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June 6, 2014

Review: Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course

by Guest Blogger Phil Creglow

I think it's safe to say that golf isn't at the top of the priority list for a lot of guests who are planning a vacation at Walt Disney World. As an avid golfer, I will admit that golf is a niche sport that can be expensive, time consuming, and at times is frustrating for everyone who plays the game. Does that mean that a round of golf would fail to make for an enjoyable experience at Disney? Can guests looking for a break from the parks find fun and relaxation on a golf course? I wanted an answer to those questions and made a visit to Disney's Oak Trail golf course.

Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course


Disney's Oak Trail golf course is a 9-hole course that is surrounded by the more famous Disney Magnolia 18-hole golf course. Oak Trail is listed as a walking course suitable for families and golfers of all skill levels. The par-36 course offers a variety of tees - 2,913 yards for adults to 1,713 yards for kids - and includes access to the Magnolia driving range and putting green. As a Disney Premium Annual Passholder, I was eligible for complimentary green fees at Oak Trail, so I made a tee time online for 9:32 AM on a Wednesday.

I started my morning by checking in at the pro shop 45 minutes prior to my tee time. For me, every round of golf requires a warm-up at the driving range. Complimentary range balls were not provided so I had to purchase a small bucket of range balls for $7. That is overpriced in comparison to most courses but I paid for them anyway just to keep my normal pre-round routine. The driving range was rather narrow but offered decent turf conditions and several target greens at various yardages. The 1st tee at Oak Trail is conveniently located near the driving range so I could take some time warming up and then proceed to check-in with the starter just prior to my tee time.

The first hole at Oak Trail (photo below) is a very short par 4 and advanced players will be tempted to try and drive the green.

Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course Hole #1

This is followed by a short par 3 and then two average length par 4s. These holes are bunched together and it's not uncommon to see players from other holes wandering into your fairway to hit stray shots. Trees line the fairways but there are plenty of openings to place your ball back into play. The greens are small on all four holes making it easier to putt for beginners and kids, yet provide challenging targets for advanced players. Sand bunkers guard all four greens. (Hole #5 shown below.)

Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course Hole #5

After leaving the 4th green, the course changes dramatically. The next three holes are longer - including two par 5s - and water does come into play. The par 5 5th hole features a S-shaped design requiring three precise shots for an opportunity at a birdie putt. The par 4 6th hole (photo below) requires players to hit over a water hazard in order to reach the green in two. Dense woods surround the green so accuracy is required.

Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course Hole #6


The par 5 7th hole is short for a par 5 but sand bunkers guard the front side of the narrow, elevated green. These three holes will be demanding for beginners, especially the carry over the water on the 6th hole. Advanced players will also be challenged here, more so than any other holes on the course. This is also your opportunity to take in the natural surroundings, which on this day featured massive wild turkeys near the 5th green and two gators in the pond between holes 5 and 7. This area of the course offers one of the more peaceful settings I have experienced on Disney property.

Finally, the course finishes with the par 4 8th hole and the par 3 9th hole. Shorter hitters will find that water is in play along the left side of the 8th fairway. The 9th hole is very short but the greenside sand bunker is deceiving and intimidating. This hole is where you return to the familiar sounds of Disney as the Walt Disney World Railroad whistles in the background.

Now for a few tips regarding Oak Trail:

- If you drive your own vehicle to the course, be prepared to show your photo ID. The pro shop shares property with the Shades of Green Resort, which is an Armed Forces Recreation Center. Just tell the security guard you have a tee time at the golf course and you are on your way.

- The pro shop will not recognize Magic Bands to pay for golf or claim discounts! Be sure to bring your Disney Vacation Club card, annual pass or resort hotel card if you will be claiming available discounts.

- Food and beverages are available outside of the pro shop. A beverage cart was parked just past the 4th green but had left by the time I approached the 8th tee. Take this into consideration if you require beverages or food on the course. You will want to stock up before your round just in case beverage cart service is not available. There is a drinking fountain near the 6th tee box.

- If you are like me and require a warm-up session at the driving range, only buy the $7 small basket of range balls. Why? $7 is expensive for a small basket and you are likely to find plenty of extra range balls that have been left behind by other guests. The putting green is behind the pro shop; so start there first before making the walk to the driving range.

- If you are a single or a twosome, be prepared to pair up with other players, especially on busy days. This was nice since I prefer not to play golf by myself, was paired with three other players and we all had an enjoyable round discussing all things Disney, Orlando and sports.

- You can call (407) WDW-GOLF or visit golfwdw.com to make a tee time online. Green fees are listed at $38 but are either discounted or complimentary depending on whether you are resort guest, Disney Vacation Club member or annual passholder. Junior and twilight rates are also available.

- Club rentals, shoe rentals and pull carts are available for use at Oak Trail. Check with the pro shop in advance for availability and pricing. Like the green fees, equipment rental discounts are available for resort guests, Disney Vacation Club members and annual passholders.


I completed my round in 2 hours. Course conditions were good but not pristine. A couple of greens had areas under repair and I noticed two sand bunkers that were damaged by either heavy rain or just poor drainage. As of this writing, Oak Trail is closed for refurbishment and is scheduled to reopen on June 4, 2014.

Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course Hole #4 Green Repair


With the reasonable pace of play, the opportunity to walk, and complimentary green fees as a Premium Annual Passholder, Oak Trail will be a regular golf destination for me. Avid golfers with more time and money to spend may be better off playing one of Disney's 18-hole courses, which include Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista. While Oak Trail is advertised as a family-friendly golf course, I did not see any kids playing the course during my visit. My playing partners were all taking the morning to play golf and then reconnect with their family and friends either for lunch or in the parks later that afternoon.

Fun? Yes. Relaxing? Yes. I think my playing partner Art from New York had it right when he said, "Oak Trail is my vacation from my vacation."

Phil Creglow rediscovered Disney two years ago following a twelve year hiatus. After relocating to Orlando in 2014, he is on a mission to make up for lost time by making frequent visits to the Disney parks, participating in runDisney events, and sampling the best food and beverages available at Walt Disney World.


June 13, 2014

Exotic Flavors Abound at Sanaa

Andrew Rossi

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge has, for a long time, been one of my favorite resorts. It is a resort whose theming and attention to detail are second to none. Emphasizing traditional African architecture and art, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a certain grandeur and majesty that make it truly special and this is only enhanced by the sprawling savannah sitting just outside. Taken as a whole, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a level of authenticity unmatched by the other Disney resorts.

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A stay at this resort offers Guests not only rest and relaxation, but also the opportunity to be immersed in African culture. A major part of this culture is the uniqueness of African cuisine. The Animal Kingdom Lodge opened with two highly popular restaurants, Boma and Jiko. With the addition of the Disney Vacation Club at Kidani Village came yet another dining option, Sanaa. While Sanaa may not receive the same notoriety as Boma or Jiko, it offers a truly unique dining experience. In Swahili Sanaa means "work of art," and after dining here it is easy to see why that name is so appropriate.

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Overview:
As soon as one enters the lobby of Kidani Village your eyes are greeted with a spectacular sight. Although not on as massive a scale as Jambo House, the lobby of Kidani Village sets the tone for the rest of the resort. From its high-vaulted thatched roof ceiling and huge window overlooking the savannah to its colorful light fixtures, intricately carved furniture, and traditional works of African art, the level of detail is astounding.

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Sanaa is located just down the stairs from the main lobby and overlooks the resort's African savannah. The Animal Kingdom Lodge as a whole has a certain adventurous and exotic quality about it, as though you are journeying through a wild and unknown land. Likewise, Sanaa offers diners a culinary adventure (and one that is certainly not for the faint of heart). It is also a restaurant that offers something for all the senses, with sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that all contributed to immersing Guests into African culture.

Atmosphere:
From the moment Guests enter Sanaa it is easy to feel as though you have stepped into a work of art. The décor could be considered "modern African," combining more abstract elements with more traditional and ethnic works of African art. The restaurant has a very natural, organic feel and a color scheme that relies heavily on earth tones.

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This natural feel is enhanced by columns designed to look like the trunks of trees and a ceiling covered with large leaves.

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Holding true to its ethnic theming, other columns throughout the dining room are meant to look like colorful beads featuring a variety of different colors and patterns while still others feature more intricate wood carvings.

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Meanwhile the walls of the restaurant are covered with various works of African art, ranging from practical pieces such as ceramic jars, woven baskets, and cooking utensils to more elaborate works including carefully detailed animals made of colorful beads.

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Even the light fixtures are works of art; some of the larger ones are made from ceramic pots and baskets while others have a more modern touch featuring beads and colored glass.

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Also, be sure to listen carefully. While the music playing may not be loud (and might not even be noticed if the restaurant is crowded), the traditional African rhythms add even more to the authenticity of the restaurant. Overall, the impact of the décor is one of awe and wonder at the unique beauty and craftsmanship of African art.

With so much to look at and absorb inside the restaurant, it is almost possible to forget that there is a savannah with wild animals sitting just outside the windows. In fact, the savannah is really not the main attraction of the restaurant but rather serves to enhance the authenticity, and immersion of the dining experience.

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I would go as far as to say that Sanaa would be just as appealing even if it was not overlooking the savannah, although it does make for a more special dining experience when you can see animals such as wildebeest and zebra walking by.

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It is surprising how close these animals can actually come to the windows. At the same time, unless you have a table right by one of the windows, the view onto the savannah is just another part of the décor rather than the essential aspect of the restaurant.

Sanaa_Animals.JPG

The Menu:
Sanaa's menu highlights "the art of African cooking with Indian flavors," and thus presents a different spin on African cuisine compared with that of Boma or Jiko. The menu features many non-traditional items and is definitely for more daring diners who like to try new things. One of the most striking elements about Sanaa is the wide variety of flavors found in its dishes. All of these flavors are thanks to the number of spices that played an important role in the histories and cultures of both Africa and Asia. The restaurant's menu acknowledges this importance noting that "Spices didn't just make merchants rich across the globe, it established vast empires, revealed entire continents to Europeans, and tipped the balance of world power."

The menus for lunch and dinner have some differences. For appetizer offerings, both menus include the Indian Style Bread Service with a choice of three breads and three accompaniments ($9.99) or all nine accompaniments with the three breads ($11.99). Other appetizers include Chana Tikki ($6.99), which are spiced chickpea cakes with tomato chutney, Lamb Kefta Sliders ($8.99) topped with goat cheese, piquante peppers and pickled shallots, Potato and Pea Samosas ($8.49) with a choice of tamarind or mango chutney, Tomato Soup ($6.49) with paneer cheese, and a Sampler for Two ($15.99) that includes the Potato and Pea Samosas, Lamb Kefta Sliders, and a choice of Chana Tikki or Soup. Appetizers found only on the dinner menu are the Peri Peri Shrimp ($11.99) served with cucumber, apples, and cilantro and the Goan Style Crab Cakes ($12.49) topped with tamarind yogurt.

Both the lunch and dinner menus include a pair of entrees that offer diners a sampling of items. First is the Slow Cooked in Gravy, Simple, and Well Seasoned ($22.99) that offers a choice of two of the following served with either Basmati Rice or Five-Grain Pilaf: Butter Chicken, Spicy Durban Chicken or Shrimp, Beef Short Ribs, or Sustainable Fish with Goan Curry. There is also the Vegetarian Sampler ($16.99) that offers a choice of two of the following served with either Basmati Rice or Five-Grain Pilaf: Paneer Tikka, Seasonal Vegetable Wat, Seasonal Greens and Tomatoes, Lentil Dhal, or Chana Masala.

The lunch menu also includes a number of sandwiches such as Tandoori Shrimp ($15.99) served open-faced on naan bread with minted greens, tomato, onion, and cucumber raita, Tandoori Chicken ($15.99) prepared the same way, Grilled Lamb Kefta ($13.99) served on a naan bun with tamarind and cucumber raita, the Sanaa Burger ($13.99) served on a naan bun and topped with goat cheese and spiced mustard sauce, and a Roasted Turkey Sandwich ($13.99) served on ciabatta with avocado, smoked bacon, pickled red onion, and lemon mayonnaise.

The dinner menu replaces these sandwiches with a variety of entrees including Tandoori Chicken ($19.99), Tandoori Lamb ($19.99), and Tandoori Shrimp ($21.99) baked in tandoor ovens and served with seasonal slaw and coriander khichdi. There is also a Lamb Shank ($24.99) braised with tamarind and served with coriander pilaf and a wild mushroom sauce as well as the Grilled New York Strip ($29.99) served with Indian-style roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and tomato-date chutney.

For my lunch I decided upon the Grilled Lamb Kefta. It should be noted that, even though the menu lists this item as served on a naan bun, they can also prepare the dish served open-faced on freshly baked naan bread. This was the option that I chose for my meal and it is definitely the type of sandwich you are going to need to eat with a fork and knife.

Sanaa_Lamb.JPG

As with every dish at Sanaa, the amount of flavor is astounding. Kefta is an Indiana-style meatloaf in which the lamb meat is mixed with a variety of spices. As a result, the lamb kefta itself has a major kick and it is reliant upon the other flavors and ingredients in the sandwich to counterbalance it and cool it down. While the tamarind sauce adds an additional zing of spiciness, the cucumber raita provides a cool contrast (similar in taste to tzatziki sauce that is common in Greek cuisine). The lamb is served over a bed of greens that includes a hint of mint. While this might seem like an odd combination, the mint actually lends a light and refreshing flavor that compliments the other flavors very well. It is amazing that so many varied flavors can combine so well together in a way that no one flavor overpowers any of the others.

For dessert I decided upon the Tanzanian Chocolate Mousse ($5.99). In contrast to your typical chocolate mousse, however, this one had a hint of Kenyan coffee. The mousse itself was very rich and creamy, although I was expecting a little more of a coffee flavor. The mousse was a darker semi-sweet chocolate and came served atop caramel sauce garnished with sea salt. While the caramel provided additional sweetness to the dessert, the sea salt provided a contrasting flavor that still paired very well with both the caramel and chocolate.

Sanaa_Chocolate.JPG

Dining at Sanaa truly offers an adventure for your taste buds and, if you are someone who has simpler tastes, this may not necessarily be the restaurant for you. However, if you are looking for a unique culinary experience, the menu offers a chance to experience flavors that contrast and complement each other in ways one does not usually encounter.

Service:
I was very impressed by the service at Sanaa. With a menu that has so many unfamiliar and unconventional items, my server was extremely helpful in going through and providing descriptions of almost every dish, even explaining which selections were spicier and which were milder in flavor. My server also assisted by pointing out some of his favorite items as well as the restaurant's more popular choices. I found all the servers in the restaurant to be very friendly and conversational. Even though the restaurant was a little crowded, the servers still took time with their Guests. It was clear that they all truly cared about the Guest's dining experience and wanted to provide the best service possible.

Dining on a Budget:
Overall, the prices at Sanaa are very reasonable, especially for lunch. It is a great option for those looking to experience African cuisine but at a much cheaper price than Animal Kingdom Lodge's other dining options at Boma and Jiko. With sandwiches ranging in price from $13.99 to $15.99, Sanaa offers diners a high-quality meal full of flavor for a very affordable price. One possible option for those looking to save even more money would be only ordering appetizers. The menu features a wide assortment of different appetizers and, from what I saw, the portion sizes were all very good. The Indian Style Bread Service can be a meal unto itself whether choosing either the three breads and three accompaniments for $9.99 or all nine accompaniments for $11.99. The Sampler for Two for $15.99 is another good appetizer option that offers a number of options including the Potato and Pea Samosas, Lamb Kefta Sliders, and a choice of Chana Tikki or Soup. For a little more money, the Slow Cooked in Gravy, Simple, and Well Seasoned entree for $22.99 is a great option for those who want to experience a number of different African flavors and a sampling of dishes.

Sanaa is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland and offers a 20% discount for members. In addition, Disney Vacation Club Members and Annual Passholders receive 10% off both lunch and dinner while Disney Visa Card Members can get 10% off lunch only.

The Overall Experience:
As someone who likes to experiment with new and different dining experiences and try different types of food I would not normally eat, I was extremely impressed with Sanaa because it opened my eyes to a completely new type of cuisine and all sorts of new flavors to which I am not accustomed. However, it is for this same reason that I would caution anyone who wants to try this restaurant. If you are not the type of person who likes strong flavors and has more simple tastes this is definitely not the restaurant for you. But, if you are like me and have an adventurous spirit when it comes to dining, you will definitely be rewarded. Sanaa is one of Disney's hidden gems. Because it is located at a resort rather than at one of the theme parks it is typically going to be less crowded and less well-known, but the secret is starting to get out. Whereas in the past you could go at almost any time without a reservation and get seated right away, I would now definitely recommend making reservations in advance. Sanaa offers a dining experience that is totally unique and unlike anything else in Disney World, combining the beauty of African art, the majesty of an open savannah complete with wild animals, and the exotic flavors of African cuisine. All of this helps Sanaa live up to its name. It is truly a work of art.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Sanaa and post your own too!

June 15, 2014

Money Saving Tips

Gary Cruise banner

There are plenty of people who bemoan, "Walt Disney World is an expensive place to vacation." While those people are correct in some ways, in my opinion they are way off-base in other ways.

Yes, there are many places where you can vacation for less money than a Disney park or resort . . . but, in my opinion, there are very few places where you will find the value for your dollar that you will find at my happy place.

Of course that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to economize whenever you can, and there are some very simple and reliable ways to do that. I am not an expert on saving money; I'm actually far more experienced at frivolously wasting money than saving it. That's why Carol does almost all of our vacation planning. Here are a few very simple things I've picked up over the years by listening to Carol!

Money Saving Tip #1 - Do your homework!
Plan your trip well in advance and do plenty of research. That AllEars.net Weekly Newsletter you receive by e-mail every Tuesday has some terrific ideas in the "Tip of the Week" section - some of them will help you save your hard-earned cash. There are some very well written guide books available online and in almost all book stores and they all contain some helpful pointers! Don't overlook the online resources such as the AllEars.net Tip Archive, Mousesavers.com and Mouseplanet.com. For a more complete look at online resources available check out the full AllEars.net list of Disney related links here.

Money Saving Tip #2 - Take advantage of the Disney Dining Program (when it's free)
During some slower times of the year Disney will offer the dining package, free of charge, to guests at select Disney resorts. This is a good deal! Carol and I have used the Disney Dining Program several times; we even paid for it once. Our most consistent complaint has always been, "It's too much to eat!" Of course, that's just another way of saying, "It's great value for the money." When it's free, why would you not take it?

There was only one version of the dining plan the last time we used it; now there are several options to choose from. Here are a couple of our suggestions to help you make the best of the dining package, regardless of what option you choose.
1) Share meals: Carol doesn't eat breakfast but I do so I use a counter service meal for breakfast and then later in the day we share another counter service meal for lunch. There is always enough to satisfy us both!
2) Use snack credits to buy take-home treats. Carol and I always had trouble using up all the snack credits. We would often use one to pick up a cold bottle of water or a Mickey Ice Cream Bar in the heat of the day, but when the trip was winding down we always had some left over. Solution? Why not use them to buy candy and treats to take home for children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews?

Money Saving Tip #3 - Look for the Bounce-back Program
From time to time Disney resorts will advertise a "Bounce-Back offer". If you book your next stay at a resort before the end of your current vacation you can sometimes get free dining during your next visit, other times they may offer substantial discounts on the room rate. These are always good deals! Look for a brochure or flyer in your room, or in your check-in package!

Money Saving Tip #4 - Buy an Annual Pass
Yes, I know, you're thinking, "But Gary, an Annual Pass is too expensive. I only go once a year and a seven day park-hopper is all I need." I understand your thought process, I thought the same thing . . . but I was wrong! Even before Carol and I retired, back when we only visited once a year, we always bought Annual Passes. We would buy an AP one year, then the following year we would plan our vacation one or two weeks earlier, while our AP was still in force! We squeezed two annual vacations out of one Annual Pass. Here's how the math worked out for us. Instead of each of us buying two 7-day Park Hoppers (2 X $408.96 incl. taxes = $817.92) we bought one base level annual pass ($675.21 incl. taxes) and we saved $142.71 each. That's $10.00 a day per person!

I'm going to impersonate one of those slick TV salesmen when I say, "But wait . . . there's more."

An annual pass does more than just get you into the theme parks. It gives you free parking at the theme parks. It gives you 10% off merchandise at all Disney owned and operated stores. That's almost every store on Disney property folks!

Isn't that amazing? "But wait . . . there's more."

How would you like 15% off a fishing tour? Or 50% off miniature golf? Or 30% off the rental of a boat, bicycle or surrey bike? Or 20% off the cost of bowling at Splitsville? You get all of that and more with an Annual Pass.

"Tables In Wonderland" Cards are only available for purchase by Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club Members and Annual/Seasonal Passholders. This card can save you a bundle if you like to dine at Disney restaurants. You will save 20% at most "table service" restaurants.

