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November 4, 2012

Christmas at Fort Wilderness


As you read this blog big changes are taking place at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The campers are getting ready for Christmas!

All of those fabulous Halloween decorations are coming down; the campers are setting up their campsites for the most wonderful time of the year. "The Fort" is being transformed into a Christmas spectacle!

November 1st the change begins . . . spooky is out, winter wonderland is in!

If you are going to be at Walt Disney World between Halloween and Christmas a visit to Fort Wilderness should be on your "Must-Do" list. Visit during November and you will be truly impressed; visit during December and you will be blown away.

If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness during the holiday season you have no idea how lavish the decorations are - it is truly amazing what the campers do!

Perhaps a few pictures will give you some idea . . .

Fort Wilderness Tree

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

The campground is ablaze with lights. Trees are wrapped and festooned with strings of lights.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Inflatables of all sizes light up the campground loops with festive cheer.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Trains and monorails circle through several displays.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Disney movies are played on outdoor screens.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You will see palm trees draped with Christmas ornaments.

Fort Wilderness Christmas

You will see Minnie Mouse relaxing in a bubble bath.

Minnie Mouse in a Bubble Bath

Golf carts are decorated for the season too, some are disguised as Disney characters, some are sleighs and a few are pulled by reindeer.

Golf Cart Sleigh

Minnie Mouse Golf Cart with Reindeer

Golf Cart Sleigh with Reindeer

Dave "The Castle Guy" Lovett is usually there for the first two weeks of December. You really must see his castle; this year he plans to have it dazzling visitors from December 8th until Christmas Day. Here's a video of Dave's castle - click on the arrow to start the video and watch it until the end - Awesome!

The best ways to get to Fort Wilderness are by Disney bus or by boat. Unless you are camped in the resort you will not be allowed to enter with your car and parking is very limited. You can catch a bus to The Fort at any theme park or at Downtown Disney. Once you arrive just transfer to any internal bus (the campground has its own bus system) and travel to The Settlement. For the most scenic option, you can catch a boat to the campground from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary Resort. The boats all dock at the Marina beside the Settlement.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Once you are at the Settlement it's an easy walk to the camping loops. The pathways are all paved and the terrain is flat. A leisurely walk of about 1 ½ to 2 miles will cover most of the loops. Let the magic begin!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

If you prefer an easier tour, head to Pioneer Hall. Just across from the hall you can board a horse-drawn wagon or a horse-drawn carriage for a guided tour . . . they cover all of the best decorated sites! Last year at Christmas there was a carriage or wagon travelling past our campsite every 15 or 20 minutes all evening! Details on the cost of wagon and carriage rides can be found here.

Sleigh Ride Sign

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You can start your evening with dinner at Trail's End Restaurant beside Pioneer Hall. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet, details are here. Try to time your dinner so that you finish just after dusk; then the lights will be at their best! Head toward the Settlement Trading Post and follow the glow of lights to the right of the store. A walkway will lead you into the 100 camping loop. Just stroll through the loops as you make your way around the campground and savour the sights and sounds. Take time to talk to the campers, they are always happy to chat about their décor. Some will even be out with candy or glow sticks for the children!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

When you've seen the sights don't forget to head to the Marina. The Wishes fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom can be seen from the beach and dock and they pipe in the sound track. Once Wishes is over, if the timing is right, wait just a few minutes; the Electrical Water Pageant sails past the dock every night at 9:45.

What a wonderful way to end your day at the Most Magical Place on Earth!

November 9, 2012

From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag - Review


From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag by Ron Schneider

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a performer in a Disney show? Or maybe how those shows were dreamed up and brought to life? If so, this book may be for you! Author Ron Schneider chronicles his years as a performer, writer and creator of a variety of "themed entertainment." Before reading this book, I instinctively knew what themed entertainment was -- as most regular theme park visitors do -- but I did not know there was such a nice, succinct way to describe it! There is also, believe it or not, a Themed Entertainment Association! Who knew? But I digress...

Part memoir, and part how-to book, From Dreamer to Dreamfinder will appeal to a broad spectrum of Disney and theme park fans. This highly entertaining (pun intended) book follows Schneider's career chronologically and includes Appendices that will be useful for anyone who is interested in his views on how to properly "do" themed entertainment.

The book starts with an overview of Schneider's childhood in Southern California, where the newly opened Disneyland played a very large part in shaping his childhood and his future career. His stories then move through his (short-lived) college and (long) working years, as a contributor to a wide variety of themed entertainment venues, including Magic Mountain (as Professor Samuel J. Spilliken, a performer in the Spilliken Corners Craft Village), Womphopper's Wagon Works Restaurant (as C.L. Womphopper, "a legendary slick-talking wagon salesman who invented wheeling and dealing"), Disneyland (among others as a hander-out of costumes for Fantasy on Parade, and various characters-including Pecos Bill-in The Golden Horseshoe), Walt Disney World (most famously as the creator of the Dreamfinder, and also as a member of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor cast), Universal Studios Florida (as a manager of the Celebrity Look-Alikes program, and hilariously, as a not terribly successful Santa Claus), the Fort Liberty Wild West Dinner Show (as Professor Gladstone) and Chuck E. Cheese's (!).

As I read the book, I gleaned a few lessons from the highly entertaining stories:

Don't be afraid to takes risks, the rewards can be memorable. In an early chapter, Schneider recounts a meeting with Disney archivist Dave Smith in 1970, the invitation to which he got as a result of an unsolicited congratulations note that he sent on reading in Variety that Smith had been appointed the Keeper of Disney History. During that meeting Smith gives Schneider an impromptu backstage tour of the Walt Disney Studios, including of Walt's formal office. Schneider is immediately struck with an overpowering urge "the kind no man can resist... so I ask Dave where the bathroom is. I fully expect to have to go back out into the hall to use the men's room, but he points to an adjacent door and I step into Walt Disney's personal bathroom. I would have known it anywhere... the wallpaper is covered with small graphics of antique steam trains. Humbled, I take a seat."

Be persistent. Schneider was successful in reaching his goals of working in the themed entertainment industry through persistence. While he was not always successful in getting the particular job he was auditioning for, he always tried to both use that experience to learn something, and also to open additional doors for himself. For instance, Schneider had been cast as a part-time character for the Golden Horseshoe Review at Disneyland, and was a huge fan of Wally Boag, who created the Pecos Bill character in that show. When Boag finally decided to retire, Schneider hoped to be hired to replace him. The problem was that soon after Boag left Schneider lost his voice and could not do the show for a few weeks. By the time he returned, another performer had been cast as Boag's replacement. While some would view this as a huge setback, Schneider takes the positive view that this allowed him to be open to other opportunities, specifically the one he is most remembered for: as Dreamfinder at Epcot's Imagination Pavilion.

Getting to know the right people at the right time is critical to moving one's career forward. Schneider paints vivid pictures of a number of Disney and other themed entertainment personalities whom he has met and worked with over the years. In fact, Schneider was able to secure his gig as the Dreamfinder through keeping up communication over the years with a number of Disney Imagineers. Once he has heard about the new Imagination Pavilion at Epcot, and of the characters of the Dreamfinder and Figment, Schneider arranges to hear a recording of the Dreamfinder's voice and after practicing it, leaves the message on his answering machine in the voice. Soon after a few calls from Orlando, Schneider is on his way to create the character for the opening of the pavilion. If not for the relationships he made, and for keeping those contacts up-to-date, he might never have gotten this opportunity.

There are many ways to measure success. After recounting the long and somewhat circuitous route that he took to getting the Dreamfinder position, Schneider notes that an Epcot employee had been keeping track of his interactions with guests: "'I'm counting the number of people you're affecting. Not just the ones who interact with you, but the number that stop and smile or stay and watch for any length of time. You're averaging about 600 people every thirty minutes.' Roughly double what I was doing at the Horseshoe! That's good to know."

Keep moving and growing. Schneider changed jobs often. Sometimes this was out of necessity, but often it was by design.

"Things might have gone on like this for a while if it was anyone else but me. After 10+ years of keeping an eye on the horizon looking for the next step forward, I've gotten into the habit of moving on after a few years. Especially if my current situation isn't evolving."

