27 June 2017

You Are Not the First to Pass This Way

I can be longwinded when the occasion calls for it or, more often, even if it doesn’t call for it. Yet, sometimes there are stories that, while I find them fascinating, even I can’t turn them into full articles. Rather than waste your time with three extra short articles, today we’re going to take a quick jaunt around World Showcase and highlight three short tales of why something is where it is or why a feature is of particular importance. If there is a theme as we make our way around the lagoon, it is present in the title; all of these tales involve the history of an artifact, attraction, or place in their respective pavilions. Our ports of call are Mexico, Norway, and France, so keep your hands and arms inside this storytelling vehicle at all times and away we go.

The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros began setting sail through the Mexico pavilion in April of 2007. Jose and Panchito could be seen making their way through various landmarks from the country, always one step behind Donald, on video screens built into scenes throughout the attraction. Once they had acquired their wayward bandmate it’s time to start the show in a large concert set finale. Originally, this act also took place on a video screen, but in December of 2015 the Three Caballeros appeared as Audio-Animatronics figures. These figures have a storied history, however, having been part of the 96 figure set that was part of the Magic Kingdom’s Mickey Mouse Revue that occupied a space in Fantasyland from opening day in 1971 until 1980. From there they would go on to continue in the roles as part of the Revue in Tokyo Disneyland until that attraction also closed in 2009. After a few exhibit displays, they were finally returned to the stage, this time in Epcot for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros.

Making our way over to Norway, there is a lot of Frozen to gleaned from everything in the pavilion and, in particular, in the Frozen Ever After queue. Perhaps the most popular section of the queue is Oaken’s Tokens and Sauna, where the window to the sauna is steamed up, but Oaken continually uses that condensation to draw pictures and entertain guests passing through his shop. It would be very easy to overlook many of the items in his story, even though they are having a big snow day blowout, but there are two figurines worth noting. One, high in the rafters, depicts a polar bear standing up on its hind legs, while the other, next to a small cast on the shelf, is a three-headed troll. While not a perfect likeness, these two figurines serve as tributes to the residents of Norway’s original attraction, the Maelstrom. Considering that trolls in the world of Arendelle are more squat and round, this depiction of a more traditional troll, albeit with three heads, definitely seems a bit out of place if it weren’t for the previous attraction in Norway.

Last, but certainly not least, we’re taking a trek over to France to visit Plume et Palette. This shop dedicated is the second shop in the pavilion dedicated to fragrances, but Plume et Palette is also home to high-end handbags, but none of these things are what caught my attention the last time I wandered inside. It was the design of this building and the fact that the shop has a full-sized second floor, but no way for guests to access it. This is not a new development for Epcot, second floors have either disappeared (Centorium) or were shuttered for a number of years (Imagination pavilion), but Plume et Palette isn’t as well remembered as some of these other destinations. Plume et Palette was, once upon a time, a shop dedicated to French books and art, which explains why it feels reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century library. During the early years of EPCOT Center, the first floor was home to cookbooks and art books, while guests making their way up to the mezzanine could find prints and posters for sale that highlighted great works by Renoir, Monet, and Degas, among others.

To know where we are going, it is important to remember that the past is prologue to all that we have today. While these details from Mexico, Norway, and France may not be the most engaging of stories, they are important to the history of their respective pavilions, the larger tale of Walt Disney World, and how we interact with the created worlds. Be sure to keep an eye out the next time you’re wandering through World Showcase, you never know what artifact or small detail has to say about where we’re going and where we’ve been.

26 June 2017

Leaning Toward a Quick Bite

When it comes to water parks, we are typically happy with some chicken nuggets or a fair hot dog or hamburger. We aren’t looking for something fancy, certainly not a sit down meal, more along the lines of something quick that we can grab on the go and that is comparable to most fast food restaurants. So, you can imagine that I was a bit surprised when I happened upon something out of the ordinary at Typhoon Lagoon’s Leaning Palms.

Mixed in amongst the hamburgers, salads, nuggets and wraps was a menu item simply listed as Chicken with Rice and Beans. No clever name, no over the top hook to grab menu gazers. Yet, it was that simplicity that drew me in. In fact, taking it a step further, even the description underneath the title gave nothing away, as it stated that it was chicken with fried plantains, rice, and black beans. From that depiction at least we found out about the plantains and what kind of beans were to accompany the chicken. The picture on the menu showed it as everything put together in a bowl, but with so little to go on, I was intrigued and had to order it.

What I received was a bowl with a fair helping of cilantro rice as its base, black beans that had been prepared with pieces of pork (I stop short of calling them ham hocks), a pair of fried plantains, and pieces of stewed chicken. It was definitely more than I expected from a quick service restaurant in a water park, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the menu at Leaning Palms leaning in on changing and diverse tastes. This is definitely the type of dish that I had seen made from scratch in more than one friend’s house growing up in Florida.

