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.

06 November 2017

Tales to Astonish

When the Disney Fantasy came out of dry dock this spring, it brought with it some expanded opportunities to engage youth. Specifically, these youth areas oversaw a transformation that included many film properties that are popular with children right now. One area, the Super Hero Academy, looks to have been lifted straight out of Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. The debut was met with plenty of publicity, but no article really hit the nail on the head than the one posted on the Academy’s bulletin board from Ben Urich and the Daily Bugle.

I won’t bore you with the article; suffice to say this version of the Super Hero Academy focuses more on the mystical and scientific arts than its Avengers counterpart. The newspaper itself should ring a few bells, as it is the source for news, both real and sensationalized, in the world of Marvel comics. It is the place where J. Jonah Jameson made a name for himself, and it has staffed everyone from the aforementioned Ben Urich to none other than Spider-Man himself, Peter Parker. What does interest me about this newspaper clipping, however, are a few of the details scattered throughout.

Let’s start with the publication date, May 17, 2017. This is the easy one to start with as it is the date the Disney Fantasy came out of dry dock and once again took to the open seas.

Moving down the page, to the bottom right, we see the headline for another article in the edition. This one is tied to Danny Rand, aka the Immortal Iron Fist. The headline reads, Iron Fist: Hero for Hire? This is a reference to the history of Danny Rand, but more so his compatriot, Luke Cage. Luke Cage’s original comic in the 1970s was titled Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, but was later altered to Luke Cage, Power Man. With his own standalone series not performing as well as Marvel would like, Iron Fist’s series was scraped and he joined up with Luke Cage. Eventually, in issue number 54 of Power Man and Iron Fist (again, a retitling of Luke Cage’s original solo book), the Heroes for Hire name was given to their team, a fully licensed investigative and protection organization. In the most basic sense, the Heroes for Hire are the beginning of the more recently formed Defenders.

Right next to this headline is another that features the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. It reads, Quantum Realm: Dr. Pym’s Tales to Astonish. In case you haven’t guessed already, Tales to Astonish was a 1950s and 1960s comic series that is the birthplace of Hank Pym and the Ant-Man. Tales to Astonish was actually a science fiction anthology series that gave rise to many individual comic characters, Hank originally starred in a standalone issue story, but would return a few issues later for a larger arc as Ant-Man, and later as Giant Man. The rest, as they say, is history. It is worth noting that Tales to Astonish also heavily featured the Hulk, and would become The Incredible Hulk with issue 102, another of the series long-running stars. As for the Quantum Realm, the alternative realm of mysticism, magic, and science has long been a staple destination of the comics. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, it is the current resident of Hank Pym's wife, Janet van Dyne.

The fine print is always crucial when it comes to contracts, but it is almost more important when exploring details left behind by Disney’s imagineers. While I may not be a master of the mystical arts, the crew aboard the Fantasy told me, a la Yoda, that I was too old to begin my training, I’d like to think my eye for the mystical and magical has only been strengthened through the years. In the case of the Super Hero Academy, it also helps to have a deep history with comics!

02 November 2017

The Food of Generosity

We’re in the midst of the holiday swing at Walt Disney World. Halloween decorations, many of which that have been up since August, are coming down and Christmas is starting to fill the air, and the lampposts, and gardens, and food kiosks… But it is in this period of mid-autumn that I start to think that Walt Disney World overlooks one of our great holidays, Thanksgiving. Of course, there are special meals at restaurants all around the property, and there aren’t a ton of Thanksgiving decorations that go up in yards throughout the country, but I can’t help but to think that the holiday should be given a bit more of a presence in the parks and resorts leading up to the day.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that this means Christmas and winter holiday displays aren’t going to go up in November or that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas isn’t going to have events starting in November. As it is, Christmas decorations were filling stores in October, Christmas music is already being looped through people’s houses, and it is a tradition held by many families that their Christmas tree go up, or be up, for the Thanksgiving meal. I understand all of that; I also understand that Thanksgiving may not be as fun as Halloween or Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a special place. After all, we don’t even close schools or businesses for Halloween, but Thanksgiving is given that honor in general society.