It is important to stay true to your own sense of the quality of your work. In recounting a particularly unsuccessful holiday stunt involving Santa and his sleigh at Universal Studios, Schneider points out that it is often important to admit that something doesn't work, and return to the drawing board: "The point is if you're going to invest the time, money and effort (and most precious of all, your guests' credulity) in an idea, make sure it's going to work out the way you wanted. If not, change plans!" There were times where Schneider either quit a particular job, or chose to step into a different role, if he felt that quality was being compromised or that his own standards could not be met as a result of constraints put on him.

When Robert Earl, the theme restaurateur who started the Planet Hollywood franchise, was recruiting him for the Fort Liberty Wild West Dinner Show, Schneider asks: "'Do you mind if the show's good?' He replies, 'Not at all.' I smile, 'Then we'll get along fine.'"

Link that goes to Amazon Affiliate Book Store for AllEars.

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

November 12, 2012

Raglan Road: A Little Bit of Ireland in the Middle of Disney World

Andrew Rossi

Ever since all of the clubs on Pleasure Island closed their doors for the last time, the area has become somewhat forgotten and overlooked by the many guests visiting Downtown Disney. However, Raglan Road proves that there is still some life left here and offers a dining and entertainment experience geared more towards adults. With its pub-like atmosphere featuring live music and step dancing Monday thru Thursday from 7pm to midnight as well as Friday and Saturday from 8pm to 1am, dining at Raglan Road is about more than just the food and offers a setting where adults can relax and have a good time at night. Whether just stopping by the bar for a pint or having a full meal, Raglan Road offers a fun and lively dining experience that is just like a little bit of Ireland in the middle of Disney World.

RaglanRoad Signage

The name Raglan Road actually comes from an Irish song which combines Patrick Kavanagh's poem "Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away" with the traditional Irish tune "The Dawning of the Day." Since it was first recorded in the 1960s, "Raglan Road" has become an extremely popular song performed by many famous Irish singers, including Van Morrison and Bono. With a name based on an Irish song, it comes as no surprise that Irish music is a theme carried throughout the restaurant. Equally as interesting as the origins of the restaurant's name is the resume of its head chef, who has cooked for many famous celebrities including Queen Elizabeth and U2.

Raglan Road Exterior

Raglan Road offers a true, authentic Irish experience rather than one that is idealized or cliché (you will not find any shamrocks or leprechauns here) and even the restaurant's logo is based on a traditional Irish motif. The logo is a symbol is known as a triskele and is composed of three interlocking spirals representing the ancient Celtic concept of the interrelation between earth, water, and sky. This is but one example of the level of authenticity prevalent throughout the restaurant.

Raglan Road Logo

As soon as you step inside Raglan Road you feel as though you have been transported to Ireland thanks to a high degree of detail and theming you expect from restaurants at Disney World (although it should be noted that Raglan Road is not owned by Disney but is a third-party establishment). One of the most notable features when you enter is the massive bar, which is 130 years old and was actually transported to Florida from Ireland.The antique quality of the bar helps set the tone for the rest of the restaurant's old-world feel. Even though the restaurant opened in 2005, it feels much older than that.

Raglan Road Bar

Although the main dining room is a large, open space, it has a rather dark and intimate feel due to its stained glass windows and dark-wood tables, chairs, wall panels, and floor.

Raglan Road Stained Glass

At the center of this main dining area is a raised platform used at night by the step dancer and along one of the walls by the fireplace is a small stage where the live band performs.

Raglan Road Dining Room1

Off to the sides of the central dining area are two additional dining rooms. Although these rooms have windows that allow for more natural light, the wood-paneled walls help maintain the cozy, pub-like feel throughout the restaurant.

Raglan Road Dining Room2

Raglan Road Seating

For those of you that like to dine al fresco, Raglan Road does offer an outside seating area as well, although you do not really get the same authentic Irish experience as you do when eating inside.

