27 January 2021

The Big Finale

By the time you reach the end of Slinky Dog Dash, you are likely to be wind-blown, full of giggles, and excited by the sudden appearance of Wheezy. Maybe you will take note of Mr. Mike on the right-hand side of Slinky, but you could be forgiven for not immediately scanning through The Big Finale scene to catch the Pixar and Toy Story nods hovering just around Wheezy himself. That’s what I’m here for!

For starters, Wheezy’s shelter from which he croons is a songbook featuring his favorite standard, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, but is covered by a picture book entitled Partly Cloudy. If Partly Cloudy sounds familiar, you’re right. This is the title of, and the brief glimpse of this book’s cover confirms, the 2009 short from Pixar. Partly Cloudy was released in front of that year’s Pixar feature, Up. Its story is one of a solitary grey cloud named Gus who creates baby animals for a stork, named Peck, to deliver. While most of the clouds make cute humans and other cuddly creatures, Gus’ animals are cute, but crocodiles, porcupines, and sharks cause Peck more than a little trouble. Peck leaves, Gus is upset and creates a thunderstorm, but Peck soon returns having procured a football helmet and set of pads to keep him safe and still deliver his friend’s creations. Given the storyline, utilizing Partly Cloudy to keep Wheezy dry is a bit of ironic humor that I enjoy.

The second nod is more Toy Story specific, and helps form part of the stage for Wheezy. Beneath the letter blocks sits a box for a RC Wireless Remote Control Car, which prominently features an image of RC. RC’s largest role in the Toy Story world is, without question, his inclusion in the original film. It is here that RC is used by Woody to rescue Buzz and, once Woody has been thrown out of the moving truck and RC’s batter dies, is carried back to the truck by Woody and Buzz after the pair decide to light the rocket strapped to Buzz’s back. RC is also heavily featured in a flashback sequence in Toy Story 4 when he is rescued from road gutter where he is being swept away by a deluge of rain. While we may have learned in Toy Story 3 that RC had been donated, Toy Story Land lives in Andy’s backyard in the years between Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4, meaning that we still have many more years to enjoy RC.
Regardless of the land or attraction, there are always tons of nods and homages to catch throughout the parks and resorts. Some of them can be puzzled out from their surroundings, and in places that you can take your time to enjoy and unravel. Then there are the blink and you’ll miss them moments, such as those presented in The Big Finale of Slinky Dog Dash. That doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to appreciate them now and again though!

25 January 2021


Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always colored outside of the lines when it comes parades. Today’s cavalcades are almost a throwback to the park’s very first parade, Dinosaurs Live!, that has been mashed up with one of its most beloved, Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade. The Studios featured one of first parades in Walt Disney World that included show stops for guest interaction with both Block Party Bash and Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! What the park is most remembered for, however, are its film specific parades.
The heyday for these parades came in the 1990s, beginning Christmas week in 1992 with Aladdin’s Royal Caravan, continuing on with Toy Story Parade and Hercules “Zero to Hero” Victory Parade, and concluding in early 2001 with the last run of the Mulan Parade. Each has their charm, but you can definitely tell where some of the naming got a little more of a boost, while also tempting the imagination. With that in mind, let’s go ahead and take a closer glimpse of Aladdin’s Royal Caravan and Hercules “Zero to Hero” Victory Parade.
Aladdin’s Royal Caravan ran from December 1992 through August 1995 and highlighted Aladdin, in his Prince Ali guise, Jasmine, Jafar, and multiple iterations of the Genie, including a 32 feet tall inflatable Genie that towered over the spectacle. Like all beloved Disney pageantry, there were some pieces that would be reused later. The inflatable Genie meandered over to the Magic Kingdom for Disney’s Magical Moments Parade, and the spitting camels became landmarks of Adventureland’s Magic Carpets of Aladdin. It is worth noting that this parade was featured on the Full House episode, The House Meets the Mouse (Part 2), where DJ mistakes the parade’s Aladdin for Steve. This clever nod goes even deeper considering that Steve is portrayed by Scott Weinger, the voice of Aladdin in the animated feature.
Hercules “Zero to Hero” Victory Parade began its run in June 1997, concluding its run less than a year later in April of 1998. As the name suggests, this is a victory celebration/rally/parade for Hercules. It featured Phil, Zeus, Pegasus, Pain, Panic, the Muses, Hades, Megara, and Hercules, along with other characters and creatures, such as the Cyclops, Miss Greece, Dionysus, the hydra, Ridges Philbinylus and Apollonia Airheadenese. The cyclops character was a large inflatable, a technique utilized by many of the Studios’ parades. One of the more unique touches to the parade was the inclusion of the “Theban Family of the Day.” Like the Family of the Day seen throughout Walt Disney World in parades or park openings, this group of guests were selected earlier in the day, given togas and laurels to wear, and then marshalled the parade in style, being pulled by bicycling Greek soldiers in their gold chariots.
In recent years, the single film or series parades feel very pared down and are more of small processionals. The two most memorable of this form of parade are the Frozen Royal Welcome Ceremony and the March of the First Order. Both created striking visuals in their own right, and garnered the attention of guests, but, Covid cavalcades aside, there’s something about the pageantry of the earlier parades that’s been missing in the recent iterations. One day, once we’re healthy and safe once more, it would be wonderful to see full parades return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as well as the other parks of Walt Disney World.

