By Linda Eckwerth, AllEars.Net
Morimoto Asia, a Pan Asian restaurant located in Disney Springs, recently started a Dim Sum Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I was invited to experience some of the foods offered during the brunch, and I want to share my thoughts with you.
We tasted a variety of foods that are available on the Brunch Menu. The portion sizes you see are approximately the same size you would receive at the brunch. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the brunch price.
Morimoto Asia Brunch is served upstairs either inside or on the outdoor balcony.
We began with a Lychee Lemon Soda, a-non alcoholic drink consisting of fresh mint leaves, lemon juice, lychee purée and soda -- a very refreshing way to start our brunch tasting.
The Chef's selection Soup of the Day is one of the first course options. We enjoyed a hot and sour soup, which included onion, egg, vegetables and had a kick of spice.
Next, we tasted items from the second course menu. First up, Pork Ribs steamed with black bean sauce and Chashu Pork, which is roasted.
The ribs were bite-size, meaty and had a touch of heat. I enjoyed them.
But I really loved the Chashu pork, which was very tender.
Next, we had a Nashi Pear Margarita, one of the two new seasonal autumn drinks on the menu.
It is made with Maestro Dobel tequila, pear purée, lime juice, and Cointreau. This was my favorite of the three drinks we tried. It was very refreshing, went well with the spicy food and didn't have a strong tequila or alcohol taste.
The next items are also options under the second course offerings -- Fried Spicy Pork Dumplings and Xiaolong Bao.
The crust was very light and the pork filling was full of flavor. I did not detect much spice until I added the dipping sauce.
The Xiaolong Bao are little pillowy gems of deliciousness and my favorite item! When I cut into the Bao, there was tasty pork and broth. The dipping sauce was nice, but I preferred them without the sauce. Can you tell I really enjoyed the Xiaolong Bao?
We also had a chance to try one of the options from the brunch add-on menu, the Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles ($8).
The Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles consisted of a spicy basil sauce, vegetables and egg. I enjoyed the balance of favors in this dish, and it was filling.
Finally it was time for dessert and the second seasonal drink for autumn, a Pumpkin Martini. The drink is made with Tito's vodka, pumpkin spice syrup, Bailey's Irish Cream, and almond milk.
Of the three drinks we tried, this was my least favorite because I am not a pumpkin spice fan. However, the rest of the group raved about the deliciousness of this drink, and it was a big hit.
The brunch ended with a serving of Sesame Balls, which are also a second course option. These are filled with sweet azuki bean filling.
The cost for brunch is $27 per person. For your first course you choose between the soup of the day or greens. The second course consists of your choice of three items. (If you like dessert, make one of your choices something sweet.) Additional courses are $6 each. There are several add-on courses available, and those prices vary. Reservations are recommended. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
If you are looking for something different and relaxing to do on the weekend, give this brunch a try. With the beautiful fall weather in Orlando, the outdoor balcony will be wonderful!
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Morimoto Asia for this experience but my opinions are my own.
Those that know me, know that I don't care much for shopping. I know, however, that many of you DO, so I spent a few minutes during opening weekend of this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the festival shops, checking out some of the event-specific merchandise. I found lots of things that would make perfect souvenirs, or gifts for those that you had to leave at home.
Lovers of the big purple Figment will be happy to know that he has returned as a festival mascot of sorts, and he dominates much of the merchandise. You can find him on t-shirts ($24.99 regular, $29.99 v-neck)
On mugs ($14.99), salt and pepper shakers ($9.99/ea.), aprons ($26.99), oven mitts ($14.99) and even ornaments ($19.99)...
And of course Chef Figment is featured on one of the festival's two special event posters ($24.99).
Figment even graces some of the special festival passholder merchandise this year, like this Passholder t-shirt ($29.99)...
But it's not all Figment, if for some reason he's not your thing. Some of the other festival merchandise is a bit "retro", borrowing themes and motifs from Food and Wine Festivals gone by.
There are Taste Your Way Around the World t-shirts (the burgundy v-neck is $32.99; there's also a gray-blue short-sleeved shirt, as well as a long-sleeved shirt and blue scoop-neck shirt [not pictured] for around $37 each)
There are also "Taste" wine bottle ornaments ($12.99)....
Taste Your Way Around the World housewares include Tea Towels (pair $21.99), Small Plates ($14.99), and Salt and Pepper Shakers ($9.99 each)...
One thing I thought was a bit different, and practical, was an insulated bottle bag ($34.99)...
Taste Your Way Around the World is also the design of another 2016 Festival Poster ($24.99):
There's also a very useful notched plastic plate, perfect for when you're juggling multiple food and drink samples from the global marketplaces. I remember when they first introduced these plates a few years ago -- they were just $4.95. They're up to $6.99 ($7.50 including tax) now.
If you're looking for a plain ball cap, never fear -- there's a festival cap for you ($26.99)....
Another design you'll find on a variety of merchangise caters more to beer lovers -- "Brews Around the World." You'll find mugs ($14.99), t-shirts ($27) and caps ($29.99). (No, I don't know why they are more expensive than the other caps.)
One item I almost always purchase is the Festival Cookbook. This year it's $24.95, and includes recipes from not only the Food and Wine Festival, but from the spring's Flower and Garden Festival as well.
By the way, Chef Gregg Hannon and Pam Brandon, author of the Festival cookbook, will be on hand for a special signing at Showcase Plaza's Port of Entry on September 27 and 28, after a 3 p.m. cooking demonstration.
For the plush lovers, I didn't see much, but I did spy this adorable Food & Wine Festival Chef Mickey for $26.99:
Finally, if you want to take home a bottle of wine from one of the festival events you attend, stop over at the Festival Center's wine shop. But if you want something specifically to remind you of the 2016 event, pick up a bottle of the the Festival's special label wine -- both the cabernet and the chardonnay are listed at $22 a bottle:
You can find all of this merchandise at the Stockpot Shop in the Festival Center. Many of the same items can be found around the other festival shops around World Showcase -- there's one near Germany, one between Morocco and Japan and one near Canada. There are also merchandise kiosks on the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase, and you may find other related merchandise in the shops in World Showcase Plaza.
by Jack Marshall
I took a stroll over to Disney Springs this morning to get a look at the new restaurant by Chef Art Smith, "Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar." I didn't get the chance to eat there yet, but I do have some "first look" photos to share.
Main Restaurant Entrance
Shine Bar Entrance
Chef Art Smith himself was on hand today to greet new patrons!
Looking into the kitchen
Enclosed, air-conditioned patio
Shine Bar Area
You can come into the Shine Bar and order a drink (it's a full bar) without having a meal here.
The Shine Bar offers a limited takeout menu (they call it "grab and go"), but this food cannot be consumed on premises.
The restaurant is currently offering a Disney cast member discount, but no other discounts -- they may honor other discounts (DVC, Annual Passholder, Tables in Wonderland) in the future.
We have the current menu for Homecoming HERE.
Watch for more photos, including those of the food, coming to AllEars.Net soon!
Tables in Wonderland held its annual “sneak preview” of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for its members this past Sunday, June 26, at World Showplace in Epcot. The festival, which will run an extra-long 62 days in this, its 21st year, begins September 14.
"Yes, we're going to need lots of stamina this year," said Michael Deardorff, Epcot Executive Chef. "This will be a 62-day sprint. We'll have to hit the ground running, but we'll be ready."
Deardorff noted that as the festival has grown "exponentially bigger and bigger" each year, the festival team has become like a machine, with all its parts in sync.
That synchronicity was apparent during the preview, as the various components came together to present a wonderful representative sampling of the new or reimagined food and beverage items that will be featured in the marketplaces (aka food booths) scattered around World Showcase and even into Future World.
Let's start with the food and beverage offerings, which obviously were the stars of the afternoon.
We were greeted at the door with a refreshing cocktail -- Spiked (with vodka!) Orange Iced Tea, which will be introduced at the Hops & Barley marketplace.