Raglan Road Outdoor Seating

Overall, the restaurant has a very casual, laid-back feel, but this does not come at the expense of great details in the décor. The prevailing theme that is carried throughout the restaurant is Irish music, with the walls adorned with paintings, portraits, and pictures of various Irish bands and singers. Adding to the authenticity are large glass cabinets filled with a plethora of musical memorabilia ranging from records to sheet music to fiddles, banjos, and other instruments. While this musical theming is not over the top, there is just enough to give the restaurant a cohesive feel and also gives it a more immersive quality.

Raglan Road Music Theming1

Raglan Road Music Theming2

It should be noted that depending on what time of day you choose to dine at Raglan Road you will encounter an entirely different type of atmosphere. If you are looking for a more quiet meal I would definitely recommend going for lunch as you can normally walk in without having a reservation and have the restaurant largely to yourself. Dinner offers a louder and much more raucous, party-like atmosphere, especially with the live entertainment and the bar packed with patrons. If dining here with children lunch would definitely be the way to go, while dinner offers a good alternative for adults who want to have a night out on their own.

The Menu:
I think I could best describe the menu at Raglan Road as traditional Irish cuisine with a contemporary twist. While the menu features many classic Irish favorites, some are presented in a new way and there are other items featured that are a little less conventional (and many which are cleverly named). It should be noted that Raglan Road features a slightly different menu for both lunch and dinner and while there are some items that are found on both, there are others that are exclusive to either one or the other.

The appetizers for both lunch and dinner are the same and feature a wide variety of options. If you are in the mood for seafood there are the Mighty Mussels ($10.00) featuring a half pound of fresh mussels in a coconut infused curry broth, Salmon Swoon ($13.00), which is smoked salmon served with capers, shallots and créme fraiche, Kiss Before Shrimp ($13.00) with pan seared shrimp in a garlic and chili lemon butter sauce with sliced baguette, the Scallop Forest ($15.00) with Georges Bank scallops in a golden batter served with citrus lime dipping sauce and sweet chili jam, Calamari City ($12.00) featuring fried calamari and mixed tempura vegetables served with a spicy remoulade, and Smokie City ($13.00), a smoked haddock and Dubliner cheese dip with potatoes, tomatoes, and crostinis.

Other non-seafood appetizers include Mixed Green Salad ($5.00) with tomato, carrots, cucumbers, and balsamic vinaigrette, Tart Art ($10.00), an asparagus and goat cheese tart with garden peas, leeks and lemon oil dressed arugula, Crock o' Pate ($10.00), which is a crock of rustic chicken liver pate served with an apricot chutney, Heaven on Earth ($14.00) featuring baby back ribs tossed in a Guinness glaze, Nom Nom Wings ($10.00), sweet 'n spicy wings tossed in a honey, chili flake, soy and ginger sauce, and Dalkey Duo Sausages ($11.00) featuring battered cocktail sausages with a mustard dipping sauce.

Exclusive to the lunch menu are a wide variety of sandwiches such as the Prosciutto & Chicken Sambo ($15.00) with chicken breast, crispy prosciutto, Dubliner cheese, lettuce, tomato, and herb aioli, the Steak Sanger ($16.00) with tender grilled steak served open-faced with basil grilled vegetables and herb aioli, the Portobello Beauty ($15.00) featuring a grilled Portobello mushroom topped with Dubliner cheese and tomato chutney, the Lobster Club ($16.00), a lobster and avocado salad with crispy prosciutto, watercress, and citrus herb mayonnaise, Beefy Brisket ($15.00) served on a multigrain roll with caramelized onions and horseradish sauce, Gammon and Egg ($14.00) with thinly sliced gammon and fried egg on buttered toast, and the Burger 'r' Way ($15.00) which is available for both lunch and dinner topped with bacon, tomato chutney, and Dubliner vintage cheddar.

