25 May 2017

The Gift of Energy

The Universe of Energy has been active in the news and rumor mill for a couple of weeks now, but today I want to venture back to the dawn of the attraction. I want to talk not only about its first incarnation, but specifically about the show elements highlighted in the exterior and the pre-show theater before guests into the main traveling theaters. While I could ramble through this for a bit, the best explanation of these elements, to my mind, still comes from the guides given to Cast Members during those early years. So, we’ll turn you over to the folks at EPCOT Center for a bit.

“The Universe of Energy experience begins with our first glimpse of the building’s exterior. Its dynamic shape is itself an expression of energy. A wedge-shaped structure with the apex of its enormous triangle tilted toward the ground, it appears to be simultaneously rising out of the earth and driving into it.
“Warm bands of color, symbolic of radiating heat, alternate along its sides. As we approach we notice that this slanting roof glistens with a blanket of solar panels.
“The mammoth array of photovoltaic cells faces the sun, drawing in its energy and converting it into electrical current. This combination of the functional and the aesthetic is a subliminal statement of the pavilion’s overall theme; that by exploring and developing alternative energy sources we can build an energy-bridge to a better tomorrow.
“As we near the apex we notice a separate structure standing in front of the main building. Its mirrored surface reflects the images of rippling water from a pool below – the reflections seem to suggest energy in motion. Beyond the reflecting pool is the main entrance. 
“Our exploration of Universe of Energy begins with a kinetic multi-image pre-show entitled ‘Energy, You Make The World Go Round.’
“Emil Radok, an accomplished Czechoslovakian filmmaker/artist designed the long ‘magical’ screen situated above the queue area. Five 35mm motion picture projectors cast rapidly changing images onto 100 separate three-foot square sections of the screen. These screen sections, controlled by a microprocessor, rotate in sync with the projected images, exposing a black side, a projected surface, or a combination of both. The effect transforms the flat film images into a three-dimensional, moving mosaic as dynamic as energy itself. 
“The eight minutes of imagery serves as an ‘Energy Primer’ and an introduction to the Energy Story. It begins with designs representing the elemental forms of energy. Atoms and crystals whirl around the screen. Galaxies form… lightning bolts flash… life begins… humankind appears on the scene.
“From primitive man to modern man the show reveals the techniques we have learned in order to control energy, and portrays the dramatic advances of civilization motivated by this powerful knowledge. As the presentation ends we are reminded that sooner or later fossil fuels, our present energy source, will not satisfy the worlds growing energy demands. Only by continuing to expand our knowledge and understanding of the many ‘faces’ of energy can we build a more secure energy future.”

The bands of color along the outside of the building were changed when the attraction was transformed into Ellen’s Energy Adventure. However, the original radiating heat coloration was returned in 2009. The mirrored mosaic, along with the entry hallway’s mural depicting the sun and its heat waves, dinosaur topiaries, the solar array at the top of structure, and the rotating film panels made the guests’ introduction to the Universe of Energy something special. As with most things EPCOT Center, those early glimpses and reveals left a mark on many of us that continues to shape how we view the park and its pavilions to this day.

23 May 2017

Man's Ideas and Achievements

The Swiss Family Treehouse features a 116 step climb up to and through the home of the Robinson family. This self-guided tour, the family must be out in the jungle somewhere, takes place outdoors and that means that the entire attraction is subject to Florida’s harsh weather elements. This means that the rooms and their furnishings, not to mention the branches, limbs, and leaves of the Disneyodendron eximus, have to undergo regular refurbishments. This process usually freshens the wooden elements, replaces anything damaged, and makes the place neat and pretty again for the Robinsons and guests alike. However, the 2016 refurbishment that ran from July through October brought with it a new scene that had not previously been a part of the attraction.

At first glance it is just a well-crafted chair, some tropical fruit, and some decorative flags. Could this be a spot created by the family to relax in their new home? It certainly looks as if they’ve accepted their lives on the island and are unwinding as only one could do on an island paradise once you’ve chased off a bunch of pirates. However, if you are family with Swiss Family Robinson, the 1960 film upon which the attraction is based, you probably know there is more to this chair than meets the eye.

The flags and chair are reminiscent of a scene that falls towards the end of the movie. After the stress of preparing for the imminent pirate attack get to Fritz and Ernst, to say nothing of the stress of competing for the affections of Janet Munro’s Roberta, Father decides it is time to have a bit of a break. He announces that the next day will be the first national holiday for New Switzerland, also known as the island they are castaways on. As part of the festivities there is to be a race, with each of the children, Roberta included, choosing a different island creature as their mount.

Flags from the ship that have been acquired by Ernst are used as decorations, much in the same way guests can now see them as decoration in the new Treehouse scene. As for the chair, this is a place for Mother to sit as official starter of the race, and a platform from which see can oversee the race. As you would suspect with racing ostriches, zebras, donkeys, and baby elephants, a calamity ensues, pirates attack, and the race is never finished, at least not onscreen.

The Swiss Family Treehouse represents one of the classic live-action Disney films, but the attraction itself rarely sees more than a superficial refurbishment. The addition of a scene from a key moment in Swiss Family Robinson just goes to show that new or old classic films always have a place in the parks, and the parks are never going to stop changing.

22 May 2017

A Classic Canadian Dish

Poutine has been becoming more recognizable in the public consciousness for several years now. The dish is a staple of diner scene in Canada and the northern United States dating back to 1950’s Quebec. The simplest form of the dish is comprised of three components, French fries, cheese curds, and light brown gravy, but it has given birth to a ton of different styles and combination of ingredients. The fact that poutine has become so popular has not been lost on Walt Disney World, which responded by opening The Daily Poutine in Disney Springs in May of 2016. While the variations on the dish offered at The Daily Poutine are great in their own rights, it is not where I would go for the best version of poutine when visiting the Vacation Kingdom.

For that, I would find my way over to the Wilderness Lodge and then, after taking in some of the great sights of the resort and working up an appetite, I’d grab a table at the Territory Lounge. Here they offer up a traditional form of poutine, with only minor deviations. Poutine is listed under Other Things on the Territory Lounge menu and comes with house-cut fries, veal jus, cheese curds, and green onion.

