26 August 2019

Welcome to Our Tropical Hideaway

There are some places that, just by their very names, seem to insinuate that they are the best kept secret around Disney property. At the very least you would expect these locales to be slightly less crowded than your average sidewalk in one of the parks. For some of these locations, particularly the eateries, it would appear that the secret is out. Today’s review comes from a case in this delicious point, Disneyland’s Tropical Hideaway. I happened upon its tropical shores my first day in Disneyland on my last trip and it became a regular watering hole for me, only substitute the libations for soft-serve and bao buns.

Let’s start with the Adventureland staple, Dole Whip. While the regular Dole Whips haven’t gone anywhere, the Tropical Hideaway has added new swirl combinations, orange and pineapple along with pineapple and raspberry, but they have also loaded these whips up with all kinds of delicious additions to form a pair of loaded whips. The Orange-Pineapple Swirl Whip includes chunks of mandarin oranges, pineapple, shaved coconut, chocolate-covered Pocky sticks, and crystallized hibiscus. If it sounds as if they threw a good portion of the sweet aisle into a blender and then plopped it into the kitchen sink, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, that doesn’t make it any less pretty to look at or any less scrumptious to eat. Yes, it is super sweet and a lot of the flavors mingle together to make it hard to distinguish orange for hibiscus, but you’re on vacation it should be a little fun, right? I will say that the fruit pieces added a nice texture to the dish, and I swear that I didn’t order more than two or three the entire time I was in Disneyland.

Let’s move on towards something a bit more savory, the bao buns. These come in three varieties, Lime Chicken, Bulgogi Beef, and Spiced Vegetable. Over the course of my many excursions to Tropical Hideaway I managed to sample both the beef and chicken varieties, there was also ice cream to eat remember. The buns are steamed and served warm and, for a little extra, you can also have some spicy sauce on the side. The Lime-Chicken bun has a filling that also includes butternut squash and fresh herbs, giving it a mouth feel that reminded me of Thanksgiving, but with more of a citrusy punch. The Bulgogi Beef bun, meanwhile, has sweet chilies and potatoes and is perfect for those who favor the combination of sweet and savory. The bao buns have a ton of filling, but there is also a substantial portion of dough, which is where the spicy sauce shines. It’s not overly hot, but there is definitely an element of heat here which I welcomed, but that may not be pleasant for less adventurous eaters.

If you’re looking for something cooler and refreshing during the hot summer months, but aren’t looking to make a meal out of ice cream, let me also recommend the Chilled Ramen Shaker. This tumbler comes filled with ramen noodles, shredded carrots, and other vegetables, with side accompaniments that include Togarashi cashews and a cup of Asian vinaigrette dressing. I will tell you up front that I made the mistake of tossing the cashews into the shaker with the dressing and shaking everything up, when I should have kept the cashews separate and nibbled on them every couple of bites, instead of constantly trying to dig through the tumbler looking for the lost nuts. As I said before, this was cool and refreshing, with a lot of tangy flavors. The tumbler actually hides how much food is in the cup, but when paired with a bao bun, I was unable to finish the entire shaker.

The Tropical Hideway is tucked away behind the Enchanted Tiki Room, which means there is an influx of new possible diners at the conclusion of every show. However, if you catch a nice window of time when the masses aren’t overrunning this out of the way eatery, you can have a lovely meal or snack, in the shade, overlooking the Jungle cruise boats reentering civilization, with Rosita practicing her act of corny jokes on you. Whether you’re looking for a bao bun, a crisp shaker, or some refreshing soft serve, it’s no secret that you should definitely set a course of the Tropical Hideaway, you lucky people you!

15 August 2019

The Enchanted Neighbourhood

On our upcoming trip, as we have for so many trips, the missus and I will be staying at Pop Century. We don’t tend to spend much time at our resort, opting instead for park or resort hopping time, and it ends up being a place to sleep, shower, and store our belongings. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll decorate the room more than most, but at the end of the day it is a brief pit stop before launching ourselves out into the larger Walt Disney World complex of activities. Since the rooms received their refurbishment, not to mention the proximity to the Skyliner, Pop has once again become a place that I want to stay at, not one that I’m forced to stay at, however there is one piece of the resort that irks me, and it comes from the 1970s section.