If you are looking for some lighter faire, both the lunch and dinner menus feature an assortment of salads such as the Cashel Castle ($14.00) with crumbled blue cheese, caramelized pecans, grape tomatoes, raspberries, prosciutto crisps, crostinis, and raspberry vinaigrette, the Hail Caesar ($12.00) topped with prosciutto crisps, grape tomatoes, croutons, and shaved Parmesan, the Citrus Salmon Salad ($17.00) with mixed greens, carrots, red onions, and toasted almonds in an herb citrus dressing, the SSS Beefy ($15.00) featuring seared beef with mixed greens tossed in balsamic dressing with roasted tomato, crispy onions, and a horseradish cream, the Vegetarian Goat ($15.00) with oven roasted vegetables tossed in a white balsamic and lemon oil dressing with goat cheese, and the Vroom Salad ($12.00) featuring gluten free quinoa grains with cider vinegar, marinated beans, sweet and sour carrots, watercress, and a honey mustard dressing.

Among the entrée choices available for both lunch and dinner are the Raglan Road Risotto ($15.00) with shitake mushrooms, garden peas, shaved parmesan, and rocket lettuce, Keen Eye for Shepherd's Pie ($18.00), Fish & Chips ($19.00), Pie in the Sky ($18.00), a chicken and wild mushroom pie, Kevin's Heavenly Ham ($22.00) served with cabbage and an apple potato cake, Salmon of Knowledge ($25.00) topped with smoked salmon and a maple glaze, King Cod ($25.00) crusted with lemon and parsley with leak fondue, butter beans, and a citrus white wine sauce, Cluck Curry ($19.00) featuring chicken breast in curry broth with onions, peppers, leeks, and steamed almond rice, Lambo Italiano ($22.00), a slow-braised lamb ragout served over rigatoni with tomatoes and fresh basil, Beefy Murray ($18.00), a beef curry pie with spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, and apple chutney, Sod the Stew ($17.00), which is a traditional beef stew infused with a hint of Guinness, Bangers and Booz ($18.00), featuring a Guinness and onion banger on mash potatoes topped with caramelized onions, and Pork Vienna ($20.00), a breaded and seared pork schnitzel with fried egg and chips.

Those entrees available exclusively for dinner are Lambo ($26.00), a lamb shank braised in rosemary jus with mashed potatoes, leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and baby carrots, the Mighty Mixed Grill ($28.00) featuring a lamb chop, Guinness banger, sirloin steak, black pudding, chicken drumstick and bacon, Pork Supreme ($25.00) grilled with colcannon potatoes, a port cider jus, and an apple chutney, Braised Beef ($25.00) with horseradish mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and parsnips, Serious Steak ($27.00), a 10 ounce sirloin topped with an Irish whiskey marmalade glaze served with mashed potatoes and topped with crispy fried onion strings, It's Not Bleedin' Chowder ($25.00) featuring fresh cuts of seafood and potatoes in a white wine infused cream broth, and Mammy's Roast Chicken ($20.00),a lemon-thyme roasted half chicken with mashed potatoes and red wine sauce.

You will definitely want to save room for dessert as the menu features some delectable options including a Strawberry & Apple Crumble ($8.50) with fresh strawberries and apples in a tart with berry compote and vanilla bean ice cream, Ger's Bread & Butter Pudding ($8.50), a Bailey's Brulé Tart ($8.50), Trifle Sinful ($8.50), which is a kitchen baked Swiss roll with Gran Marnier, berries, custard and cream, Moore Market Street ($8.50), a fresh fruit basket with natural yogurt and a honey drizzle, and the Dunbrody Kiss ($8.50), which the menu describes a "Chocolate. Add chocolate. Then add some more."

With such an expansive menu it took me a while to decide what I wanted. I chose to start my meal with the Heaven on Earth appetizer. These were unlike any other baby back ribs that I have ever had. The distinguishing feature of the ribs themselves is that they are so light and are served slightly crispy. They are also extremely tender and not fatty at all; as you are eating them the meat falls right off the bone. What really takes the ribs to the next level is the Guinness sauce which, like the ribs, is also very light and also slightly sweet in flavor. There is a definite hint of Guinness but it is not overpowering. This dish is a perfect way to start a meal because it is fairly light and not filling if splitting amongst a group. However, the portion size is large enough that it could be a meal unto itself.

