutine I’ve had on property (I’m looking at you Territory Lounge. Get your act together and put that delicious poutine back on the menu!), but it’s definitely a place I’ll revisit. When you head over to The Daily Poutine, let us know which version is you favorite!

15 November 2017

Wild Blue Yonder

Goofy, or rather the Great Goofini, is far from the only barnstormer that Walt Disney World has ever featured. Just down the road from his acrobatic skyleidoscope, Tomorrowland once housed Delta Dreamflight, or Take Flight depending on when you visited the attraction, which featured stupendous aerial stunts and farmyards turned into airstrips through a couple of the attractions early scenes. One could even argue that Star Tours’ Rex fits the futuristic mold of a barnstormer. He certainly has the same reckless exuberance that Goofy has. However, my personal favorite dashing air pilot comes from EPCOT Center’s World of Motion.

Backed by a screen filled with flights of aerial fancy, and surrounded by adoration, this guy was living the life! Pay no attention to the cars loaded down with admiring faces and the biplanes trampling the farmer’s crops, there are honest to goodness adventurers to be seen here! As the attraction itself states, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek with the humor and visual sarcasm World of Motion was known for, “The dashing heroes of the wild blue wonder. Now, the sky’s the limit!

14 November 2017

The Adventures Continue

Since my first trip aboard a Starspeeder 3000, I have been in love with Star Tours. Maybe it was flying along and “assisting” in blowing up a Death Star, I say assist because my armrests were controls and I was a snubfighter ace even in a transport ship. Maybe it was how real, dirty, and lived in everything from the launch bay to icy comet felt to me. Maybe, after a long love affair with Threepio and Artoo, it was having a new droid to love in Rex. Whatever the reason, or culmination of reasons, I loved Star Tours from the minute I rounded the corner and saw the AT-AT looming large on the horizon.

Fast-forward to Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, and the prospect of visiting new worlds in a choose-your-own-adventure style attraction, except the computer is choosing the adventure not the guests, and I was geared up with excitement. The thoughts of seeing Hoth and Tatooine, facing off against Vader and Boba Fett, and having a holographic Leia tell me I was her only hope made my inner child giddy, and one or two of the scenes may have brought a tear to my eye. The mix and match interplay between the two trilogies never seemed to put me off too much, as a fair portion of the scenes didn’t rely heavily on what was happening or where we were in the timeline. Maybe a jump from Hoth to Coruscant seemed a bit jarring, but only for a second.

Everyone has their favorite scenes and eras of Star Wars, that’s what makes the galaxy far, far away so expansive. When news broke earlier this week that the algorithm for selecting locations would start aligning within eras, the news hit me in sort of an odd way. I understand that three lines, with dedicated lines for the prequels, original, and the modern trilogies, would be a mess and something that neither Disneyland nor Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ versions of the attractions have the capacity to take on. The news that the prequels and original sections would be paired together as a single line, with the current trilogy being given a separate queue, brought the stark realization to me that there are very few scenes of the current Star Tours attached to the original trilogy.

My first thought was that Star Tours needs more scenes and more locations to visit from the original trilogy, destinations such as Bespin, Dagobah, Yavin IV, and Endor. By this point, however, my inner-child started drifting off into blue sky land and made some valid points. What made the original Star Tours great in my mind, regardless of the fact that it contained the same adventure over and over again, was that it was a self-contained story unto itself. There was an arch to the story. Sure, the argument could be made that the current iteration of that attraction does this with the inclusion of the Rebel Spy through line, but it only feels connected by the most tenuous thread to me.

What if, my inner child pondered, you didn’t know which adventure you were going on, but that it was a fully fleshed out adventure in and of its own rights? Such as coming under assault on your way into Bespin and have to divert through some of the mining operations we’ve never seen, escaping Separatists on Coruscant by delving deep into the lower levels of the city-planet, help take out the shield gate in the Battle of Scarif, or even engaging the First Order head on over Starkiller Base? Throw guests into a fully fleshed out chapter of a Star Wars story, not just nibble around the edges. The mystery element would still be intact as you board, but once your journey was underway it wasn't a bouncing between different elements, it was a single story. With more time to advance the individual tale, more elements, characters, and nods to the films could be included. Plus, it would feel like a real adventure, not just blips of coming attractions or whiplash travel ads.

