13 November 2018

South of the Border Specialties


We’ve talked before about Choza de Margarita and how we enjoyed some of the upscale on the go offerings we’ve tasted there. It is a credit to the entire Mexico pavilion that just about every spot to grab a bite to eat or something to drink within, and outside of, the pyramid is a place that I regret not visiting if I can’t get there on a particular trip. As Choza de Margarita is still relatively young in its lifespan, let’s head back today to sample a bit more of the menu. This time we’ll focus in on a dish and a margarita that are a bit more traditional, but with that typical Choza twist.

Guacamole may not sound like a must try dish to you, but in our house it’s a common staple to have on hand. Sometimes we make it ourselves, and sometimes we leave it up to the capable hands of our local grocer, but it is something that we keep around. The guacamole at Choza de Margarita takes what you know and love about guacamole, the avocado, a bit of heat, and seasoning, and ramps it up with mango and pumpkin seeds. Then, instead of tortilla chips, it comes with fried flour chicharróns that are drizzled with salsa valentina. A lime also accompanies this dish to add as you see fit.

The mango is a refreshing addition to the guacamole and adds the brightness of lime without as much acidity, while the pumpkin seeds add some texture to the otherwise silky smooth guacamole. The fried flour chicharróns are wonderful scoops and can hold an extra-large dollop of guacamole that you typical chip would crack beneath. They are like air puffed pillows of salt and heat and they’re perfect alongside the fattiness and fresh flavors of the guacamole. There is definitely more than enough to share in a single portion, and it will really hit the spot if you’re looking for something to tide you over between meals.

To wash the guacamole down, we opted to go a hair up from the traditional margarita, and instead picked up Choza de Margarita’s Lime Cucumber Margarita. This beverage includes Libélula Joven Tequila, fresh cucumber juice, Combier Orange Liqueur, and agave nectar with Tajín Chile-lime powder on the rim. The difference between this and the traditional margarita offered at Choza is the type of tequila used, the addition of cucumber juice, and the rim, which in the traditional version is a black ant salt rim.

As much as any margarita can be, the Lime Cucumber Margarita is as refreshing as it gets. The cucumber is mellow and spends most of its time in the background, allowing the lime and orange liqueur to do the heavy lifting. The cucumber juice comes through enough to cool off the harsh edges of both and leave you with a pleasing aftertaste. The Tajín Chile-lime powder will give you a kick each time you place your lips to the glass, but if you stay in one spot, that effect will obviously dissipate as you continue sipping on your margarita. Overall, the Cucumber Lime Margarita is extremely flavorful, but not overbearing, and is definitely something I will add to my regular rotation.

With a couple of dishes and a handful of margaritas under my belt, I can safely state the Choza de Margarita is representing well the recent trend of great food and drink in the Mexico pavilion. If you’re on the go between stops, or just simply don’t want to wait to get a table at La Cava del Tequila, Choza de Margarita is definitely a place to check out. If you’ve been before, give something else on the menu a try, because from my sampling they will not disappoint you!

06 November 2018

Adventures and Attractions in the Magic Kingdom

One of the great joys in researching and sharing the wonderful worlds of Disney is that, on rare occasions, friends and family members pass along materials and photos from their personal history with Disney vacations. Today happens to be one of those days. The smattering of photos, fourteen in total, feature great views, young plants, topiaries, and entertainment offerings not seen in a long time. While the specific year for these photos is in question, the fact that the WEDWay PeopleMover is up and running and the bicentennial banners are up on Main Street, U.S.A. means this is probably either 1975 or 1976.

There are a couple of unique things that are worth noting as you make your way through these photographs, aside from the aforementioned PeopleMover and banners. The original design of Tomorrowland, free roaming topiaries, and the Dapper Dans on a bicycle built for four are chief among these. Also, pay attention to the exterior and artwork of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage behind the marching Main Street Philharmonic and the openness around Cinderella Castle and on Main Street, U.S.A.

Enjoy this stroll down memory lane that was gifted to us. I know I have!