I’m not the biggest fan of veal, but the veal jus is full of flavor. Also, it creates a light gravy, and not your typical heavy, brown gravy. I would be hesitant to call it a jus, which I usually look at to be a very thin, almost water-like consistency, and the veal jus here is definitely thicker than that. The fries are hand-cut and fried, which shows through in the browning and crispiness of the fries, in that they are not uniform and are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The heat from the veal jus and fries melt the cheese curds to a gooey consistency that is rich and builds off of everything right with the fries and jus. The green onion is a nice touch, but it really is just that, a finishing touch.

When Julie Andrews sang the words, “these are a few of my favorite things,” in The Sound of Music, I know she wasn’t thinking of poutine. However, when I think of those words, I am most certainly daydreaming about poutine. Recently, those imaginary images have come from the version of the dish offered at the Territory Lounge. Fried potatoes, a light gravy, creamy cheese curds, and something a little green to break up the study of deliciously tan food items, what more can you ask for? Poutine may be a simple dish, but that also means it is easy to screw up. The culinary team at Territory Lounge is consistently delivering their poutine with a high degree of expertise.

19 May 2017

Race Cars, Lasers, Aeroplanes

It was announced this week that Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin will be present for visitors to the D23 Expo later this year as a way to promote the upcoming DuckTales relaunch. With a substantial portion of the new cast having already been announced, now seemed like the perfect time to wander over to MouseGear and talk about this silhouette and why it’s important to DuckTales past and future.

MouseGear’s two office panel windows above the sales floor feature a number of character shadows. These shadows belong to a wide variety of Disney’s most recognizable ducks, from Donald and Scrooge to Daisy and the nephews, all taking part in the operations of the shop in some form or fashion. The only one that may throw the average guests is this silhouette, who doesn't seem to be using your run of the mill office equipment. It belongs to Gyro Gearloose, who was a fixture of the original DuckTales, but his story goes back so much further than that!

In fact, Gyro originally appeared in the 1952 comic, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #140. The specific tale was called Gladstone’s Terrible Secret and was created by the legendary Carl Barks. His assistant, Little Helper, is a miniature robot with a lightbulb for a head, would come along a few short years later in 1956. Gyro is an inventor, who can create an amazing amount of gadgets and gizmos, many of which were so successful that they caused problems. As time went on, the format changed and then Gyro’s creations always seems to have a glitch or missing a critical component that is needed to make it work, with hijinks ensuing.

In the DuckTales series, Gyro creates one of his most notable creations, the Gizmoduck suit. The suit was originally intended to enhance the security guards at Scrooge’s Money Bin, but ended up attaching to Scrooge’s accountant, Fenton Crackshell, creating the super-duck-hero, Gizmoduck! Scrooge would go on hire Gizmoduck as his bodyguard, with Gizmoduck also securing a coveted guest spot on another Disney Afternoon staple, Darkwing Duck, but it was all thanks to the ingenuity of Gyro Gearloose.

Back over at MouseGear, it appears that Gyro’s inventive nature has taken hold in the offices as well. He is featured with a typewriter, or adding machine, that can float, making it great for the on-the-go administrative types. It has been announced that Gyro Gearloose will be popping up on the DuckTales show when it launches later this year, although who will voice the eccentric inventor and how often we will be able to see him has yet to be released. Either way, Gyro is a great addition to the Disney duck flock and has definitely earned his reference in MouseGear!

18 May 2017

I Love the Movies

How much time do you need to spend in Disney’s Hollywood Studios these days? It’s a question I’ve heard from a lot of corners and friends recently as the park undergoes a transformation that will introduce guests to two new lands dedicated to Star Wars and Toy Story. The general response is not much, that it is a half-day park at the very best. With so much animosity towards the park undergoing a massive rebuild, should guests even be visiting the park right now? The short answer is yes, absolutely.

Let me set the table for you, prior to 2016 Disney’s Hollywood Studios was one of the parks that I could hit at rope drop and stay engaged as a guest throughout the day and into the evening. During my most recently weeklong visit, I put the park on our itinerary for two evenings only, and I felt ashamed that I was slighting the park in such a way. It didn’t feel like a place that I needed to be at for rope drop, and I would much rather spend those mornings visiting Elsa or exploring Harambe. I was much more inclined to schedule the evenings, if for no other reason than I love the neon of the park at dusk and beyond.

So, aside from the old Hollywood feel of the evenings, what are the reasons to visit the park? That’s easy, the reasons are the same as they were before! The major attractions are still there. Sunset Boulevard still has its two headliners, Rock ‘N’ RollerCoaster and tower of Terror, in addition to the nighttime spectacular of Fantasmic! The Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, and Toy Story Midway Mania are still giving guests their money’s worth. Add in the shows like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and MuppetVision 3D, and you have more than enough to keep guests entertained for long stretches of time.

I haven’t mentioned anything, aside from Star Tours, of the relatively recent Star Wars additions to the park. As a lifelong enthusiast of all things Star Wars, with shelves and shelves of comics and novels and RPG guides and the likes, I love having access to so many artifacts and characters in the various attractions and shows that have been added to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Especially Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, it is a fantastic nighttime addition to the park. However, much of this feels slightly out of place for me currently. I get that it is keeping up the interest, not that I believe there is a risk of interest in Star Wars waning anytime soon, but it seems like a bit much in spaces that were created to echo that feeling of the golden age of Hollywood. I’ll be happy to see what this section of the park reverts back to in 2019.

We haven’t even talked about food yet. Between table service dining options and some of the lounges scattered about the park, there is great food and drink to be found in the park. If you’re looking for standard chicken nuggets and hamburgers, you can find that too, but with so many variety of dining options that is also not a drawback to the Studios at this juncture.

What precisely is it that is driving guests away from the park in droves at the moment? What is it that inspired me to only spend a couple of evenings in Disney’s Hollywood Studios when I was in town? I can’t really put my finger on it, but I believe one is driving the other. With so much construction taking place throughout the park, it makes navigating a challenge, especially to novice guests, which may be taking a toll of the attendance. With attendance in decline, it makes experiencing the park in its current form easier for those who are taking the chance on visiting. Driving down attraction wait times, in turn means that even when you are there it doesn’t take as long to experience everything you want to.