While these are just the daydreams of the boy-Jedi still living inside of me, I think they’re questions worth asking. As always, I greet new Star Wars experiences with open arms, but I’m always thinking of what could be or what might have been. The transition to dedicated experiences is one I look forward to, though I worry about how long lines for the latest addition will impact the ability to visit locations pivotal to the adventures we embraced growing up. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I have some more daydreams of Dagobah to get back to!

09 November 2017


I want to tell you about my experience at Remy, the fine dining restaurant aboard the Disney Fantasy, which also has a sibling venue aboard the Disney Dream. There is no way to tell you about everything on the menu, and likely by the time you are onboard the menu will have changed as they are always playing with the local, freshest ingredients that the kitchen can get its hands on. What I do want to do today, however, is give you a good feeling of what to expect from Remy and give you the opportunity to decide if the meal is one you would enjoy or something that maybe isn’t quite right for you.

Let’s start with you as a diner and the restaurant’s dress code. There is a dress code for Remy, which includes jackets and dress shirts for men, with ties being optional, and skirts, dresses, or a pantsuit for women. From my time onboard, and witnessing what some guests considered formal wear, you need to be prepared to dress up for this meal. Don’t come in under the impression that the dress code is more of a guideline and you can get away with dressing how you please because it is Disney. The dress code is slightly more relaxed at Palo, the other fine dining experience onboard, but I saw guests turned away from both establishments for failure to come appropriately attired.

There are two other items that you should be prepared for walking in, that this is a refined experience that is going to take some time and that you have an adventurous palate, or an open mind about food at the very least. There are going to be multiple individuals that you have to interact with, such as the sommelier, various wait staff, and even a chef or two, and they will switch out your napkin with a fancy pair of tongs. Every luxury is considered, and it may take you a little while to get used to it. I know it was tricky for me not to be able to pull out my wife’s chair or to have someone consider the color of my suit and how a white napkin versus a black napkin would leave distinguishable lint. But if this is something you are used to, or something you can warm up to, you’ll be fine. Plus, everyone is incredibly friendly!

As for that open mind about food I mentioned, let’s talk about the menu for a moment. There are two standard menus for Remy. Saveur, French for flavor, is the French menu constructed by Chef Arnaud Lallement, whose l’Assiette Champenoise is a 3-star Michelin restaurant just outside of Reims, France. Goût, French for taste, is the American menu assembled by Chef Scott Hunnel, a name recognizable to those who have ever dined at Victoria & Albert’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian. Both menus have five courses listed, with an assortment of other options provided in the menu should you decide to go off script and craft your own menu. While it may look like five courses, be prepared for surprises along the way. On the evening we dined at Remy the amuse-bouche was a foie gras foam served in a martini glass with slated caramel and macadamia nuts at the bottom, with the recommendation to pull your spoon all the way through so you get all the flavors. Sounds like something I definitely wouldn’t have ordered on my own, and that I would have stayed away from traditionally, but it was elegant and delicious. Again, it takes an open mind and palate to truly enjoy a dinner at Remy.

Before we dive into some more of the menu offerings, let’s take a step back and admire the restaurant itself. The décor is filled with nods to Ratatouille, with the restaurant’s namesake character, Remy, making appearances in the chandeliers, on the back of chairs, and just about everywhere you can think of. There are rich brown and green tones throughout the restaurant, with some wonderful pops of color on the doors throughout the restaurant. The lighting is warm and cozy, and it lulls you into wanting to lazily relax as you slowly make your way through your meal. The tables are not overly close to one another, so even if you’re not in a booth you definitely feel as if you have privacy, with hushed conversations just adding to the warmth vibe of the restaurant.