Now, Typhoon Lagoon’s Chicken with Rice and Beans is not up to those homemade standards, but I would never expect it to be. I was surprised by the flavors the chicken had, a hint of heat, but more that it lingered in the background and gave way to the Latin seasonings and aromatics that the chicken had been prepared with. The black beans held their shape well, but were a bit mushy, while the pork added a nice richness. The rice was fragrant, but was only the base or filler for the most part. As for the plantains, they had a thin crisp crust, but were warm and sweet inside.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the Chicken with Rice and Beans from Leaning Palms. It was nothing of what I would have expected from a water park lunch, but it is everything I would want in one. Great flavors in a distinct set-up that makes it stand out from the pack of typical Typhoon Lagoon fare. Don’t try to compare it against some of the better meals on property, but for what it is, this dish is a stand out!

22 June 2017

Summer Snow Day

This weekend we’ll be six months away from Christmas, and while I know most people love to do Christmas in July type of celebrations, I’ve always looked to June. It probably has something to do with the fact that I have a birthday in December as well. No matter, when the heat coming into full strength, how about we do something chilly and fun? Today, let’s take the best examples of snow around Walt Disney World and give them some superlatives!

Winter Summerland – Trickiest Snow

Snow castles with slippery drawbridges, zig-zagging slaloms, and squirting snowmen are just a few of the challenges that can keep you from putting a round under par. Of course, if you don’t become a hothead, then you’re sure to get a surprise from Santa Claus at the end of your game!

Blizzard Beach – Most Fun Use of Snow

Slushy slopes that you can take tubes, toboggans, or just yourself down; what’s not to like? The alpine details add to the story, racing elements make many attractions even more exciting, and there’s even a chairlift that plusses the kinetic environment.

it’s a small world – Most Whimsical Snow

Ice dancing penguins decked out with gaucho caps, it doesn’t get much more whimsical than that. Mary Blair’s fingerprints are all over this attraction, but maybe no other scene feels more like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros than this single vignette.

It’s a Wonderful Shop – Best Shopping Snow (also: Best Snow Photo Op)

It’s movie magic! A snowman and a sleigh stand in front of frosted windows filled with trinkets and ornaments of the holidays. Whether you’re looking for a memento of your trip to hang on your tree this year, or just wanting to snap a photo with that snowman, the holidays are alive and well!

Frozen Ever After – Best Summer Snow Day

Turning summer into something a bit chillier is the task in front of Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and the rest of the Frozen team. No matter if you’re looking for Elsa belting out a song, Marshmallow and his icy breath, or even a couple of puffins, Frozen Ever After will turn any summer day into a winter wonderland.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Most Seasonal Use of Snow

Snow on Main Street, U.S.A. Sure, it’s not the real deal, but it still makes for a magical moment.

Be Our Guest – Best Snow-Lit Meal

There is a lot to love about Be Our Guest, no matter what meal of the day you happen into the castle for, but the recreation of the ballroom is definitely high on that list. Top that off with windows overlooking the gorgeous mountain range outside with fresh snow falling, talk about ambiance.

Expedition Everest – Scariest Snow

A pleasant journey through the mountains goes horribly awry in the snow-capped peaks with mangled train tracks and a snow-covered yeti determined to protect his home and get you off of it as quickly as possible. That could be the blurb for any summer blockbuster!

21 June 2017

Rain Forests, Bat Caves, and Grottos

River Country may have been the first water park in Walt Disney World’s repertoire, but Typhoon Lagoon added a whole lot of land and a new level of thrills to the water playground experience. With the park slated to open in early 1989, the Disneyland Line was one of the first publications to get the scoop as to what was coming downstream to the Disney portfolio when it ran Typhoon Lagoon to Open at Walt Disney World in February of that year. While the article didn’t feature any construction photos, it did include some fantastic concept artwork for Typhoon Lagoon. Below we present the article in its entirety, without any interruptions from your beloved narrator.
“In just a few months, Walt Disney World guests will snorkel among thousands of tropical fish, plummet down the flumes of a volcanic mountain, and ride waves in the world’s largest inland surfing lagoon.
“The place: Typhoon Lagoon, a massive, one-of-a-kind water theme park, which joins Disney-MGM Studios as a major new attraction for 1989. The swimmer’s paradise is four times the size of River Country, which opening at Walt Disney World in 1976.
“Sunny beaches and lazy streams are among the unique facilities surrounding the water par’s 95-foot mountain. The new water-entertainment area takes its theme from a legend of romance and danger evident by a wrecked fishing boat stranded on a mountain peak, and storm-tossed automobiles resting in the branches of giant trees.
"Located halfway between Walt Disney World Village and the new Disney-MGM Studios, the project includes nine water slides and roaring streams up to 400 feet long coming down the mountainside, and a two-and-one-half-acre wave-making lagoon. There will be a unique salt-water snorkeling pool where guests will come face-to-face with colorful fishy creatures of the Caribbean.
“Typhoon Lagoon uses state-of-the-art technology to create six-foot waves, streams that look just like those in Hawaii and Fiji, and a chance to have a close-up look at the tropical marine inhabitants. Demand for the snorkeling experience has grown ever since the opening of Epcot Center’s Living Seas, where swimming is limited to staff divers.
“The lagoon includes separate activity pools for young children and families, and features geysers, fountains, bubble jets and slides. In the family pool, an overhead cable drop will transport adventurers Tarzan-style across a course of random water obstacles to a water fall inside a scenic grotto.
“Another unusually themed experience circling the Lagoon is a meandering, 2,100-foot river. Guests hop onto rafts and inner tubes for a relaxing tour that takes them through a rain forest and a hidden grotto with a spectacular view.
“If you’re planning to travel to Walt Disney World, check out the fun at Typhoon lagoon. But, beware of sharks!”

