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!

02 July 2018

Continental Fare


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

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

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

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

ANIMATOR’S PALATE

Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes

Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup

Arugula Leaves

Sesame Halloumi Parcels

Ginger-Teriyaki Dusted Angus Beef Tenderloin

Lemon Icebox Pie

Appetizer Sampler Platter

Caesar Salad

Prince Charming’s Portobello Triangoli

Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

ENCHANTED GARDEN

Applewood Smoked Bacon Wild Mushroom Tart

Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower

Northern Atlantic Lobster Ravioli

Cream of Green Asparagus Soup

Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Pan-Seared Sea Bass

Orange Yogurt Cake

Warm Sticky Date Pudding

Aged Prosciutto

Oysters Rockefeller on the Half Shell

Marinated Tiger Shrimp

Beef Steak Tomato and Vidalia Onion Salad

Lemon Fennel Salad

Pan-Seared Venison Medallions

Oven-Baked Lobster Tail

Old Fashioned Apple Pie

Apricot Trio

ROYAL COURT

Gaston’s Escargot Gratinee

French Onion Soup

Farmhouse Salad

Red Wine Bosc Pear Salad

Roasted Rack of Lamb

Chateaubriand-Roasted Filet Steak

Grand Marnier Soufflé

Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulee