13 September 2018

First-Class Fine Dining

It’s Magical Dining Month in Orlando, and Walt Disney World is getting in on the charity dining adventure again this year. The event is put on by Visit Orlando and offers diners a chance to have a three course meal for $35 at select restaurants, with a dollar from each meal going to support local charities. This year’s charities are Best Buddies Central Florida and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. I highly recommend checking the Magical Dining Month website to learn more about the charities and to get a full listing of restaurants.

Last year, several resorts at Walt Disney World took part in the event, but for this iteration the Disney participants are all from Disney Springs. These include such locations as Morimoto Asia, Paddlefish, STK, and many others. We hadn’t had the chance to try out Maria & Enzo’s yet, and as they were taking part, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to sample something new. While the portions are never huge, you definitely get your money’s worth and will definitely not be hungry at the end of your meal.

The first course is appetizers and, as with all of the categories from Maria & Enzo’s Magical Dining menu, there were three selections to choose from. We opted for the Fontina en Carozza and Salumi Misti. The Fontina en Carozza is three pieces of marinated fortina cheese that has been lightly breaded then fried and it comes with a side of spicy Pomodoro sauce. The Salumi Misti is charcuterie that features two meats, salame finnocchiona and prosciutto di Parma, along with two cheeses, grana Padano, giardiniere vegetables, and grissini.

The fontina cheese may sound like it’s just a variation on fried mozzarella sticks, but trust me when I say that would be woefully undervaluing this appetizer. The creaminess of the cheese, crunch of the fresh fried breading, and tasty Pomodoro sauce make this arguable some of the best fried cheese you’ve ever put in your mouth. The Salumi Misti could have used larger portions of the vegetables and preserves that come as accompaniments, as well as both of the cheeses, but everything was top notch and delicious. I regularly see meat and cheese boards as never seeming large enough, and as this was just a small plate, which may have contributed to my desire for more here.

The second course features entrees, and we selected the Hanger Steak and Sea Bass. The Sea Bass is listed on the website as coming with cherry tomatoes, green beans, taggiasca olives, and watermelon radish, but that appears to be an outdated listing as the menu we received at our table showed it actually comes with cauliflower, green beans, lemon, and roasted grape agro dolce. For the Grilled Hanger Steak, the sides include roasted garlic smashed potatoes, broccolini, and pizzaiola sauce.

The steak was well seasoned and cooked to perfection, with the pizzaiola sauce adding a unique Italian flavor I don’t commonly associated with steak, but that was delicious all the same. The broccolini and smashed potatoes were both tender, yet not overly soft and smushy the way potatoes and green vegetables can sometimes be overcooked. They were also incredibly buttery, probably due to ridiculous amounts of delicious butter they were cooked in. The Sea Bass’ dolce, green beans, and rainbow cauliflower were equally delightful and highlighted the flavors of the sea bass well. The cut of sea bass was small, giving it a firm and flakey, but not tough, texture. Overall, both entrees highlighted a kitchen that knows how to prepare proteins and how to bring out their flavors in the best possible way.

For dessert, our final course, we picked the traditional Tiramisu and the Pistachio Olive Oil Cake. The Tiramisu comes with a salted caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream and on the side. Meanwhile, the olive oil cake is served in halves and covered in a roasted strawberry jam. The Tiramisu was a wonderful example of how to handle a classic dessert, meeting and exceeding every expectation we had of it. The Pistachio Olive Oil Cake is a twist on the traditional, but was no less enjoyable. The cake was dense and moist, with a mild flavor of pistachio shining through. While the strawberries could be overpowering at times, it reminded me of pound cake and strawberries I had as a child just down the street from Orlando in Plant City, so it was a welcome taste of childhood for me.

There are only two and a half weeks left of Magical Dining Month, with it concluding on September 30th, but this is always an event that I recommend. Particularly as an entryway to trying new restaurants that you either hadn’t gotten around to yet or that may have a menu you may find a little discomforting. The small portions and small number of selections make it easy to approach and to gather whether or not a restaurant could make it into your regular rotation. For Maria & Enzo’s part, they have definitely given me a go-to Italian restaurant to add to my list. Plus, there is the charity aspect of the event, and we could all do a bit more to lift each other up, especially when you get such a wonderful meal out of the bargain.

12 September 2018

Laying out the Tea Leaves

The story of Expedition Everest is not easy to describe and is as long and winding as its queue. It is layered in daily life of the Himalayan region, tourism, culture, agriculture, history, and mythology. The interplay between these elements is at times bold and in your face, while at other times the story takes a little scratching beneath the surface to get to the heart of the matter. As with all great stories, repeated interaction is crucial to uncovering nuances and finding something new you never noticed before.