You meal will open with the Colette Cocktail, again named for the character from Ratatouille. This is the second iteration of the cocktail which includes vodka and champagne. The vodka will remove the bubbles from the Taittinger, but fear not, the sugar released from the candied apricots will not only sweeten the cocktail, but return it to its effervescent state. Remy also has one of the most extensive wine collections you’ll find on the ship. The focus at Remy is on French wines, but there are also wines from other regions, including Lasseter Family Winery if you’re so inclined. If wine, and fine wine at that, is your thing, consider opting up to the wine pairing for your meal.

Your waiter or waitress will then guide through the menu and take special care should you have a dietary concern. For instance, seafood of any kind and I just don’t get along, yet both menus feature a fish course. I was able to order a menu with a modified course, which we settled on a simple, yet elegant pasta with black truffle and cream sauce after much discussion, and carry on with the remainder of meal. They even went so far as to ensure that this was a food preference not an allergy, as there would be a fear of other items I could come into contact with from the kitchen.

The main courses, regardless of which one we’re speaking of are out of this world. One the night we dined there was a smoked bison with fennel and leeks, as well as a Kobe beef with venison cheek and tarragon cubes, that to put not too fine a point on it, are probably two of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. My wife had a similar reaction to her halibut, and this is in between other courses that definitely let you know you are in another realm of dining. As one Cast Member on the ship remarked to me, the tiniest detail that you and I wouldn’t notice in the plating makes all the difference to the team at Remy.

Another of those surprise courses that you should prepare yourself for is when the cheese cart rolls your way. If you are a fan of cheese, as I am, this is going to totally send you into a state of nirvana. There are approximately 10-12 cheeses on the cart, alongside some wonderful accompaniments, and what you eat is completely up to you. If you’re more a fan of milder cheeses or the stronger bleus, you can opt to just stick to what you know. You can also leave yourself in the hands of your server, as we did, and end up with a plate that runs through the world of cheeses, starting with the mildest and building you up to the incredibly strong, yet delicious, Roquefort.

Dessert is also a multi-course event at Remy. While there may be one listed on your menu, be prepared for tarts with interesting flavor pairings, small cakes, and lollipops to show up before the end of the meal. There may even be a few chocolates waiting for you in your stateroom when you return. Some of it you can take with you, and makes a lovely last bite once you’ve left the ship, while others you’ll have to eat while at Remy. You may be feeling like a stuffed pig yourself by this point, but everything is well worth a nibble or two.

A meal at Remy is going to take several hours, and the team there does nothing to make you feel rushed, so make sure you are able to devote as much time and care to the experience as you can. I promise you, you will get more out of the meal if you put forth the effort yourself. Which you should want to do anyway, as a meal at Remy is not cheap. In fact, it is arguably one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever had personally. And there are additional items you can add to your meal, such as caviar, water service, the aforementioned wine pairings, and Wagyu beef. It may be one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever been a part of, but every bite was worth it.

As I wrap up this walk through of Remy I want to circle back to where we started. This isn’t a meal for everyone. There were points in my life that not only would the cost have been prohibitive, but the menu itself would have frightened and kept me away. You have to be open to the experience, open to try new things, flavors, and pairings you’ve never considered. However, if you enjoy fine dining, and the ambiance and formalities that come with it, Remy is an experience you’ll never forget. I certainly know I won’t forget my meal there anytime soon.

07 November 2017

Treasures of This Tropical Wonderland

There were a flurry of events that happened last April that led to my time on Castaway Cay being truly remarkable. For starters, the missus and I decided that we would take a cruise for our 10th wedding anniversary. After so many years of dodging cruises due to some fears and phobias, we decided to take to sea and decide if cruising was for us. The cruise we selected, a Halloween on the High Seas during our anniversary week, meant that on our actual anniversary we would be soaking up the sun at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

April also happened to be the month that a personal hero of mine, George McGinnis, passed away at the age of 87. George was known for many projects, not the least of which were Horizons, the ride vehicles for the Indiana Jones Adventure (and Dinosaur by default), and even the robots on the cult classic film, The Black Hole. His resume is incredible, and many times on the Main Street Gazette we petitioned for George to be bestowed with the honor of Disney Legend. While he was best known for Horizons, which was in truth my first introduction to him, the project for which I will always remember George is the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage.

