25 March 2019

They ARE Bowling Balls

This fun little one-panel comic strip feels reminiscent of The Far Side, but was around decades before that strip. In this clipping posted on the bulletin board of the Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen, shows a monkey having climbed a tree after a coconut. He yells down to his friend, “By golly, you’re right, Sam! They ARE bowling balls!” It’s witty, good for a momentary chuckle, before moving on through the rest of the funny pages. The cartoon is signed by Walt Disney, but most of us have likely never heard of Merry Menagerie, which means that there is a story here worth uncovering.

Let’s start off with that signature. Walt Disney may have his name on the bottom of each Merry Menagerie cartoon, but this isn’t his artwork. In fact, by the time this specific cartoon ran in 1954, Walt hadn’t been drawing characters himself for decades.

The credit for Merry Menagerie artwork actually to Bob Grant, whose other comic strip creations of Pluto, Little Hiawatha, and Scamp are more readily recognized. On the script side of the strip was Bob Karp, better known for his work on between 1938 and 1974. Remarkably, Grant and Karp were the complete Merry Menagerie team for the strip’s entire fifteen year run.

Merry Menagerie was a single panel comic strip that ran from 1947 through 1962 and was distributed through King Features Syndicate. While the style of the comic is distinctly Disney, there were no recognizable characters in the strip. Furthermore, none of the animals that appeared in a given strip were recurring characters, meaning each day’s comic strip was self-contained and needed no other knowledge to be enjoyed.

While Merry Menagerie isn’t readily recognized today, it definitely has a Disney feel to it and it plays well with the story and comedy of the Skipper Canteen. In fact, I can absolutely see a Jungle Cruise skipper reading this and remarking about how one of their fellow skippers would totally mistake a coconut for a bowling ball as they pinned the cartoon to the bulletin board.

21 March 2019

Fort Wilderness is Growing

In 1971 Fort Wilderness opened in Walt Disney World later than its two resort siblings, the Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Village. The campground, however, never ceased to stop growing in its first decade. It had originally opened with 250 campsites, with the Fort Wilderness Railroad riding the rails in 1973, and Pioneer Hall, with its Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, springing up in 1974. By 1975, however, it was clear that further growth was needed.

Fort Wilderness had maintained an occupancy rate of 83% by 1975. Keep in mind that this is for a campground where it does get wet and cold for a few months out of the year in Florida, and yet guests continued to pop up their tents and pull in their trailers. An expansion was planned to open in 1976 and would include 118 new campsites, the Meadows Swimmin’ Pool, snack bar, and arcade, and Walt Disney World’s first water park, River Country.

With all of the construction taking place in Fort Wilderness, it was bound to disturb the natural beauty and tranquility of the campground that guests had come to know and love. To head off potential complaints, as much as one could head off complaints, Fort Wilderness whipped up a charming little flyer that not only explained the construction but could be used for promotion of all the things coming in the next year. Surely, more than one family booked another trip to the campground based upon this flyer filled with classic Disney charm.

19 March 2019

A Handsome Man

The stories of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto are many, and its place within the story of Disney’s mythology is complex. It is a vast storehouse of artifacts that tie in to many adventures of the Disney films, attractions, and stories. It resides in a space that recognizes both what has come before, the Adventurers Club, and where the current home to escapades, the Society of Explorers and Adventurers or S.E.A. There is overlap between the two adventure seeking organizations, but it is Trader Sam’s tie to a particular individual of the Adventurers Club that I’m most interested in at the moment.

Trader Sam clearly values his friends and colleagues, as many of the correspondences that he has received are framed and placed upon the walls of the Grog Grotto. One postcard reads, “There is a man, a handsome man. As adventurous as he can be. And our friend Trader Sam, actually knows this man… it’s me.” It is signed H, and is most certainly a callback to the days where the only home for adventures could be found on Pleasure Island.

The H in question is none other than Hathaway Brown, the Adventurers Club’s resident aviator and ladies’ man. Often found with a drink in his hand and an innuendo on his lips, Hathaway was definitely bold and daring if, at times, his runway seemed a bit short.

The postcard actually references one of the longstanding traditions of the Adventurers Club, the improvisation of “When the Saints Go Marching In” by various citizens of the Adventurers Club during the Hoopla show. This segment included verses that mocked or played up certain members of the club, or patrons in the audience. While each show and segment was unique, there were a couple of verses of “When the Saints Go marching In” that would come up from time to time. In this instance, Hathaway would use the same quote as is present on the back of Trader Sam’s postcard, but instead of referencing Sam, Hathaway’s song would instead call out the club’s treasurer, Otis Wren.

There is a lot of overlap between Trader Sam’s, the Adventurers Club, and the S.E.A., but perhaps the most noteworthy is their sense of fun. Hathaway’s chide, whether directed at either Otis T. Wren or Trader Sam, is a quirky reminder of that spirit. It also reminds us that while something may be gone, it still can live on with us.

13 March 2019

Soon 200,000,000

I love this photo! This collection of entertainers, Cast Members, and characters are coming together to celebrate a guest milestone that hasn’t even happened yet. Regardless of the current “Long Lost Friends” promotion that has some of these characters back out on Main Street, U.S.A., there are still some of these faces we barely see anymore. I’m looking at you, Walrus from Alice in Wonderland!

The real drive of this photo, however, is that everyone is excited and the anticipation is building for the 200,000,000 guest’s arrival. This photo was taken during May of 1985, with the 200,000,000 guest expected to come through the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom sometime in July of that year. The theme of 1985’s summer was the Star Spangled Summer Salute to America, which I assume was taken off of a suggestion card from the Muppet, Sam the American Eagle, on a visit to Walt Disney World.

Attendance had grown at the Vacation Kingdom since the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, which would help the resort reach the landmark attendance number within its first fifteen years of operation. Using 2017 statistics, the latest available, Walt Disney World is averaging 52,000,000 guests per year, which means it would only take four years to reach the same goal in the present day. Now, both figures include guests that visited multiple parks, but isolating individual guests doesn’t make those crowd levels and packed walkways seem any less busy.

We haven’t seen a large group photo like this in Walt Disney World in a while, which is a shame. I love the comradery and the sense of purpose and mission the photo seems to capture as they all look forward to a common goal. Not to mention being happy about what you’re working towards!

11 March 2019

Have a Fine Day

Harambe Market opened to the public in 2015 and with it came sausages, skewers, pita, and unique sides. Disney’s Animal Kingdom had always been near the forefront of reinventing what our perception of theme park food could be, but Harambe Market, with its kiosks and atypical flavor spectrum, kicked the whole thing up a notch.

This dining venue also raised the level of realism and detail that a dining room could have. Harambe Market is an outdoor market in the truest sense of the word, and one that would be right at home not only in corners of Africa, but throughout much of the world. Tables are put together with whatever chairs and wood could be drummed up. Stalls, some with roofs and some without, are set-up all along the periphery of the market. The market is so close to a mode of transportation, in this case the train station of the now shuttered Wildlife Express, you could watch a locomotive pass by as you eat. Then there are the wares themselves.

There are postings of every kind, from hand carved wooded advertisements, painted scraps of wood, and even paper posters melting in the rain. Each of these promote either a basic need being met or a a sector of the economy, tourism, from entertainment and travel, to medicine, housing, and more. It is also worth noting that what we consider to be male dominated fields, such as plumbing, here are brought to the community through a pair of sisters.

The people of Harambe are proud of how they make a living and in what they are selling, and it shows in their displays. There are baskets neatly hung between a clump of trees in the middle of the dining area. A sign for the stall makes use of a license plate for its base, but proclaims that these are, in fact, the "Best Baskets." The same care has been shown to building materials, clothes, kitchen wares, and even decorative home goods. Let us not forget the artisans who have added works of art throughout Harambe Market. True, their art isn’t for sale, but any true artist knows it is publicity and word of mouth that are the real test of your craft.

Words can only do this area so much justice, so let’s take a tour through the Harambe Market in some pictures.

18 February 2019

Serving You Since 1952

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is filled with clever gags that play with the rock and roll genre, in particular the songs of Aerosmith. The queue is littered with plays on the name rock ‘n’ roll, including Lock ‘n’ Roll Parking, Rock Rack Magazine, Rock ‘n’ Rollaway dumpsters, while songs by Aerosmith are also highlighted, such as payment instructions for the parking lot including the instructions “Swipe Card and Just Push Pay,” a nod to the band’s song Just Push Play. Yet, underneath the glitz and glamor of rock ‘n’ roll, there’s also a nod to a longstanding Disney name.

As you leave the recording studio and make your way down to your super stretch limo, you are given very little room with which to maneuver due to the construction taking place. The fencing forms your own personal rock ‘n’ roll tunnel, and is provided the Buena Vista Fence Co. Buena Vista is fairly common when it comes to the world of Disney. In fact, part of Walt Disney World itself is located inside of Lake Buena Vista, though the lake itself was known as Black lake before Disney moved in. As always, there’s more to a name, and this sign.

The sign for Buena Vista Fence Co. states that they have been in service since 1952. In reality, Buena Vista was the distributor of Walt Disney Studios beginning after Peter Pan’s release in 1953, although the subsidiary was set up in 1952 and some of the existing contracts with RKO Pictures required pictures to be distributed under their banner until 1956. Buena Vista remained a primary distributor for film and television through 2007, when many of the Buena Vista brands were given more readily recognizable names, such as Walt Disney Motion Pictures and Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

The name Buena Vista comes up in a smattering of other places as well. There is the above mentioned Lake Buena Vista. Guests of Disney California Adventure can also walk down Buena Vista Street, the front area of the park that acts as California Adventure’s Main Street, U.S.A. The real Buena Vista Street, however, can be found in Burbank, CA and includes, among its other residents, the Team Disney headquarters.