I’ll be the first to admit that I looked at a park that had shuttered large swathes of land and thought that the park wasn’t worth as much of an investment of my time as it had required in the past, regardless of the fact that these closure only removed a couple of attractions. The fact that the majority of attractions are still up and running at Disney’s Hollywood Studios hasn’t seemed to dissuade guests from shirking visits to the park. That just means that there is more for the rest of us who are willing to take the chance on visiting Walt Disney World’s third gate. It is a baffling cycle that has been created by construction, but heed this advice, if you loved the park before the refurbishment began, I promise you that you’re still going to find a reason to love it now.

15 May 2017

Magicians Lounge

In 2015 I had the absolute pleasure of being able to visit the Magic Castle as a guest of friend who is also an incredible magician. The experience was, to put it mildly, one of the true joys I’ve experienced in my life. It’s no wonder then that when Disney announced a watering hole for magicians would be coming to BoardWalk I was over the moon. I was finally able to pull up a stool at AbracadaBar in April and pull back the curtain on the atmosphere, cocktails, small bites, and lingering magic of the establishment. No sleight of hand here, just our honest opinions!

From the outside, this neighbor to Flying Fish definitely looks like a headline attraction. I mean, it even has its own marquee! The billing on the windows and in the signage is on point and enticing for anyone looking for a magical moment or two. Once inside, there is a plush, old-school Victorian lair feel going on, right down to the tiled restrooms that feel like vintage dressing rooms that are right off stage. Display cases filled with magical artifacts, framed relics and ephemera, a variety of mirrors, and posters cover much of the walls and spill over into the shelfs behind the bar. The wall spaces that aren’t covered up offer glimpses of a rich red and gold wallpaper that includes hidden card suits, rings, ropes, birds, rabbits (Presto), and other signs of craft. Short of the Memento Mori wallpaper in the Spirit Photography room, the AbracadaBar wallpaper may be my favorite on property, and there is an argument to be made for it to be at the top of that list.

The posters highlighting magicians and their acts, prior to the night of their mass disappearance, are of particular note as they are an illusion unto themselves, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

Moving on to the menu, there’s not a lot to talk about here, but in this case that’s a great thing. This isn’t your typical Walt Disney World lounge, as the food offerings are limited to a series of small bites. There are marinated olives, a fruit and cheese plate, and a charcuterie plate.  We opted for the fruit and cheese plate, which comes with two cheeses, cheddar and Boursin, and a selection of berries, jackfruit, and kiwi. The thin slices of toast included with the fruit and cheese plate are the real stars of this act, with great flavors embedded in the bread and as part of the olive oil drizzled over them.

The beverage menu is extensive, including Baffling Beers, Worldly Wines, and Curious Cocktails. There is a wide selection of beers and wines, many with names that play well into the magical theme of AbracadaBar, which is wonderful to see such a selection in a Walt Disney World lounge. As for the cocktails, while the names are imbued with clever wordplay, and we all know how much I love that, they are truly just your staple cocktails. I opted for the play on the Old Fashioned called the Parlor Trick. AbracadaBar doesn’t try to play down this fact, and puts the more well-known names in each beverage’s description, but they do create each with a high degree of skill. I don’t need a fancy concoction that is almost impossible to recreate at home, but I do appreciate a well-crafted cocktail, which AbracadaBar is more than willing and able to offer.

So far, so good, right? Let’s talk about where AbracadaBar lets me down. There are a lot of ways to include small illusions into the workings of the establishment that seem to have either been left on the drawing board or never considered. Sinking barstools, a face in the mirror, instruments that play with seemingly no musician, and the like that are similar to other effects used throughout attractions and restaurants. Walt Disney World, and the Disney name as a whole, is known for their ability to create illusions in their films and physical environments, many times producing groundbreaking effects that the world has never seen before. And yet when it comes to AbracadaBar, an establishment perfectly suited for incredible effects, there is nothing here to astound the magically inclined. There was so much potential to create a show-stopping magicians lounge, the likes of which could put Trader Sam’s to shame, and it just doesn’t live up to the billing.

My hope is that Disney is always learning new tricks and that maybe they can clean up their act at AbracadaBar. It has a wonderful atmosphere, adequate small bites, great fundamental cocktails and other beverages, but it is simply missing that something magical. In my wildest dreams this would have been a smaller, more intimate east coast Magic Castle, and that potential is still there. As with all things in the magical arts, all AbracadaBar needs more of are some great new illusions, coupled with some of the classics, and then practice, practice, practice.

11 May 2017

A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams

A couple of weeks ago I said goodnight to Wishes. Tonight the fireworks spectacular will give its final performance ahead of tomorrow’s debut of Happily Ever After. My goodbye included my father and my wife, a dessert party, and very few photographs. I wanted one final memory, giving Wishes my absolute undivided attention, and I didn’t want to watch it through a viewfinder.  The show premiered on October 9, 2003, and has been a staple of nighttime entertainment in Walt Disney World for more than 13 years, save for a minor interruption here or there. More importantly, however, is that it has given us so many memories to hold on to.

The first time I saw the show, I was living in Florida as an early twentysomething, and I would go over and watch it from the beach at the Polynesian or from balcony atop the Contemporary, without ever stepping inside the Magic Kingdom. While the view from Main Street, U.S.A. may have provided more of the projections, it was the fireworks and the music that I had come for. I also, maybe once or twice, used these other viewing areas to impress a girl.

In early 2005 I would meet a girl who would change my life. In fact, she would become my wife and we will celebrate 10 years of marriage this coming fall. She had been to Walt Disney World once or twice with a band in high school, but had never done the Walt Disney World experience right. That summer we took our first road trip together and I showed off all the nooks and crannies of my second home. One our first night, I took her to see Wishes. I remember less about the show and more about her expressions as I watched her take in the show, the changing shade of glows on her face, the new types of fireworks that she would become enamored with, and all the emotions that ran through her eyes. This would be the trip where we would find out we could travel together, and easily, but this is one of those memories I will always remember.

Over the years I have had many, many fantastic experiences with Wishes. From another dessert party with my friend Elizabeth and her daughter, Glenn pretending to watch the show looking in the wrong direction on Main Street, the night I spent on my own in Frontierland and Liberty Square just trying to capture a single photograph that summed up my feelings of the show (for the record, I failed miserably), letting my mom watch the show with many of the firework bursts blooming over Beast’s Castle, and even Lou’s touching quip of “that doesn’t suck.” If you’ve spent an evening with me in the Magic Kingdom, chances are that we’ve watched the show together, and the chances are that is another memory I cherish, whether I’ve told you that or not.