20 June 2017

With Icebox Dressing

Since Disney Springs began opening up the doors of its new establishments, it has become more and more difficult to keep up with the bounty of wonderful restaurants that continue to be welcomed to the area. One of the most popular destinations has become Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, and with good reason. From atmosphere to offerings, no detail has been overlooked. There seems to be a notion these days that great food is either coming from fine dining, even in its most modern incarnation, or from a best-kept-secret type of dive, and yet, Homecomin’ delivers on all fronts as being a family-friendly, middle of the road type of venue. The star of their menu, and everything else the restaurant offers, is the Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On the menu it is listed as being buttermilk-brined for 24 hours and double-battered, dressed with hot sauce aioli, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and bread and butter pickles. It comes complete with a side of house-made barbecue chips drizzled with icebox dressing. The description alone has enough in it to make me giddy, from the bread and butter pickles, to the brining process, and even that icebox dressing drizzle, but the real question is can it deliver on the menu’s promise? The short answer is absolutely.

I’m quite frankly not sure where to begin with this one because the entire serving makes me excited. Let’s start with the chicken itself; that seems logical. If you’re someone who likes lightly breaded and fried chicken, this isn’t the sandwich for you. The chicken is extra crispy with a breading that hits all the right notes for southern fried chicken, even without the bone. The buttermilk has definitely soaked into every recess of the chicken that it could, and the double-battering means that none of the juices escape.

The hot sauce aioli is done right as well. While aioli is a fancy way to gussy up mayonnaise, here the hot sauce is the star and the mayo is only there to thicken it up a tad. It’s a heat with a tremendous amount of flavor provided by its peppers. Iceberg lettuce has taken it a bit on the chin lately, with everyone clamoring for something more green, with more flavor and nutrient value. I get that, I’m usually that person as well, but for an old-fashioned fried chicken sandwich, the iceberg lettuce is the right call. As for those bread and butter pickles, they are just like your family used to make, if they were known across the county for their pickling skills. I even asked for a few extra on the side, because, well, I love pickles and these are top notch.

As for the side of barbecue chips and icebox dressing, these are also first rate. The chips have the barbecue flavor you are expecting, nothing fancy, but the chip cut is a bit thicker so there are no flimsy crumbling chips in the bunch. Icebox dressing may be a confusing name to some, it is basically a thin, ranch style dressing that has been prepared with herbs and spices at home and doesn’t typically have as long of a shelf life as typical store bought dressings. It had all the hallmarks of freshly made, with the herbs in particular having a stronger presence than could be tasted in an over the counter dressing. Honestly, my chips could have done with a double drizzle as the second layer of chips didn’t have as much, but perhaps it is best to leave us wanting more.

It is getting more difficult as a writer in a crowded field to distinguish oneself, especially when it comes to food related content, which means we are often driven to hyperbole. I’ve always tried to give a blend of what is good and what isn’t in a particular dish or restaurant review, in order to give the words more credence. So, believe me when I say that the Fried Chicken Sandwich at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ may be the best sandwich found at Walt Disney World right now, and if it falls a hair short on that mark, then it is most certainly the best chicken sandwich to be found. Period. Full stop.

19 June 2017

Bigelow’s Air Circus

There are a few movies that I have an unabashed, yet puzzling, fascination with. Some of them may have to do with films I grew up with, some with genres that I think are underrepresented, and some of them I have no particularly logical rationale for why I love them, I just do. One such film is 1991’s The Rocketeer. Maybe it was the fact that he used to fly above Disney-MGM Studios during Sorcery in the Sky, maybe it was the fact that the Bulldog Cafe could be found on the backlot of the park for a while, or maybe there’s always been some part of Cliff Secord that I saw in myself. Regardless, that distinctive silhouette has been a part of my life for some 26 years now.