What am I advocating for? Perhaps it is as simple as a couple of weeks dedicated to the season of giving and giving thanks. Maybe a display in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Epcot’s Land and Seas pavilions, talking about the impact of the Disney Conservation Fund, giving thanks to guests who have contributed, and making a dedicated ask to guests around a specific goal. It could also be a meet and greet on Main Street, U.S.A. for Turkey Lurkey and an activity in Liberty Square where guests can talk about what they are thankful for during the past year. It could even be a month long celebration at 50’s Prime Time Cafe where the menu features Thanksgiving staples of the era, things that we wouldn’t necessarily prepare today, for the entire month and not just a traditional meal on Thanksgiving Day. Heck, they could even put on a short stage production somewhere in the parks talking about the first Thanksgiving, more than the few moments it is given in The American Adventure.

I’m fairly confident that I don’t have the answers, or that Disney will ever see Thanksgiving as more than an extremely busy long weekend, but I feel like there is a disservice being done to the holiday. Believe me, Halloween and Christmas are both cherished institutions in my own house, and we literally count down the days until we can start celebrating both, but we also make time to be thankful for what we have and to give back. Not just during November and around Thanksgiving, but all year long. It may not be the flashiest of holidays, or have a lot of popular culture credence these days, but Thanksgiving definitely deserves better than it currently receives from Walt Disney World and the rest of us. It has been given a distinction on our calendars, and in our workplace holiday packages, for a reason.

Certainly if you were to ask a child what they are thankful for when they are inside a park, your answers will likely range from family to Splash Mountain, with parents’ answers gravitating towards being thankful for their children or significant others. I don’t think that it matters how it is presented in the parks and resorts, but as long as people are given a moment to think about what they are thankful for, and what the holiday really means, I think it is a dramatic improvement over just focusing on Thanksgiving for the food on a single day.

As we move beyond the spooky and the frightening fun, looking toward the horizon of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, winter solstice, and other winter celebrations, let’s not look at Thanksgiving as merely a speedbump. It has more to do with our national history than many of the holidays we celebrate each year, and it has an important message that is easy to overlook. So, until Walt Disney World finds a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving, while you’re pulling out your Christmas decorations, or attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, this year it is up to you to find a moment to be thankful for or to find a way to give back to something you are passionate about or something in your community.

31 October 2017

A New Spell or Two

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort doesn’t have a ton of food options, especially in the off season. The resort’s main dining stop, Tide Me Over, is a quick service window that provides breakfast staples and a fine assortment of lunch offerings. Its hours are limited, making dinner a self-prepared or off-site affair. However, it does have a fair amount of snacks, both hot and cold, that guests can partake in. One such snack, the Halloween Mickey Waffle Sundae, is definitely a seasonal affair.

The bowl comes with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, a healthy dollop of whipped cream, a miniature Mickey waffle smothered in caramel syrup, and then the whole thing is topped with a handful of Halloween sprinkles (including some that are pumpkin shaped with bats cut out of them). The Halloween Mickey Waffle Sundae isn’t going to be earth shattering to anyone, but it is a well put together treat. The vanilla and caramel pair well and definitely have the hint of fall you’re looking for. Mickey waffles are always a welcomed sight, no matter what meal they’re present for, and the fact that they are warm is a plus.

I was expecting the sundae to utilize soft serve, which has become common for floats and sundaes around the parks and resorts, save for those dedicated ice cream parlors scattered about. The fact that they utilize real ice cream is a definite win for the treat. The serving size is perfect for a mid-afternoon snack, and it won’t break the bank or the appetite for dinner.

Now, unless you are at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort today, this review probably isn’t going to be very helpful. However, this type of seasonal offering from Tide Me Over, in addition to an assortment of specialty coffees, was new to us on our most recent trip. It stands to reason that they will likely continue to add these types of items to their menu throughout the year, such as the holiday season coming up. For those of you visiting in the future, keep an eye out, and know that these small sundaes are great snacks for you and your family.