There are a lot of individuals to thank for the creation and longevity of Wishes, Steve Davison (show director), Erik Tucker (pyrotechnics designer), and Steve Skorija (music director) to name just a few. I want to take a moment, however, to thank composer and arranger Gregory Smith. I think that my experience of being a preschool teacher for so many years, in particular during those first few years of Wishes’ run, made the music he crafted for the show touch me just a little deeper than it might have otherwise. Basing the theme of the show off of Star Light, Star Bright, definitely reminded me of all the children in my care on a daily basis and made me pause to not only consider my personal dreams, but what dreams they had for their tomorrows.

With all of this waxing poetic about the show, you’d think I would lament the showing ending, and I do, but I am also excited to see what comes next. Fantasy in the Sky, Wishes predecessor, had a 32 year run and I have many, many fond memories of that show as well, but if it hadn’t ever been retired we would have never had Wishes. Fireworks are always going to have a special place in our hearts and reminiscences, and Wishes is no exception, but I also cannot wait to make new memories with Happily Ever After.

I think we sometimes forget that Wishes had a subtitle attached to it, A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams. I think this may describe my feelings and attachment to Wishes even better than its headline name. While it may be referencing all of the various Disney productions that are presented over the course of the show, I personally feel that it has given me a collection of magical moments I will always hold near and dear. Thank you, Wishes, for everything you’ve given me, and all of us, over the years. We’ll never forget you.

10 May 2017

No Shame in Seconds

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure to sit down to a meal with at The Polite Pig. The restaurant is new to Disney Springs and features a model of dining that is being seen more and more throughout Walt Disney World, the fast casual format features a queue for ordering and payment, and then your food is brought to you by roaming servers who are there to help you take care of any additional needs (including more food) as you dine. It’s something a little different, and will take a little getting used to, but it is a fine way to dine. But let’s get down to the food shall we?

For my first bite from The Polite Pig I opted for a style of barbecue I know well from living in western North Carolina for more than the past dozen years, the Pork Shoulder. I will confess that to my mind, this meant pulled or chopped barbecue pork, and that is not what I received, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad thing. With the Pork Shoulder you are given large chunks of barbecued pork that have been prepared with Polite Rub. Each serving comes with one side, a roll, and small jar of coleslaw. The pork itself is tender and pulls apart easily. There are two byproducts of the pork’s presentation; on the negative side of things you get a lot more fat with your meat than you would expect, but on the positive side, you get way more of the delicious bark with that seasoned rub!

My original plan was to try all seven of their sauces on my pork to get a good sample of what The Polite Pig is offering as accompaniments, but that ended up being a little harder than I had planned. So, I settled for three options: Hot Honey, Spiced Vinegar, and Thomas’s Southern Gold.  The Spiced Vinegar, or any type of vinegar sauce, is a staple of Carolina barbecue and I had to give it a try. Listed as a vinegar-based mopping sauce, in other words you drag your pork or meat through it to sop it up, it did not disappoint and brought with it a nice arrangement of spices, the tangy twinge of the vinegar, and highlighted what was already present in the rub. Meanwhile, the mustard and vinegar-based Thomas’s Southern Gold, just didn’t hit me as well as the Spiced Vinegar. I’m usually all about mustard sauces, but this seemed a bit thin to me and didn’t carry itself as well as I had hoped. As for the Hot Honey, this mixture of their homemade Fresno Hot Sauce with Orange Blossom Honey, was spot on! A little heat, a little sweet, and wholly delicious! By default then, I can also recommend the Fresno Hot Sauce, which isn’t overpowering, but the peppers are bright and flavorful.

For my one market side I opted for the BBQ Cauliflower, which comes with paprika sour cream and pumpkin seeds. The cauliflower is one of the options listed for those seeking a vegetarian option, to the point where it even has a sauce specially recommended for it, and I would jump on that in a heartbeat. The pumpkin seeds give the dish a nice crunch, while the paprika sour cream adds a richness to each bite. The char on the cauliflower is good, not overly burnt, and each floret is tender, but still takes some effort to bite through. I’ll be honest, this was the highlight of my meal, and there were times that the flavors from the cauliflower and sour cream that the texture didn’t line up, but my mouth swore I was eating a roasted marshmallow. The bread and slaw are both standard barbecue trappings, and both were well-done here, but they were nothing particularly special to write home about. Not like the cauliflower!

The Polite Pig is something new in the form of barbecue and novel in dining in Walt Disney World. This was our first bite, and it was overall a delicious one, but we have more to come from this meal, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you should make your way over to The Polite Pig and see what they have to offer. The menu is wide ranging, from their snacks, to the cocktails, entrees, market sides, and desserts, and there seems to be something for just about every palate, even those who prefer not to partake in meat. For those that do wish to indulge in traditional barbecue, I don't believe you will be disappointed.

09 May 2017

Mr. Mutumbo's Wonderful Fishing Tours

If you’ve been wandering around the shore area of Harambe since the Festival of the Lion King came to town, then it is possible you’ve seen posting for one of the more prominent businessmen in the area. Mr. Mutumbo has posting all along port and cultural center promoting his fishing tours (and safaris). Let’s tour some of these postings and see what we can learn.

First up is a posting near the exit of the Festival of the Lion King, and one which has a ton of information for us to follow. We learn that Mr. Mutumbo not only specializes in fish, a note that will become increasingly clear as we move along, but that he will also do safaris. A typical itinerary is a half day at sea, with the option of extending for a further three hours. In addition to regular fish tours, guests could also partake in fishing, sailing, or snorkeling. For those seeking a more educational experience, Mr. Mutumbo can also do bio-diversity tours. There is a number to contact him, but he can also be reached at the beach building.

