11 July 2018

Deliciously Inventive


Let’s say that it is lunchtime and you’re in the mood for a bowl of something hot and fresh from Satu’li Canteen. Sounds like a solid plan, except that you’re in the Magic Kingdom on the other side of the galaxy from Pandora. Luckily for you, there is an option just a monorail stop away at the Contemporary Resort’s Contempo Café that can help with that hankering. The two main entrees available for lunch at Contempo Café are rice bowls, with one featuring grilled salmon and the other anchored by seared chicken.

The Seared Chicken Rice Bowl and Grilled Salmon Rice Bowl both start with a base of the Chef’s specialty rice, which seems to be a home-style type rice that is rich and flavorful, if a little on the soggy side. Mixed in with the rice are market vegetables, while the listing means that these can change, it seems like your standard medley of green beans, corn, peas, and carrots are the standard offering. It should be noted, however, that the vegetables taste fresher than any canned or frozen vegetables I’ve had recently.

This is where the pair of bowls diverge, the Grilled Salmon Rice Bowl comes is topped with grilled salmon and a soy-ginger vinaigrette. The salmon is grilled well, but the portion size we received was small, although I’m willing to concede that may have just been our bowl. The salmon had a nice flavor, but the soy-ginger vinaigrette added nothing to the dish as it was rather bland, which is surprising considering how strong the flavors of soy and ginger can typically be.

On the flip side, the Seared Chicken Rice Bowl comes with, if you haven’t figured it out by now, a seared chicken breast. The sauce in this bowl is a cilantro-lime vinaigrette, which adds to the flavor of the chicken, rice, and vegetables, but doesn’t overpower them. It is a zesty dressing that brightens the vegetables profiles and gives the chicken a kick that plain grilled chicken breasts can often lack. Of the two vinaigrettes, we definitely preferred the cilantro-lime to the soy-ginger, which is unusual considering our love of ginger.

The Contempo Café’s bowls are fair substitutes for the bowls at Satu’li Canteen, but don’t hold a candle to the Satu’li versions. The offerings at Contempo Café are something that could probably be made at home for a weeknight dinner, if you’re good with sauces, but that are hearty and well portioned lunches that are becoming more of a trend at Disney’s theme parks and resorts. If you’re in the Magic Kingdom or taking a tour around on the resort monorail loop and you’re looking for a quick, satisfying lunch, these are definitely an option you should consider.

10 July 2018

Nothing Can Prepare You


Longtime readers of the Gazette know many things about me, not the least of which is my love of Fort Wilderness, 20,000 Leagues, Joe Rohde, and Citrus Swirls. One thing that dedicated readers will also know is that I made a conscious decision many years ago to not talk about Disney films in the main thrust of the site. I know more about the parks, their history and storytelling methodology, than I do about the films. Of course, there has been a time or two when I felt compelled to write about how well a given film would fit into a theme park land or attraction, but on the whole I’ve tried my best to not stick my nose too far down the film rabbit hole. So, you may be as surprised as I am to find that the movie I’m breaking that tried and true formula for is none other than Ant-Man and the Wasp.

THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING! I am going to stop right now and let you know that if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading this article until you’ve had a chance to see the film. There are plenty of SPOILERS ahead.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a problem with villains as a whole, they are either a wiped out in a single film never to be seen or heard from again, don’t resonate with audiences, or are so bland it can turn the film into almost a mad lib type of scenario. Even the best of the villains, someone like Black Panther’s Killmonger, are left with nothing to do once the credits roll. There are obvious exceptions like Loki, who has gone through a rather amazing arc from villain, to arch-villain, to somewhere grey area, and then to full on anti-hero. For the most part, however, villains have proven to be the hardest thing for Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to capture appropriately.

For all the good to great villains that have appeared on screen, all the villains I couldn’t wait to see come to life on film, and my familiarity with their places in the pages of the comic books, never would I have thought that I would feel a more physical punch to the gut than I did with the character of Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Ghost, also known as Ava Starr, is afflicted with a fictitious condition once a quantum tunnel fails and collapses. She can phase in and out of being and has the power of invisibility, but Ava’s power come at the terribly cost of her atoms being continually ripped apart and then putting them back together. She is fading away, treatments with quantum energy and a special containment suit have helped keep her grounded in this world, but she is in constant pain and is slowly dying. As someone living with a chronic auto-immune disease (Rheumatoid Arthritis) that keeps my pain and fatigue levels beyond my control and elevated to a place that even I don’t have words for, I couldn’t help but burst into tears when I saw the pain on her face, the wish for a cure, the drive to live one day more.

There are many of us out there, telling everyone that we’re fine and going about our day. We raise awareness when and where we can, but otherwise try to live the best possible life we can. However, there are days we simply can’t. We smile and fight the good fight, but there are also days when we rage into the darkness or into a pillow just wishing it would go away, that there was something to make it go away.

There are others who feel this was Marvel’s time to shine, a woman of color with a chronic condition could have opened up the dialogue about so many injustices in our world. Instead, we get the ableist tropes of wanting a single dose of medication or magic that can cure all of Ava’s ailments in a single burst. It is a fair gripe and an argument that should be explored, but it shouldn’t take away the positives that we get with Ava. Marvel may not have kicked in the door here, but they opened it, which is a far cry away from what other films and studios have been inclined to do with their mainstream, tent pole properties.

Ava isn’t bad, she is in pain and, at the end of the day, she is fighting to live. She goes about some of it in the wrong way, she can’t see the forest through the trees right in front of her, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed someone reaching out or trying to help because my pain was so great it fractured my thought processes. Yes, there were other choices to be made, but she is flawed human being, which really is the thread that binds all of the characters in Ant-Man and the Wasp together, and of all the characters in the movie Ava has the strongest case to make for her actions in my eyes.

We also have to take a moment and pull the fiction and facts apart, there is only so far that we can relate to Ava. Her condition is a work of fantasy and she, so far as we know, is the only one afflicted by it. Making her treatment plan, and possible cure, something obscure and riddled with science fiction mumbo-jumbo. It makes assembling a real-world comparison, and any subsequent argument for or against what is presented on screen, almost impossible.

What we see with Ava is personal to many people, in all likelihood to a friend or family member that you love. Here is what I saw. I saw a woman of color stand and fight when she is in grave pain, on my best day I struggle to mow my own lawn and on my worst I can barely turn over in my bed without being struck by bolts of lightning in my joints. I am in awe of Ava. I am touched by her struggles. I see myself in her. She stands up where I cannot, regardless of skin color, gender, or chronic pain level. She makes mistakes, we all do. Period. She is a brave step forward when so many are still relegating those with disabilities to some sub-set of society. She isn’t perfect, but if just one person with a disability or chronic condition can stop cowering or hiding and talk openly about how they live and what they feel, Ava is a hero.

Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a perfect film, but it was lots of fun and I encourage everyone to go and see it. If you’ve seen it once, but missed some of what makes Ava so brave, then I implore you to give the movie a second viewing. This time, try watching the movie through the eyes of the Ghosts in your own life, the ones who want to live their lives just like you do.

09 July 2018

Exploratio Continua


Throughout the globe, or at least where Disney has a presence, you can feel the effects of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Some of their manifestations are small and some are rather large, and sometimes if you’re extra lucky you get to experience an adventure caused by the members of the S.E.A. The modern, and more expansive, version of Adventurers Club can be found in restaurants, watering holes, attractions, kids only areas of cruise ships, and even the sandy shores of Typhoon Lagoon. Here is one of the outposts for Mary Oceaneer, but her exploits aren’t just relegated to tangible destinations of Disney, but instead stretch to the silver screen too.

The clues left behind for us to uncover come directly from Mary’s diving bell that is beached near the Miss Adventure Falls. The diving bell, which looks like an old fashioned BB-8, has a lot to uncover from the print on its side. Starting at the top we see Mary is fluent in Latin by her use of the phrase Exploratio Continua, which translates into the continued exploration. Following that we get Mary’s official title, Captain Mary Oceaneer, with the added flourish of Collector and Protector of Nautical Treasures. If you know anything about Mary, it is that she is definitely a treasure hunter, but that she also see the value in preservation of the seas and all the creatures in it.

The bottom line across the bottom of the diving bell is where Mary’s adventures that a turn that crosses the path of one of the lesser appreciated Disney animated features. While the symbols look pretty and ornate, they are actually pieces of the Atlantean language from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the movie where a ragtag group of explorers, led by Michael J. Fox’s Milo, go in search of Atlantis. In the film, it is proffered that Atlantean is the root language of all other languages that come after it. In the real world, Dr. Marc Okrand was tasked with creating a language and dialect that could look and feel as if it were the root of all language. He looked for commonality amongst languages, particularly ancient languages, and ended up pulling quite a bit from Latin, Greek, and Biblical Hebrew to create Atlantean.