A while back we detailed all the places you could find a nod to the Rocketeer in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many of these details have now vanished like the Rocketeer’s vapor trail, it appears as if the Rocketeer has been making the rounds all throughout Walt Disney World. Even over at the Studios, where you can now see the Rocketeer soaring by as part of the recently added Disney Movie Magic projection show. Today, let’s tour a few of the other places around the Vacation Kingdom where you can find nods to The Rocketeer.

The logical place to start is, of course, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs. It appears, just by touring through Jock’s converted hangar and taking note of the various trophies and artifacts he’s collected over the years that he and Cliff are cut from the same cloth. Take, for instance, this banner hanging from the Hangar Bar’s rafters. If it’s a little dark or hard to make out it reads, “Air Pirate Circus, Bigelow’s Air Circus 1938, Chaplin Airfield, Los Angeles, California.” This happens to be the very same air circus at Chaplin Airfield where Cliff takes to the skies in view of the public for the very first time. He does so only out of necessity as his friend Malcolm, who is intoxicated, had taken off in Cliff’s biplane in order to keep Cliff from being fired and has an emergency midflight. It’s not hard to believe that it was during this trip out to California that Cliff and Jock would have crossed paths. It may also explain why the South Seas Club was one of Jock’s favorite establishments, as noted by its coaster being included in those at the Hangar Bar.

Speaking of the South Seas Club, an additional tribute to The Rocketeer can be found over at another south seas watering hole, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney’s Polynesian Village. Mounted on the wall, just beneath a painting of the Nautilus (from another film near and dear to my heart, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), is a menu from the South Seas Club. This is the club where Neville Sincliar, aka a Nazi agent, takes Jenny Blake to woo her in the hopes of getting close to Cliff and stealing the Rocketeer’s jetpack. In the film this is when all of the action really starts to pick up with and leads to kidnappings, shootouts, gangsters, FBI agents, and, of course, a zeppelin that inevitably catches fire. Oh, and did I mention that Howard Hughes is also in the film? Let’s just say, that there is a lot on the menu when you start a night at the South Seas Club.

Our final stop takes us over to Epcot’s Innovation Fountain. While it has been a part of Epcot since the park opened, it received a substantial facelift during a 1993 refurbishment that added nozzles, a water cannon, and lighting effects. With this refurbishment, Imagineers also took three months to create dancing water sequences that would present a water ballet to guests every 15 minutes. Many musical cues were selected for these shows, but the selections from James Horner’s score from The Rocketeer are true standouts. It will make you want to strap that jetpack and helmet on and soar through the skies after a single viewing.

I will readily admit that I don’t expect many people to have the same love and fascination with The Rocketeer that I do. It clearly has issues that needed to be addressed, and the Dave Stevens’ creation deserved better than it got. All that said, I do so love this film, it’s often part of a Saturday afternoon double-feature at my house (when my wife isn’t around), paired alongside Dick Tracy, but that’s a story for another day. I’m just glad to see that The Rocketeer, even 26 years after its premiere is still getting love from Walt Disney World.

16 June 2017

Drift Away on a Relaxing Tube

Water parks, particular of the Disney variety, are a strange hybrid of relaxation and thrills. By their very nature you can spend the early time there running to grab a good spot, so that you can relax later on in the day, and then rush off to the biggest thrills to avoid the lines that will quickly form. With that in mind, today we’re going to focus on the top ways to relax at Disney’s water parks.

Cabanas – This is not a cheap way to relax, which is why it so far down this list That said, however, both the Beachcomber Shacks of Typhoon Lagoon and the Polar Patios at Blizzard Beach offer the absolute pinnacle of water park relaxation. Complimentary towels, ice-cold bottled water, a locker at your fingertips, and someone who will check on you and pick up any food for you; it doesn’t get much better than this! Again, the rentals of cabanas isn’t cheap, even in the off season, but it is a great way to relax if you can swing it.

Chair Lift – Found only at Blizzard Beach, this chair lift can carry you up to the top of Mount Gushmore is a great way to relax in anticipation of your upcoming thrills. True, once at the top you have a pair of adrenaline pumping ways to get down, but going up you can sit back and rest. Plus, the chair lift offers great views of the park!

Miss Adventure Falls – You’re probably thinking I’ve spent too much time in the sun, but stick with me for a moment. Of all of the thrilling water rides at either water park, only Miss Adventure Falls at Typhoon Lagoon takes all of the work out of the thrills. You don’t have find a raft and you don’t have to lug it up several flights of stairs. Heck, you don’t even have to climb stairs! You sit in your raft and are carried up to the top of the slide before catching some rapids down. Sure, it has some thrills, but this is the most relaxing way I’ve ever come across to take on a water adventure.