For those not in the know, the beach building is along the furthest border of Harambe and serves as the restrooms for guests partaking in the Festival of the Lion King. Once down there, you can find multiple signs affixed to the beach building with pictures of fish and other sea creatures. One of these signs even translates the Swahili words for squid, prawn, crab, lobster, and generically for fish. This is where I’ll let you in on a little secret, Mutumbo, the name of our fishing guide, is actually one of two Swahili words for garfish. The garfish is native to the brackish waters of the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas, in addition to the Caribbean. They are long, needle-like, fish that live very close to the surface. They have unique green bones which discourage many from eating them, but is actually harmless and they can be enjoyed by cooking them in a variety of ways.

As we make our way around the beach building we find the largest posting for Mr. Mutumbo’s, with directions to book tours up the stairs. It seems as if these stairs are always closed when we visit, but since Mr. Mutumbo’s tours start at 7:00am, it’s possible that we just keep missing him.

Mr. Mutumbo’s tours and advertisements create a fun thread to follow throughout the expansion of Harmabe, and it is encouraging to see that new life has been injected into the area of the park. While there are other citizens to learn about in the area, Mr. Mutumbo is certainly one of the more prominent names you’ll see. In addition, his business savvy by posting mostly in English or with translations make it easy for tourist to identify what his business is. This corner of Harambe hold so many wonderful little stories, but if you’re looking for my suggestion, visit early before the crowds arrive for Festival of the Lion King, to be able to truly explore and take in the beauty of the port of Harambe.

05 May 2017

Make it a Super Stretch

When Disney-MGM Studios, now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, open this week in 1989, it did so with star-studded celebrity affairs and all the glitz and glamour one would expect of a big Hollywood premiere, particularly a big summer blockbuster like Disney was hoping this park would be. Of course, you wouldn’t want the boss to arrive in anything less than a show-stopping set of wheels, would you? And that is why Mickey Mouse’s ride to the event was the stylish LiMOUSEine.

The burgundy six-wheeled super-stretch limo had all the latest and great technologies that would make Mickey feel right at home on the road. From the four larger sunroofs, perfect for characters such as the main mouse himself to wave to adoring fans, to the gold plated Tinker Bell and mouse ears adorning the grill and hood, no expense was spared. Inside, Mickey could utilize a radio remote DJ booth, 2- speakers, two Sony televisions, complete with the latest in home entertainment technology (the VCR), and four cellular phones. It was also furnished with Sony’s RDSS Wayfarer Communication System, think of it as a GPS tracker for the LiMOUSEine where the powers that be or Minnie Mouse could track Mickey’s progress across the country for a personal desktop computer.

The 40-foot long vehicle was a beast to maneuver, but Disney put one of its best drivers on the case. Which was needed as the LiMOUSEine made a 37 city tour between February 27 and May 1, 1989. While the show started in Orlando with a procession from City Hall to Disney-MGM Studios for Walt Disney World President, Dick Nunis, Mickey, and then Orlando mayor, Bill Frederick, the real tour began on March 5, 1989 with Mickey and Kathleen Sullivan, a Walt Disney World Ambassador, departing Orlando for Indianapolis, IN. The tour would continue on from there to cover as much of the eastern seaboard as possible to drum up excitement for the upcoming opening of Walt Disney World’s third gate.

The comforts of home were never too far away for Mickey while he was on the road in the LiMOUSEine. In addition to the latest and greatest in technology, the interior also had some overstuffed furniture, think of the type of furnishings found in Mickey’s House in Mickey’s Birthdayland/Starland/Toontown Fair, a full-sized bed, and plenty of refreshments. After all, what would a visit with Mickey be without a cookie or a fancy cheese plate? There were also a few more homey touches in the form of decorative knick-knacks and books on a wide variety of Disney topics.

The LiMOUSEine would once again be called into service for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary. This time, however, the burgundy paint job had been redone in a more fanciful pink and included the Cinderella’s carriage logo from the 25th anniversary celebration. While the vehicle was probably most befitting of a Hollywood premiere, it was nice to see it on the road again. With Disney’s Hollywood Studios under a great deal of construction, it’s fun to think about how the glitz and glamour of the park’s original opening might have an effect on a rededication or grand openings when the park’s new additions are complete!

03 May 2017

Nights Like This With the Moon Above

I’ve got a whale of a tale to tell you, lads. Well, maybe it’s not as far-fetched as all that after all. For those of you that frequent Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in the Polynesian Village Resort, you know that the dive is a veritable treasure trove of artifacts. If you’re not familiar with the water hole, I suggest you right that wrong just as soon as you can. Some of the items that have been left behind or donated to Trader Sam are easy to spot and easy to identify their origin, while others, like the subject of today’s article, take a bit more work.

This lovely handcrafted guitar sits in the peak of the rafters, directly above the bar. Besides the awkward angle of having to position yourself just right to grab a snapshot of this item, you also have to contend with the mood lighting of the room. All of this is to say that unless you want to be called out as a flasher, I wouldn’t use your flash to try and get a photo of this guitar. I also wouldn’t try and use my phone in a busy bar like the Grog Grotto, but that’s a story for another day.

So, why is this turtle shell guitar so important? It comes to Trader Sam courtesy of Ned Land. Ned is portrayed by Kirk Douglas in the classic Disney film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He is a sailor and master harpooner who heads out on the frigate Abraham Lincoln to see if he can’t capture the sea monster that has been destroying ships in the open sea. It is after the Abraham Lincoln is attacked that he, along with Professor Pierre Aronnax and Conseil, are left adrift in the ocean only to come upon the manmade monstrosity, the Nautilus. From here on, let’s just say that Ned and the Nautilus’ captain, Nemo, are not very friendly.

We’re drifting away from the guitar now, aren’t we?

Amongst his other skills, Ned is also proficient with the guitar and has his favorite song to sing with other sailors to pass the time. You guessed it, A Whale of a Tale. After the Abraham Lincoln is destroyed, Ned is left without his guitar. During his time aboard the Nautilus, Ned is able to craft a makeshift guitar utilizing a turtle’s shell. You would think this willingness to adapt to the lifestyle of using what the sea has provided would ingratiate Ned to Nemo, but such is not the case. While Ned does use the guitar to entertain himself and others, particular the sea lion, Esmerelda, he also uses it to try and steal some of the treasures that Nemo uses for ballast.

In the end, Ned, along with Conseil, Aronnax, and Esmerelda are able to escape and once more rejoin the world of men. Whether Ned left this guitar with Trader Sam as payment after a night of frivolity, accidentally left it behind, or gifted it to another storied traveler is hard to say. What I can say is that it is good to see it given such a place of honor in the Grog Grotto. Keep an eye out for it on your next visit.