So, what does the line of Atlantean say on Mary’s diving bell? It states a well-known trope of explorers the cosmos over, “I come in peace.” Considering the depths she would have to dive to in order to reach Atlantis, and the fact that she had only a diving bell with her on the dive, it is safe to assume that she meant to come in peace, in the spirit of exploration, and not as a red herring for more nefarious efforts as the phrase is sometimes used.

Did Mary reach Atlantis before she ended up at Typhoon Lagoon? That is part of the story we are left wondering about. However, given Mary’s track record, I wouldn’t bet against her!

02 July 2018

Continental Fare


Since we went on our Halloween on the High Seas cruise last year I have been trying to figure out how best to review all of the amazing food we tried on the cruise. Instead of trying to review dish by dish or even restaurant by restaurant, what if we let the photos and menu listings speak for themselves?

For those unaware, each cruise has a standard rotation where you will pass through each of the ship’s three main dining rooms for dinner. The number of times you are in a particular restaurant depends on how many nights are in your cruise, and what rotation you draw. The plus of every meal is that your dining team sticks with you throughout your trip, and they pay attention to your favorites, your likes and dislikes, and even keep track of how your trip is going. It is an incredible part of the dining experience!

Onboard the Disney Fantasy we ended up with two trips through both Animator’s Palate and Enchanted Garden, but only one visit to Royal Court. This was due to some other dining experiences we chose to take part in, but still gave us a great sampling of what the restaurants have to offer. Overall, there was not a bad meal in the bunch and there were some definite standouts. I’m looking at you Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes, Pan-Seared Sea Bass, Sesame Halloumi Parcels, and Chateaubriand-Roasted Beef Filet! The consensus we came to is that the standard rotation dining rooms feature food that is high quality, very tasty convention resort food; nothing to sneer at, definitely a few things to write home about, and largely just really solid meals.

A couple of notes before I turn you loose on the food photo safari… One evening’s décor at Animator’s Palate takes guests under the sea with Finding Nemo, which explains why the photos are tented blue. Also, since seafood and I are not generally friends, the Cream of Green Asparagus Soup typically comes topped with crabmeat, which I opted out of. Otherwise, bon appetite!

ANIMATOR’S PALATE

Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes

Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup

Arugula Leaves

Sesame Halloumi Parcels

Ginger-Teriyaki Dusted Angus Beef Tenderloin

Lemon Icebox Pie

Appetizer Sampler Platter

Caesar Salad

Prince Charming’s Portobello Triangoli

Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

ENCHANTED GARDEN

Applewood Smoked Bacon Wild Mushroom Tart

Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower

Northern Atlantic Lobster Ravioli

Cream of Green Asparagus Soup

Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Pan-Seared Sea Bass

Orange Yogurt Cake

Warm Sticky Date Pudding

Aged Prosciutto

Oysters Rockefeller on the Half Shell

Marinated Tiger Shrimp

Beef Steak Tomato and Vidalia Onion Salad

Lemon Fennel Salad

Pan-Seared Venison Medallions

Oven-Baked Lobster Tail

Old Fashioned Apple Pie

Apricot Trio

ROYAL COURT

Gaston’s Escargot Gratinee

French Onion Soup

Farmhouse Salad

Red Wine Bosc Pear Salad

Roasted Rack of Lamb

Chateaubriand-Roasted Filet Steak

Grand Marnier Soufflé

Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulee

27 June 2018

Backstage Shuttle


Sometimes it is fun to look back on our personal histories with Walt Disney World and sometimes you stumble onto that history, such as when I found a handful of pictures from the Disney-MGM Studios in 2003 this past week. I was clearly in my angsty black and white phase, which even though I shoot in color now doesn’t mean the draw isn’t there. While many of the photos showed things that haven’t changed, there were some that highlighted corners of the park that are no longer there.

Full disclosure, there were some other photos in this set, but they have been withheld to protect the identities of those in them and to also shield my embarrassment for what I thought was a great look in my late teens/early twenties.

We’ll start with Star Tours and a close-up of R2-D2 in the queue. While Artoo is still present in the queue and attraction today, during the first two decades of this attraction the starspeeders were a little more worn. The Starspeeder 3000 was the alter version of the current attraction’s Starspeeder 1000. I know, timelines, right? And it has clearly been through the ringer with the damage from blaster fire right next to Artoo.