The offices and tea trains of the Himalayan Escapes Tour Company once belonged to the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. The historical value of the company has not been lost on Himalayan Escapes, as remnants from the tea purveyors and nods toward their work are scattered throughout the Expedition Everest queue. Some of this is for ease of business, if it doesn’t need to be changed, why change it? Still, other instances give Himalayan Escapes a chance to play up the history or to pay respect to what has come before. One such instance of this nod to history is the inclusion of photographs showing glimpses into the past of the Royal Anandapur Tea Co., framed and mounted on the walls in Himalayan Escapes office.

Modern transportation comes to the Himalayas. c 1922 (File photo, The Anandapur Reporter)
In the first photo, we see a hint of what is to come for guests. Listed as modern transportation and coming from The Anandapur Reporter, this is the guests’ first glimpse of the tea trains, depending on where guests have approached the queue from. While not listed directly, it is safe to assume that these tea trains belonged to the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. as a way to carry their tea more easily. Also, this isn’t the only time that The Anandapur Reporter is present in the office, as there are article clippings from some of the newspapers more noteworthy stories as they relate to the Forbidden Mountain.

Industrious pickers pause in their labors for a photograph. (Royal Anandapur Tea Co.)
Laying out the tea leaves to dry before fermentation. (Royal Anandapur Tea Co.)

The next two photographs feature the actual work of tea production and come directly from the archives of the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. The first is a group of workers picking the tea leaves. They’ve stopped momentarily to have their picture taken. It is a great study in contrast between the white garments that they are clothed in and the dark, meticulously lined tea bushes that they are working through. The second photo shows a drying room where the tea leaves are being laid out to dry before they are to become tea.

In this handful of photographs we can learn a great deal about how tea is made and transported, and are given a time-capsule into industry of Anandapur. Nothing in these photos references the mythical yeti, they serve only as setting the foundation for what has come before and how that collective history has made the expeditions of Himalayan Escapes possible today. They aren’t crucial to the storytelling of Expedition Everest, but they provide a small reward for those looking to delve into the story of the attraction just a bit more.

10 September 2018

Join Cherished Toys

The world of Toy Story has never had a larger presence in the parks and resorts of Walt Disney World than they have today. An attraction in Tomorrowland, a section of All-Star Movies, and an entire land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios are all part of the guests ability to live like, and play with, some of their favorite toys. In the beginning, however, Andy’s toys first appeared on the theme park scene in a parade at Disney-MGM Studios.

Toy Story – The Parade debuted on November 22, 1995, coincidentally the same date that the original Toy Story was released theatrically. It is clear from the preparation that it would take to create such a production ahead of a general release that Disney knew the movie would have universal appeal and garner the attention of audiences. Their foresight was proved correct as moviegoers and guests alike definitely wanted more from their new favorite toys and flocked to the parade.

The procession started off with Sarge and the green army menu at the front of the parade, but everyone would get in on the act. The parade featured Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, Bo Peep, barrels full of monkeys, RC, Lenny, board games, hot wheels, Slinky, and many others, all while set to You’ve Got A Friend in Me, Strange Things, and other musical cues from the movie. The final float of Toy Story – The Parade featured Rex, Mr. Mike, and Woody, ending on a high note.

On June 8, 1997, just shy of two years in operation, the parade made one last pass down Hollywood Boulevard. Parts of the parade would make their way into a mobile meet and greet for Buzz and Woody, while other floats would go on to be utilized for new productions, including the Festival of the Lion King in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Toy Story – The Parade would be gone, but the longevity of Andy’s toys ensured that they found new corners of Walt Disney World to live and play in.

23 August 2018

The Place was Built With a Magical Plan

I should admit that this year the Gazette’s anniversary snuck up on me. The result, I suspect, of life getting in the way of plans, of which I actually had some of this year, and time speeding up on me the older I get. So, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane to see where we’ve been and everything that the Gazette has given to me, in order to provide me with a little insight.

From our earliest days, we have been about providing information that enrichens the Walt Disney World experience. The reviews of attractions, shows, tours, meals, restaurants, or how the parks are put together have been meant to help you plan and have the most fun you can have in the parks and resorts. The little details that further a story, give us a sense of time and place, or are just fun nods have always been explored in order to provide you with ways to enhance your trips or be a show off for friends and family. Photo safaris have always been a way to showcase something you should be taking note of, but doesn’t necessarily need a long-winded, wordy explanation from me. The historical elements are for those who, like myself, want to know as much as they can even if they cannot experience what once was around the Vacation Kingdom.

If you’ve caught on to a theme here, it is that the Main Street Gazette has always been here for, and because of, you. You are the reason I wake up and scouring through books or photographs, looking for that one story that will resonate, that will mean something to at least one of you out there.