30 October 2017

Gala Halloween Extravaganza

“Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age, The Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right; a beacon for the show business elite. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that.”

On that night, so many Halloweens ago, tragedy struck at The Hollywood Tower Hotel where there would have been a gala that would have been the buzz of Hollywood for years to come. From am eight course meal in the Sunset Room to Anthony Fremont and his Orchestra at The Tip-Top Club. A night never to be forgotten, but now under circumstances the hotel had not accounted for. The planning for this dressed-to-the-nines event made it all the way to The Hollywood Tower Hotel’s boutique, The Apparel Shop. The windows were dressed with elegant gowns and formalwear, items for costumes, Halloween trimming, and other luxury items.

While the dust and cobwebs have piled up over the years, these window displays still ooze with a sense of spooky exclusivity. On this eve of Halloween, let’s take a moment to pause and really explore the storefront windows of the tower of Terror’s Tower Hotel Gifts.

19 October 2017

The Cup That Will Transport You - Part X

Were off on an adventure of sorts with today's two offerings from Joffrey's. One comes to us from a restaurant that is arguably the meal to have when you're visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom, while the other serves a multitude of guests each morning in their resort rooms. As any coffee enthusiast will note, no two coffees are the same, and these two sum that thought up perfectly. Per usual, since I am not a fan of coffee myself, we're handing the reins over to the missus (who is the best part of waking up, in my book), Aileen Sheehan-Wilson. Take it away!

Artifact Blend (Medium) – A Tiffins Brewed Coffee exclusively served at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Your visit to this unique and themed restaurant is not complete without a coffee expedition inspired by adventure. Natural Ethiopian beans are blended with spicy estate beans from the Indonesian island of Java. Together you experience fruity and floral with deep, earthy undertones, both are 100% Specialty Grade Arabica.

What Aileen Tastes:
This coffee tastes exactly as it was described. It was slightly fruity, but it definitely had earthy undertones. Basically, it made the roast very balanced and there were no powerful flavors that would overshadow the food you were eating. It tasted like a great medium roast and I felt like it would go well with spicy foods or rich desserts. This was a roast I would probably not order for my home, but would definitely have at the end of my meal at Tiffins.

French Roast (Dark) – Hand-selected blend of beans from Central & South America artfully roasted to a brown so deep it borders on black. Robustly aromatic with hints of caramel and chocolate with a beautifully smoky finish that delightfully lingers. Offered and enjoyed in-room at select hotels across Walt Disney World® Resort and Disneyland® Resort, and now available to enjoy at home. Let the wonderful memories come alive with each sip.

What Aileen Tastes:
Unfortunately, I did not get any of the flavors listed in the description from this roast when I tried it at home. It tasted quite acidic, without a hint of richness. I wanted to love this, and I normally enjoy French roasts, but this did nothing for me. I ended up using the whole bag, but I made it much weaker in order to reduce the acidity and slightly metallic taste. Sadly, the French Roast was not a winner, but maybe you will enjoy it as your in-room coffee when you stay on property.

Overall Cup of Disney Rankings:
– Alto Mayo Protected Forest
2 – French Bistro
3 – California Grill
 Flying Fish Espresso
– Trattoria al Forno
6 – Flying Fish
7 – Sanaa
8 – Yachtsman Steakhouse
9 – Kona Blend
10 – Artifact Blend
11 – Citricos
12 – Victoria & Albert's
13 – Narcoossee's
14 – Tusker House
15 – Jiko
16 – Artist Point
17 – French Roast
18 – Le Cellier
19 – Flavors of Africa
20 – Hollywood Blend
21 – The Wave

Previous Reviews:

18 October 2017

Tell a Good Story - Issue #6: Figment 2

Spoiler Free Synopsis: We find Figment and Dreamfinder right where we left them at the end of the first series, in the modern day approaching a building that looks suspiciously like Spaceship Earth. As the Dream Machine begins to have some trouble, the pair makes a hasty landing at the current version of the Academy Scientifica Lucidus. The Academy has changed, but friends and the enduring values that the Dreamfinder and Figment have remained. Of course, the modern course of creative academia is not without its trials.