22 January 2021

Creative Partnerships

I’m not going to belabor a point today, or give you more blathering than you need today. When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the future was definitely going to feature carpet covered walls. One of the most gorgeous examples of this design principle, and one of the most artistic as well, was the lobby of the Harvest Theater in The Land pavilion. Over the years, the theater has played host to Symbiosis, Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable, and, currently, Awesome Planet. However, the walls have remained the same, and the definitely deserve to be celebrated.

21 January 2021

A Picnic at Sea

After our recent dive into the culinary endeavors of a long extinct restaurant, a tasting tour that ended in disappointment, we thought we should definitely continue looking at extinct recipes. We move from the Contemporary Resort over to the Polynesian Village. Now known as ‘Ohana, this much beloved space of the south seas in Florida was for 23 years known as the Papeete Bay Verandah.
The Papeete Bay Verandah was home one of the earliest buffets and character meals to be found in Walt Disney World, Minnie’s Menehune Breakfast, a lunch buffet, and the prelude to the luaus to come, Polynesian Revue. The dark wooden decor matched up well with the charred and smoked meats served up on the menu and was offset by vibrant colors and flavors of the tropical fruits found in almost every dish. These fruits, particularly from the buffet, were elevated by a pair of simple dips. The Coconut Dip and the Polynesian Honey Dip are a wonderful way to chase away the winter blues, and the next recipes we’re taking on in our home kitchen.

2/3 Cup Sour Cream
1/3 Cup Coconut Cream
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
Mix together all ingredients.
Serve with tropical fruits, such as orange sections, pineapple spears, fresh figs, apricots, or banana slices.

1 Cup Sour Cream
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Honey
2 Tbsps. Brandy
Cubes of Fresh Coconut

Place sour cream in a blender and blend for a few seconds until smooth consistency. A bowl and hand-mixer will also work.
Gradually add brown sugar while blending until mixture is smooth.
Add honey and brady and mix for a few seconds to blend together.
Chill dip.
Serve with bite-sized cubes of fresh coconut.

Both of these are delicious and will be found on some sort of muddle-headed breakfast charcuterie plate I’ll come up with when I’m trying my best to be nice to my wife on the spur of the moment on a random Sunday morning. The Polynesian Honey Dip is a bit thinner, and you can taste the brandy, so I would completely recommend it for children. That said, it also has layers of sweetness that makes it playful as it darts from taste centers all over the palate. The Coconut Dip is creamy and has a wonderful balance between sour and sweet.
Fresh coconut is recommended for the Polynesian Honey Dip, however, unless this is a texture and flavor profile I would recommend using other fruits. Likewise, the Coconut Dip doesn’t pair as well with sliced bananas. Whichever dip you choose to whip up, go with the tropical fruits you know and appreciate. The dips should be extensions of and highlight what is already special about tropical fruits, so pair these with what you already love. For our part, pineapple, dried apricots, and cantaloupe were all fabulous for our homemade breakfast buffet.