The Gazette has been home to other writers over the years, and I loved getting their perspective on how they view Walt Disney World. Not because it lessened my burden, believe me it did not, but because I hoped it would be helpful to someone who didn’t always see things the way I do and, perhaps, another writer shared their perspective.

Of course, we’ve had our bumps over the years. If I’m being honest, some of the fictitious short, short stories I wrote in those early years were in the hopes that someone at Disney would take notice and ask me to pick up a pen for their blog, children’s books, publications, or some other endeavor. As much as I loved those stories, they were there for me and quickly fell by the wayside because I had lost track of what really mattered to me and what was at the heart of the Gazette’s mission: you all and your experiences.

I cannot imagine where I would be personally without all of you. The Gazette’s never been the place where everyone comes to gather, comment, and discuss, but it has brought me so many friends that I am so incredibly thankful for. You have sent me emails and messages letting me know what matters to you and thanking me for all that I do, but it really truly should be me thanking you. Sometimes I get on a soapbox, with and without reason, sometimes I’m away dealing with illness, and sometimes I get lost in the weeds of blather around a microscopic blip in Disney history, but you always come back and are always encouraging. Without each of you, there is no Main Street Gazette. So, with all sincerity, thank you for coming back again and again, and never stop letting me know how I can create a better experience for you!

21 August 2018

The Theater is Born

The construction of pavilions, the programming of Audio-Animatronics figures, and the development of story throughout Walt Disney World, and the larger global network of resorts and parks, has always fascinated me. This could explain why I jumped at the chance to acquire a cache of construction photos from inside of Spaceship Earth recently. From the collection there were several photos that stood out to me, including this one of the Greek play being assembled.

What I love is how some of the figures are set, maybe they’re stage ready and maybe they’re not, but they look good, meanwhile the set itself and a third figure are definitely not ready for their close-up. Once completed, this scene would depict one of the earliest forms of the theater. I’ve never found a better description of this scene than that from Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center by Richard R. Beard:
“The Greeks with their vowels were able to enunciate their written word; they also elevated what has become the fine art of communication into the rarefied stratum of speculative thought, philosophy, with all of its passion for logic and symmetry. Indeed, so smitten were they with the word that they gave birth to a dramatic form of communication that endures to this day; thus, the Greek tableau spotlights a small theater where a trio of Hellenic actors perform a scene from Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, a popular play of their time – and of ours. But here, in ancient Greece, the powerful words are declaimed in the very language of Sophocles and in the style of his day.”

16 August 2018

We of Mighty Medfield

Medfield College has a storied place in the history of Disney feature films. It was the setting for the original Flubber duology, 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor and 1963’s Son of Flubber, as well as the 1997 remake, Flubber, of the original film in the Flubber cannon. It was also home to a series of films feature Kurt Russell as Dexter Riley. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes from 1969, No You See Him, Now You Don’t from 1972, and The Strongest Man in the World from 1975, like the Flubber movies before them, focused on the scientific achievements and engineering marvels. It makes sense, then, that glass pyramids of Future World’s Imagination pavilion would be where guests could find nods to this collection of films.

Starting off in the entry way of Journey Into Your Imagination with Figment, guests can see Weebo. Weebo was Professor Brainard’s robotic assistant in 1997’s Flubber. Weebo was voiced by Jodi Benson, most well-known for her vocal performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and following releases and media.

Weebo isn’t the last time we’re going to see a reference to Professor Brainard. Further on in the queue are both his picture on the wall, honoring him as one of the Imagination Institute’s Inventors of the Year, and his office door, complete with frosted glass that only slightly hides the dancing Flubber behind it. It is worth noting that Professor Brainard is featured in all of the Flubber films. In the original duology he is portrayed by Disney Legend, Fred MacMurray. In fact, MacMurrary was the first person honored as a Disney Legend. In the updated Flubber, which is the basis for all the film nods inside the Imagination Institute, Professor Brainard is depicted by Robin Williams.

As we leave the world of Professor Brainard behind and move into the films of Dexter Riley, the office hallway in the queue also feature another office door for a member of the Medfield College faculty, Dean Higgins. Dean Higgins figures prominently in the Dexter Riley films as the college’s dean who is, more often than not, plays the straight man to the antics of Dexter and his friends. It is a frazzled, put-upon role that Joe Flynn plays with ease in all three pictures.

Nods to Dexter himself come from our tour of the Imagination Institute through the attraction portion of Journey Into Imagination with Figment. A set of computer banks are visible during a turn between the Sound and Sight Labs, behind glass doors and large glass windows. In the window is a letterman’s jacket from Medfield and a sign that reads “No Tennis Shoes Allowed.” An obvious nod to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, where Kurt Russell’s Dexter receives a shock during the installation of a new computer at the school, happening during a thunderstorm of course, and becomes a human computer. Dexter eventually returns to normal, just as he would in later films when he becomes invisible and gains super strength.