There is one last little tidbit from the Buena Vista Fence Co.’s sign that we should acknowledge, and that is their telephone number. Provided as 544-6500, the number leaves out the area code. While Orlando’s area code may be 407, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has transported us to California where we would be much better off using the area code 818. Why, you ask? Because when paired with the number we are given on the sign, we would be put straight through to the front desk of Walt Disney Imagineering. I do wonder how many smart-alecky people with Google and an itch dialing finger have called this number while in line looking for fencing.

There are a ton of puns and a lot of clever wordplay to be discovered throughout the queue of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, most a play on words with rock ‘n’ roll as the star or having a significant tie to an Aerosmith song title. The Buena Vista Fence Co. serves to remind us of who has built the imaginary world we’re walking through. And I must say that they build a fairly sturdy fence!

14 February 2019

From the Archives - You'll Love Me at Once

In recent years, we've seen Walt Disney World turn a day of celebrating true love and commitment into a focal point for villains. Sometimes all a villain really needs is a hug and someone the bow down to their every whim, and what a better way to say I serve only you than through a proclamation during Villaintine's Day! It's a fun way to stretch outside of the typical Valentine berm and inject some fresh blood into the mix.

That said, I'm still partial to the romantic side and original intent of the holiday. With that in mind, let's tiptoe back into the archives and talk about when Walt Disney World had a special party just for the occasion!

You'll Love Me at Once - Originally Published 13 February 2015

When thinking of holiday events at Walt Disney World the two that jump right out at everyone are Christmas and Halloween, in particular the special parties put on by the Magic Kingdom. Certainly, there are special meals for Thanksgiving, egg hunts for Easter, and a variety of offerings for St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Earth Day, and all the other holidays in between, but they aren’t given the special attention that Christmas and Halloween parties afford their namesake days. That said, that wasn't always the case.

During the early years of Walt Disney World, and dating back even further at Disneyland, special ticketed parties occurred all year long. Take, for example, this ticket for the Valentine Party from 1976.

The party in 1976 actually took place on the day before Valentine’s Day, on Friday the 13th, the same way the holiday falls this year. Like the holiday parties of today, the park would close and guests were given run of the park’s attractions and there was special entertainment. In 1976, the entertainment included performances from the gospel/soul/R&B group, The Staple Singers.

It may make me smirk that the Shooting Gallery still required an additional charge, but the overall cost of the event, $6.95, would have been a bargain any day of the week. In fact, it was roughly the cost of 5 gallons of milk that same year. How many of us wouldn't love to get into the Magic Kingdom’s holiday parties in 2015 for that same comparative price?!?!

The parties for other holidays may have faded away with the passage of time, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate special days at the parks of Walt Disney World. Party or not, how would you celebrate the day at the Magic Kingdom with your valentine?

07 February 2019

Full Irish

Brunch is a sacred meal around my house. We don’t go out for it as often as we would like on the weekends, and we don’t prepare it in our own kitchen nearly enough. It is one of those meals that we have specific places where we know we’re going to get the best of breakfast and lunch, and it is a special treat when we are able to get up, out of the house, and spend a quiet meal gobbling up some of our favorite dishes. It is rare that we take the time for brunch when we’re at Walt Disney World, but Raglan Road has a brunch dish that I just couldn’t stay away from.

The brunch entree is called the Full Irish, and it certainly lives up to its name. The menu lists the elements on the plate as sausage, black pudding, white pudding, bacon, roasted tomato, mushrooms, fried egg, and roasties. I should clarify a couple of the items listed there. The bacon is true bacon, meaning it is much more akin to country ham than to the typical buffet, breakfast, grocery store bacon. Roasties, meanwhile, is just a simplified term for roasted potatoes. Lastly, as I am not a fan of eggs, you’ll notice this review is sans the fried egg.

Let’s start with the most common elements found on the plate. The sausage is flavored well with savory spices and isn’t thin and floppy like many breakfast sausages. The grilled mushrooms are spot on and tasty, and the same can be said for the juicy grilled tomato, although I think my tomato could have spent a couple of more seconds on the grill just to be safe. The roasties are similar to hasbrowns, but definitely cut thicker. I liked how dry they were, but I can see how the egg would make them more palatable for others. The bacon is thick cut, salty, and wonderful. Seriously, you couldn’t ask for more out of the bacon.