14 January 2021

Crew Roster

Tortuga Tavern may not be the port of call for hungry guests it once was, leaving itself shuttered except for when Caribbean Plaza is teeming with possible patrons, but it still has a wealth of history and details waiting for the keenest of eyes and wit. We’ve spoken before about Arabella and some of the history tucked away in the eaves of the restaurant, but today we’re in search of pirates. Pirate crews to be exact.
Situated on the far end of one of the dining rooms is a window with candles, lanterns, shells, casks, pitchers, a few flowers, an hourglass, and an auspiciously place book. In another establishment or home, minus the casks, it could be mistaken as a family bible. As it turns out, the pages the book is open to features the crew logs for both the Black Pearl and Queen Anne’s Revenge.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge may seem like an odd choice to reference here, especially with newer ships like the Silent Mary or Dying Gull, or more iconic vessels, the Flying Dutchman, may be more recognizable to guests. However, in 2011, when Tortuga Tavern received its overhaul refurbishment that resulted in the restaurant’s name change, the Pirates of the Caribbean film, On Stranger Tides, was sitting on the horizon. With Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge featuring prominently in that film, it makes sense to see it included here.
With not much known about the film, there are enough breadcrumbs here to lead any old sea dog worth their salt to find some interesting morsels that gave hints about the upcoming movie, such as the inclusion of Angelica as first mate, or spark a-ha moments in those looking back. While most of this crew would not fare well in the end of the film, some of the luckier souls, like The Cabin Boy, would go on to be a part of Barbossa’s crew.
Speaking of Barbossa’s crew, the other ledger is definitely the more intriguing of the two. The Black Pearl’s roster has been edited by Captain Jack Sparrow. The original roster includes Captain Barbossa’s ghostly crew and Joshamee Gibbs, which means this roster was originally written after the mutiny of Captain Jack and the sending of Bootstrap Bill Turner to Davy Jones’ locker, as neither is included in the register, but prior to their discovery of the cursed Aztec gold. Jack’s edits, including reinserting himself as captain, are comprised of many of the crew Jack brings onboard with his acquisition of the HMS Interceptor and who we can presume served onboard the Black Pearl as well between The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest films. Further edits, as the history of the Pearl unfolds over the course of the series, seem to have not taken place or have slipped Jack’s mind as he is likely in search of rum.
While some of the names on either list may not seem familiar, many of the faces, those dirty, bedraggled faces, they represent are familiar to fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Personally, I’d love to see other rosters included, whether in pages that could be turned, but not removed by treasure hungry guests, or other books in the dining room. Regardless, these are a nice tip of the pirate hat and worthy of an exploration the next time you’re in port.

11 January 2021

Echoes Through Time

I have long been an advocate of guest taking time to really explore the galleries housed in each of World Showcase’s pavilions in Epcot. Some of them are directly in the face of guests, such as the lobby of the Mexico pavilion that must be pass through to enter the shopping, dining, and attraction portion of the pyramid, while others are a bit more tucked away and take time to find. One such gallery, Bijutsu-kan, can be found tucked away in the back corner of the Japan pavilion near the Kidcot station and one of the exits of Mitsukoshi.
Bijutsu-kan can be literally translated as art gallery or museum, and has hosted a variety of exhibits since the Japan pavilion opened in 1982. In fact, it was built to be the lobby area of the Meet the World show, which was to be the main attraction of the pavilion. Through the years the gallery has been home to showcases of puppetry, netsuke carvings, tin toys, mythological creatures, origami, a collection of photography capturing the beauty and importance of World Heritage Sites, and is currently focused on the Kawaii culture of cuteness. In 1988, one of the more fascinating exhibits would be installed, replacing the Feathers on the Wind kite exhibition, it was called Echoes Through Time: Japanese Women and the Arts.
For Echoes Through Time, the gallery was transformed into a space that house the work of six contemporary female artists. The exhibit utilized Bijutsu-kan to give each artist a space to highlight their work, while also providing context of how these modern works of art related to traditional Japanese art forms. The artforms presented included fashion design, paper sculpting, painting, raku pottery, and Ikebana flower arranging. Coincidentally, some of the aspects inherent in Ikebana I have tried to merge into my photography over the years. The last of the six art forms presented, and perhaps the most intriguing, was sound and music, and featured the artist Mineko Grimmer.
Mineko Grimmer was bard and raised in northern Japan and went on to study at the Otis College of Art and Design, where she received both her Bachelors and Masters of Fine Art. While there in the 1970s she began photographing shadows, waves, and wind effects as a way in which to study the passage of time. This led to her interest in ice photography and art installations that included the use of ice as she was seeking something that would change over a shorter period of time. Her first ice and sound sculpture was displayed at the Japan American Community Culture Center in Los Angeles. Eventually Grimmer’s skills were noticed by Disney and her corner of the Echoes Through Time exhibit came to fruition.