30 October 2018

Halloween Hysteria


Mickey’s head may seem the perfect size and shape for a Jack-o’-lantern, Disney’s vault shelfs are lined with spooky stories and terrifying villains, and the Haunted Mansion is living ghost story, but that doesn’t always mean that the Magic Kingdom has been a happy home for Halloween. From the day the park opened and even through the bicentennial, the main holidays visible within the park were Christmas and the Fourth of July. Yet, like the Headless Horseman waiting for just the right time to appear to Ichabod and make his blood run cold, Halloween was just biding its time around the bend.

The Magic Kingdom’s first real foray into a Halloween event long predated the now beloved Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. It was known as Halloween Hysteria, and it wasn’t even held on Halloween! Instead, it was held on the Saturday closest to Halloween in October of 1979, which fell on October 27th. This one night event followed the formula for after-hours events set by Disneyland and continued well beyond the Magic Kingdom’s first decade: attractions with smaller crowds, special entertainment, and even musical performances by The Police and Dr. Hook. The single night events that would grow to larger affairs were the hallmark of special events for a long time at Walt Disney World. Even the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party held in 1983 was only a single night affair.

It would be under the tenure of Michael Eisner and his drive to create a Walt Disney World where guests could spend their entire vacations and have more entertainment options than ability to do them all in a single vacation when the modern Magic Kingdom Halloween party would start to take shape. The first Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party would be held in 1995 and would still be a single night soiree, but the curve for expansion would be steep. In 1997 it became two nights, 1999 saw it reach three nights, 2001 upped the nights again to five nights, in 2003 it doubled to ten nights. Soon after, it was bursting at October’s seams and spilled out into September.

The offerings have, appropriately, changed over the years. Fireworks, parades, character meet-and-greets, not to mention the character’s costumes and photo backdrops, trick-or-treating trails, shows and entertainment, and even the variety of meals and sweet treats have shifted with the times. I, for one, would love to venture back to 2000 and visit with Frankenstein Goofy in front of a flimsy façade, and not very accurate, Haunted Mansion background for a photo or two.

Today, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has invaded the end of summer season and is held on 34 nights over the course of August, September, and October. For the curious, this means 12 more nights than Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party in 2018, making Halloween the (pumpkin) king of Magic Kingdom holidays. While bigger is better in the world of specially ticketed events, and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary definitely delivers big thrills and chills, not to mention lasting memories, it’s almost uncanny to think of how small the party’s origin was in comparison.

25 October 2018

A Painter's Brush


I am a sucker for visual displays that show a rainbow of colors. When something shows off the full ROY G. BIV spectrum to me it just makes me happy, and I don’t think I’m the only one. In fact, there are whole fields dedicated to the psychology of color. It ranges from how certain colors help us learn or be more productive at work or whether a certain color makes us drowsy, right on through to why children are drawn to more vibrant colors, our stereotyped association of pink for girls and blue for boys, and how the color of food suggests to our brains what that food might taste like. It’s truly fascinating.

When it comes to rainbows, I like the balance and harmony it shows. The spectrum is symmetrical in a very non-symmetrical way, putting everyone at the table, in the color wheel, or in the double rainbow. I’m sure there is some sort of science behind that as well, especially tied to the attributes I place upon rainbows, but there is definitely something to be said for a well-crafted use of color. If I dug deeper into my own psyche, which is a scary place to play around in all by itself, I’m sure there’s some nod to the Dreamfinder or Figment hiding in a corner whispering alongside Bob Ross about the rainbows.

In Disney Springs alone there are several examples of rainbows being utilized, sometimes in bright, in-your-face displays, and other times in more subtle versions. Here are a few of my favorites from UNIQLO, Amorette’s Patisserie, and Cherry Tree Lane in the Marketplace Co-Op.