Heaven on Earth

For my entrée I went with the Fish & Chips. Being from New England where seafood is abundant, I have tried many different versions of Fish & Chips, but I can say that the ones at Raglan Road are some of the best I have ever tasted. The batter is very light in flavor with just the slightest hint of beer so that it is noticeable but does not take away from or overpower the flavor of the fish. The fish was perfectly fried so that the batter was crispy (but not overly so) on the outside and the fish was still light and flaky on the inside. The chips (fries) were thick-cut but I would have preferred it if they had been served a little more crispy. Also, there is no need to add salt to the fries as they came served with enough salt already on them. The tartar sauce that accompanies the fish is freshly made, very creamy, thick and rich in flavor, providing the perfect complement to the light-tasting fish.

Fish and Chips

For dessert I wanted to try something a little different so I decided on the Bailey's Brulee Tart, an Irish spin on the traditional crème brulee. When it was served it looked more like a slice of cheesecake than crème brulee. The custard is far thicker and a little firmer than what you would typically find in crème brulee, but it still comes topped with the traditional layer of caramelized sugar. This is a very light, smooth, and creamy dessert and, while it has a slight hint of Bailey's flavor, it is not too overpowering. I am not usually a big fan of crème brulee, but I thought this dessert was very good.

Bailey Brulee Torte

No review of Raglan Road would be complete without talking about my favorite dessert in all of Disney World, Ger's Bread & Butter Pudding. If you are a fan of bread pudding (and even if you are not) this is definitely a dessert that you need to try. It is unlike any other bread pudding that I have ever had. First of all the dessert is absolutely huge. It comes served piping hot in a large coffee mug accompanied by butterscotch and vanilla sauces which you can add on top to suit your own taste. Both of the sauces compliment the flavor of the bread pudding extremely well while at the same time enhancing its flavor and adding a little sweetness to the dessert. This dessert is extremely rich and very filling, but you will definitely savor each and every bite.

Bread and Butter Pudding

In keeping with the pub-like atmosphere of the restaurant, I found the service to be very laid back and casual, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. My server was very conversational, and not just limited to offering advice about different items on the menu. I was wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap and we struck up a conversation about baseball and Washington DC. I did notice that all the servers in the restaurant really try to push the alcohol, especially the numerous types of Irish beer they offer. This is due primarily to the pub-like nature of the restaurant. Overall, the meal progressed at a relaxed and leisurely pace, not too slow but just enough time between courses to digest. If you are looking for a quick meal, however, this may not necessarily be the best place for you.

Dining on a Budget:
Raglan Road is fairly reasonably priced by Disney standards. If you are looking to save some money I would definitely recommend going to Raglan Road for lunch instead of dinner as there are many sandwiches that make for a more affordable meal. The numerous salad selections on the menu are another inexpensive option as well if dining on a budget. Having been to Raglan Road many times I can safely say that many of the appetizers are large enough to be meals unto themselves. You could order the Heaven on Earth appetizer along with Ger's Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert and have a reasonably priced meal that will certainly not leave you hungry.

If you are in the mood for Irish fare, but do not want the expense of a sit-down restaurant, I highly recommend Cooke's of Dublin. This counter service restaurant adjacent to Raglan Road features some items, such as Fish & Chips, found on Raglan Road's menu at a more affordable price (although also a smaller portion size). It is a great option if you are looking for a quick bite to eat while visiting Downtown Disney.

Raglan Road is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland with members receiving its 20% discount.

The Overall Experience:
Raglan Road has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants at Downtown Disney because it offers a dining experience that is truly authentic and immersive. Everything about the restaurant, from its pub-like atmosphere to the live entertainment at night to the traditional Irish foods found on the menu, all make you feel as though you have been transported to Ireland. The restaurant offers everything you would expect when dining at Disney, a well detailed décor with subtle yet immersive theming, great food in terms of both quantity and quality, and extremely friendly service.

I highly recommend this restaurant for everyone, but especially for those adults who may be looking for a night out on their own away from the kids. Nighttime at Raglan Road offers a fun and exciting atmosphere where adults can relax, have a good time, and enjoy a good drink and a good meal. This is also a great restaurant for anyone looking to try food that is a little different from what we are normally used to eating, a little taste of Ireland in the middle of Disney World.

Mom and the Magic at Raglan Road

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Raglan Road and post your own too!