I was eager to try as many of the new food items as I could, and I managed to hit nearly all of them. Here were the stand-outs, at least as far as my tastebuds and me were concerned:
Pork Tenderloin with Cannellini Bean Ragout and a Zinfandel Reduction, which will be found in the Wine and Dine Studio
This was my overall favorite of the afternoon -- a tender chunk of lean pork atop the flavorful beans, with a hint of the red wine adding a little zing. There's not much else to say about this dish except Yum.
Chicken and Dumplings with mushrooms and spinach, which will be found in the returning Farm Fresh marketplace
This was a real palate-pleaser for me, even though it's not that photogenic -- nothing really fancy, just juicy white meat with a fluffy light dumpling accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and spinach in a savory sauce.
Grilled Beef Skewer with apricots, romaine and feta cheese, from The Chew Collective marketplace:
The lightly seasoned meat is accented by the sweetness of the fruit, which in turn contrasts with the sharpness of the feta. I thought it was a nice dish, but my piece of beef was tender. A friend's was gristly and tough, so she didn't rate the plate as highly.
Seared Scallop, Truffled Celery Root Puree, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms, also to be featured in the Wine & Dine Studio
My second favorite bite of the day. Who would ever think that a sweet, mild scallop would pair so well with the sharp, slightly bitter sprout? But it's a match made in heaven, so tasty. Chef Mike noted that to create this dish they took the scallop out of the Scotland marketplace where it had been featured for the past few years, and gave it a Napa Valley twist. A smart move, in my opinion.
Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa
The duck was tender and perfectly pink, and the polenta creamy as promised in the menu. I didn't get much heat from the dash of salsa that topped the plate, but that was OK -- it was still a tasty morsel.
Loaded Greek "Nachos": Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, Vegan Tzatziki, from the Greece marketplace
This was the biggest surprise for me -- honestly, I'm not sure I would have known this was a vegan dish if I hadn't been told. I'd just had real nachos the day before (the fantastic loaded nachos at the new place in Disney's Hollywood Studios Echo Lake Eats), so it was interesting to me to compare the two dishes. The pita crisps were a perfect substitute for tortilla chips and the onion, kalamata olives, lettuce, tomato were basically what you'd expect on real nachos. According to Chef Mike, the "sausage" is a Gardein product (Gardein has partnered with the festival for other vegan dishes over the years) and the "feta" is actually specially seasoned tofu. "We think it's an awesome plate. It was fun to do and it turned out great," said Chef Deardorff. I have to agree with him.
Oikos Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cake Soaked in Ouzo with Yogurt Whipped Cream and Pistachios, another item from the Greece marketplace
This is my kind of dessert. Not too sweet, and a perfect complement to a cup of coffee. Come festival time, I can see myself taking a plate of this dense cake to an out-of-the-way spot with an espresso from one of the coffee stands to watch IllumiNations.
Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce, from the new Islands of the Caribbean marketplace
I absolutely loved this dessert, too. Crispy light puff pastry with a not-too-sweet cream cheese filling -- it's like it was made with me in mind. The guava sauce was a little too sweet for me, but overall I thought this was a great new offering.
There were a few new items I didn't get to, most notably the Smoked Brisket & Pimento Cheese on Griddled Garlic Toast, which Chef Mike predicts could be the big favorite this year. Calling it an open-faced version of a grilled cheese sandwich, he admits that they developed this dish based on the popular smoked brisket from the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. It will be featured at the Hops & Barley marketplace, where I will eventually try it, I'm sure.
So, what was the other big news coming out of the preview?
First, you may have already heard that the cast of ABC-TV's "The Chew" (Chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, and Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz) will be returning to the festival, taping episodes October 5-7, which will then air the week of October 10-14.
Other interesting news was the announcement of several new programs that take the festival out of Epcot and into some of the resort hotels.
• Brunch with a Twist at Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
• Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at Contemporary Resort's Convention Center
• Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort
• The Secret of Flavor at Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort
We have details on these offerings, including dates and pricing, on the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.