And another very important perk for AP holders? Magic Bands! Resort guests and Annual Passholders are the only groups who receive Magic Bands in advance and can use the My Disney Experience system to make those oh-so-important FastPass+ bookings in advance, before their vacations!

I'll say it one final time - if you visit once a year you really should consider buying an annual pass. Use it for two vacations then let it lapse. Buy another AP at the beginning of vacation #3 and it will also cover vacation #4.

Money Saving Tip #5 - Use a Travel Agent
This is the most important tip I can give you. Find a travel agent who really knows Disney and rely on them to make all of your resort bookings. There is no charge for their services and a good agent will save you a pile of cash.

Friends kept telling Carol and I to use an agent . . . but we didn't listen! Carol always took care of our bookings. She enjoyed it; she was sure that she was getting the best deals; she was sure that she was always on top of things. She followed all the Internet sites and was quick to call Disney whenever there was a discount available.

We decided to let an agent from Mouse Fan Travel book a trip for us and see how it worked out. Carol talked to the agent, outlined the details and soon the confirmation arrived by e-mail. Carol looked at it and said, "That's about the same as I would have done". What was nice was that, just a few weeks later, another e-mail arrived. It said, "AAA rates have come out and I was able to apply them to your February reservation." A revised invoice was attached to the e-mail. When we compared the prices on the old and new invoices we were very pleased; we were going to save $185.75 on a 12 night stay. WOW! We were impressed . . . Carol didn't have to prowl those Internet sites and phone to amend the booking every time a new "deal" came up. She had more time for other things, such as dining reservations! And that e-mail was not a "one-off" thing. We get a message like that quite regularly. We enjoy that kind of savings on the majority of our bookings. Why would we not use an agent?

But . . . you have to find the right one. The travel agents who really know Disney are the ones who graduated from Disney's own agent training programs; they have mortarboards with Mickey ears attached! Not only will these experts know what discounts are currently available, they will have a pretty clear idea of what will be coming next. These specialized agents will proactively apply new discounts for their existing client bookings whenever they can.

The best money-saving tip I can give you is to find one of these travel agents and let them take care of your resort bookings. If you know an agent who specializes in Disney, give them a try. If you don't know anyone, ask a friend to recommend someone, or ask me. I'd be happy to give you a suggestion!

So there you have it, my two cents worth on saving money at Walt Disney World.

Do you have any money saving tips? Why not share them with us? Send your best tip to AllEars by clicking here and completing the Feedback form.

June 16, 2014

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - June 2014

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

"We didn't have a puzzle last month, because we were having a great time on the Disney Fantasy with the gang on the AllEars.Net cruise! (By the way, I created a cruise trivia hunt to torture everyone in the group, so if anyone wants a copy, just drop me a line.)

"So... Here is the next puzzle for the June Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:

http://allears.net/ae/mb061614.pdf

"This month we continue with the Disney animated character series of puzzles. Next on the list is the temperamental Daisy Duck! Considering that she was in only a handful of cartoons/comics, she gets a lot of exposure at the theme parks and on television!

"The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, arrange the letters that are circled in the puzzle to come up with the answer to the bonus question, which relates to the puzzle theme. Send your resulting answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com. Send the bonus term or phrase no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on July 10, 2014. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog, along with a new puzzle, in mid-July.

Thanks for playing everyone, and good luck!"

As always, James would love to hear any feedback, or any ideas for themes you'd like to see covered in future puzzles. Drop James a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

June 22, 2014

Disney Buttons

Gary Cruise banner

A long, long time ago a young mother named Carol took her six-year-old son Rob to Walt Disney World. She bought a three day park pass . . . then the problem became apparent! How do you ensure that a very active youngster doesn't lose a valuable ticket? Hmmm . . . what to do?

It was then that she spotted some Disney buttons on a nearby counter and the problem was solved. She grabbed a Mickey Mouse button, pinned the ticket to the little scamp's shirt and pointed him at the rides. Zoom - he was gone in a cloud of dust and the ticket was secure! After three days it was still secure; what a great idea!

Rob_with_button

The "pin-the-ticket" trick continued for a few years and she had acquired a small bag full of buttons by the time Rob was old enough to be trusted to take care of his own ticket. Pictured below are the buttons that secured his tickets in 1977. That red Mickey Mouse button was holding his ticket in the picture above.

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Here is eight year old "Rebel" Rob. He had a Goofy button holding his ticket in 1979!