02 May 2017

Explore and Laugh and Play Together

Earlier this year it was announced that the Magic Kingdom’s welcome show would be moving from the front of the park, on the Walt Disney World Railroad’s platform, up to the hub of the park with the majority of the action happening on Cinderella Castle’s stage. While logistically this made all the sense in the world to me, especially when considered in conjunction with security checks occurring in locations other than directly in front of the park, I felt my heart sink just a little bit. Would people neglect the railroad now that they weren’t going to be forced to wait for it with anticipation to allow them entry to the park? Would people even pay attention to the morning greeting now that they weren’t sandwiched in to a small corral awaiting those magical words?

As it would turn out, this new tradition couldn’t have been a more charming and warm welcome than if I had shaped it myself.

The show is filled with a host of characters that not only represent across the chronology of Disney film history, but they also, and perhaps more importantly, do a fair job of representing the many lands of the Magic Kingdom. That means this isn’t just characters who could fit in on Main Street, U.S.A. or princesses who call castles and Fantasyland home. Mickey presents this in such a way as to make guests feel valued, these characters wanted to come and see their old and new friends as they started their day. To top it off with the Fairy Godmother supplying a bibbidi-bobbidi-bit of her whimsical magic didn’t hurt either!

While there were the guests that took this opportunity to get as close as they could to the ropes that would drop for Frontierland/Liberty Square, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland, I was amazed at how many found their way to the forecourt of the castle stage to watch the show, or who found other, slightly more shaded, corners of the area to watch the show from. In fact, I would estimate that the guests viewing the show far outweighed the guests who were looking to sprint off to a mountain or mine train. But this wasn’t the only way that guests surprised and delighted me.

From the moment guests walked through the gate, they were engaged in the most amazing activity: having fun with their families. With the park opening at 9:00am, guests were able to make their way down Main Street, U.S.A. beginning at 8:00am. There were no attractions that they could race off to, though shops and the bakery were definitely open for business, and they didn’t seem concerned in the slighted. It was as if they felt that they had been able to secretly gain entrance into the park and loved every minute of it. They took pictures, not just of the castle, but in every corner of the land. I heard giggles as parents raised up their toddlers like Simba for photographs, I saw people literally lying in the street for over-the-top poses, and no one, and I mean no one, seemed like their day was off to a bad start.

Guests were taking time to be together and share a moment, rather than rushing off to an attraction. They were huddling close together to capture a moment with the Partners statue, not to push through a crowd and jockey for a position closer to the tunnel rope drop of the railroad station. They were shouting to one another to come and take another picture in an area they maybe hadn’t seen before, instead of screaming for someone to come back or to get in their stroller. It was as magical of a moment as I have ever seen inside Walt Disney World, and it reminded me of what trips to the resort are all about when we get right down to it.

Kudos to Disney for seeing a problem, even if it had been present for a long time, and then applying the appropriate modifications. Main Street, U.S.A. is now filled with warmth and love and no one feels the need to rush past a touching moment with a loved one. I may miss that the fact that the Walt Disney World Railroad is no longer at the forefront of a morning of activity, but I would never wish to go back to the cramped greeting we had before. This new morning routine puts the magic back into the Magic Kingdom.

01 May 2017

Celebrate the Taste of the Grapefruit

Recently the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge had crafted a couple of new beverages to add to their growing offerings of Classic Cocktails. Amongst these were a pair of drinks influenced by the grapefruit in the world famous Grapefruit Cake. In fact, one went so far as to actually call itself the Grapefruit Cake Martini. One of these two cocktails hits the mark, while the other goes horribly awry.

The Grapefruit Cake Martini is listed as, “Our concoction will delight you with Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Stoli Vanil Vodka, and a splash of Cream with a Vanilla Wafer Rim.” While not in the description it also comes with a dried grapefruit slice as a floating garnish. You can see what it looks like for yourself, but while I don’t know what I was expecting, I do know that when this pale pink, cake-encrusted glass was placed in front of me I instantly regretted my decision.

It is very sweet and at the same time very bitter, and tastes nothing like grapefruit to my palate. The only saving grace of this cocktail is the wafer rim, and that’s about as nice a thing as I can say about it. Three out of my four dining partners sipped this concoction and their faces immediately writhed with pain. To the Grapefruit Cake Martini’s credit, the fourth absolutely loved it. So, this is likely a drink some of you will like, but if you try it, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The second of the grapefruit cocktails is the Derby Cocktail. This menu description reads, “Gentlemen Jack, Florida Honey syrup, and pink grapefruit juice with a Souvenir Derby Hat Glowcube.” I am the first to admit this cocktail does not need a glowcube, if anything it detracts from the drink, but it’s a cute touch and I certainly took the glowing bowler hat home with me. The cocktail known as the Brown Derby has been around for a long, long time, and the only way that the Derby Cocktail differs from the Drown Derby is by including the glowcube.

Using Florida honey syrup adds something a bit unique to the cocktail as with most Florida honey, there is a hint of orange blossom present in the Derby Cocktail. When you combine that with the grapefruit juice and you have a wonderful mixture of citrus flavors that really give this beverage a bright finish. The honey also serves to sweeten up the Gentlemen Jack just a hint. This is a very strong cocktail, both in terms of spirits and in flavors, but it was simply delicious to me. It does a wonderful job of instilling something new into something that definitely feels like old Hollywood.

Grapefruit has long been a staple of handcrafted cocktails, just as it has a longstanding place in the history of the Brown Derby. The two divergently different approaches to utilizing the grapefruit for the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge’s beverages speak not only changing taste, but also the versatility of the citrus itself. That said, I still believe only one of these cocktails deserve a place on the menu, and you’d be hard-pressed to find as fine of a concoction as the Derby Cocktail. But let’s not speak of the Grapefruit Cake Martini again…

17 April 2017

Rainbow Corridor

ImageWorks; just saying the name drums up all sorts of feelings for adults who were children in EPCOT Center. This was the interactive area of Journey Into Imagination that occupied the second floor of the Imagination pavilion’s glorious glass pyramids. The area closed with the original attraction back in 1998, and even though nearly two decades have gone by since, the area still holds fond memories for those who were able to see it in all of its glory.