Other new aspects to the festival this year:
-- Eight new celebrity chefs will be appearing over the course of the festival: Maneet Chauhan; Elliott Farmer; Fabio Bongianni; Masaharu Morimoto; Duff Goldman; Paul Wahlburg; Graham Elliot; and Geoffrey Zakarian.
-- Making their Epcot debut, Wang Chung will be the musical group kicking off the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series this year. Other new acts confirmed include The BoDeans, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Living Colour and Delta Rae. (The full, official schedule of Eat to the Beat concerts has not yet been announced.)
-- Eat to the Beat Concert Packages, which guarantee reserved seating for the nightly concert along with a table service meal in Epcot, are now available at breakfast (either buffet or family-style) at two locations: Garden Grill and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.
-- The former mixology seminars that used to take place at 6 p.m. each day in the Festival Center have morphed into a new program called "Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!" The program will be offered at 4 p.m. daily and will include other hands-on activities besides mixology, such as cake decorating and garnishing. It will also come with a heftier price tag: $49 per person.
-- The "Boot Camp" concept isn't new to the festival, but the two offerings under this umbrella are. The first, hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, is called "Exploring Wines the Mondavi Way," and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this well-known winery. The second, "Demystifying Bourbon the Jim Beam Way," will explore bourbon production through the eyes of a master distiller.
For a more in-depth description of these and all the signature and premium programs that will be available, visit the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.
In fact, be sure to check out all our Food and Wine Festival pages, with photos from the preview and other details HERE.
Because this was a "sneak peek," we were warned that there may be changes or tweaks to some of these programs, so take that under advisement. But you don't have long to wait for the final, full schedule of festival offerings -- it will be online at epcotfoodfestival.com on July 11, with booking for the general public opening at 7 a.m. July 21. (Some events MAY be open for booking a few days in advance for Disney Vacation Club and Tables in Wonderland Members, Golden Oak residents, Disney Visa Cardholders and Annual Passholders. Keep checking back to AllEars.Net for updates!)
For many years Walt Disney World has offered a popular afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian Resort. Earlier this year the Disney Parks Blog announced a new tea offering: Afternoon Tea at Crescent Solarium, which would be held for a limited time in the Solarium at the Beach Club Resort. It didn't line up with our February dates, but then a new set of dates for April appeared, and Alert Reader Deb Koma was able to book a reservation for five of us for Sunday, April 17. (Future dates offered are May 5-8, June 16-19, August 11-14, and September 1-5.)
Reservations must be booked by calling WDW Dining - they are not available on-line. A credit card guarantee is required.
Since I've had the opportunity to sample the other two Disney afternoon tea offerings this year (Grand Floridian and Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Resort) I was looking forward to trying this new one - and of course I can't help comparing the three. They are all different experiences, but all enjoyable.
Lee and I arrived at the Solarium for our 1:00 reservation. We are used to entering the Solarium from the Beach Club lobby side - but that door is now closed, and actually opens into the kitchen! The main entrance to the Solarium is from the walkway between the Beach Club and the Beach Club Villas.
The Solarium is really a lovely space - lots of windows and light. I found it very cozy and welcoming. I think we all found it more informal than the Grand Floridian.
We were escorted to a low table set for 5 people - three on a sofa, and two of us in cushioned chairs. Awkward, because our knees were not under the table and we had to lean forward to reach our plates or cups. The seats, especially for those on the sofa, were too deep, but there were no cushions to put between us and the seat back. That was uncomfortable, and those on the sofa had to sit forward, with no back support, for the whole meal.
There were some traditional tables, but they were for parties of two or four. Any larger parties were at the low tables.
Our server arrived quickly to introduce himself, offer us water, and tell us about the menu.
For adults there are three different tea services offered: Sea Side Park Tea, Sandy Cove Tea, and Prince Cove Tea. All three include your own pot of tea, scones with lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam, and house-made pastries and desserts. The Sea Side and Sandy Cove teas offer a course of tea sandwiches and canapes also, with the Sea Side adding an additional artisan cheese and fruit plate as the first course. The first course of the Prince Cove is a house-made charcuterie and cheese plate. So that we could sample everything we ordered one Prince Cove, two Sea Side, and two Sandy Cove, and then we shared the extra courses.