November 25, 2012

Ft. Wilderness Christmas -- Dave “The Castle Guy”

Gary Cruise banner

In December 2008 Carol and I spent a few weeks at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We took part in a Disney fan meet known as "MouseFest". Carol and I, along with our friends John & Erin from New Jersey, co-hosted a walking tour of the campground to admire all the seasonal décor. About 45 of us wandered the campground admiring the lights, inflatables and the other imaginative displays. Someone we passed that evening said, "Be sure to check out site #551 - it's great." Alas, we didn't make it that night! It was the following night when Carol and I circled the 500 loop and saw Dave "The Castle Guy" for the first time.

Dave's Castle at night

Wow . . . we were in awe when we saw his creation! Carol took a short video which I later uploaded to YouTube. I sent some friends a link to the video and urged them to visit Site 551 before they went home.

We didn't return for the Christmas season again until 2011 when we were fortunate enough to camp just a few campsites down from Dave and his awesome display.

Dave's Castle at night

We visited back and forth with Dave many times during our stay and during our few weeks together he told me the story of "The Castle Project".

This is how he described it, "In December 2007 my wife Dee and I spent 10 days at Fort Wilderness Campground, Disney World. You would not believe what folks were doing to their campsites. The Christmas decorations were out of this world. The campers really put their imaginations in high gear. All the time and effort they spent decorating their sites was really impressive.""

For me, it was inspiring. If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness at Christmas, you should stop by. It is well worth the trip. All the campers are in a wonderfully good mood and the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air. It's truly a magical place to be during the holiday season."

"When we returned home to Titusville, Florida I started thinking about making something for our own campsite. I thought, 'What would be the coolest thing I could have on our campsite?' The answer immediately came to mind 'Cinderella Castle'. So, in April of 2008 I started on The Castle Project."

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's labour of love took eight months to complete. He started with a six foot by four foot piece of three quarter inch thick Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a resin-coated plywood which is very weather resistant. Dave took a picture of Cinderella Castle, blew it up to the correct six foot by four foot proportions and printed it out on 26 sheets of photo paper.

Adding the picture to the background

He described the decoupage as the most difficult task in the entire project; he applied the photo sheets to the MDO and then covered them with six coats of clear acrylic sealer.

Then he cut the castle out, beginning with a precision jig saw for the rough cut and then finishing the finer features with a Dremel hand-held tool.

Cutting out the castle with a jigsaw

Rough cut of the castle

Next step, Dave drilled some holes. There are 427 lights on the castle.

Drilling front holes for the lights

Each hole was drilled from the front and then countersunk on the back to accommodate the light socket. That's 854 holes to drill! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Countersinking rear holes

Dee took charge of the trees which flank the castle. The first year there were 16 trees, now there are 26. Dee securely fastened each and every light so that they will survive the packing and repacking that is required every year. Everything about the castle is designed to be durable yet portable!

When Dave starts talking about the electronics my eyes start to glaze over. I can appreciate how The Big Bang Theory's Penny feels when she's talking to Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Since I don't understand any of the technical stuff I'm going to quote Dave again, "The castle is controlled by 16 channels of lighting. It is surrounded by 16 Christmas trees so that adds another 16 channels of lighting. Above the trees are 3 lighted snowflakes, each representing a Disney character. All this has been put to beautiful Disney music, "When You Wish upon a Star" and Disney's "Wishes", with fireworks added in for the grand finale. It ended up being 48 channels of lighting that first year. Everything is controlled through my laptop!"

Adding the wiring

Wiring up the castle

The Software that runs the show is "ShowTime Software Suite S3" from a company named "Light O Rama". Much of the hardware is from the same company, Dave currently uses 5 Light O Rama (LOR) 16 channel controllers, 3 LOR Cosmic Color Ribbons with 150 channels each and 1 LOR Cosmic Color Pixel with 100 channels. Just imagine how glassy my eyes were as I typed this paragraph!