Typically, I could be found tied to either Figment’s Coloring Book and the Magic Palettes, as both let me taking my coloring book skills onto a massive scale, or the Stepping Tones, the hexagon shaped lighted floor patterns that made musical tones when you stepped onto them. The Pin Screens were also a favorite for my sister and me, especially since they were sharp but also had a way of tickling us. Honestly, while we had our favorites, there was nothing in the ImageWorks that we would have sneered at, from the Bubble Music and Giant Kaleidoscopes to Dreamfinder’s School of Drama, we would spend hours engaging our imaginations up there. No matter how much time we had in the ImageWorks, we would also find some time to briskly run through, carefully minding the other guests of course, the Rainbow Corridor.

My only regret for this article is that the above picture isn’t in full color, but this gives you a sense of what the Rainbow Corridor looked like. It snaked through the ImageWorks with lighted tubes that changed color as you made your way through the tunnel, which was also known as the Sensor Maze. Everyone who was anyone wanted their picture taken with the Rainbow Corridor, and I could remember seeing pictures in my local newspaper of celebrities taking in the wonder of this attraction during EPCOT Center’s formative years. I’m certain we have a color photograph in our family collection of this unique experience, I just haven’t found it yet.

When the ImageWorks closed in 1998, the Rainbow Corridor was left intact in its original spot. There it would stay until construction began for the Imagination DVC Lounge that currently occupies the second floor of the pavilion. While I remain every optimistic that the Rainbow Corridor, and some of the more timeless attractions of the ImageWorks, may find new life in some form one day, for now it must reside in our memories and photographs. Then again, those memories and the emotional connection we have to them seem to be precisely one of the lessons we were supposed to learn from the Dreamfinder and Figment.

13 April 2017

I Wonder What Happened to Rosita

La Hacienda de San Angel welcomes guests to enter a family estate and sample some local dishes that are bursting with flavor and, in some cases, innovative in their creation. No host, however, would welcome you into their hacienda without offering some wine or other beverage as a sign of friendship. There are plenty of options if you’re looking for wine or tequila, particularly if you are interested in a premium margarita. While the Skipper Canteen may have answered the question of what happened to Rosita, I couldn’t help looking at the menu and wondering what the Rosita Margarita tastes like.

For starters, the cocktail that arrived at my table was simple and beautiful. The Rosita Margarita is light pink in hue, with a deeper red rim, and a few rose petals added in for good measure. It contains Exótíco 100% agave premium silver Tequila, fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, and a rose infusion. This is not a frozen concoction, but rather a margarita that is served on the rocks. The rim is coated with hibiscus Himalayan salt.

This drink is actually as delicate as it looks. The citrus notes from the orange liqueur and lime juice are bright, but they do not overwhelm the rose flavors highlighted in the drink. The hibiscus Himalayan salt does a nice job of building on the floral flavors from the rose infusion. While you won’t miss the tequila, it doesn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients. In fact, the Rosita Margarita is light and easy to drink, which means you should definitely mind how quickly you are able to finish this sweet and tangy mixture.

There are more traditional margaritas to be found at La Hacienda de San Angel, as well as some more intriguing takes that offer up intriguing combinations and even some heat. The Rosita Margarita is a great margarita for those who don’t have an overly adventurous palate, but who also want something more than lime juice, salt, and tequila.

12 April 2017

Legendary Flying Beasts

The S.E.A., that the Society of Explorers and Adventurers for the uninitiated, have been woven into many of the stories told throughout Disney parks and resorts. I don’t just mean at Walt Disney World, but parks across the globe, which only makes sense if you consider that the S.E.A. have had adventures all over the world. From secret messages to mess halls, they’ve worked themselves into many facets of the park-going experience. Perhaps no place is more steeped in their lore, however, than The S.E.A. Room, a secret meeting room tucked behind a bookcase, at the Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd Skipper Canteen.

There are many wonderful details in this room, but there are also things that could be overlooked, such as the map of Legendary Flying Beasts of the Mekong River and the Surrounding Territories mounted along one wall. While the dirigibles that outline the map and the fact that there are dragons on the map may have guests thinking about Figment, the Dreamfinder, and the Dream Machine, there are in fact specific references to other works in the map. You need look no further than the creators of the map to find several key individuals, which reads, “As recorded by the Honorable J. Chandler, President & Captain Brieux of the Hyperion Airship.”

Let’s start with Captain Brieux and the Hyperion Airship. These are taken from the 1974 live action film, The Island at the Top of the World. Set in 1907, the film follows Sir Anthony Ross as he attempts to locate his missing son. For this journey he hires Captain Brieux, portrayed by Jacques Marin, who has invented his own flying machine, aka airship, known as the Hyperion. The film is an adaptation of the Ian Cameron’s book, The Lost Ones. Although I would admit it is a very loose interpretation, especially since the Hyperion didn’t even appear in the novel. You can see the airship at the top left corner of the Skipper Canteen’s map, peeking from its hangar. A life-sized variation on this view can be found at Disneyland Paris’ Café Hyperion.

Jumping backwards in our authorship line, we are met with J. Chandler. While he has nothing to do with The Island at the Top of the World, he does have an interesting history. Jason Chandler was originally imagineered by tony Baxter as a part of the Discovery Bay concept for Disneyland Paris and would have tied the area into the mining boom of Big Thunder Mountain. While this iteration never came to be, Jason would be resurrected.

In 2012, the Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad underwent an extensive refurbishment that included the enhancement of its queue and, by default, its storyline. It was here that a letter from Jason to the head of the Big Thunder Mining Company, Barnabas T. Bullion, can be found, but that’s a tale for another day. He would also pop up in the Disney Kingdoms’ comic series created by Dennis Hopeless and Tigh Walker, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In this tale he is a miner working for Bullion who, along with other folks in Rainbow Ridge, have been robbing the gold shipments in protest of how they are treated by Bullion. Depending on how you read the letter in the queue of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, it appears Bullion and Chandler have buried that hatchet and are on friendly terms. Regardless, Jason Chandler has clearly made a name for himself if, at some point in his life, he was the President of the S.E.A.