Whether you are a fan of Brainard, Riley, Higgins and the rest of Medfield’s best and brightest, there is no denying that they deserve acknowledgement for the wealth of entertainment that they have provided us with over the years. While the real Medfield College is comprised of soundstages, various college campuses, and even a high school, we shout your praises to the sky, rah, rah, for proud are we of mighty Medfield!

13 August 2018

Before the Parade Passes By

Music is one of the core ingredients to creating a successful environment in the world of Disney theme parks. Most of the time, guests stroll through a given land or attraction space and don’t even take note of the soundtrack underscoring their adventure. On rare occasions they may hum along to a well-known song or theme, but stopping to take note of the music is not a beloved pastime when it comes to theme park touring. What I have found, however, is that the more my musical and cinematic IQ grows, the more I appreciate certain areas of the parks, and in no land do I take more notice of the background loop than when I am on Main Street, U.S.A.

The selections here actually consist of a large swathe of music, from songs that were popular at the turn of the century, to music from musical and theatrical productions that are set around the turn of the last century. Among these songs you may find Old Timers’ Waltz Medley, Dearie, Junk Man Rag, Before the Parade Passes By, Mary is a Grand Ol’ Name, Many a New Day, and Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby, just to name a few. This selection of songs comprises approximately half of the arrangements present on Main Street.

However, as I said in the opening, Main Street really takes on a life of its own for me when the song is from a play or film that I recognize. Thinking about productions that highlight turn of the century main streets from towns big and small, it should come as no surprise to find songs from musicals like Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. These musicals are filled with pure Americana, just the same way that Main Street is itself. Neither may be an authentic representation of what life was like during these times, but it is the image that we have created and kept for ourselves over the years.

A pair of Disney feature film musicals also have a series of selections highlighted on Main Street. Like the musicals above, they too are set in and around the early part of the last century, but aren’t as commonly known as some of Disney’s musicals like Mary Poppins. That said The Happiest Millionaire and Summer Magic fit the formula perfectly. The Happiest Millionaire, focuses on the lives of a well to do family, their fascination with alligators and Detroit, and a story of young love. Main Street features Fortuosity and Let’s Have a Drink On It from this film, and is partially responsible for my continued singing of Fortuosity around my house. Summer Magic, on the other hand, also features stories of young romance, but they are wrapped up in a tale of a down on their luck family being rescued from their fate by their saving grace, and town meddler, Burl Ives. It also features some of the most iconic, if under recognized, music of Main Street in the form of Flitterin’, Summer Magic, and Beautiful Beulah.

There is another song that blends the recipe for inclusion in the above categories. The song comes from a musical, but also turns up in a non-musical Disney film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the majority of guests who recognize Hello, Dolly’s Put On Your Sunday Clothes associate the song most closely with WALL-E. As this isn't the only song from Hello, Dolly present on Main Street, but is certainly the one that gets guests singing only strengthens my case.

Popular musicals are, on the whole, filled with memories and always waiting for someone to come along and revive them for the next generation. On occasion there is a definitive version of a production that gives it an iconic status and forever brands it into the popular lexicon. Folks like the aforementioned Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Music Man, and Oklahoma fit just such a mold. The gift that the music of Main Street has given me, however, is the ability to rummage through the Disney catalog and find wonderful movie moments that I hadn’t discovered before. The Happiest Millionaire and Summer Magic may not be classics by standard definitions, but they have given me a lot of joy and, in return, they add to my experience when I hear pieces of their soundtracks on Main Street.

Music and Main Street go hand in hand. Even if you aren’t paying attention to the soundtrack that leads you down the street, there’s a window to find where singing lessons occur. We would be remiss if we didn’t, at the very least, mention The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis that is performed a handful of times throughout the day on Main Street or the live on the spot recitals from the Dapper Dans.

The practices of creating a place in any theme park or resort rely heavily upon the skills and disciplines of filmmaking. Set design and storytelling are part of the formula, but the score is just as important to setting an appropriate scene. Main Street, U.S.A. has brought to life many songs and musicals for sharp eared guests, while conversely allowing guests to also appreciate musicals a bit more in their home movie viewing life. The effect can be summed up in a single word, Fortuosity. If you don’t happen to recognize this byword, may I suggest thinking of it in the same vein as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and then seek it out. It’ll enhance both your life away from the parks and your Main Street experience.