From the start Dave knew the first song he had to sequence would be "Wish Upon A Star". It's his favourite Disney song and it touches a spot in the hearts of all Disney fans. He selected the Eric Kunzel version, it's beautiful. Then he used 4 tracks from Disney's "Wishes" to finish it off. The grande finale is made up of 5 audio tracks of fireworks. Wow . . . when you see and hear it I think you will agree that it's amazing!

Ready for dry runs

After all the lights were installed on the castle, the Christmas trees were prepared, the lights and soundtracks were sequenced it was time for a test.

It works

Dave set it all up in his garage, crossed his fingers and started the show. It was perfect - it ran like a charm. Next stop - Fort Wilderness!

Dave and Dee transport the Castle in their 40 ft motor home. The MDO castle lays on the bed while they are underway. Everything else is stored below in the cargo bays. One rule Dave has is that EVERYTHING has to fit in the motor home. He doesn't want to tow a trailer so he keeps it all pretty compact. It takes him around ten hours to set everything up and around four hours to break everything down and pack it away for transport.

The castle in daylight

When Dave returned with his completed castle in 2008 he was a bit nervous. As he puts it, "We returned to Fort Wilderness Campground on December 7th, 2008. As I was putting put up the castle show, I thought to myself, "People are going to think I am crazy, this guy has gone off the deep end." Boy, was I wrong! It was a total blockbuster hit. It was the talk of the campground. The reservation office folks were telling people checking in to "make sure you see the castle show in the 500 loop". I have never met so many great people. It was a total blast!

Dave has improved and enhanced the castle show each year since then. "In 2009 we returned to Fort Wilderness with 64 channels, 10 more Christmas trees and a VERY special appearance by "Tinker Bell" (Tink is really hard to book during the holidays, you know). It's the latest in lighting technology."

"In 2010 I decided to light up the whole motor home in the show. That was fun. I also added another musical sequence, Disney's Holiday Wishes."

"In 2011 I added another musical sequence, Disney's "Remember the Magic". They used to play it at Disneyland years ago. It's a great song."

"This year, 2012, I am introducing a new musical sequence. It's a mix of Disney favourites. I have also done a lot of fine tuning to all the other Disney songs. I have added a new "Tinker Bell" effect that I'm trying out. There are also a couple of surprises that I'm keeping a secret. The Castle show is now at 80+ channels and has 7000+ lights."

"The Castle show starts automatically and runs continuously from 6:00 p.m. every evening. It shuts itself down at 10:00 p.m. Quiet time at the Fort starts at 10:00 pm."

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's castle show has been featured in Orlando Attractions magazine and on a local television station but if you haven't seen it live . . . you really haven't seen it!

The thing Dave most enjoys about his castle show is the opportunity it gives him to meet all the Fort Wilderness campers and Disney fans. He puts it like this, "Every night you can find me at my campsite meeting folks and talking about the castle and all the other wonderful decorations at the Fort. Last year a group of about 120 AllEars fans stopped by to see the Castle show; what a great group of people."

"Another thing I really enjoy is giving out glow sticks to all the kids who stop by; kids young and old. Last year I gave out several hundred! I am really stocking up on them this year."

The horse-drawn sleigh rides and wagon rides which tour the campground do not make any stops, except at Christmas when they all pause for a few minutes at Dave's castle. Golf carts and pedestrians stop too! In fact, there's often a traffic jam in front of Dave and Dee's campsite . . . but it's the happiest traffic jam you have ever seen. Dave hasn't just built a castle . . . he's made magic! I'm sure Walt looks down occasionally on Dave's castle - and Walt smiles!

Click on the arrow to see a 15 minute sequence from of the 2010 Castle Show.

This year Dave and Dee will be at Fort Wilderness from December 5th through December 26th. The castle should be up and running by December 8th and the last show will be on Christmas Day.

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World in December a trip to Fort Wilderness is a must. Set aside an evening to tour the campground and enjoy the amazing Christmas décor.

For some tips on how to get to Fort Wilderness and a few suggestions for your tour of the campground read the last few paragraphs a recent blog here.

So come on over and join the happiest traffic jam on earth! Don't forget, Dave will be waiting to meet you . . . and he just might have a glow stick for you! Go check out his castle . . . you will be amazed!

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About November 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in November 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.