23 October 2018

Goods at the Market of Harambe


Satu’li Canteen, Tiffins, Flame Tree Barbecue, Tusker House, and even Nomad Lounge take up a lot of the space when talking about dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As well they should, there is a lot of great dishes and culinary risk-taking coming out of all of these restaurants. Sometimes lost in the shuffle, or lost in a deluge due to its outdoor ordering and seating, Harambe Market offers up some wonderful dishes that you should be paying attention to. Let’s sample one or two, or four, today and give you an idea of what you could be missing out on.

Let’s start with a pair of entrees, the Spiced Karubi Ribs and beef and lamb gyro. The ribs feature an African spice rub and barbecue glaze and come paired with green papaya slaw and black-eyed pea salad. The gyro, as you would expect, features thinly sliced gyro meats from a rotating spit, served open-faced on naan and topped with cucumber and tomato salad and tzatziki sauce. It also comes with a side of black-eyed pea salad.

The ribs are definitely one of the specialties of Harambe Market, and that care shows in every bite. Some of the meat will literally fall off of the bone, while you will have to pull some of it off with your teeth, although not with much effort. The spice mixture present in the rub and sauce represent the best of what African spices can do, but the flavor profile may be a bit off putting for picky eaters. The green papaya slaw is cool and crunchy, with fresh flavors that are a bright contrast to the slow cooked ribs. Likewise, the black-eyed pea salad, with corn, peppers, and black-eyed peas, delivers a ton of tasty vegetables in a small package.

Moving over to the beef and lamb gyro, this is a step up option for those guests who don’t want to step out of their sandwich comfort zone. The cucumber and tomato salad, along with the tzatziki sauce are laced with cool and mellow flavors that complement the savory and rich elements coming from the gyro meats. The naan is pillowy and chewy, and makes for a sturdy base that you can either cut into with a fork and knife or pick up like a traditional sandwich. The black-eyed pea salad is, again, a nice accompaniment to the dish and a welcomed change-up from fries or chips.

Since we’re back in Africa, it seems only right to also try the Safari Cake, which is a coconut cake with pineapple-coconut mousse that is then coated in chocolate and served on a bed of toasted coconut. The cake spongey and the coconut flavor is definitely the star here. The mouse is creamy and thick, and you catch a hint of the pineapple, but the flavor is fleeting between the waves of coconut. The chocolate is a nice touch, as is the toasted coconut on the plate that easily sticks to the cake or chocolate covering, and both serve the cake well. The portion size will definitely leave you wanting more.

To wash all of this down, we sampled the Leopard’s Eye, Snow Leopard Vodka blended with kiwi-and-mango flavored Bibo. Bibo is a fruit based beverage from Coca-Cola which here is the kiwi and mango variety. The tropical flavors mask the vodka well and, when paired with its neon green coloring, the Leopard’s Eye feels and tastes more like frozen Ecto Cooler, for those of you familiar with the juice box staple. It’s very sweet and does wonders to combat the heat and humidity of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. My only complaint is that the ingredients used to create slushy beverages can, at times, cause me to get not only an ice cream headache, but full body aches. That’s more of a personal problem than it is a slight against the Leopard’s Eye, but I thought I would issue the warning in case you suffer similar frozen cocktail discomforts.

The stalls of Harambe Market are meticulously crafted, with every detail considered, and so too are the meals and menu items which are offered up from their windows. Disney’s Animal Kingdom has long been the bastion of adventurous eaters and culinary boundary pushing within the four parks of Walt Disney World. Harambe Market offers unique takes on recognizable dishes and pleases the palate on every visit. If you haven’t paid a visit to the open air eatery yet, or it’s been a while since your last visit, I say it’s time you take another bite or two, or four.

22 October 2018

The Business of Show Business


Construction photos can tell us a lot about how far along a project is while tantalizing our senses into dreaming about what will be. In a historical context, construction photos, particularly large aerial photos like the one above can give us a glimpse into timelines for projects and when certain aspects were started and completed in comparison of one another. This view of a mid-construction Disney-MGM Studios is not dissimilar to the views we’ve been seeing in the past couple of years for Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, but the subject matter is wholly different.