10 August 2018

Du Pain Frais

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day and French cuisine is one of the most important culinary traditions in the world, then, by simple reasoning, breakfast in France should be one of the most important meals ever. I’m not sure about all of that, though given their penchant for cafes, coffee, and pastries, I wouldn’t bet against it. What I do know for certain is that Epcot’s France pavilion is open for breakfast and not nearly enough people are taking advantage of this wonderful hideaway.

Just about everything on the menu or in the display case at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie can also be had for lunch and dinner. This means that, if you were so inclined you could have a cheese plate, macaron, or Napoleon for breakfast. It may give you a sugar rush to make it all the way up to Test Track in record time, but you will eventually come crashing back down to earth, probably before you make it over to Mission: SPACE.

For our breakfast rendezvous, we opted for a pair of more traditional breakfast items, the Croissant Jambon Fromage and the Roulé Lard and Fromage. Before we go any further, let’s simplify the names for everyone, the Croissant Jambon Fromage is a ham, cheese, and béchamel sandwich in a croissant. Similarly, the Roulé Lard and Fromage is a bacon and cheese roll.

For having to be cut and stuffed, the croissant is still as airy and flaky as you would expect a croissant to be. Some of the cheese, a variety of Swiss based on the flavors, and the béchamel have escaped around the edges of the croissant and have bubbled and blistered up to form a great little crust of cheese. Inside the croissant, the cheese and ham have been thinly sliced and layered upon a just as thin coating of the béchamel sauce. This sandwich has flavors that are mild enough not to shock the palate first thing in the morning, but hearty enough to keep you going until lunch, or that mid-morning snack you know you’re going to want.

The bacon and cheese roll on the other hand has a much more pronounced cheese flavor and the bacon is hard to miss. The bread component of the dish is dense and hearty, think of it as a savory cinnamon roll. The cheese smothers the top of the roll and is a notch stronger on the cheese scale than the croissant’s cheese, but not so much that it would deter almost anyone wishing to consume this pastry. The bacon is crumbled and scattered on top of the roll, held in place by the cheese. It has a nice flavor, but I would have expected a thicker cut or something more than Disney breakfast bacon for this one.

Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie is a treasure trove of pastry goodness no matter what time of day you visit. The fact that this bakery is open for breakfast still seems to be a fairly well kept secret as crowds are often minimal here in the early hours of the day. I highly recommend that you do yourself this favor: grab a cup of coffee or a latte, your favorite breakfast pastry, find a table out on La Petite Rue, listen to the French music, and enjoy the classic French activity of people watching.

08 August 2018

Fine Little Lion Cub

The Lion King has been a popular property around Walt Disney World going back to the film’s earliest days. In fact, Disney was so certain that The Lion King was going to be incredibly popular with guests that they began constructing an attraction even before the film was released. No, I’m not talking about Festival of the Lion King. There was another stage show that featured Simba and his friends, and enemies, in a retelling of the Simba’s story that lived in the Magic Kingdom, and the whole occasion was overseen by Rafiki.

The Legend of the Lion King resided in the heart of Fantasyland, in the storied space that had been previously occupied by Magic Journeys and the Mickey Mouse Revue, and which is the current home to Mickey’s PhilharMagic. The show’s run began in July of 1998, just two weeks after The Lion King’s theatrical release. The stage was a whopping 125 feet across, with enough square footage to cover the entire seating area, which had 500 individual seats, and still have stage space left over. The stage was home to massive sets, including an 18-foot Pride Rock that would rise out of the stage and had a 7-foot long, 6-foot tall Mufasa positioned on top of it.

The show featured both young and adult Simbas, Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, Scar, Nala, Zazu, Mufasa, the Hyenas, and other animal figures that were named Humanimals. Humanimals, a Disney coined phrase, was larger-than-life figures that required between 2 to eight individuals to operate. These puppets were designed by Chuck Faucett, who was also responsible for the puppets featured in Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The show wasn’t all Humanimals, however, the scenes performed onstage were intercut with scenes from the recently released film.

The Legend of the Lion King abbreviated the film version down, but kept many of the story and song elements intact. A second iteration of the show would debut in Disneyland Paris in June of 2004, but it was based more upon the Broadway production, with actors sharing the stage with elaborate costumes and puppetry. The original Fantasyland show would end its run in 2002 to make way for Mickey to return to the musical stage in PhilharMagic, leaving Festival of the Lion King as the sole show providing multiple songs and amusing antics from The Lion King in Walt Disney World. But, as they say, Hakuna Matata!

07 August 2018


Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, isn’t where the stars go to dine and rub elbows, unless you are looking for the characters taking part in Minnie’s Seasonal Dinner Dine (more on that in the future). Its garish neon sign pushes back all the signs of this being an old diner, complete with plate windows and metal framing on the outside. Once inside the restaurant, this buffet is bookended with decorations meant to solidify itself as a hub of Hollywood tourism. Oversized postcards depicting famous landmarks cover one wall while maps denoting famous locations around town adorn the opposite wall. It’s this map work that concerns us today.