For the remainder of our brief jaunt back 15 years, we’ll be boarding a tram for The Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour. We’ll pick it up just as the floodwaters have crested into Catastrophe Canyon and have begun to overtake the flaming tanker truck and oil rig. Next, we’re moving on to the boneyard where we have a great view of a snowspeeeder from Empire Strikes Back, one of Jabba the Hutt’s desert skiffs from Return of the Jedi, and a Trimaxion Drone Ship from Flight of the Navigator. Also, to the far left of this photo, you can catch just a glimpse of the ninth wonder of the world the backside of the Dip Mobile from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

As our short, but bittersweet tour comes to a close, and while we’re still passing through the boneyard, we take time to glance back and catch a moment with the original park icon, yet always a beauty, the Earffel Tower.

26 June 2018

Mouth-Watering Small Plates


If you’re like me, black-eyed peas are something that you look forward to each and every New Year’s Day, preferably prepared alongside collard greens with ham hock and cornbread. Black-eyed peas can be made throughout the year, but that’s the meal where I wait with bated breath for them and where they really shine. Oh sure, there’s the black-eyed peas, tomato, and okra salad that you can get at Boma, which is wonderful, but it isn’t my first thought when it comes to black-eyed peas. Nomad Lounge, however, is making a convincing case that their black-eyed pea dish should be the one you dream and wait impatiently for.

Accara are new to the menu at Nomad Lounge, but not to world cuisine. These deep fried fritters are a street food staple throughout West Africa, most often employed as a snack, though occasionally utilized as a sandwich filling. Black-eyed peas form the basis of these fritters that are fried and served hot, similar to falafel. As a street food snack, they are often paired with kani, a spreadable sauce made from scotch-bonnet peppers. Nomad Lounge chooses a different route and pairs their fritters with the milder roasted garlic riata.

An order of the round fritters come five to a serving and are definitely on the fried food spectrum somewhere between falafel and hush puppies. There is an earthiness to the black-eyed peas, but they do well with whatever herbs, spices, or other components make up the dish they are in. In this case, the onion, salt, and pepper are more than enough to satisfy the taste buds and leave you wanting more.

The roasted garlic riata is a nice accompaniment. It is cool and creamy with a strong flavor of garlic. I’ll say this though, as good as it was, I applied the riata to my first bite and from then on it was all fritter, all the time. Nothing against the riata, but the Accara were just that good. Now, you give me some kani, and we may be having a different discussion.

The menu at Nomad Lounge is constantly changing. Some of the changes are seasonal, while others are used to highlight foods typical guests to Walt Disney World may not otherwise see and taste, a trait which I love in this crossroads of the world lounge. I’m hoping the Accara are available for a long, long time. They may not of displaced my daydreaming of a New Year’s Day meal, but they certainly are near the top of my favorite black-eyed pea dishes list.

19 June 2018

K. Holz & Co.


Castaway Cay is beautiful this time of year. Come to think of it, Castaway Cay is beautiful just about any time of year. All of that natural beauty and pristine water may distract you from what’s really important, the little details that are tucked away around the island. Okay, maybe that’s a step too far, but there are some wonderful nods worked into the island’s story. For instance, this sign for wholesalers of lobsters and other crustaceans actually acknowledges a longtime Disney Cruise Line executive.

K. Holz is none other than Karl Holz, who retired earlier this year. Back in 1996, Holz was a vice president at Knott’s Berry Farm when Disney scooped him up for Walt Disney World Operations. For the next 22 years Holz held a number of senior level positions within theme entertainment side of Disney, including president and CEO of Euro Disney, president of New Vacation Operations, aka Adventures by Disney and Disney Vacation Club, and two stints as the president of Disney Cruise Line.

Holz’s first time through the floating vacation system was a brief 18 months from 2003 until the fall of 2004 when he would move to Euro Disney. He was called back into service of Disney Cruise Line in 2009, where he would remain, along with other duties, until his retirement in February of this year. During that time he oversaw the introduction of the two newest, and currently largest, ships in the fleet, the Dream and the Fantasy.

At the announcement of his retirement, Walt Disney Parks & Resort chairman Bob Chapek said of Holz, “His commitment to excellence and relentless focus on creativity have served Disney well, and his passion for doing what is best for our cast, crew, and guests is second to none. All of us at Disney appreciate everything Karl has done to make Disney magic on a global scale.”

Sounds like just the type of person you want leading Cast Members, if you ask me, and certainly worthy of homage on Castaway Cay. Especially if he can, as the sign says, deliver.