Capri, Dreamfinder’s great-great-great grandniece has been trying to gain acceptance to the Academy, only to continually be turned away. She has the same wide-eyed sense of wonder and exploration that her ancestor, Dreamfinder, had, but she also possesses something he did not in his younger days, confidence. This is made all the more clear when Dreamfinder’s personal doubts of being able to live up to the expectations of him create a dark figment of his imagination, Doubt or the Doubtfinder.

Can Figment, Capri, and her figment of imagination, and flying cat-like creature known as Spark, free the Dreamfinder from Doubt’s clutches and save the world from the ever spreading disbelief and fear Doubt has been sowing? It’s going to be an all-out brawl between doubt and imagination, with only one crossing the finish line.

Disney Source Material: As we spoke to in the original series, Figment 2: Legacy of Imagination leans heavily on the original EPCOT Center attraction, Journey Into Imagination. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this series feels more like the descendant of that attraction that even the original Figment series from Disney Kingdoms. The darkest and brightest elements of the attraction may not be carbon copied in Figment 2, but their spirit is alive and well, from the spookiness of the literature scene in the attraction to the bright artistic nature of Capri in the series, there is plenty of bleed over between the two.

Spark, for her part, is new to the world of Imagination, but she is deeply rooted in the world of Disney. Specifically, she is the embodiment of song that enriches so many of the Disney animated and live-action films, as well as its theme park attractions. We could list each and every reference here, but where’s the fun in that. Rather, as you read through the series, make sure to take note of the classic songs, and their composers, that are given subtle, yet meaningful, nods throughout.

Marvel Storytelling: Figment 2 returns Jim Zub to the helm of the as the series’ writer. It is clear that he has spent quality time with these characters, and is returning to a place and a story he loves. In fact, it almost feels as if this is the story he was itching to tell throughout the entirety of the original Figment run. The storytelling is tight, the offshoots are less than we saw in the original, and each character has an arc that is worthy of her or his’ place in the tale.

Picking up the artistic duties is Ramon Bachs. Ramon has been around comics for quite some time, working for various companies and properties, including Detective Comics, Civil War: Front Line, Red Robin, Ultimate Spider-Man, and various Star Wars publications. There is less ambiguity with the artwork in Figment 2 than the original series, just pick up both stories and compare the detail work of the Dream Machine, and there is consistency amongst the characters’ portrayals that was lacking in the first run.

Last, but most certainly not least, Jean-Francois Beaulieu is our colorist. He has been a steadfast staple through most of the Disney Kingdom series, and his expert touch is once again a welcome sign.

Bonus Time: Similarly to the original Figment, Figment 2 has a wealth of concept and cover art. From action figure covers to character and scene development from the attraction, Figment 2 will feed your hunger for both art from the current series to those of you looking back into the annuls of Journey Into Imagination history. For those of you who love the history elements as much as I do, you need look no further than the opening letter, this time coming from Imagineer Tom K. Morris. For those unaware, Tom has had a hand in many of the projects we know and love in Walt Disney World. In fact, he was the designer of the Dream Machine! In his letter he speaks to the enduring legacy of Walt Disney, and how it relates to Figment and Dreamfinder. It is a letter worth reading and remembering.

Conclusion: Figment 2’s subtitle is Legacy of Imagination, and that is precisely what the series is. It picks up everything we hold near and dear from the attraction, or gives those who never had a chance to experience Journey Into Imagination a taste of what that must have been like. I said it earlier, but this feels like the story Jim Zub wanted to tell, but he had to set up our heroes and the world in which they reside, first. If I were given a choice, I would almost always pick up Figment 2 before going back to the original series, it is that much of an improvement in my eyes. The new additions to the cast make perfect sense, and fit right in to the story, without ever taking the emphasis off of the adventures of Dreamfinder and Figment. If this is your first stop aboard the Dream Machine, you are definitely in for a ride.

Further Reading:
Tell a Good Story – Issue #6: Figment 2