I should mention that there is also the Short Sands Beach Tea for children ages 3-9. Also, no discounts are available.
We all chose to start with a glass of sparkling wine: Blanc de Bleu Brut. It was very pretty. While there is some blueberry added I didn't taste any blueberry flavor - it was just a nice sparkling wine.
The tea menu offered a variety of black, white, and green teas as well as herbal selections. I chose a black tea named Shanghai Rose: "an exotic blend of hand-picked, fresh black tea leaves, infused with the sweet and sultry flavors of seductive lychee and fragrant red rose petals." It was certainly floral - a little too floral for me. It was fine, but I would order something different next time. Others in our party sampled the Organic Vanilla Rooibos, Imperial English Breakfast, and Thunderbolt Darjeeling.
Each of us received our own tea pot and tea strainer. The essential item that we were missing was a tea cozy to keep the pot warm. We all noticed that the tea in our pots cooled off too fast, and we had to ask for more hot water to warm it up. (Our server told us they had requested those, so I hope that issue will be addressed in the future.)
One very nice aspect of this tea is that it was served in courses. (The Grand Floridian Tea used to be served that way, but now almost all the food items are brought at one time.) The first course for us was the Charcuterie Plate for the Prince Cove Tea and the Cheese Plate for the Sea Side Park Tea.
The Charcuterie Plate included rabbit sausage, "piggy pie" and Bonne Bouche goat cheese. Interesting presentation on a substantial wooden board.
The Sea Side Park Artisan Cheese plate featured Valdeon Blue, Drunken Goat and St. Andre Artisanal cheeses with fruit. Another very nice presentation. This was enough for two people to share.
For the second course four of us received individual tea sandwich and canape plates. (The Prince Cove did not include that course, though Ms. Prince Cove was still working on her charcuterie plate.) There were salmon rillettes, cucumber and cream cheese, Old Bay lump crab salad and chicken curry on house-made breads. Very elegant and sophisticated offerings - which was not quite what I was expecting in that setting. We were all surprised that the bread was toasted - that's very non-traditional. While this was another beautiful presentation I was disappointed in it because the servings were all very small - most of the sandwiches were about two bites. Everything tasted very good, there just wasn't enough of it for me.
The third course was blueberry-lemon and cranberry-orange scones served with clotted cream, house-made lemon curd and jam. The orange in the cranberry-orange was a little too intense for my taste, and I preferred the blueberry-lemon. The lemon curd was really not very good. And again, I thought the servings were too small. I like a nice big scone. These were both fairly sweet, also.
The final course was the dessert plate - we all received one. Again, lovely to look at...but VERY small portions. The offerings were chocolate filled cake, raspberry cookie, lemon poppy seed cookie with lemon curd, and a Madeline cookie with a light lemon glaze on top. I thought they looked better than they tasted.
The service was excellent. Everything was paced very well, and we didn't feel rushed at all. There's something very refreshing and soothing about afternoon tea - I find that it really renews my spirit, and I felt that here as well. It was very relaxing - if only our chairs had allowed us to sit back and get comfortable.
My overall impression of Afternoon Tea at Crescent Solarium is that it was a lovely experience and I really enjoyed the setting and the relaxed atmosphere. I thought the food was beautiful and well-presented, but would have been more appropriate in a more formal setting. And I would have liked larger portions. However, I had run a half marathon that morning, so my appetite was probably larger than it would be normally. Many of the foods we had were fairly rich, where smaller portions are appropriate and (usually) satisfying.
I personally prefer tea at the Grand Floridian - it's a more traditional tea, and more my idea of what I expect from a proper afternoon tea, especially the sandwich selections and the scone course. That would be my first choice, but if it weren't available, I would happily choose to enjoy tea at the Crescent Solarium again. That seemed to be the consensus among my tea companions, as well. It was an event that we all enjoyed - just a couple of things that would've made it even better.
I was walking along the BoardWalk last week and stopped in at the Screen Door General Store, just to grab a few seconds of air conditioning before continuining on my walk to the Walt Disney World Dolphin. To my surprise, I was greeted by a long bakery case, filled with cookies, candy apples, fudge and more.
"That wasn't here before," I thought.
But apparently I was thinking out loud, because the cast member behind the counter answered me, "We've been here just about three weeks."
I guess it makes sense -- the BoardWalk's other purveyor of sweet treats, Seashore Sweets', closed a few weeks ago, possibly to make way for the addition of a lounge for the currently-being-renovated Flying Fish Cafe.
The new counter is located near the Screen Door's refrigerator cases, right when you first walk into the store. In addition to the bakery items, there are also slushy machines selling frozen fruit punch and a few other drinks.
On offer are a variety of things to make your sweet tooth sing: rice crispy treats, caramel and decorated apples, cookies and fudge. Most of the cookies seem to be on the Disney Dining Plan, available for a snack credit. The candy apples are not on the Dining Plan, as they cost a bit more ($10.99 each).
The cast member couldn't tell me if the addition was permanent, although I suspect it might go away once the new Ample Hills Creamery, coming further along the BoardWalk in the space next to the ESPN Club, opens.
In the meantime, though, if you're looking for goodies, you know where to go!
You probably know that there's a wine bar in one of the shops inside Epcot's Italy pavilion. And that you can get a variety of wines by the glass at Les Vines de France in the France pavilion. But did you know that there was a place to try a different kind of wine stowed away in the back of the Japan pavilion at Epcot?
Yes, there is a bar serving up samples of sake, the traditional rice wine of Japan.I think this is one of those hidden treasures that not many people know about, although it's been here for years. Unless perhaps you're a sake aficionado....
Which, I admit, I'm not, but I do like to try new things, and this is a good spot for that.
So how do you find this place? Walk all the way to back of Japan's Mitsukoshi Department Store. If you're standing near the Hello Kitty display, keep walking. If you're opposite the "pick your own pearl" stand, keep walking. Walk all the way back to where you'll find a wide variety of Japanese food specialty items. Items like Pocky, yummy chocolate-dipped cookie sticks, and other Asian sweets. Then, on your left, tucked into the back corner, you'll see it. The big sign that cries "SAKE BAR" overhead, and the little bar where you can sample some!
If you're like me, and know little about this alcoholic rice wine, you can start by educating yourself with the "Sake Matrix" that's on display.
This divides the sakes that are available to try into four quadrants, classifying them from dry to sweet and light to heavy. You can learn a little more about the sakes from talking with the cast members pouring, of course, but be sure to also consult the little "cheat sheet" menu that's available. I 've not tried it yet, but I'm intrigued by the description for the Murai Nigori Genshu cloudy sake: "Very strong in alcohol with a creamy confection that can hit you like a ton of bricks if you're not careful. Sip slowly!" Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!
There are about 10 different varieties on hand, and samples are in the $5 to $10 range. They include the traditional aperitif plum wine, a fizzy low-alcohol sake called Hana Awaka Sparkling, and the award-winning fruity and dry Mu Junmai Dai-Ginjyo.
There are even a few other alcoholic beverages on offer, such as an unfiltered Ginga Kogen Beer. So far I've only tried the Wakatake, which is a pure, dry rice sake and the Yuzu Omoi, a citrus-flavored drink.
Many of these beverages, which come in beautiful, decorative bottles, can be found for sale on the opposite wall, so after you've found a sake that's to your liking, you can take some home with you!
Next time you find yourself around the Japan pavilion and you're feeling a little adventurous, consider taking a meander through Mitsukoshi shop and exploring the world of sake that awaits you.
As they might say in Japan: Kanpai!
Star Wars fan that I am, I have to say that I was thrilled to learn that new Star Wars-related experiences would be starting in Disney's Hollywood Studios on December 1, just in time for my holiday trip to Walt Disney World. I was even happier to find out that there would be a media preview of the new experiences the day after my arrival. How convenient!