For those that are unfamiliar with the layout of Pop Century, the resort is broken up into sections dedicated to the decades of the latter half of the last century. Three buildings represent the 1950s, two for the 1960s, another pair for the 1970s, two for the 1980s, and one for the 1990s. To be fair the 1980s and 1990s tend to comprise one section combined, but given that the resort opened in 2003 and was in development long before that, it almost feels that the 1990s building was more of an afterthought. Each of these sections includes larger than life characters from films of the era along with artifacts common to the representative decade. For instance, the 1960s features Baloo and Mowgli, Play-Doh, and Duncan yo-yos anchoring buildings with very groovy sayings plastered on the banisters.

Here is where I nitpick and find my compulsive desire for everything to match up with one another, which means you can feel free to roll your eyes at me. The 1970s, replete with its Big Wheel, foosball, and 8-track tapes, doesn’t actually feature a character from the decade. Oh sure, there is a Mickey Mouse, but he’s attached to a phone, an item that featured prominently in the 1970s, but not a character unto itself. While there weren’t many animated features released in the decade following the passing of Walt Disney, there were a handful and there are several that would play perfectly into the resort’s overall theme.

In the 1970s there were four major releases: The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Rescuers. I would personally love to see Orville with Miss Bianca and Bernard, but I also understand that The Rescuers is not as commonly recognized as some of the other characters of the decade. Likewise, the same could be said for The Aristocats, but that still leaves us with Robin Hood, his merry band of Little John and Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian, all of whom are fairly recognizable character even to today’s families. Perhaps most famous of all, however, was the honey hungry, red shirt wearing, willy, nilly, silly old bear, Winnie the Pooh.

Now, I can hear some of you out there reminding me that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is just the repackaging of several Winnie the Pooh shorts from earlier, and I hear you. On the other hand, this was when the tubby cubby was truly becoming a household name and you couldn’t help but see his furry golden face everywhere. To take it one step farther, the 1970s was the decade when Disney cheekily put Winnie the Pooh on the ballot for President of the United States. Pooh has remained one of the most recognizable characters in the Disney catalog since, and he definitely would ring familiar to families staying in the 1970s buildings of Pop Century, and parents would have to explain the rotary dial attached to Mickey’s feet.

Do I suspect there will ever come a time where the iconic Mickey phone is replaced in Pop Century? I absolutely do not ever expect to see that day. It just seems a little off the mark for Disney to have crafted each decade so well, with Roger Rabbit, Baloo, Mowgli, Lady, and Tramp, only to let the theme slip when it came to the decade that saw the opening of Walt Disney World and the rise of Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger too. I’m sure I am just being overly critical, but this is the stuff and fluff that fills my head from time to time.

06 August 2019

Distinct Attention to Detail

Carthay Circle Lounge carries a flatbread on its menu all year round, but the composition of the flatbread’s ingredients tends to change with the season. Knowing that the change of the season is just around the corner I wanted to get the word out on the current flatbread as soon as possible in case you’re looking for a refined, yet quick meal. I say meal because while I stopped in for a cocktail and a small bite, I ended up with a flatbread that definitely filled me up.

The current flatbread is the Carthay Italian Sausage Flatbread, and it combines Portobello mushrooms, broccoli rapini pesto, parmesan cheese, and Italian sausage. Though not mentioned in the menu description, there are also yellow tomatoes that are roasted atop of the flatbread as well. It is presented sliced into seven sections, which makes it easier to pick up, but I still ended up using a fork and knife because of the weight of all of the toppings on the thin dough.

This is about as fresh of a flatbread as I’ve ever had. The Italian sausage is sweet and spicy, but not an overpowering amount of heat, while the broccoli rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, adds a tiny bit of bitterness. Considering I’ve had some seriously bitter broccoli rapini in the past, the fine folks over at Carthay Circle Lounge have clearly prepared this extremely well. The mushrooms and tomatoes add some texture, there is a sharpness from the parmesan, and everything just feels like it was picked from the garden or came fresh to the kitchen to create a flavorful moment for the diner.