Here, just near one of the Cast Members service stands, is a section of map depicting the Burbank area. Tucked away between San Fernando, Riverside Drive, Alameda, and Buena Vista sits a drawing of a few small buildings, tree-lined avenues, a water tower, and a soundstage all overseen by a sun-soaked cloud. The arrow pointing to this scene is scrawled in someone’s best attempt to copy Walt’s signature, not to mention their sketches of Mickey Mouse and an animator at work, but states this is the Walt Disney Studios. This map clearly comes from sometime after Walt and Roy moved the studio and their workforce to the Burbank location in 1940.

Prior to this move, the Disneys had worked out of several spaces on Kingswell Avenue in Los Feliz and later on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. Hyperion was where Disney developed some of their most groundbreaking work, including the multiplane camera, the first feature length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and, most importantly, the development of Mickey Mouse. Just about everything else we know and love Disney for, however, came out of the Burbank location. That doesn’t mean that the studio forgot about its roots, as a bungalow from the Hyperion site was moved to the Burbank lot during the construction of the new studio.

Built in large part because of Snow White’s success at the box office, the Burbank facility was specifically designed around the needs of animators and for the animation process. As years went by and live action became more of a focus, soundstages and exterior facades would pop up around the lot. While there were changes to the studio over the years, the most massive of which came in 1992 with an expansion that included additional facilities for ABC. Zorro, Mouseketeers, Fantasia, Mary Poppins, and more animated features than you can name came from this hallowed ground. Seems fitting then to give the Burbank lot a place on a map, inside of a restaurant, that’s part of a park which celebrates all things Hollywood, doesn’t it?

01 August 2018

The Choice Between Walt Disney World and Fried Bugs

The Muppets have a storied history with Walt Disney World. From the early Disney-MGM Studios’ attractions of Here Come the Muppets and Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses, to their long-running 3D spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D, the ragtag group of entertainers have had a place in the parks for almost 30 years. Of course, it helps when you film a television special in the parks too.

The Muppets at Walt Disney World aired on The Magical World of Disney on May 6, 1990. The show’s premise was that Kermit was going home to the swamp for his family reunion, but once everyone found out that the swamp was right next door to Walt Disney World they proceeded to sneak in to experience the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, and the recently opened Disney-MGM Studios. Of course, they were pursued by Disney security in the form of Quentin Fitzwaller, also known as Charles Grodin. A young Raven-Symone also played a crucial role as a young girl who cheers up Kermit by singing Rainbow Connection.

One the Muppet side of things, all of your favorites are present and accounted for: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, the Electric Mayhem, and the list goes on. The special, which was only one hour long, also featured some deeper cuts like Beauregard, Kermit’s nephew, Robin, and Fozzie Bear’s mom, Emily Bear. The collection gets into all sorts of antics and experience a ton of attractions, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, trash cans (a paper and straw exhibit according to Gonzo), and Miss Piggy even manages to get herself stuck in cement outside of the Great Movie Ride.

The Muppets at Walt Disney World also has a bittersweet place in Muppets history, as it is the last time Jim Henson would perform as Kermit, along with other characters in his repertoire. In fact, Henson would pass away only ten days after the special aired.

Below are a selection of photos from the special, posed publicity shots, and even a behind the scenes look that includes Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson portraying Kermit and Robin respectively.

30 July 2018

Bold Flavors of the Islands

With multiple construction projects happening on or around the Caribbean Beach Resort property, it has become one of those no man land’s type of areas that many guests stay away from. While we didn’t notice much in the way of inconveniences when we were there, the closure of the main dining facility would seem to put a crimp in any vacation. If you are willing to explore the resort fully, however, you may just find some treasure buried at the back of the resort in the Trinidad South section.

Spyglass Grill opened late this spring and is following the recent trend of pool eateries that go above and beyond expectation. The restaurant is a walk-up window with a small covered porch overlooking Barefoot Bay and, one day soon, the Skyliner hub. Spyglass Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, alongside some sweet treats and cocktails. We visited for lunch and opted for the Caribbean Taco Trio and the Crispy Yuca Bowl.

The taco trio is unique in that you get to pick the tacos you would like in your trio and how many of each. Protein choices include jerk chicken, beef with black bean, vegan black bean, and spiced fish. In order to give as full of a review as possible, we opted for one each of the beef, fish, and chicken. Each taco starts in a flour tortilla and comes with pickled vegetable slaw, cilantro-lime crema, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo. As a side dish the taco trio comes with plantain and yuca chips, although on the day we visited this seemed to be all yuca all the time and very little in the way of plantain chips.