The only catch was that I had to be AT the Studios by 7 a.m. that morning. That directive, harsh as it was must have come from Lord Vader himself! In any case, there I was at 7 a.m. along with AllEars.Net Feature Writer Alice Miller, and we were treated to all the Star Wars we could handle in one short morning.
Our experience started as we approached the Animation Courtyard, which is now home to the new Star Wars Launch Bay, billed as the home base of all things Star Wars in the theme park.
White-uniformed First Order Stormtroopers greeted us and other guests asking to see our identity cards. What was really cool was that they could actually talk -- no more mute Stormtroopers!
We entered the Launch Bay and noted that the old outdoor queue for the Animation Tour has been fully re-themed. Walls are lined with posters and artwork from all of the films in the Star Wars saga.
After a short wait, we entered the small Launch Bay Theater to watch a 10-minute, behind-the-scenes film, featuring interviews with directors, writers, producers and others who are or have been part of the Star Wars universe. It was especially interesting to me to hear from new Star Wars director J.J. Abrams.
From there, we had plenty of time to browse the different galleries of the Launch Bay, which are filled with replicas of props, starships, weapons, costumes and more from the first six Star Wars films, as well as some from the newest entry to the saga, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
I started in the Celebration Gallery, walking under the famous tagline: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." In this first room there are ships from the Rebel and Imperial fleets from all the films. From there, I took a walk down the Celebration Hallway, which features life-size replicas of such iconic movie vehicles as a speeder bike and a pod-racer.
As both mom to a Star Wars fan and a fan in my own right, I spent the better part of an hour examining all the exhibits, thinking, "Yeah, I made that speeder bike out of Legos, we did that TIE fighter as a model, we have that Slave 1 toy... " In other words, they really have a lot of cool stuff!
Finally, there is a Preview Gallery that features artwork and props from The Force Awakens.
From there you enter the area known as The Cantina, which has elements pulled directly from the Mos Eisley cantina scene in the original 1977 film, Star Wars: A New Hope. For those who don't know, the cantina is sort of a dive bar populated with a mixture of unsavory aliens -- and it's the place where Luke and Obi-Wan famously meet Han Solo and Chewbacca. Appropriately, you can meet up with a variety of characters in this themed area -- our encounter that morning was with a Jawa, a short, burlap-robed creature whose pinpoint eyes glow out from under its oversized hood. Jawas are known to scavenge the desert, and this little guy tried to persuade us (without talking) to give up our watches, rings, phones and camera before moving on to the next visitor. (On a visit to the Launch Bay the next day, I had the chance to pose with the bounty hunter Greedo -- I'm not sure what other characters you might encounter there.)
Be sure to check out all the little scenes, including the one on the far wall, the Lost and Found, which has some cool props hidden there.
Just beyond the Lost and Found is the Star Wars Game Center, where you can play current and upcoming video games, including new Disney Infinity 3.0 with content created exclusively for the Launch Bay.
In the area just below The Cantina (in the space that used to have the character meet-and-greets in the old Animation Building), you have a choice to make: Do you want to visit Chewbacca, the 7+ foot tall hairy Wookiee who is a hero of the Rebellion? Or do you want to take a walk down the Dark path and pay a visit to Darth Vader? I chose Chewie because I only had limited time that morning (and also because "once down the dark parth you start, forever will it dominate your destiny!")
After meeting up with the Wookiee, we entered the Launch Bay Cargo area, which, of course, is the home for all manner of Rebel Alliance and Imperial merchandise. From mass-market toys to high-end collectibles, if it's related to Star Wars, you can probably find it here.
This is also the place you can find all sorts of special Star Wars-themed MagicBands, and a D-Tech on Demand spot where you can customize your cell phone cases.
We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the Launch Bay and head across the park to the ABC Sound Studio, former home of the Sounds Dangerous attraction. The theater now houses "The Path of the Jedi," a short film that mashes up the storylines of the first six films in an effort to bring those unfamiliar with the Star Wars saga (what do you mean there are people who have never seen these movies?!) up to speed.