There are a lot of wonderful items of the Carthay Circle Lounge menu, including plenty of shareable creations, but the Carthay Italian Sausage Flatbread is definitely near the top of my list. If you have a chance to snap up this flatbread before the menu changes, and maybe pair it with a Carthay Old Fashioned, the way I did, you will not be disappointed.

02 August 2019

On the Edge of the Galaxy

Prior to my visit to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to take part in one of the great YMCA traditions, General Assembly. This conference happens every few years and truly inspires YMCA staff and volunteers to do more, do better, and be the best versions of ourselves for our communities back home. As a part of this conference I had the pleasure to listen to a session led by Dan Cockerell. You may know Dan through his father, Lee Cockerell, the longtime Disney executive, but Dan has a Disney story that is all his own. He started out parking cars in Walt Disney World’s parking lot, before rising through the ranks to become the Vice President of, at various times, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s his time with the Studios that crosses over our hyperspace lane into the look we’ve been taking at Galaxy’s Edge this week.

As Dan tells the story, he was at Disney’s Hollywood Studios when Disney acquired Lucasfilm. Almost immediately master planning began on a Star wars land to bring to the park. For two years this planning went on, and it was based around Tatooine and had all the touchpoints that those of us who grew up with Star Wars would recognize. Then one day Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger got together and Kennedy put out there that she thought the land was going in the wrong direction. It was her belief that there were more Star Wars stories ahead of us, than those we have behind us for the past forty years. It was that conversation that stopped the planning on a dime and set a course for a brand new destination, Batuu, set in the current moment between films of the Skywalker saga.

I find that amount of foresight impressive, and the willingness to change tactic midstream even more so. Now, Disney has the means to be more agile than most companies, but it is still interesting to see an organization not just charge ahead with what they planned and instead take time to consider what they’re building. I don’t know if this story had any bearing on how I looked at Black Spire Outpost when I first walked into it, but it’s definitely given me a fresh perspective on how I view the land as a whole.

The best of Star Wars, in my opinion, always takes place on worlds that exist in the Outer Rim, Wild Space, or on almost uninhabitable worlds. Batuu is one of these dusty locations that fit right alongside Tatooine, Endor, Takodana, or Crait. It has this otherworldly, yet somehow familiar, vibe to it and it has everything you would want in your personal Star Wars story, even if you feel like you should have never looked beyond the original trilogy; cantina, spaceport, wilderness, a touch of the mystical, and a menacing, domineering presence just around the corner. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that Batuu feels like it belongs in Star Wars, not the least of which has been incorporating the characters and location into comics and novels.

Galaxy’s Edge is set in the period between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, and it features the heroes and villains that today’s children are familiar with. This includes Rey and Kylo, but also individuals like Hondo from The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Picking a time for a land to exist in is not a new thing for Disney, you can see it on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, Frontierland, Main Street, Harambe, Liberty Square, and various segments of Adventureland. Picking a time that is the most relevant to children today is just plain smart. The entirety of Disney’s theme park worlds came from Walt Disney’s own idea that parents should have a place to take their children. It is a place built for children, but it doesn’t speak down to them, and it has just as much to offer their parents and other adults. We should all enjoy Batuu, and look through the attractions and surroundings with the eyes and wonderment of an eight year old.

To quote Yoda, “we are what they grow beyond.” Disney has long straddled the divide between what was and what could be, and the world created by Black Spire Outpost does precisely that. Galaxy’s Edge pays respect to all that has come before, from Luke’s training probe, R-3X, moisture vaporators, R2-D2’s tread, and the life-size Millennium Falcon, while still forging a new path ahead. Perhaps what I love most about Galaxy’s Edge is that I recognize it all instantly as being Star Wars and yet it is a world I have yet to learn, thus allowing me to build upon what I already know while creating entirely new experiences. In the end, could we really ask for anything else?