The stories hidden in the nooks and crannies of Walt Disney World are many, and often times have their roots in the company’s long film history. However, as the Society of Adventures and Explorers continue to add stories and characters to their history and ranks, there is an ever-present tapestry that is slowly coming in to view. I, for one, love the interconnectivity and await the next entry into their adventures.

06 April 2017

Thank You, George McGinnis

George McGinnis is a name you’ve heard around the Main Street Gazette on more than one occasion. In fact, my continual pitch to make him a Disney Legend, and the fact that not a single Imagineer was included in the slate of 2017 Legends released this morning, had given me inspiration to start another article asking for Disney to consider him in their next class. This, sadly, is not that article. It was reported by The Orange County Register earlier this evening that George McGinnis has passed away.

He was the last Imagineer hired by Walt Disney, and he had a remarkable and storied career, both within the walls of Disney and in his work elsewhere. Known best for his work in EPCOT Center, specifically Horizons, he would also work on feature film, The Black Hole, the jeeps and time rovers of the Indiana Jones Adventure and Dinosaur, respectively, and even on the trams for Walt Disney World.

George was one of a handful of heroes I’ve had in my lifetime. It was his work on the Nautilus submarines of the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction that would first put me in his path when I was writing for Celebrations Magazine. I was so nervous about speaking with him, afraid that I would trip over my own words and forget my questions, that our first exchanges were only through email. I shouldn’t have ever been worried, he was nothing but gracious. During our discussions he would share such wonderful stories and was incredibly generous with his time and resources. I could listen to any and every story he wanted to share and never lose the sense of wonder I had for the man and his work.

As I said before, George McGinnis had been on my mind a lot lately, and I hope he knew what he meant to all of us. Our encounters were only brief and I didn’t get to know him nearly as well as I would have liked, but to those closest to him, they know that he was a giant among men. Thank you, George, for everything you given us, for sharing your imagination, wit, and wisdom. We will never forget you.


05 April 2017

Countless Tropical Locales

When we think of sliders, the most immediate image that comes to mind is something along the lines of a miniature version of a classic sandwich. Something that resembles a bite-sized hamburger or pulled pork barbeque sandwich are likely the first examples that spring up. The folks over at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in the Polynesian Village Resort have some unique ideas when it comes to old favorites, and their sliders are no exceptions to this rule.

The Roasted Chicken and Pork Pâte Báhn Mì Sliders don’t even sound like sliders, do they? Based in the Vietnamese art of sandwich making, báhn mì is a name given to just about any type of sandwich with a meat filling. The phrase báhn mì comes from the words for ‘wheat’ and bread,’ and was originally introduced to Vietnam through the French baguette. It is also worth noting that báhn mì has two spelling, the other being bánh mì, but that either form is acceptable.

Since we’ve spent so much time talking about the bread, let’s start there. Like a baguette, the sliders come on bread that has been cut open from the top, with the meat and other fillings stuffed inside. The bread has a crispy and chewy crust, much like a baguette, with a soft flavorful inside. However, due to the bread’s unique shape, you will be eating quite a lot of the bread without the chicken, pork, or vegetables that reside mainly in the center of the sandwich.

The two meat components of the sliders come straight from the title, roasted chicken and pork pâte. The chicken is good, with a nice mild flavor, but can be overpowered by both the pâte and the pickled vegetables. For its part, the pork pâte is rich and wonderful, and I’m not even a fan of pâte as a general rule. This is not your typical creamy pâte, but rather a more country version of the spread with healthy chunks of pork and fat.

The remainder of the sliders is comprised of pickled carrots and onions, Thai chilies, and cilantro. These add some heat, an acidic bite, and even a hint of citrus from the cilantro. All of these components work well with the richness of the pork pâte, not trying to battle it for space on your taste buds, and lend some flavor to the underwhelming chicken.

The Roasted Chicken and Pork Pâte Báhn Mì come three to a serving at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, and I would order them again. If pressed, I would wish for a little less bread and to give the chicken some extra punch, maybe a chili rub of some sort. However, the components work well enough together that I can’t find too much to complain about. This dish has also shed new light on just what it means to be a slider in Walt Disney World.

04 April 2017

Taking Pictures is Makin' Memories

It isn’t often that we get to dig into our personal Walt Disney World photo archives, but today is one of those days. I’ve written before how much my sister and I used to enjoy taking a trip from Fort Wilderness over to the Contemporary Resort. Mostly it was so that we could run amuck in the Fiesta Fun Center for hours on end, but we also loved to climb on the Mickey sculpture just outside of the main tower. Heck, even my dad liked to get in on the action occasionally.

By the way, I would like to not be blamed for my clothing choices in these photos. It was the 1980s, that’s my only defense. Even looking at these now, I appear to have been trying to cover myself in one, while praying that this photo never sees the light of day in the other.

What struck me, and the reason I pulled these out for today’s article, even with my own personal embarrassment on the line, was how much this sculpture has changed over the years. Here’s a more recent photo of the Mickey ears, taken in July of 2015.

Here’s what stands out to me. The sculpture placement has changed. Originally it ran parallel to the North Garden Wings, seen in the background, but now it faces out over Bay Lake. The pad it is placed on, and how it is attached to that foundation, has also been changed. The original sculpture sat on a paved area that was Mickey shaped. However, the more recent picture shows a round pad with darkened pavers in the form of a Mickey underneath. Additionally, the metal framing isn’t simply bolted to the ground any longer, as there are box like footings at the two points of contact.

Last, but certainly not least, are the people pictured here. The two in the ears have gotten much bigger, and that one holding up Mickey has gotten a bit older. Oh, and the person who always seemed to have to hold the camera for pictures, can now step in front of the camera thanks to the handing stand now provided for the Mickey sculpture photo op. There’s also a new addition to the team, and I think we can all agree that she’s definitely a keeper.

How we look at changes, in particular how we look at changes to the environments and stories of Walt Disney World, depend greatly upon what perspective we carry with us. I can’t say whether I prefer the old set up of the Contemporary’s sculpture or the new staging. For some, they’ve only ever seen it one way or the other, and that informs how they feel about the sculpture. I am happy that I’m able to document the changes when they occur, and that I can still take a motor launch over to the Contemporary. Except these days it’s usually for the photo op and to grab a bite to eat.