The film does a fair job with the material -- let's face it, it's not easy to cram a couple dozen years of film history into 10 minutes. But if you have never seen any of the movies, or if it's been a while and you need a refresher, this film does the job.
After viewing The Path of the Jedi, we sat in on a Q & A session with some of the Imagineers and others involved in bringing these multi-layered Star Wars experiences to fruition.
Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering Brent Strong spoke with enthusiasm about the project, and how he feels there's never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.
We also had a chance to hear from Tony Giordano, show director, who was involved in the revamped Jedi Training Academy and talked about the new fireworks show, "Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular."
In addition, Executive Chef Christine Weissman was there to talk about the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings, and Steven Miller from Walt Disney World Merchandising spoke about all the cool, new Star Wars merchandise.
(I also had the chance to see some of the food up close, and I'll have a separate post devoted to the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings later.)
After the Q & A, we had a short break and were treated to a taste of some of the cupcakes. Alice found that as evil as Darth Vader can be, she could sense the good in him... or in the chocolatey-peanut butter goodness of his cupcake, at least.
The last part of the morning's festivities was a visit to the renamed "Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple." The show is largely the same as before -- children ages 4-12 are given the chance to battle with enemies from the Dark Side in a cute 20-minute interactive show. The chief differences are the new set, a new villain (the Seventh Sister from the Disney XD Series, Star Wars Rebels) and a new underlying storyline -- that the villains are not real, so that the children understand what they are really fighting against are merely reflections of their own fears. It's a nice idea, but I'm sure if you asked the youngest kids among the group I saw, they would tell you that they were really using their light sabers to hack away at the REAL Darth Vader.
Unfortunately, there was no way for us to see the new fireworks show, since it only just debuted last Friday, on December 18, when The Force Awakens opened in theaters.
Even without the fireworks, all of these new Star Wars experiences certainly satisfied the Star Wars fan in me -- and I definitely plan to revisit the Launch Bay a few more times to catch all the little details I'm sure I missed. I have to say, though, that this taste of what Disney has done so far leaves me hungrier than ever for the promised "Star Wars Land" that is not even breaking ground in Walt Disney World until 2016!
I hope The Force is strong with me, because otherwise I don't know how I'm going to wait!
by Linda Eckwerth
AllEars Team Member
The Ganachery, a new shop that showcases hand-crafted chocolate, opened at 10:30 a.m. today, December 15, in Walt Disney World's Disney Springs.
Just about everyone loves chocolate, and that was apparent from the crowds this store's opening drew! Lines of people waiting to enter were long throughout the morning, but after about a 35-minute wait I managed to get in and take a few photos of -- and sampled! -- some of the amazing chocolate that's being made on site.
I was greeted at the door by a cast member, who was handing out tiny free samples. (I was told that a cast member would probably be stationed outside at least through the holidays to help with the crowds.)
The tiny shop, which only holds about 20 people at a time, is designed to resemble an old-time drug store. Copper pots and pans dangle from the ceiling, and the decor is all dark woods, antique-looking photographs, and little bottles and mortars and pestles.
And of course... chocolate. Lots and lots of it!
You can watch some of the magic being made behind a glass partition.
The head chocolatier here is Amanda, who came to The Ganachery from Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Many of the chocolates have unique flavors, and they hand out a guide so that you can keep track of what you're tasting. Also, if you have allergies or other special dietary concerns, there is a book with all ingredients listed.
I tried to get a photo of all the different products available, but with all the people swarming around, it wasn't easy.
They were making "chocolate enrobed stollen," a holiday specialty, while I was there. They cost $12.
Chocolate bars like these below cost $8 each.
Chocolate pops were $5 each.
Tubes of "crispy chocolate pearls" were also $5 each.
And individual samples like these below were $3 a piece. But the more you buy, the more you save: six pieces for $15; nine pieces for $21; a box of 12 pieces, $27.
Currently, The Ganachery, which is owned and operated by Disney, is a one-of-a-kind shop, but if the idea catches on, who knows? Additional outlets could be opened elsewhere in the resort, and even in Disneyland!
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