Known as Symposium II, the sculpture of sound was created using bamboo, other wood, stones, and, of course, ice. The bamboo elements created a grid, while the sounds were formed by pebbles of ice that had been frozen in an inverted pyramid that then hung above the rest of the installation, like a pendulum. As the ice pyramid melted, the pebbles would drop onto and bounce through the bamboo segments before falling into the wood-lined pond at the base of the sculpture. It would take approximately 30 minutes for a pyramid of ice to melt, though those times could be short when temperatures were particularly hot and humid, that would in turn change the rate at which the pebbles fell. Just as you would expect, no two performances were ever the same.
While the story of Echoes Through Time and Mineko Grimmer’s Symposium II are unique, there are similarly intriguing stories to be found throughout the history of Bijutsu-kan and the other galleries scattered about World Showcase. These exhibits are a real treasure to me, they hold such captivating moments of art and history, but they are rarely seen by most guests. While I love being able to leisurely enjoy these installations and reflect in quiet moments, I do wish more guests would partake of these galleries. There is always something to learn and each kernel of knowledge gained provides us with a greater understanding of the larger world we are a part of.

06 January 2021

Invasive Species Study

The queue for Flight of Passage has a lot of wonderful moments that pull you further into the story of Pandora. The art and craftsmanship of the Na’vi, a life-sized Avatar, and even the bioluminescent lifeforms that have breached the former RDA complex are each enough to tickle the imagination on their own, but put together they form an intricate narrative that guests are drawn into unconsciously. One area where the dense layers of storytelling comes through is in the labs of the Pandora Conservation Initiative, where various studies are being conducted. One research station that particularly draws me in is the desk that houses the Velocivirus.

This invasive sea urchin-like species, also known as a Velocifungus, is known for attaching to spaceships on their way to Pandora. It was introduced to the planet after ships ignored rules of burning their engines before breaking the atmosphere of Pandora in order to destroy the parasite. The Veolicvirus can absorb organic material it comes into contact with, which it locates through echolocation with micro-vibrations that also move the organism.
The desk where the Velocifungus is located includes notes from an individual researcher. The notes are succinct and give some deeper understanding of the organism. When extreme heat or a variety of gasses are applied, its vitals did not change and it appeared to embrace the flames, while with the gasses it absorbs them and blows up like a puffer fish. However, when compression is applied, the spines of the organism flatten and sharpen, taking on a saw-blade like appearance that cracks the glass on its original quarantine enclosure. It’s last noted test, is directly questioning the Velocifungus about its destructive existence, which in turn leads to the research questioning their own destructive existence.
Informative and witty, this notebook provides a lot of insight. However, it is the piece of paper next to the notebook that really draws me in every time I pass by. Perhaps the magnifying glass made me curious, or just my belief that everything helps with furthering the story. Whatever it was, what looks like scribbles or ink blots is, in all actuality, a tried and true research tool, a track trap.