Stop and Smell the Flowers – Both literally and figuratively. Both parks have trails that wind their way around the parks. These trails feature some great visual gags, storytelling vignettes, and wonderful landscaping details. If you don’t want to walk around, grab a stool at one of the watering holes, or a cone full of cool soft-serve deliciousness. No matter how you do it, there are other activities to partake in besides just water attractions.

Bobbing Wave – Typhoon Lagoon’s wave machine is known for his massive waves that send guests flying, but this massive feat of engineering also features a calmer mode known as Bobbing Wave.  A similar effect takes place at Blizzard Beach's Melt-Away Bay. During this time small tubes for children are available, and the waves are just playfully bouncing about. This time, which is posted at multiple places around the park, is perfect for checking in with your family and maybe a little horseplay.

Lounge Chair and Beach Music – The musical loops of both parks are wonderful, and set the tone for the parks, while also relaxing guests. Whether you’re grabbing a lounge chair to grab some rays or in the shade for an afternoon siesta, there are plenty of places to find both. Whatever your chair’s function, you can unwind and listen to the classic beach tunes, letting your stresses go out with the tides.

Lazy Rivers – Castaway Creek at Typhoon Lagoon and Cross Country Creek at Blizzard Beach are long, languid lazy river attractions, and there really is no finer way to relax in either park than to grab a tube and float around for a loop or two, or three…

15 June 2017

It's a Harvest Show

If Epcot has a gem of a restaurant that is a not-quite-so-secret secret, it’s likely that title belongs to Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion. Guests rave about this entree or that dessert, and it seems as if there is always a crowd of hungry patrons waiting with full trays throughout the day. Breakfast was, at one point in the restaurant’s history, one of Sunshine Seasons’ brightest spots, and an excellent way to start the day. Over the years, that beacon of breakfast has seen a menu that has whittled down and has been mostly forgotten. There are, however, a few recent additions to this menu that deserve their day in the sun.

Let’s start with the Breakfast Panini, the most generic name for a break sandwich, but one that comes with uncommon ingredients. The listing for this item proclaims that it comes with pork, bacon, scrambled eggs, arugula, tomato, and chorizo-pepper jack mornay sauce on focaccia. It also comes with one side, which we wisely chose the breakfast potatoes. Before moving back to the main dish here, the breakfast potatoes have a great savory seasoning, red and green peppers, and onions, and they are delicious!

Back to the Breakfast Panini, this is also very tasty. The majority of this sandwich is comprised of scrambled eggs, tomato, and arugula, and they provide a great base to start from. The chorizo-pepper jack mornay sauce didn’t have a strong chorizo flavor, but the bacon and pork more than carry the meat component of this panini. The focaccia soaks up the grease and sauce well, making this messy sandwich a bit less so, and is perfectly soft on the inside with a delicious crispy crust. Make sure you have a fork so that none of the wonderful bites get too far away, but overall this is a well-crafted breakfast sandwich.

For those wanting something a bit sweeter for breakfast, may I suggest the Cinnamon French Toast Bread Pudding, which comes with a side (read: mountain) of breakfast bacon. A large section has been carved out from the tray of bread pudding for a serving. The amalgamation of French toast and other ingredients definitely makes this more of a bread pudding that a typical baked breakfast dish like pancakes, waffles, or the aforementioned French toast, but that doesn’t make it any less yummy. There is a hint of syrup baked into the dish and it is topped with powdered sugar, but this isn’t overly sweet. There is a heartiness to the bread that makes this a great theme park breakfast that will stick with you all the way to lunch time. It may not be the prettiest breakfast entree to look at, but what it lacks in visuals it makes up for in flavor.

Overall, Sunshine Seasons had fallen off of my go-to list for Epcot breakfast destinations, but it has definitely found its way back onto that list. While the offerings are still sparse compared to some of their previous menus, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something for everyone to find and enjoy. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it can also be the most neglected while we are on the go in Walt Disney World, Sunshine Seasons offers up the perfect on the go answer to fill you up and keep you going!

13 June 2017

The Phantom Limb

The Star Wars Launch Bay features a lot of great artifacts from the creation of the movies, some wonderful character interactions, and a Cantina set piece that speak to the child in many fans’ hearts (not to mention a shop where I could drop a ton of money, if I had that sort of dough). For those who have an eye for detail, the Lost and Found located within the Cantina is filled with abandoned pieces that have clearly come from film legends, as well as television, book, and Star Tours nods. Perhaps no piece is easier to recognize, however, than C-3PO’s golden arm.