Let’s start with the biggest concern when you hear phrases like “spiced fish” or “jerk chicken,” the heat level. None of the choices were overly spicy. In fact, while you would get a hint of Caribbean flavors, much of these flavors were almost bland and became vehicles for the crema, pico, cotija, and pickled vegetables. I’m not complaining, these were wonderful accompaniments, but I was hopeful for a bit more heat coming from the protein choices. That said, keeping the flavors mild will allow for anyone to sample these tacos and not have to worry about heat. The tacos themselves aren’t giant shells the size of your head, so three makes for a perfect portion for lunch, and the freshness is something I didn’t expect from a small side restaurants at a moderate resort.

Moving on to the Crispy Yuca Bowl, this was a complete winner. It comes with chunks of crispy yuca, think home fries, that are topped with black beans, pico de gallo, cilantro, and cotija cheese, with a lime wedge to squeeze on as you see fit. Think a bowl of hash or Caribbean poutine, and you’ll be in just about the right wheelhouse for this dish. The bowl is large, but it looks deceptively small. Once you start digging in, you’ll find that there is a ton of heavy food in here and you may even have a hard time devouring the whole dish. I didn’t, but it could happen!

The yuca is crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The texture and flavors are similar to a potato, but just a little sweeter, though not as sweet as a sweet potato. The black beans are firm and well-seasoned, the cotija cheese is rich and creamy, and the pico, cilantro, and lime just add to the party in each bite. This is a hearty meal, and may not seem like much, but it was delicious from the first bite to the very last scraping from the bottom of the bowl.

Spyglass Grill also serves up Cuban sandwiches and burgers, desserts, specialty coffees, and cocktails. I for one had an Island Margarita on the Rock with my meal, and while it wasn’t anything to write home about, it definitely was better than most pool bar drinks I’ve had.

I will admit to having low expectations of Spyglass Grill when we arrived, but my opinion was quickly altered. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors pop, and there was very little I had to complain about. Maybe Spyglass Grill isn’t on the top destinations for dining in Walt Disney World, but I would definitely revisit the restaurant, regardless of whether or not I was staying at Caribbean Beach. The next time you’re in the area, I highly recommend pulling your boat up to the dock and discovering your own dining treasure.

26 July 2018

The Endless Corridors of Time

Construction photos offer us glimpses into how a beloved attraction or area came to be, even if the subject matter has long since departed Walt Disney World. Even today, as new lands and attractions spring up we crane our necks and cameras along and over walls or search out the last flyover video to catch just a hint that we can dream about until their grand debut. These moments are grand and can be epic in scale. And yet, sometimes it is the smallest of details that linger and leave their mark on us for years. Case in point, the fountain in front Spaceship Earth.

The fountain today has kept the base generally the same, with smooth tiles replaced by asymmetrical stonework. Missing, however, are the three prisms that used to spring up from the center of the fountain. The three, clear Lucite statues featured the EPCOT Center logo at each of their tops and welcomed guests from 1982 until the 1990s. Depending on the time of day, the prisms would reflect light, natural and lighting effects, and the water causing some wonderful effects.

Time was not kind to the monoliths, as they aged they would gain a yellowish tint, and when the motif of Future World changed just before the turn of the century they were officially retired.

One of the perspectives I haven’t often seen of these original, beautiful ornamentations is their installation. In this photograph you can see the first pillar being fitted atop the fountain. It’s not a monumental moment in Walt Disney World history, but it is a great moment for those who remember, and cherish, the originality of EPCOT Center.

25 July 2018

Courtesy of Santa's Helpers

Christmas comes but once a year, but there are those who carry it in their hearts all year long. In Walt Disney World there are multiple locations both in the parks and also in Disney Springs where you can celebrate Christmas any day or season of the year. In the Magic Kingdom’s Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, there are a couple of special ways that children can get into the spirit that are worth taking note of and taking the time to experience the next time you’re in the park.

First up comes to young guests who are some of the earliest guests to visit the Liberty Square Christmas showcase each morning. A single tree in the shop is left undecorated at park opening, waiting for a magical moment when a child can be found who can decorate the tree as they see fit. This doesn’t mean that they get to run amuck in the store and put whatever decorations that they want on the tree, but there is a fair assortment of decorations, usually those comprised of softer, less breakable materials, that they can choose from. Beyond that, the tree is theirs to decorate as they see fit.

It bemuses me to look at the decorated tree, complete with Magical Moments sign, and note how most of the ornaments are clustered together in clumps all around the bottom of the tree, with the upper branches almost completely bare, save for the ornament or two that they allowed their parents to help with. Just watching the wonder and joy in children’s eyes when they’re asked, as they’re decorating, and when they stop and step back to admire their work is all the gift that most of the adults in the store need. If that doesn’t get you believing in Santa, I don’t know what will!