Starting with what we can see that has already come to life, the Earffel Tower stands tall to the far left of the picture. Below that we can see several of the house facades from Residential Street, including the houses for The Golden Girls and Empty Nest, are also in their finished forms. Warehouses for costuming and props are also up and running by this point in time. Many of the soundstages are also completed structurally, such as those for The Great Movie Ride, animation facilities, and the walking portion of the Backstage Studio Tour, but I’m willing to bet if we could venture inside that the elements of these attractions are nowhere near ready for their close-ups.

It is also worth noting, speaking of complete pieces, that much of the Magic Kingdom, particularly Space Mountain, can be seen in the upper left of this photograph, right along with the Contemporary Resort. Likewise, shifting our attention over to the upper right of this picture gives us a nice view of Spaceship Earth, The Living Seas, Imagination, and other structures of EPCOT Center.

Starting right near the backside of EPCOT Center, we can see the groundwork being prepped for the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, as well as the future sites of the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. When it comes to recognizable construction, however, we need to get back to Disney-MGM Studios and the main focus of this photograph.

It’s easy to see the progress being made on New York Street, the amphitheater for Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Superstar Television. The framework is done for Echo Lake’s 50’s Prime Time Café and Hollywood and Vine. Similarly, just across the way, the bones are up for the original Theatre of the Stars and the Hollywood Brown Derby.

While the footprints are recognizable, there are still and lot of walls, dinosaurs, and walkways to be built before Disney-MGM Studios’ opening in just a little more than a year. Not to mention the rest of the park that would come along in just a few short years between opening day in 1989 and the completion of Sunset Boulevard in 1994, including Star Tours, MuppetVision 3D, a new Theatre of the Stars, Rock ‘N’ RollerCoaster, and, of course, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. A single moment shows a lot of promise and a lot of hard work, both completed and yet to come, and are great time capsules when we can dig them up.

19 October 2018

So Friendlyable


Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always been a park that celebrated the past. Everything from the golden era of Hollywood, across film, television, and music, to aesthetics that definitely felt like another place and time, guests have always had a sense that they’ve stepped away from the present day and age. While the park has been undergoing massive refurbishments that will change this thematic experience, there are still new corners to explore that live up to ideals of yesterday and, in some instance, use the parks as the timeline they venture back down. Baseline Tap House is one such entity.

Baseline Tap House is part of the Grand Avenue expansion of the park and utilizes spaces that once were home to the Writer’s Stop and the Streets of America. In this incarnation, the area took on the vibe of a corner of California that has been revitalized and is once again welcoming in locals and visitors alike. In Baseline Tap House’s case, this means transforming the former warehouse that housed a one-family print shop, Figueroa Printing Company, into an exposed brick and beam bar with a number of taps and small plates to quench the thirst of patrons. Between type set letters, machinery, crates, and artwork on the walls, it is easy to suss out what the corner shop used to be utilized for.

The artwork in particular has a story to tell. Posters dating back to Disneyland’s earliest days can be found adorning the walls. What is particularly interesting about the artwork is that is shows the process of multiple color printing and how it had to be applied layer by layer. Posters featuring Fantasyland’s Storybook Land recreate each step of the beloved Monstro-centric design. Similarly, the 1960s “So Friendlyable!” ad work can be seen shaping up over an even longer period of time.

If you’re wondering why there are so many Disneyland marketing materials being created, or rather recreated, at Baseline Tap House, the answer lies in the shop’s backstory. We’ve already established that we’re in California, but it may be more helpful to know that Grand Avenue is actually supposed to be set specifically in the town of Burbank, home to the Walt Disney Studios and about 35 miles away from Anaheim and Disneyland. As the story goes, the Figueroa Printing Company, owned and operated by a single couple, who had a wonderful relationship with the Studio and printed much of the early designs.

Grand Avenue lives up to the tradition of showcasing the past, in this instance setting the land in the world of today, but with respect to what came before. You can see this plainly in Baseline Tap House’s nods to the Writer’s Stop, to the design history of Disney theme parks, and even in the architecture present in the restaurant. Sometimes looking back can be subtle and require us to squint a bit to see it, in the example provided by Baseline, however, all we have to do is soak up the ambiance.