It was this project for which I was able to interview George several years ago. His stories of modifying Harper Goff’s Nautilus designs from the 1954 film for the attraction, including removing the attach rowboat and pointed prow, the submarines’ construction at Tampa Ship, and their eventual placement in Walt Disney World were incredible to listen to and a privilege to write about. It turned a childhood favorite film into something more for me, something tangible, and it was humbling to know I had spoken with one of the individuals responsible for bringing it to life.

After 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage was permanently shuttered, many of the Nautilus submarines in the fleet were given unceremonious entombments on land. Two of these vessels, however, were given proper sea burials. Their windows and hatches were removed, as were the “eye” section at the top of the submarine, metal mesh was placed over all windows and openings to ensure guests wouldn’t find their way inside, but that fish could, and they were sunk along the snorkeling section of Castaway Cay. Knowing that I would be visiting the island a mere six months after George’s passing, confirmed for me that I would be finding my way out to a Nautilus to pay my respects.

This wouldn’t be an easy feat for me, snorkeling and I don’t get along. Due to some oral variations in my mouth, the mouthpieces required to snorkel cause a violent gagging problem for me whenever I’ve tried to put one in my mouth. In fact, it was this very problem that kept me from every taking part in Typhoon Lagoon’s Shark Reef, no matter how much I wished I could. Nonetheless, we rented the snorkeling gear and entered the lagoon after our Castaway Cay 5K a couple of Fridays ago.

While my wife took to the water like a guppy, I sat there just trying to figure out how I was going to make it all the way out to the Nautilus. I had hoped that tide would be low and I could almost walk out to the submarine or that I could not use the mouthpiece and simply swim out to the vessel. Neither of these turned out to be options. After many attempts, and choking multiple times over the course of almost 30 minutes I made the decision that I was going and no one was going to stop me. I shoved the mouthpiece in my mouth, pushed out into the deep water, and kept going. I literally kept telling myself that if I resisted the mouthpiece the lifeguards were going to have to pull me out of the ocean, and I didn’t want to be that guy. Whether it was pure force of will or terror at the embarrassment, I just kept swimming.

I learned, very quickly, that my directional sense is impaired under water. I’d try going in a straight line and end up doing something of a semicircle or going in a straight line, straight to the left or right, but not forward. I imagine I was a sight to behold, but I was determined. Many of the other sunken treasures of the snorkeling trail came and went, basins, rock outcroppings, a small boat, but still I kept scouring the water for my beloved Nautilus.

Eventually it came into view through the murky, sun-drenched blue waters. From its stunted nose to the gorgeous curve of its tailfin, this Nautilus was sight to behold. I swam around the vessel, taking it all in. The memories of boarding the attraction with my father swept back over me as I peered down the stairwells, the conversations with George about their construction came to me as I made my way along the top and towards the tail section (where the rowboat would have been), and the realization that I had overcome something in myself just to be there in that moment, there were a plethora of thoughts racing through my head in those few moments.

It was then, as I looked over the entire Nautilus from the aft section of the submarine, that I took a moment to reach out and touch the fin. I thanked George for all he created over the years and his willingness to always be open and generous with his time to any who asked it of him. I then turned back to the shore and swam back to the island, one wrong turn or semicircle at a time.

This journey was an important one for me to undertake, not just to provide readers with a story or a few photos of a Nautilus’ final resting place or to speak up once more for the life and work of George McGinnis, but so that I could, in some small way, pay my respects to the legend himself. To connect with him one more time over a topic that I will forever feel a bond to him with.

The next time, or the first time, you each find yourself snorkeling around Castaway Cay, I hope you’ll remember George yourself when you come upon that beautiful submarine of his. In the meantime, maybe these photographs from my journey will hold you over.