Moving on to the two components that probably confuse or make most Americans a little nervous, the black and white puddings, but let me help ease your trepidation. Actually, I’m probably going to scare a few more of you right at the start, but stick with me. Black and white puddings are very similar in many respects, except that black pudding contains blood as one of its ingredients. The squeamish among guests is probably why they don’t refer to the black pudding by its more common name, blood pudding. These are, for lack of a better description, another form of sausage. The contain pork, sometime beef, oats, and spices that are prepared and then kept for future consumption. They are very savory, especially the white pudding, and are delicious. The black pudding has a bit of a metallic twinge to it, but it isn’t as noticeable as you would think. While these are not traditional American breakfast staples, they date back to medieval times, so you know that chefs have had plenty of time to perfect their recipes.

I am half Irish and my wife is one-hundred percent Irish, and this breakfast hits us in all the right comfort food places! There may be one or two unfamiliar items on Raglan Road’s Full Irish that cause you a bit of hesitation, but I promise the flavors, smells, and satisfaction this meal will bring you should definitely outweigh any hesitation you might have. There are several wonderful brunch spots scattered around Walt Disney World, and Raglan Road has assuredly earned its place at the table.

05 February 2019

To Infinity and My Foot

Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Land are the new shiny toys of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, at least until the arrival of Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Every attraction has its day and then it settles into its routine after a couple of years or the next big attraction comes along. That’s not always a negative, Space Mountain has been around since 1975 and still draws some of the biggest crowds in the Magic Kingdom. It is the lifecycle of attractions, but on rare occasions an attraction can reemerge in its popularity, and we’re all the better for it.

The toys are back in town in a big way right now, they have a new land of backyard wonder that opening in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2018. It reversed how guests enter one of its headlining attractions, Toy Story Mania, the Midway portion of the name vanished in 2018, while adding to the dining and attraction offerings found in this corner of the park. Toy Story Land is the area of the park that guests flood into first thing in the morning and Slinky Dog’s Dash has become the Fastpass to acquire ahead of your trip. And all of this means it’s time for Toy Story Mania to up its game, literally.

When Toy Story Mania first opened in 2008 it included six carnival style 3D games, Pie Throw Practice, Hamm & Eggs, Bo Peep’s Baaa-loon Pop, Green Army Men Shoot Camp, Buzz Lightyear’s Flying Tossers, and Woody’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Gallery. Just two short years later, however, Bo Peep got the crook and was replaced by Rex and Trixie’s Dino Darts in May of 2010. This change was to include characters from the upcoming Toy Story 3, which would be arriving in theaters in June of that year. Trixie wasn’t the only addition from the film, Buttercup, Lotso, and others appear as either in-game characters or in artwork visible throughout the attraction.

I’ll be completely honest, I’m not big on screen-based attractions as a whole. Certainly attractions like Star Tours and Flight of Passage have their places in the world of theme entertainment, but I really love tangible environments. Toy Story Mania is fun, aside from the arm cramp it gives me, but there’s something special about Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin that Toy Story Mania doesn’t have in my book. There is a way in which Toy Story Mania is superior to Space Ranger Spin, and we alluded to it just above, it is in its ability to change out games.

The ability to incorporate characters, thematic elements, and new types of games is a wonderful way to keep Toy Story Mania fresh. It’s been almost ten years since the last refresh and with Toy Story 4 hitting theaters this summer, I’m willing to bet that a new game is on the horizon, but maybe not as soon as everyone thinks. With the new land being such a hit, there isn’t anything driving Disney to keep attendance up at Toy Story Mania. Give it another year or two and then I believe we’ll see a plussing of the current offering of games.

Could Bo Peep make a triumphant return, as she appears primed to do with the film series? It’s possible, but I’m willing to put my money on two other grizzled carnival game veterans, Bunny and Ducky. The game, which there are still plenty of carnival type games not currently found in the attraction, could slot in where Green Army Men Shoot Camp is, or possibly even in place of Hamm & Eggs. I think Buzz and Woody are definitely safe from any upgrades, as would be Rex & Trixie’s Dino Darts, considering it was the most recent addition.

The pair of Bunny and Ducky, portrayed by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key respectively, have made two appearances so far. Light spoilers ahead for anyone wanting to not see anything toy Story 4 before they get to the theater. In one it is a reaction to the teaser trailer that had been released and an argument around what exactly is said in Buzz Lightyear’s “To infinity…” catchphrase. In the second, the tv spot that aired during the Super Bowl this past weekend they get up close and personal with Buzz on a carnival prize rack.

I don’t know when, or even if, Toy Story Mania will be rotating in a new game anytime soon, but it was one of the selling points of the original attraction, the ability to slot in a new game with relative ease. With Toy Story ramping up in popularity again, it would only make sense to begin planning for a possible exchange of games. Especially when you have a dynamic duo perfect for making the jump from the big screen carnival to the game screen carnival.