09 October 2018

House of the Whispering Willow


When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the pavilions and attractions available to guests were only the beginning of what they would be able to experience in the years that followed. New pavilions were planned and even advertised, yet very few of those plans would actually come to fruition. One space that did see its planned expansion through to completion was the China Pavilion.

Part of the original mission of World Showcase was for the cultural representatives to recreate “the rich traditions of their homelands, and share their art and architecture, culture and cuisine.” This was to be the true treasure of each pavilion, and within China the central themes was serenity and contemplation. From the stones near the Gate of the Golden Sun, to the lotus pool, and even the film, originally titled Wonders of China, were designed in encourage both of these sentiments. However, the ability to walk out of the film and through a bustling street filled with ornate details to consider, have a meal in a quiet, elegant setting, or even peruse wares in the House of Good Fortune were options not available to guests in the early years of the pavilion.

From this 1982 photo you can see the Temple of Heaven, the lush greenery of the lotus pond, and China’s art gallery, the House of the Whispering Willow, but that’s where the story ends for the pavilion until 1985. It would take three years from the opening of EPCOT Center for Lotus Blossom Cafe, Nine Dragons Restaurant, House of Good Fortune, and the facades of tiny homes and businesses that flesh out the rest of China’s story to become a reality. This would be a rarity for those early plans of EPCOT Center, but one that has delighted guests for more than three decades.

As Richard Beard said of the China experience, “a spot of contemplation will help you to absorb the amazing sights and sounds you have experienced here, and the inner serenity it induces many be the most valuable item you’ll carry away with you.” It may seem like a simple sentiment, but these are words that ring true to this very day.

08 October 2018

Going up in Smoke, Folks


Food trucks have long been a part of our culinary lexicon, and Walt Disney World has even gotten in on the game for several years now with a rotation of trucks that could be housed at Disney Springs or situated at a resort when there is a refurbishment and additional food offerings are needed. Into this scene enters John Rivers and the 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck at Disney Spring's Marketplace, and if you think that the name in a mouthful, then just wait until you see what they’re serving out of the truck!

Disney has a long and storied history with cone shaped sandwiches and meals. From the earliest days of the Handwich to the more recent bread-based cones popular in California Adventure’s Cars Land, these sandwiches are mobile and can utilize a broader variety of fillings. In the case of 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck, the main attraction here is also cone based, and is known as the Taco Cone. It comes with your choice of filling, more on that in a minute, along with shredded lettuce, guacamole, Pico de Gallo, queso, sour cream, jalapeño, cilantro, and a wedge of lime in a fried tortilla cone.

Your choices for fillings include black beans and rice, grilled tri-tip steak, chicken tinga, brisket barbacoa, or Nana’s pork sofrito. There may be some words in that last sentence that ring a bell for you, and that’s okay, food should be an adventure at times. Barbacoa is the original form of barbecue, tinga is typically a shredded chicken with tomato based sauce, and sofrito is a sauce rich in garlic, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.

The assembled Taco Cone is larger than my head, and stuffed full of these wonderful flavors. I’ll admit that I assumed once I got through the top layer of my filling of choice, chicken tinga, that there wouldn’t be much of the main attraction to find towards the middle and bottom of the cone, and I was completely wrong. The chicken was prevalent throughout, the queso was thick and bonded everything together, the guacamole and jalapeños provided some nice heat, in addition to adding some fresh flavors when included with the cilantro, lime, and Pico. The chicken itself was moist and flavorful, the way you would expect a really excellent stewed chicken to taste.

The taco shell cone was wonderfully crispy, even towards the bottom I didn’t notice any amount of sogginess. I was able to break off portions to use as chips to scoop out some of the filling or just bite into it as I made my way through the cone. The only problem I had with the cone deliver system comes from the other offerings from 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck. Since the food truck serves bottled, not fountain, drinks, it is almost impossible to open your bottle up while holding your cone since you can’t really put it down. Luckily there were two of us who were able to help each other out, but it was a challenge to figure out.