While the most recognizable protocol droid in the galaxy had limited screen time during The Force Awakens, C-3PO makes sure to bring the intrigue by pointing out his new red arm. While we have seen C-3PO with a variety of miscellaneous body parts over the years, he’s never drawn attention to a specific component until this one. While it could have just been chalked up to the protocol droid’s innate ability to make himself the center of attention, even when a situation does not warrant it. However, the inclusion of his golden arm in the Launch Bay’s Lost and Found is curious, especially when you consider the story of how he lost his golden arm and acquired his red art.

In April of 2016 Marvel released Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1, a standalone comic with the subtitle of The Phantom Limb. Told by the team of James Robinson and Tony Harris, longtime Starman collaborators and their first project together in nearly two decades, the story features a ton of heart considering the majority of the issue focuses on C-3PO and five other droids. After a crash landing that killed all of the non-droid characters, this team of droids must find their way across a treacherous landscape of Taul to a homing beacon in the hopes that they will be able to use it to secure rescue. There is some discussion of skills and who should be leading the group amongst Threepio, VL-44 (a security droid), 2MED2 (medical droid), PZ-99 (security droid), CO-34 (construction droid), and O-MR1 (protocol droid). O-MR1 is actually a First Order droid that was captured by the Resistance because it is believed he knows the location of the kidnapped Admiral Ackbar.

As the ragtag pod of droids make their way across Taul’s hostile environment, they come under attack by spice spiders. PZ-99 draws the spiders away from the group and sacrifices himself so that they may continue. Further along, the droids come across a tar pit, while CO-34 is able to form a bridge so that the team can move forward, they are assailed by a tar monster. In the ensuing skirmish all of the droids are destroyed by the monster except for C-3PO and O-MR1, although C-3PO’s arm is severed during the incident.

As the pair continues on, the brutal Taul has one last surprise for them, acid rain just as they reach the homing beacon. O-MR1 decides that it is Threepio that must go on, even though he has been skeptical of the protocol droid and the Resistance during the entire story. He tells C-3PO that he isn’t choosing a side, but rather friendship as he transmits Ackbar’s location to C-3PO and steps on into the rain to activate the beacon. As he begins to disintegrate, with multiple limbs falling off, O-MR1’s metallic sheen begins to deteriorate, revealing the red primer underneath. Rescued by Poe Dameron and BB-8, C-3PO asks for the red arm of O-MR1 to be installed as his new limb as a way to remember the friends he had lost, even if it clashes with his “aesthetic sensibilities.”

Knowing that Threepio’s golden arm was removed by a tar monster, it is hard to piece together how it made its way to the Launch Bay. Then again, limbs and long-lost artifacts have a way of making their way across the Star Wars galaxy whether it seems likely or not. Plus, maybe this limb was from another time where C-3PO was disarmed. Either way, the story of the red arm reveals there was more to the story than the glib moment it was given during The Force Awakens.

07 June 2017

Entertain Special Guests

For the first year of its operation, Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom was a pretty great stopover for a bite to eat and a tasty beverage. It was located off the beaten path in the Discovery Island area of the park, right next to a set of construction walls that would one day lead to Pandora. By now, this oasis in the forest has been discovered by weary travelers venturing to and returning from Pandora, and it is likely being overrun by the restless natives. Just because it may be more difficult to grab a seat on the porch or a table on the inside doesn’t mean you should give up on visiting the watering hole. In fact, let me offer up a pair of treats to entice you to seek out Nomad Lounge.

We’ll start with Dalang’s Delight, named for an Indonesian master puppeteer, to quench your thirst. This deep red cocktail is prepared with Starr Africn Rum, Batavia-Arrack Van Oosten, Van der Hum Tangerine Liqueur, Mountain Berry Tea, Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice. Now, there’s a lot of citrus flavor’s that are listed in that description, which would make you believe that the Dalang’s Delight would feature a prominently tart pattern. In fact, that is not necessarily the case. The mountain berry tea actually defines this cocktail with flavors reminiscent of hibiscus and pomegranate, with just enough sweetness from the simple syrup to take the edge off. Meanwhile, those citrus profiles come in as almost an aftereffect to leave each sip with something tangy.

After some main courses, and know that the main courses at Nomad Lounge are well worth a couple of articles on their own, the dessert menu features only one option. Listed simply as Churros, with accompaniments of vanilla crema and chili-strawberry, this could easily be passed over. I’m here today to tell you not to make that mistake.