Rob_and_Orange_Bird

Have I mentioned that Carol is a compulsive collector? Could she stop picking up buttons just because there was no longer a need for them! No, of course not!

Rob collected buttons for several years as well; Carol inherited his collection when he moved on to new interests!

Naturally Disney is very helpful when it comes to Carol's affliction. They are always issuing new buttons. Every time they release a new movie, open a new ride or attraction, celebrate the birthday of a theme park, there is a new button to commemorate the occasion.

Carol now has a collection of 340 Disney buttons, all different shapes, sizes and colors. Beyond her 340 "keeper" buttons she has a big bag of "traders".

The buttons are all sorted and categorized into groups:

- Carsland
- D23
- Disney Cruise Line
- Disney Movies
- Disney Vacation Club
- Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Disneyana
- Disneyland
- EPCOT
- Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
- Theme Park Birthdays
- Walt Disney Classic Collection
- Walt Disney World
- Everything else - oddities which don't fit the categories above.

Let's take a look at a few of the EPCOT buttons.

EPCOT_Buttons

There were some very unique buttons when EPCOT first opened.

EPCOT_Countries_Buttons

It seems that every time we travel Carol finds a bin or basket full of buttons and she always stops to search through them for hidden Disney treasure. More often than not she finds some!

There are always new buttons when a Disney video is released!

Video_Buttons

She tries to collect all of the Earth Day buttons and all of the Disney Conservation Fund buttons and there are only a few of each she is missing. Special occasion buttons are fun too!

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There are plenty of birthday and anniversary buttons.

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Every time a theme park, character or movie hits a milestone year it's an opportunity for a new button . . . and Carol has plenty of them.

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Every button tells a story and many of the buttons in Carol's collection bring back fond memories of happy times. Can you see the happy memories in the buttons pictured below?

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Here's one final picture for you, the button on the left is the first one Rob ever wore at Walt Disney World. It held his ticket on his t-shirt in 1977 when he was six years old. The button on the right is one he wore on his latest trip, just a few months ago.

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Do you have any Disney buttons? What sort of memories do they evoke for you?

June 29, 2014

The Fort Wilderness Book

Gary Cruise banner

If you were to ask me, "Which Disney resort is your favorite?" I would immediately answer, "Fort Wilderness Campground."

We have stayed at many of the other resorts, including Port Orleans French Quarter, All Star Music, POP Century, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, The Polynesian Resort and the Disneyland Hotel. Carol has made a few trips without me, and stayed at All Star Movies, All Star Sports, Port Orleans Riverside, The Contemporary Resort, The Grand Floridian Hotel, The Golf Resort, The Boardwalk, Old Key West and The Caribbean Beach Resort. While lots of other Disney fans may disagree, for me Fort Wilderness stands head and shoulders above any of those other resorts.

Carol says that her "dream trip" would involve either The Disneyland Hotel or The Polynesian Resort but Fort Wilderness is not far behind!

It will probably come as no surprise to you that Carol, a compulsive collector, has saved some keepsakes, mementos and souvenirs from a resort which ranks high on her list of favorites. They were scattered throughout our home, some in her pin collection, some in the Tickle Trunk, some in scrapbooks and others in book cases or file folders.

About two years ago she decided to put them all together in her new Fort Wilderness Book. Once she had it all assembled in a large 3-ring binder, we were both pleasantly surprised by some of the treasures she had picked up over the years.

Here is a look at a few of the highlights from the Fort Wilderness Book.

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This 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure, sponsored by RV manufacturer, Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc., gives us a nostalgic look at the campground in its earliest days. Notice the advertisement for Fleetwood, who billed themselves as "The Official Recreational Vehicles of Fort Wilderness". Those are some classic old motor homes and travel trailers!

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On the pages of the brochure are a few sights you won't see around Walt Disney World today. You will not find Musket Mickey! In today's politically correct world the coonskin-capped Mickey carries a walking stick rather than a firearm.

Do you see that sailboat in front of Cinderella Castle? There used to be sailboats, pedal boats and even those tricycle boats with the giant flotation tires available for rent at Fort Wilderness. They have been gone for years, but you can still rent SeaRaycers and pontoon boats.