4 Rivers is a name common around the Orlando area known for its smokehouses and barbecue. However, since The Polite Pig already had the Disney Springs market on barbecue cornered, it was a chance for John Rivers and the entire 4 Rivers assemblage to stretch their creative culinary skills. The results are delicious, and best sampled for yourself. The Taco Cone is one cone that, due to its size, may give me shame when I finish it, but I like it!

04 October 2018

In Search of New Horizons


As shocking as this may sound, I don’t get much rest on vacations, particularly those of the Disney variety. By now it is sure to come as no surprise that everywhere I go I take my camera with me. In fact, at any given time on vacation I can be seen switching between up to four lenses and jotting down notes and story ideas into a small notebook. It’s wonderful to be able to share history, meals, and minute details with all of the Gazette’s readers, but it can also take its toll. This is why I find my time at Disney’s resort on Hilton Head Island and on Disney’s cruise liners to be such a breath of fresh air for me, because these two locations do allow me to turn off, tune out, and just relax and recharge.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and its associated Beach House are the best of both worlds I’ve inhabited in my lifetime. As a Florida native, the beach and the sea, and specifically either the Atlantic Ocean of Gulf of Mexico, hold a special place in my heart. Likewise, I discovered the pine forests of the Carolinas early in my life and getting back to that spot in nature was one of the driving forces that brought me to western North Carolina. At Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, I can have the best of both worlds: a room with a view of pines and seagrasses, not quite the mountains but similar aesthetics, and a chance to splash along a shoreline, watch a sunrise, and search for seashells.

There are no theme parks here, only two counter service restaurants that only serve breakfast and lunch, and no attractions with wait times. What the resort does have is nature walks, bicycle rentals, a canine mascot, campfires, fishing, and hammocks amongst the trees. It has leisure games like cornhole, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and a non-Disney (but still wonderfully fun) miniature golf course. There are fine dining restaurants away from the resort that overlook the saltmarsh estuaries, the ocean, or the island’s interior.

The main thing I take away from my time at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is, and I know that I visit during the quieter offseason, that I don’t have to get up and go do anything unless I want to. I can ride my bike down to the shopping areas, the beach, or the lighthouse, but I can also just sit in a hammock beneath the pine branches to read and take a nap, and I can be completely content with any of these options without feeling like I’ve neglected doing some attraction or show.

Speaking of doing nothing and taking naps in the natural world, that’s also one of my favorite activities on a Disney cruise, but there is so much more to a cruise in a very different way. Onboard the cruise there is plenty to discover, and you generally have the time to do so because, save when you are in port somewhere, you have nowhere else to go. I thought the ability to not see land would cause me stress, but as it turns out, when no one can get ahold of you and you have nothing but the sights and sounds of the sea to keep you company, you can truly relax.

For those who wish to be entertained from sunrise to the next sunrise, Disney has you covered with a wide array of activities, from alcohol samplings to towel folding classes, interactive mystery games, first-run movies, bingo, a water rollercoaster, Broadway style theater productions, and character meet and greets. Some of these activities require reservations, but many of them are available to everyone in a choose-your-own-adventure sort of way. You can keep busy and only visit your stateroom when you are ready to pass out from overstimulation at the end of a long day and night.

For me, however, it is the ability to pick a couple of activities I’m wholeheartedly interested in and then let the rest go. On a cruise, apparently, I channel my inner-Elsa. While there are no hammocks onboard the cruise ships, there are large plush loungers, some in the sun, and some in the shade, perfect for reading and napping. A cup of tea, while lounging on deck listening to the sea crash against the ship and the occasional horn bellowing from the ship, is the perfect way to start a morning at whatever hour you see fit.