The churros themselves are not the foot-long fried pastries that you know and love throughout the parks. This variety, which come five to an order, are finger length pastries that retain the familiar gear-like shape. The vanilla crema is rich, sweet and wonderful and the chili-strawberry is a bit messier, and even sweeter, with a nice spiciness to it, but that is not the main attraction here. That is the churros themselves. While the shape looks familiar and the coating of cinnamon and sugar seems like the churros we’ve all had many, many times, this is a different dessert. There is nothing greasy about these confections, and the idea that they’ve sat and hardened up after being fried, unlike their park thoroughfare brethren, is laughable. The churros at Nomad Lounge are soft and pliable to the touch and their insides are pillowy perfect pastries. It may seem like I am going a bit far to be talking about churros, but trust me when I say that they are truly the best churros I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

Whether looking at Nomad Lounge as a respite after visiting Pandora, a hideaway that has been uncovered by the masses, or a discourse on the nature of travel, there are a multitude of reasons to visit this public house in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what they have to offer, but if you have to start with a Dalang’s Delight or an order of churros, you won’t be disappointed.

06 June 2017

Cruise Through the Grotto

When you think about Cross Country Creek at Blizzard Beach, aka the lazy river, you’re mostly focused on relaxing, letting your stresses melt away, and maybe how you can nudge a friend or loved one underneath one of the icy cold runoff streams running off at the entrance to the ice cave. Of course, the outbreak of laughter and seeking of revenge dunking can occupy a bit of the time as guests make their way through the ice cave. In those instances guests may miss some telling artwork near both the entrance and exits of the cave.

Cave paintings, though they look more like carvings, let us know that while the snow storm that caused the creation of Blizzard Beach, it is far from the first time it has happened in this corner of Walt Disney World. Looking at the cave paintings near the cave’s exit, again a high shenanigans area, there are a series of figures enjoying the mix of sun and snow. Multiple people can be seen downhill skiing, others can be seen taking advantage of the waves, while still other figures clearly are enjoying basking in the warm rays of the Florida sun. Even the most recent examples of cave paintings around the world date back at least 5,500 years, so clearly there is a pattern of snow on Mount Gushmore.

The cave drawing near the entrance of the ice cave, however, tells an even more interesting tale. In this primitive piece of artwork both people and alligators can be seen running from a hairy figure. Surrounded by mountains and what appear to be large drifts of snow, the figure bears a striking resemblance to a yeti. While there is a yeti that resides just down the road from Blizzard Beach, the water park on the meltdown was opened three years before Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a full 11 years ahead of Expedition Everest. While the connection can’t totally be ruled out, it safe to safe that this abominable snowman may have more in common with Florida’s famous skunk ape than the yeti of Serka Zong.

No matter how you interpret the stories present in Cross Country Creek’s ice cave, there is no doubt that there is a tale trying to be told here. Of course, considering where guests are and how rich Blizzard Beach is with stories, one could be forgiven for overlooking this vignette while trying to soak a fellow traveler. Just keep an eye out for the grumpy looking snowman, he does not look like he wants to be a part of any antics!

05 June 2017

Disney's Butterfly Conservation

The name has changed a bit over the past 21 years, but the Disney Conversation Fund continues to collaborate with non-profit organizations in order to build upon efforts to save endangered animals. As part of the Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time initiative, the Disney Conservation Fund wishes to engage more children in outdoor activities that bring them into contact with the natural world and all the creatures that reside in it. Ten classifications of animals have been selected as focal points for these efforts: butterflies, corals, cranes, elephants, great apes, rays, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks, tamarin monkeys, and tigers. Overall, the fund is has been operating with partners in 115 countries, working with over 400 species. While much of this work can be seen all throughout Walt Disney World, some of the smallest, the butterflies, can get overlooked.

I will grant that Disney’s work with butterflies tends to get a spotlight during the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, but throughout the rest of the year it tends to go unnoticed. It’s a shame, because if you’re paying attention to the butterflies there is so much to see and learn. In fact, Walt Disney World is home to over 70 species of butterflies. As a founding member of Florida’s Butterfly Monitoring Network, Disney has reserved spaces all throughout Walt Disney World to monitor the various butterfly species found there, identify the endangered species, observe population patterns, and develop conservation strategies.

This work stretches beyond the borders of the Vacation Kingdom, as Disney’s Butterfly Conservation has already begun to reverse the decline of one butterfly species. The atala hairstreak was native to Florida, but due to a loss of their host plant, the coontie plant, they were believed to be have gone extinct. Rediscovered in the 1970s near Miami, Disney has sought to reinvigorate the repopulation efforts by planting coontie and nectar plants throughout the Atlantic coast resort, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and by breeding the butterflies at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

To assist butterflies as they move throughout Walt Disney World, not to mention other habitats beyond the resorts and parks, many of the resorts have set aside garden spaces specifically for butterflies that are native to the region. One such example, at Port Orleans – Riverside, can be found right outside the doors of Riverside Mill Food Court. While the plants selected to reside in this garden may look and smell appealing to guests, those are only outlying results to providing host plants for swallowtails, sulphurs, zebra longwings, skippers, ceraunus blues, and monarchs to name just a few.