The other sight from yesteryear that you no longer see is people swimming in Bay Lake or the Seven Seas Lagoon. In the early years the beaches at each of the Magic Kingdom area resorts were busy, but since swimming was banned many years ago the beaches have become lonely tracts of clean white sand. Why was swimming banned? There were some safety concerns centered around alligators, copperhead snakes and a rather nasty little amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri, more commonly called the "brain-eating amoeba". Take my advice . . . stay out of the water!

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Trail rides, fishing and cycling are still very popular at "The Fort" and if you are there on the right day you might still see that blacksmith at work on his forge, beside the horse barns, at Tri-Circle D Ranch.

Two neighbouring destinations, Discovery Island and River Country are included in the brochure. Alas, they're both long gone now! Carol has some great mementos from each of them; I may write about both closed attractions in a future blog.

The 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure ends with "Food 'N Fun". The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue has been running continuously since 1974 and is often referred to as "one of the longest continuously running musicals in American theatre history". It may even be the longest!

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This handbill from the grand old Hoop-Dee-Doo show at Pioneer Hall dates back to about 1982. Today's version is almost exactly the same . . . the menu has changed slightly; seasonal vegetables have now replaced that "corn-right-on-the-cob". But you'll be pleased to hear that the corny old jokes have not changed a bit! It's still a toe-tappin', foot-stompin' good time!

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A postcard from 1982

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Those two images above are the front and back of a brochure guests received at check-in in 1982. All the rules and regulations, together with some suggestions are there, if you can read the fine print!

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In March 1986 Carol received this letter announcing an exciting new meal at Pioneer Hall, the "Rise and Shine, Get Up and Go Breakfast Show" featuring Melvin the Moose, Chip and Dale and other characters. The breakfast show ran for about five years, until 1991 . . . don't worry about Melvin the Moose, he returned to his regular gig in Frontierland, at Country Bear Jamboree!

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A 1988 brochure, pictured in the two images above, referred to "trailer homes" from Fleetwood. They were sometimes called "Wilderness Homes" and in 1997 they were all replaced by the cabins we know today!

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Resort_Map

Let's look at a few more recent items, starting with this resort map from 2010. From the Outpost (the check-in area at the bottom right of the map) to Pioneer Hall (near the marina and dock at the top left) is a distance of just over a mile. The roads marked with yellow, orange and purple lines denote the three routes run by the campground's internal bus system. When Fort Wilderness opened in November 1971 trams, similar to the parking lot trams used at the theme parks, transported guests around the campground. In the early 1990's the trams were replaced by buses.

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For many years a four page Gazette newsletter was included in check-in packages. The copy above, from 2010, provides a wealth of information about the campground and the many services and recreation facilities available. The Gazette has now been replaced by a smaller booklet which contains the same information in a more modern format.

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Campers take great delight in decorating their sites for the holidays and Management at "The Fort" take an active role in organizing many fun-filled holiday activities. Here is a sample, a flyer from Halloween 2010.

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When you get to the campground, be sure to visit the horses at Tri-Circle-D Ranch. This 2010 brochure says it all about "The Happiest Horses on Earth". All of those horses you see working in the Magic Kingdom live at the ranch in Fort Wilderness. Stop by the barns and meet them sometime!

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Here are a few other little odds and ends, a Fort Wilderness decal, an embroidered shoulder patch, a bumper sticker and bar of Fort Wilderness soap.

What's that? You were wondering about pins? Yes, of course Carol has pins; Fort Wilderness pins and River Country pins.

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Did you know that the campground once had a railroad? There was a 3.5 mile track which looped through the campground from the Outpost to the Settlement. The cars were built to 4/5 scale and ran on a 30" track. There were four steam-powered engines and each pulled five passenger cars. Each of the four trains had could transport 90 passengers and they operated on a regular schedule from 1973 to 1977. They ran sporadically for a few years after that and in early 1980's the trains stopped altogether and the tracks were removed. Carol bought this pin commemorating the Fort Wilderness Railroad at the 2011 EPCOT Trade Celebration.

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When Carol began pulling all of her collection together, were both surprised at the volume of stuff she had assembled . . . there are lots of good memories there! That magical binder keeps Fort Wilderness alive for us even when we're at home!

And it's still a work in progress; she's always on the lookout for new items to add to one of her prized possessions, her Fort Wilderness Book.

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About June 2014

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in June 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2014 is the previous archive.

July 2014 is the next archive.

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