Which of the three dining halls you dine in each night is pre-determined for you, but none of these restaurants are slouches and it saves you from your own sense of indecision. Plus, there are stunning lounges, room service at all hours, and plenty of buffet and quick service dining options to satisfy any palate. The fine dining options, however, are experiences that will truly stick with you for a long, long time. Palo, along with Remy aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, have prepared some of the single best type of dishes I’ve ever had (I’m looking at you Palo’s lasagna), as well as some of the most exquisite complete meals I’ve ever been party to.

The ports allow you to choose which locales you want to go ashore at, or whether your time is best spent staying on the ship. Castaway Cay, with its crystal blue waters, water activities, bicycle rentals, and barbecues, is an extension of the ship itself and only heightens your ability to keep active or keep lounging away. It is the one port I will always visit when the ship docks there.

Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and the parks around the globe have a ton to offer in terms of attractions, shows, dining, and atmosphere. There is a lot of ground to cover and, no matter how long your vacation is, there never seems to be enough time to take it all in. For someone like me, that is a challenge I adore, but it can definitely make me need a vacation from my vacation. Luckily for me, and those of you out there like me, that the Disney Cruise Line and Disney’s Hilton Head Island have found the cure to my vacation overload. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go and find a hammock somewhere…

03 October 2018

From the Archives - A wonder to behold

I can't think of a single person who isn't immediately taken with the mosaics sharing the story of Cinderella when they first visit Cinderella Castle. The stunning design and craftsmanship are enough to leave a lasting impression and require many, like myself, to make repeated visits to the murals. For those that revisit the mural regularly there are always new details to uncover, such as how Anastasia has a red hue to her to depict anger, while Drizella has a green tint to highlight her disgust and envy. The rest of today's story, featuring the artisans behind the mural, comes to us from our own archives.


A wonder to behold - Originally Published 9 September 2009


As it has been mentioned before, art takes so many varied shapes within Walt Disney World. While there are plenty of established galleries, many times the most stunning pieces of work can be found all around us. A common example of being surrounded by art is the Cinderella Castle breezeway where, along the walkway, are five five-by-ten foot mosaic murals comprised of hundreds of thousands of pieces of smalti, silver, Italian glass, and 14 karat gold. And while it may be common to walk by a piece of art with only a glance in its direction, it is even more common to not take note of the artist and their work. Today we’ll take a closer look at the two artists who crafted these extraordinary mosaic murals, Dorothea Redmond and Hanns-Joachim Scharff.


Dorothea Redmond
Born in 1910, Redmond would go on to receive degrees from the University of Southern California and Art Center College before moving into motion picture design. During the first twenty years of her career she would contribute to many classic films, including Gone with the Wind, Sabrina, The Ten Commandments, and White Christmas. She was also a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock pictures, working on the films Saboteur, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, To Catch a Thief, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rear Window.


After years of working for Selznick International Pictures, RKO, Paramount, and Universal, Redmond came to WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, and began work on Disneyland’s Plaza Inn and New Orleans Square. As part of the New Orleans Square project, Redmond created a private quarter for Walt Disney and his family, The Royal Suite, which was never completed. The space was occupied by several tenants, including The Disney Gallery from 1987 until 2007. In 2007, The Royal Suite’s designs were dusted off and given new life as The Dream Suite, accommodations that would house one lucky guest and their family in the park for one evening.


With the Walt Disney World project, Redmond and her watercolors were once again utilized to shape the sumptuous spaces of Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, and Fantasyland. Between 1970 and 1971, her skills were utilized in designing the Cinderella Castle mosaic murals that paid tribute the original Disney animated feature, but also gave new life to the story in their own way. These designs were later duplicated in Tokyo Disneyland as well.

Dorothea Redmond was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2008 before passing away in February of 2009.

Hanns-Joachim Scharff
Born in 1907 in East Prussia, spent his formative years studying a variety of art forms, including weaving and mosaic. His early career in international business led him to become the Director of the Overseas Division for Adler Automotives for the decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.