Actually, I have another activity that just might do the trick.

Tucked away in another corner of Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe is a table just tall enough for Santa’s most avid believers. On the table is an assortment of Christmas scene coloring sheets, a variety of crayons and other coloring tools, and letter templates. I can’t think of a more magical place to pen a letter to Santa, than inside the Magic Kingdom. Once a child has finished their letter, and coloring sheet to Mr. Claus if they’re so inclined to provide a gift, they can bundle it up and send it along in the letter box right there on the table. That’s right, no adult help is required for a young guest to send their season’s greetings, and wish list, along to Santa.

During most times of year these two activities aren’t all that highly sought after, but as the days grow shorter and the holiday mood starts to fall over us one and all, getting into the shop early enough to decorate the tree becomes harder and harder. Likewise, the letters to Santa station will get a little cramped by small artists and well-wishers. My advice to you is to get there earlier in the year, like now for Christmas in July, and capture the moment before the holiday rush. Then you can treasure ye olde Christmas memories from Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe without the hassle of the store being overrun!

23 July 2018

Dead or Alive

Frontierland, like the rest of the Magic Kingdom, is filled with stories, story tales, and fictions. There are a few corners of the small western town, however, that takes some of the most fantastic true life anecdotes and sprinkles them in with the tall tales. Of course, in the immortal words of Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This edict is precisely what Disney has down with some of the wanted posters along the exit of the Frontierland Station of the Walt Disney World Railroad.

The first set of posters depict three outlaws who knew each other well. Quantrill is short for William Clarke Quantrill, a bandit who worked mostly in Missouri and Kansas and utilized guerrilla strategies, some of the most brutal tactics, to apprehend runaway slaves before becoming a pro-Confederate gun-for-hire whose bandits were known as Quantrill’s Rangers. In 1965, just after Lee surrendered to Grant, Quantrill was injured by Union forces during a skirmish in Kentucky. He would succumb to those wounds in just a few weeks.

Two of the more notable villains to ever ride as a part of Quantrill’s Rangers were the brothers, Jesse and Frank James. As part of the James-Younger Gang, they would commit bank robberies and raids on trains from Iowa and Texas all the way back to West Virginia. Jesse was shot by Robert Ford, but Frank would go on to turn himself in, be acquitted, and held odd jobs the rest of his life. The posting here of their wanted status as dead, speaks to the heinous nature of some of their crimes.

In the second posting box, we pick up with the Younger side of the James-Younger Gang, with the brothers Cole, Jim, and Bob, though there was a fourth brother as well, John. Party to the bank and train robberies, they would meet their end in a robbery gone wrong. A raid on the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota went sideways and the entire gang, including all of the Younger brothers, was killed. The only two to make it out alive were Frank and Jesse James.

While his counterpart is posted here, Butch Cassidy and his partner, the Sundance Kid, terrorized banks and trains throughout the latter portion of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. Their gang, the Wild Bunch, received the most notoriety, not to mention a massive manhunt, from their robbery of the Union Pacific’s Overland Flyer in 1899. Butch and Sundance, along with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place, fled to South America in 1901. Though it is believed the pair were killed during a standoff with law enforcement in San Vicente, Bolivia, there are those who dispute when and where the pair died.

On the last pair of postings on the walkway down from the train station, we start with John Wesley Hardin, also known as Little Arkansas. Hardin is your typical gunslinger who got in trouble early and often for murder and lived his life on the run. He would have a pair of encounters with another legendary gunslinger, Wild Bill Hickok, before eventually being captured and serving seventeen years for his crimes. Once freed, he passed the bar, but never strayed too far from the short-temper and quick-draw that had made him a folk hero. It would be his heated words with a lawman that would lead to his death in 1895.

Last, but certainly not least, on our greatest hits of the west’s most wanted is Sam Bass. A train robber by trade, Bass would be a part of a gang that pulled off one of the largest train heists at that time, the 1877 robbery of a Union Pacific locomotive for $60,000. He would attempt to form his own gang sometime later, but the success of his early gang would never be duplicated for him. A member of his gang would turn against him and the information he provided to the Texas Rangers allowed them to set-up an ambush for Bass. During his attempt to flee the shootout he was shot and killed.

From the way most of these short tales ended here today it's clear that crime may only pay in the short term. You may get a pretty wanted poster like these gentlemen did along the railway depot’s exit, but in the end all that you’re left with is a story. With Frontierland being so imbued with fabled tales of the west, there wasn’t much need to include some of the real life villains who prowled the frontier. Yet, it adds that certain bit of grit to the story that makes me love Frontierland even more!

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!