They are utilized to create evidence of animals in a given environment. You find areas animals are likely to be, such as a food trail, water source, or areas that provide safety (such as along the edge of bush clumps, walls, etc.), any spot where they are easily funneled through naturally will work great, and leave a piece of white paper on the trail. You then place an ink pad or a cloth soaked in ink or paint on either side of the paper, since animals can travel in any direction. They will pick up the ink and leave impressions behind on the paper that can be compared to known samples. This is a particularly useful tool when you’re not sure if an animal is or isn’t in the area, or if your trying to capture a sample of the diversity found in the area.
This desk includes two pieces of the narrative puzzle, but there are so many stories to find in the lab and larger queue of Flight of Passage. Whether you’re interested in the habits of a carnivorous fungus or what types of creatures are present throughout the Valley of Mo’ara, whether you’re intrigued by the writings of Dr. Ogden or Team Banshee’s baseball season, there is something here for everyone to discover that will drawn them just a bit further into the story, and conservation efforts, of Pandora.

04 January 2021

Grand and Elegant Dining

What’s the fanciest meal you can have at Walt Disney World? If you were visiting between 1971-1988 your answer could have been the Gulf Coast Room. If this restaurant doesn’t sound familiar, I assure you that you are not alone.
Situated on the Level of the Americas, the Contemporary’s ballroom level we all mostly bypass on our way to the Grand Canyon Concourse or as the elevator pitstop to California Grill, the Gulf Coast Room was hastily thrown together to answer the call for fine dining and evening entertainment during the early years of the Vacation Kingdom. When the solitary park, the Magic Kingdom, was closing in early evening, guests and conventioneers were looking for something to do and eat. Disney sectioned off a third of the Grand Republic Ballroom and turned it into a fine dining destination.
First thing to note is that the Gulf Coast Room had no windows, so there were no views to enjoy. Instead, ambiance was created with high-back chairs, candlelight, fancy linens, wallpaper, strolling violinist, a strict dress code, and tableside preparations of dishes. The menu highlighted fresh ingredients and presented the height of culinary flair for its day and age, including frog legs, rack of lamb, Alaskan crab, Steak Dianne, and Pompano en Papillote.
The fine-dining experience, second only to the Empress Room for early Walt Disney World sophistication, was likely the meal of the vacation for many couples. That said, it hasn’t garnered as much fond reminiscing as other restaurants of the era. For our first recipe of the new year, we thought we’d dive into the deep annals of Disney history and attempt a dish from this unheralded corner of the Contemporary. We opted to take a run at one of the Gulf Coast Room’s  beloved appetizers, the Blue Cheese Patties.


6 oz. Blue Cheese (at room temperature)
6 oz. cream cheese
1/3 Cup Flour
2 Tbsps. Milk
3 Slices Fresh White Bread
2 Eggs
Process bread slices in a food processor to make fine crumbs, set aside in a pie pan.
Process half of the blue cheese and cream cheese in a food processor until well blended.
Set aside and process remaining blue cheese and cream cheese, mixing together in a bowl once finished.
Roll cheese mixture into 12 small balls, flatten to form patties.
Beat eggs and mix with milk.
Dip patties in flour, then egg mixture, and lastly in bread crumbs.
Brown on both sides in buttered skillet, 3 to 4 minutes.
Our first look at this recipe made us think that there was room for improvement. As an attempt to head off some trouble, we made half of our patties with the white bread crumbs and the other half with panko bread crumbs. Turns out, however, there was much room for improvement.
The blue cheese we used was double creamed, and between that and the cream cheese this was a very loose and creamy mixture from the get go. It was basically impossible to form balls or patties. We chilled the mixture, then made the balls, chilled them again, flattened them into patties, and chilled them one last time before the dredging and pan frying. They still came out very messy.
Using the panko instead of white bread did make the frying go a bit easier, but the end results weren’t great. The cheese mixture needs a stronger binding agent, such as introducing panko into the mixture before trying to make balls. Also, since ingredients are very different in today’s markets, with a better-quality blue cheese, I’m not sure there’s a need for the cream cheese. Additionally, I would add some salt, pepper, or other form of seasoning to the bread crumbs to give it more than a one note flavor. Lastly, I would recommend using olive oil instead of butter for a more uniform cooking.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend taking on the Blue Cheese Patties. The Gulf Coast Room may have been the height of elegance in its heyday, and I’m the first to admit that my culinary skills and equipment aren’t up to the same standards as Walt Disney World’s, but I’m willing to bet there are better dishes to attempt from this Contemporary dining experience.