While in Germany in 1939 his visa was revoked and he was left stranded until he was drafted. After several duties, Scharff’s fluency in English granted him the position as an interrogator from 1943 until 1945. Among his charges was the interrogation of pilots and aircrews for many of the Allied Forces. His interrogation techniques, which included walks in the woods, sharing food, visiting captured pilot’s comrades in the hospitals, but never physically harming prisoners, were ground-breaking. After World War II Scharff was invited to lecture with the United States Air Force and his techniques were later adapted for use in U.S. military interrogation programs.


After immigrating to America, Scharff did not return to business, but rather the art he had studied as a younger man. His work took him from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via a successful exhibit at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, where his mosaics could be seen in UCLA, Los Angeles City Hall, USC, the California State Capitol Building, and even the pool at the Hilton in Las Vegas.


Scharff headed the artisan team, which included his daughter-in-law Monika Scharff, which brought Dorothea Redmond’s watercolor designs for the Cinderella Castle mosaic murals to life. Scharff and Scharff, as they were now known, would go on to craft lush mosaics including the twin mosaic murals at Epcot’s Land pavilion.

While Hanns-Joachim Scharff passed away in September 1992, Monika Scharff has kept their art alive, well, and still tied to Disney, as her work can be seen in the fountains of Disneyland’s Downtown Disney.


The stories of these two artists’ lives are as varied as their creations and as nuanced as the tiny pieces of cut glass used in their joint work. Art is all around us, even in Walt Disney World, and it not only compels guests further into a story, it makes us a part of the artist’s life story.

27 September 2018

Exotic Flavor Adventures


When it comes to the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, not everything tastes like chicken, which I am personally thankful for since today we’re reviewing a pair of desserts. What they like in chicken flavoring, however, they make up for in exclamation marks. No joke, the menu listing for these two sweet dishes include no less than four exclamation points, and that’s just in their names! So buckle up your taste buds for this tour of the Kungaloosh! and Quick Sand!!!

Let’s start with the Quick Sand!!! This dish is a jasmine rice pudding with a mango sauce, lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple. It also comes adorned with a crispy cookie.

The rice pudding base of this dessert is not the typical mush you think of when you think of rice pudding. It was firm with a creamy texture, with pieces of rice that were definitely still present throughout each bite. It was sweet, but mildly so, allowing the other flavors on the plate to shine through. The bright flavors of the lemon and mango were accented by the underlying floral notes from the hibiscus meringue. This is a much more tropical feeling dessert than you would think first looking at it. The waffle cone-esque cookie perched atop the whole dessert was, again, not too sweet, but added that little bit of crunch that was wonderful and was perfect for scooping up loose bits of curd and pudding.

On to the Kungaloosh! While this dessert may only have one exclamation point in its name, which has a historical pedigree all to itself, it is no less exciting. This offering is an African-inspired chocolate cake that comes with caramelized bananas, cashew-caramel ice cream and is topped with coffee dust. Full disclosure, as I am not a coffee fan, I opt to have the coffee dust left off.

This cake was rich and dense and wonderful, think of it like the best brownie you’ve ever had and you’re getting close to the texture and richness of the dish. The nuttiness and sweetness in the ice cream brings out the best of the chocolate cake and the caramelized bananas are just, well, bananas! I mean that in the best way possible of course. For those of you who grew up on peanut butter and banana sandwiches, this dessert takes all the best of those memories and adds chocolate and ice cream to it. What more could you ask for!

The sweet course at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen is filled with desserts that look almost too good to eat. They are honestly some of my favorite photos to take when I can grab a seat in the old mess hall. But no one is going to order a dessert and not eat it; that would just be silly. Luckily for guests, these dishes are a good as they look and deserve every exclamation point you can put in their names!

25 September 2018

We're Almost Back From the Future


Today, rather than dig into depth too deeply on a single image or topic, let’s venture back to EPCOT Center in 1984 and take a brief glimpse at three beloved attractions: World of Motion, Listen to the Land, and Horizons. From thundering full speed into the twentieth century and plants that are on their way up, to materials from space that are also lovely, there was a lot to love and to hold dear from those early attractions. Nothing else to say, but I hope you take some time today and just enjoy looking back.