While butterflies may be gorgeous to look at, they are indispensable to pollination process. In conjunction with other pollinators (bugs, bees, and bats, oh my…), these pollinators account for almost a third of the plants required for foods people eat. The next time you’re chasing a butterfly through Walt Disney World, trying to capture that great photograph, take time to thank these incredible creatures. And be on the lookout for the gardens planted to help them, and you, out!

01 June 2017

Attractions of the Famous Magic Kingdom

I love this photo for so many reasons. For one thing, when this was taken in 1981, there wouldn’t have been anything where this group is standing for them to be playing on. This is clearly one of the specks of land islands sitting in the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon. I love the watercraft hanging out in the background, and even the spires of Tomorrowland just visible beyond the monorail and Main Street, U.S.A. rooftops. What piqued my interest most, however, came from the photo blurb that accompanied this photograph.

WATER MAGIC -- With the Florida sun as a bonus attraction, Walt Disney World guests enjoy water fun on the resort’s miles of beaches as well as the 45 attractions of the famous Magic Kingdom.

What this got me thinking about are the 45 attractions that would have been present within the Magic Kingdom the year I was born. So, what would these attractions have been a decade on in the park’s history? I pulled out my faithful Tecennial Guide and started to peruse the map pages to make a list and check it twice. I found a mystery between the photo and the guide, but I think I’ve also solved it. Let’s walk through it together.

On Main Street, U.S.A. guests had a choice between eight attractions in 1981. These included the Walt Disney World Railroad, EPCOT Center Preview, Main Street Cinema, Penny Arcade, Horse Cars, Horseless Carriage, Omnibus, and Fire Engine.

Adventureland adds four more attractions, for a total of 12. These attractions were the Swiss Family Treehouse, Jungle Cruise, Tropical Serenade, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Over in Frontierland we acquire six more attractions, bringing us up to 18. These additions encompassed the Walt Disney World Railroad, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, Country Bear Jamboree, Diamond Horseshoe Revue, and the Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery Arcade. Now, we’ve seen the Walt Disney World Railroad counted twice now, and I’m willing to let that slide for a little while, but we’re definitely going to circle back around to it a little while later. Also, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes would have been out and about as well, but they aren’t listed. Again, we’ll pin this for the time being.

Meanwhile, we’ve moved on to Liberty Square and its four additional attractions, giving us a running total of 22. These attractions were The Hall of Presidents, Liberty Square Riverboat, Mike Fink Keelboats, and The Haunted Mansion.

Turning towards Fantasyland, we find ten attractions that bring our total up to 32. These attractions consisted of the Mad Tea Party, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Adventures, Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, It’s A Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, the Skyway and Fantasy Faire. It’s worth noting that there isn’t an attraction listed here for the building that would become known as the Fantasyland Theater. The Mickey Mouse Revue would have left in 1980, headed for Tokyo Disneyland, leaving the theater empty for several years.

Last, but certainly not least, we look at Tomorrowland, also with an additional ten attractions, to give us a final tally of 42. The attractions found in this land were Mission to Mars, Circle-Vision 360 “Magic Carpet ‘round the World,” “If You Had Wings,” WEDway People-Mover, StarJets, Carousel of Progress, Skyway, Space Mountain, Grand Prix Raceway, and Tomorrowland Stage. Like the Walt Disney World Railroad, we once again see the second station of the Skyway, but we’re again going to let it stand for a few minutes.

Alright, we’ve reached 42 attractions, three shy of the pronounced 45 we saw in our photograph above. It didn’t take long for me to realize that large, spectacular entertainment offerings have always been a part of the attractions catalog for Walt Disney World, and this wouldn’t have been any different. The fireworks extravaganza would have still been Fantasy in the Sky, and it would have been paired with the latest nighttime parade, the Main Street Electrical Parade. During the afternoon hours the parade celebrating the park’s first decade, the Tencennial Parade, would have been present on the parade route. Adding in these three would bring us up to our goal of 45.

I’m not done however, considering that two attractions were double listed for their multiple stations, let’s remove two attractions, one for the Walt Disney World Railroad and one for the Skyway. We could add back in the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, which would be only fair as Mike Fink shouldn’t be allowed to run amok on the Rivers of America all by himself. That brings our total up to 44, still one shy. Again, the math allows for us the say that there were, indeed, 45 attractions present in 1981, but I actually think it would be higher if we include the monorail, ferry boats, and motor launches. Depending on where you decided I took our list and threw it into a bog in Mathmagic Land somewhere, we should end up with a total of 48 or 49.

It isn’t often that Disney is thought about as being humble, but in this case I think they did themselves a disservice. Regardless of what would have made your list or not, it’s clear that there is always something to do around every corner of Walt Disney World, regardless of the year! For me, it’s always fun looking back at the Magic Kingdom of yesteryear.